Monday, March 30, 2009

Japanese Goth in NYLON

A short and sweet review of a new book, Japanese Goth, appears in the April issue of Nylon. Best part is, there's nary a snarky word to be found in the title's decadent description, which includes mention of many facets of the Japanese Gothic Lolita/Gothic Punk scene. Reviewer Erika Yorio even singles out the adorable "Loli-Goth pop duo" Kokusyoku Sumire, whom I caught live two summers ago in full petticoat regalia at Japan's spookiest club night, Tokyo Dark Castle.

Saturday, March 28, 2009

The Dark Hour

In honor of Earth Day, there's a worldwide initiative to turn off your lights for one hour, beginning at 8:30pm this evening. Sure this 'Earth Hour' is for conservation and the economical use of energy, but who knew green could be so black?

Friday, March 27, 2009

Religious to Damn @ Wierd







































In the early hours of Thursday morning, the crowd at Wierd crushed close to witness Religious to Damn's New York City return. Holed up in the studio since their last appearance in the dead of summer, the band brought a signature snarling spirit to the show that I had yet to encounter from earlier incarnations. Frontwoman Zohra Atash began the set with a bang, her pointed, shimmering sounds matched adeptly by her costumery. Guitar by Blacklist's Josh Strawn added a killer heaviness to songs like "Animal Dance," where Zohra's soprano cut scythe-like and silvery through the music with a brash sweetness akin to Kate Bush's performance on "The Wedding List." The opener was followed by her first single, the delicately seductive "Falls Down Again," and eventually the gypsy gospel, "Let the Fires Burn," which will feature a cameo by Tamaryn on record. The set ended too soon with "The Bell," where harmonium and violin ascended into heavenly noise with a delightfully sick crescendo. The tension will continue to build until Religious to Damn's late 2009 release.

(For more images, visit Naomi Ramirez's photo set on Wierd Records' Flickr page.)

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Sisterhood












Couldn't resist revealing one final image from Peter Domorak's shoot with NYC's New Dark Sisterhood.

From left to right: Tamaryn, Anastasia, Zohra, and Destiny.

(Expect a review of Religious to Damn's return to Wierd ASAP!)

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Something Wicked This Way Comes: New York City’s New Dark Sisterhood

PART III:









So what will you find in the flesh? Onstage, with strobe lights flickering or smoke machines churning, Anastasia’s “highly stylized explosiveness,” is sure to attract you and Destiny’s “charming and delicate” ways will captivate you, Tamaryn predicts. While Zohra describes Destiny and Anastasia’s approach to performance as “decidedly different” from hers and Tamaryn’s, they nevertheless share “the same fundamentals.”

“Together I think we represent something exciting,” Tamaryn continues, “a group of performers who share an affinity for the dramatic and mood-oriented side of Rock n’ Roll.” And though the intention might be the same, the visual aesthetic surely isn’t.

Zohra looks to Middle Eastern haute couture and all “things that sparkle and glisten,” while Anastasia works to suit her mood, coming up with outfits like “suicidal bride,” which is a torrent of veils and virginal fabric. Destiny has worn headdresses, masks and colorful paint to perform and Tamaryn also insists on theatricality: “Everything must be high contrast but not in a plasticized modern way...more in the way of the graphic quality of flowers.”

And so this is how Destiny, Tamaryn, Zohra and Anastasia entrance and ensnare their audience. On stage and on record, their sonic spells stir the senses and spark the soul. These women represent four corners of the NYC music scene, yet are one and the same. It all boils down to a perfect mix of sound and vision and Gotham has been the breeding ground for this sisterhood. ‘Tis time, ‘tis time. Something wicked this way comes, indeed.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Something Wicked This Way Comes: New York City’s New Dark Sisterhood

Part II:











These four are indeed forces to be reckoned with both together and apart. Destiny, Tamaryn, Zohra and Anastasia present a complex cross-section of influences and contributors. Currently working on an early 2010 release with her project, Religious to Damn, Zohra brings along a large supporting cast of infamous NYC cohorts, which includes Jim Scavlunos (Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds), Peter Mavrogeorgis of the Bellmer Dolls and Josh Strawn of Blacklist.

