It might seem like a contradiction, but Los Angeles has bred one of the healthiest and most enduring goth scenes in the country over the past few decades. Maybe it’s a backlash to the tanned and tediously laid-back SoCal stereotype, but for at least as long as I've been covering L.A. nightlife, there has never been a shortage of dark-themed doings in this city. And right now, no figure on the scene is more prominent — or more controversial — than Xian Vox.
Xian (pronounced "ZIGH-en") moved to L.A. from the Bay Area in the '90s when she was just 18 years old, and quickly immersed herself in all the spookier soirees happening here at the time. It wasn’t long before the patron became the purveyor, and the purveyor a somewhat polarizing figure, who has nonetheless garnered a loyal following thanks to her passionate approach to music selection and promoting.
She arrived at a time when Stigmata, Helter Skelter and Perversion, promoted by goth-scene veterans Michael Stewart and Bruce Perdew of Evil Club Empire (ECE), were hubs for dark-minded, disenfranchised kids like Xian. These creepy-cool clubs — along with Bar Sinister, L.A.'s longest-running goth club, still going strong today — drew kids with a love for music with drama, depth and a palpable sense of gloom and doom. They were where guys and gals like Xian could come together to share their love of dressing up, dancing to ominous sounds and forging a community that lives on to this day.
“I’d be out five nights a week and dancing,” she tells me, as we enjoy tea in her historic Hollywood apartment. “I've lived in Hollywood since I moved here and Sinister was the club to go to on a Saturday night back then. I started to know a lot of people there." After just a few months, Bar Sinister creator Tricia La Belle — now owner of the club's home, Boardner's — gave Xian a job helping with setup and flier-ing cars.
She started DJing soon after at “a little hole in the wall” in the Valley on Tuesday nights. But “DJing” might be stretching things. “I brought in my boombox and played CDs," she recalls. "I'd play a song, stop it, then push play. ... We didn’t have a name, it was just a bunch of friends hanging out. But then Raven from Sinister brought his DJ rig and showed me how to do it. We built up a cult following.“
The night eventually became a party called Near Dark, which led Xian to more work with Bar Sinister DJ Raven at the Gig in Santa Monica, on a night called Antiquity. More underground haunts soon followed: Empire, Communion, Club Noire, Bedlam’s Nightshift, Funeral, in spaces from Culver City to the Valley. It becomes a chore to remember which was when and where, for both of us, but regardless of the timeline, Vox was gaining followers throughout the late '90s and early 2000s.
“I remember when I was DJing DarkBar on a Thursday and trying to compete with Perversion, which was doing very well back then, and Bruce [Perdew] posted on an Evil Club Empire board asking what could make the club better. I private messaged him and told him I had ideas. Stuff like theme nights, or getting bands,” Xian recalls. “He replied that I should come DJ his club sometime.”
Xian ended up spinning at a Helter Skelter reunion night, which was super successful. “I was a promotional whore,” she says. “I think I was one of the first people to really abuse Live Journal for promoting. The promotional mediums people were using back in the late '90s and early 2000s was the 'LAGoth-L' list and the Rivethead list. MySpace was just starting, and Mike and Bruce were, I think, relying mostly on their forum traffic and their email list. Back then people didn't really think these sites would be the avenue for promotion that they became. I think I pissed some people off back then using them that way, but I was like, if you don't care, don’t follow me. Real simple.”
Xians attitude has always been strong-minded and very matter-of-fact, more so on social media than in real life. In person, she's soft-spoken and even seems a little shy. But when it comes to her clubs, she doesn't hold back. She’s a no-bullshit kind of gal, which has served her well, especially as a woman in a male-dominated field. But it has also been met with contention, and yeah, I think that’s because she’s a woman, too. I’ve seen other women promoters, DJs and club owners like La Belle deal with the same challenges.
Whatever her relationships with her competitors, Xian Vox's ascension as a promoter has been truly organic in that she’s always been a part of the community she’s promoted to. "I always say never trust a DJ who doesn't dance," she tells me.
