BY SELENA FRAGASSI | FOR THE SUN-TIMES
When Cold Waves was founded in 2012, it had no real intention of becoming an annual music festival. Rather, it was begot as a one-night memorial concert and benefit for the family of Jamie Duffy, a local sound tech and beloved figure in Chicago’s once thriving industrial metal scene who had suddenly passed away.
COLD WAVES IV When: 6 p.m., Sept. 25-26 Where: Metro, 3730 N. Clark Tickets: $46 for a single day; $85 for a two-day pass Info: (773) 549.4140; etix.com
Bringing together 14 glory acts like Chemlab, 16 Volt and Duffy’s old band Acumen Nation, the sum of which had not been seen together on one lineup in a number of years, the event quickly became a memorial not only to Duffy but to the whole scene he had cherished. A community that had found its footing in Chicago’s Wax Trax! and Medusa’s era of the late ‘80s and ‘90s but had mostly splintered in the past decade with the institutions closings and amidst the migration away from more extreme music.
Fans were hooked, and in the three years since, Cold Waves has grown to a two-day mecca, drawing people from as far away as Europe, and bringing in considerable more new faces, something that founder Jason Novak (Duffy’s good friend and former Acumen Nation bandmate) is all too glad to see.
“Our goal is to celebrate a certain kind of aesthetic, an open-mindedness to industrial music that’s really been lost over the years as fans learned to close themselves off and play it safe. … We hope that sense of adventure gets people back into this kind of music,” he says on the eve of the fourth annual event, which returns to Metro this weekend. It’s headlined by techno doom giants Godflesh, industrial poster children Front Line Assembly, British sample rockers Pop Will Eat Itself and Australian electronica act Severed Heads who returns to the States for the first time in 20 years.
“I’ve been a Godflesh junkie since seeing them at Lounge Ax in the early ‘90s, along with Severed Heads at Metro in the ‘80’s and I’m just overjoyed and proud we are hosting them,” says Novak, who tempered any nostalgia by also making a concerted effort to align some of the newer acts in the scene, including mask monger Author & Punisher and the latest project of local producer Sanford Parker, called Two From The Eye. “I think there are a lot of dark and innovative new bands in industrial that want to bust out of the studio and onto the stage, bringing performance back into the game and making that connection with an audience again.”
A number of other expansions for 2015 also cater to a growing audience, including live broadcasting at neighboring Gman Bar, a pop-up burger stand from Kuma’s Corner and the return of the Wax Trax! store with rarities and collectors’ items for purchase. As in previous years, a portion of the proceeds goes to local suicide prevention charity Hope For the Day.
“This year we really thought about how to make good on the word ‘festival,’” admits Novak. “I learned a lot visiting other industrial music fests and we wanted to offer the same kind of experience, but with the heart and soul of our history.”
The most telling part of that came in putting together Thursday night’s kick-off party featuring Acumen Nation playing their debut “Transmissions From Eville” in full, but for the first time without Duffy, which presented a mixed bag of emotions.
“Each year [Cold Waves] gets bigger and better, but it still finds its way back to Jamie,” Novak says, “and back to our dreams and what we wanted out of rock and roll.” It’s not gone yet, evidenced by Acumen Nation writing and recording its first new song in seven years (for the upcoming Cold Waves IV compilation) and with the festival remaining active and growing.
“Cold Waves has a lot of spirituality about it, whether it’s our origins, our philanthropy or our intentions,” says Novak, “and building proper industrial music up again is also a big part of it.”
Selena Fragassi is a local freelance writer.