Deathrock is now a worldwide phenomena. However, the San Francisco Deathrock scene is somehow overlooked in periodicals, magazines, and even on the internet. Many of the best Deathrock bands originated in San Francisco. Some bands died or just disappeared. Deathrock's heyday in SF has all but been forgotten - yet there is much to tell....
Early 1980's Punk that took a turn from being angry to being gloom-and-gloom was the beginning of what we now call "Deathrock". The Nuns one of SF's well known punk bands, is a good early example of deathrock. Jennifer of The Nuns in a long black gown and long silky blonde hair would slink up to her keyboards and take a seat next to the band, creating an eery visual image. Today The Nuns are well-known by NY's goth & fetish scene. They are no longer the punk band once known in San Francisco.
It seemed as though almost over night bands had formed and were forming that were considered gloom-and-doom like Altar de Fey, Our Lady Of Pain, Thrill Of The Pull , The Gun Club, and The Black Dolls, to name a few. Shadow Image had songs that were moderate to fast with Kathleen's mournful and hypnotic vocals. Altar de Fey looked like death itself. They were half dead while some were influenced heavily by the needle. The guitarist stood over six feet tall & looked like he weighed 80 pounds with his hair hanging at least a foot over his face. He played like he was in slow motion. The singer was short with frizzy hair who wore who wore a leather skirt on stage.
When bands such as Christian Death and Kommunity FK were the Deathrock scene in LA, Wages Of Sin was Deathrock in San Francisco. Kathleen Damon (formerly Shadow Image), became the voice and face of Deathrock. KPIX Channel 5 (CBS) broadcast an interview and performance of her and Wages Of Sin for a weekly program called "Notes To My Parents". She dispelled the media frenzy where many people thought children were committing suicide at Deathrock shows. Kathleen was asked why she wore black and she replied "I'm mourning the people who are going to die". From San Francisco's KPIX, all the way to MTV's Alan Hunter, who also interviewed Kathleen for their "Basement Tapes" show, where her video "In The Shadows" was broadcast, defined Deathrock in the 80's. Deathrock sounded like Wages Of Sin.
Wages Of Sin, Music Express recording artists, were on the same compilation video with another popular Deathrock band Kommunity FK. This video was aired in over 500 nightclubs nationwide for over a year and also was shown worldwide. Kathleen's "Curse of Friday The 13th" parties featured Deathrock, Gothic, and rock bands compared to The Batcave's more diverse bands. Wages Of Sin's promoters felt they were compatible with and booked the band with The Cramps, The Church, 45 Grave, Savage Republic, The Nuns, and Camper van Beethoven, to name a few, however in those days Faith No More opened for Wages Of Sin at the Vis Club in SF.
Kathleen threw underground parties called "The Curse Of Friday the 13th." They were only on Friday the 13th, and deathrock, gothic, and rock bands were featured. These parties were thrown at Secret Studio where a hundred or more people would show up. Even Ness Aquino, owner of the Mabuhay Gardens, famous for it's Blondie, Devo, and Dead Kennedys shows, checked out one of these parties himself because of all the buzz.
Around this same time, in Europe there was a scene happening in a club called "The Batcave", similar to the "Friday The 13th" parties. Ollie Wisdom, singer of Specimen, threw these parties. Then Ollie decided to go to San Francisco and reform Specimen. Wisdom seized from SF's local talent Wages Of Sin guitarist Smeg, members from Until December, and popular keyboardist Gere Fenelli. Specimen was never booked as Goth or Deathrock. Wisdom would not stand for such labels. Ollie once told his agent "You know, I used to book all the bands at The Batcave and bands would call me on the phone and say we are the perfect band for The Batcave. I would say I don't want you. I wanted to promote what was a new band that didn't have a label yet".
Now, what did Ollie have to say about "The Batcave" itself ?
Wisdom said "It was my club in London with shredded garbage bags hanging from the ceiling and people loved it even though most people couldn't see the stage."
Specimen was only in San Francisco for about two years. They split up because Ollie had to go back to England. They are considered by many to be one of the early founders of Gothic Rock. Their song "Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang" is classic Glam-Goth. Specimen's last year was spent in San Francisco.
After a 12 year hiatus, Wages Of Sin came back to play the Haight St. Fair on June 10, 2001 in SF with the Jefferson Starship, followed by a performance with Gitane Demone from Christian Death at the Pound SF. Shortly after that they performed at the popular deathrock club The House Of Voodoo. They were the only band to play there in 2003, and the last band to play at Big Heart City in San Francisco before the building was torn down.
Gothic rock and Deathrock are two different styles of music. Gothic rock is an umbrella term for music that is slow to moderate in tempo with a mournful sound. Deathrock has a unique sound that combines many styles of music with dark, psychedelic melodies that are haunting and powerful. It has nothing to do with politics. Deathrock is really about life, because it combines the essence of human fear and sorrow with music that entrances and stimulates.
A brief history of DEATHROCK