DarkEcho Horror
Blowgun by Rick Berry
The Dark Entrepreneur

by Paula Guran

First appeared in
DarkEcho: 04.06.00 [V.7 #12]

Call it "dark entrepreneurism" -- business based on a subcultural identification with goth, industrial, vampire, modern primitive, and elements of SM/bondage fetishism. Makers and retailers of fetish-, gothic-, Renaissance-, and Victorian- influenced clothing and clubwear (do you have any idea how many custom corset-makers there are these days?)...theatrical fangs, special effect contact lenses, bondage gear, make-up, suppose you can throw gaming in there...certainly a couple of bookstores and publishing ventures, and, well, horror writers, too.

Meet a dark entrepreneur: Patrick Rodgers. He currently runs three companies:
-- Dancing Ferret Concerts - produces and promotes club nights, concerts, and special events, focusing on goth, industrial, and synthpop
-- Dancing Ferret Discs - nationally distributed record label releasing music by dark music acts
-- Digital Ferret Compact Discs - retail store in Philadelphia selling domestic and import CDs from past and current bands in the goth, industrial, new wave, synthpop, metal, noise, and experimental genres

With no experience, no training, no real idea of how the industry worked, Rodgers has managed to build a viable (yes, it is his full-time gig) mini-empire. Music was the impetus. "Music has always been my great love, and my great disappointment has been my inability to produce any of my own," he says. "Getting involved in some way was inevitable, and the business side of the industry seems to suit me very well. I started off with concerts. I noticed some of my favorite bands weren't playing Philadelphia, and I thought -- perhaps one day, after I won the Lottery -- I might just hire them to come and play at my house. Eventually I realized that if I could find a handful of other serious fans, we could split the expenses and have a little party, and maybe some of these bands would come to play. After mulling that over, I decided that I could cover all the expenses myself, and sell tickets, and hope to at least break even. And that was the moment I realized I wanted to be a concert promoter. That was late in 1994."

CruxshadowsRodgers found someone who produced big R&B concerts in Europe on a Compuserve forum. "He wasn't able to tell me much about how to run goth/industrial shows in small American clubs, but he did point me in the direction of the industry trade magazines and gave me some basic advice, which was the only starting point I had. From the beginning, I just did my best to act like I belonged and that I knew what I was doing. Naturally, I was sussed out pretty quickly and eaten alive on my first show, but it was a learning experience (albeit an expensive one) and I'm glad I did it."

Even though live music will always be his first love, club nights have become an important part of the business: "Concerts are very expensive and very high-stress; club nights are more reliable, less expensive, and low maintenance."

The record label started when he successfully lobbied White Wolf to get the license to produce the first soundtrack to role-playing game Vampire: The Masquerade. Initially he was torn between starting a label and putting it out himself, or just producing and licensing it to someone else. He then discovered of his favorite bands, The Cruxshadows, was stuck in a contract with a mainstream label that they didn't feel was working out for them. "I made my decision. I bought out the Cruxshadows contract from the other label, started a label with the money I'd saved from the club night/concert biz, and decided to release the Vampire soundtrack myself. The Cruxshadows continue to grow in success, popularity, and sales, and the buzz around the [just released] Vampire soundtrack is huge, so I'm very happy with that decision. I also now have the opportunity to increase the exposure of a number of other talented artists, such as Germany's Paralysed Age, and a few domestic bands we'll likely sign this year."

Music from the Succubus ClubA soundtrack for an RPG? "First, from a purely business standpoint, it's a great marriage -- White Wolf fans buy the disc and get exposed to new music, new bands, etc. Fans of the band pick up the disc and get exposed to the game. Everyone wins. Too, there are SO many bands out there these days. So many records, all vying for the eyes and ears of a public with an increasingly short attention span. Having a catchy name or a good cover song or breasts on the album cover doesn't cut it anymore, and labels need to get innovative when it comes to getting people to buy a disc and listen to it. Specifically, this comp made a lot of sense because of the depth of the RPG. Sure, on the surface, it's a game about vampires, but if you've read any of the source material, you know it touches on many different themes. Something I've always said about the disc is that it's not *about* vampires; rather, it's about the themes explored in the game. Finally, having been a part of a number of vampire games over the years, I've noticed that music (like pizza) has been central to just about every game I've seen. A disc of music specifically for the game seemed like a great concept, and response so far has been very positive."

