Hosting the ColdWaves Soundcheck podcast and directing the Rally and Sustain documentary chronicling the history of Cracknation and the legacy of Jamie Duffy, Aaron Pollak speaks with ReGen about the upcoming ColdWaves V.
An InterView with Aaron Pollak, host of the ColdWaves Soundcheck Podcast
By Ilker Yücel (Ilker81x)
Renowned as much for his inviting and engaging personality as for his skills onstage as a member of Acumen Nation and DJ? Acucrack and offstage as one of the Chicago’s most revered studio and live sound engineers, Jamie Duffy was a beloved figure whose death in June of 2012 left an indelible scar on the American industrial music scene. That year, his closest friends and family helped to organize the first ColdWaves event, paying tribute with an evening that saw the coming together of an entire music scene that spanned far beyond the Windy City, reinforcing the sense of personal community and musical camaraderie that one likes to see in any music scene; it was perhaps inevitable that it could not be left alone to be a single event as ColdWaves celebrates its fifth year in 2016.
In 2013, the Rally and Sustain documentary was released, edited and directed by Aaron Pollak,
And showcasing the rise of Cracknation and touching on the legacy of Jamie Duffy. Pollak has since become a regular member of the ColdWaves family, hosting the ColdWaves Soundcheck podcast and bringing attention to the various bands performing at the annual event. Pollak speaks with ReGen about his own history in the scene and touching on those qualities that have made ColdWaves such a special event for the industrial music scene.
Can you tell us a little about your background prior to your involvement with ColdWaves and Rally and Sustain, and then how you came to work with Jason Novak on the festival and documentary?
: I’ve been an Acumen fan going back to 1995. I first met Jamie at a Sister Machine Gun/Chemlab/Drill show in ’96; he was doing sound and to me, he was on the same level as any other super famous rock star and he listened to me nervously tell him how much I loved his band and signed an Acumen/Cubanate tour promo card that I still have. I didn’t even get to see Acumen live and meet Jason in person until 2002 since all the NYC shows were 21+ and was surprised by how accessible and friendly and humble this band that got me through all the highs and lows of my teenage years was. You can still go to the old message board where I posted in 2008 that if I won the lottery, I would quit my job and make a Cracknation documentary and live DVD. When I found out what happened to Jamie, I started pulling together every artifact that I could find to remember him – old posts on rec.music.industrial, old message board posts, newsletter items, any live clips I could find on YouTube; I just felt this urge to make something, even if just for myself, that acted as some sort of celebration of the part of his life that I knew. Once I found out that there were plans for a concert celebration to honor him, I emailed Jason to see if he thought anyone would want to sit down and speak on camera and help flesh out the rest of their history and see if we could turn this into a proper release. Once Jason was in, I had a co-worker who was an independent writer/director in his spare time help me cram for how to make a movie. I had zero prior experience and no equipment at that point. Three months later, I drove out to Chicago from the east coast with a close friend and we interviewed 15 people over three days and filmed the entire CW set with DV cams. I spent every free moment of the next nine months of my life in-between my 9-5 job transcribing, editing, and working closely with Jason to make sure this DIY effort (with a lot of funding assistance from Kickstarter pledges) was as good as any other band documentary I had seen.
What are your thoughts on the way ColdWaves has developed over the years and how you feel it has stayed true to its original mission? In what ways do you feel this festival stands out among other festivals of its type?
Pollak: To me, it’s almost a disservice to call ColdWaves a festival and I wish there was a different word for it because to me, festivals are these impossibly large, all-day, gross outdoor shows that you might like at best half the bands but can’t get a good spot because other people are stonewalled up front waiting for whoever is headlining. ColdWaves has a mission and a purpose and every single thing that happens over those three days is to support that mission. The first ColdWaves lineup was meant to highlight bands that Jamie liked, would have liked, or was involved with and four years later, that still holds true. And it doesn’t mean that the music is all the same; there’s been a great diversity of groups from metal-driven to completely electronic and experimental stuff along with the ability to have previously broken up acts or bands that haven’t been in the US for 20+ years play. Part of that mission is also the suicide prevention work that’s done by partnering with Hope for the Day in previous years and Darkest Before Dawn this year. Time is taken out to make sure that anyone at the show that’s having a tough time has a place to go there and then and talk to someone. And Metro, which has been the home to CW since the second year, is so iconic with the acts that have played there over the years and the crew that work there with people like Brian Dickie that you see year after year, the festival becomes more of an annual family reunion or summer industrial camp as others call it. With 14 bands in two days (15 with the kick-off show), you can listen to a 30-minute episode of the ColdWaves Soundcheck podcast on your way to/from work and in less than two weeks, know about and better enjoy every single band that will be onstage.
In creating the Rally and Sustain documentary, what did you find to be the greatest challenge in its production?
