Live at the Sanctum Sanctorum in Anaheim, CA – August 29, 2015
Written by Nicholas Diak | Photographed by Michele Brittany
At the center of Anaheim, California is Disneyland, the happiest place on earth. Its spires and roller coasters stand in triumph in the daytime sky, while at night, fireworks sound off with bombastic fanfare. Millions of tourists worldwide make the pilgrimage to Disneyland every year. However, on the night of the final Saturday of each month, a different pilgrimage takes place close by in the shadows of its magical kingdom.
Located a mere two miles northwest, as the crow flies from the iconic theme park is The New Other Place Bar and Club. Caught somewhere in the boundary of being a dive bar as well as a club, The New Other Place is the antithesis of all things which Disney projects. It is located in quite possibly the darkest recesses from the street, as the interior is filled with concrete floors, a woman’s bathroom door which refuses to close, Burn Notice broadcasting on the flatscreens behind the bar that freezes every few seconds, and a credit card machine that simply will not work.
It’s miserable. It’s uninviting. It’s perfect – perfect for local hardcore punks, metalheads and goths to gather each month under the Sanctum Sanctorum banner at a budget-friendly place to dance, mingle, drink cheap beer, party and listen to live underground goth and neofolk bands, a both notably rare genres in the Orange County area. For the Sanctum Sanctorum event on August 29th, the club was transformed with cobwebs and Christmas lights, with the DJ spinning hits from Human League’s “Don’t You Want Me Baby” to Eddie Murphy’s “Party All the Time.” For the live show, patrons were treated to performances of DEAES and The Blood Wisdom. DEAES, an aggregation of DEAth and AESthetic, is a fairly new project in the neofolk scene, having been around since roughly 2012. It is the flagship “hexfolk” group (to quote the band’s term) in southern California, far from its brother and sister acts in the north. Perhaps DEAES stand geographically alone, although project-wise, the group has been building its following and gaining prestige by playing many live local shows and releasing content to Bandcamp, Soundcloud, YouTube, and CDr demos. The band is spearheaded by J on vocals and guitars, Yuna Yune on violin and Laythe on percussion rounding out the enigmatic project.
The doors for the evening opened at 9:00pm, although attendees only started to trickle in after 9:30. Throughout the night, the club never got too crowded, capping off with roughly forty fans in attendance. DEAES took to the stage, a small raised platform in the club’s corner with a projector, at 10:50pm. Solemnly, J and Laythe carried out a small chest that they placed in front of the stage. The first of many rituals of the evening, J clarifies that the chest was in fact a living altar:
“It carries a very particular variety of seeds: Papaver rhoeas, known more commonly as the ‘Remembrance Poppy’ thanks to WWI veteran John McCrae’s poem ‘In Flanders Fields,’ in which he describes the poppies growing over the graves of the fallen. Our altar is living, and eventually dying; we carry it to serve it and to feed from it. The altar serves as a point of exchange between ourselves and our intention; it knows our secrets, and the flowers will bloom over the wreckage of our world. The poppy we chose has a metaphoric corollary to the ideology of our project. The altar is a catalyst.”
Though the altar was placed in front of the stage, DEAES did not interact with it any further until their set was done, giving the audience a sense of mystery to its purpose. The stage was adorned with a few other embellishments, such as candles and an effigy which hung from the microphone stand. As mysterious the stage dressing and props were, so too were the band members who performed anonymously. J was clad in black, with a noose for a tie and a black veil-mask hybrid covering his features, resembling that of a bandit. Yuna Yune was barefoot and sporting a white featureless mask that made her look like No Face from Spirited Away. Laythe, by virtue of being in the back of the stage and in silhouette from the projection, was the most mysterious, appearing like an executioner. Perhaps the black garbs and masked faces furthered the idea of death being nameless? J explains the principle of the on-stage anonymity, which in fact, serves two purposes:
“One is to embody a persona that gives our performance its energy and to direct it back at the environment we hope to produce. Taking measures to preserve the separation between our ‘civilian’ and ‘combatant’ selves is not only a spiritual act, but a political act. We conceal to forget ourselves, to remember our own malleability, and to strike from a greater distance. Some might call this activity lying. We call it taking creative control over the body. Whatever we are onstage exists in its own atmosphere.”
