Two Nights of Cold Waves: Cold Waves was started in Chicago in 2012 as a memorial concert for Acumen musician and soundman Jamie Duffy, and it continues to raise money for suicide prevention groups. It also continues to raise awareness as it has grown to include an L.A. event in recent years (COVID-permitting).
This year at the beautiful Mayan Theatre in Downtown L.A., the headliners were Front 242 on Thursday night, and Nitzer Ebb on Friday, but there was also a lot going on further down the bill. Brooklyn cold wave icons Xeno & Oaklander lit up Thursday, as did Vancouver group Actors, Swedish synth duo Kite, and Leathers (featuring a member of Actors).
On Friday, Swedish solo artist Rein looked and sounded gloriously intimidating despite literally being on stage alone — her pulsing, hypnotic insistent industrial noise not without buried melody. The two L.A. acts — Spike Hellis and High Functioning Flesh — did the region proud. Both are worthy of more investigation by us, the latter in particular creating an anthemic, intense wall of sound.
That said, there were three acts on the bill notably a distance ahead. It’s easy to forget that Belgian outfit Front 242 formed in 1981, back at the birth of the genre (yes, we know that Throbbing Gristle had employed the phrasing in ’76, but still…).
On Thursday, they were a joy. The setlist pulled from most of their albums (even if only a section of “U-Men” from the debut Geography). But from the opening “First In/First Out” they were just on it. “Generator” was another highlight, but the best was saved for the end when a chant-heavy “Headhunter” and equally anthemic (and beautifully blasphemous “Welcome to Paradise”) sandwiched “Agressiva.”
It was hella cheesey at times. The old military satire schtick has them looking like bouncers at a club in their later years. Arms folder, heads shaved, sunglasses on, intense stares at the crowd — fantastically entertaining. And some of the stage moves from vocalists Jean-Luc De Meyer and Richard23 approach boyband territory. But that’s not a complaint — there’s welcome levity in a Front 242 show, and a stack of great tunes.
It’s not entirely clear why the Revolting Cocks are billed as the Revolting Corpse on Friday, but as soon as Chris Connelly, Paul Barker and the band took to the stage, it was clear from the screens that this was very much a Revolting Cocks show (they’ve also performed as the Cocks in recent years, so they do like their wordplay pseudonyms).
For our money, RevCo was the high point of the entire two-day event. Greeted like the returning heroes that they are, they pulled from the classic Beers, Steers & Queers and Linger Ficken’ Good albums, including the perfect covers of Olivia Newton John’s “Physical” and Rod Stewart’s “Do Ya Think I’m Sexy?”
RevCo could have been headlining, but they weren’t. Friday still had one more treat in store, in the shape of Essex EBM pioneers Nitzer Ebb. We had read that vocalist Douglas McCarthy has been suffering with illness and subsequent vocal issues of late, but he’s clearly better because he sounded at his suave, charismatic best at Cold Waves LA.
“Blood Money” got the ball rolling, after which Nitzer Ebb’s flowed seamlessly from one ambient, wonderful drone into another. Each and every time fellow founder Bon Harris made his way to the front, to sing or dance or both, the crowd noise erupted. The man has a gift for showmanship.
“Getting Closer” and “Let Your Body Learn” sounded immense, but “Join in the Chant” was incredible. Some forward-thinking soul had handed out cards to the crowd with the words “gold,” “guns” and “fire” on them, so that people could hold up the appropriate card when the band chanted that particular word. It was very effective, actually.
At the conclusion, all the fabulously dressed industrial fans disappeared into the L.A. night, a sea of black leather and latex, chains and impossibly high boots. They’ll all be back next year or, you know, when a industrial band hits SoCal separately. But Cold Waves certainly proved that there’s life in this music yet.
Two Nights of Cold Waves
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