The number of different types of artists and sounds that fall under the banner of “industrial music” is incredibly wide, ranging from full bands with live instruments to solo artists with only a backing track behind them. While industrial influences can be found in scenes such as goth, noise, metalcore, psych rock and different forms of electronic music; the origins of the movement are not always credited as often as the artists who took these influences. Cold Waves Festival at The Mayan Theater focuses on bringing the roots of the industrial live experience to a modern audience, showcasing rare performances by international artists from all different eras and sounds within the genre. Cold Waves Festival is truly a one-of-a-kind event, as it’s rare to see a festival so dedicated in paying respect to a genre’s history while equally hosting upcoming artists that carry the torch for its future.
Leathers was the first performer of the evening, being the solo project of Shannon Hemmett from the post-punk band Actors. The project has a lot of 80’s synthpop influence in its instrumentals, with the echo effects on Hemmett’s voice creating an element of distance in its sound to stand apart from these influences while simultaneously evoking a deeper feeling of nostalgia towards them. This atmosphere of distorted 80’s nostalgia transformed for a new era was incredibly reminiscent of the soundtrack for Drive, but it’s distinctive from other synth-pop in the passionate emotions felt in Hemmett’s vocals. Kendall Wooding of Actors joined Hemmett on stage to play the synthesizer, providing a more live atmosphere than a strictly solo performance would have. It’s incredibly impressive how they both played back-to-back sets, with Actors hitting the stage right afterwards.
Actors had a more new-wave influence than most of the artists to play Cold Waves Festival with the upbeat guitar riffs and smooth, poppy vocals from frontman Jason Corbett that sounded similar to Morissey. Being the only full live band to play the first day of the festival, their blend of post-punk and 80’s pop influences brought a bright arena rock sound to The Mayan compared to the avant-garde provocative nature from the other acts. Synth player Shannon Hemmett provided harmonious backup vocals that complimented Corbett’s melodic singing in creating a giant atmosphere for their sound that filled the room. While Actors may not be the most industrial artist, elements of the genre were so pivotal in new-wave and goth movements that Actors felt right at home on the Cold Waves Festival lineup.
Kite’s set was an excellent example of how artists can incorporate industrial sounds into other genres while never losing the core elements from the movement, bringing its dark abrasiveness into a more vibrant electro-pop environment. The duo ‘s stage presence looks as if you are witnessing a technological experiment, with members Nicklas Stenemo and Christian Berg having musical gear on both sides of them as they simultaneously manage multiple instruments at once. Although Stenemo is on the synthesizers throughout the set, he somehow is able to step away at moments to lead the energy of the crowd and never feeling as if his frontman energy is absent. With all of the electronic instruments being played simultaneously, Kite has an absolutely massive and engulfing sound that fuses with Stenemo’s emotional vocals to bring the listener on an intense and mystical journey. While Kite did have a more uplifting sound overall, the darker industrial influence that would be found later in the festival was starting to creep its way in with their noise-y and theatrical presentation.
Xeno & Oaklander brought a surreal environment to the Mayan Theater that stood out immensely from the rest of the lineup, with their minimalist synthesizer riffs layered on top of extended drone-y and ambient tones. The contrast between the ethereal and haunting vocals from Liz Wendelbo with the lower, gloomy vocals from Sean Mcbride creates an entirely new sound that is equally dream pop as it is goth or industrial. Being only a two-piece group, it’s incredible how enormous of an atmosphere that their music evokes. Liz Wendelbo has an absolutely otherworldly stage presence, with the floaty way that she dances that almost feels disconnected from the rest of the room completely. Seeing Xeno & Oaklander live feels like being centered in a classic fairy tale, with their blissful sound gradually creeping into moments of dissociative terror as the synthesizer riffs become faster and more disjointed. Xeno & Oaklander marked a significant shift in the energy of Cold Wave Festival’s first night, slowly transitioning the crowd from a brighter synth-pop environment into dark and foreboding territory in preparation for the headlining act.