The retail store was a simpler situation. For eight years it served as the nucleus of Philly's dark music scene. The owners decided to move to San Francisco and were just going to close it. "I begged them not to shut it down, but they said it was just too demanding to run it from across the country, and they had other businesses that needed their attention," Says Rodgers. "They suggested that if I really wanted to see it stay open, I should buy it from them. I was a bit hesitant at first since it was a big investment (my life savings plus some) but I couldn't let the store close. We've been open almost two months now and it's eaten my life, but I'm very excited."

Just what IS the vampire/goth subculture scene in Philadelphia? "The two are different, although they do intersect a lot, and there's the industrial subculture as well, which is a thing unto itself. Goth and industrial music have some similarities but overall are reasonably disparate. They tend to get grouped together at club nights because many people who like one like the other, the fashion is largely the same, and typically in many markets neither is enough on its own to sustain a viable club night.

Dracula's Ball"The goth and industrial subcultures in Philly are very strong. We've got easily one of the best scenes in the country. Events are well-attended, there are a number of weekly events to choose from, and we have a good amount of local talent. Besides my label, one of the giants in the genre, Metropolis Records (Bauhaus, Front 242, Front Line Assembly, etc.) is headquartered in Philly." The weekly club night pulls 350-600 depending on the time of year. A Dracula's Ball draws between 500-1,000. The last Dark Harvest festival drew over 3,500.

"The vampire subculture is a little harder to pin down, but the overwhelming response to our Dracula's Ball events demonstrates that the vamp scene is thriving, as well. While a fair number of the vampire folks are into the goth subculture, many of them aren't. Some enjoy it when they're exposed to it, and some just don't dig it at all. I would say the goth/industrial scene is what really sustains my business, but the vampire subculture has been very supportive as well."

Just what kind of "dark" market is there? "Quantifying it is difficult, but I suppose my immediate thoughts are first of the appropriation of so much subculture imagery in current pop culture -- BUFFY THE VAMPIRE SLAYER, THE MATRIX, THE CROW, Ray-Ban commercials, "Goth Talk" on SNL, etc. I also look at the success of the Hot Topic chain, which currently has over 100 stores in the US and caters to goths and other subcultures. Obviously I feel it's a good market or I wouldn't be basing my businesses in it. Goth has historically been very cyclical, but it's always had a certain baseline that it doesn't fall below. I see it getting bigger in the years ahead, certainly, especially as it begins to rub shoulders with eighties nostalgia and the exploding synth-pop music scene. In many cities where the club scene is dominated by Top 40, hip hop, and house music, the best place to hear Depeche Mode, Duran Duran, or Wolfsheim is your local goth night."

I'll let you know when he goes IPO.

Dracula's Ball -
Music From The Succubus Club (Vampire: The Masquerade soundtrack):
Dancing Ferret Discs -
Mailing list: with subject of '"Subscribe" (or for Dracula's Ball mailing list)


Various Artists
List Price: $16.97; Dancing Ferret; ASIN: B00004RCZ1

Although the dominant sound is goth-synthpop -- as it should be, since this is essentially club music -- there's still enough variety in the thirteen tracks to give you some idea of the current blend of industrial, goth rock, darkwave, and even metal. I'm not familiar enough with the RPG to determine if each track is suitable to the vampire clan that supposedly inspired it, but I can attest that musically the CD is hauntingly beautiful, emotionally evocative, and drivingly danceable -- sometimes all at the same time. The Cruxshadows open with "Deception" a song that has both great violin solos and a strong enough hook ("Pray for daylight...") that it could be a crossover hit. (A "Deception" mini-video playable on PC/Mac is also included on the CD). A new remix nicely updates an energetic "Bloodsucker" by Paralysed Age. "Hemoglobin" by Beborn Beton is as bloody as its title. Imagine a vampiric Andrew Lloyd Webber for Nosferatu's "The Night Is Young." Neuroactive, Seraphim Shock, Mission U.K., Carfax Abbey, Wench, Sunshine Blind, Bella Morte, Kristeen Young, and Diary of Dreams all contribute to a compilation that would make great party music for any gathering of the undead and should also wake the living up to this true music of the night.

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