Dj Evil K & Blackhearts Ball: The Return of the All-Ages Underground

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Photo: Kelly Ashkettle

I’ve known Kevin Reece (aka DJEvilK) for over half my life, and I have marveled at his stubborn dedication to a music scene which has often taken him for granted. I’ve shaken my head in disbelief, muttering “Silly Kevin,” as if I really knew better. I had forgotten how much we have in common.

While he laughs at the idea of being “a legend,” it should be noted that Kevin has been the face of Utah’s goth/new wave/industrial/post-punk scene way before 16 years ago, when I stumbled into a club only to find that there was a safe haven for self-anointed outcasts who picked Robert Smith, Peter Murphy and Siouxsie Sioux over whatever pseudo-hip-hop-flavor-of-the-week-lip-sync-band was popular at the time.

Over the years, Kevin has acted as advocate, friend, writer, fanzine creator, concert promoter and lead singer for The Midnight Dreary. Currently, he plays in Dada-influenced, dark cabaret act Domiana. He has also made a few cloaked appearances with the likes of Tragic Black and The Gothic Rap Project, to keep things unbalanced. He’s also been a DJ with various residencies since 1991. “I always think of myself as a musician first, but I’m recognized as a DJ and I’m very lucky to have lasted this long,” Reece says. “I’m not just the longest-running goth DJ in Salt Lake, I’m one of the longest-running DJs in Salt Lake, period.”

At age 14, Kevin was introduced to the world of DJ-ing carrying boxes which housed hundreds of vinyl records for a mobile DJ who worked the wedding circuit. He was paid in pizza and strictly forbidden from touching the equipment. “It was a no-touch philosophy,” he says with a smile.

In the late 80s, Salt Lake and Provo were filled with all-ages dance clubs that catered to the “modern music” comprising everything that subverted the top 40. Five nights a week it was Plastique, London Underground, The Palladium, Ivy Tower, The Palace or The Ritz. “It was more than just dancing. It was a personal theatre; a way to find yourself. It’s a catwalk for everyone to explore their ideas without recourse. You can’t do that at school or at home,” Reece says. Days were fodder, merely the filler between when Kevin would dig through records and create the perfect soundtracks for that night’s adventure. “I’d make mix tapes with a two-channel mixer to listen to while we drove to and from the clubs in Provo. The idea was to find a flow that connected the songs together.”

As the late 80s turned into the early 90s, clubs evolved (devolved in some cases), and the landscape changed as new nights and new buildings opened. Old venues were demolished, relocated or simply disappeared. The Ritz saw their numbers diminishing and called on Kevin to bring the bodies back into the building. “I never thought about being a DJ. They asked me because they knew I owned the most music and had some idea around a mixer. Now I can’t imagine not doing it.”

“In the early 90s, goth music was still relatively new [to Salt Lake] and unexplored. People would be more open to dance to new music. There weren’t really your dance floor hits; obviously, there were songs that everyone knew, but you could get away with a lot more because people were willing to take risks with you. Really, we were all just variations of punks; there weren’t as many subgenres, so you could play a broad range of music.” Radio was even favorable then. The Cure, The Sisters of Mercy, The Church, The Jesus & Mary Chain, The Mission, Peter Murphy, Siouxsie & the Banshees, Xymox, Love & Rockets and The Cocteau Twins were crashing into the college charts.

Even when grunge pulled radio away, there were enough who weren’t swayed by the sudden pull to Seattle. Without the Internet, finding bands proved difficult, but the challenge made it more rewarding.

When the Ritz phased itself in and out (returning over the years in one form or another) Kevin found himself back in the booth at Confetti. “It was an accident, really,” he says. “None of the DJs could make it one night, so Mark [Kevin’s roommate and Confetti DJ] recommended me.” I spent a lot of time in that booth. Rarely would I come to the club (which I attended as often as I could) without a few CDs with notes attached begging Kevin to squeeze a song or two in before the night was through. Dressing up, distancing myself from the inability to find my place in high-school culture, dancing as an emotional release for all the frustration and disappointment, kept me relatively sane.

In the late 90s, club life changed dramatically. State laws systematically killed off the all-ages venues. Like the Palladium, before Confetti was demolished, Kevin found himself DJing at a variety of venues including The Manhattan, Axis and the various incarnations of what became Sanctuary before shifting over to his current residency at Area 51 on Thursdays and Saturdays. As the members of the scene grew up, going out to the club became less and less about dancing and more about drinking in a room by a dance floor. You’d go and have a few drinks, maybe dance to a song or two and then have a few drinks before rolling yourself out in hopes of waking up in your bed. But what about the kids?

On Saturday, Feb. 16, Reece will be DJ-ing The Blackhearts Ball at The Ritz Club. The event serves as a return to the all-ages experience that has slowly faded out over the years. It only seemed appropriate to host such an event at a place that once served as a stronghold of the all-ages club scene.

“I’m trying to cross over between the older songs [and the product of that influence on] a lot of the indie bands these days. That’s what I hope to do at the Blackhearts Ball as well,” Reece says. Reece found it important to give a teenage DJ the chance to play a real club, so DJ Nekro was asked to come. The night will also include a fashion show by Arsenic Fashions, live music by Carphax Files and Digital Lov and music by DJ/DC. “The focus is on creating a real club experience for those who haven’t experienced it,” Reece says.

For those worried they might have to dress a certain way fashion-wise at the ball, fear not. Says Kevin, “It’s not about how you look. It’s about involvement. I’d rather have a full dance floor of people dressed however they like rather than a group of well-dressed people standing at the sides. It’s not about being goth, really. Dance music is an exploration. It cuts through the genres.”

Blackhearts Ball is an all-ages event, with a beer bar for those 21+. It will be held at The Ritz Club (2265 S. State) on Saturday, Feb. 16 from 8 p.m.-1 a.m. Admission is $7 at the door, but tickets are also available at Arsenic Fashions, Graywhale locations and www.24tix.com. It’s high time to revitalize the all-ages underground club scene in Salt Lake City, securing the creativity and energy of past scenes for the music scene of our city’s future.

Also—Don’t miss DJEvilK on Fri., Feb., 22 as he DJs SLUG’s 19th anniversay after-party at the Trapp Door (615 W. 100 S.) Pre-party will be held at Brewvies Cinema Pub (8p.m. & 9p.m.) as SLUG releases Making a Scene; a new documentry film showcasing the history of SLC’s diverse local music community.