The Metro, Chicago, IL – Saturday, 09/26/2015
The first night of the fourth installment of Chicago’s foremost industrial music festival – ColdWaves – was a raucous and energetic introduction in a more intimate setting, acting as a primer for the sustained heaviness of the subsequent main events. The following night showcased ColdWaves IV’s distinguished and remarkably different atmospheric focus from the past with a greater emphasis on noisier and more experimental acts, culling from the darker ambient, emotionally decrepit, and perhaps even apocalyptic perceptions of human existence. While not lacking in energy, it was certainly a different tone, but one that appropriately exhibited the industrial music genre’s diversity and the levels to which different styles come into play even within the parameters of coldwave. Given ColdWaves’ standing as a tribute to the late Jamie Duffy and, with the partnership of Hope for the Day, is an ever strengthening voice in suicide prevention, the frailty of the artistic side of the human condition was laid bare on this first night, but it was perhaps not completely felt – at least, as far as this writer perceived – in its fullness until this second night of ColdWaves IV.
As with the past, the different nights of the festival retain their own focus, and this third and final Saturday evening would host a bevy of comparatively more accessible, dance and rock-oriented styles to end the proceedings out on a high note. With patrons once again having the option to partake in a burger from the Kuma’s Corner stand outside the venue, or have a seat and a drink in the ColdWaves Lounge of the neighboring G-Man Tavern, for all of the electricity you could feel in the air, organizers Jason Novak and David Schock did well to ensure that ColdWaves IV offered more chances for a relaxed enjoyment. With the WaxTrax! store and several other vendors in full swing with vinyls, CDs, T-shirts, and various other bits of merch exchanged hands, the pounding beats and gyrating bass lines resonating throughout one of the Windy City’s most revered venues, this writer can truly say that it felt like a real scene in this home of American industrial.
And yet, this night also revealed the emotional impact and the heavy toll paid for by everyone… most especially the curators. During a break in the music, Schock took to the stage (with Sean Payne occasionally interjecting to add just a bit of lightheartedness to so poignant a moment) to deliver a heartfelt dialog on the turmoil faced not just by him but by so many throughout the year, revealing the depth of this festival’s significance in bringing together the community – the music is but a hub, a center around which people of like minds and equally fragile hearts rally to share in the experience of life, sometimes harsh and unforgiving, often saddening, but endured through the need for contact. Amid all the breakups, divorces, separations, deaths in the family, financial troubles, depression, or whatever affliction befalls us, ColdWaves exists to remind everyone in attendance that we’re not all okay… and that is okay.
It may sound perhaps sappy in writing, but for my part, this writer had more than a few moments on this Saturday night of holding someone close and giving someone a shoulder to cry on, only to shed my own tears in a silent moment alone (with only bartender Dann Szymczak as witness, although I’m not certain if he noticed) after sharing a few beers and shots with several people. I’ve said that we’ll come to this later… and now we’ve come to it, and it can’t be expressed fully in words what a festival like this means for the people here, not just as part of a scene, but as people. When all is said and done, all that remains are the smiles and the good memories of the past and those being made, with the anticipation and the hope for more to come.
Now… onto the music.
Taking to the stage first were the digital hardcore upstarts collectively known as Human Traffic, and if ever there was a band to take the mantle of Atari Teenage Riot’s past, this would be that band. With a combination of unrestrained overdrive and attitude, the audience was immediately taken by the group’s in-your-face bombast, with the vocal interplay between Stephen “ReHab” Proski and Lola Chastain creating an effective juxtaposition of varying modes of human aggression tempered by traces of atonal melody. Where Proski was decked out in a mesh shirt and unleashed an animalistic fury that was impressively difficult to keep up with, even so early in the evening, Chastain’s onstage persona was much more mysterious and reminded this writer of the witch house predilections of last year’s ∆Aimon, adding to the unsettling nature of the music, her hood often concealing the viciousness behind her whited out eyes. Amid the acidic beats and overdriven electronics, a rapid-fire array of slogans and visual cues flashing on the screen in tandem with the spastic nature of the music, the band displayed a keen and very satisfying blend of electro/punk that began this Saturday night off quite wonderfully.
