DARKER WAVES MUSIC FESTIVAL - Surf City/Huntington Beach

Big Turnout for LiveNation's first Darker Waves Music Festival in Surf City

By Dana Benson


The first Darker Waves Music Festival kicked off Saturday Nov. 19th on the sands of Huntington Beach. Rain had been predicted, but fortunately, it was a sunny day of dark sounds and warm breezes. Thirty-three New Wave, Post Punk and Gothic Rock bands (most from the 1980's) played on three stages.

New Order and Tears for Fears headlined. Devo, The B-52's, Soft Cell, The Psychedelic Furs, The Human League, OMD, The Violent Femmes, X, The English Beat, Clan of Xymox, The Cardigans, The Chameleons, Christian Death were among the artists appearing. Guitarist Robby Krieger of the Doors played "People Are Strange" and "The Roadhouse Blues" along with Echo and the Bunnymen as part of their set.

I was unable to find attendance numbers, but I would bet there were twenty thousand fans there, most over fifty years old, many tattooed, almost all dressed in black and some in full goth regalia. White strands of altocumulus clouds stretched like the arches of a cathedral across the sky as black crowds of fans flowed from stage to stage. It was cool to be standing in the sand instead of concrete. I didn't have to worry when I spilled a drink that somebody was going to slip and fall.

Bands played thirty-minute sets with five-minute breaks in between (except for the headliners). The festival used revolving stages so almost every band started and stopped at the right time. Congratulations to promoter LiveNation for doing a great job running the event. Getting in and getting out and getting around the festival was smooth. The crowd was respectful and well behaved.

Because it was a fifteen-minute walk between stages and because set times weren't staggered, fans were left with tough choices, like do I see The Human League or The B-52's, The Chameleons or Blossoms, The Psychedelic Furs or Echo and the Bunnymen? It was impossible to see more than eight or ten of the thirty three bands.

I missed headliners Tears for Fears, but I heard they did a great job of mixing material from their new album in with hits which included "Mad World," "Memories Fade," "Pale Shelter," "Break It Down Again" and "Head".

The other headliner, New Order, led off with "Age of Consent" and "Ceremony". Lead singer Bernard Summer's voice sounded frail and was overwhelmed by the bass at first, but by the third song, "Your Silent Face", his vocals had strengthened, the bass was attenuated, and the sound was better.

The band powered through nine more tracks that included hits "Bizarre Love Triangle" and "Blue Monday". In honor of Ian Curtis, the deceased lead singer of New Order's predecessor band Joy Division, they ended with a cover of Joy Division's "Love Will Tear Us Apart".

After the suicide of Ian Curtis in 1980, the remnants of Joy Division, led by Bernard Summer, reformed into New Order, and moved away from Joy Division's gloomy post punk music to become one of the most influential New Wave synth pop bands of the 80's and 90's.

Unlike Devo, whose videos and costumes were fully integrated into the concepts behind their music, parts of New Order's lightshow seemed to be a spectacle without a purpose, simple cascades of geometrical forms. But that was OK, we were there for the music and New Order delivered.

Devo's screens projected funny, campy, and disturbing cartoon images that conveyed their frightening vision of the modern world. A world as disturbing as the one they experienced in the early 1970's when as art students at Kent State they lived through the National Guard killing of four student protesters on their campus.  

Underneath their satire and comedy, Devo's message is that man is a dangerous animal driven by irrational urges, susceptible to being herded by ideology into repression and violence, and we are not getting better.

As lead guitarist Bob Mothersbaugh asked the crowd Saturday "How many of you out there believe devolution is real? You don't have to look very far for the evidence. Tyrannical minorities are beating at the gates."

Despite the darkness of their message, Devo is hilarious. They are one of the most unconventional bands to ever to have a top 20 hit (Whip It). The band was energetic on Saturday. Their set included: "Don't Shoot (I'm a Man)", "Whip It", "Planet Earth", "Uncontrollable Urge", "Mongoloid", and "Jocko Homo".

Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark (OMD), the English duo of Andy McCluskey (bass and vocals) and Paul Humphreys (synthesizers) are one of the earliest and most successful synth pop groups of the New Wave. Inspired by Kraftwerk, they have placed over thirty singles on the United Kingdom charts and continue to create, putting out five albums in the past twenty years.

Their soaring synths were a bouncy, hopeful, highlight of the day. They played "If You Leave", a track that they contributed to John Hughes's 1986 movie "Pretty in Pink", along favorites "Electricity", "Locomotion", and "Enola Gay".

She Wants Revenge, the project of Los Angeles DJs Justin Warfield and Adam Bravin, was formed in 2004. Their music is in the tradition of Joy Division and Interpol's doomy post punk. They sang catchy songs with great hooks, primarily about the darker side of relationships. Their set included a cover of "Spellbound" by Siouxsie and the Banshees, along with "Written in Blood" and "Tear You Apart".

LA deathrock band Christian Death, led by singer Valor Kand and bassist Matri, punched out a solid set. The track "Beautiful" featured Matri's vocals and scything guitar by Kand. Christian Death has had a tremendous influence on the world goth music scene. Founded in 1979 by Rozz Williams, who committed suicide in 1998, and led by Valor Kand since 1985, they are one of the most important Gothic Rock bands in the world.

I last saw Christian Death in 2017. They used powerful lighting effects and orchestral synths to create an underworld on stage from which they explored existential and religious themes. Unfortunately, on Saturday they played in daylight which negated their lighting effects. Check them out on Utube to see the band at their best.

The Chameleons formed in 1981 in Manchester England and quickly produced three fantastic albums with a moody vibe slightly to the pop side of Joy Division but with smarter lyrics. They disbanded in 1985 and reunited in 2000.

Saturday, vocalist Mark Burgess led them through six tracks, finishing with crowd pleasers "In Answer" and "Swamp Thing". I would have loved to hear them play "Don't Fall", "Up the Down Escalator", or "Soul in Isolation" because I think those tracks better highlight their unique interpretation of the early 1980's Manchester/Factory Records/Martin Hannett sound.

The gothic band The Skeletal Family came together in the early 1980's in Yorkshire England. Their new singer, Anneka Latt, has brought powerful vocals and a younger sexy energy to this older goth/post punk band. Their sound reminded me a little of the Cramps and the Birthday Party. Keyboardist Ian "Karl Heinz" Taylor had one of the most authentically cadaverous appearances of the goths at the festival.

In 2019 multi-instrumentalist and vocalist Jonathan Horstmann joined with Kevin Naquin and Paxel Foley in Austin, Texas to form Urban Heat, a trio that pumps out music that is part goth, part punk, and part industrial. They won the Austin Music Award for "Song of the Year" for their track "Have You Ever".

Horstman has a remarkable physique and performs bare chested, which along with his mustache reminded me a little of Freddie Mercury. The set included "Trust" and their hit "Have You Ever?"

It was a great festival and I hope that LiveNation does it again next year. Maybe they should make it a two-day event or reduce the number of artists and give them longer, staggered set times if they stay with the one-day format.

Posted By Admin on November 29, 2023 10:44 pm | Permalink