That That Gallery is an artistic space with a certain sort of edge. This became clear as soon as the building tried to kill me.
When I first arrived at the gallery, located in the converted loft space of a nondescript commercial property off Main St. in Exposition Park, there wasn't another human being in sight. I knocked on a promising-looking side door, and a resident threw open a second story window to say hello, sending a decent-sized metal spike -- or possibly just an unusually hefty knitting needle -- clattering to the concrete a foot or two from my head.
"Sorry," she said. "It holds the window open."
But really, I wasn't bothered. The anecdote really bottles the aesthetic That That occupies: a bit dangerous, but always in an exciting way. Part of that feeling comes from the gallery's unique status as the home, studio and exhibition space of its head tenant, Dallas artist Samantha McCurdy. Another reason is that it's an art gallery that also occasionally hosts metal and punk shows. That night, I was there for Dallas hardcore band Power Trip.
It sounds a little idiosyncratic to watch a bunch of teenagers slam-dance and punch each other in the middle of an art gallery, but it's not such a bad fit. Spectating a few rows back from the pit at a show like this is akin to witnessing a brutal form of performance art -- after all, moshing is a kind of simulated, consensual violence, a closer relative to interpretive dance than any street fight. I'd challenge even the most pretentious art critic to walk out of that show without a measure of admiration for the stark power of the human animal at its most bare, even if some of that involves 15-year-olds windmilling at you.
Thankfully, Power Trip frontman Riley Gale agrees with me.
"Punk bands have been playing in spaces like That That since punk was invented," Gale says. "I don't think bands that play punk, metal or hardcore are any more lowbrow than other forms of music or art. That show was the perfect chance for us to express what we've got going on, and the space really allows for that."
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Speaking of the space, it looked almost a little too perfect of a match for Power Trip's white-knuckle riffs and melon-splitting volume. The walls of the gallery were painted black, a handful of bare light bulbs shone through red cellophane and the windows were boarded up with a strangely pleasing abstractness -- like a punk squat torn from the pages of a Restoration Hardware catalog.
I only discovered later that this was a sort of inadvertent gag. The black walls and boards were the set dressing for another art show, most of the pieces for which had already been put into storage while Power Trip melted the faces of the front row and elevated countless crowd surfers with cuts from their latest LP, Manifest Decimation. But talk about synchronicity.
The DIY aesthetic and industrial feel of the building gives some context to the eclectic variety of shows that have previously taken over the space, including a performance by Puerto Rican surrealist puppet troupe Poncili Creacion and an audio-visual dance party with music by local DJ Chris Lund, aka Left/Right.
So why Power Trip? Gale says his friend Jason Zawacki, another artist-in-residence at That That, was instrumental in booking the group, along with Parade of Flesh founder John Iskander. Both Zawacki and Iskander are hardcore fans, and Zawacki says that after a handful of DJ sets and other "white-wall yuppie bullshit," he was ready to hear a band he actually liked.
"People in the hardcore scene are very educated, many of them have formal backgrounds in the arts. It only made sense to me to bring that around," Zawacki says. "I wanted to try different stuff in the gallery than all this electronic dance party junk we've done before. It's not about profit; it's purely for the effect."
Zawacki says that Power Trip could easily sell out venues like Club Dada, but that's "too boring." Now that the members of the band no longer all live in Dallas, he says he'd only want to ask them to make the trip if they were putting on something really special. With more than 400 fans showing up for the set last week, it looks like they succeeded.
The gallery's residents say they're already planning future acts from a variety of genres, but only time will tell how other bands make the space their own. After all, it'll be hard to top Power Trip's floor-shaking spectacle. But playing with your expectations appears to be the sort of thing That That does best: It's the kind of place that simultaneously feels like an exciting player in the arts scene and something the cops might shut down at any moment.
But as Gale screamed his last lines and Power Trip wrapped up their set, the powers that be didn't seem bothered. On my way out, I passed a single Dallas police officer pacing back and forth on the sidewalk outside the door, seemingly oblivious to the glances of nervous hardcore kids as they filed past her into the night. She caught my eye and felt compelled to offer an explanation.
"I'm not doing anything," she laughed. "I just have bad circulation!"
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