Los Angeles has always been a haven for the strange. From venues like The Smell to the warehouse parties that pulse with gothic techno each night, the city never seemed to determine a time period to exist in. This very culture gave rise to the inaugural, a much anticipated show where the strange folk of Los Angeles could gather to wear black and have their equally dark hearts satisfied by music that embodies their existence.
Tropic of Cancer began the show with an atmospheric set, full of strong bass and a lulling tone. There was a small audience trickling in as set went on. The lyrics were more or less indiscernible as they were played in a long, drawn out manner. The crowd seemed to enjoy the performance, though it was clear it was not a jump and dance around type of set. The band themselves stayed more or less still for the duration of the show, never really achieving any sort of energy level to speak of.
The slow intensive builds of Steve Moore (bassist for Zombi) were like drifting in space. There was a smaller crowd than Tropic of Cancer but that’s expected to a degree. This is a live music crowd but they were missing out on what was turning out to be the most engaging experience of the night so far. The sounds were fierce and overwhelming and after they had built it was reminiscent of John Carpenter in his prime. Each song was a modern day horror anthem on par with that of It Follows and S U R V I V E. His use of a retro Moog synthesizer atop his punishing bass hits only endeared him to the crowd.
The basement was a unique venue even by Cloak and Dagger standards. The air hung thick with smoke and the room shone with light projected at odd angles, creating a disorienting atmosphere that was only enhanced by the mirrored walls on either end of the concrete room. The pièce de résistance, however, was an industrial fan with a dimmed floodlight behind it that cast an eerie shine across the room that brought to mind memories of the warehouses that many of the acts frequented during their rise to prominence.
When David Scott Stone took the stage it was to a minuscule crowd with no more than 30 people were gathered in the basement but it was immoderately evident that a man of his skill deserved a larger crowd. When the set began, his skills with a classic modular synthesizer took center stage as he ran about hurriedly, making the monster sing. It sounded like the roar of a million trumpets being blown by a jet engine, the synth was violent, murderous even, and his shockingly crisp drums threatened to punch a hole through any show-goer’s skull. At one point he walked away from the table and wildly flailed a cord to make some of the most horrendously brilliant laser and glass noises that have ever been heard live. Many of the synth bursts would have fit just as well within HEALTH’s set, as a punctuation their volatility. It’s a shame that his set was so poorly attended; there are few people talented enough to corral such ferocity into brutal, enjoyable, strangely danceable music.
After such an incredible set, the true gauntlet began. It would kick off with its most insane act, then tumble about wildly with each individual band. The first band was the ever-insane Ho99o9, who were destined to blow the doors off the festival. And good God they did, but only after conquering a bevy of technical difficulties during sound testing. They began with “Street Power” as head rapper theOGM came out in a wedding dress and wailed until the other member Eaddy appeared wearing a torn white suit stained with blood. They quickly asserted themselves as the most energetic group of the night with their noise punk energy and onstage antics elevating them to the top of the lineup in terms of engagement and intensity.
One of the standouts of Ho99o9’s set was “Moneymachine,” which had a unique energy that was more hip-hop than punk. It was a far cry from the prior songs, but it was received with equal eagerness and served as a brief reprieve from the brutality of the rest of the set. And what a reprieve it was as Eaddy would go on to throw himself into the mosh pit on the very next song. They were also the only band to get a mosh pit going at the entire event and they had no trouble keeping the pit open. This was by far the most well-attended set of the night up until this point and with good cause — no other band for the rest of the night would be able to match their energy even though there would be larger crowds later in the night.
Despite the inherent difficultly of following up Ho99o9, HEALTH were always destined to be a standout act of the night. Their unique blend of noise, rock and pop sets them completely apart from any other band in the world; they’re in a league of their own and their live shows more than prove it. The crowd had increased in size since Ho99o9 left the stage and people couldn’t wait to be completely leveled by HEALTH. The band happily obliged by opening with “VICTIM” and transitioning into “MEN TODAY.” This supplanted their traditional setlist run of going from “VICTIM” into “STONEFIST” and the change seemed to throw off some of the older fans in the audience. However, the blistering pace of “MEN TODAY” was enough to knock anyone off balance.
HEALTH then moved into a couple songs that make pretty much every setlist by them, beginning with Get Color standout “Die Slow,” which not only moved the crowd but set bassist John Famiglietti flailing about the stage, his trademark mane flowing through the air with each swing of his head. He danced about during the song like the show was a warehouse dance party. Eventually they played crowd favorites “NEW COKE” and “Crimewave” before leading “SALVIA” into “STONEFIST” which ignited the crowd like there were firecrackers placed in their ears. Every drop of “STONEFIST” teetered on destroying the building, a standard occurrence for the band. No matter how much a listener prepares, HEALTH will always knock a crowd flat.