Not long ago, this writer had noticed a growing “retro” trend among younger and up-and-coming acts, which at first glance was somewhat irksome; after some time has passed, my appreciation has grown and a sense of refreshment has hit me in the knowledge that this new generation is looking more to the history rather than the hot fad of the moment. As such, the ’80s-inspired rawness and proto-electro/industrial dynamism of High-Functioning Flesh made for a welcome entry in the night’s proceedings; everything you’ve ever loved about the early sounds of the genre, be it the first singles of pre-That Total Age
Nitzer Ebb or the Bites
era of Skinny Puppy, with just a touch of D.A.F., is showcased in this lively duo’s music. Vocalist S. Subtract is quite the onstage performer, never at any point standing still and expressing both the exuberant sneer of a punk but with the electrified smoothness of synthpop; a quality matched by G. Vand’s own animated swagger behind the keys and drum pad, his silver blazer reflecting the lights in grand ’80s fashion. One gets the impression that had Douglas McCarthy shown this level of “chutzpah” (as one fellow patron referred to it during the performance) in his appearance at ColdWaves II, it would not have been so easily overshadowed. As it stands, High-Functioning Flesh made an indelible impression that made quite a few new fans and is a fine example of retro electro/industrial done right!
To the dismay of many, Rorschach Test’s appearance at ColdWaves IV was canceled, and though accounts varied as to the reasons, the disappointment was quite palpable. Nonetheless, many took the cancelation in stride, and by the time Cocksure stepped onstage and began its own bombardment of industrialized vitriol, this writer is rather certain that few remembered that Rorschach Test was ever on the bill.
Armed with his iconic bass, Jason Novak took to the stage as the first rising notes of “Hi Talez” filled the speakers as the fog began to rise. The beat kicks in, and the incomparable Chris Connelly runs to the stage donned in a tussled suit, coming out swinging as he immediately captivates the audience to shout along “Ariba!” in the chorus. Right out of the gate, Cocksure exudes a greater solidity and confidence, perhaps by virtue of the last year of performing live and continuously honing its primitively caustic industrial sound, and as full of brazenness and bravado as ever.
Introducing himself as “Chris’ dad,” and behaving the appropriate curmudgeon as he declares that he “fucking hates bubbles” (yes, for some reason, people in the audience were blowing bubbles during Cocksure’s set), the two veterans simply haven’t allowed themselves to be weighed down by the years, instead using their collective experience as a groovy weapon to rally the crowd to their demented and debauched cause. Each song a one-two punch played in rapid succession as favorites from last year like “Klusterfuck Kulture” and “Skeemy Gates” are played alongside newer cuts like the strutting, squelching, slither of “Severance Package” and the brilliantly acidic “Razor Invader,” the whole set ending with the pair paying respect to the Cock with the almost requisite throwback to “Cattle Grind;” for fans of the classic groove and grind (excuse the pun, but there really is no better adjective to describe the song), it was a remarkably satisfying conclusion to a set that surpassed everything seen and heard from by the band up to this point.
Having recently reunited for a United States tour throughout the month of September, the proto-techno/EBM duo Severed Heads joined the ColdWaves IV roster. Though the technology has been only slightly updated, the methodology and mentality is the same, drawing on the essential ingredients of forceful rhythms and noisy arrangements of abrasion and tranquility. Tom Ellard and Stewart Lawler stood behind their altars of laptop and keyboards, preaching their brand of dissonant yet danceable industrial from a dark corner of the stage with the main visual focus residing in cleverly composed and intense animations. It’s a formula that has carried Severed Heads over 35 years of underground electronic music history, one that’s been imitated to death by the likes of The Chemical Brothers or The Crystal Method; and yet, to see it done so stridently and faithfully by one of the originating pioneers of the style, especially with the metallic bombast and mechanistic shimmer of “Hot with Fleas” or the chunky staccato bass of “Pilot in Hell,” was stunning, to say the least. Though Cocksure covered Severed Head’s “Harold and Cindy Hospital” on Corporate_Sting
, there was no attempt to create some sort of artificial spontaneity onstage with the two acts performing a rendition of the track together, preferring instead to rely on the original pair’s introspectively slow buildup of dirge-like beats and vibrantly manipulated samples amid a steely synth line before the dreamily melodic pads of the latter half of the song take over for a moment of lush shoegazing.
While not the headlining act, there was sufficient anticipation and excitement amid those in attendance for the inclusion of Pop Will Eat Itself that the grunt soldiers of Grebo alt./rock might as well have been; nonetheless, even as the penultimate performance of the night, the band took full advantage of the extra time allotted by Rorschach Test’s absence, playing an extended set that demonstrated to this writer just what so many of his New York friends had been raving about after the band’s co-headlining performance with GoFight in NYC’s Stimulate a few nights before. Ever the tough act to follow, even after nearing 30 years of existence, Pop Will Eat Itself is at the top of its game as a live act, the volume and attitude delivering all of the raw fury that younger upstarts simply fail to measure up to. At no point did any member of the band stand still, replacing the animated visuals of Severed Heads with the rambunctious and raucous hysteria of a truly live rock band.
