North Dallas isn't usually the kind of place you'd go to for a fun night out on the town. Amongst the sprawling grid of lower-to-middle-class households and apartments, strip malls, pawn shops and other respectable businesses, this area has almost always been a void of culture. But, as unlikely as it may seem, that narrative may be about to change. With the emergence of Josey Records as a record shop that attracts music heads from around the world, as well as more DIY ventures like Velvet Elvis and The Compound, North Dallas is suddenly becoming the metro area's newest music hot spot.
Now, if you're a part of this city's school of late-night culture fiends like me on the eternal quest for kicks, you'd typically find nothing more here than a monotony of eerie silence that can drive a person nuts and leaves you with a few limited options: go somewhere else like Deep Ellum or Denton, live under a rock or... Well, that's about it. Make that two options.
But hear us out on this one. There hasn't been much of anything that interesting going on in North Dallas for a good while. I do remember one humble little punk venue that existed back in 2006 over by Harry Hines and Walnut Hill called The Liberty House. It closed down six months in after the tenants forgot to (or just didn't) pay the electric bill. (Funny how those things just kind of get away from you, isn't it?) Since then, unless you like wasting your cash at some gentleman's club, the area's reverted to its traditional no-man's-land status.
During the past few years, the numbing boredom of anyplace between Marsh and Forest Lane has steadily been broked by a new pattern. By that, I don't mean that trippy-dippy mural off of Forest that's been there since the '70s. No, what I mean is that, seemingly overnight, there's been a sprouting up of "cool" spots appearing in the area which surprises even this nosy culture fiend right here. More specifically, these spots are a record shop, a rock 'n' roll bar and a house venue to boot. All within a ten-mile radius.
The most notable of these places is Josey Records off LBJ near I-35. This huge record store has become a new gem in this desolate cultural landscape. It's been getting attention not only from every big local pub looking to get its greasy hands on a quirky story but also press from outside of the region and beyond. And it's not surprise; noted crate diggers like DJ Shadow have been known to make a point of dropping by, such is the reputation of their selection. Later this month, the store is having its much-anticipated first show on February 21 run by Art Pena of Vice Palace with iill, Blixaboy, Teen What? and Abacaba.
Yet, this is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to what's "cool" in North Dallas right now. Just a few miles away, on the corner of Walnut Hill and Marsh, there's a little rock 'n' roll bar hidden behind a convenient store at maybe the plainest looking strip-mall around. The place is charmingly called the Velvet Elvis. Step inside this dive bar and you'd think you were almost in Denton or something if it weren't for the lack of indoor smoking and a bartender that isn't a college hipster.
On any given night, there's a crew of pool sharks shooting the shit as music which could be anything from rockabilly to Biggie blares from the sound system. You'll also find a cozy orange couch and pictures of Jimi Hendrix, Marilyn Monroe and Johnny Cash on the walls. Every now and then, they'll have live bands play on the corner stage just to keep things interesting. Most of the time, though, it's the kind of spot where you'll find dudes getting off work from their warehouse jobs and a handful of misfits here and there. Only the finest dive this side of Web Chapel.
But perhaps one of the most peculiar and interesting developments in this neck of the woods is The Compound, a venue run by Evan Gordon who also performs under the auspices of a solo experimental project called Bare Mountain. (Confusing, I know, but bear with me.) Mind you, this is still North Dallas, a pretty out-there place to have a low-key concert.
"A large part of what informed my decision to want to have shows happen here besides my love for playing and seeing other people play is the fact that pretty much anytime I'd want to see someone play I'd have to drive like 20 minutes in some direction and that kind of fucking sucks," Gordon says.
The Compound all started as an idea, he said. Gordon and his roommates had just graduated from UTD last spring and they were looking for a place to move to that could act as both a dwelling and a studio for a music collective. Once they found a space, they threw a few small parties and set up the studio so friends could come over to jam and record. After a while, he decided to start throwing shows in the middle room.
As it happened, Gordon made a few calls to some of the Dallas community's rising local artists and everything fell into place. The first show was on January 23 and the bill included Moth Face, jakkkechan, Ricky Meisner and Hello! Scenic Dreams -- all of them young, new solo acts with a varied range of musical stylings. Plus, like any good dwelling concert, the show was free with encouraged donations.
The show worked beautifully. Somehow, the acoustics of the room keeps too much loud noise from leaving the house so there weren't any noise problems. It was the start of what seems to be an accumulating web of musicians and artists from all over North Texas. Last week, Gordon held the second Compound show with Bare Mountain, Friendli, Zelfel, Konklin', Black Taffy and Rat Rios.
The next Compound show is Febraury 20 but the address won't be posted publicly. "One of the things that booking these shows has done is that it has gotten me to look more into local music a lot more than I have in the past andI'm finding out that there's a lot of really good bands in Dallas," said Gordon. "I'm real stoked by the idea that it's kind of catching on in the area."
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With places like The Compound, Josey Records and Velvet Elvis, it's clear that something new isbrewing in this part of the city that has never been seen before, all within a five-mile radius. What was once a dull 'burb of sterile boredom is now becoming a fertile ground for cultural activity. One can almost say that North Dallas is kind of cool.
Right now, it's too soon to say if this is a lasting trend or just a brief period in this area's history when something interesting is actually going on. Either way, this is what's happening now in terms of affordable fun and good times in the North D for the young and hardy who care to know. Might as well enjoy it while it's there.
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