This past Saturday, November 18th, marked the inaugural Darker Waves music festival on the scenic sands of Huntington Beach and under the sun of some perfect southern California weather. The new wave centric lineup, complete with performances by legends such as New Order, Tears for Fears, and the B-52s, was highly anticipated by fans of many generations and certainly did not disappoint. Here are some highlights from the explosion of talent and everything Darker Waves.
Fans were greeted by a plethora of Darker Waves decor that acted as the perfect photo ops, such as a Darker Waves entry arch, a custom sand sculpture, and various 80s-looking neon backdrops. Attendees took these photo spots as opportunities to show off their amazing outfits, which had to be a highlight of the day overall. Whether it be full goth makeup complete with pale faces and heavy eyeliner, various 80s band tees adorned by older fans, or the countless DEVO energy dome hats, the crowd looked excellent all around. One common theme among attendees seemed to be black, dark clothing– a good fit for the emo music of the festival at hand, but not particularly for the sunny beaches. Nina Persson, lead singer of The Cardigans, even remarked after the first song of their set, “you all look very…black,” as she laughed, looking out into the sea of dark clothing worn by fans.
Darker Waves featured a variety of activities outside of the music, as well. An old school arcade area played up the nostalgia factor and offered some shaded respite from a busy day of music-listening. Various popular vendors, such as Beatbox, Afters Ice Cream, Rad Coffee, and Belly Bombz dotted the festival grounds and supplied amazing eats throughout the day. Possibly the biggest attraction outside of the incredible lineup were the sands of Huntington Beach itself–
what better way to wind down and take a break than to lay on the warm, soft sand and look out at a sunset over the ocean?
It would be impossible to summarize just how much good music we got to listen to at Darker Waves, but we’ll do our best. The three stages at the festival grounds–the Darker, Waves, and Tiki Stages– each provided around the clock entertainment and music. With tight sets of only forty minutes for most performers, the acts never seemed to drag on and provided the crowd with only their punchiest hits. To start off the day at around noon, Glass Spells, Depresión Sonora, and Urban Heat each took their respective stages, amping up early festival-goers and setting the vibe high for the rest of the day. Jonathan Horstmann, lead singer of Austin-based band Urban Heat remarked of the crowd, “man, y’all are fun!” mid-way through their set, proving the excitement and energy of the Darker Waves crowd. Top Shelf had the honor of interviewing the extremely talented members of Urban Heat after their set and look forward to sharing this in another article very soon (stay tuned!).
Next up was Mareux, Twin Tribes, and Skeletal Family. Mareux graced listener’s ears with their viral darkwave hit “The Perfect Girl,” while Skeletal Family brought out the horns and blew us all away. Twin Tribes’ members adorned true goth attire and rocked the pale white face and smudged black eyeliner while playing hits such as “Fantasmas”, complete with thumping bass, synth, and chorus effect pedals. After that, fans were treated to performances by Cold Cave, Drab Majesty, and Christian Death. Drab Majesty rocked their iconic matching suits, bleach-blonde wigs, white-painted faces, and black sunglasses while cranking out hits such as “Dot In the Sky” on the guitar and synthesizer. The next time slot featured The Chameleons, Blossoms, and 45 Grave; the juxtaposition of newer and older bands that still maintain the same darkwave alternative sound is a testament to the long lasting impacts of the new wave genre. As the afternoon continued on, groups such as Clan of Xymox, Death in Vegas, and The English Beat took the stages, with The English Beat’s performance full of horns, ska elements, and funky danceable tunes. Much to the crowd’s excitement, they closed out with hits like “Tenderness” by their offshoot group General Public, with lead singer Dave Wakeling remarking “where is the tenderness…it’s right here with you angels!”.
The gratitude of the musicians as they looked out into the sea of thousands of fans from multiple generations was special and heartwarming.
Southern Californian punk legends X took the Darker stage next, supplying fast paced hits to dance and thrash around to like nobody was watching. It was rather inspiring to see these musicians, much older now than they were in their prime of popularity, still up on stage absolutely rocking out. Continuing with the true punk vibe, T.S.O.L. brought the house down at the Tiki Stage, encouraging mosh pits from fans of all ages. At the same time, Orchestral Maneuvers in the Dark graced the Waves stage and exploded the soundscape by performing their longlasting new wave hits like “Enola Gay”. As the sun began to set, Molchat Doma (translated to Houses are Silent), a breakout Russian band that received online popularity for their quintessential darkwave hit “Судно (Борис Рижий)”, had attendees bopping to their goth ethos. The authentic emo vibes continued on at the Tiki Stage with the dark stylings of London After Midnight, who were then followed by French DJ Kavinsky. Kavinsky’s set provided a welcomed dose of electronic and house influences while still staying true to the new wave foundations of the festival at hand. Violent Femmes took the same time slot on the Waves stage, starting their set out by performing hit song “Blister in the Sun”. The crowd was blown away by just how much singer Gordon Gano’s voice has held up throughout the years– their set sounded almost identical to recorded versions or tours from the 80s and 90s. Unique instrumentation was ever-present during their performance, featuring instruments such as the xylophone, bongo drums, and even violins being played like guitars.
As the day went on, fans found it increasingly difficult to pick between dueling acts and stages– DEVO and The Cardigans was the next tough choice. As aforementioned, the sea of red energy dome hats dotted the excited crowd as they awaited DEVO’s upbeat performance of smash hits such as “Whip It” and “Uncontrollable Urge”. On the other side of the festival grounds, Nina Persson and the rest of The Cardigans stunned fans with their flawless set, with vocals that have held up throughout the decades and epic harmonica lines to round out the sound. The crowd belted out “Lovefool” as the golden orange sun finally dipped below the crashing waves of Huntington Beach to the left of the stage– a perfect backdrop to a night of amazing music that was still only just beginning.
