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

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DarkSide was something new to its young clientele. But the electronic dance music (EDM) scene has deep roots in Dallas, given a thread of continuity by Lizard Lounge, the city's longest-operating dance club. When that club's owner, Don Nedler, moved here in 1991, he found a subculture already in full bloom.

"Rave culture was exploding in the early '90s," he says. It had started with the Starck Club, a sleek converted warehouse where DJs such as Greg Watton and GoGo Mike DuPriest created a huge following for house music. The Lizard Lounge opened at the end of 1991 and soon started spinning mostly dance music. Around the same time, warehouse parties helped take scene further off the radar.

"We'd just grab a generator, some turntables and some buddies and go set up in a field or an abandoned warehouse and just get after it," says Jerrod Gideon, who DJed that scene as a teenager. "It was mostly illegal."

Underground parties and clubs with dance nights gradually gave way to small, all-EDM clubs like Kinky's, Wish and Cameo, now all long gone. Today, most clubs spin at least some dance music. But the main action in the EDM scene happens at enormous traveling festivals: Lights All Night, Electric Daisy Carnival, Life in Color.

In some ways, DarkSide had the fly-by-night vibe of those old warehouse raves. It began as the brainchild of a promoter named Tommy Eppelsheimer, in a couple of one-off nights at a Richardson club called the Verandah Grill and Lounge. Eppelsheimer is 43, a pale, stocky guy with a shaved head. Before DarkSide he mostly worked as a locksmith in Lewisville. But he promoted too, going by the name Tommy Gunn and hyping mostly 21-and-over "bottle clubs."

John Wayne says he met Eppelsheimer a few years back at Dallas World Aquarium, where John worked and where he'd thrown one of his only shows. He was having trouble getting gigs, which he blamed on the insularity of the Dallas rave scene. "I was tired of the disrespect," he says. "I'd show up, support, dance, but I never got booked."

But Eppelsheimer saw something in him. "You're an amazing DJ," John remembers the older man saying. "And no one gives you a chance." DarkSide would be that chance, Eppelsheimer promised.

John was reluctant to get involved in DarkSide at first. "I'm a very spiritual person, and the name turned me off." But the chance to DJ regularly was too good to pass up. And Eppelsheimer didn't want just him — he wanted John Wayne's girlfriend, Lacey Jayne, too. (John and Lacey agreed to be interviewed on the condition they be identified by their DJ handles. Together, they called themselves The HitStars.)

"Fine," John Wayne told Eppelsheimer. "We'll run DarkSide, and I'll be the light in the dark."

Their gigs at the Verandah drew close to 500 people, John and Lacey say, but also invited the attention of the cops, so the owners didn't invite them back. For a few months, DarkSide bounced restlessly from venue to venue. One weekend, John and Lacey even rented out the clubhouse of their apartment building and held DarkSide there. Another weekend, DarkSide happened at Iniquity, a swingers club.

It wasn't until September 2010, when Eppelsheimer met the man DarkSiders knew as "AB," that DarkSide settled into the dingy, rambling space on Northwest Highway. It's unknown how the two met, and most of the club-goers didn't know AB was just leasing the building, and that its owners had unsuccessfully tried to evict him. All they knew was that their club finally had a home.

To talk about DarkSide, you have to talk first about the Brotherhood, which, depending on whom you ask, was either a group of kids who got drunk and played beer pong or a highly organized criminal gang.

Most DarkSiders describe the Brotherhood as a group of kids from The Colony who went to high school together and entered the EDM scene together. Many of them had brittle or nonexistent family ties. They became each other's support.

"It was a rave family," says Scott "Styx" Webb, now 22, who did lights and sound for the club. "You could call someone at 4:30 in the morning because you had two flat tires on the side of the highway and someone would bring a pickup truck to get new tires. Someone did that for me once."

Lacey was one of its first members. When DarkSide first opened on Northwest Highway and business was slow, she reached out to several other members, who started promoting the club. "If you were new, they would welcome you in," Lacey says. "No questions asked."

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Anna Merlan
Contact: Anna Merlan