“I never said Cloak & Dagger was a goth club,” says Adam Bravin aka Adam 12 — DJ, musician and now festival promoter — in the middle of a thoughtful and fairly lengthy late-night phone call last week. “It’s about dark music but from all different genres. The same approach I take to spinning at the club is what the festival is all about.”
Cloak & Dagger recently celebrated its second year of weekly happenings, and it's marking the anniversary in a big way this weekend, with a much buzzed-about festival of the same name (co-produced by Spaceland Presents and Restless Nites). Featuring an impressive cross-genre lineup of bands that Bravin says fall within the spectrum of “dark” music, the fest is the first step in what the DJ-musician, one-half of She Wants Revenge, hopes will be more C&D-curated events. But C&D’s success so far has not been without some controversy, or at least contentiousness.
When Cloak & Dagger first launched, Bravin marketed it as a kind of secret society, a members-only nightclub requiring a black card to get in. How you get that card has never been revealed. Bravin tells me off the record how it works, and it has nothing to do with being famous or “gother-than-thou,” but the air of mystery around it has bred some resentment in the nightlife scene among those who haven't gained access.
“I go quite regularly,” says Health’s John Famiglietti, who DJed the back room at the party along with Remy Marc and Brian T. last week. “Whatever the selection or membership process of the C&D club night is, it does result in a great cross-section of people and, inexplicably, very tall women, so it's a great spot to have a drink and hang out.”
Health will play Friday, the first night of the festival, along with The Jesus and Mary Chain, TR/ST, Com Truise and more. KMFDM, She Wants Revenge, Poptone, The Soft Moon and Cold Cave, among others, play Saturday.
Tall women (some of whom may or not be models) aside, the crowd at C&D is in fact as mixed as Bravin’s playlists. Ironically it’s older goth snobs who might have the biggest problem with this, and with his eclectic choices in music. There are a few Siouxsie look-alikes “wiping the cobwebs” on the dance floor, but as Bravin says, “That’s what you expect when you go to a ‘quote unquote’ goth club, and we always planned to do something different.”
When the party first started at Confession, the hidden back room and basement of the Pig & Whistle on Hollywood Boulevard last year, its mysterious, this-is-something-special vibe was definitely palpable and intentional. Bravin and his partner, producer Michael Patterson (Beck, Black Rebel Motorcycle Club), wanted to provide a place for people — including many of their rock-star pals, such as AFI's Davey Havok, who's a regular — to hang out without the self-consciousness of other clubs, or should I say “selfie-consciousness.” They don’t make you check in your phone like some of the city’s celebrity-driven bottle service spots, but if they see you taking pics, you’ll get a warning or might be asked to leave.
The other rule that some love but others have found too restrictive is the dress code. C&D attire must be “all black everything” — no exceptions. Patrons wearing even the tiniest pops of color have been turned away. Much has been made of the festival’s enforcement of this rule this weekend, but Bravin says that for such a larger event, paid ticket holders will not be turned away for what they wear. “The black clothing is just strongly suggested,” he assures. Still, he hopes that the aesthetics of the club will carry over to the festival, and an ominous sea of black-clad revelers will descend on the Globe and Tower theaters this weekend.
Another element Bravin says C&D Fest will incorporate into this weekend’s event is less obvious, or at least it has been at the club. There are rituals and private performance art pieces that only certain C&D members have ever experienced at the club. Although Bravin prefers not to discuss these in too much depth, he does promise they will be incorporated in a more public way during the festival.
For all the gloomy, doomy atmospherics planned, the fest is mostly about pushing musical boundaries. “I love boutique festivals, and the lineup is amazing … all music I’d love to see,” says Famiglietti, whose band's heady, dissonant grooves should fit in nicely with J&MC's fuzzy trips and TR/ST's techno-esque assaults. “I'd never call us goth but we're definitely dark. [Angelenos] always have been, historically. When things are always light, people tend to gravitate toward dark.”
Bravin has always gravitated to dark sounds, too, even when he has DJed celebrity events, hip-hop nights (AFEX) and disco-themed clubs (Giorgio's, still going strong at the Standard). His sinister-sounding new solo project, Love Ecstasy Terror (LXT), will debut at the festival on Friday, marking the first time he performs live onstage as a singer.
“It’s an outlet that I’ve never had previously,” he says. “To be able to write words down and sing them. At this phase of my life I'm trying to conquer as many fears as possible and putting myself out there. “
He’ll also perform with She Wants Revenge, the post-punk group he started with singer Justin Warfield in the mid-2000s. The band garnered a rabid following when they first broke, which led to an inevitable backlash — not unlike what C&D has dealt with. Bravin says he learned a lot from being in SWR and, at this point, naysayers don't affect him the way they used to.
“It doesn’t mean it doesn’t sting, but it's understandable,” he says. “There are plenty of things I don’t like. I just don’t go on social media and come down on them. I don’t have that kind of time or energy.”
If anybody has the savvy to offer something new on the festival circuit, it's Bravin, haters be damned. He says he's excited for headliners such as Jesus and Mary Chain and KMFDM but also for a wider audience to open their minds to what they perceive as the definition of “dark,” with curveball acts such as queer hip-hop artist Mykki Blanco and moody pop singer Tessa Rae.
“Hip-hop can be dark. House can be dark. Britney Spears can be dark,” Bravin insists, a perspective that's ultimately the most controversial thing about Cloak & Dagger. “'Toxic' is a dark song and if you play it next to The Cure, it makes sense. It sounds funny when you say it out loud, but in the context of how I mix it together, it works.
“Some people don’t get it, and that’s OK,” he continues. “But a lot of people do. I’ve been a DJ for 30 years and I know how to put things together. Lyrically or sonically, I know what fits for a dark set. It’s a vibe. Siouxsie is a word. Nine Inch Nails, a word. Depeche Mode is a word, too. But so are Mobb Deep and Dead Prez and Ho99o9. Put them together in a sentence and they make the paragraphs of a great, dark novel. “
Cloak & Dagger: The Novel would obviously be a black-bound, pretty dramatic book. The festival is an impressive first chapter, and clearly Bravin has many more dark stories to tell.
Cloak & Dagger Festival happens Friday and Saturday, Oct. 20-21, at the Globe and Tower theaters. Tickets and more info.