Tamaryn, who just released a 12” on Troubleman Unlimited Records, incorporates the many talents of Rex John Shelverton of Bellavista and guest appearances by the Yeah Yeah Yeahs’ Nick Zinner and TV on the Radio’s Jaleel Bunton on her first EP, Led Astray, Washed Ashore. The traces of Tamaryn and Zohra’s many contributors may rise and fall moment to moment, but in the most ephemeral of ways. Their love of ‘the female vocalist’ and ‘feminine emoters’ comes across quite clearly in their restrained yet emotionally rich output. A few of the artists Tamaryn is inspired by include Kate Bush, The Cranes and David Bowie, while Zohra lists Kate Bush along with Fairuz and Jacques Brel.

“I could never convey in language what I learn from artists I admire,” Zohra elaborates. “I think I show my appreciation by incorporating how I interpret that energy, that magnetism, into my own style.” And this is ever so evident on her first single, “Falls Down Again.” While Zohra chicly balances French ye ye and garage rock beneath breathy vocals and xylophones that ornament the shadowy eaves of her sweet offering, Tamaryn’s debut EP takes us on an organic journey through tribal post-punk rhythms and minimal seaside elegies that invoke slumbering sirens of times past.

Destiny and Anastasia’s bands are just as different as the way they each approach the creative process. For Destiny, her inner moods are always a driving force in her work. “My music evolves as my character does. It is difficult for me to write anything that strays from how I feel or what I am consumed with.” Anastasia is the polar opposite. She looks to “art, visuals and articles” when writing. “I try not to let inspiration come from an autobiographical place. I want to distill other peoples situations, stories and emotions to simple lines and project them,” she says.

Musically, Destiny’s Shock Cinema embraces a haunted mellow darkness with hints of a 60’s pop sensibility and tough-as-nails indie rock flair. Onstage they’ve enjoyed the input of ...And You Will Know Us by the Trail of Dead’s Conrad Keely and are beginning work on EP to be entitled Animal Familiar. The band’s first full-length, Hell & Highwater, was released on Kanine Records last summer.

Anastasia’s Cruel Black Dove recently played the Iceland Airwaves festival after the debut of their self-released mini-LP, Full Powers. Anastasia directed the band’s second kinetic video, "Offer," and is the dynamo that drives the slinky fervor of Cruel Black Dove’s electronic rock. Moody and romantic and at times biting and bleak, her music is brazen and explicitly sensual.

Monday, March 23, 2009

Something Wicked This Way Comes: New York City’s New Dark Sisterhood

In honor of Religious To Damn's return to the stage this Wednesday and Tamaryn's recent vinyl release on Troubleman Unlimited, I will be sharing three installments of a piece that offers a deeper, more voyeuristic look at these sirens and two other talented songstresses: Anastasia Dimou of Cruel Black Dove and Destiny Montague of Shock Cinema. Each selection will be accompanied by a different kaleidoscopic photograph courtesy of Peter Domorak.

PART I:











Destiny, Tamaryn, Zohra, Anastasia: New York City’s rising coven of seductive sirens, ladies of the new church of post-apocalyptic song. Like Nico, Stevie, Diamanda and Siouxsie before them, these women defy convention in mysterious ways, mixing in the mystik with all that they do. While each fronts a different project, together, with wicked alchemy, they map out a multifarious musical landscape emerging on the streets of the city. Shock Cinema, Tamaryn, Religious to Damn and Cruel Black Dove are the enfants terribles they have conjured from birth.

When confronted with this breed of craft, one is taken in by an indescribable aura: a sense of something beyond what can be seen and heard with the senses. These four women have that effect - their music is bewitching, distilled drama - they represent four distinct ways in which one can be ensnared by song. It all boils down to a perfect mix of sound and vision and Gotham has been the breeding ground for this thaumaturgy.

