What's THIS For...!

by Oliver
September 28, 2011

The first prowlings of deathrock came in the early '80s before we were labeled as our other counterparts – the gothic movement. There were no Goths. The Deathrockers were splintered off from the punk/hardcore scene that was going on at the time. We played punk rock but we loved Halloween and we looked like vampires. So the phrase "death rock" was born.

-- Dinah Cancer, 2004

Here's the how and why of "No Doves Fly Here":

It's pretty simple: It's a monthly way for folks into dark postpunk, deathrock, and gothic rock to listen to music they like, have a few drinks, chill out, get weird and/or spooky, and most of all, have fun.

The longer story: In Austin, TX, 2011, there is still no regular deathrock and dark post-punk affair outside of the twice-a-year (and much-looked-forward-to) Deathrock Disko. This event, organized by the great people at Secret Oktober, arrives like a breath of fresh air the (unfortunately) few times it happens. (Truth be told, "No Doves Fly Here" was originally conceived as a sort of way to tide folks -- nay, music junkies --over 'til the NEXT Deathrock Disko!) At every Deathrock Disko I've been to, the talk inevitably circles around how it would be great if this sort of music were played more regularly. My first introduction to punk in my teens came by way of The Damned, The Cramps, (the original) Misfits, TSOL, and 45 Grave. I really dug the spooky side of punk and I couldn't get enough Pushead Misfits t-shirts, or Damned picture discs with Dave Vanian on them dressed up like Dracula. Finding a Cramps cassette was an occasion for joy. (And my mind was blown when I stumbled upon Rudimentary Peni's Cacophony at Bill's Records and Tapes in Dallas one day...) The more nuanced and experimental sounds of postpunk bands like Bauhaus, Killing Joke, and Joy Division came upon my consciousness shortly thereafter. All of these bands seemed to have something aesthetically in common, even if the Ramones-ian b-movie rock and roll of the (original) Misfits has little in common sonically with the no wave experimentation of, say, Lydia Lunch.

Years went by in Austin, and nothing happened. (Let me emphasize this: YEARS!) Deathrock apparently has this curse in some cities, and that is that it is deemed not to "draw." This means you can't make money from DJs playing it. In my experience, guitar-driven music that comes from any part of the punk milieu seems to grate on some club owners' ears, who much prefer the slick and over-produced womb-like safety of EBM and cyber-rave industrial dance music, or the equally appalling "club remix" subgenre of music. And there are indeed plenty of people who love to dance to that style of, uhm, "goth." Of course, a lot of people also like to dance to Rihanna and Taylor Dane -- so people with crappy taste in music aren't new or unusual, and since they outnumber the rest of us, most clubs pander to them. It's even understandable: if your main concern was making money, you might pander to them, too. (And what's frightening are the people who genuinely do love that style of music, really and truly, in their heart of hearts. Yuck!)

Related are clubs who use the imagery of, say, Bauhaus or old Nick Cave stuff to show off their goth cred, but when you get there you're way more likely to hear VNV Nation, Wumpscut, Wolfsheim, or Covenant than, say, "Lagartija Nick" or "Stigmata Martyr," two songs that would sound impossibly primitive, fast, and raw -- and flat-out out of place -- played over the same loudspeakers next to tracks from any of those latter-day "goth" dance bands. And forget about the genuinely fast or experimental songs by the weirder and more experimental side of the hardcore punk and post-punk spectrums. That's just -- no.

Of course, the original dark bands like Joy Division or Siouxsie and the Banshees started as punk bands themselves, and goth was a direct outgrowth of, and even an inextricable part of, the punk community. The Brit media called early goth-ish bands like UK Decay and Brigandage and Blood and Roses "positive punk." Southern California spawned deathrock, itself a collection of bands intermingled almost indistinguishably with the hardcore scene; the east coast had horror punk in the form of the Misfits and Cramps and Mourning Noise; and England spawned the Batcave scene. All this stuff seemed to happen at the same time, and produced a rich milieu of bands on all sides of the pond (and in continental Europe, too). A lot of the Crass orbit of bands like The Mob, Rudimentary Peni, The Apostles, Part 1, Lack of Knowledge, and Rubella Ballet also played music beloved by the early goth scene, when things weren't as fractious and split apart as they are now. Well, good luck hearing any of this stuff in most clubs today! And forget about bands that continued in that DIY underground tradition and are currently around. This music and these bands all have a passionate following, but the consensus is it's either undanceable or not what people want to hear. Indeed, many don't want to hear it; these aren't Top 40 bands, after all. A lot of people would rather hear yet another She Wants Revenge club remix than the last Rudimentary Peni or Killing Joke releases. And that, frankly, blows.

