Darker Waves Brought New Wave Nostalgia To The Southern California Beach

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Darker Waves Brought New Wave Nostalgia To The Southern California Beach


These crowds gathered early for the daytime acts like Drab Majesty — the first in a whole lineage of artists who were primarily night music performing under a bright sun. It quickly became evident that a one-day festival with a ten o’clock curfew and this busy of a lineup made for some frantic maneuvering, even in the early hours of the event. The main acts were predominantly on two stages spread out about a fifteen minute walk across the sand from each other — nothing sprawling compared to the giant festivals of the world, but Darker Waves had everything scheduled so that that there was little staggering between acts. Everything was in direct conflict, and the stages somehow managed to maintain a brutally efficient five minute changeover between most acts. Add to the fact that many bands had a mere 35 or 40 minute set time, and it was impossible to see everything, even if you were willing to split your time. All festivals have some rough conflicts, but almost the entirety of Darker Waves’ top billing were in direct opposition to each other: OMD vs. X, Devo vs. Cardigans (maybe an outlier on this lineup, but also playing their first US show in 17 years), Psychedelic Furs vs. Echo & The Bunnymen, the B-52s vs. the Human League.

All this meant that twelve hours passed rather fast and furious. After catching bits of Drab Majesty and the Chameleons, I ran over to the Waves Stage for the English Beat. With short sets, many artists kept everything lean, all-killer-no-filler, etc. The Beat’s set was a mere five songs, all hits, climaxing with “Tenderness” (by Dave Wakeling’s other band General Public) and “Save It For Later.” A few minutes later, the stage barrier had pulled away to reveal OMD’s set-up and the finale of “Save It For Later” was immediately chased by “Electricity.” You could tell this just by looking at the lineup, but it soon become boldly underlined: This was a day where you could hear so many classic ‘80s songs, back to back to back. It was almost overwhelming.

Of course, at a festival like this you’re going to have to deal with the asshats who just want the party day because of those exact 15 or 20 songs they know across all the acts. Without fail, every set had that guy nearby yelling “Whip It!” or “Blue Monday!” or “Head Over Heels!” in between every song, as if the respective artist wasn’t going to play those songs at the ‘80s nostalgia package festival. Mostly, though, you could tune that out, and instead find a crowd overjoyed to see these artists in the flesh.

Case in point: Under a blistering early afternoon sun, OMD got people going not just with a mid-set “If You Leave,” but just as much with “Dreaming” and “Secret” and even the late-era “History Of Modern (Part 1).” Andy McCluskey was the first to acknowledge it: “The set’s so short we’re going to be totally relentless.” He teased the audience, calling them “daft bastards” for jumping up and down to a song about the end of the universe, but he also gamely played into the proceedings, asking if they’d like to hear another John Hughes song. Even the more stereotypically artsy or bristly artists of the bunch would concede similar coy introductions of their most famous material. “Here’s one you might remember,” Gerald Casale drolly promised before “Whip It” during Devo’s set. Marc Almond gleefully unveiled the “post-punk classic!” “Sex Dwarf” at the end of Soft Cell’s set. Even Bernard Sumner gave a mumbly grandpa intro for “a very popular old song” known as “Age Of Consent.”

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