“Musically, the thread between us is a ‘dark’ sensibility combined with sensuality,” Zohra Atash muses. “We all strike our own variation on that balance.” Tamaryn concurs, adding: “It’s about making a statement about aesthetics as well as representing an all-encompassing female presence...contextualizing the music with the atmosphere.” And To Anastasia Dimou, her mission is also the same. “We’re about creating a mood along with the music,” she says.

But this bond is more magical, more conceptual, than any feminist posturing that might cause some women in the arts to gather together. The XX factor here lies in the sorcerical persona. In a demonstration of her own, Destiny Montague has a different response when describing the kinship amongst them. “Yes, there are obvious similarities in mood, aesthetics and ideas, but I am hesitant to draw upon anything that would pigeonhole us as anything other than free spirits gone kindred,” she explains.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

NIN/JA

To initiate the summer concert coupling of Nine Inch Nails and Janes Addiction, a free dowloadable EP, NIN/JA, has been released. Get yourself a copy here, and bask in tracks by two of the most commercially successful dark rock 'n' roll projects of the past twenty years. And while you're at it, you can also get acquainted with their opening band, Tom Morello's Street Sweeper, too.



Thursday, March 19, 2009

SXSW

THEE New Dark Rock Scene is alive in Austin today.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Vampire Chic in The New Yorker

In the March 16 issue of The New Yorker, critic Joan Acocella presents an impressive spread of vampiric delights spanning the centuries, with the initial proposition, "Why do vampires still thrill?" Her article, "In The Blood," explores recent versions of the vampire tale (Stephanie Meyer's Twilight pop culture phenomenon, the HBO series "True Blood," and the chilling Swedish film, "Let the Right One In"), Eastern European lore (Vlad the Impaler), the vast annotated editions of Bram Stoker's Dracula, and the chthonic spaces inbetween. It is erudite, well-researched, and quite engaging without ever falling prey to the dismissive tone which too often sullies a serious discussion of dark art. Thank you, Joan!

Read the full text, here.

Saturday, March 14, 2009

Salome

Bondage, incest, madness, murder, veiled voyeurism and necrophilia make Richard Strauss' 1905 opera Salome a dark delight. Based on Oscar Wilde's tragedy written in 1891, it is the Biblical tale of Salome, a young princess who performs the Dance of the Seven Veils for her lecherous stepfather, King Herod, so that she may indulge her fantasy of having John the Baptist's head served to her on a silver platter.

A current production at Toledo Opera directed by James Marvel boasts a cast of some of America's finest operatic talent. The set is stark and effective, with a looming moon and naked scaffolding. Lights by Tlaloc Lopez-Watermann illuminate and create the image of a vampiric skull and a technicolor horrorscape which sets an eerie and jarring tone from the start. The orchestra is positioned onstage, and the actors move through the players, giving the audience's eyes much to feast on. While other productions keep the same heightened and almost painful intensity throughout, Marvel's show has a definite arc of emotion, with moments of sweetness to counter and enrich the dark, violent eroticism of the piece. When Salome, portrayed expertly by Amy Johnson, sings a twenty minute aria to the bleeding, decapitated head of John the Baptist at the climax of the tale, I couldn't help but feel for the lovesick princess. "If you looked at me, you would have loved me," she opines before kissing his bluish lips.

There is no kitsch in the end, despite how absurd it may seem to writhe about in a Dionysian fervor whilst singing to a bloody head. Decades before contemporary horror coalesced into a genre, Strauss created an opera with Wilde's storyline that is as gory and as sexy as your favorite Troma film, with the same level of seething seriousness as F.W. Murnau's Nosferatu.

To taste for yourself, Netflix Steven Berkoff's surreal, kabuki-esque production of Wilde's play, or Luc Bondy's 1997 production of Richard Strauss' opera at Royal Opera Covent Garden.

