Los Angeles has always had an obsession with death. Our city’s celebrities and socialites have a habit of perishing in the most dramatic and mysterious fashion, Rozz Williams of course being no exception. It’s no surprise that from out of punk rock would come a death obsessed, black clad, sorrowful, mournful form of expression and rebellion known as deathrock. To celebrate the launch of Mikey Bean’s new 600 page encyclopedia of deathrock called Phantoms: The Rise of Deathrock From The LA Punk Scene, Lethal Amounts and Release the Bats held a photo exhibit and concert celebrating the genre’s Los Angeles heyday. You need this bad boy on your coffee table.
Among the attendants at the gallery showing and concert were the likes of 45 Grave singer Dinah Cancer, LA experimental artist Ron Athey, Don Bolles, and many more. With walls adorned with Rozz’s likeness as well as all the show flyers of the scene, the gallery captured a mood, a time, and a place that were quintessentially gothic, dark, and exploding with creativity.
Following the book signing, the gathering moved to Monty Bar where numerous bands took the stage. First up was a neo-classical duo with goth compositions known as Fat and Fucked Up, this was the perfect way to get every goth in the room brooding. Following them was Witness, a group made up of Ron Athey, Micaela Tobin, and David Harrow. Channeling Jean Jenet and Georges Bataille, they chanted transgressive poetry over dark and noisy soundscapes.
Perhaps the most anticipated musical act of the evening had to be the reformed version of 80’s synth punk band Nervous Gender Reloaded which featured punk monk Ed Stapleton singing wild and irreverent vocals over sonically mad and dizzying electronics. They were a taste of a time gone by where art had much more license to be strange.
The Wraith ushered in cloud of haze and gloom and conjured up the night’s first true deathrock sound, with unrelenting guitars and drums and the dark poetics of singer Davey Bales. The Wraith may just be Los Angeles’ deathrock kings of the moment, flying the genre’s flag higher and more proudly than anyone. They have the attitude, the mystique, the songs, and the live aggression to bring deathrock back from the dead. Finishing their set with a cover of “The Warriors” by Judge, you can make damn sure this is a band that knows their roots as punks.
The concert spanned late into the night with the Gitane Demone Quartet which is made up of deathrock heroine Gitane Demone, LA punk icon, Rikk Agnew, and Screamers alumni Paul Roessler. These veterans of the scene were able to conjure up the darkest tones and most macabre sounding notes to weave together the perfect underscore to Gitane’s legendary voice. It was perfect deathrock, an opera of the damned singing about all the lost souls of Los Angeles.
Words by: Rob Shepyer
Photos by: Audrey Kemp