Under the darkened SoCal sky, She Wants Revenge emerged from the black to perform their hit darkwave tracks such as “Tear You Apart”. Lead singer Justin Warfield’s droning vocals rang out over the Huntington shores, complete with dark black eye makeup smudged all across the top half of his face. Across the way to the other stage, Soft Cell provided a much different, bouncier atmosphere to their settime counterpart. There wasn’t a single fan that couldn’t be found dancing around to poppy synth hits like “Sex Dwarf” and screaming out every single lyric to the quintessential 80s tune “Tainted Love”. The gratitude of lead singer Marc Almond was especially touching, his happiness and appreciation for the thousands of fans in front of him palpable from the stage where he sang. This time slot also saw the musical stylings of Crosses, a project made up of musicians Chino Moreno and Shaun Lopez. If the name Chino Moreno is ringing a bell, it might be because of his participation as frontman of the iconic experimental metal group Deftones, evident throughout the hundreds of festival-goers who rocked Deftones shirts to show their support. Crosses featured Chino’s recognizable alluring vocals over a more electronic beat backing, blending the usual nu metal sound of Deftones with interesting new dance elements.
Perhaps the toughest choice of the whole evening was between The Psychedelic Furs and Echo & The Bunnymen, as their fan bases and music itself seem to overlap so heavily. Funnily enough, The Darker Waves team actually confirmed via Instagram that the bands chose to go on at the same time (how rude of them!). The good news is that it was impossible to choose wrong– both bands brought impeccable 80s nostalgia to the stages with renditions of “Love My Way” by the Psychedelic Furs and “The Cutter” by Echo & The Bunnymen, true testaments to both bands’ existence as influential legends in the alternative rock genre. Even Roland Orzabal, lead singer of Tears For Fears, would say later on in his set that he was “deeply jealous” of the musical stylings and influence of Echo & The Bunnymen.
The final dueling set times of the evening before the much-awaited headliners saw performances by The B-52’s and The Human League, whose sets transported fans right back to the early 80s. The B-52’s charmed the crowd with their quirky tunes, dance moves, and outfits– it was impossible not to smile and dance along to the well-known melodies of songs such as “Love Shack”, “Roam”, and “Rock Lobster”. For fans that preferred the synthesizer-heavy pop stylings of the early 80s, The Human League closed out the Tiki Stage for the night with infectious hits like “Don’t You Want Me”. With that, the impossible choices were finally over and fans excitedly waited for the last two bands of the evening: headliners New Order and Tears for Fears.
With an hour and fifteen minute set and no competing act, every single Darker Waves attendee poured into the banks of the Waves stage to see one of the most well-known bands of the new wave genre and the 80s themselves: New Order. To say that their performance was fantastic would be the understatement of the century– every single hit was accounted for, from “Age of Consent” to “True Faith” and “Blue Monday”. One of the most beautiful sounding moments of the whole festival was when lead singer Bernard Summer broke out the melodica, a handheld free-reed instrument that looks like a mini keyboard. When blown into and played, it created the iconic melody line of “Your Silent Face,” as listeners stood in awe as the song washed over them. As if a performance of the best New Order songs was not enough, the band closed their set with a cover of Joy Division’s “Love Will Tear Us Apart,” a beautiful tribute to their sad genesis, complete with visuals of the late Ian Curtis over the screens. It was an unforgettable moment to hear the song live, and one that many in the crowd thought they would never get to experience in the flesh.
Immediately after the set, the sea of fans rushed from New Order back across the sands to the Darker stage to secure their spot for the final act, Tears for Fears. Perhaps the most mind-blowing experience of the night was listening to the vocals of both Roland Orzabal and Curt Smith, whose musical abilities seem unchanged despite decades of times since Tears for Fears’s inception. The crowd was almost immediately catapulted into the infectious 80s tunes of “Everybody Wants to Rule the World” and “Sowing the Seeds of Love,” transporting fans back in time and uniting all listeners in the joy of belting along to old rock favorites. Tears for Fears utilized the middle part of their set to introduce the crowd to some of their newer releases, namely tracks from their 2022 album The Tipping Point. While not as well-known by the massive crowd, these contemporary songs prove Orzabal and Smith’s long lasting songwriting abilities. They closed their set with more recognizable 80s hits, namely “Head Over Heels” and “Shout,” to end the night with an unforgettable bang of nostalgia and new wave. The duo was markedly taken aback by the love from all the people who came to see their performance after all these years.
The Darker Waves festival truly proved itself as an extraordinary and meaningful display of everlasting new wave talent from throughout the decades. There was something so special about seeing the stages shared by bands from the 1970s all the way to the 2020s, many of whom have inspired each other’s sound at one point or another. With tens of thousands of fans in attendance, ranging from toddlers to octogenarians, it was abundantly clear to see the massive impact that the emo, goth, and new wave offshoots of the alternative genre still have on our music landscape today. To hear songs from legendary bands that many attendees never thought they would experience live, especially in the year 2023, was absolutely a treat. On the shores of Huntington Beach, we couldn’t think of a better place to spend the whole day with some of our favorite musical talents. With this being the first-ever Darker Waves, we’re looking forward to what the future has in store for this festival. We hope that this festival continues every single year–
we’ve always got our DEVO hats at the ready!
Photography by: Sean McCracken