Deathrock has a tendency to not stay dead. Ever since the spooky little brother of punk rock was born, in late 70’s Los Angeles, it has seen several departures and revivals. This goes for a few of the original bands, including Christian Death and 45 Grave, as well as for deathrock clubs. And while there are plenty of deathrock fans in the greater SoCal area, Orange County does not have much to offer the community. Thus, deathrockers and goth rockers will be thrilled to learn that The World Famous Doll Hut, in Anaheim, will now be hosting club R.I.P. on the first Wednesday of every month.
Grimm Beatz (aka Leigh Mass [Louis Fuentes]), who just founded the club with his friend Anathema (Steven Rivera), has been keeping a beacon lit for fans of a variety of dark and theatrical musical genres for many years through his various projects. Those projects include 10-year-old band Bell Tower Bats, the band Shrouds (with Anathema), The Cramps tribute band Teenage Goo Goo Muck (also with Anathema), and the club Sex Dwarf, which Beatz says he started with Anathema, who is also a DJ, about three years ago.
Outside of his own contributions, Beatz explains the current state of deathrock in Orange County. “It fluctuates, and currently we’re in a bit of a lull,” he says. “A lot of recent bands have gone to more of the dark wave…[with] more electronic backing beats with a lot of synth-heavy stuff versus your traditional guitar, bass, drums, vocals.”
Apart from the musicality, which is heavily rooted in punk and post-punk rock (as well as a bit of glam rock), cornerstones of deathrock typically include gothic theatrical elements and lyrics evocative of horror film imagery, and although there are other genres of music which overlap with its horror-inspired theatricality, the classic deathrock formula is a bit rare. “I’ve been doing DJ work in the scene for about 12 years or so, and I’ve seen a lot of bands come and go,” Beatz says. “Unfortunately there’s not too many [deathrock bands]. There’s some great bands that have the vibe, but they’re definitely more of the electronic dark wave sound.”
Going back to its origins, the deathrock scene gained momentum in the early ‘80s through the prototypical goth club, Batcave, in London, England. It was there that the earliest goth outfits (such as Bauhaus, The Cure, and Siouxsie and the Banshees) would perform; the club’s frequent performers also included deathrock bands Specimen (featuring the club’s founder, Olli Wisdom, on vocals) and Alien Sex Fiend, whose song “R.I.P.” inspired the name of the new Anaheim club.
During the mid-80’s, the distinctions that defined deathrock as a unique scene were watered down, as music genres with dark aesthetics were generally lumped together under “goth.” Then, on the eve of the new millennium, deathrock experienced a resurgence. An iconic club called Release The Bats, at Long Beach’s Que Sera, sprang up at this time. That club has remained a mainstay in the deathrock club scene; it witnessed the waning of the second wave of deathrock (in the mid-2000’s) and survived to see the rise of the third wave (in around 2010), but the club is now on its deathbed.
Beatz points out the impetus of R.I.P.’s emergence. He says, “I, myself, am a big fan of this music, and aside from Release The Bats, from Long Beach, which is going to be ending in October, there really is no steady death rock-heavy night around Orange County, so [we’re] pretty much just answering a call [from] the hungry out here.” Beatz, himself, has been a staple of the SoCal deathrock and goth scenes for a while, and his connection with other like-minded artist / musicians demonstrates the organic nature of the deathrock movement.
Ricky Douglas, who is the sole artist behind the Huntington Beach dark synth band Sashcloth and Axes, recalls meeting Beatz and how he stood out from the local crowd. He says, “I met him when I was working at a record store in Huntington Beach. He bought some good music, [and] I thought it was awesome he was wearing a fishnet shirt in summer in Huntington Beach. Not too many people do that there.” Though the two initially clicked over music, they evidently didn’t even discuss their own, respective, creative outputs. Douglas says, “I don’t think we talked about our band stuff for a while, mostly records. Then, a couple years back, we both figured out we were in bands, and [began] playing together, or he would book me for shows. He was one of the few people in Orange County that I felt was into having fun and doing weird shows and music.”
Derek Page, singer / multi-instrumentalist of the Riverside band The Victoriana (which bills itself as performing “perfume pop / antique mall-goth”), reveals that deathrock fans are everywhere and indicates the importance of clubs in bringing dark-minded folks together. “SoCal has droves of goths that you may never have known existed until some of the newer events started up,” he says. “Doll Hut is maybe the only current deathrock / goth-oriented event I’m aware of [in Orange County].”
Anathema, whom Beatz refers to as his right hand man for R.I.P., recalls the origin of the duo’s friendship and working relationship. He says, “He seemed like a cool guy and I really liked [Bell Tower Bats]; we connected through Facebook and one day he offered to drive me up to see Catholic Spit play in Ojai. On the drive up, we started talking about music and somehow it came [up] that I had some songs and needed a band. Soon after, we got together, jammed a few songs, and decided we had something good going. We’ve been playing music together in Shrouds ever since, as well as his other band Rash, and our Cramps cover band Teenage Goo Goo Muck.”
Being bandmates and partners in the club Sex Dwarf seemed a natural fit for Anathema and Beatz. Given the former’s training in graphic design and the latter’s experience with screen printing, the two created their own band t-shirts and Anathema designs all their flyers. Sex Dwarf is, as Beatz describes, a “dark wave versus new wave” club, and plays a mish-mosh of old school gothic and 80’s pop tunes. Then he got the call that enabled the two to have a deathrock / goth club. He says, “I was approached by this gal named Kat Monroe, who…hosts a local punk radio show [KaoticRadio and] is pretty much the booker over at the Doll Hut…she had put out the feelers that she wanted another kind of goth night there, and word got around to me.” Soon after, the deal was done. Beatz says, “I was offered the residency about a month ago, and I was told I could do anything I want, and this was the direction I wanted to go because I know that people definitely want it.”
Page indicated that Beatz and Anathema were the right men for the job. “They have always emphasized the dramatic, fun, DIY aspect of goth that’s been there since the Batcave,” Page says. “That’s something the goth scene in general everywhere has been needing more of.”