On a Friday afternoon one week after the Transoma Five reunion show, Sloppyworld is doing a fantastic job of living up to its name.
It's dark and filthy, lit only by a few barely functioning fluorescent tubes. Dozens of bottles—empty, half-full or broken—litter the floor and every horizontal surface. Hundreds of cigarette butts have been swept into piles randomly scattered throughout the cavernous space like landmines of grime. Behind the particle-board stage, black plastic sheets hang in an apparent attempt to separate a tiny portion of the stage into "backstage." Sawhorses stand near the door, waiting to be put to work the following night as a flimsy barricade.
It's a beautiful sight.
Sloppyworld is the kind of midsized venue that could perfectly accommodate touring bands whose audiences have surpassed the Cavern's capacity but couldn't quite fill the Granada. Even better, the free parking, $5 cover for most events, laissez-faire approach to crowd control and BYOB policy give it the kind of laid-back attitude that is the polar opposite of the sterility and rapacious prices of the Palladium's Loft and the House of Blues' Cambridge Room.
I'd heard good things about Sloppyworld but hadn't been there until the January 11 Transoma Five show. It was the first time in my life I'd ever come away from a show more excited about the venue itself than the music I'd just heard. That night, I was certain that the space would be a catalyst for Dallas to regain its status as a city with a thriving live-music scene. After talking with two of the minds behind it, I'm even more excited about the possibilities, and I've mostly gotten over my nagging little doubts.
The venue is the brainchild of owner John Freeman, former frontman of '90s art-rock project The Dooms U.K. and the creative force behind the Dutch Treats (as well as an occasional contributor to the Dallas Observer's Night & Day section). It's not his first foray into the business side of local rock shows. He worked at Denton's great indie venue The Argo and at clubs in Brooklyn and until recently booked shows at The Amsterdam, an Exposition Park neighbor to his new venture.
Freeman still isn't booking shows consistently enough that he feels comfortable calling Sloppyworld "officially" open, but he thinks that day is coming soon. Maybe it'll be in March, when bands make Dallas stops on the way to or from South by Southwest. Or maybe it will be when he gets all the permits in order, a process he likens to a Kafka novel. Or maybe it will be when the city finally turns on the water. Hell, maybe making it "officially" open will just be a matter of convincing City Hall that 3601 Parry Ave. actually exists.
"That's kind of a weird line," he says. "We are open; we are having shows. But when we're 'officially' open is when we're having shows every weekend. We'll have two fully functioning bathrooms, a little bar built in, all that stuff. It should be February-ish, basically."
Since Sloppyworld first began hosting shows last fall, the initially sporadic bookings have become more and more frequent as word about the venue spreads. Since the New Year's Eve blowout with the Tah Dahs, Great Tyrant and Laura Palmer, the venue has been the host of shows including a Laptop Deathmatch and the Transoma Five show with the Theater Fire. Other exciting shows are in the works as well. Negativland is scheduled to play its first-ever Dallas gig on April 20, and Sloppyworld will be one of the venues participating in the Exposition Park-wide Melodica Festival February 22 and 23, an event that will draw national acts such as Silver Apples and Spectrum.
With the "official" opening date pushed back after every show, the water yet to be turned on and Freeman still plagued by permit issues, there's a bitter little pessimistic part of my brain warning me not to get my hopes up. Freeman has had setbacks, both personal and professional, but he seems to have the sheer willpower that it will take to make the venue work.
"I signed the lease in March 2007, and I've been having numerous permit problems, you know, just because the city seems to not want people to open new businesses, especially when they're entertainment-related," he says with a laugh. "The main problem I've had is that when I signed the lease, the space had been vacant for two years, and the business that had been here before apparently was running without a certificate of occupancy, so the address did not exist, according to the city. So I had to go down to City Hall and establish the address before I got anything done, and that took months...It's a combination of things, and part of it is just me being lazy."
Freeman, who is open about his past struggles with heroin addiction, admits that he lapsed back into using the drug—but insists it didn't hamper his efforts to open Sloppyworld.
"I had a small relapse," he says. "I was clean for years but had a little slip-up and went to rehab for a couple weeks. But I'm better now. I took care of it. It wasn't that big of a deal. On the scale of relapses, it was probably a two out of 10.
"That's always a danger, though. When you're working in the music scene, there's a lot of drugs around. I don't drink, I never have, so that's not a problem. But if someone showed up with some heroin, I'd probably do it. I hate to say it. Luckily, that's not really a problem in this town like it was in the '90s."
After getting clean, he says, he refocused his efforts to make Sloppyworld happen.
Even with those issues—permits, lack of water supply, his relapse—the shows have gone smoothly. So far, there's always been money left over after paying the bands and staff. Freeman says covering the expenses is all he wants to do right now.
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Eventually, he wants the space to be the host to all manner of off-the-wall events. Movie nights, Dungeons and Dragons nights, art shows and an "indie-rock dog show" are all in the works. He cites The Argo, with its anything-goes attitude and DIY approach, as a role model for his club.
"That was a great period for Denton back in the '90s, because you could do whatever the hell you wanted," he says. "We had one show where we built a wrestling ring inside the venue, and the two bands wrestled, and the one that won got to headline. I want to do that kind of stuff...I want it to be as freeform a space as possible but concentrating on the live music."
Laura Palmer, who performs tongue-in-cheek acoustic show tunes, has been helping Freeman get the place ready since August, doing everything from sweeping floors to acting as a security guard (even though she could hardly be described by any of the typical adjectives used to describe bouncers, like "burly," "menacing" or "male").
"Me and everyone I know, we all really want to see the place succeed," she says. "I think it's going to be the place to see live music in town."