Twenty years ago today, on a typical cold and overcast night in Chicago, a duo of high school misfits dressed in black with white painted faces played a concert to an audience of ten (four of whom were members of the opening band) in the basement of a house on 63rd and Nottingham Avenue. One stood behind a microphone, the other hid behind a keyboard.
In the center of the room, separating them from the audience that was crammed onto a couch and spilled over onto a stairwell, was a three and a half foot tall plywood cross wrapped in multicolored electrical wiring with a transparent, plastic mask strapped to the top. The bookcase next to the keyboard stand was covered with black linen and a collection of half melted black candles mixed with the freshly lit incense to provide the perfect ambiance.
This was the first live performance of Dreklings and this is the story of a goth band that never went anywhere.
(Thrown in here you’ll see video clips of bands that inspired us, some lyrics I’m sure I’m butchering, and songs salvaged from the graveyard circa 2002…stuff earlier than that is locked in a vault and the key is missing.)
Dreklings was “formed” fourteen months earlier and all it took was this tall, mysterious kid dressed in all black to pass me in the hall in high school and say, “Hey, come to the library so we can talk about Skinny Puppy” (the fact that I had “Skinny Puppy” etched into my backpack gave away my musical tastes at that time.) Thus began a ten year on again, off again relationship that started with a very simple mission: make dark, gothic music that we wanted to listen to. Just one problem: I couldn’t play the sixty three key Yamaha keyboard I owned. It ended up not mattering. In the beginning, each song was comprised of no more than six or seven dissonant chords played at about fifteen beats per minute.
At the time, gothic music to me was pipe organs and scary shit listened to by even scarier people wearing black cloaks with pale faces, black lipstick, and dyed red hair (combat boots and clove cigarettes optional.) Thankfully, my Yamaha came equipped with a not-so-pipe-organ pipe organ voice which was used heavily. The scary came from my inability to match the musical talents of a six month old. The true talent of this duo was my partner in crime, Lillian, who really must have had nothing better to do with her Sunday afternoons than punish her ears with my ineptitude. She was a pretty excellent sixteen year old poet and musician. In fact, our first song was entitled “Children” and it a was pretty light hearted song about a group of kids who ceremoniously execute their parents. If I remember some of the lyrics correctly, it went something like this:
“As imperceptibly as a lilly grows, the path of the sanctum is presented to those
Those who are physically and socially small, and so comes the night of justice for all
Five years old, five years of a lie
And now the children all cry, to watch Mommy and Daddy die…
So the fifty pound children raise their fifty pound hatchets as they shout to their makers, ‘Ashes to ashes.’”
Fast forward a year, past a viola played named Becca who met all the before mentioned requirements of a scary goth kid and who never came back after one rehearsal, and we put together a seven song set list. Even though we were playing in a basement and despite the very low attendance, we still felt like rock stars playing OUR music, however boring. But fuck it, we were playing shit no one else was, certainly no one else on the South side of Chicago where most garage bands were of the pseudo-punk, alternative, metal variety. Our music was slow, mildly pretentious, dark, and somewhat political. What other bands used a keyboard set at organ and violin as their main instrument?
Did I already mention that Lillian was the actual “band” and I was just along for the ride?
I don’t think I’ll ever forget her grabbing my shaking-from-sheer-panic hand as I held down the opening keys to our song “HauloCo$t” (our animal rights anthem) and looking into my eyes as if to say, “Calm the fuck down killer.”
At one point in the night, she took over behind keys and I did this really God-awful performance art thingy with the cross and the mask, a schtick I ripped off from Nivek Ogre of Skinny Puppy. However, truth be told, Puppy or not, we did want to, and later went on to, incorporate actors and story lines in our stage performances (again, I ask you, what other garage band does shit like that?!)
I believe our set finished with a song called “Still Blood Streams”, a song I wrote all by myself, without Lillian, thus why it consisted of ONE note played for six minutes over a soundtrack of frogs croaking and crickets chirping while Lillian and her girlfriend read a long, nonsensical poem about absolutely nothing.
Twenty years ago. That was our show. Man, what a cool fucking night.
