Darkcell Presents seeks to promote dark music and underground culture in Reno
A strange lilt of music wafts from the door of the Blue Lamp on a Monday night. To some people’s ears, the music sounds exotic and beautiful. To others, it’s just plain … weird.
It’s certainly not the type of music you would hear on the radio or at most nightclubs around town. Instead, it brings to mind dark rooms bathed in the purple hue of black lights, filled with the smoke of clove cigarettes. It’s music that’s right at home in a venue like the Blue Lamp, where a large, velvet curtain behind the bar radiates a soothing, indigo glow. It’s the music a person hears at “The Violet Hour.”
DJs Dorée Anderson and Rob Pelikan host The Violet Hour. It’s not an hour, but rather a whole evening of experimental, darkwave and ethereal music that begins at 9 p.m. every Monday at the Blue Lamp.
Although terms such as experimental and darkwave mean different things to different people, further cataloging of the music Anderson and Pelikan play isn’t necessarily helpful, as it includes music that doesn’t fit into mainstream categories, such as the cello-driven songs of Rasputina or the atmospheric sounds of Calla. The music is sometimes exemplified by obscure works from such established bands as the Rolling Stones or the avant-garde compositions of Bill Laswell.
Anderson describes The Violet Hour as a “big record-playing party” but says it also serves to expose some Reno residents to music they may not have known existed. She says she’s often asked by regular Blue Lamp patrons or passersby what she’s playing.
The Violet Hour—originally a goth/industrial dance night that Pelikan hosted at Visions Nightclub several years ago—is just one of several events promoted by Darkcell Presents. Anderson formed Darkcell along with creative partners Kenneth McGrath, Matt Syzmanski, Jeff Bailey and Marvin Besler to help create a scene that would support under-represented “dark underground” music, art and entertainment in Reno.
“Darkcell started out of a love of all kinds of music, and these areas we’re focusing on seem to be under-served in this area,” Anderson says. “We’re trying to create an outlet for the darker, weirder, all-over-the-place stuff that nobody else is playing here.”
While The Violet Hour is a more laid-back, tranquil affair, Darkcell’s two other events venture into aggressive, pulsating, booty-shaking electronic music.
There’s Bad Juju, a dance night focused on dark electronica, industrial music, electronic body music and electroclash, which is an updated version of new wave. DJs Syzmanski and Jason Hollis spin this music—including such groups as Skinny Puppy, VNV Nation and Chainsaws for Children—on the last Thursday of each month at Club Voodoo.
“It’s pointy, sharp, dark and spiky, black and hard-edged,” says Anderson.
Shadow Garden, on the second Saturday of the month at Club Voodoo, focuses on more traditional gothic music, such as Bauhaus and the Sisters of Mercy, darkwave music (which falls somewhere in between gothic and industrial) and dark ‘80s music (think The Cure). Four DJs—Anderson, Syzmanski (DJ Iconoclast), Pelikan (DJ Whirlstar) and sometimes Teri Barnes (DJ Tigerbunny)—man the turntables into the twilight hours.
The term “goth” doesn’t sit well with Darkcell. It doesn’t accurately describe breadth of music that falls within classical, medieval, metal or electronica genres. People may even be turned off by the goth cliché (i.e., death-obsessed vampire wannabes).
“You put the G-word on a flier, and you get people who might really enjoy the music, but they associate it with somebody like Marilyn Manson,” Syzmanski says.
Or Saturday Night Live‘s “Goth Talk” skit, Anderson adds.
The DJs want people of all backgrounds to feel welcome at their events.
“None of us is completely hardcore-looking spooky all the time,” Anderson says. “Of course, I love to see people dressed up and having fun. I’ve been seeing more of it lately as there’s a place to go.”
There were places to go to hear the kind of music Darkcell promotes during the late 1980s and early 1990s. Anderson and Hollis remember Reno’s nascent goth/mod scene. Several all-ages dance clubs at that time offered a place for black-clad teens to socialize and dance to their favorite underground dance hits.
“It was huge then,” Hollis says. “There were like 300, 400, 500 people [in the scene]. … [T]here were freaky, weird kids with open minds all over the place. You couldn’t even spit without hitting a freaky, weird kid.”
But these kids grew up. Some moved away, some dropped out of the scene, and others didn’t have a place to hang out. Anderson and Hollis offered the first Shadow Garden event during the summer of 1995, but that didn’t last. They found jobs in bigger cities and left Reno.
Anderson, McGrath and Hollis recently returned to Reno after living several years in cities like Seattle and Chicago. It was difficult for them to adjust to Reno’s limited nightclub options. Rather than travel to Sacramento and San Francisco to dance, though, they decided to start something here.
“Here it’s … always been do-it-yourself, grow it on your own or go somewhere else,” Hollis says. “Road trips can get a little expensive. Why not do it here? Who says that it cannot work here?”
Anderson believes they’re making some impact.
“We run into a lot of apathy, but I think we’re starting to change it,” she says. “I’ve seen our numbers getting better, at least on the weekend nights.”
Anderson says the group is already expanding its interests. Live shows booked this month at Club Voodoo include Vancouver’s Urceus Exit and Endif, Hollis’s industrial-music project, and Santa Cruz’s Falling You.
They’d like to sponsor more visual- and performance-art projects. They’re even considering staging an experimental- and dark-music festival in Reno. They want to find venues for all-ages shows.
Before they can do any of these things, the members of Darkcell know that they must build up a sturdy underground following that will support non-mainstream and avant-garde forms of art and music.
“We built it, so come," says McGrath. "If people don’t show up and give it a chance, they’ll be losing out."