Redemption at the Dark Arts Festival. Photo: Madelyn Boudreaux
Celebrating its 12th anniversary, Utah’s Dark Arts Festival once again brought all manner of spooky, introspective and dark fun to club Area 51 last weekend.
Originally conceived in 1993, when it was known as “First Communion,” and brought back in full force in 2001, the festival has gone through many revisions over the years, expanding and contracting as the interest of its organizers and patrons has changed. This year’s festival featured many of the usual aspects: an art gallery, fashion show, dance performances, vendors, performance art, spoken word and, of course, bands both local and national, all brought together for three nights under the theme, “Carnival Macabre.” The attendees go out of their way to dress to the theme. This year’s fashion was dominated by stripes, polka dots and ring master’s tail coats in a variety of colors, but still mostly black. It’s a chance for the youngest members of the dark music scene to discover new and expanded definitions of goth and related genres, and for the older members––many of whom no longer go out as often as they once did––to dress up and strut their stuff.
I always enjoy the art show the most, as it’s the one time when local (and the occasional non-local) artists can show work that may be too grim for normal galleries. It’s great to see the development of artists, like Brandi Turner McGrath, whose intricate paper-cut silhouettes are new this year, or SLC’s foremost macabre photographer, Jeff Carlisle, whose work is uniformly disturbing but beautiful––women with screaming mouths for faces, nightmare imps and other horrific visions. This year’s standout artist was newcomer to the festival Jesse Draper, whose LDS mission spent in Russia inspired his captivating Cold War miniature portraits of large-eyed girls in Soviet uniforms.
Out on the patio throughout Saturday and Sunday’s festivities, vendors hawked goth-inspired clothes and accessories while a palm reader told fortunes. Inside, dance performances included ballet and belly dancing, as well as a cute albeit somewhat stilted burlesque performance by Miss Tree, whose moxie and smile outshone her seeming difficulty getting out of her clothes. Wardrobe malfunctions or not, her act was adorably nerdy and fun to watch. v Festival headliners were Minneapolis’ Apocalypse Theater, who have played the festival several times. This year’s performance was probably the best I’ve seen from them, an excellent circus-themed, dark wave performance. Melding goth, industrial and punk into one hugely bombastic whole is tricky, but Apox (as they are known to fans) manages with aplomb, creating an exciting stage show with their Revolution Circus sideshow–– little slice of Burning Man minus the fire, or KMFDM minus the triteness.
The thing that stands out the most, to me, about the festival is that it operates as a kind of family reunion meets camp (and campy) talent show. In many cases, the performances are somewhat amateurish, but because they feature members of the close-knit “scene,” no one cares. World-class artists and first-timers stand next to each other. If anything, the crowd screams louder for their friends.
A perfect example of this was the final official act of the night, a performance by local goth-rock band Redemption bound. In my opinion––which is shared by many, including legendary goth journalist Mick Mercer––the band’s music is some of the best guitar-based goth-rock being made today. But while they have the ability, they’ve never opted to take it to the next level and remain devoutly a local band. To see them perform at 11 p.m. on a Sunday night when all the good children should be sleeping, you’d think they were some major label act. Front man Miah (formerly of The Midnight Dreary and a contributor to the ephemeral Carphax Files) growled and pranced through the set, backed up by Ashe in guitars, James on drums and Matt on bass, while the audience swayed, shrieked and cheered. For the finale, their iconic electro-goth anthem, “Times Like These,” Miah invited anyone who wanted to join in to take the stage, while he performed from the dance floor. At least a third of the audience hopped up on stage while those who didn’t take the stage instead leaned in to join him on the mic during the chorus––everyone performing for everyone, with no boundary between rock star (including the ones in the audience, like Tragic Black founder Derek Rhodes) and fan. For three minutes or so, they were all rock stars.
As I left the festival, my feet screaming at me for wearing 6” heels, people were still at it––members of Apocalypse Theater waving a pirate flag and doing an impromptu acoustic set for the die-hards who didn’t want it to be over quite yet.
The Dark Arts festival is a labor of love for the organizers, volunteers and many of the performers, with few of the performers receiving any pay for their efforts. Committee members house the travelling acts, cook food, hang up art, set up the vending area, run lights and perform; the only thing they don’t do all weekend is sleep––at least not until Monday after the festival is over! On Tuesday, though, they start planning for next year’s festival…