Music is a billion-dollar industry where touring can make or break an artist, or a promoter. For those who love music that’s on the fringe, it can be difficult to see a favorite band without traveling out of town to the nearest place they are touring. For the promoters, getting these bands to come to Minneapolis instead of, or as well as, places like Chicago can be difficult as well as expensive. Many bands can only afford to be on tour for so many days or their Visas expire after a set period of time, so picking locations can be tricky to coordinate. Three promoters are working to make the Twin Cities a music destination again for goth and industrial bands, but there are many challenges that come along with trying to bring fans great music. Despite the hurdles, there are rewards to be had for pulling off a great show and the drive to revamp the Twin Cities goth music scene seems to be working.
Sitting in the bar of a hotel near Amsterdam Bar and Hall before the recent Covenant concert, Trace Tumbleson of Kilted Farmer Koncerts chats about the last fourteen years of promoting. Wearing a kilt, mathematical tights, and black combat-style boots, he brings up just how much he loves the goth scene for its less-judgmental attitudes towards nontraditional clothing. It’s how he got the name for his business after all; by day he is a farmer in southwestern Minnesota, and at night he books shows and wears kilts and skirts. For him it’s part of the drive to keep bringing in great bands; he can bring not only the experience of amazing live music but also an inviting atmosphere for everyone. This is something that Grant Mayland of Dark Energy is also incredibly passionate about. Grant has worked exceptionally hard to make Dark Energy an ally for people of color and the queer community by “addressing concerns that come up and investigating them, which can be time consuming and emotionally taxing but, as a man, [he] felt an obligation to give some of that power back and a privilege that allows [him] to get things done and give that back to the community.” Jarvis of Absynthetic Productions agrees and is working to create a more harmonious community, not just for the fans but between the promoters. Jarvis made sure he had Trace’s blessing before pursuing promoting in the Twin Cities and the two now work together to provide the community with great acts. Jarvis also helps with sound, lights, and visuals at Kilted Farmer shows. This attitude of community and inclusion has begun to bring the Twin Cities out of the shadows and regain its status as a musical anchor city.
Dark Energy is the youngest of the three, starting in 2015 as a “culmination of everything [he] had encountered in the last decade and thrown into one entity. Just recently Dark Energy received the City Pages Reader’s Choice Award for Best Event Promoter. According to Grant, he didn’t even know he was nominated until he was reading the City Pages article that he had won. Despite the fact he didn’t know he was in the running and didn’t push for votes, he said he feels that it was “totally organic based on the amount of blood, sweat, and energy I put into the shows.” Organic is a good word to describe his rise to success; he had been DJing for 11 years, spent time in New York experiencing the music scenes there, and when he came to Minneapolis he did club nights for a while but thought it wasn’t enough. He called up High Functioning Flesh from Los Angeles and hosted them, the night was successful financially and the attendance was better than he had hoped for. For Dark Energy’s one-year anniversary show he called in Xeno & Oaklander and the band was so impressed with what Dark Energy was doing they began to talk them up to other bands. As a result, bands contact Grant to play instead of the other way around. For Kilted Farmer and Absynthetic, they tend to rely on the traditional method of reaching out to touring bands in hopes of securing a spot on their limited tour schedules. Absynthetic has a bit of an edge since it was born out of Jarvis’s band Absynthe of Faith, and his “good rapport with a lot of bands and acts from the music end of things made it pretty easy to send them an email and let them know I was booking shows.”
While they all can be considered successful owing to longevity, great shows, or awards, they all deal with a lot of the same issues when it comes to keeping things going. Financial concerns are one of the most obvious problems. It can cost a lot of money to bring a high-rated band into town: travel costs, food, lodging, rider expectations, booking the venue, printing tickets, and marketing, just to name a few. Of these, marketing tends to be a challenge all three promoters face and it can affect the bottom line more than others, if less directly. Years ago, there was a regular forum board that most of the goth community was a part of and it allowed for centralized content, discussion, and details of events. As Facebook took over social media it provided promoters with what should be a quick way to make an event and disseminate it to fans. Unfortunately, as the years have passed the metrics that Facebook uses to determine what you see in your newsfeed can limit exposure to event information unless you pay to promote it and even then, it isn’t a guarantee. Trace’s partner Renee handles the social media and has noticed this trend, and Jarvis indicates “I don’t feel that from when I started to now, that the metrics have improved . . . when I ask people if they are seeing the events they say no, but they are seeing my random post about my work day without a problem, even after I’ve paid to promote the event.”
There is always the concern of operating at a loss and that is the nature of the business. For Grant, he views it as “even when I lose money, it’s an investment that is the most worthwhile investment I could think of.” Both he and Trace have the advantages of full-time, well-paying jobs that help offset the losses but Trace is concerned because the “farming economy is not as robust as it used to be.” Jarvis works full time doing audio visual tech, and while not overly lucrative, it does give him some cushion and experience that helps him from having to hire extra people at shows. The losses can be attributed to many different factors in event promoting, but all say that community engagement needs to be better. They all want strong community involvement and want to build a better community for everyone but “that only stays going if people support it, we hope to see you out there, we want to see you out there,” says Jarvis. Grant adds that “hopefully the community will start being more involved and make it more financially viable.” Trace feels a lot of the problem is that the scene has grown older and as a result people have less time and energy for the events, but as someone who is almost 50 himself he would love to see more of the older fans try and come out. “If I can book the show, drive all these miles, and work the show, others my age can come out and enjoy the show too.” But they all recognize the limitations that jobs and families put on getting out to a show; sometimes it just isn’t feasible. They are all trying to find a happy medium for fans since not every show can be on a Friday or Saturday and they keep prices reasonable, but as Jarvis points out via a well-used quote, “you can please some of the people all of the time, you can please all of the people some of the time, but you can’t please all of the people all of the time.”
I asked them all to look to the future and what they see for themselves and their businesses. Universally, they all want to keep going, though Trace is looking at handing the reigns to Renee at some point down the road, but he wants to keep bringing in big acts and promoting smaller ones. Grant says, “I want to keep growing, I don’t want to stop, I need to expand out of event promotion and I’m thinking about starting a record label.” He also points out an interesting perspective on our community, “The Twin Cities are perfect for this kind of music and because we are isolated we may be naturally inclined to go towards dark stuff.” Jarvis says he’ll probably “do it until it’s not fun anymore, I mean it’s always work and it’s always fun, and I have my bucket list of bands that I want to bring in so I’m working towards that.” He is currently working towards promoting more local bands along with national and international acts and wants to build up the community that way and give more bands the opportunities he has had with Absynthe of Faith.
There is a future for the Twin Cities goth music scene in all its forms, but what is most important is that we come together as a community and that we support the community, the music, and the promoters. Even if a show isn’t something you might necessarily be interested in, if it comes across your Facebook feed share it so others can find it. Go to the shows and support the community financially; you might think that someone else will go to the event and it will even out, but if everyone thinks that way then no one shows up. That’s the death of the scene right there. We need to support it in whatever way we can, financially, through word of mouth and social media marketing, and in embracing everyone who is interested. We as a community have to come together to stay viable, we can’t gate keep and expect the scene to stay afloat and as vibrant as it is right now. Encourage the baby bats, prod the elder goths to come out, don’t automatically dismiss the “tourists,, and tell your friends about events and music that you love; or go see something that you’ve never even considered! Expand your horizons, there is so much to see and experience and these three promoters are working hard to give you that experience.
To see a list of events this month, check out the Minnesota Goth Events & Gatherings column here on Twin Cities Geek, check out the #goth channel on the Twin Cities Geek Slack, or follow these great promoters on social media.