Helming the goth room at Perversion is where she was able to explore her diverse musical proclivities, redefining what many considered “gothic” club sounds to be. “Goth isn’t really a genre,” she declares. “It’s assimilation by consensus. We like a song or an album and we cherry-pick it for its feel, but when do you ever see people fully embracing an entire discography, with a few rare exceptions? If you look at Siouxsie, would you call that goth? No." (In one of my first L.A. Weekly interviews ever, I spoke with Miss Sioux, and asked her about the goth label — and indeed, she denounced it.)
“The only time you ever saw artists coming forward and saying ‘We are goth’ was that kind of miserable Cleopatra stuff in the '90s," Xian continues. "It was trying so hard it became that cliché. You say you're goth, then you’re not.”
As for DJing, Xian says, "Everyone is going to play what speaks to them. The crowd is going to stick around if it's skillful. I think some people get scared to go out of the box of what's tried and true. I felt like when I came into DJing, I was doing what I wanted to do, but at certain clubs I had to work within the confines and strict limitations, which challenged my desire to push for new."
To give herself the freedom to keeping pushing the music's boundaries, Xian has continued to create her own club nights — a lot of them. She co-created a goth skate night called Wumpskate, was involved with the New Orleans vamp-o-rama called Endless Nights for Halloween, had Darkroom at Vine Bar (now Sassafras Saloon), did DJ gigs with the Boulet Brothers at Miss Kitty's Parlour and Black Unicorn, and did her own huge Halloween event, Hex Hollywood. Her Malediction Society night was born after Fang Club (where she DJed near the end) ceased at the Monte Cristo, and old-school goth party Disko.Nekro came soon after at King King (both are still going strong, though Nekro has moved to the Dragonfly).
Besides Nekro and Malediction, her LADEAD (a name she has trademarked; LADEAD stands for "Los Angeles Darkside Events and Dance") collective of clubs also includes Ruin Hollywood, Mode:M and Warlok, each night tailored to a different faction and vibe of the dark dance scene. "As a club kid, it always bothered me to go to a club and hear the same thing over and over, so I promised myself if I ever did a club, I would do different things," she says. "Malediction started as a dark wave/industrial/steampunk thing and now it's evolved into a more progressive, dark electro night; Ruin is my answer to what a modern goth club would be — stop trying to cling to the past and open up ideas of what gothic is, so I'm playing everything from Lana Del Rey to Metric to Chelsea Wolfe. Mode:M is a synth-pop/EBM club."
Though many might label something "goth" based on aesthetics and fashion, Xian says her nights are more music-driven. People do dress up, of course. "I judge my clubs by the music, and if people come up and ask for something not in that night's format, I'll tell them to come back on a different night. There is no more than a 5 to 10 perent crossover."
For a club scene with such a specific and particular vibe, Xian Vox's promotions sure are all over the place. And that's the point. The word "goth" as a genre descriptor is pretty meaningless at this point, especially in L.A., and that's a good thing for our nightlife. Clubs like Xian's aren't just about wearing black, piling on the face paint and moving as if you're casting a spell on the dance floor; they're about discovering and delving into intense new soundscapes.
"There is so much music out there," says Xian. "I'm constantly collecting music and filtering and figuring what should be played where. Sometimes I find stuff that doesn't fit anywhere, then a playlist comes from that and then I go, OK, it's time to do another club, just for this. I keep opening different clubs because I just have so much I want to share. And if I don't see anyone doing it, then I will."
For more on Xian Vox's many ongoing club nights, visit LADEAD's Facebook page.
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Los Angeles native Lina Lecaro has been covering L.A. nightlife since she started as a teen intern at L.A. Weekly (fake ID in tow) nearly two decades ago. She went on to write her own column, "Nightranger," for the print edition of the Weekly for six years. Read her "Lina in L.A." interviews and party picks for the latest nightlife news, and follow her on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram.
[Corrections: An earlier version of this article mistakenly stated that "Xian" is pronounced "Christian" when it is pronounced "ZIGH-en." It also mistakenly listed Corrosion as a club Xian once DJed at. Among Xian's clubs, the following names have been corrected: LADEAD, Darkroom, Ruin Hollywood, Mode:M. We regret the errors.]
More from Lina Lecaro:
Goths, Galleries and Gentrification: The Year in L.A. Nightlife
Everyone From L7 to Nirvana (Yes, That Nirvana) Played '90s DIY Venue Jabberjaw
A Q&A With Gun N' Roses' Duff McKagan