Feature Stories

Wardance Thrusts Dallas Into the Anti-Dance Party World of Dark Music

When is a dance party not a dance party? When it's a dark music party. Or more precisely, when it's a dark music party hosted by goth/punk DJ Oliver Sheppard. Enter Wardance, a post-punk series and the only party of its kind in Dallas. It's fine to dance at Wardance, but there will be no dance music.

“We’re a major metropolitan area and there was no regular or even irregular event that is focusing on the current revival that’s going on as far as new bands exploring post-punk,” says Sheppard. He likes the old-school, guitar-driven, four-piece gothic rock. In other words, dark stuff. He's been listening to these sounds since he was skateboarding and reading magazines like Thrasher as a teen in the late '80s. “The newer dark punk bands have delved back into those roots,” he adds. 

Sheppard is concerned with the revivals of various subgenres of dark music, but always with the punk side of it. He just didn’t care for the industrial or electronic side of it and thinks that it is over-represented in Dallas and most major cities. “It’s like dark industrial club music,” Sheppard says. “Looking back at the early days of Joy Division and Christian Death, it was not club music. It was more punk-orientated type stuff.” This is the focus of Wardance. Sheppard gets his strong convictions from when he was into hardcore punk, which has a resistance and activist sensibility. 

In the summer of 2012, Wardance first started under the name Atrocity Exhibition at Le Grange, which is now Three Links. Sheppard found it crazy that there were no events like it in the area. Back then it was a monthly show. When Le Grange shut down and Sheppard was left in limbo, he renamed the series after a Killing Joke song and moved it to Crown & Harp for shows every Wednesday upstairs. Now it happens roughly once a month.

But it happens when it happens. Sheppard has three events for October. DJs play dark music and sometimes there are live bands. He sees the event as fighting back against the movement to turn dark music into dance music. To him, this is a time when bands like the Birthday Party and the Cramps are desperately needed.

He would like to do a festival called It’s Dark in Dallas with some of his local favorites bands: Pinkish Black, iill (who played their first show at a Wardance event), Slimy Member and Vulgar Fashion. “There’s a huge dark music scene here that is not being represented,” says Sheppard. (Each of those bands has been nominated in our recently announced Dallas Observer Music Awards.) But he’s specifically referring to music that isn’t meant for a disco or dance club.

Sheppard sees Wardance events as DIY showcases for the dark underside of Dallas. “It’s the grim, dark stuff,” he says. Wardance kicked off its first of the three October shows on the first, with Population, modern gothic rock from Chicago and Slimy Member. The bill was rounded out with the punk band Chloroformed to Death from Denton and Sleep Colony, a Dallas dark ambient band playing their first show.

And of course, DJs will play dark music in between sets. But there is no concern about filling up the dance floor, beat matching or turntable flashiness. This is all about giving voice to the resurgent movements of dark post-punk, death rock and gothic rock. “I think people can dance to what I play,” says Sheppard. “But I’ve had complaints.” As it turns out, people who came to dance will actually complain if Bauhaus is playing.

But this isn’t a party. Wardance is all about dark music. “It’s not some post-'90s, industrial, dance crap,” says Sheppard. “I try to play new music that people aren’t aware of.” He says that many show up just out of curiosity, wondering what the dark music scene looks like these days. “We are trying to bring out what the new dark paths are without it devolving into some crappy '80s night where we’re playing Depeche Mode and the Cure all night long,” Sheppard continues.

Instead, he focuses on “playing actual living representatives of the ongoing evolution of the dark music scene.” In short, Wardance is about taking a good look at dark music that is happening right now, leaving out dance music and focusing on punk. Sheppard is focusing on “a living evolution of the genre” instead of succumbing to endless waves of nostalgia.

Not surprising, Wardance crowds can be quite different from what you will find at most other DJ nights. When live bands play, it can get chaotic like a mosh pit in an old Minor Threat video.

Sheppard wonders why so many people are still playing music that John Peele was playing 30 years ago and just can’t make sense of it. He wants to create living memories using new music. Perhaps people will be playing his stuff decades from now. And he insists that he does not hate dance music: “I like dancing. But I hate what is culturally considered dance music. It’s so uniform, very dull and monotonous.” 
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Jeremy Hallock