A beginner’s guide to coldwave

An in-depth look into the intensely emotive and oft-overlooked genre.



Brooks Ginnan, Writer

It is no secret the new wave, post-punk and no wave scenes of the U.K. and U.S. carved out a monumental place in the realm of independent music.

Bands from this era, such as the Talking Heads, Sonic Youth and Joy Division, have gone on to influence an array of bands past and present, spanning anywhere from Disney t-shirts to DIY basement shows. Yet, during the same era, another scene was alive and well in France —- a movement known as coldwave.

The bands of the coldwave movement existed in much of the same dark and romantic territory as their Manchester counterparts. However, the minimal and primal synthesizers combined with frigid drum machine programming, angular basslines and distorted guitar ambience provided a distinct sound.

Although the movement was short-lived and very niche at that, represented predominantly by a single record label named Lively Art, the influence has endured. In recent years, a number of gems from the era have been reclaimed and celebrated, even spurring the new bands to bring the overlooked genre into areas such as Los Angeles and New York City.

Asylum Party — “Julia”

Perhaps the quintessential coldwave band, Asylum Party released two fantastic albums, “Border Line” and “Mere,” in addition to the EP “Picture One.” On “Picture One,” the band emerged with the genre-defining “Julia,” a memorable display of distorted guitar and enduringly dreamy synth pads over softly crooned vocals. Like the majority of Asylum Party’s discography, the song feels like a natural precursor to much of the shoegaze that would emerge following the release of the band’s final album in 1990.

Little Nemo “City Lights”

A band closely associated with Asylum Party, even sharing members at points, Little Nemo abstained from a guitar-driven sound on their standout “City Lights” in favor of electronic elements. The song is propelled by arpeggiated synth bass and drearily echoed baritone vocals that draw to mind gothic tendencies, while the chorus blooms into a cry of “I need to go where the rain is clean/away from the city lights.” It is as much a defiant anthem as a desperate plea for solace from an increasingly industrialized environment.

KaS Product “Never Come Back”

KaS Product could best be described as sinister dance music, and “Never Come Back” may be the duo’s magnum opus. Spurred by a racing beat and the howling prowess of frontwoman Mona Soyoc, whose commanding vocals could be likened to those of Siouxsie Sioux, the song not only draws from the cold, but also the raw aggression of electropunk. Ironically enough, out of the many of the coldwave acts who have drifted into nonexistence, KaS Product have come back and will be play The Echo in Los Angeles on May 22.

Cruelty Code “Compulsion”

Cruelty Code has been a fixture of the Southern California DIY scene over the past few years, and for good reason. Led by Graeme Crane, also responsible for the limited-run tape label Salope Cassette, Cruelty Code provide an otherworldly emotional experience with their swelling atmospherics and soaring instrumental patches. Although sadly on hiatus at the moment, hopefully the future of the Riverside-based group will bring with it new music. Until then, the live bootleg of “Compulsion” will continue to not only suffice, but inspire.


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