Though the glory days have waned, Chicago’s history with industrial music has become a source of renewed interest in recent months. In March, the public got to see the first test screenings of the much-anticipated documentary, “Industrial Accident,” the story of Wax Trax! Records, which had built an empire in Chicago in the ’80s and ‘90s. Another film, about Lincoln Park’s now shuttered goth club Neo, is expected to be released soon. It was also no mistake that titans Nine Inch Nails and Ministry were booked to play Riot Fest on the same stage on the same day this year, with Trent Reznor even taking a few minutes to espouse the influential homegrown legacy on his band.
When: 6:30 p.m. Sept. 29-Oct. 1
Where: Metro, 3730 N. Clark
Tickets: $48 (for single day tickets)
All of the attention is particularly exciting for the producers of the annual Cold Waves festival, which has been helping lead a revival of industrial music since 2012. Though this multi-day concert was originally established as a memorial for late soundman Jamie Duffy, also a member of Acumen Nation alongside Cold Waves founder Jason Novak, it has since grown to be one of the biggest gatherings of the genre in the country. For the first time in 2017, Cold Waves expands to three days at Metro this year and will also debut a second iteration in Los Angeles in November.
“We notice a lot of younger people out at shows, with a willingness to explore and get excited by new artists, which is something I’ve always felt is tantamount to this scene surviving,” “says Novak of the growth. “Over the past few years, a very exciting and experimental new wave of artists has crept out and found ways to excite fans of this music once again.”
For the Chicago lineup, newcomers like Brooklyn’s dystonic Statiqbloom and San Diego electro trip Aaimon are pitted with heavyweights such as German performance wizards KMFDM and Belgian brutes Front 242. Another curious headliner is Stabbing Westward, one of the few commercial acts of the genre that went on to sign to Columbia and produced two gold records with massive hits like “Shame,” “What Do I Have to Do?” and “Save Yourself” before disbanding in the early aughts. Last year, Novak asked them to open the Cold Wave festivities with a pre-show at Double Door. When tickets sold out in three minutes, “We knew that they belonged on the main stage,” Novak says.
“We thought maybe this could be a vehicle to see if there’s a way we could do [a reunion], to see if anyone still cared and what the response would be,” says Walter Flakus, who cofounded the band with singer Christopher Hall at Western Illinois University in the ‘80s; the two are now behind related act The Dreaming. “We’re psyched to be again playing at Metro, which was always home for us. It will be a special night … to be part of the industrial scene we always wanted to be part of.”
Being in Macomb, Flakus says the band was isolated from the epicenter of activity and he discovered many of the acts from DJing on the college radio station. “We’d always have to travel to Chicago, where we got exposed to Front 242 and Severed Heads and Skinny Puppy. I’d come up spend hours at Wax Trax! and buy everything there,” he says, remembering Stabbing Westward unsuccessfully sent demo tapes to label head Jim Nash to try and get signed. “When people did start to take notice, it was because Nine Inch Nails was breaking and labels like Columbia were like we need to get our version.”
Flakus has since returned to his radio roots and works as assistant program director, music director and afternoon DJ at Chicago’s WKQX radio station, which recently hosted a streaming Q&A with Nine Inch Nails at Chicago’s Reckless Records before Riot Fest. Stabbing Westward has shared members with NIN (most notably Chris Vrenna). “I really respect his career and what he has been able to accomplish,” Flakus says, agreeing that there does seem to be a resurgence of industrial music, bookended by the ongoing obsession of ‘90s bands. “It’s good because it makes the genre respectable. And it’s just one of those things don’t ask where wave came from, just ride it.”
Attendees of Cold Waves can also find additional special merch at the Wax Trax! pop-up store inside Metro. “Re-creating the Wax Trax! store in Metro the past few years has really added to the warmth, the magic and the family vibe we strive for,” says Novak.
Guests can also take part in the Novation booth — the synth company will have a demo kiosk in Smart Bar this year to showoff some of its new gear, hoping to maybe inspire a new class of acts. And of course there will still be a charity mission with silent auctions to help Cold Waves’ Darkest Before Dawn (which aims to prevent suicide in the local entertainment industry) reach 501C3 status. “We are also donating some proceeds to MusiCares and The Trevor Project,” says Novak, saying that no matter how big Cold Waves gets it will always still carry the spirit of Duffy. “He’ll be our icon and guide for as long as the event lives.”
Selena Fragassi is a local freelance writer.