Friday, March 13, 2009

Friday the 13th x 2

For the first time in eleven years, we have two Friday the 13ths one month after the other. 2009 gets even more ill-omened with the third Friday the 13th arriving in November. National Geographic provides a little background on the re-occurence of this auspicious day, here.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

HOTT Topic

Dark times call for dark aesthetics. And as I mentioned in a discussion of the recent Spin compilation of 'Goth Essentials', spooky stuff sells, despite disparaging remarks from many in the mainstream media. Case in point, Hot Topic's stock (HOTT). In comparison to most clothing retailers which have been suffering in this decaying economy, Hot Topic shares are up to 32 cents with the company seeing 14.2 billion dollars in fourth-quarter profits, according to Market Watch and the Wall Street Journal. Whatever your views may be of this mass chain, there's no denying that much of the store's clothes, accessories, music, and magazines have a place under the black umbrella of dark art and culture.

Sunday, March 8, 2009

Gothic Spin

The March Issue of Spin features a curious and frustrating compilation of 'Goth Essentials'. Recommended albums from Joy Divison, The Cure, Siouxsie and the Banshees, Virgin Prunes, 45 Grave, Bauhaus, Red Lorry Yellow Lorry, and other similar artists are all presented under the headline: "From The Depths of Hell and Hot Topic, A Goth Primer For Gouls Of All Ages." The most recent release listed is a compilation of mostly classic goth, A Life Less Lived: The Gothic Box, which is now 3 years old. So my question is, why now? What's the point? There's nothing new to promote, and while this piece has the power to introduce readers to some of the most exquisitely crafted music of the past 30 years, there's that same old 'guilty pleasure tone' lurking in the shadows that kills me.

Author Chuck Eddy praises The Cure while criticizing Robert Smith's "botched makeup," and labels much of mid-80's goth, particularly The Sisters of Mercy, as "decadent shtick that wouldn't die." Granted, there is much to critique in the pantheon of goth music, but there is a time and a place for it. Eddy's tone and approach seems like yet another example of the mainstream media's handling of dark music and aesthetics with backhanded paeans that are simultaneously damning and complimentary. They can't criticize it too much, because dark art sells. So they'll give you the hook - like the image of lascivious black lips and pearlized teeth in the February issue of Oprah Magazine - but it's always tempered with a final rebuff.

Clearly I have a bone to pick, or I wouldn't be eschewing mainstream publications in favor of this blog. There is little seriousness in the way many media outlets discuss dark art and culture - if they do so at all. The problem becomes this: dark art and culture - whether you label it with the G-Word or not - has been fetishized to the point where new artists in music, fashion, and other fields cannot be taken as seriously outside their niche communities. If it's good output that happens to be 'dark' or 'gothic' why not just tackle the material head on with a straightforward review? Must the cliched quips about vampires and Hot Topic continue? There just has to be a better way to spin it.

Thursday, March 5, 2009

Tamaryn: Return To Surrender: Video Premiere

Kaleidoscopic skies and crystalline visions - see this sulky troubadour slink across sagebrush with an elegance wet and wild. Tamaryn's second video from Led Astray, Washed Ashore is glitter through your fingertips and silken scarves in the wind. Directed by Aaron Brown, "Return to Surrender" also features a cameo by Religious To Damn's Zohra Atash.



See Tamaryn's first video here.

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Shadowtime SF: Five and Diamond

The 'darkside cowboy' look has been branding its boot print across dark fashion since Carl McCoy married Sergio Leone with Aleister Crowley and set the Fields on fire in 1985. To this day, I have never found a single boutique that can adequately inject my ghost town getups with a Victorian flair the way San Francisco's Five and Diamond can. The black leather holster/harness and fleur de lis cuffs in my profile picture are two examples of the amazing leather work with an elegant western twist that the store offers. Along with all kinds of men's and women's clothes and accessories - from bloomers to black lace cowboy shirts with pearlized snaps and detachable sleeves - Five and Diamond also sells distinct pieces catering to the Burning Man crowd that aren't 'darkside cowboy' at all. The shop features many local designers so it's a sure bet you can't get these goods in person back in NYC, which makes it a little piece of hell *ahem* right in The Mission.




(click for greater detail)






Five and Diamond
510 Valencia St. San Francisco, CA

Sunday, March 1, 2009