Cloak & Dagger Fest: The Heart Of Los Angeles Bled From Dusk Till Dawn
Good “dark” music should come from a damaged yet open heart because it’s those damages that make all the styles of dark music involved in Cloak And Dagger Festival beautiful to those that wear black late at night- or during the day, for that matter. Whether it was dark wave, new wave, post punk, goth/death rock, industrial, EBM, or shoegaze, every shade of black was represented on those two cold October nights.
Right from the first lineup announcement, it was understood that this would be like no other festival. With three stages at the Globe and Tower theaters, an all black dress code, and local brand recognition, I was sure the siamese evenings would play out like a movie, think Eyes Wide Shut meets Gimme Shelter. The lineup hosted plenty of bands that are Janky Smooth favorites like Ho99o9, Health, Moon Duo, and Uniform. Iconic artists like KMFDM, OhGr, and The Jesus and Mary Chain were set to share the two stages with future headliners like Cold Cave, The Soft Moon, and Lust For Youth. So any goth kid, let alone this one, would be awestruck and elated at the chance to partake in the affair.
Night 1: Black is the absence of color and hell is the absence of God
I made sure to adhere to the unspoken dress code that is enforced at the festival’s namesake Tuesday club night in Hollywood. Black shoes, black jeans, black shirt, black vest, I wanted to be absorbed into the same dark mass as everyone, so we could all sink into one big shadow together. I arrived at the Globe Theater while the main stage was being prepared then swung down the stairs into the bomb shelter basement where Haex was rattling the foundation with hard hitting industrial metal. Ash’s grimy guitar riffs and Sarah Graves’ electronic drumming and synth-work charged Adam Jones’ Neuromancer vocal growls to get me thrashing around rabidly right from the outset.
I felt the need to keep moving and check out all the action. I quickly cruised to the Tower to see LXT. They performed a bluesy, melodramatic and deliberate sort of post punk, like if Bertolt Brecht wrote for Joy Division. Their songs wallow in sadness then explode into heart-aching maladies. They were cool but couldn’t sink their teeth deep enough in me to stay.
The first set I saw on the Globe’s stage, which was essentially the festival’s main stage, was horror film composer, Steve Moore who played music from his many soundtracks like V/H/S 2 and The Guest. As a cinephile and industrial junkie, I absolutely loved it. I always thought good industrial, the likes of Skinny Puppy and Einstürzende Neubauten, should sound like horror movie music. You could close your eyes and transport yourself somewhere sick and twisted or you could keep them open to the crimson light bathing everyone and bring the sick and twisted right to the Globe.
David Scott Stone does one of my favorite things: plug wires in and out of a modular synths and let improvised chaos ensue as calculated industrial plays below. He could be facing toward the audience, or sulking with his head resting against his modulator, or bum-rushing between the gaps in the audience like a madman. His sound was abrasive and undeniable, everything electronic music was initially made to be. He would even keep the wires slung around his neck, like extra shanks on an assassin.
Awww, Ho99o9, Janky Smooth’s black Christs incarnate. This was the fourth time I’ve seen them since they released their definitive album United States of Ho99o9. Even though there was a good twenty minutes of sound-check issues, the band still ripped the Globe apart as the most aggressive act hosted. They were ushered on stage by their house of horrors roller coaster electronic intro then began their set with their live staple “Street Power”. That song is hardcore punk personified. With the OGM in a white dress, soon to be stripped down into white jeans, and Eaddy in a bloody and torn white suit, the boys just had to dress in stark contrast to the uniform. Honestly, I’m down with any band that would sample Hawk from the Legion Of Doom saying “RRRRRRRRRWWHAT A RUSSSSHHH!”
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Danny and I have argued about HEALTH since I first saw them open for Deafheaven at the Echoplex in January. I didn’t really enjoy them but this time around, part of me was blown away… only part, though. Even though they had the most massive sound of the whole festival, punching you in the chest with every beat, and even though John Famiglietti had an ubermensch’s charisma and intensity, I still maintain the same issue with the band. And that’s Jake Duzsik vocal. I don’t think it’s bad, I just think it’s a waste of potential. When your music is that powerful, why should your songs be castrated by a soft, lull vocal that is filtered and buried in the mix to the point that you can’t understand the lyrics, rendering them useless? Then with Famiglietti’s off-the-wall stage persona, it’s as if he’s the true frontman of the band. I think the right combination to achieve enormous success is right at their fingertips but unless they make a change they will peak as a great club act.
