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The Bizarre Life and Troubling Death of DarkSide, the Dallas Rave Church That Never Was

The Lord had chosen an unlikely vehicle for his message to John Wayne. But when John learned he'd been DJing in a church, he knew it was a message from above.

John grew up Pentecostal in Waco, at a church where they spoke in tongues and laid on hands. He dropped out of school at 17 and moved to Dallas to become a professional dancer, but he got wrapped up in drugs instead. He spent a few chaotic years living in hotels, mooching Ecstasy and LSD off dealer friends and watching his dreams turn to dust.

By the time he became part of DarkSide, John was clean and had a beautiful woman by his side at the turntables. As the club grew, eventually becoming one of Dallas' hottest after-hours spots, John was one of its main DJs and promoters. Then, suddenly, it was also the spiritual outlet he'd always craved.

He received this good news in November 2010, around the height of the club's popularity. He was at Dancetronic, a weekly party at DarkSide's sister club, the Playground. John was in the zone, headphones on and bass thumping, when someone shined a flashlight onto his turntables. Annoyed, he raised his arm to block the light and kept spinning.

Fists pounded on his table. John ignored them. Someone yelled at him to turn around. Finally, he did.

"What the fuck do you want?" he screamed, and saw whom he'd been blowing off. The cops yanked him from the DJ booth, he says, headphones still around his neck. They piled on top of him. He felt a knee on his neck and a gun to his head. He was handcuffed while the cops kicked everyone out.

When he got out of jail two days later, on his birthday, he was shaken and scared. He called his boss, a man he knew as "AB."

"I think I'm done," John told him. "The cops are watching that venue. For some reason they don't want us doing this."

"John Wayne, what they did was illegal," AB replied. DarkSide and the Playground were both licensed spiritual organizations, he said. "I've got proof. We can take them to court. Come down here right now. We'll walk up to the police station with the paperwork I have and we'll own the fucking city."

John was confused. He'd never known the clubs to be "spiritual organizations." They sure didn't look like it. But it was true, AB said: He was an ordained Universal Life Church minister, and he had a permit to use his buildings for worship.

John was still baffled. But he was elated, too.

"I love God with all my heart," he says. He'd always wanted to show people "the truth" through his music. Well, he thought, the Lord works in mysterious ways.

It wouldn't be long before DarkSide collapsed amid a messy tangle of drugs, arrests and accusations, sending its shady operators and tightknit collective of staff and customers scattering. But for eight months, anyway, John Wayne thought he'd found the spiritual home he'd been seeking, and that it had come, miraculously, with a dose of DJ fame. He started dreaming up outreach events DarkSide could offer to the rave scene. He even got ordained himself and performed a wedding in the club, two young ravers who wanted to marry before they both joined the military. The bride wore a green gown and walked down the aisle to a dance remix of Mendelssohn's wedding march.

"The media made it out to be a sex-infested, drug-infested underground rave club that was run by a pedophile and raver kids who didn't give a damn," he says now. His voice rises a little. "That's bullshit. Yes, there were drugs. Yes, Tommy is a pedophile. But there was a deeper purpose, a deeper meaning, a deeper connection. This wasn't just something we did on weekends. This was our life."


DarkSide's former home at 3207 Northwest Highway is a squat tan building, part of the last stretch of commerce before the road flattens out into a cloudy streak of Bachman Lake on one side and drab commercial buildings on the other. From August 2010 to July 2011, this was a huge planet in the galaxy of clubs in the Dallas dance-music scene, drawing as many as 1,000 people a night to its five rooms and as many stages. It was a candy store of raver delights: disco balls, strobes, lasers, a stripper pole, cages to dance in and readily available drugs to make it all sparkle. Videos online show every room packed wall-to-wall, young dudes in T-shirts, young women, maybe even girls, pulsating to deep bass lines in tiny outfits paired with big, fuzzy boots.

"It was really nice," says Gypsy Masters. He's a cheery, rainbow-dreadlocked 22-year-old who became a DarkSide mainstay; the club's management used to pay him to show up, he says, because he'd bring a big crowd with him. "There was more music, more genres, more styles — more of a freedom of what you want to listen to."

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Anna Merlan
Contact: Anna Merlan