The Black Cloud launches monthly Descent electronica nights

LIGHTS OUT: The Nov. 10 Descent show at The Black Cloud will feature sets by local DJs Paul “Fafnir” Lehto and Heinrich “Esuna” Arnold. Fafnir, pictured, describes the ambience he’ll seek to create with his set: “I aim to achieve a dark, cerebral experience by drawing from neurofunk.” Photo by Cindy Kunst

In creative and entertainment media, the “alternative” label is tossed around so freely that it risks losing its meaning. Hidden away in the basement of a building on West Asheville’s main thoroughfare, a bar called The Black Cloud aims to restore that meaning. With a heavy metal/Goth vibe that sets it apart from most venues in town, The Black Cloud is now hosting Descent, a monthly DJ showcase. The second installment of Descent happens Saturday, Nov. 10.

Laura Beach is a bartender at The Black Cloud. Known by the nickname “Queen of Cups,” she’s very much into heavy metal. “Despite me being the metalhead that I am,” she says, “I’ll always have a soft spot for electronic music.” She says that many patrons of the beer bar requested an electronic music-themed night. Because of The Black Cloud’s size, live music isn’t often practical, but — especially when focusing on electronica — DJ sets make sense. With a name that refers both to the bar’s underground location and the dark tone of the music, Descent launched in October.

The first event featured local DJs Electrocute and Grimkitty. With a vaguely sinister yet sometimes downtempo aesthetic, Descent’s primary musical character is described as encompassing darkwave and “witch house.” Beach laughs when trying to describe the latter: “Imagine spooky trap music, like Goth kids making hip-hop electronic beats.”

Such sounds might seem a departure from the metal that characterizes The Black Cloud’s usual fare. But bar owner Brett Morgan sees Descent as a good fit. He says that the cold, industrial aesthetic of the bar — “pretty much no warmth at all” — lends itself to metal, “a logical accompaniment to the overall vibe and feel of the venue. But darkwave fits in, as do Goth and other forms of ‘dark’ music.” Morgan expresses an affinity for music that is “empowering, dark and emotionally moving. And if the bar can be a home for events that speak to those who identify with a subculture, and who might find comfort being themselves in this environment, then I’m all for it.”

The first Descent drew a crowd — regulars and newcomers alike — packing The Black Cloud. “My regulars are into heavy metal, but there’s some overlap between the metal and electronic communities,” Beach says. And because that event took place the same weekend as the medieval-themed Festival of Heroes, it drew more interested patrons. “There’s crossover between the Pagan and electronic music communities, too,” she observes.

Beach says that the DJs selected for spots at Descent spin a mix of their own tracks and those of other artists. “There’s a certain art to reading a room,” she says, and she seeks out DJs adept at doing so. But the process of finding those artists isn’t really that complicated. “Most of the time, it’s just who I know,” she admits.

But because Beach has plans to continue the Descent series indefinitely, she encourages like-minded DJs and/or electronic artists to get in touch. “I hope to do this the second Saturday of every month, so I would love to hear from more people,” she says.

The Nov. 10 Descent will feature sets by local DJs Paul “Fafnir” Lehto and Heinrich “Esuna” Arnold. Fafnir describes the ambiance he’ll seek to create with his set: “I aim to achieve a dark, cerebral experience by drawing from neurofunk.” He quotes British music critic and author Simon Reynolds’ description of the drum-and-bass subgenre as “the fun-free culmination of jungle’s strategy of cultural resistance: the eroticization of anxiety.” He cites artists Enei, Silent Witness and Jam Thieves as representative of the kind of music he’ll spin.

Esuna will stake out a subtly different yet complementary musical aesthetic for his set. “I’m interested in playing with some of the textures and qualities I typically enjoy in metal within the context of dance music,” he says. Citing the work of G Jones, Bassnectar and Reso, he says, “I’m hoping to create a vibe that takes the listener on a journey to and from different emotional places.”

Consistent with The Black Cloud’s be yourself attitude, attendees at Descent events react to the DJ sets in the way that best suits them. Asked if people dance or stand with their arms folded, Beach laughs. “Column A and column B,” she says. “A little bit of both.”

Morgan wryly divides The Black Cloud’s potential patrons into two categories: “Those who know where the bar is located and those who can’t find it.” He acknowledges that lack of a proper storefront makes the establishment difficult to discover. “But those who find us generally come back,” he says.

And those who enjoy a bit of the darkwave alternative with their metal now have a home once a month.

WHAT: Descent featuring DJ Esuna and DJ Fafnir
WHERE: The Black Cloud, 723 Haywood Road, theblackcloudnc.com
WHEN: Saturday, Nov. 10, at 9 p.m. No cover; donations suggested

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About Bill Kopp
Author, music journalist, historian, collector, and musician. His first book, "Reinventing Pink Floyd: From Syd Barrett to The Dark Side of the Moon," published by Rowman & Littlefield, is available now. Follow me @the_musoscribe

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4 thoughts on “The Black Cloud launches monthly Descent electronica nights

  1. jay

    this is all fine and dandy, but accessibility is really what the black cloud needs to focus on…. i was a fan until; they were open 2-3 nights per week this whole summer….. the reason? because they refused to hire another bartender….
    NOT sure how hard it is to find a tatted up pierced metal chick these days in asheville, but there seem to be plenty smoking and drinking black coffee all over ashevilles finest coffee shops…..

    • Laura

      Hey there jay. Laura from The Black Cloud here.
      Sorry to hear about your dissatisfaction regarding our establishment. I can assure you that we’re back to being open 6 days a week. As I am sure that you are aware, we were only open to 3 days a week since I was the only one available during the summer.
      We did look for other people to work for us during that time but it’s sometimes hard to find the right fit. E.g. a person who fits the aesthetic but is also personable, sociable, and reliable. We’ve actually had a few people bail on us that said they wanted to work there right before they were to start! GAH. That’s frustrating.
      Well moving on and moving forward, we have a good team now and we’re back to being open like we were before.
      Come back and see us. We miss you!

      • Jay

        Never heard of a business (much less a beer bar) having to halve their hours due the inability to find the right fitting employee…. but then again this Asheville; where 20 somethings come to retire . LOL

        for what its worth: Sorry it took 6 months to find a person who fits the aesthetic…sounds like one HELL of an intimidating interview!

  2. Jay

    Wow it took six months to find the right fit? Never heard of a business significantly reducing hours due to the inability to find someone to pour drafts? otherwise;
    Then again this is Asheville; where 20 something’s come to retire…

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