For 12 years, DJ Lord Byron has provided a Friday night refuge for the goth-industrial dance scene with his weekly party, Panoptikon. The event began in 2006 at the now-defunct Club One in Deep Ellum. Panoptikon has survived several venue shifts and the ever-changing landscape of Dallas nightlife.
At 9:30 p.m. June 1, Lord Byron stood outside the current home of Panoptikon, 108 S. Pearl Expressway in downtown Dallas. He appeared proud and eager to host the 12th anniversary celebration. Faithful patrons made their way from the parking lot to the entrance, greeting Byron with hugs, kisses and handshakes while he spoke about his career experience as a DJ and promoter.
“I started DJing in 1990 at Aqua Lounge in Deep Ellum," he says. "I didn’t even know what I was doing. I was a stupid kid, but somebody gave me a chance.”
A panoptikon (correctly spelled panopticon) is a circular prison observed by authorities from a central position within the structure. There’s dual inspiration behind the name. It’s a byproduct of Byron's struggle with past demons along with adoration for a favorite musician.
“To be honest with you, I was very not sober — I’ll put it that way,” Byron says. “Because of that, my world kind of crashed in the late '90s, and I separated from the [nightlife] community. In 2003, I got completely sober. After about three years into my sobriety, I really missed the community and being a DJ for the good things that come with it — the people, the music. It’s just a lot of great energy.
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"Panoptikon is a prison, so there’s symbolism for me personally because I was living in my own prison with addiction. But I first heard the word from an amazing avant-garde singer named Diamanda Galas. One of her earlier records was called Panopticon.”
Byron’s following has remained loyal throughout many transition periods since Panoptikon’s initial run.
“We’ve moved to different venues for various reasons," he says. "After Club One shut down, I found an abandoned nightclub that was for sale at Maple and Wycliff. They still had their dancehall permits and a liquor license. While they were selling [the building], they gave us the keys, and we were there for a year and a half. We ran not only Panoptikon but other nights with different promoters. It was really cool.”
After 18 months at that club, Panoptikon had stints at The Church and The Nines. It moved into the building on South Pearl Expressway in December 2016. Byron says this location creates an ideal atmosphere for his audience.
“This venue, as old as it is, gives that feel of the underground nightclub that we tend to lose over time," he says. "Everything is so new and polished in Dallas. I’m glad that we have a little grit left, and I’m proud to be part of that.”
Gothic culture in Dallas and the music genres associated with it remain viable in large part because of the producers of Panoptikon and The Church.
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“Between The Church and Panoptikon, it’s great that we have a Friday and Sunday alternative," Byron says. "The Church is such a staple, not just locally but internationally. Panoptikon is a little guy by comparison, but I think we’ve really made our mark. In 12 years, we haven’t missed a beat every Friday.”
Organizing a weekly club night is no easy task. Byron describes it as a “labor of love” but considers what he does a privilege.
“It’s really an honor for people to show up to something you open the doors for,” he says. “The friends and patrons that come out make it easy. Everyone is always so appreciative. As long as people continue to show interest and want to come, we’ll keep it going. If we could celebrate the 20th anniversary eight years from now, I’d love to do that.”