Longtime favorites like “Wise Up! Sucker,” “Can U Dig It?,” “Ich Bin Ein Auslander,” and “Everything’s Cool” elicited the same rowdy adulation from the crowd as they did when they were first released decades ago, performed with the same venomous vigor as vocalist Graham Crabb and Mary Byker commanded the venue with all the manic authority of benevolent musical dictators. Even tracks from the band’s 2015 Anti-Nasty League
like “They Can’t Take (What You Won’t Let Them Have)” and “Watch the Bitch Blow” were treated with the same vitality by the band and met with the same exaltation, as if they’d been part of the band’s repertoire for years. In a surprise move, the band ends with a cover of The Prodigy’s “Their Law,” making that juxtaposition of electronic rhythmic stimulation and vivacious rock power that has defined Pop Will Eat Itself over the years all the more flagrant, the audience welcoming the cover in a manner that words fail to define… except for the words, “Holy shit!” One has to wonder how even the mighty Front Line Assembly would measure up after so lively a presentation as PWEI’s…
…and measure up FLA would, proving why the ever evolving electro/industrial entity remains a magnificently influential force in the scene. Front man Bill Leeb, along with his bevy of co-conspirators, continues to wage the information war with FLA’s signature mastery of rhythmic precision, pulsating sequential prowess, and a harshly melodic, grimly sample-laden atmosphere. The resonant sounds of metallic shrieks and clanks invade the sonic air before a recognizably vibrant beat enters the fray, and once Leeb’s seething, effected voice sings the first few words of “Final Impact,” Front Line Assembly’s musical campaign begins in earnest. Throughout the band’s set is a perfect merging of the old and the new, with Jeremy Inkel’s drum & bass and dubstep-inspired progressions of warbles and glitch-inspired spasms on songs like “Blood” and “Deadened” matched perfectly with veteran Rhys Fulber’s more organic arrangements of classic bass lines and factory-like ambience on “Neologic Spasm” and “Plasticity.” All the while, SMP’s Jason Bazinet provides a cyborg-like precision on the percussion, his human beats combined with the programmed rhythms bringing songs like “Resist” (given a bit of assistance from the rest of the band on their own drums), “Killing Grounds,” and especially “I.E.D.” (with its offbeat 5/4 time signature) to a crazed life.
Not unlike Front 242 last year, this was a sort of homecoming for one of the defining acts of modern industrial, one of original WaxTrax! artists still kicking strongly as the band enters its fourth decade and still as vital as when Leeb first exited Skinny Puppy in the mid ’80s. His familiarly guttural command of melody and animated onstage persona prove that despite his advancing years, he’s as determined to show the same vigor as his younger counterparts. Thanks to the extra time allotted, the audience – worked up to a veritable frenzy that even amid the slower tracks never wavered in intensity – was treated to an encore, beginning with the darkly menacing yet almost mournful “Ghosts,” before moving onto classics like the scathing guitar assault of “Millennium” and the cybernetic dance floor dynamism of “Mindphaser,” both songs still sounding as fresh as ever and proving why Front Line Assembly continues to exhibit the industrial genre’s spirit of innovation.
What more needs to be said? More than the music, ColdWaves accomplishes what any good festival should do and unite people of like minds and tastes, bringing them together as an ultimate celebration of a shared sense of community and artistic pursuit… the very stuff that makes life enjoyable. Though ColdWaves has that added air of sadness in its tributes to fallen heroes like Jamie Duffy, whose fall was the impetus for this most auspicious of occasions, the reverence for his legacy and the praise bestowed upon him and the music he helped to create overcomes all of the heartache and the tears. At the end of the night, everyone raises their glasses and their spirits to the man and the music, donning smiles and the anticipation for greater and more enjoyable times ahead.
As usual, not nearly enough credit can be given to curators Jason Novak and David Schock, whose efforts to conduct so massive and extensive a festival as ColdWaves can’t be understated. Not just for Jamie Duffy, not just for themselves, but also for the attending patrons – the crowd, the scene, those who, like them, live and breathe this music, this art, this life. 2015 may have offered some of the more grim reminders of the bad times, but over the course of these three nights in Chicago, this throng of industrial/rock and electronic musicians and fans came together to help make ColdWaves IV the biggest, loudest, and at the same time the most emotionally moving events yet.
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Hope for the Day
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The Metro, Chicago
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Ilker Yücel (Ilker81x)
Photography by MizTabby Patton (MizTabby)
ColdWaves IV – Main Event, Night 2 (09/26/2015)