Elm St. Music and Tattoo Festival
With Reverend Horton Heat, Agnostic Front, Riverboat Gamblers and more
Deep Ellum, Dallas
Thursday to Sunday, November 12 to 15, 2015
“Tattoos are a permanent trial by fire”, according to Tyson Arndt of Historic Tattoo in Portland, Oregon. Tyson is just one of many world-renowned tattoo artists who converged on The Bomb Factory in Deep Ellum this weekend for the fifth annual Elm St. Music & Tattoo Festival. Over the buzz of the gun, the man sitting in Arndt's chair getting inked (on what appeared to be a rather sensitive area of his inner thigh, the only place he had left for any new ink), just nods his head through gritted teeth.
He’s been following Arndt’s work for several years now and jumped at the chance to sit down for a session with Arndt at this year’s fest, held collectively at The Bomb Factory, Trees and Three Links in Deep Ellum. Despite uncooperative weather over the weekend, particularly on Sunday night, which probably had a negative impact on crowd size, the success of this year’s event was a testament to festival founder Oliver Peck’s prolific impact on the world of body art.
In its first year hosting the festival,The Bomb Factory seemed particularly well-suited to it. The upper-mezzanine level was converted into the artists’ stations. That was probably for the best, as slam-dancing punk fans and tattoo guns don’t mix well. While the festival was headlined by co-founder Reverend Horton Heat and a solid lineup of rock and punk acts, including performances by thrash-punk crossover Agnostic Front, stage-diving Leftover Crack and the ever-ass-kicking Riverboat Gamblers, the overall focus of the weekend seemed to be less on the music and more on the ink.
This year’s festival kicked off at midnight on Thursday, November 12, at The Bomb Factory, initiating 24 hours of straight ink work and access to artists. Walking through the buzz and chatter of the artists' stations, one got the impression that the motivation for all of it was to bring Peck's friends and peers together for a weekend of tunes and booze, and make the world of ink more accessible to people who perhaps wouldn’t walk into a tattoo shop otherwise.
One of the most unique aspects of the Elm St. Fest is that it brings all levels of talent into the same room. You can really get a solid feel for the nuances and personal styles of the artists. From the tattoo guns themselves to the ink that fills them, the artists will tell you that choosing an instrument is much like choosing an automobile. Your body is the canvas, and the artist can make use of different ink guns much like a painter would brushes.
The weekend wrapped up with an after-party at Three Links, which, after kicking off with a performance from the Foul Play Cabaret troupe, showcased some of the best of what the festival had to offer on the musical front. The after-party featured Frank Voodoo of Voodoo Glows, his face masked by full Lucha Libre garb, with his surfer-punk outfit Tiki Bandits, a midnight acoustic set from Horton Heat and a solo acoustic set from (the heavily tattooed) Matt Hillyer of 1100 Springs that would've made Elvis proud.
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Judging by the diversity of the crowd over the course of the weekend, it’s clear that the people who call Deep Ellum home embrace the under-stated sense of identity and community that defines the neighborhood. Much like the festival itself, this creates an atmosphere of inclusion and encourages exposure to new ways of thinking and self-expression. That is the true essence of body art. It’s the desire to externalize one’s soul. Deep Ellum has only ever been defined by the artists, musicians and people who see the local history and culture as something that is worth preserving.