Front 242 headlining the first night perfectly embodied the focus that Cold Waves Festival has for showcasing rare appearances from pioneers within industrial music, being one of the first artists to represent the EBM (Electronic Body Music) movement in the early 1980s and visiting Los Angeles all the way from Belgium for the first time since 2017. Front 242’s sound defines the EBM genre, with their powerful echo-ing shouts backed by rapid and repetitive drum samples. Vocalists Jean-Luc De Meyer and Richard23 were sporting matching all-black outfits as they chanted each lyric simultaneously, creating an image of uniformity that made each track feel exponentially more anthemic live than in the studio recordings. The strobe lights and fog machines that took over the stage turned each member into a distant silhouette, creating the illusion of witnessing a performance by spirits from a nightmare that contrasted immensely with the passionate humanity that Front 242 pours into their craft.
Even with the vigorous rawness that Front 242 exhibits, there is equal focus on bringing liveliness to the dancefloor with their infectious synth melodies and forceful drum sequences that transform the space into some sort of diabolical disco. When Front 242 left the stage, the nonstop adrenaline pumping through the crowd could not be stopped as the room demanded an encore. As soon as the group returned, they brought this unholy disco spirit to its highest peak by breaking into the final track “Welcome to Paradise” as religious imagery flashed across the screens. While Jean-Luc De Meyer and Richard23 were chanting the chorus “Jesus is Here”, this could not be further from the truth with the chaotic evil energy that the track manifests. The track was a perfect closer to Front 242’s set, embodying the sinister heaviness of their themes complimented by their high-energy electronic sound to create a deranged effect on the listener that was sure to follow each person home that evening.
It was instantly apparent that Night 2 of Cold Wave festival would have a much larger crowd with a lot more dancing upon arrival, which made sense with the second day landing on a Friday and the lineup having a heavier punk energy than the synth pop ambience that could be found the first night. The change in tone could not be better displayed than with Los Angeles’ own Spike Hellis kicking off the second evening. Vocalist Elaine Chang is able to make any venue feel like a more intimate setting with the aggressive force she commands the room with, even with The Mayan Theater being as huge of a space as it is. Spike Hellis drastically shifts from creeping, slower bass-heavy segments into explosive waves of euphoric synths that have the entire crowd moving. The freeform nature of industrial music was on full display, as Chang and Cortland Gibson switch off between singing and instrumentals throughout the set. This even focus on each of them creates a much more pronounced image for the project, and foreshadowed the experimental nature that later industrial performances of the evening would display.
Rein was the only artist to play without anyone else on stage, which is surprising considering how many underground industrial artists are known for performing solo with a backing track behind them. Rein brought a very pop-star sort of stage presence to Cold Waves Festival with the powerful personality she commands the venue with. It almost sounds as if two singers are present, as she transitions from dreary goth-type vocals during the verses into robust yelling for each chorus. Rein’s style of dancing is absolutely bizarre, as she mostly keeps her feet glued to the floor in one spot while moving only the upper part of her body in flailing, animated motions that look like a marionette being controlled by an invisible puppetmaster. Rein has a very clear focus on the image she is presenting, and it’s incredible how she manages to execute it flawlessly on her own.
High-Functioning Flesh was easily the heaviest artist on the Cold Waves lineup. While the synthesizers played in their background have a very goth ambience to them, the snarling hardcore screams of vocalist Gregory Vand and rapid machine gun sounding electric drums being played live by Susan Subtract transform each track into a catastrophic dystopia that fills the listener with aggression. Even with the adrenaline-filled rage that High-Functioning Flesh inspires, the bright and colorful synthesizer riffs create a balance that makes their sound infectious in how catchy it is. It’s nearly impossible not to be dancing throughout a High-Functioning Flesh performance, although more intense moments will have you wanting to slam into everybody in close proximity. The range of emotions that High Functioning Flesh displays is rare to find in any artist, with the audience entranced into feeling this emotional intensity on the same level.
