The show must go on — and at Cold Waves IX, it absolutely did. The festival started in 2012 as a memorial concert for Chicago musician and sound man Jamie Duffy and has become an annual tribute to him and other fallen artists whose creativity enriched a vibrant underground scene. The festival also offers an opportunity for like-minded fans to gather together in celebration of industrial and darkwave music while supporting fundraisers for suicide prevention and mental health resources.
By all appearances, Cold Waves' organizers managed to put on a three-day festival safely and responsibly. The vibe was a mix of shared anxiety and relief that this year's event went off without a hitch, no doubt due to the provisions and safeguards put into place. Metro Chicago reported afterwards that it was one of the highest-masked percentage shows they've seen since reopening, highlighting the empathetic and supportive nature of the festival's core fan base.
After Youth Code, Clipping and Actors (a Canadian band whose star is rising with the release of new album Acts of Worship) canceled their scheduled performances, organizers made last-minute changes, adding Detroit duo Adult, Front Line Assembly's Rhys Fulber, and others to the bill. After missing out on live music for well over a year, the excitement in the room was unmistakable, and with a good balance of acts including Consolidated (who just started playing live shows again after 20 years), Stabbing Westward, Bootblacks, Pixel Grip, Odonis Odonis, Gost, Dälek, Wingtips, Korine and more, there was something for everyone to connect with.
Belgium industrial and Electronic Body Music (EBM) pioneers Front 242 headlined the festival's second night at the legendary Metro Chicago — where just a few days earlier Metallica had played a secret show at the 1,100-capacity venue (which had reopened a couple of months earlier). As part of the group's "Black to Square One" U.S. tour in celebration of the band's 40th anniversary, Front 242 played the Cold Waves mini-fest at the Mayan Theater in Los Angeles and 14 other cities across the U.S. The Metro Chicago show was especially significant considering that soon after signing with Chicago-based indie record label Wax Trax! Records in 1984, the band was invited to support Ministry on their U.S. tour at the request of Al Jourgensen, who was working with Wax Trax Records at the time. Industrial-music history was made when the subsequent trek led to the creation of Revolting Cocks (RevCo) by Richard 23 of Front 242, Luc van Acker and Jourgensen.
As the highly anticipated band launched onto the stage in an electric fever dream of fog, strobe lights and pounding beats, it was hard to believe that 40 years had passed since Front 242 unleashed their aggressive EBM onto the world. An ecstatic audience was treated to the classic tracks "Headhunter," "In Rhythmus Bleiben," "First In/First Out," "Don't Crash," "Quite Unusual" and "U-Men" before the band wrapped up with a two-song encore of "Welcome to Paradise" and "Until Death."
Opening for Front 242 was the supergroup duo of industrial-music legends Paul Barker (Ministry, Lard, Revolting Cocks, Acid Horse, PTP, Lead into Gold) and Chris Connelly (Revolting Cocks, Ministry, PTP, Acid Horse, Murder, Inc., Pigface, Cocksure) who performed some of the best Luxa/Pan produced Ministry side-project tracks released on Wax Trax! Records. Barker+Connelly made for an interesting contrast, with Connelly quite serious and looking like a revolutionary in his beret and field jacket, while Barker beamed, clearly enjoying every minute onstage. The audience was captivated by songs from Wax Trax's heyday, some performed live for the first time in what felt like forever. Highlights included "At the Top" (RevCo), "Show Me Your Spine" and "Rubber Glove Seduction" (PTP) and "No Name, No Slogan" (Acid Horse).
Barker+Connelly did an exclusive live teaser performance for Wax Trax! Radio on Vans Channel 66 the night before their killer Cold Waves set. Barker also rewarded festival-goers who stayed up until the wee hours of Saturday night with an atmospheric electronic solo set at Smartbar, next door to Metro. The festival kick-off and after-party shows at Smartbar were special events in their own right with live sets by festival organizer Jason Novak's Acucrack, Choke Chain, Void Vision and late night DJ sets by Matt Fanale of Caustic/Klack/Daddybear, DJ Veganinblack, Bud Sweet, Philly Peroxide, The Pirate Twins (Scary Lady Sarah and William Faith from Bellwether Syndicate) and others. Fans who had come to Chicago to worship at the altar of industrial music got even more of a thrill than they could've ever imagined.
A few weeks later, Front 242 blew into Brooklyn's Elsewhere venue with their signature relentless energy for the last stop on their U.S. tour before hitting Europe. With Barker+Connelly and Void Vision opening, it almost felt like a mini Cold Waves reunion.