If you’ve ever wanted to see how the other, darker half of the city lives, the Dark Arts Festival might just be what you’re looking for.
Six months in the making, this year’s Dark Arts Festival is a three-day bacchanal of dark music and culture, featuring 22 bands, a gothic fashion show, performance art and poetry, dancing, an art gallery and more. Celebrated at the goth/industrial mecca Sanctuary, it’s an event that begins in earnest ever-so-coincidentally on Friday the 13th.
To the casual observer, Salt Lake City seems an odd choice for such an underground happening, expected to draw a local and national audience of goth and industrial-culture devotees, as well as their curious onlookers.
Not so, according to Alicia Porter, festival press liaison.
“Why not Salt Lake? Having a large dance club [like Sanctuary] dedicated to gothic and industrial music on two floors every weekend, that’s virtually unheard of in any other city in the United States,” Porter explains. “Utah’s underground has always been a tight-knit community that looks out for each other, in spite of or possibly because of the dominant culture’s conservatism.”
Band committee chair Kelly Ashkettle agrees. “I’ve DJed in New York City; Washington, D.C.; Philadelphia; Pittsburgh; Cleveland and Richmond, and I have to say that Salt Lake City has one of the stronger gothic/industrial scenes that I’ve ever seen,” Ashkettle explains. “None of these cities can claim a full-time club like we have here at Sanctuary.”
From its inception in 1993, the Dark Arts Festival has continually grown in size and ambition, a result of the contributions and hard work of volunteers throughout the underground—in an effort to showcase the goth movement’s role in both music and the arts in spite of indifference from the mainstream.
Not to say outsiders of the goth culture won’t appreciate a unique event like the Dark Arts Festival.
“I believe the dual purpose is both to expose the audience to the local artistry and talent here in Utah and also to bring in national artists that the local audience may not normally get a chance to see,” Porter says. “Everyone is welcome at the festival.”
In a way, the event is a means of dispelling the many misconceptions some have regarding goth culture, especially in Utah. “I see people here taking comfort together in their shared differences from what the majority of this society wants them to be,” Ashkettle says. “At the same time, I also see people who have managed to balance expressing their creative, dramatic and eccentric side in the goth scene with remaining a part of the dominant Utah society. I know several gothic DJs and musicians who are also practicing Mormons. There is no conflict for them; they simply enjoy this form of entertainment and self-expression. Just as a country music fan might enjoy going to a rodeo or ‘hoe-down,’ and that is what they tell their bishops or anyone else that questions them.”
For fans of the dark music scene, Ashkettle assures this year’s band lineup is stronger than ever. “We’ve planned the event to be inclusive of many different underground genres, and we expect to see a variety of people in the audiences as well.”
Featured national acts include Hungry Lucy, Bella Morte and ThouShaltNot. However, this year’s particular draw has to be David J, founding member of such legendary bands as Bauhaus and Love & Rockets. His new “cabaret oscuro” material—along with favorites from his past bands—will bring the festival to its dramatic close.
Of course, the local goth/industrial scene will be well represented. Joe Ashton of Phono savors the annual exposure the festival brings to his band’s particular blend of industrial music. “It gives us and other local industrial bands a chance to really let loose and show our talent,” Ashton explains. “Most shows and festivals across the valley are bred more toward a generic college crowd audience. We typically aren’t received as well as we are at the Dark Arts Festival.
“Last year was an amazing experience, the music and atmosphere was outstanding, It felt good to play in an atmosphere that fully embraced Phono’s music, rather than just accepting it. Definitely, come out and experience the overwhelming experience that is Dark Arts.”
“This is a celebration of alternative culture, a chance to experience something emerging and vital, fueled by the same cohesive spirit of the underground that spawned festivals like Lollapalooza,” Ashkettle concludes. “It’s not just a music event, it’s an extravaganza. It’s definitely a way of exposing those not familiar with the scene to great music, art, fashion and lifestyle.
“You don’t have to consider yourself a dark person to enjoy art that’s been labeled as dark.”