While many bands engage in light patter with their audience, bantering back and forth or introducing songs, DEAES took the Laibach approach of staying in character for their entire performance by remaining silent unless they were singing. In tandem with their altar and concealing garbs, the lack of banter only added to the performance. According to J:
“Our aim is to establish a moment in time for the audience to exist inside of and ignore consensus reality, one that we can take away by vanishing. Our aesthetics seek to create that world. Talking between songs would break what void or tension that is being created between us and the audience during the performance. Whatever it is that we have to say, we say through song and action.”
DEAES played a focused and distinct set from 10:50 to 11:30pm. The music properly sounded like a mixture of the gloomy violin of Peter Murphy’s “Cuts You Up” combined with the guitars of Death in June’s “Concrete Fountain.” J’s vocals almost resembled Damiano Mercuri of Rose Rovine E Amanti, but with an Americanized accent, while Yuna’s vocals weighed on the heavenly voices and ethereal attributes, similar to the early years of Chandeen, or the defunct group Ivoux. This created an interesting juxtaposition of gloomy folk entwined with romantic intonations, a combination that worked appropriately for DEAES’ performance.
One particularly powerful moment during their performance occurred when the band performed what could only be considered an unholy procession, with Laythe playing a tambourine in one hand, bells on ropes with another, while working the drums with his feet. The music became surreal, the romantically-inclined vocals were absent as the world teetered on the brink of destruction. When the crescendo of percussion stopped, the set continued as before, but with a dazed audience.
02) Here We Burn
03) Crooked Teeth
04) Dies Irae
06) Evocation (YY)
09) Burnt Offerings
10) Iris Clouds
While DEAES was no-nonsense, dark, focused, conservative, anti-theatrics, The Blood Wisdom was the complete opposite, with their performance being boisterous, idiosyncratic, catchy, and decidely theatric.
Headed by Eaden Rosvein, The Blood Wisdom had its earliest incarnation in 1996 when Rosvein began making music on a Tascam 4 track tape recorder. The project has evolved substantially in its almost twenty years of operation: from humble roots, expanding into something greater and more robust by releasing DIY albums and also taking advantage of Bandcamp to proliferate their material with a “pay-as-you-want” philosophy. The lineup has changed over the years, but this night’s performance had Rosvein on guitars and vocals, Magdalena on bass and Mixstar Michi on drums.
While DEAES had some stage dressing with their altar and candles, The Blood Wisdom “litter-aly” filled their stage with props, furnishings and decorations. Mannequins, perverted with abstract makeup and missing limbs, were brought out and spread across the floor. This not only hid the effects pedals, but gave the stage a dramatic ambiance. Wine bottles served as vases to hold wilted flowers. A small dresser housed rattles, bones and other implements that Rosvein would later use to play his guitar with. Feathers, beads and Christmas lights dangled from microphone stands and candles gave a ritualistic glow. The guised up stage also extended to the members of group, with each one being dolled up as they saw fit, another antithesis to DEAES anonymity. Magdalena was perhaps the most conservatively dressed, wearing simple grey attire and jewelry. Mixstar Michi looked like a Valkyrie with her laurel wreath and sparkles while Rosvein, with his makeup and many tattoos, looked like a living book imprinted with pictograms and incantations.
At midnight The Blood Wisdom took the stage, with Rosvein leading a marionette out to begin their set. Aside from this puppet work, Rosvein would engage in many other non-traditional activities on stage, including but not limited to:
- Wearing an American flag like a cape.
- Using a mirrored mask to look at a mirror.
- Making the audience gaze at themselves in the mirror.
- Smashing a mirror on the ground.
- Cutting himself across his stomach (blood letting) with a mirror shard.
- Trying to light a skull on fire using a guitar.
