In November 2023, the inaugural Darker Waves Festival wowed New Wave fans with its impressively iconic 80s and darkwave headliners, such as New Order, Tears for Fears, She Wants Revenge, and Echo and the Bunnymen. This festival also featured a slew of great performances beyond the headliners, with many festival-goers finding new bands to love and listen to by way of some of the day’s earlier performances.
Bands like Urban Heat: an Austin-based group that fuses dark 80s styles with modern flourishes.
Opening up Darker Waves on the Tiki Stage, their performance exceeded expectations when it comes to the somewhat challenging task of warming up a new crowd at the beginning of a long festival day. But, frontman Jonathan Horstmann certainly knows how to put on an entertaining set! Bassist Kevin Naquin and keyboardist Paxel Foley held down the instrumentation, providing the crowd with an array of tight, danceable, darkwave-infused songs.
Top Shelf had the unique opportunity to sit down with the band’s three members after their festival set to hear more about their formation, sound, musical influences, and upcoming milestones. Read below for our exclusive conversation with Urban Heat!
How did it feel to open up a stage at a festival of this size, warming people up for bands like Tears for Fears and New Order?
- KN: It felt great and it felt comfortable… confident.
- PF: It’s a blessing. These bands I never imagined playing with.
- KN: Yeah, we didn’t think we’d even get to see some of these acts at some point; to play with them is just crazy.
- JH: I think for me, personally, in the moment when it’s time to actually do the thing, we could be opening a festival, we could be playing on the moon… it’s showtime. And it just feels like it’s us and the crowd, and they were an amazing crowd. The crowd was very excited about the rest of the day, so we were able to play on that.
How does the energy differ playing a festival versus smaller venues? Which do you like more?
- KN: A festival is so much faster pace. Just like boom, boom, boom — next thing, you’re playing, next thing, you’re done. But it’s kind of nice, because then you’re done and you load out and you don’t have to worry about anything else and get to go enjoy yourself, versus a club show.
- JH: Yeah, club shows… I mean, everything has its different benefits, I guess. A club show where we have our lights… its dark, lower roof, lower ceiling… tends to be hotter, sweatier.
- KN: And I think we prefer to present the show [at a venue]. I mean, we’ve played a hundred shows in the last year. So, when you play that many shows, you’re used to ‘this song’s after this song; this song’s after this song’… but then you have to narrow it down for a festival. I was talking to the guy in Skeletal Family and he was like, ‘yeah, it’s so hard to pick which songs don’t get played.’
- PF: Yeah, we played a few new songs from the new record and then went straight to the end of our normal set, and I was just like, ‘oh… it’s quick!’ [Laughs] And I wanted to throw T-shirts out to the crowd.
- KN: To have a change of pace is welcome, though, because we’re playing in the middle of the day, but people are still giving it back to us.
- JH: And so much room to jump around and shit. I like all that space to interact with people. That’s amazing.
Jonathan, I loved your energy and showmanship onstage. Are there any inspirations for you in terms of being a frontman? Do you channel anyone or anything in particular, or just get up there and do your thing?
- JH: I think I just try to channel my five-year-old and my three-year-old when they just let music move them. I try to have no awareness that I’m being watched and just try to dance by myself and for myself.
I love that. In a similar vein, you guys describe your sound as ‘danceable, melodic, high-energy, a mix of dark nostalgia and the present’, so I’m curious as to who your biggest musical influences are?
- JH: I think it really depends on which one of us you ask, because we each bring something completely different.
Well then, we want to hear from all of you!
- JH: For me, it’s a trick question almost. The way a lot of these songs were written was just by playing with analog synthesizers, learning subtractive synthesis, and then finding a sound. And I feel like every sound has songs that it wants to write. I found LinnDrum samples that just felt like they worked with a really dark syncopated bass line… it just fits, it just feels right. Timecop1983 and a lot of the instrumental synthwave artists [are an influence], but then they don’t have lyrics and stuff, you know? I was listening to a lot of instrumental synthwave and outrun stuff when I first started writing a lot. There’s definitely Depeche Mode influence and, at times, Joy Division. Somebody like Deftones, even though we’re not in that same genre, have been able to do something that was approachable enough, but so unique that it made this indelible mark on music. I think, as artists, that’s what I want to strive to do… to do something that’s just so in its own vein, but still fits with other things. Like, we can still be at this festival with all of these really amazing bands, but we’re trying to bring it into the future.
- KN: I’m going to go a different route and answer with a time period. So, like the 1977-1983 time period of music, the New Wave stuff. I’m also going to throw in a few modern producers… I feel like there’s little hints of LP and Run The Jewels in what we’re doing, at times when the synths are real thick and we have some great beats and what not. But even groups like LCD Soundsystem; I feel like we have a kindred kind of thing, because of the times and because we grew up and started making music at the same time as all of these bands in the mid-2000s. I like to say that’s like the second wave of post-punk music that came out of New York City, so I feel like stuff like that sneaks its way into the music.
- JH: And I think, for me like, Trent Reznor…
- KN: Yeah!
- JH: Yeah, his story, his life — everything. The way he started working with synths, the story of his sobriety… that’s somebody who, if I can emulate, if I have a hero, it’s Trent Reznor.
