by Joey Phoenix
North Shore Nightlife is a Creative North Shore series highlighting unique and alternative programming on the North Shore after dark.
It’s a Saturday night on the North Shore, where do you go? A decade ago, the choices were slim. You could grab a bite to eat, maybe hear some live music, maybe go do karaoke.
The North Shore has had a slowly growing nightlife and alternative scene bloom over the last couple of years. Local venues have developed programming that caters to more than just the average North Shore Joe. They’ve embraced the weird, the dark, and the nerdy, creating things to go to that people actually want to go to.
Salem has been a forerunner of North Shore nightlife for more than a decade, and it keeps getting better. At various points throughout the month, it’s possible to catch Burlesque and live music at Opus: Underground, Magic shows at Hotel Salem, Silent Discos and barcrafting at Bit Bar, Karaoke with Soulo Productionz, Open Mics and Bingo at Gulu Gulu, Metal and Punk shows at Koto, and that’s just the start of it.
It’s an exciting time to be in Salem, but it wasn’t always that way.
Wait, Salem Has Nightlife?
When Matt Richard, perhaps better known as Vudu: DJ – the Goth-Industrial DJ/Promoter and creator of DARQ Salem, came back to his hometown Salem in the mid-2000s, there wasn’t a whole lot going on.
“I remember working at the Bunghole in the early 2000s and we had some stereotypical vampire folks dressed up for the evening looking for something to do, and there was nothing to do. So I figured, hey, why not start a night?” This question led to the creation of DARQ, a goth/industrial dance night featuring established and up-and-coming DJs spinning a mix of swirly goth rock, stompy industrial, glitchy dubstep, EBM, techno, tribal, and whatever else they feel like.
The dress code for the evening requires that DARQ attendees be “creatively dressed” – which can include everything from traditional all-black goth attire to quirky formalwear to unicorn costumes, and if they aren’t, they’re still welcome, but they’ll just have to pay a higher cover charge.
“The people who appreciate getting dressed up creatively, it gives them a place to go,” Richard said. Currently, DARQ’s home is Koto on Washington Street, happening on the fourth Saturday of every month with occasional other shows throughout the year featuring live bands instead of DJ sets. Prior to that, DARQ was a pop-up event, inhabiting the back rooms of spaces all over Salem once their original home, Koto’s location predecessor Bangkok Paradise, went out of business.
“The nightlife scene and the thriving art scene are what make this city really diverse,” Matt Richard said. “If you want to have different demographics downtown, you really need to have something that caters to everybody. The alternative scene is just another demographic, and they need places to go.”
Alternativeness Breeds Inclusiveness with Salem Burlesque
Across the street at Opus: Underground, there’s another arm of the alternative scene in Salem. Throughout the week there are reggae, punk, and rock shows. There’s also Burlesque. A number of troupes regularly perform in the area, but there’s only one troupe who can call it their home: The Baphomettes.
“Opus is unique in that they provide entertainment for all kinds of people and opportunities for budding artists,” says Baphomettes troupe member Ivana Bendova. “From dead heads to metalheads they really try to cover all the bases!”
The Baphomettes, a portmanteau of the Sabbatic Goat deity Baphomet and the glitzed-out Rocket City Rockettes, started performing in late 2016 after Artistic Director Ms. Snake Bite decided it was time to take her performances to the dark side.
“I wanted more of a horror vibe due to my love of slasher/psychological thriller films and comics,” Ms. Snake Bite explains. “I asked three of the most sexually-empowered and outspoken women I knew to start this troupe with me.” One of the big themes the troupe tries to put out into the world is the idea of inclusivity where every kind of person is welcome, every kind of body is welcome, and every kind of weird is welcome.
“Alternativeness breeds inclusiveness,” says troupe member Dandy Williams. “Salem more than any other city I’ve seen has gone above and beyond to include all people, and give them a space. To see businesses support this idea is a reconfirmation for me that I truly am home.”
For the last while, The Baphomettes have been performing themed shows at Opus on the last Sunday of the month.
“Venues like Opus are a vital part of artists’ (of all types) process,” says troupe member Feral Gloom. “From painters who need a place to display and sell their work to performers like us and bands who want a place to perform.
“They have always welcomed us with open arms and let us be ourselves and have given us the freedom to do what we love in the ways we know best how to express ourselves. It also gives non-performers a place to see the shows they’ve been looking for.”
Making Space for Performers and Programming
Opus: Underground, Koto, and many others like it are providing a home for performers and musicians who would otherwise have nowhere to go. Without them, the North Shore would be less culturally rich. Every downtown needs a variety of live event venues to draw all demographics to the nucleus of a center.
“It would also be great to have that one venue that has events [like Darq] every night of the week, but we just don’t have the reservoir for that [in Salem],” Matt Richard explained. “Salem is a great tourist destination, and one of the reasons I created DARQ was because people were looking for somewhere to go, but it’s not just the tourists, local people need a home too.
“And there shouldn’t just be a goth club,” Richard added. “Why can’t there also be a dedicated jazz club or a place to go hear Zydeco music or R&B? We need spaces with stages and not just a six-inch riser.”
“I think creating big performance spaces would be a huge step in the right direction,” says Baphomettes troupe member Dandy Cain. “There are so many fantastic bands and artists that could benefit from a large space. Not to mention there are big touring artists as well who would love to perform in Salem.”
One of the great things about the North Shore is that most of the time, there will be an entertainment choice that’s right for everyone. And while there aren’t many dedicated performance spaces, especially in Salem, the venues in the area do a great job of making sure that there is a variety of options and programming that appeal to everyone.
“Variety is the spice of life! No one wants to do the same thing, every night,” says Baphomettes troupe member Buster Pants. “While there are a lot of tourists and it can be easy to slip into what appeals to the masses, Salem does a good job keeping us local weirdos entertained.”
What’s Coming up in Salem
Joey Phoenix is a performance artist and the Managing Editor of Creative North Shore. Follow them on Twitter @jphoenixmedia. If you have an idea for a story, feature, or pictures of adorable llamas, feel free to send them a message at firstname.lastname@example.org
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