The Jesus and Mary Chain were the legendary band of the evening, the main draw, the band all the vampires came out of hiding for. At this point, the festival was packed to the brim with beautiful people, one’s mind could not escape fantasizing about a massive orgy breaking out. And I’m sure, somewhere, in some decadent downtown loft, it happened and all that black was shed after the lustful feelings stirred up by The Jesus and Mary Chain’s epic post punk set.
Even though I prefer the excessively aggressive and macabre sound that other acts had to offer, I surmised that most people came out for the alternative and pop-goth 80’s vibes that the band was famous for. The Jesus and Mary Chain is great music to fall in love to or shoot up heroin to but as fun as bobbing around to the classic jams was, I wanted this weekend to be about dancing and sensuality and that was happening across the street at the Tower theater. So, I split from the objectively best set of the fest for Com Truise, who ranked right up there with The Jesus. His music is perfectly produced to compel your body to move.
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My night ended with hearing a few songs by TR/ST, an electronic act I heard about through the Lethal Amounts ringer. It’s pretty much sex embodied in sound, with beats so deep you could accuse the band of groping you with music. That was how my night 1 ended, and the first thing I felt after leaving is that time seems have a different pace at Cloak and Dagger, 2:00AM felt like 9.
Night 2: An Accidental Swing of the Axe delivers the Punishment and Justice Due
The bands I wanted to see most on Night 2 were going on rather early so I got there for the first set at the Globe: Uniform. Imagine if Ministry and Big Black had a baby… I would worship that baby as my lord and savior. And that’s what Uniform might just be. With thick guitar riffs and visceral and jagged drum machine clanking from Ben Greenberg, then filtered vocals from Michael Berdan that he belts out so hard his face stretches to the point of tearing, the band has enormous potential to leave their mark on extreme music.
UNIFORM & Black Marble At Union: The Mongrelization Of Music Continues…
Look, the main reason I was stoked for this festival was that Nivek OhGr of Skinny Puppy would be there. I would get to see OhGr sing and take cellphone video of OhGr, hell, maybe I’d even get to touch OhGr! This guy is one of the many Gods of music I worship, others may fancy Al Jourgensen’s Ministry or Trent Reznor’s NIN but to me, Skinny Puppy is everything industrial music should be. They were legitimately dark and disturbing, creating moods other bands dared not tread into. I made sure to be right up front, spitting distance from the band. Then as I stood there, what was supposed to be a ten minute sound check, turned into an hour long turn for the worst. I wouldn’t budge though, I wasn’t going to lose hope until some ass hole came out and told me the band wasn’t going to perform and thankfully, that never happened.
OhGr was made up of three dudes with industrial dreadlocks and an older bald bass player that came on to introduce my hero to his stage. He was wearing all black and a strange looking, human-like white mask. He pranced around with his signature body mastery. Every limb and digit being dramatically manipulated to mean something. His movements are both graceful and grotesque, haunting and beautiful. My heart was exploding with joy at this point, as OhGr threw off his mask and revealed the true face of industrial music. The organizers made the right call and let the band play what was basically a full set. And even though I was missing the beginning of Lust For Youth at the Globe, I seemed to be skipping there because my black heart was full.
The sound check snafu was a blessing in disguise though because the set time conflicts between the Tower and Globe had been made obsolete. People didn’t want to have to choose between The Soft Moon and KMFDM or Poptone and Cold Cave. Now though, with all the sets in the Tower pushed an hour, you were only forced to choose between She Wants Revenge and Cold Cave, which is an easy and obvious decision.
Sweden’s Lust For Youth is Hannes Norrvide’s brain-child. What Lust For Youth does is something I consider a bit of a guilty pleasure, new wave dance music from soft boys. Think Depeche Mode “Just Can’t Get Enough” vibes, the only other band truly doing this in 2017 is First Hate and their album A Prayer For The Unemployed is going to be on my best of the year list. I arrived at the Globe in the middle of their set and was treated to hearing songs I listen to at the gym all the time. LFY had an interesting performance set up with Hannes and his band, playing with a young guy simply sitting on stage to be viewed as an object. A purely visual human element of the performance, this kid represented an idea. Bands like Lust For Youth tap into a homoerotic element that plenty of post punk bands have always danced around. Goths have to fall somewhere in the middle of the Kinsey scale, somewhere from 1-5, experiencing a strange attraction to humanity. That said, Lust For Youth’s music could bang just as hard in straight clubs as in gay clubs. The thought crossed my mind that events like these are just part of the Europeanizing of California. As the rest of the country drifts to the right, becoming more American than ever before, perhaps we will take-on the European model of economics and culture in response.
