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REGULARS AT RYAN'S looked up from their Miller cans in bemusement last Wednesday as ebony-clad goth girls began floating through the front door of the legendary metal bar. The downtown St. Paul live-music oasis has certainly evolved since its Driver 23 hairball heyday, with talent booker Joe Grundhoefer bringing in more gothic and alt-rock acts this year, along with the usual head-banging heroes. But last week marked the start of something new for the club: a weekly 18-and-over industrial dance night, with drinkers getting the standard orange bracelet.
REBAR Industrial Strength Nightlife will now take over Ryan's expansive main room every Wednesday and the occasional weekend night, a sight sure to drop the jaw of anyone who's been to the club under normal circumstances. With little round tables set up on stage, the space on Wednesday was pitch black, save for the red and yellow candles set around the room and the red and purple "smart lights" cutting the thick smoke-machine mist. Talk about staring into the abyss.
Presented by the year-old NMI (Nachtmusik Incorporated), the weekly night of death disco (let's dispense with euphemisms such as "dark" or "industrial") might be just what Dr. Elvira ordered for a scene that remains undead. Ultraharsh techno is obviously popular enough to pack Hard Mondays every week at the Saloon, where NMI organizer Jon Hurt spins under the moniker DJ Panic. The scene seems equally supportive of local bands with a similarly gloomy, polysexual bent (e.g., the must-see All the Pretty Horses). And a growing mainstream audience seems ready to fill this summer's spate of tour stops by international raven-rock acts like Siouxsie Sioux's the Creatures (who drew a sizable First Avenue crowd the same night Tricky sold out Ground Zero). Emerging black holes Psychotica will be descending on the Zero tonight (Wednesday), and on August 21, NMI will bring legendary ear-punishers Front 242 to the Quest. To top all that, goth godfathers Bauhaus have reunited for a tour that visits the State Theatre on August 26 with ticket prices running upward of $45.50 (cheap seats: $28.50).
Despite what looks like a full-blown revival, NMI's Hurt characterizes REBAR's natural constituency as a relatively small but persistent faction of the music scene, though he'd like to see it grow. "I think there's a real yearning for the hard-edged dance stuff based on the popularity of Nine Inch Nails and Marilyn Manson," he says. "We're basically following in rave's footsteps: starting small, building up a scene, and making it bigger. We're going to start doing music distribution soon."
Over a decade in the Cities, the Californian has engaged in other scene-building projects, booking dance nights and concerts back in 1990 at the now-extinct Varsity Theater in Dinkytown, where he brought in 2 Live Crew and employed Kevin Cole as a regular DJ. From '93 to '95, he ran the Cage, a now-defunct volunteer-run 18-and-over nightclub across from Cheapo on Lake Street that featured industrialist dance-a-thons and fetish nights (plus the then newly emerging vinyl jockey E-Tones). Hurt moved on to spin at Bondage a Go-Go in Ground Zero, the well-known leather 'n' whip night founded by another NMI man, Matt Hopping. These days, besides holding down Hard Mondays, Hurt spins house on Fridays and '80s on Sundays at the Saloon in downtown Minneapolis.
"I've been DJing for about 10 years," he says, "and the one thing I learned early on was how to be diverse. I'd probably be a rich man if I didn't have rooms and rooms full of vinyl." (Peter S. Scholtes) CP
REBAR Industrial Strength Nightlife continues every Wednesday at Ryan's, 201 E. Fourth St. in St. Paul. $2 for 21+, $5 for 18-20. Call NMI's Hardline at 897-9763 for more information on REBAR or Front 242's concert. Tickets for Psychotica and Bauhaus are available through Ticketmaster; call 989-5151.