Katabatik Provides Underground Experimental Music in East Bay

(photo courtesy of Katabatik)

By Galen Barbour

Its 9:00 PM on a weeknight. I'm inside a renovated church in West Oakland, the name of which, at the request of management and common sense, will remain undisclosed. The door charge is a suggested donation and water is served out of a pitcher into mismatching cups. The available beer is cheap and warm.

Patrons clad in black, trickle in and mill about, waiting for something increasingly more illusive in San Francisco’s club-centric music climate: experimental live performance.

Once a land of plenty for obscure, pioneer and out-there sounds, the Bay’s underground music scene has been parched of its once lush warehouse/art-collective venue environment due to the infamous housing crisis that continues to rattle the creative community.

Evictions, high-rent, or tenant fear have squandered and oppressed available space for up and coming artists to tinker, bang and generally experiment in. In these desperate times where 6-figure salaries are barely making the grade, places like our nameless church truly become sanctuaries for the loud, bold and creative.

Headlining tonight is Sean (Dimentia) and Barrett (RMS) representing the corner stone east bay sub culture, the dark electro syndicate Katabatik. Who have been imprinting their sounds on the Bay’s underground music scene for almost two decades. The group’s namesake (spelled Katabatic meaning “downward spiraling wind”) speaks to the cool climes from which it’s founding member hail from, in Alaska and Seattle.

It wasn’t until the early 2000’s when Barrett and Dimentia joined the group after a run in at the Autonomous Music Festival. Ultimately settling down in the East Bay where they now claim as home.

Sean recalls becoming interested in the grey zone between the industrial techno and Goth scenes, exposing a trademark sound to which they are now known for today. “Back in the day we were too Goth for Techno fans and too Techno for Goth fans," explains Barrett. "It was a slow build to begin with, the crowd has changed considerably...there use to be a lot of freaks.”

Katabatik got its start through a monthly, fittingly named “Katanexus.” This was back during the electro clash where Goth made its angsty introduction into the world of synths and drum machines. The two recall drawing inspiration from groups like Skinny Puppy, Throbbing Gristle, Coil and German minimal electro from the early 80’s and so on.

But back in the late 90’s early 2000’s there were considerably more venues to choose from. The two recall taking their pick from any number of warehouse spaces in the SOMA district of downtown San Francisco, and Oakland.

“Warehouses were more conducive to experimentation…We prefer underground events where we can go later, louder and weirder,” says Sean, citing that private locations gave them the freedom to do what they wanted and express their true creative nature. “For the first ten years we never made any money, anything we made went right back into it." 

Although they play out at clubs here and there around SF and Oakland they say that they avoided venues that tend to misunderstand and misinterpret their music.  After all, what they do is quite appreciable and keeping the integrity of their performance often hinges on a crowd that understands how they're doing it. (i.e. One that doesn’t put in requests to a person using hardware to build the tracks live.)

Even still, Katabatik and other groups like them find themselves being put out by the very source of their anti-capitalist/establishment ideals: Money. As the ever-troubling resource continues to flood the area, floating rent and real-estate prices up while simultaneously washing away anyone without islands of affordable rent. There is still hope however, as these two have assured me that they continue calling the East Bay their home. 

If you like what you hear, see Katabatik for yourself at an up-coming show. Click here for details.