You could live blocks from Que Sera and be oblivious to its existence. Yet once a month, this unassuming three-room bar on a faded Long Beach strip hosts a globally recognized goth institution that celebrates its 16th anniversary on October 24.
On the fourth Friday of every month since 1998, Release the Bats has decked out Que Sera like a haunted house and hosted multiple DJs and a band, all playing gothic and deathrock music to an eclectic yet close-knit crowd. It’s arguably America’s longest continuously running goth club (Hollywood’s Bar Sinister boasts similar vintage, but a less specific M.O.).
“Hardcore deathrockers in leather; traditional goths in velvet; hipsters in black; band members and DJs from all over the world,” is how Jenn Bats, who co-founded RtB with her longtime partner Dave Bats and their friend Jeremy Meza, describes the night's attendees.
“There are kids that are just getting into it, and there’s others that were at the concerts of the '80s bands the DJ’s are spinning!” said Dave. “These are people from all over the globe: from LB to L.A.; N.Y. to the U.K.”
Release the Bats’ attendance peaked at around 350 in the early aughts and is “always a steady 200 or so,” according to Dave. On any given night, this could include cartoonish characters with cadaverous makeup and explosive hair; skinny-tied, multi-pinned holdout new wavers; punkers in leather jackets bearing the logos of bands like Bauhaus, Siouxsie and the Banshees, and Christian Death; and folks who look like they could’ve come straight from work (albeit via a military surplus and/or lingerie store).
“RtB is a time machine, for five hours,” says Jenn, her predominantly black wardrobe offset by a luminous, lipsticked smile. “[It’s] a place that people feel comfortable, like they are home… No pretentiousness; everyone is welcome.”
The Bats formed their club at a time when raves ruled and electronic music was insinuating itself even into the goth scene. When Que Sera approached them to throw a Halloween party in ’98, they seized the opportunity to recreate their vision of a gothic gathering.
“We were able to create a club that didn’t exist anymore,” said the disarmingly genial, gangly Dave, who also plays bass in local band Peeling Grey. “The inspiration for RtB came from our love of the old days of [Hollywood club] Helter Skelter — a time that was absorbed by the ‘90s.”
Release the Bats’ original format — multiple DJs (including Dave Bats) spinning the likes of The Cure, The Sisters of Mercy and Southern Death Cult, plus a single band — has never wavered. “Bat Stage” alumni include scene stalwarts 45 Grave, Mephisto Walz, Gitane Demone, and Kommunity FK.
“By limiting the booking to one act, the band can take control of the stage and really showcase their talent,” Dave explained.
L.A. is regarded as the spiritual home of deathrock (a turn-of-the-‘80s sub-strain of punk embroidered with spooky aesthetics and atmospherics), with RtB a keeper of that flame.
“Release the Bats was a batcave reflux that needed to happen,” said Lucas Lanthier, who has performed at Release the Bats frequently with his bands Cinema Strange and the Dead Fly Ensemble, including at that very first RtB in 1998. “They’ve stuck to their guns ever since, standing guard.”
RtB’s 16th Anniversary Party will feature colorful, confrontational regulars Fangs on Fur, who also performed at the club’s seventh birthday bash.
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“Lots of old ghosts and band members from the RtB roster will be in attendance, giving the whole event a reunion party vibe,” Dave promised.
Release the Bats' 16th anniversary party happens this Friday, October 24 at Que Sera, 1923 E. 7th St., Long Beach. More info available here.