Verboden 2019

Verboden Festival Is Back In Black

Vancouver’s signature darkwave festival makes a return after a three-year hiatus.

by Ben Boddez

As the perennial rain clouds return to Canada’s west coast, it once again signals the perfect time to don some black clothes and let some of your inhibitions out at Verboden Festival. Vancouver’s signature darkwave music festival is set to return this May 11 to 15 after a three-year hiatus as live music returns to prominence, and a variety of top talent in the realms of post-punk, new wave and industrial music are going to take the stage. In addition to the music on display, you can expect festival-specific food trucks and darkwave-themed art exhibitions.

According to festival director Rob Katerwol, darkwave represents a huge and often underrepresented musical umbrella – there just has to be something present in the music or lyrics that’s naturally inclined to the dark side. “Darkwave has become a blanket term to describe dark and synth-y music in a plethora of sub-genres derived from its two parents, post-punk and new wave,” he says. “I feel like the darker side, and the mysterious and romantic side of music is generally the spectrum that I’ve always gravitated to.”

Verboden Festival was born from Katerwol’s love of Vancouver’s now-defunct Dark Day music event, and his desire to bring some of the European culture he observed in his travels to his hometown. “Every city was ahead of Vancouver in that they had a festival that was similar to a Verboden,” he says. “I was walking around at two in the morning down a dark alley behind a venue in Amsterdam, and there were these barbed wire signs for an electric station or something, and they all had this sign that said ‘Verboden,’ with a skull. I thought that it was such a punk and dark and weird name for something.”

Despite not knowing what the word he discovered meant at the time, it ended up taking on an oddly perfect meaning. The word translates to “forbidden,” and not only does it reflect the air of mystery that the music contains, but Katerwol mentions that it also encapsulates the festival’s growth from unofficial and underground performance spaces in its early days to this year’s planned shows at storied local venues like the Rickshaw and Biltmore.

“We really love the Rickshaw, especially when we can fill it up,” Katerwol says. “Seeing it packed to capacity with 700 people was one of the best experiences of my life; seeing what grew from a little seed to a super memorable event. Hopefully the energy this year is going to be as wild as possible.”

Here are Katerwol’s must-see acts for Verboden 2022.

Kontravoid

Like many of modern music’s most intriguing figures, Toronto producer Kontravoid often performs behind a mask, in this case an eerie, form-fitting one that looks like a mould of white plaster. With surrounding imagery often dabbling in body horror, Kontravoid’s music often sounds like the kind of bombastic new wave synth work you’d find at a rave during the 80s with the deep voices and gravitas of alternative and emo rock on top.

Spike Hellis

The Los Angeles duo of Elaine Chang and Cortland Gibson often feel like they’re translating the grim yet compelling energy of a Nine Inch Nails guitar riff into electronics – and then adding an almost hip-hop influenced quality of half-spoken, half-shouted lyrics on top, Chang’s more sinister and subdued approach contrasting nicely with Gibson’s all-out belts. With lyrics spanning from mythical creatures to the many ways that humankind could eventually go extinct, the duo are leaders in the EBM scene. 

Odonis Odonis

Thursday’s headlining act is another Toronto product on the lineup, and the Polaris Prize-nominated duo should be playing some tunes from their critically celebrated 2021 album Spectrums. While the majority of their tracks still fall in the darkwave sweet spot of industrial electronic beats and a world-weary, bass-infused vocalist on top, the duo has been known to branch out and tackle genres like shoegaze and dream pop as well.

In Mirrors

Signed to the bluntly-titled music label Italians Do It Better, Vancouver’s In Mirrors will have a chance to prove that when they take the stage on the festival’s Friday night. Bringing a bit of a brighter edge to the festival than most in terms of their sound, the synthwave band often thrives on aching falsetto performances and can often be found alongside delightfully retro imagery – still, their Bandcamp profile reads “In Mirrors is the sound of strength and vivid dreams that end and result in tears.”

Physical Wash

The solo project of Los Angeles EBM duo High-Functioning Flesh’s Susan Subtract, the lyrical content that will be on display during this set could easily be mistaken for death metal. Subtract blends shimmering synths and a dancefloor-ready disco pulse with an aggressive growl of a vocal performance and some truly morbid imagery in another engaging juxtaposition of styles that darkwave has become known for. 

Bestial Mouths

Coming equipped with one of the most fearsome names on the entire lineup, LA’s Bestial Mouths brings goth aesthetics to the pulsating electronic soundscape that you’ll be able to find all over the festival grounds. Led by Lynette Cerezo, who often appears onstage in elaborate costumes that simultaneously evoke medieval figures and futuristic alien life, the band’s latest project deals heavily in trauma and grief – Cerezo describes it as “the journey of a soul shattered – then stapled back together by female rage and self-determination.”

XIBLING

Experimental Portland duo XIBLING add a touch of hyperpop energy to the proceedings, as the self-described purveyors of “ADHD synthpop” can often be found crafting tunes full of frenetic laser-blasts of synths and vocal touches that can range indiscriminately from the grimly theatrical to the abundantly playful. Still pronounced “sibling,” the band have described the added X as “the sigil of chaos, evoking all options but hierarchical providence.” When they said “keep Portland weird,” these guys took it seriously. 

Pelada

With an exhilarating combination of punk, acid house and Latin rhythms, Montreal duo Pelada certainly fit the festival’s rebellious bill when it comes to their politically-charged lyrics and activist attitude. With lyrics mostly in Spanish, frontwoman Chris Vargas is nonetheless able to communicate the sheer weight of what she’s saying to listeners of all backgrounds through the gritted teeth of her shouted vocals. Covering topics like climate change, mass surveillance and female empowerment in the face of today’s culture, Pelada will come ready to throw down the gauntlet in more ways than one. 

Sektion Tyrants

A synth-fuelled post-punk band that will be playing a hometown show when they take the stage in Vancouver, Sektion Tyrants list 80s mainstays like The Cure, Human League and Soft Cell among their influences and blend some more guitars into the electronic mix than most of the acts on the bill in pursuit of that nostalgic sound that finds itself working its way back into the mainstream today. With dizzying tempos, crowds will be working up a sweat for this one. 

Light Asylum

Dubbed “electro-goth” by Pitchfork, Brooklyn singer and producer Shannon Funchess has been performing solo under the Light Asylum moniker for a decade after originally belonging to a duo with keyboardist Bruno Coviello. Inspired by gospel singers she heard growing up, Funchess mixes some of the grit and powerful belts of a soul singer with the vocal gravitas of a punk rock frontwoman over synths played at a breakneck pace. 

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