Photo by Justin James / Darker Waves
The inaugural Darker Waves Festival took to Surf City, USA with a meld of classic alternative, dark wave, post-punk and synthpop that drew a sold out crowd to the sand on Huntington Beach.
Among the intrigue of the celebration was the kind of generational ensemble constructed by Darker Waves organizers. The field of artists for the first year event grouped long-tenured, historically accomplished architects of the sound, with a new school of contemporaries clearly inspired by their predecessors.
The result was a full day, three-stage presentation of memorable showings from established legends and emerging stars that proved effective with a diverse community of fans.
Old, new. Goth, normie. Punk, pop. Darker Waves was among the year's most harmonious festivals both in style and execution. Here were some of the highlights of year one.
PHOTO BY @ZACHARQUILEVICH/DARKER WAVES
Currently trekking on what was confirmed to be the band's final run of live dates ever, Devo's set at Darker Waves did not offer indication that the band was going out politely. Apart from the band's energetic set that included essentials like "That's Good", "Peek-A-Boo!" and "Uncontrollable Urge" it became very apparent just how ahead of the curve the band was. With most of the band's set being over four decades deep, its hard to imagine the music feeling more relevant than nostalgic and yet, Devo resonated both perennial and pertinent, as ever.
Photo by Jacob Alvarez / Darker Waves
The region of Eastern Europe seems like an ideal place to nurture the kind of dazzling, desolate sounds of band like Molchat Doma. The post-punk sensation drew a combination of intrigued skeptics and passionate believers for one of the most anticipated sets of the day. The interesting juxtapose of hazy afternoon sun along the shore with the audio gloom of tracks like "Toska" and "Tantsevat'" afforded a surreal quality to the band's brief, albeit memorable set. Simultaneously classic and contemporary, Molchat made a convincing argument for MVP on the day.
Photo by Justin James / Darker Waves
While French producer/DJ Kavinsky might have been the odd man out on a bill loaded with everything from death rock to cold wave, there was an element of party he brought to the sand. His synth heavy brand of big room bounce never felt off brand as the black-clad crowd moved in unison to his set. It was his finale in "Nightcall" however that really underscored just why Kavinsky more than made sense for this fest. In the vein of Claudio Simonetti and even John Carpenter, Kavinsky's anthemic gem prompted a steady sway of approval from fans and new converts, executing what felt like an 80's slasher movie soundtrack on the shores of Surf City, USA.
Photo by @Clemente310
The resurfacing of Shaun Lopez and Chino Moreno as Crosses was a particularly big deal. Such that the project, who had essentially been away for the better part of a decade, came back and immediately was positioned to open for the legendary Human League. Punctuating their first week of live shows since 2014, the band executed a balanced set, showcasing new selections from their 2023 LP, Good Night, God Bless, I Love U, Delete. with cult favorites from self-titled debut from a decade prior. Pairing Moreno's live prowess and soaring vocal range with Lopez's steadfast stage presence and skill, the duo proved nothing short of dynamic with their modern take on synth forward rock music. `
Photo by @THEMCDUB / Darker Waves
An integral component to this kind of festival is showcasing artists that have still maintained a sense of elusiveness, despite their successes. LA-based Mareux is a prime of example of the kind of artist that is still very entrenched in the underground, while making very mainstream strides. Having debuted at Coachella this year, Mareux is still very much championed by the community of IYKYK - those who laud his brooding brand of dreary darkwave. Tracks like "Inarmorata" and the strangely apropos "Summertime" translated as effectively haunting, despite our toes being in the sand and the sun on our backs. Closing with the viral hit with his cover of The Cure's "The Perfect Girl" it became apparent that goth's next hero was in the midst of being crowned.
In a word... transcendent. The synthpop, post-punk pioneers of New Order unloaded a trio that included "Age of Consent" followed by "Ceremony" and completed by "Your Silent Face" - a triple play that left the thousands huddled on the sand in absolute awe of the experience. Bernard Sumner remains undisputed as a consummate showman, songwriter and performative presence - making some of the most important songs of the era look like another day at the office. Closing out their set with the iconic Joy Division anthem "Love Will Tear Us Apart", the festival could have come to an abrupt halt right then and there and not one fan would have felt short changed.
Tears For Fears are responsible for some of the most ubiquitous, evergreen pop ever produced. Their greatest hits, are among the genre's greatest hits. The band's setlist is comprised of universally beloved songs - standards that have defied age, label and preference. A fitting finale of the festival day, Curt Smith and Roland Orzabal asserted their rank as the masters of ceremonies with the kind of performance that brought together all walks of life to singalong to some of the most memorable stanzas ever penned. From "Everybody Wants to Rule the World" to "Sowing the Seeds of Love" to "Mad World" to "Pale Shelter', "Head Over Heels" and "Shout" - Darker Waves concluded with the kind of joyous finale that galvanized generations of fans in appreciation of enduring art.