Near Dark Festival Descends Upon Oakland

Zillah Minx and Sid Truelove of Rubella Ballet rock out in their signature Day-Glo attire. (Pete Dee)

Whether one calls it goth, dark punk, darkwave or deathrock, there’s no denying the enduring appeal of music from the bleaker end of the spectrum. It’s a scene that continues to attract plenty of new fans and bands, even four decades after its emergence.

Oakland's darkwave scene is much more than a niche pocket of fandom. The upcoming Near Dark Festival connects local bands like Adrenochrome and Mystic Priestess to an international tribe stretching from the U.K. to Chile. Co-organizers Gina Marie Scardino and Brianne Hanshaw (both of Adrenochrome) booked a diverse array of darkwave veterans and emerging bands for three nights of shows taking place Sept. 13–15 at The Golden Bull, The Uptown and Eli's Mile High Club.

“Our main goal is bringing bands and people to Oakland who have never played or been here,” says Scardino, who also plays in post-punk trio Ötzi and owns Near Dark Records and King Kog bike shop. Last year, she helped book the West Coast Women’s Darkwave Festival as well as the first edition of Near Dark. She says she's proud to provide this rare opportunity to see international legends in Oakland’s own backyard.

Adrenochrome, including Near Dark fest curators Gina Marie Scardino (on vocals) and Brianne Hanshaw (on drums) open the Near Dark festival on Sept. 13 at The Golden Bull. (Matthe Kadi)

There’s a conscious effort on Scardino and Hanshaw's part to ensure that their festival is as inclusive as possible. The website and show flyers include clear statements against racist, sexist and transphobic behavior; all three show venues are wheelchair accessible; and band members reflect a plurality of identities and musical genres.

“It’s important to make sure there’s a place for marginalized people in any scene: queer people, women, people of color," she says. "Considering the whole big picture when you put a show together is really important." Scardino’s main regret? That she couldn’t find an all-ages venue for this year’s festival.

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A touring musician herself, Scardino has played in dark music festivals elsewhere, including San La Muerte Festival in San Antonio, Texas. She figured the tight-knit community of darkwave and post-punk fans in Oakland would support a similar fest. Named after the nascent music label she founded in 2017, each evening of Near Dark is a miniature experiment in genre-blending, with several long-established headliners—including Los Angeles’ Kommunity FK celebrating their 40-year anniversary—supported by a constellation of more recent formations.

“Every lineup from start to finish is going to be mind-blowing,” promises Scardino. She admits to personal excitement over Friday’s headliner, Rubella Ballet, an anarcho-punk band from the U.K.

Scotland's Twisted Nerve make their first U.S. appearance at Oakland's Near Dark festival on Sept. 15 at Eli's Mile High Club. (Sarah E. Wilson)

Eschewing the drearier, gothic garb of their contemporaries, Rubella Ballet (currently anchored by Zillah Minx and Sid Truelove) have dressed up in shocking, Day-Glo colors since their inception in 1979, combining playful, tongue-in-cheek lyrics with relentless hooks, layered vocals and moshable energy. Near Dark Records' co-release (with Portland label Last Hour) of their hard-to-find singles, Day Glo Daze, will be available at the fest.

“They’ve been an inspiration to a lot of bands, but haven’t been here since the '80s, so it’s really exciting that they’re coming," says Scardino. "I can’t wait to meet them in person.”

Another legendary band slated to headline is equally old-school Twisted Nerve, a goth-punk quartet from Edinburgh formed in 1978. Involved in the original Batcave scene in 1980s London, they play their first and only U.S. show—ever—on the final night of the fest at Eli’s.

Another old-school band on the bill, the U.K.’s 13th Chime, will also play on Sept. 15. Their early-'80s, Joy Division-esque sound faded into a music-history footnote until recent reissues of their early recordings from the label Sacred Bones gave them new life.

Other notable international acts on the bill include queer female darkwave duo Diavol Strain from Chile and Fatamorgana from Barcelona, whose lead singer, Patrycja Aleksandra, met Scardino at San La Muerte festival in 2016.

Lau M and Ginger Blue of Chilean darkwave band, Diavol Strain, playing the Near Dark festival, Saturday, Sept 15, at Eli's Mile High Club. (Matí Solemnis)

“I hope that people will give them a chance, even if they’ve never heard them before," Scardino enthuses. 'They’re all so freaking good."

Near Dark Festival takes place Sept. 13–15 in Oakland. Details here.

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