Darktown Strutters: Demonic Disco (2010)
A Day & Night in the Hellfire Heat of
The Texas Summer
Photography by: A.R. Edmonson
I walk along the campus sidewalk past a group of factory made orange-skinned girls, down a hill and out onto a crosswalk before strutting into a bar for a drink. “One shot of whisky, and a pint of Lone Star,” I tell the bartender. It’s the daily price of parking the old Volvo under a tree in a lot close to campus, and much cheaper than being swindled into buying a parking pass from the University.
“What kind of whisky?” the girl asks.
“The cheapest you’ve got.”
She shakes a bottle of Kentucky Deluxe in front of me, smiles, and starts pouring.
“Thanks for the Happy Meal,” I tell her.
“Quite a combo to order this time of day, ain’t it?”
I take some time drinking my beer, next to some bearded truckers and in what is soon to be the last smoke-filled bar in my area; legislation in San Marcos is coming up through the infectious vines. I make a list of things I’ll need for today’s trip, and I start my list with a Zodiac CH 601 XL: an all-metal, two-seat fixed gear airplane. I would need to cover over four hundred and fifty miles in just over a handful of hours, visiting several people & places all in between. But I don’t want to end up like the Barefoot Bandit. I think: Best to be the press that covers, not the one covered by the press . . . although that would be a hell of a lot of fun.
So the items on my list quickly grow in quantity, and lessen in price. I would have to take the old Volvo, and I would have to have just enough fuel: 20 gallons of gasoline, a half-pound of peanut butter, 1 pound of celery, a half-liter of whisky, 7 twelve-ounce cans of beer, 10 Lucky Strike cigarettes, 3 milligrams of the best benzodiazepine, and a gram of mediocre cocaine. It’s not easy becoming a high-octane grizzly that can dominate Time & Space, and certainly less virtuous than flying an airplane – a course of action thus saved for the aristocrats.
My list is finished as is my drink, so I walk out into the hot, heavy and humid air, over the gravel and under the big tree into my car which is a sauna by this time in the afternoon. I race down The Highway to Dallas, making a stop along the way to pick up Edmonson and his camera equipment before we blaze the trail again, 200 miles North, on up and around the south bend of Dallas, straight into the projects of the East Side to find Paul and shake him from his daze.
* * *
Night falls, and so does the temperature but not by much. The three of us hop into Paul’s Jeep and head back to the south bend of downtown, where there’s a venue seated perfectly in between several old warehouses that overlook the lighted cityscape we had seen earlier – the concrete jungle.
We find parking, take a few swigs of Jim Beam and walk to the venue. I find myself forgetting that I’m not in Austin anymore when I see that we’re walking in the middle of the road, a costly mistake in a city where people have forgotten how to use their legs. People honk and begin yelling obscenities out of the first car. And out of the second, a half-eaten ham sandwich flies at me, whizzing past my ear. Pure aggression.
We concede and use the sidewalk, walking with haste & determination, ready to work. Unfortunately, security guards are against all work.
“I can’t let y’all up, under no circumstances. Not unless you gonna go on over to that ticket booth an’ get permission to bring that there bag with ya,” Pvt. Jackson tells me as he points to Edmonson’s equipment.
“But we’re here to work. Kind of like you are. Right now. Kind of.”
I had contacted the band directly and didn’t think to ask about applying for press credentials. I wonder about appealing to the security guard’s vanity, asking if he just wants his picture taken in exchange for a little favor . . . but he seems soft headed and hard assed. So I don’t. Without reason, I start a fast paced conversation on him and pull out my wallet, making sure everything falls out: ID’s, business cards, receipts, a one dollar bill. With the security guard distracted, Edmonson bolts upstairs. We have no time to be thinking, we must act goddammit. He gets it.
I tell the security guard that I think the guy with the camera went to puke. “Too much whisky on top of that bean burrito,” I say. Paul tells him that we think he might have gone back to the car, and then I point upstairs and we both head up.
It’s the Corridor of Dramatic Surprise that we’re walking through. With a swing of the pendulum, I start traveling back in time to the underground of a Tuxedomoon show in 1982. Within the dissonance of the first song, I begin to cringe, but then am helplessly sucked in and hypnotized for the remaining five. The forty or so people underneath the dead disco ball look like they are trying to dance, but something is holding them all back. All except for one flamer that is, and past the music itself, he might be what they are afraid of.
“BABY GODZILLA,” someone screams from behind me. I jerk my head around with a sudden rush of panic.
“Damn,” I yell at Paul as I slap him on the chest, “we’re under attack, the goddamn Chinese! Backstabbing panda-fuckers!”
I’ve been suspect for some time that Kim Jong-Il had forged an unbreakable alliance with the Chinese and feel certain that our recent military drills in the East Sea have sent the spark on the fuse of World War III down to the dynamite just a little bit further. I find this vital to the story. I stare helplessly at the door to the balcony where I feel we should head to see what kind of crazed Asian monster this woman is yelling about.
But Paul pays no mind. He points out the red headed Darktown singer pulling off a trick with the microphone wrapped behind her neck as she cranks out the heavy, rustic synth work & morose lyrics. Her partner hides in the rear sporting a Motorhead shirt and hiding behind some wayfarer shades, backing her with a propulsive force on the drum machines. “Just a momentary seizure,” she sings to me, “cut the cable, lying face-up on the table. Trusted an hallucination; I trusted my hallucination.” And then I snap out of it.
Thom Fain: When did production on the album begin?
Kara Howell: We recorded [Lucifer’s Rising] in 2008, and wrote [the other songs] in 2007. And they are just now coming to flourish. And we had a lot of people come along and say they wanted to produce our album and put us on a label. For instance We Shot Jr. wanted to put it out initially, and also–
TF: Well who did shoot JR?
KH: Pardon? [laughs]
TF Who did shoot JR? That’s something I never figured out. But anyway.
TF: What was it like working with Klearlight?
KH: It was awesome. Jay Jernigan offered for us to come into Klearlight and record for free, so we took him up on his offer. Jimmy Bowman mixed the album. Their place was like a museum of synth; it was really, really impressive. Klearlight is initially releasing the record.
TF: Besides Satan, who would you say are some of your bigger influences.
KH: I think that symbolism is a—that’s a really difficult question for me to answer—but the music itself isn’t really influenced straight away from anything I listen to, which isn’t much, because I typically sit in silence all day long.
TF: Did you coin the term “Demonic Disco”?
KH: Yeah I did. It really is evil sounding, and ‘Lucifer Rising’ was the song that I was working on when I came up with it.
TF: How would it feel to be famous?
KH: I think it would be cool to be influential some day– for some sixteen year-old to listen to a Darktown record and be like, “Oh fuck, I’m getting out of my parents house and going to go do some drug, and worship the devil and kill myself.” And that’s how you know you’re really Rock n’ Roll, if you can make teenagers do all of those things.
A lot can be said about the Rock n’ Roll ethos, but I never would have figured that to be one of them. I’m not so sure that raising more than an entire generation of homogenized pussies in this country would be a very good idea. And after seeing the Darkness of Demonic Disco firsthand, I can completely understand how a teenager in a Metallica tee shirt might listen to Howell’s music and do just those things . . . Although, they might not decide not to kill themselves and instead just practice some other fucked up masochistic tendency. But maybe I just don’t understand the American youth anymore.