“Fear & Desire”: Gloomy Joy Division-ish post-punk cold wave from Belgium’s Siglo XX

By on February 11, 2019

“Formed in Belgium in 1978, Siglo XX draw inspiration from the poetic gloom rock of Joy Division and take the raw energy of post-punk industrial bands into the 1990s,” says Night Flight’s Pat Prescott in her introduction to the band’s “Fear & Desire” music video, which we featured in our December 10, 1988 episode of “New Sounds,” now streaming on Night Flight Plus.

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This past week here in the United States, we’ve been experiencing a severe cold wave — a frigid polar vortex, pushed down from the North Pole by high winds, bringing extreme sub-zero temperatures further exacerbated by a deadly wind chill effect — which has for some strange reason also helped remind us of the Eighties “Cold Wave” sub-genre.

One of the best examples were Siglo XX — the original lineup were Erik Dries (vocals), Antonio Palermo (guitar), Guido Bos (bass, replaced post-1984 by Dirk Chauvaux), Chris Nelis (Keyboards, from 1978 – 1981) and Klaas Hoogerwaard (drums) — who were active from 1978 until 1990.

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Their “Fear & Desire” video was provided to Night Flight via Wax Trax Records, who were distributing Siglo XX’s U.S. releases via the Play It Again Sam label.

According to a 2018 interview we found on the Blaurosen website (“A place dedicated to inspiring music”), the band’s name — which can be pronounced as “Siglo Iks Iks” or as “Siglo Veinte” — comes from the name of a coal mine in Bolivia that was nationalized following the overthrowing of military junta in the region.

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Siglo XX hail from Genk, a depressed industrial city in Belgium which during the 1970s and ’80s suffered from unemployment, poverty, drug abuse and violence after the closing of the coal mining pits.

In addition to also stating that the band liked having the two ‘X’s in their name, they also were inspired by the fact that Siglo XX was also the name of an anarchist group who played a role in the Spanish Civil War.

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In fact, one of their album titles, Flowers For the Rebels, comes from “the title of an Italian anarchist song for the Spanish Revolution.”

Siglo XX: “So, the name is related with our interest in the social insurrection that happened then, the social problems in that period and the strikes in the mines. Don’t forget that the whole situation there was a bloody mess. We must also remember that most of the people who worked in the mines in Bolivia were Indians.”

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Right from the start, Siglo XX made no obvious attempt to hide their love of Joy Division’s dark, depressive sound, which was evident from the release of their very first independently-distributed single, 1980’s “The Naked And The Death.”

Two years later they were issuing an EP, The Art of War, which led to their signing with Antler Records, the label on which they’d release a number of albums and singles before signing with Play It Again Sam in 1987.

Their last album during their original heyday was 1989’s Under A Purple Sky.

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Read more about Cold Wave music below.

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The Cold Wave post-punk sub-genre was actually an off-shoot of what has occasionally been called Dark Wave, an earlier sub-genre from the late ’70s which included bands like the Sisters of Mercy, Bauhaus, Siouxsie & the Banshees, the Cure and Joy Division, of course.

The neologism “Cold Wave” was, from what we can tell, first used in the November 26, 1977, issue of the UK’s Sounds weekly music paper.

The cover of the issue featured Ralf Hütter and Florian Schneider of Kraftwerk, which further stated that there was an article in the paper titled “New musick: The cold wave.”

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The following week, the name “Cold Wave” was used again, this time by British journalist, writer and musician Vivien Goldman, in her review of Siouxsie and the Banshees’s album The Scream, which is one reason why Ms. Goldman is often credited for coming up with “Cold Wave.”

Siouxsie and the Banshees had once described their own music as “cold, machine-like and passionate at the same time,” and Sounds had also made this prediction about them: “Listen to the cold wave roar from the ’70s into the ’80s.”

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Cold Wave ended up being used to describe the sub-set of bands hailing from France, South Belgium and Poland during the early ’80s, before the sub-genre began to be applied to bands from a greater geographical area as the popularity of Cold Wave bands spread.

Most of the true Cold Wave bands actually sang in French, and not English, and they are often considered second wave European gloom rock bands simply because many of the bands seem to have formed to play in homage or tribute to bands that came before them.

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Musically, the focus was on minimalist synthesizers and heavy, propulsive electric bass, along with introspective, often monotone vocals sung in a detached, nonchalant manner, with a heavy emphasis on cold, atmospheric sounds and symbolism.

If you’re interested in hearing more Cold Wave, in addition to Belgium’s Siglo XX, France’s Charles de Goal, Memorial Voice, and Ruth are a good place to start.

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Other Cold Wave bands include Marquis de Sade, Asylum Party and and Twilight Ritual.

Night Flight’s “New Sounds” episode — also featuring Danielle Dax‘s “Cathouse” video, Belgian synth act Front 242, Australian punk act Lime Spiders, Edie Brickell and the New Bohemians’s massive hit “What I Am,” and much more — is now streaming on Night Flight Plus.

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About Bryan Thomas

Bryan Thomas has been a freelancing writer/critic for All Music Guide, and a contributor to Launch, Music Connection, Big Takeover and numerous other publications and entertainment websites, blogs and zines, most of them long gone. He's written more than sixty sets of liner notes. He’s also worked for over twenty years at mostly reissue record labels -- prior to that he worked in bookstores and record stores, going all the way back to the original vinyl daze. He lives in the Miracle Mile neighborhood of Los Angeles, CA.