January 1320, 2000
Concert promoter/label head Patrick Rodgers is at the forefront of Phillys secretly burgeoning goth scene.
by Helen H. Thompson
Patrick Rodgers, head of Dancing Ferret Concerts, might well be Dracula. Draped in long lines of leather, pale skin juxtaposed against black hair, and sporting a vicious set of fangs, he stands illuminated in a thready spotlight introducing the nights vendors. DJs imported from as far away as Chicago spin an eclectic mix of dark alternative tunes. Bands are finalizing their set lists backstage, or milling through the aggregating throng that is clustered on the fringes of the dance floor. Outside, moonlight glints off the dazzling array of sparkling getups that Philadelphias dark music fans don for the grand event, as the line snakes around the parking lot, a menagerie of latex and fishnets and corsets and velvet and platform boots in every shade of black known to man or immortal.
Draculas Ball was originally envisioned as a tribute event to commemorate the hundredth anniversary of Bram Stokers Dracula in 1997. "The original idea was that we were going to do a big Victorian-themed party, with everyone dressing up, in a really nice place a very ritzy affair," says Rodgers. A suitably upscale venue never materialized, however, and after several months of searching, Dancing Ferret opted for a more modern event at Evolution nightclub and other venues.
Currently, most Balls fall on Sundays before major holidays, and, of course, Halloween. DFC maintains an aggressive all-ages policy, firmly believing that everyone should be able to enjoy the shows and events, which also include Nocturne every Wednesday night at Shampoo and Evolutions Sunday Circuitry.
Fangs and other toys for babybats and gerigoths alike make this more than just a concert: Its a renaissance fair painted black.
The Ball, drawing carloads from New York, Pittsburgh and D.C., has a wide-reaching regional appeal. "When youre in this particular scene for dark music, not all of those bands hit every market, and to an extent you get used to the fact that sometimes the band you want to see isnt hitting your town and youre going to have to make a little road trip." However, fans come from as far as Indianapolis, Cleveland, even Los Angeles, to participate in the Ball, much to Rodgers puzzled delight. Fans are kept updated through an elaborate network of electronic and postal mailing lists with the cooperation of volunteers throughout the region.
"The opportunity to expose bands to a wider audience has definitely been one of the more gratifying elements of running the ball," he adds, citing the recent appearance of Kristeen Young, a performer from Lancaster who greeted an audience of some 700 people at the Halloween Ball. DFC makes a point of juxtaposing different dark music styles within the same event, and have hosted such acts as The Crüxshadows, Psychotica, Tapping the Vein and Voltaire.
So is Draculas Ball the local haunt for would-be vampires? Certainly, and then some. Regular vendor Midian offers fangs for those who would like to bite, and vampire-themed music is regularly worked into bands sets. But the focus is more on atmosphere than blood n velvet, and the music programming is typically over a wide spectrum of the dark music genre. Industrial for the heavier hitters, gothic for the more esoteric aesthetes, darkwave synth pop for those in between.
And a veritable gothic mini-mall the Rialto lurks in various corners of the bar. Airbrush tattoos, spiked collars, fangs and other fun toys for babybats and gerigoths alike add to the feeling that this is more than just a concert: Its all the business of a renaissance fair painted black.
Rodgers still hopes to someday have Draculas Ball in a sophisticated retreat, but meanwhile Dancing Ferret is branching in directions that keep him rather busy. Dancing Ferret Discs, the label, is amassing a small catalog of releases that include Crüxshadows latest, Mystery of the Whisper, and a tie-in "soundtrack" to White Wolfs Vampire: The Masquerade role-playing game. Dancing Ferret is also assuming ownership of Philadelphias dark-music retail headquarters, Digital Underground.
Headlining the next Ball is Virginias Bella Morte, a danceable goth band with influences from The Misfits to The Cure. Supporting them is New Jersey industrial band Eye Kandy, making its Philadelphia debut. DJ Knobhead and DJ Kangal will spin.
Draculas Ball, Sun., Jan. 16, 9 p.m. to 3:20 a.m., Evolution, 1517 N. Delaware Ave., 215-634-0100. Tickets are $10 in advance through Ticketmaster or at Digital Underground (526 S. Fifth St., 215-925-5324) and $12 at the door. For more information, visit www.ferret.com.