Dark Spring Boston Recap

Dark Spring Boston lowered its gloomy veil over the Middle East Club in Cambridge, Massachusetts for two nights in May....
Dark Spring Boston
Dark Spring Boston

Dark Spring Boston lowered its gloomy veil over the Middle East Club in Cambridge, Massachusetts for two nights in May, Saturday & Sunday, 7th & 8th. The international fest hosted acts from Berlin to Los Angeles, showcasing all that is gleefully glum and somewhat satanic in the post-punk netherverse. Call it Dark Wave. Call it Dark Pop. Call it Goth. Call it what you will. The leather-clad faithful were determined to channel their dark energies like wolves howling at the moon on Saint Walpurga’s Eve. Whether to exorcize spirits or invite them in, Dark Spring planted its stiletto heel firmly into the doughy navel of Cambridge’s Rock n’ Roll Row to announce what grim visions await us through a beer glass darkly.

Whence springs this darkness? At the poppier end of the spectrum, acts like Mortal Boy and Yama Uba fan the flames of New Wave nostalgia with tightly-scripted and sometimes danceable anthems. Mortal Boy practiced the fine art of faux baritone vocals a la Tears For Fears, lending a tongue-in-cheek gravitas to the lyrics. Shout out to Yama Uba for incorporating a saxophone into the proceedings. The instrumentation was a bit uniform throughout the festival. A guitar, a bass, maybe a synth, and a whole lotta layers of electronic filth and beats percolating through a MacBook. It was nice to see the Oakland-based, two-piece Yama Uba pack a saxophone in the luggage, even if only for one song.

The hairdo du noir was a Zippy special. That’s from the old cartoon by Bill Griffith, starring a carny-style pinhead with a poof of hair at the apex of an otherwise bald cranium. The hairpoof might be greased or spiked or colored or tied off with a bow, or all of the above. It makes for a signature look with a minimum of fuss.

The one-man outfit Kiss of the Whip repped Baltimore, but would have fit nicely into an all-DJ bill on Miami Beach. Blessed with a pulsating light show and solid beats, Kiss of the Whip married the plaintive synths of dark electronica with the bright energy of Jock Jamz. After pressing play on the backing tracks, frontman Tristan Victor commanded the space like a dark karaoke shogun. There is a deep yearning at the bottom of all these dark genres to dance the night away, losing yourself in the black depths of the dancefloor. In this respect, Kiss of the Whip is pure wish fulfillment.

Other acts scratched this same itch. Los Angeles’ electronic duo Hallows gave us gritty pop tunes with marvelous hooks and dueling harmonies, but they also proved willing to toss the pleasantries aside for a nice, hard stretch of industrial beat thumpery. Just for the fuck of it. Because the night is young and we’re here to dance. In other words, there’s a refreshing “fuck you” (or at least a “fuck it”) mojo at the bottom of this dancehall revelry.

Festivals are like multi-course meals that need a palate cleanser every so often to reanimate the taste buds for the next plate. Montreal’s The City Gates introduced the requisite change of pace. The three-piece (regularly four-piece, though one was missing due to illness) sported the standard-issue rock n’ roll line-up of guitar, bass, and drums. Their sound was less goth, more alternative rock, a touch of Joy Division – a sonic identity that had established multiple beachheads along the never-ending coast of post-punk. The drums were the highlight. In a night awash with synthesized percussion, it was refreshing to see a pair of real, live, actual human arms at work over the skins

The first night of Dark Spring concluded with headliners Golden Apes. The Berlin-based band brought a Depeche Mode energy, a kind of senior statesmen of trashy, Euro, underground rock clubs. The frontman swaggered in vertically-striped tight pants, cradling the microphone like a vampire playing with his food. The rest of the band included two guitarists and a bassist – no drummer. Instead, a pre-recorded drum track anchored every song. For other electronica-influenced acts of the night, the absence of a live drummer wouldn’t have stuck out so much. We’re all conditioned to accept the relentless synthesized thump of electronica floating out of speakers without any human involvement. Who would wish that fate upon a live human being? But the percussion of Golden Apes was precisely that sort of composed rock ballad drummery that demands live execution. It was strange to hear the flourishes of the drum track parade in our ears without any human author and it gave the Golden Apes set the feel of Dark Karaoke. Doubtless, there were fans of the Berlin band in the audience who counted themselves lucky to see such a far-flung band live and in person. But for the previously uninitiated, the set was underwhelming.

A festival like Dark Spring Boston is a bet that there is a certain worldview that finds significance and meaning in a weekend-long buffet of Darkness. The worldliness of the bill suggests, indeed, that the worldview travels well, far and wide. There was darkness abroad with Golden Apes and The City Gates. There was local darkness with Pilgrims of Yearning and The True Faith. There was west coast darkness with Hallows and Mortal Boy. There was midwestern darkness with Sunday night headliners, Ohio’s Child of Night. There was southern darkness with Secret Shame. And there was a slew of NYC darkness with bands like Shanghai Beach, The Final Sound, Un Hombre Solo, and Winkie. In every dark corner a dark weed ready to install itself amidst the local flora, surprisingly resilient and possibly poisonous.

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