There’s something for everyone in this city. Though in truth that could be said for most places, the fact is that in LA, more so than any other city in the United States, there is a subculture waiting with open arms. Perhaps the most curious of these is the warehouse scene, an exclusive club of black-clad twenty-somethings getting last minute text invites to watch someone drag a guitar across the ground at 3 am by the Arroyo. This group seems content to be the weirdos; in fact, they revel in it. Recently this exclusive club has begun to gain some clout as groups like Cloak and Dagger and festivals like Cold Waves began to carve out spaces for the goths who had no forever home, and with the latest installment of Cold Waves, a home finally feels like it is within reach.
Rolling up to 1720, one couldn’t be blamed for feeling a touch of apprehension. Downtown LA shows always hold an element of sketchiness that comes with the long walk from car to venue. Even then, there’s still an inherent safety in knowing you’re in a public space in one of the largest cities in the world. 1720, however, is located under a freeway, with little light and entirely unmarked street parking. However, despite the gruff exterior, the inside of 1720 is modern, minimalist and oozes an industrial cool that’s perfect for a fest like Cold Waves. Continues took great advantage of the cold gray space with near pitch black lighting and a throbbing light show befitting of a club in the matrix. Musically, the band was excellent, and their throwback, synth-heavy sound was a clear hit with the minuscule audience. Most impressively was that Continues was comprised of a single member who ran about the stage singing, playing drums and controlling a synth pad, creating a sound much bigger than a single person should be capable of.
Following an excellent performance by Continues was Hide, who took the stage in a much darker manner than their predecessor. At their arrival, the stage flooded with smoke, and the venue pulsated with a siren-like cry. The crowd had begun to flesh itself out a bit more by this point, though the energy level remained much the same. Fortunately, all their onstage presence was far superior to their studio sound, with tracks like “Come Down” and “Fucked (I Found Heaven)” taking on newer, darker life in the highly appropriate warehouse of 1720.
Assemblage 23 took the stage next, bringing a calmer, more seductive take on darkness with them, and though the sound was certainly smoother and more approachable than the delightful noisiness of Hide, the energy increased due to the industrial club nature of their music. Opening with “Damaged” and closing with “The Noise Inside My Head,” they turned the concrete room into a throbbing dance party. Much like Continues, this group would have been as comfortable alongside The Prodigy and Rob Zombie in the world of The Matrix as they would be on the undercard of Depeche Mode. Of all the acts so far, Assemblage 23 had the greatest understanding of how to work a crowd. Where the previous acts (understandably) allowed their music to do the talking, Assemblage 23 encouraged dancing and clapping verbally to the rather reserved audience. Luckily for the group, their encouragement did not fall on deaf ears and lead to the most energetic set of the night so far, though Hide still held the title of the strongest atmosphere.
After an excellent set from the previous acts, it seemed reasonable to believe that C-Tec, with their notably different sound, would have a difficult time endearing themselves to the crowd, especially before the headlining act. Unfortunately, their much-delayed start time didn’t help matters along but when they finally took the stage the sway they held over the audience was immediately palpable. Of all the bands so far they were the most reserved and the most goth. Where Hide possessed an element of mystery and freshness, C-Tec knew exactly what they intended to be and proved it with crowd-pleasing hits like “Stateless” and “Let Your Body Die.” It was rather impressive to see how much staying power the band had considering the last record they released came out nearly twenty years ago. They were an excellent example for the argument of live music over studio as well. Where their studio music felt flat and pedestrian, their set possessed an undeniable gravitas that made them an excellent choice to play before the final act of the show.
As was to be expected, the best was saved for last. The Black Queen came out to the biggest crowd of the night, hot on the heels of their excellent new album Infinite Games. The set was an eclectic mix of popular throwbacks like “The End Where We Start” and “Secret Scream” and newer tracks like “No Accusations.” Despite this literally being the day of their album release, the crowd already seemed intimately familiar with each and every song they played. When they took the stage, the crowd was in an absolute frenzy (well as much of a frenzy as a crowd of goths is capable of mustering) and from that moment forward, they fully possessed the attention of everyone within the venue. Throughout the night the mixing was phenomenal, but The Black Queen took it a step further and delivered an electrifyingly crisp set that would put the quality of most studio recordings to shame. Their stage was (fittingly) the most complex of any band so far, complete with a video screen that played various images of static with their triangular logo plastered atop it, and glowing bars of LED served as ample distraction for those who were on the more stimulation starved side. There’s little else to be said of the set except that it was perfect in nearly every way possible, making for a memorable closer to an even more memorable evening.
Small festivals are often a big gamble for attendees, a gamble that becomes increasingly risky when applied to underground genre events. Luckily the people at Cold Waves are no rookies. They chose an excellent venue and an eclectic but connected set of acts and made sure things ran smoothly and (mostly) on time. If every small festival were run with the skill, love and respect that Cold Waves was, then the future of these events would be much brighter. As it stands, Cold Waves is a beacon of hope in a dim landscape of organizers trying to get something off the ground, luckily they have something to look toward and learn from.