The LA Deathrock Starter Guide
Liz Ohanesian Burning Image live at The Wolfpak
On Halloween, I stopped by Roberto's in Chinatown for The Wolfpak's holiday party featuring a live performance from Burning Image. The Bakersfield band first formed in the wake of California's early-'80s deathrock explosion and then reformed earlier this decade after Alternative Tentacles released a compilation of its initial work (you can find out more by reading LA Weekly's interview with frontman Moe Adame). The set was a heavy, high energy mix of old and new material and left me thinking, maybe it's time to explain deathrock.
Of all the post-punk subcultures that sprouted at the beginning of the '80s, deathrock was most closely associated with Los Angeles in the US, where bands like Christian Death, 45 Grave and Kommunity FK were experimenting with dirgey guitars, tribal drums and overtly spooky imagery. In the UK, the sound revolved around a London club called The Batcave, which hosted gigs from bands like Specimen and Sex Gang Children. Deep in the music underground, you can still find deathrock bands today. Unlike general "goth" groups, which is more of a catch-all term for anything that's really dark, deathrock bands are directly influenced by the original LA and London scenes. It is, from what many a band has told me, particularly popular in Europe, where festivals like Germany's Wave Gotik Treffen draw crowds in the tens of thousands. In Los Angeles, you can hear deathrock at parties like M/R/X-Wolfpak, Disko Nekro and Release the Bats. A good resource to keep up on new artists and rediscover lost classics is Drop Dead Magazine, who is also responsible for the roving event Drop Dead Fest.
Below are a few samples of LA deathrock, past and present.
Christian Death "Deathwish" (fan video with The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari)
Often considered to be the band that launched deathrock in Los Angeles, Christian Death was founded by Rozz Williams in 1979. After three albums and an EP, Williams left the group and though another version of Christian Death sprouted in its wake, it is sonically different. Williams continued to perform in various other bands and as a solo artist before his death in 1998.
45 Grave "Evil"
With a cheeky, horror-movie influenced take on punk rock, 45 Grave rocked the LA scene through the early '80s. Fronted by Dinah Cancer, the group also featured drummer Don Bolles (The Germs) and keyboardist Paul Roessler (The Screamers, Nervous Gender, Geza X and Nina Hagen). Dinah Cancer reformed the band earlier this decade with a new line-up.
Kommunity FK "Something Inside Me Has Died"
Perhaps the longest running band emerging from the LA deathrock scene, Kommunity FK was formed by Patrick Mata in 1978 and continues to this day. "Something Inside Me Has Died," the band's best known track, was originally released on the 1985 release Close One Sad Eye.
Scarlet's Remains "That Was a Lie"
Despite its relatively brief existence, Scarlet's Remains became one of the best known bands of deathrock's revival during this decade. Noteworthy for frontwoman eveghost's unusual wailing vocals, the group played heavily in the US and Europe until it disbanded in 2007. Recently, eveghost and former Scarlet's Remains members Steven James and Marzia Rangel have begun performing together as Christ vs. Warhol.
Cinema Strange "Greensward Grey" (Live at Wave Gotik Treffen, 2001)
Despite its association with Los Angeles, Cinema Strange's sound is more similar to that of the Batcave bands of the UK, namely Sex Gang Children and Virgin Prunes. They spent their late-'90s formative years playing LA goth clubs and opening for touring bands like Switchblade Symphony. Then, in the new century, they signed to a German label, played Wave Gotik Treffen and now, if you want to do some serious research on Cinema Strange, you'll probably need to learn a little German. Founding member Lucas Lanthier also plays with former Scarlet's Remains members Steven James and Marzia Rangel in Deadfly Ensemble, who were featured on this blog last summer.
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