Parade of Flesh and Vice Palace Form Dallas' Unholiest Musical Alliance
John Iskander and Arthur Peña
Two of the most incomparable promoters in Dallas have joined forces. On Halloween, the Coathangers will perform at Pariah Arts, a semicircular steel structure in The Cedars. Vice Palace is Arthur Peña’s roving venue that has played a role in bringing the art and music scenes together. Parade of Flesh is John Iskander’s brand, known for curated rock shows that include Spillover Music Fest. But until now, they've mostly operated in different worlds — one in DIY spaces, the other in Deep Ellum.
Sitting together sipping cold caffeine at Method Coffee, Peña notes that this is the first time they’ve really talked about this collaboration outside of e-mails and phone conversations. He's preparing to have his last Vice Palace Tapes show for the year, which will be recorded live. From there, the primary focus of the rest of Vice Palace’s second year is on getting cassettes ready for distribution. After being backlogged earlier this year due to health issues, Iskander is back on track with Parade of Flesh.
The two share a similar sensibility in that they treat each show almost as an art project, a means to cultivate and maintain a particular subculture. Both prefer booking fewer shows with more attention to each. “Some people just want to book whatever,” says Iskander. “None of [our shows] are shitty. They’re all step by step and it’s not every day of the week.” Peña agrees: “The concepts have been flowing for a while. It’s not about booking shows, but building a narrative. It’s an art project. It has to be done with a vision.”
Two years ago, Peña reached out to Iskander via e-mail about doing a show together at Ware:wolf:haus. Iskander passed because there was no PA or A/C. “It’s extra work,” says Iskander. “I’ve done that already.” He's been doing shows for nearly a decade and has lots of experience with DIY spaces. He was never opposed to a co-production with Peña, but wanted to wait for the right show. Iskander considered being a part of the Vice Palace: Year One show back in April, but was busy putting Spillover together, an enormous task further complicated by his health issues.
In the end, Peña wound up doing his first show with George Quartz at Ware:wolf:haus back in March of 2014 and it was the start of what became Vice Palace. He admits that it was “hot as balls” in the room and he was scrambling to get a PA. But Vice Palace eventually started gaining momentum, its shows taking place in warehouses, art galleries and even a recording studio. But despite their guerrilla nature they don’t seem like DIY shows. The roving nature of the events frees up the themes, visual components and other constraints that a fixed space typically creates.
Vice Palace’s shows are carefully planned and highly organized. Its last show, Dezi 5's Crucifixion on the Dance Floor at The Public Trust, had professionals doing sound, recording the show and providing visuals. With a background as an artist, Peña also plans to eventually have Vice Palace shows in different cities to accompany his art exhibits. Collaborating with someone like Iskander makes more sense than ever for Peña.
“The art world is a very inclusive place,” says Peña. But coming into the music scene somewhat recently, he saw that it could be inclusive in some ways, but territorial in others. Iskander agrees: “That’s part of why I want to work with him a little more, even if it’s just once a month, every two months, whatever.” For certain shows, a non-traditional venue makes sense and it provides a break from the norm for touring bands.
The big question is what exactly a collaboration between Parade of Flesh and Vice Palace might look like. Based on the details of the Halloween show, it'll be a mix of Iskander's widespread contacts — he's booked the Coathangers on several occasions in Dallas, including twice in the past year — and the guerrilla aesthetics of Peña. Back in February, the Coathangers played at Trees. At Pariah, they share a bill with Nobunny, Party Static and Pearl Earl, with DJ sets by Shooknite and Yung Wave. Booking a band that could pack a crowd into Trees at Pariah may sound crazy, but Iskander just shrugs. “I just don’t really want to mess with Deep Ellum on Halloween,” he says.
In some ways, putting the show in The Cedars is a very practical decision. There will be countless shows to compete with in Deep Ellum on Halloween and finding a place to park could be a real chore. The Coathangers will actually play a free show earlier that evening at The Foundry and the Pariah show will be 21 and up, so that should help offset a crowd that could be bigger than the performance space.
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“It’s not going to be a wild free-for-all,” Iskander insists. “It might be,” Peña counters, and bursts into laughter.
At the end of the day, this collaboration is all about having fun with big shows in unusual performance spaces. “What’s fun about having to get in bidding wars, working all day, staying at a show and settling out?” Iskander asks. “But doing a show and hanging out with friends and turning it into a party — that’s what it should be. I want to do the shows I care about, where everybody’s having a good time. People are making babies after my shows.”
THE COATHANGERS perform with Nobunny, Party Static, Pearl Earl, Shooknite and Yung Wave takes place on Saturday, October 31 at Pariah Arts, 1505 Gano St., $12-$15.
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