Consigned to a foul demise by the forces of cash and chaos, punk broods alone in its dark tomb. Its evolution away from the light has been a cruel and twisted one, from guerilla assault on the media to ghost dancing on the bones of Red Indian mysticism, from glue to Gothick. Naturally, un­attended for so long, its hair has grown. So have its aspira­tions. It has risen to the call of groups like Southern Death Cult and Sex Gang Children and craves a positive com­munion through music. Come with us through the veil of gloom to meet the new romantics

--from The Face, 1983

IMPERIUM was a breath of fresh air in Austin in late 2010, a monthly night for power electronics, dark neofolk, noise, outsider music, performance art, and anything similarly underground, creepy, or just plain odd (and also held at Chain Drive). IMPERIUM began in late 2010 with Jason/DJ Baal and Jack Control of World Burns to Death/Severed Head of State. Unfortunately, IMPERIUM folded a little over half a year after it started, and the void in Austin returned. At the following Deathrock Disko, we were all at the bar and asked Jack about IMPERIUM and if it would please, please, please start up again. Jack's response was basically that it probably wouldn't, but me and DJ Damage Done could have the still-open slot at Chain Drive to do what we wanted there.

Enter "No Doves Fly Here," the name suggested by DJ Damage Done after The Mob EP and song of the same name. This indicated the direction in which we wanted to go: dark postpunk and related music, from a DIY punk angle. Nothing whatsoever to do with the sort of pulsing rave and EBM music that somehow had become associated with "goth" over the years in a completely ahistorical and, frankly, baffling way. Additionally, since many club DJs had in effect become 80s new wave nostalgia merchants (seriously - what is with everything devolving into 80s new wave at almost every night club in Austin?), playing the same 80s crap week in and week out, we also decided to not stay stuck in the past and pretend the world had ended in 1985, but would instead play newer and contemporary bands that still made music in the DIY spirit that motivated the original bands like Warsaw, Gang of Four, Poison Girls, Southern Death Cult, and the rest. Once upon a time, DJs broke bands and introduced audiences to new things; they were not just there to provide an endless trip down memory lane, but could be tastemakers themselves. If wanting to hear Crisis or S-Haters at a club is pushing it, imagine asking for Bellicose Minds or Deathcharge. You might as well be speaking in a different language.

This sort of thing is truly the kiss of the death for any DJ night or club if they are looking to make money -- to play or break new stuff.  To play new and unknown bands is almost career suicide. Well, thankfully, we are not looking to make money -- and in fact "No Doves Fly Here" is probably a money-loser for the few parties involved -- although if we can give Chain Drive business with their drink sales while listening to music we'd be sitting at home listening to by ourselves anyway, all the better. My own feeling is that I've been passionate about this sort of music for years and years, and it's what I listen to at home -- so, hell, why not give it a shot and see how many fiends come creeping out of the woodwork to enjoy it as well?

It's worth noting that this experiment has been done before, at Spiderbabies in Dallas in the early 2000s, where DJ Jonny Bubonic and Ragnarok (now the singer of Texas' best neofolk band, Awen) had a regular deathrock night called Funeral Drive, motivated for much the same reasons as "No Doves Fly Here." Funeral Drive, however, was weekly! Weekly! And on Saturday nights! DJ Bubonic's account of that night can be found here. A caveat: the story might sound familiar.

In short, since no one plays this sort of music anyway, it's not competing with anyone. And many clubs have evinced their absolute, knee-jerk, reflexive aversion to this sort of music, so one would think they'd be glad, happy, jubilant, etc., to let people go off and do their own thing with it so that no one is a nuisance and foolishly, annoyingly expects it from them any longer. In addition, if you have a problem with something, put up or shut up, right? Well, here you go. We're putting up.

Maybe it'll bomb and go down in flames. That's okay; I'm used to not many people enjoying the same type of music as me, so my feelings won't be hurt. I learned long ago that many people like the music they do because that is the music that other people like, and it ends there. Then again, maybe people will come out who otherwise thought they were simply fated to like a type of music that would never get played at a DJ event -- and all the freaks, weirdos, misfits, losers, squares, and loners can come out and have something enjoyable that is all their own, for once.