We carried on after that adding a bass / guitar / keyboard player by the name of Jori who was certainly the most bad ass chick I had ever met up to that point. With her, we grew up a little and our songs went from slow dissonance to some actual structure (go figure, the group now had two people who knew what they were doing and not just one!)
We put out our first demo tape (yes, TAPE) with her in late 1995, early 1996 (recorded on a Fostex four track by my late fried Mark. God bless you buddy.) And by “put out”, I mean we dubbed each tape individually, made copies of the insert at the local Kinkos, stuffed the packaging, and tried to sell each for $5.00 a piece to other kids who either didn’t have money or didn’t want it. This was the mid-90s. This was the age of the DIY ‘zine counter culture.
So, Dreklings had a show under its belt, a demo tape, and now we were on to conquer The Whale…the Thirsty Whale, the diviest of dive bars in a all of Chicagoland. We were the opening act for a bunch of punk and metal bands. No drummer, no distorted guitar, no screaming, but a whole lotta performance art.
Our time with Jori peaked in June of 1996 with a show in my garage to a pretty respectable audience of about twenty five kids. From this show, I remember three things: we almost killed one of our actors by hanging him, a long haired heavy metal dude (can’t remember if he was part of the act or not) got up and went on with some Satanic verse reading, and one audience member (a boyfriend of a friend of a girlfriend) got physically ill because of our show. He was, after all, a Dave Matthews Band fan.
“Sometimes I feel I should be in a factory far away from my home and friends
Hung upside down so the blood runs quickly through the gash in my throat
Until my lifeless eyes note me ready for package and sale” – “HauloCo$t”
The glory kept rolling on and exit Jori and enter a new phase in the Dreklings: the addition of guitarist Murciélago and drummer / guitarist Hector Hermes Hexagon Renfield. Out went the fifteen BPM, dissonant chords of old and in came something a little more “rockier.” This was a good line up, albiet a short lived one (I think it lasted a little over a year and a half.) We actually started covering music: “Bela Lugosi’s Dead” and “Five To One” to be exact. And even though we still remained every bit as weird, we could now, somewhat, “fit in” with live bills that included those same punk and alternative bands from before. There was a whole lot of Weezer ripping off going on back then, so we were still the Addams Family in the back of the venue while the brightly colored, knit sweater kids had the run of the place.
Shit! I failed to mention the one time a fan, maybe our only “true” fan, came up to me before a show and showed me his forearm in which he had cut into it “Dreklings.”
Creeps and cutters. That was our crowd.
I think it was new quasi-rock route that scared Lillian away and she quit in early 1998. Without her, there was no band. Five years and a lot of memories.
Dreklings reemerged in 2002 with probably our best, most concrete line up. Lillian gave up the role of lead vocals and took her rightful place behind a stack of synths and samplers. I stayed behind my keys, adding sound effects here and there, and even started growling a bit. We had a seventeen year old, classically trained girl as our singer, an honest to goodness real violin player and, my favorite Drek ever, Carolyn “Hog Head” O’Neill: hands down the most talented musician I’ve ever known.
This line up made some really great music if I do say so myself. It was tight, somewhat professional sounding, creepy and, at times, complex. It was a stab back at our roots of dark songs about scary people. We made another demo (a CD this time) and had our one (and sadly only) show at a bar on the North side of Chicago.
Dreklings broke apart too early in my opinion. I still feel this last line up had potential. It had focus. But our Spinal Tap moments piled up and we couldn’t get out of our own way.
At the end of the day, we can say we had a “dance hit” with a remix of one of our songs played by Chicago DJ Scary Lady Sarah at Nocturna and Neo in Chicago and even got a little club play in Berlin!!
But alas, all good things and even some Dreklings have to come to an end. We went out just as we came in: writing songs about death and creepy kids.
“Crawling up the wall with a half severed tongue and a wilted state of mind in the depths of denying
What’s wrong with the world?
Calls a cruel and twisted girl as she smiles like a child on fire
Thorn in her side, rains falls slow, deprived
Slipping slowly toward the day when the love has turned to rage and the memory stain screams loud of doubt and pain
Scared sleepless of the faces in her dreams” – “Child On Fire”
So kids, close the curtains, light a few candles, and dig out your favorite razor blade because it’s all a downward spiral from here.
Rest in peace.
- Sister Mary Virus