The spectacle had the audience hooked, and more than one startled person jumped when Rosvein smashed the mirror into the floor. What arena musicians are able to do with their theatrics, The Blood Wisdom was able to recreate successfully on a micro level. Rosvein explains his philosophy on their theatrics, and the melding of improvisational and the ritual:
“The more theatrical elements are all a part of a psychodrama. They are there to heighten both my own and the spectators consciousness to ensure ultimate presence in the moment. Every single piece involved in these acts has significance. Some of these are planned as in, I create the objects for the purpose of invoking and evoking a certain type of energy or idea, but what happens once the ritual commences is all left to improvisation. I don’t believe in abiding by a script when it comes to the act of creation. For me, if it isn’t spontaneous, then it’s not creation…it just imprisoning and echoing that which was previously created. The ceremony in all, is very shamanic. Not to claim that I’m a shaman, but to say that the event is the shaman. The music, the audience as initiates dancing around passions fire, the electricity running through the instruments and bodies, the panic of the performers pushing the rush of emotions from our cells, the healing of it all coming together as a cultural collage, the enlightenment of connecting. The Blood Wisdom has always been more of an occult think tank and purveyor of sonic SOURCEry to me, than simply a band.”
The music was quite eccentric, but managed to mesh well together, with each song sounding different yet canonical. Some songs straddled psychedelic and shoegaze, as reverb and distortion were great assets to Rosvein. However, some songs even had a hint of surf-rock, a vintage sound that would have found resonance with the more punk oriented attendees. Towards the end of the set, while Rosvein was performing his ritual on lighting a skull, the drums of Mixstar Michi took over, giving a pulsing atmosphere which she had to sustain for quite some time, combined with the bass of Magdalena who also had to sustain its full effect until the ritual’s end. The final results were the main highlight of The Blood Wisdom’s set.
The Blood Wisdom Setlist:
01) Oedipus Hex
02) Wolves In Mirrors
03) Extreme Ex-Dream In The Casm OV Pan
04) Darkness Stays
05) Original Desire
06) Hunters Glyph
While the styles and approaches of DEAES and The Blood Wisdom were vastly different, it needs to be underscored that both bands complimented each other perfectly and performed quite well. The concert was the second time both acts had performed together, with more joint performances planned. Rosvein expresses his regards of DEAES as such:
“I adore the atmosphere that they conjure. It’s a very profound and unique experience similar to a religious trance or the aftermath of a war. This is what led me to ask them to join us for Sanctum Sanctorum. Our sounds are different in many ways, but there is a distinct current running throughout both projects that hums in powerful unison.”
While J of DEAES echoes the sentiments of The Blood Wisdom as:
“Always a pleasure to play with; they are very like-minded folk and their process resonates with us on a very magical level. Working together always yields atmospheric success. We hope to do as many creative collaborations with The Blood Wisdom as we can, and create a bond that is mutually inspiring and fruitful.”
For the patrons, the night was a huge success, with folks applauding restfully or eagerly in appreciation for both bands, definitely enjoying the show. The venue may not have been packed, but it was an intimate and respectful audience. J expressed a little frustration with some aspects of the performance thought, such as technical difficulties all bands face, but ultimately was satisfied:
“First and foremost, we managed to expose our work to a fresh audience, which is always refreshing, and keep their attention in focus for the entirety of the performance. Our main shortcoming fell on overcoming some technical difficulties, and setting up for the show was a little chaotic, but that’s with most shows–especially shows at venues whose owners changed over literally three days before the event. Can’t complain.”
On the other hand, Rosvein was more optimistic about the event:
“It was a great success. The vision came across very pure. Mixstar Michi and Magdalena are one the greatest rhythm sections I have ever had the honor to make music with, and they held the primal pulse throughout allowing me the freedom to fully enter a trance. The ceremony was so charged at one moment that I remember my body vibrating with ecstatic joy as my eyes flooded with the surreal. The environment of the venue began to mutate, resembling a forest floor with the audience gathered among the shimmering trees and shards of my imagination. I cut my body open and I was reborn to the night. A beautiful addition to the living story. I wouldn’t change one thing. Never would. What happened was perfection, what didn’t happen will take place eventually…all according to will.”
With more performances lined up and anticipation from both projects, it will be exciting to see how DEAES and The Blood Wisdom will continue to evolve the dark underground scene in SoCal, paralleling the efforts of their Cascadian brothers and sisters in the north.