The Revolting Corpse (Formerly known as The Revolting Cocks) had a much more old-school punk aesthetic than the more synthesizer-heavy electronic sounding bands of the festival. Being a supergroup made up of vocalist Richard23 from Front 242 and members of Ministry, The Revolting Corpse create a completely separate style of music than any of the groups that they originated from. While the industrial roots are still present, The Revolting Corpse lean much more into the noise-y and distorted sounds of experimental punk bands like Big Black or Butthole Surfers. While Cold Waves Festival did focus more on artists that are strictly industrial in nature, The Revolting Corpse depicted an important era of the genre’s fusion into other scenes that cannot be ignored when showcasing its history.
Richard23 sang in a vastly different manner for The Revolting Corpse than in Front 242 the previous night, drastically switching between his dark and menacing vocals found in Front 242 into higher pitched nasally yelps that reminded me of Nardwuar with a voice changer. The escalating booming bass riffs from Paul Barker added a progressive element to their sound, which can only be captured by live instruments rather than the sample-based loops that the other industrial artists of the festival incorporated. A major highlight of The Revolting Corpse’s set was their iconic cover of “Do Ya Think I’m Sexy” by Rod Stewart, which had everybody in the room screaming along to the lyrics and dancing like nobody was watching. While the concept of covering the track is silly at face value, industrial music is filled with campy elements in its dramatic aesthetics and themes. While The Revolting Corpse weren’t as dark or foreboding as some of the other artists showcased, this off the wall and unpredictable energy found in noise-rock scenes with industrial influence could have not been better represented.
Nitzer Ebb was the perfect choice for a closing headliner, having easily the most theatrical and interactive set of the festival. As soon as Nitzer Ebb approached the stage, it was apparent that they illustrate the industrial EBM scene in its purest form as main vocalist Douglas McCarthy appeared with his very signature style of a black suit and sunglasses as the heavy opening beat of “Blood Money” boomed throughout The Mayan. McCarthy has a very unique vocal style, almost speaking with an animated and menacing tone that resembles a cartoon villain before breaking into echoing shouts at the climax of each track. The second vocalist Bon Harris primarily screams in the anthemic and echo-y chants that EBM is known for, adding an element of urgent fury which had The Mayan feeling like a futuristic war-zone. Even with the dark and grisly atmosphere that Nitzer Ebb provides, they may have had the most dance music elements of the entire festival with the repetitive club-like drum samples and laser-type synths that would later be found in acid-house scenes. While Nitzer Ebb is one of the early founders of industrial EBM music, the spirit in the room was as youthful as could be with intense dancing everywhere.
The theatrical aesthetics found in industrial scenes could be seen most prominently during Nitzer Ebb’s performance of “Join in the Chant”. The track is based around the repetition of different words that bring an emotional response from the listener, such as “Lies”, “Guns, and “Fire”. Nitzer Ebb provided printed signs for each of these words that the crowd would hold up as they chanted along, feeling as interactive as a sports game or church service with the cult-like enthusiasm the song inspired. Oddly enough, the encore was mostly led by the second vocalist Bon Harris although Douglas McCarthy was the main frontman throughout the set.
Harris made the encore feel almost like a second set as he screamed his heart out to heavier Nitzer Ebb songs “Violent Playground” and “Alarm”. The shift of focus within the band’s lineup captured the creative process of industrial music incredibly. With industrial and EBM being some of the first electronically produced genres, members shift around in their roles rather than being locked into the responsibility of one instrument like a rock band would be. Industrial music isn’t just experimental in its sound, but in the overall structure that the projects operate with. McCarthy returned for the last song of the evening, the haunting track “Cherry Blossom ” which is slower in tempo and feels like one extended breakdown. The audience could have easily been dancing to Nitzer Ebb all night long, but the group had already covered every corner within their own sound. More importantly, they were instrumental in assisting the Cold Waves Festival with the ambitious goal of covering every corner of industrial music as a whole.
Words by: Danny Ryan
Day 1 Photos by: Chris Molina
Day 2 Photos by: Dillon Vaughn