They wound down the set with a run of a few of their poppier songs like “LA LOOKS” and “DARK ENOUGH,” before moving back into the realm of noise with “COURTSHIP II.” Fans of their latest album DISCO 3 were treated to “EUPHORIA” and “CRUSHER,” the second of which may have been the most energetic performance by HEALTH for the entire night. The eagerness as the song entered the burst section was tangible and when the distortion whine hit, it was like a shockwave in The Globe Theatre. They closed the set out after a pause with the classic jams of “We Are Water” and “Perfect Skin” before quietly leaving the stage, making for a sudden end to the standoutperformance of the night.
Luckily for Drab Majesty, they didn’t have to follow up HEALTH across the road at the Tower Theatre. Drab Majesty was a true standout, with his 80’s goth inspired beats and lyrics. Unsurprisingly, he was a hit with the black-clad crowd. His breakout song “39 By Design” was able to compel the theater into a sing along, something that no band had been able to do so far. Unfortunately, the building got so full that there was no capacity for further people, and show goers were then robbed of the opportunity to see such an incredible artist. Luckily he could be heard well enough outside so people were still able to treat themselves to the music without the visual elements.
The Jesus and Mary Chain was the clear headliner of the night, this could be determined simply by the size of the line to get in, much less the crowd inside. The audience was incredibly eager to see them take the stage and people in the lines could barely contain their excitement. Eventually, moments before the band took the stage, they cut off access to this venue as well, at least momentarily, begging the question as to whether or not they had oversold tickets to the show. The band however, still delivered on the promise of an earth-shattering headlining set despite being a tad late. The moment The Jesus and Mary Chain opened, the atmosphere was electric, at least toward the front of the room. Due to the incredible crowds in the building, many in the back were forced to stare over bars, around pillars, and across a sea of people to get a reasonable view of the band.
The song “Rock and Roll Amputation” seemed to excite the crowd enough to essentially cook them through. The onstage presence of the band was extremely palpable; the stage itself glowed bright red against the smoke, casting the band in an unsettling smoky shadow. It seemed fitting of the repeating words “Jesus and Mary Chain” that glowed brightly behind the band. The band’s visuals were nothing to speak of but their energy was impressive for a group that had been playing for so long. They easily hung with every performer barring Ho99o9 and HEALTH, who exceeded them via the simple virtue of youth and ferocity. They rocked as though they belonged in the Hall of Fame or should be sharing stages with The Stones. The crowd, a notably younger-skewing one, seemed to be fully in love with them despite almost certainly missing the band’s prime, a true testament to their legacy and influence. This was never more true than when they played “Crazy,” which imbued the crowd with new life despite the late hour. Some of the crowd had been active since 6 PM and even now six hours later a band that saw their biggest fame in the ’80s and ’90s was enlivening a crowd of youths at one of the strangest festivals ever to occur within the confines of America, much less Los Angeles.
Jesus and Mary Chain may have been the true headliner but that didn’t seem to throw off the groove of Tr/St at all. The crowd had begun to thin out but was by no means minuscule, still easily eclipsing any act that had come on before HEALTH. While Tr/St have not released any albums since 2014, it did nothing to diminish their stage presence which was, in a word dominating. They were the absolute emphasis of the goth nature of the festival, in both music and action. Each track called to mind a neon soaked tunnel, the lights fading every second, slipping ever further into the darkness. Everything they did the crowd ate up, even when they simply stood still with their instruments, methodically playing away at the guitars and keys. The backlit stage casting them as colossal shadows over the eager crowd. The visuals of their set were by far the best of any at the show and the addition of eight screens on each wing of the center screen greatly added to the presence of the band onstage. The visuals they had on these screens were no slouch either — water sloshed in flowing patterns before they took the stage and their set utilized these screens by showing glitching polygonal faces on the screens that also flashed with moving geometric patterns to add additional interest to their set. Even this late in the night the level of command they had over the audience was impressive. It’s rare to catch an act so subdued but also so fully in control, it drew to mind memories of the live powers of John Darnielle of The Mountain Goats, though clearly much less vocal and more low key. Regardless, Tr/St played a set to remember and capped off what had been a wonderful inaugural day of the freshly created Cloak and Dagger Festival.
Despite some minor technical issues (just about every show at The Globe ran ten to fifteen minutes late), the first day of the inaugural Cloak and Dagger was an overwhelming success. They didn’t manage to get too far in over their heads, something that has been a running theme for new festivals this past year. Luckily Cloak and Dagger didn’t promise a luxury experience, they simply promised a night full of darkness and they more than delivered. If day one was any indication, Cloak and Dagger could be very on to something with their model of an extremely niche festival catered directly to an underground but fervent fanbase. With any luck day two will be slightly better organized but just as energetic, but for now, Cloak and Dagger is asserting itself as a must see festival for goths, industrial fans and anyone who has ever loved a John Carpenter film soundtrack.
File Photo: Raymond Flotat