- PF: For me, I don’t know if I really think about it too much. I listen to everything, so it’s a little harder to narrow it down to what I’m going for. I watch a lot of local bands that are really good in Austin, so I think that through working at venues and going to venues and watching shows, I see a lot of bands. [If] I like that energy, you know, I want to do that. With the music, yes, I listen to New Wave, I listen to hip hop, metal, all types of shit… but, with this project, I just try to put on the best show I can.
Tell me a little bit more about the creation of and what led to the sound that is ‘Urban Heat’. How did you come together as a trio?
- KN: Lots of years of not being a trio, but seeing each other playing. We were all in different bands and we would play shows together. We would go see each other play —
- PF [to KN]: I mean, we’ve had other projects together, too.
- JH [to PF]: And I’ve played with you!
That’s cool! You were all trading around until you came together…
- KN: Definitely one of those things.
- JH: I had left my last band when my first daughter was born. I didn’t want to stop playing music, so I started getting into synths because it’s something I could do with my headphones in… it wasn’t as loud as guitar. I started with the sample bass production, listening to a lot of synthwave and just started making stuff. Then, I started being like ‘this synthwave would be really dope if there were lyrics over it’ and came up with a collection of songs. I think I pushed Kevin first about wanting to put a show together, but I had originally planned on doing it as a solo thing. Then Kevin was like, ‘I’ll help you play that show, but this isn’t going to be a one-time thing. I’ll do it with you, but we’re going to make this happen, because this is going to be a thing.’ Then… [to KN] did you suggest Pax?
- KN: Yeah! I suggested him and kept trying to get in touch with him. Then I saw he was having a market — he sells vintage clothes, little known fact about Paxel — and I was like, ‘Fuck it, I’m going to this thing.’
- JH: You had to track him down in person?! [Laughs]
- KN: Yeah, in person! And I was like, ‘What up, man? I haven’t seen you in a minute!’
- JH [to PF]: Cause you were over being in bands too, right?
- PF: Yeah, I was just like, ‘I don’t know about starting projects again’… I just didn’t want to start all over, you know what I mean? Each band has their problems and some band members have more problems than others…
- KN: A lot of times there’s a shelf life, too… once you’ve done it enough and then it fizzles, and then you start all over again…
- PF: …and it fizzles again.
- KN: I knew Pax was the right dude, though, I’m going on record. I was just like, to round this [project] out, we need Pax. He can play anything that we need him to play, we just need him. The energy will be right.
- JH: And he dresses really cool.
Darker Waves comes as a stop on your current tour, which ends in December in your home state of Texas. How has the tour been going so far and what are you looking forward to the most?
- JH: We were off for two months, which is one of the longest breaks we’ve really had since we started touring last year. A lot happened in those two months: I moved into a new house and I think that it took, at least for me, a little bit longer to get into it. Because tour [consists of] constant transitions of being in ‘road mode’, then being in ‘family mode’ when you’re home. And I think you really depend on that fanbase to be gracious with you and carry you through that. And I don’t think they know that, that that’s what they’re doing… they just show up for a show, but for me, that interaction helps set us into tour mode. Albuquerque, the night before our show here, was just amazing. It was our first time in that market and when you’re playing a headlining show… you don’t know who’s going to come out or how things are going to be.
- KN: Yeah, we spent the better part of this year being support. 50 shows with Vision Video.
- JH: Yeah, so now the pressure is on us to impress people. The crowd is going to be there, so your job is to do as well as you can. But the pressure is a little bit different when it’s a headlining thing. The flipside to that, though, is that when you show up… I mean, I had forgotten how excited people can get about just meeting you and asking for a photo, and it’s just like, ‘Oh, right, we’re doing this thing now!’ And that energy is just, really, really incredible. We’ve been doing this for two years now and most of the spots we’re hitting on the tour are spots that we’ve hit before, so we’ll see people that we’ve met and watch that growth.
- PF: That’s always cool to see people that we’ve met before.
Okay, so I just have one more question… who are you most excited to see today at Darker Waves?
- KN: I want to see Tears for Fears and New Order — period. But I do want to see OMD and DEVO, too.
- PF: All of them. I was looking at the lineup and was just like, ‘Oh shit!’ and then ‘Oh shit!’ over and over.
- JH: I’m excited about DEVO, for sure. DEVO and Soft Cell are probably my top choices.
- PF: I really want to see Tears for Fears. Growing up, that was probably my top listen. I mean, I still listen to that now.
- JH: I love that there are starting to be these major festivals that are really staying grounded in genre and vibe. Things like this and Cruel World… seeing them become bigger is pretty cool. And then, to be a part of that, is a huge honor. We are honored that we are on a trajectory and our fanbase is supporting us in a way to continue on this trajectory together; we don’t take that for granted. It’s a really special thing.
Much to darkwave music-lovers’ delight, Urban Heat was just announced as the opening support for fellow Darker Waves performer Twin Tribes on their 2024 tour. Check out Urban Heat dates below!
Urban Heat – “Like This ” (official video)
Photos from Darker Waves Festival by Sean McCracken