“People associate dark music with negative vibes,” said Grant Mayland, promoter of the popular Minneapolis Goth dance night Dark Energy. “But I feel the opposite — I think it brings good vibes.”
Every promoter says this about his own party, of course, but Mayland’s monthly DJ and performance night at Dinkytown’s Kitty Cat Klub delivers. Although the playlists can be uncompromising and even sinister, there’s a playful bonhomie at the Kitty Cat Klub that belies the music’s reputation.
Some of that openness comes from the 32-year-old Mayland himself. Born in Lake Tahoe, he moved to Minneapolis at age 4, and found his antidote for a lonely childhood in the club world. On a snowy December night at the Kitty Cat, the promoter worked the room with a smile as the crowd boogied to Bauhaus and New Order, darkwave and industrial. He was clearly in his element, and the gaggle of 20- and 30-something revelers in theirs — even though they were dressed like mourners.
Goth and industrial have long been a deep part of the local nightlife mix, from mid-’80s nights such as First Avenue’s Club Degenerate to Jake Rudh’s long-running Transmission series. But Mayland’s background in dance music (the first party he threw was a September 2007 rave called Girls on Film) lends Dark Energy a clubbier, younger feel. Among the event’s regular DJs, Jobot and Nancy Cheng come from the dance world as well, with Sara Abdelaal and Devata Daun (real name: Nicole Pfeifer) both rooted in rock.
Mayland, who plays records as the Night Stalker, had started out DJing a mixture of Detroit techno, Chicago house and ’80s new wave, but by his own admission he wasn’t skilled or focused enough to pull it off.
“It took me a good three or four years before I think I did anything worth listening to,” he said.
Then, in 2010, Mayland had an epiphany while dancing to Berlin-based DJ Silent Servant at the now defunct Karnak gallery in the Minneapolis Warehouse District.
“After I heard Silent Servant mix industrial music and techno, I was sold,” Mayland said. “That was all I needed to hear. I knew what I wanted to do at that point.”
A Night Stalker appearance at First Avenue’s late party Too Much Love solidified the path. “I played everything I always wanted to play, and everybody raved about it for days afterward,” he said.
In September 2013, Mayland helped put on the Terma Festival, at downtown Minneapolis’ Skyway Lounge, a kind of band-based prototype for Dark Energy’s DJ-driven vibe. “It went over really well, but then it fizzled out into nothing,” he said. “There was all this evidence of tons of people that wanted to come to these kind of events — danceable but not pretentious, more open.”
A few months later, amid a job loss and a breakup, Mayland moved to Brooklyn, looking for a change of pace, and was particularly taken by a monthly Goth party called Synthecide. “I wanted to be in the relaxed Minneapolis environment, but there’s just not as many good dance events,” he said. “When I came back here, I saw there was a complete void for any younger Goth-scene dance nights. There also seemed like a ton of people who wanted to dance to it.”
Dark Energy isn’t Mayland’s first party at the Kitty Cat Klub, where he co-promoted a disco-fueled party called Menergy in the early 2010s. But Dark Energy was an unlikely hit from its first edition last January.
“It must have been negative 15 out, just absolutely frigid,” he said. “I did not think anybody was going to come. We ended up with over 200 people, which was just shocking. Everything just seemed to flow organically from that moment. People I’d never met who seemed awesome just showed up, and they’ve been coming ever since.”
Dark Energy is getting buzz beyond the Twin Cities. The anniversary event, on Jan. 27, is headlined by Xeno & Oaklander, a Brooklyn duo who record for the highly regarded electronic label Ghostly International. Mayland promises more high-profile guests to come. “There’s a lot of other bands we’re looking into for this summer and fall,” he said. “It hasn’t stopped growing, and I think it’s only going to grow faster this year.”
He’s also putting on more benefits, such as a November show at the Triple Rock Social Club, with proceeds helping a local nonprofit serving the LGBT community. The current political climate inspired him to reach out, he said. “I want this to be a unifying presence in Minneapolis.”
Michaelangelo Matos is a writer in St. Paul.