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Next I checked out Zombi for a bit at the Tower, they were an instrumental prog goth band that sound-checked by playing Yes tunes. They were cool but I opted to go outside and make the inside of my lungs match the color of my shoes. Mingling with street urchins on Broadway was all part of the weekend’s fun, often times providing more entertainment than the bands. I returned to the Tower for KMFDM and got the chance to meet Dug Pinnic, the singer and bassist of King’s X. None of these young goths probably knew who that is or have ever heard his band and for that, you don’t have to worry about sinning, you’re already going to hell. Futhermore, plenty of the people there didn’t even know who the KMFDM was… so here’s a lesson kids: Kein Mehrheit Für Die Mitleid (no pity for the majority) are industrial legends from Germany that were on the legendary Wax Trax records. Just as I knew would happen, the band was absolutely electrifying. It’s the perfect hype music with heavy metal riffage, electronic dance beats, cool samples, and male and female vocals from Sascha Konietzko and Lucia Cifarelli delivering lyrics like “let your freak flag fly!” over and over again, in that German commanding way, so you do exactly that.
After a bit of KMFDM, I cruised over to Poptone which originally, I had no interest in. I get that Daniel Ash and Kevin Haskins rule and Bauhaus rules and Love and Rockets rules and so do Tones On Tail, but guess what? Poptone isn’t any of those original bands and when I arrived in the Globe after partying to KMFDM, I couldn’t slow back down to Poptone’s pace, which quite frankly, bored me. It was like going from fighting in a war to volunteering at a geriatric hospital. The music had plenty of nuance and cool instrumentation but stirred nothing more than a “meh” out of me.
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So, now I had to choose between Interpol, a band formed by the organizer of Cloak and Dagger festival, Adam Bravin, and Cold Cave. Oh, did I accidentally say Interpol? I meant Joy Division…. oh wait, nevermind. She Wants Revenge. That’s what I meant. You know, the bad rip off of Interpol which is just a good rip off of Joy Division? Shit, if you want to hear that kind of post punk just listen to Ceremony’s The L-Shaped Man. Obviously, I chose Cold Cave. And I was rewarded with the best set of the festival only after The Jesus And The Mary Chain.
I had wanted to see Cold Cave for a long time, having seen his previous band American Nightmare headline Sound And Fury 2016, then his super group with members of Psychic TV, Rebellion Is Over, earlier in the year at Dais Records’ 10 year anniversary.
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The character of Cold Cave’s Wesley Eisold has always intrigued me, singing about love in hardcore before anyone was, he always had the makings of a goth artist. Then the fact that he was born without his left hand has always made him carry the poetic idea of being betrayed by one’s own body. Like Joey Ramone, Bradford Cox, or the Elephant Man, he has an inherent sadness to his condition that only adds to his stage persona. Not to sound like an ass again but I’d probably pay a cool 100 bucks to see his knub.
Listening to Cold Cave on record, I found a few songs I liked, “Underworld USA” and “Confetti”, but then plenty of material that just didn’t hit quite right. Live though, every song was incredible. His performing style was something to behold, bringing his roots into goth and knowing exactly how to commune with an audience like only a hardcore singer can. Then he sort of moves around with a child-like wonder and playfulness that I think is a theme in all goth music. We’re all Peter Pan here, a damaged little kid underneath the layers and callouses. Lastly, the way he approaches his wife, who plays synths in the band, is in that adorable goth, hopeless romantic, lover boy sort of way. It reassures me that we’re not into this music and dressing in black because we’re morbid, we like this music and dress this way because we’ve been hurt and just want to love somebody, and with as many different kinds of people and sounds that Cloak and Dagger brought together, I hope someone to love is exactly what you found.
Words by: Rob Shepyer
Photos by: Jessica Moncrief