Luke Thinnes has had quite the developmental musical arc since he got out of high school just a few years ago. One of his old bands, the avant-garde As I Call "Triumph!" Into the Sun, was a promising act. The drone/atmosphere-driven sleepdial was always compelling. But with French Kettle Station, Thinnes seemed to come into his own as a performer and songwriter. In the last two years, he has been listening to not only his all-time favorite record, Talk Talk's 1991 masterpiece Laughing Stock, but also to a great deal of '80s synth pop, Arthur Russell and the Cure. Absorbing those inspirations, Thinnes emerged with a powerful, unique and confrontational pop band.
In February 2015, Thinnes released the wiry and propulsive Mean Something, an album that didn't exactly reinvent post-punk but injected it with an uplifting spirit and an undeniable physicality that some of it seems to lack. He doesn't seem like an obvious choice for Milk's Saturday Goth night, but over the weekend, it proved a match anyway.
For the uninitiated, you get into Milk from the back of the building, and there are a few rooms in which you can enjoy the music. For Goth night, one room mainly offers more mainstream synth-pop from the early to mid-'80s. Stuff like Simple Minds, Duran Duran, Depeche Mode and the like. The kind of music you'd expect to hear in a John Hughes movie when the music direction is especially good. In another room it's more Goth-industrial tracks that are more challenging. It's darker, but not so far out there that you might wonder if someone has a room that features the more accessible noise artists of recent years. Both of those rooms have a certain ambience that makes you feel as though you are traveling back in time. Those who remember the old St. Mark's coffeehouse in downtown Denver will find something akin to that at Milk. A spaciousness and a level of comfort that is difficult to define but is otherwise unmistakable, as well as a sense of mysteriousness that is all but impossible to consciously build. Maybe it's the multiple rooms and the general labyrinthine quality of the building.
French Kettle Station played in what is called the Green Room. The night before and after, it was graced by the DJ skills and choices of Cozmos Mudwulf. Sure, the guy is often the DJ at noise and underground Goth shows, but his selections and flow of tracks are impeccable. Mudwulf didn't really play anything too familiar, but it fit in with laser projections and the green light that permeated the room that suggests its name. Mudwulf takes chances but is also an expert at gauging the mood and making transitions between his own set and that of bands and other DJs.
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French Kettle Station played for around 45 minutes, which is much longer than he usually performs. And the flow of people in and out of the room, with several that had shown up mainly for his set and several others that left and came back, was a fascinating snapshot of the kinds of people that come to Milk's Saturday night Goth.
Before going into Milk, I ran into Justin Couch (formerly of Lil' Slugger and currently of Quantum Creep) and his wife, Miranda, who were headed there. They're certainly not people you would think would be into something like a Goth night. Inside I ran into Vincent Comparetto, who co-hosts the Goth Night at the hi-dive the last Sunday of the month and is a skateboarding visual artist. Sure, you saw people that might consider themselves Goths, but the main impression one had to come away with from the night is that few people really fit strictly into a single subculture — or not at all — but just like the music or the vibe of the night.
Not everyone was too much into French Kettle Station, but people did dance, people did come forward when he asked people to join him in the center of the room, and the people who stuck around for most or all of his performance came from what seemed to be all walks of life. No one booed or got rude or otherwise interrupted the performance. They left if they weren't into it. The model of the night and the club seemed vindicated.
The caricature, the stereotype of a Goth night is black leather-clad rakers of leaves and reaching-for-stars vampires who only want to hear music that existed before 1995. And, yes, there were people who were like that sometimes, but not all the time. If you were flying your dark-arts and music freak flag, it seemed fine. If not, that seemed fine, too.
All the while, a streaming and evolving set of laser lights drew lines around the room and lights shifted and brightened and illuminated, and VJ Kid Mask provided enigmatic but beautiful imagery projected on the wall behind Mudwulf and Thinnes, solidifying the sense that what was happening in that room that night was out of the ordinary. When Thinnes signaled his set was over by laying out on the ground after lifting his keyboard into the air and playing it hunched over off its stand, Mudwulf didn't miss a beat and came in with the great live version of "Stigmata," from the live album In Case You Didn't Feel Like Showing Up.
Bias: Though not a Goth, I do like a lot of that music, and getting to hear it on a good sound system is always a treat.
Random Detail: After the show I hung out with Bollywood Life, Sugarsplat and French Kettle Station, and when Bollywood Life was dropping me off at my car, we heard the gunshot that made the news less than a block away.
By the Way: I hope whoever is putting this night together continues to reach into the experimental-music scene for artists to play live once in a while. That kind of cross-pollination is happening already, and seeing it reflected in an event as great as Milk's Saturday nights would get people out who don't normally go to such things.
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If you'd like to contact me, Tom Murphy, on Twitter, my handle is @simianthinker.