: I knew that a major part of the story at the end is everyone dealing with the grief from Jamie’s death. Asking people like Jamie’s mom Pat and everyone else who considered him family and asking them to relive the worst moment in their lives was really difficult to do. And when editing the movie, I’m assembling the pieces with a goal of telling a story in an engaging matter… but it’s not like I’m trying to make climate change sound more dramatic. This is a person who is loved and is now gone. It was emotionally exhausting trying to get that part right.
I don’t consider myself a director or a filmmaker in any way. This was a project that I thought should exist in the world and wanted to make sure it did. If something comes up in the future that made me feel the same way, then maybe I’ll buy back all the equipment I sold off.
The movie is free to stream/download on Vimeo
You’re also the host of the ColdWaves Soundcheck podcast, and have conducted interviews with several of the artists performing at ColdWaves IV and V. From one interviewer to another, what do you find to be the major challenges in approaching these artists and discussing their craft?
: It’s easy to be lazy and ask the same easy questions – How did you start? What are your influences? How is your new album different than previous releases? I think the bands can tell when you’ve taken the time to really listen to their stuff and research their history and ask things they don’t automatically have a response for. That’s easier said than done.
The passion was similar to the documentary in that to me, it’s not as fun to go to a show with 14 bands where you know three really well, know five a little, and nothing about the other six. And it’s a bummer when one of the unknown bands touches that nerve and makes you want to go downstairs after their set and buy their release, but you can’t go back and relive that experience. Each episode is like a mini-documentary where you get to know more about the band from their perspective and hear three or four songs from them. If you’re not into them, it’s cool. Maybe you hang back by the bar for their set. But if you like it, and you probably will because they’re hand-picked as standout acts in the scene, you can start listening to their other stuff and by the time ColdWaves comes around you can be front row center and sing along.
ColdWaves has not only seen the return of many acts and artists that have been disbanded or inactive, but also has given attention to some of the new and rising talents in today’s music scene. What are your observations on the way these younger acts are carrying the mantle of industrial and edgy electronic music, especially with respect to the older acts they are following?
: It was pretty obvious to me getting into the scene in the early ’90s that the audience grew older with me from when I was 16 to when I was 30 and show attendance got smaller and smaller. It didn’t seem like there was any innovation or new blood and the sound got stagnant. I’ve seen more innovative acts in the past five years than I’d seen in the past 15 – Youth Code, Author & Punisher, High-Functioning Flesh, 3Teeth, Kanga, The Black Queen; they are all part of my regular music rotation now and you can see an excitement that had been missing for so long. They are respectfully carrying the torch from the legendary acts like the Cocks and Front Line Assembly and Godflesh and Pop Will Eat Itself and you can see them all comingling backstage talking shop and offering to remix each other’s work.
Are there any younger or smaller acts you’re aware of that you would hope to see at a future ColdWaves event?
Pollak: Honestly, ColdWaves is like my personal Pandora or Spotify. When the lineups are announced every April, I immediately start ordering albums and listen to what the future of this scene holds.
Having now become immersed in some of the rising new talents thanks to ColdWaves, and your observations of seeing more in the past five years than you have in the past 15, what are your thoughts on why this is? From your perspective and/or based on your conversations with these younger acts, what do you feel is motivating this new batch of creativity?
: I think a lot of people lament the lowering of the bar for entry into the music scene as computers got cheaper and software became more advanced. What would’ve taken thousands of dollars in equipment and studio fees can now be done by someone with a laptop. You still need the skill set and there’s a lot of noise out there from those that don’t have the gift, but those that do have it can quickly rise above and be easily found within the community. The music industry has also changed so that it’s nearly impossible to be a career musician without some other fulltime job. So it might take someone like JP Anderson from Rabbit Junk years to work on a four song EP with a fulltime job, but the second it’s released, there’s this amazing new work of art that exists. And I don’t think in 2000 that would’ve been possible the way it is today.
As a fan, and with all of the changes in the industry and the way people digest music as well as how artists are finding new ways to create and distribute music, what do you feel is or should be the next step in the evolution of music – not just for the industrial scene, but for music as a whole? What would you like to see/hear happen in music?
: I still think the industry is a mess and I’m not sure that it will ever coalesce back into something that works for everyone. It’s exciting that vinyl sales are up because to me, the artwork is a vital piece that gets lost when you’re downloading off of Bandcamp or streaming off a service. But at the same time, you can now open your mind and listen to hundreds of artists you otherwise wouldn’t have without those unlimited streaming services. Telling a band they can only make money now by touring is not sustainable and it doesn’t even seem to hold true for most bands when you add in gas and venue and merch fees. Maybe someone will eventually figure out a better way to compensate artists for this art that is such a huge part of everyone’s lives.
What’s next on your personal agenda?
Pollak: My wife is expecting our second child soon, so I’m trying to edit all the upcoming podcast episodes before my little free time turns to zero.
Thank you for including me and also doing your part to help promote this thing we love.
Website, Facebook, Twitter
ColdWaves Soundcheck Podcast
Rally and Sustain DVD and Companion Book
Darkest Before Dawn