After a second surge of the pandemic postponed the original plans for LA’s 2020 Cold Waves Festival, fans of dark and thought-provoking experimental dance music finally had the chance to witness living legends performing on-stage and in-person. Sure 2020’s “Lost Weekend” virtual festival was a valiant effort on the part of organizers, but the music showcased at these Cold Waves mini-festivals is always more impactful live and in the flesh.
Following the standard that was set in 2019, this year’s Los Angeles Cold Wave was stripped back to just a one-day event. Despite being shorter than the flagship festival in Chicago that was held earlier this week, Angelenos were treated to a showcase of one of experimental music’s most iconic labels, Wax Trax!. The Mayan Theatre from Los Angeles’ golden age of movie palaces was the perfect location for this kind of event. Its haunting, exotic ambiance is a perfect match for the primal, pounding sounds that Wax Trax! is so well-recognized for. Upon entering the venue, attendees encountered a massive merch table, which was the Wax Trax! pop-up store, selling t-shirts and vinyl records from across the label’s roster.
The audience was largely dressed in all-black—no surprises there—with KMFDM and Ministry logos being the most frequently spotted. A testament to the re-emergence in popularity of industrial, EMB and other similar sub-genres in the ’20s, the audience wasn’t just made up of 40-somethings that were actually there for the original heyday of Wax Trax!.
After a haunting DJ set by Delilah Domino (as Divine), the first live act Riki took the stage. The synthpop artist is getting ready for the release of her second album, Gold, in November, which was recorded here in the Los Angeles area at Telefon Tel Aviv co-founder Joshua Eustis’ Pasadena studio. Taking the stage alone, she exuded confidence as she gyrated and twisted her way through a half-hour set in a stylish black leather leotard. Her set included songs from her 2020 self-titled debut and upcoming 2nd LP, including its first single “Marigold” and a cover of the Spanish-language song “Porque Te Vas.” Perhaps intentional, the low end of the mix was extremely loud with the bass drums and synths, so while it was easy to hear the vocal melodies and hooks, it was difficult at times to understand the lyrics.
Next up was a highly anticipated set by Paul Barker and John Connelly, two titans of the industrial scene. Performing under the band name Luxapan, they played cuts from their highly prolific careers, including Acid Horse, Revolting Cocks and all three of the PTP (Programming the PsychoDrill) songs. Barker spent the set alternating between synths and the bass, creating the exhilaratingly swirling and pounding soundscapes over which Connelly deadpanned, chanted, screamed and sang. The duo got started with “No Name, No Slogan,” literally the only song by Acid Horse, released in 1989 by Wax Trax!. Acid Horse was a group that included Connelly and Barker plus Al Jourgensen and members of Cabaret Voltaire. They also tackled a couple of Revolting Cocks songs, including “Creep,” “The Rockabye” and “Sergio.” They closed out the set with another bunch of rare songs from the short-lived project Programming the PsychoDrill, which had a lineup that was basically the same as Acid Horse. They played all three of that group’s songs, the highlight being “Show Me Your Spine,” which was featured in the movie RoboCop. Naturally, for that track, the background footage depicted iconic clips from the film. “Rubber Glove Seduction” was a perfect closer for their set, with Connelly maniacally repeating the lyrics “tick-tock” ad naseum as the lights faded and ended a very fun showing from the industrial lifers.
Consolidated came on next and though they certainly incorporate elements of industrial, electronic music and punk in their compositions, with their funk, soul and hip-hop influences, they have more in common with Rage Against the Machine than Front Line Assembly. They’re extremely topical, with each song finding a specific issue to address through a left-leaning activist lens. Sometimes, it’s hard not to roll your eyes at bands who build their entire identity around social activism. At its best, it’s a little heavy-handed and preachy. At its worst, it just feels like a commodification of a movement. Luckily, Consolidated get it and are certainly very self-aware—unlike bands like Anti-Flag or Idles, which feel all serious all the time, Adam Sherburne and company have a strong sense of humor about themselves. This show was their third live performance in 23 years (their first and second being in Denver and Chicago, respectively, this week), but the band was exceptionally tight and created a big sound despite having only three members on stage.
They opened the set with “Capitalism,” a hip-hop-influenced funk industrial track that set the tone for the rest of the band’s set. The song was their first single in 25 years and blends funk-inspired guitar work with dark and heavy low end. They touched on a variety of societal issues like racism, homophobia and transphobia, gun control and more. There was another new song during the set, the relatively uplifting track “Music Is The Sound of Life,” which got really funky with the guitars. Consolidated then went way back in the discography for “You Suck,” a song they made with the Yeastie Girls back in 1992 on Play More Music. The song playfully takes on gender roles and engendered sexism with the disguise of being about cunnilingus.
After Consolidated finished up their set, the headliners were ready to take the stage. Judging by the reaction of the crowd that filed into the lower general admission area of The Mayan, most of the attendees were there to see Front 242, and the Belgian EBM pioneers didn’t disappoint.
They opened up the set with “First In / First Out,” one of the standout tracks from Front By Front, the record that established Front 242 as a premier group in the industrial genre. Armed with mics and flashlights, vocalists Jean-Luc De Meyer and Richard Jonckheere were pure energy, bounding around the stage and trading lines of the hard-hitting yet fully club-ready hits the band has been so beloved for.
For the second track, the band dialed things back a few years and pulled “Take One” from their 1984 sophomore LP No Comment. Then it was “Don’t Crash” from the 1985 EP Politics of Pressure, followed by one of the band’s live favorites, “Funkhadafi”—fun tidbit, as you can guess from the title, it’s about Libya’s former dictator Muammar Gaddafi. “Red Team” and “Quite Unusual” were the two representatives of Official Version, the band’s 1987 release on Wax Trax!. Shortly after, they introduced their “first song from their first album,” which of course is “Operating Tracks” from 1982’s Geography. They followed it up with a performance of “U-Men” from that same album, one of their most recognizable cuts.
Speaking of recognizable cuts, the audience was never louder than the moments when the first bars of “Headhunter” started playing. Likely the band’s most popular hit from their best album, “Headhunter” had the crowd singing along with hands in the air “One – You lock the target/ Two – You bait the line/ Three – You slowly spread the net/ And four – You catch the man.” The band would revisit Front By Front twice more, with “Im Rhythmus Bleiben” coming right after “Headhunter” and “Until Death (Us Do Part)” being the first song of their encore.
If Cold Waves’ Wax Trax! showcase showed us anything, it’s that industrial music still has a ton of vitality. For a genre that was essentially left for dead a couple decades ago, it’s roaring back with a vengeance, both through the standard torchbearers like Front 242 and Ministry and rising upstarts like Uniform and Youth Code.
Front 242 Set list:
First In / First Out
Im Rhythmus Bleiben
Until Death (Us Do Part)
Welcome to Paradise
Barker + Connelly: Luxapan Set list:
No Name, No Slogan – Acid Horse
Creep – Revolting Cocks
The Rockabye – Revolting Cocks
Sergio – Revolting Cocks
My Favorite Things – PTP
Show Me Your Spine – PTP
Rubber Glove Seduction – PTP