Cold wave is a loosely defined[3] music genre that emerged in Europe in the late 1970s, characterized by its detached lyrical tone, use of early electronic music instruments and a minimalist approach and style. It emerged from punk rock bands who, influenced by early electronic groups such as Kraftwerk, made use of affordable portable synthesizers such as the Korg MS-20.[2]

Definition and debate

"Cold wave" is a loosely defined descriptor, derived from "new wave", that was originally reserved for a collection of punk and electronic styles from the 1970s. The scope of the genre has evolved continuously throughout its history. Writing in his 2018 book Popmusik in Zeiten der Digitalisierung, Robert Selfert notes that the term is "controversial" among dedicated fans who debate its definition and timeframe, especially how it distinguishes itself from numerous alternative terms.[3]

The SAGE Handbook of Popular Music (2014) offers that "cold wave" is an early synonym for music that was later termed "dark wave", "goth", and "deathrock".[4] According to Treblezine contributor Jeff Terich, "cold wave" was ultimately subsumed by the retrospective labels "minimal wave" or "minimal synth".[5] Veronica Vasicka, who coined "minimal wave", did so with the intent of tying together terms such as "minimal electronics", "new wave", and "cold wave" which had frequently appeared in music magazines of the early 1980s.[6]


According to Tom Watson of Crack magazine, "the collective sound [of cold wave] was controlled yet 'colder' than that of their snotty predecessors – punk, with a depressive groove." Watson also identified "less guitar work, more analogue experimentation, militant rhythm sections and, above all else, a vehemently do-it-yourself attitude" as a part of cold wave's shared ideology.[1] The Guardian's Louis Pattison has stated that during the 1980s French cold wave bands such as Martin Dupont,[7] Les Provisoires and Asylum Party "started playing gloomy post-punk in their native tongue, inspired by the icy guitars and studio-produced drum sounds pioneered by Factory Records producer Martin Hannett."[8]


Origins (1970s and 1980s)

The front cover of Sounds with the caption "New musick: The cold wave", issue 26 November 1977: it is a picture of Ralf Hütter and Florian Schneider of Kraftwerk

The term "cold wave" appeared in the 26 November 1977 issue of UK weekly music paper Sounds.[9] The caption of its cover picture, showing Kraftwerk's Ralf Hütter and Florian Schneider was "New musick: The cold wave". That year, Kraftwerk released Trans-Europe Express.[10] The term was repeated the following week in Sounds by journalist Vivien Goldman, in an article about Siouxsie and the Banshees.[11] In 1977, Siouxsie and the Banshees described their music as "cold, machine-like and passionate at the same time", and Sounds magazine prophecised about the band: "[they] sound like a 21st century industrial plant [...] Listen to the cold wave roar from the '70s into the '80s".[11]

A scene of French, Belgian and Polish musicians, dubbed "cold wave", emerged between the late 1970s and early 1980s.[1] The French scene was also known as "la vague froide,"[8] which was a term coined by the French music press to describe the sound of the band Marquis de Sade.[12] According to Vice, the most notable acts were Marquis de Sade, Asylum Party, and Twilight Ritual.[13] Brave Punk World author James Greene cited Marquis de Sade's 1979 album Dantzig Twist as "a classic" of the genre. He also referenced KaS Product as a group that "pushed cold wave to icier places in the early 1980s and ended up one of its preeminent voices."[14] In The SAGE International Encyclopedia of Music and Culture (2019), Eric S. Strother identified Ruth, Charles de Goal, Marquis de Sade, KaS Product, Asylum Party, and Resistance as "significant early cold wave groups".[9]

According to Pieter Schoolwerth, who was involved in the scene during 1980s, coldwave artists and cassette labels communicated through an underground cassette culture; Alain Neffe's Insane Music label in Belgium was heavily active in European cassette culture. Schoolwerth also stated that Al Margolis of New York's Sound of Pig Tapes and Chris Phinney of Tennessee's Harsh Reality Music, who were active in the industrial/experimental music scene, were largely responsible from introducing minimal synth and cold wave artists to the United States.[12]

Resurgence (2000s)

Wierd Records is credited with establishing interest in the style in the US, while The Liberty Snake Club did much to popularize it within the UK.[8][15] The Tigersushi Records compilation So Young but So Cold, compiled by Ivan Smagghe, is one document of the scene.[16] Crack journalist Tom Watson referenced Angular Recordings' Cold Waves and Minimal Electronics (2010) as a "crucial" compilation.[1]

Wierd Records' weekly Wednesday night party in New York was described by The Guardian journalist Louis Pattinson as the locus of the cold wave and minimal synth revival of the early 2000s.[8] Artists who performed at these parties included Blacklist, Xeno & Oaklander[8] and Led Er Est.[17]

British-German Lebanon Hanover, an influential band in the resurgence, formed in 2010.


  1. ^ a b c d e f g Watson, Tom (August 18, 2019). "20 Definitive Cold Wave Artists". Crack. Retrieved December 15, 2019.
  2. ^ a b Nixon, Dan (20 January 2010). "The Dummy Guide To Cold Wave". Dummy Mag.
  3. ^ a b Seifert, Robert (2018). Popmusik in Zeiten der Digitalisierung: Veränderte Aneignung - veränderte Wertigkeit (in German). transcript Verlag. pp. 133–135. ISBN 978-3-8394-4482-5.
  4. ^ Bennett, Andy; Waksman, Steve, eds. (2015). The SAGE Handbook of Popular Music. SAGE Publications. ISBN 978-1-4739-1099-7.
  5. ^ Terich, Jeff (1 February 2012). "Hold On to Your Genre: Coldwave/Minimal Wave". Treblezine.
  6. ^ Tantum, Bruce (1 December 2009). "A synth-obsessed label turns four". Time Out. Archived from the original on 17 July 2011. Retrieved 28 February 2011.
  7. ^ Minsoo Kim, Joshua. "French coldwave legends Martin Dupont embark on their first U.S. tour". Chicago Reader, 18 May 2023, Retrieved 23 March 2024
  8. ^ a b c d e Pattison, Louis (13 July 2009). "Scene and heard: Cold wave". The Guardian. Retrieved 20 March 2020.
  9. ^ a b Sturman, Janet, ed. (2019). The SAGE International Encyclopedia of Music and Culture. SAGE Publications. p. 1617. ISBN 978-1-5063-5337-1.
  10. ^ "New Muzick The Cold Wave". Sounds. 26 November 1977.
  11. ^ a b Goldman, Vivien (3 December 1977). "New Music – Siouxsie Sioux Who R U?". Sounds.
  12. ^ a b Kharas, Kev (29 June 2010). "Shiver Into Existence: Cold Waves And Minimal Electronics". The Quietus. Retrieved 20 March 2020.
  13. ^ "New York – Beyond Goth". 20 March 2007. Retrieved 11 March 2013.
  14. ^ Greene, James (2017). Brave Punk World: The International Rock Underground from Alerta Roja to Z-Off. Rowman & Littlefield Publishers. p. 383. ISBN 978-1-4422-6985-9.
  15. ^ Garrett, Jonathan (27 May 2009). "The Wierd Records Social Club – Page 1 – Music – New York – Village Voice". Archived from the original on 18 October 2012. Retrieved 26 October 2012.
  16. ^ Theakston, Rob. "So Young But So Cold: Underground French Music 1977–1983". AllMusic. Retrieved 26 October 2012.
  17. ^ Neyland, Nick (4 May 2012). "Led Er Est: The Diver". Pitchfork. Retrieved 20 March 2020.