Dancing for the darkness

Winnipeg band the Party Dress releases their debut EP

Grave Clothes,” one of the three songs on the freshman release from local trio the Party Dress, is suited for use in a film by David Lynch or Quentin Tarantino. On this 7” EP, titled You’re Dead, the group has dressed a dirty, beautiful villain in snakeskin shoes who dances in a smoky haze of carnage.

You’ve never experienced garage rock like this before: Imagine corpses suspended from the rafters and a smorgasbord of genetic experiments gone wrong littering makeshift tables. Somehow the tunes make you feel sexy while also making you feel afraid.

The owners of these sounds are guitarist/vocalist Reuben Todd, drummer Stefan Kroeker, and bassist Hart Koepke. Kroeker explains in an interview with the Manitoban that the band’s name comes from the nickname for the fiancée of the titular character in the novel Miss Lonelyhearts by Depression-era American author Nathanael West. In the novel, the main character, a male advice column writer, refers to Betty, his betrothed, as the party dress.

“There’s a bit of mystery and ambiguity attached to it, and we thought it paired well with the kind of music we were writing,” says Kroeker.

Kroeker and Todd have been making music together for about a decade, and the former explains that a year ago they began writing original material together, and Koepke joined them soon after. “Reuben and I originally wrote the songs that we’re releasing on the 7-inch, although they didn’t feel right until we added Hart.”

The recording process mirrors the method Victor Frankenstein used to craft his human collage. “We did all of the recording and mixing ourselves, using a makeshift setup of mics, PAs, and a laptop,” says Kroeker. The band practices and records in one of the well-used spaces on the second floor of the building at the northwest corner of Furby Street and Portage Avenue.

“All the songs on the 7-inch are recorded live off the floor to one track, with a couple extra guitar tracks and the bass tracks added in after. It’s a little raw and imperfect at times, but it captures how we play live and that’s exactly what we wanted.”

If this album is a monster, then the doctor who brought the lightning down is the man who recently started Bonzer Records, for which You’re Dead is the first release.

“When I was out for beers with Kevin Strang a few years ago, he had a little sparkle in his eye when he talked about starting a little record label,” says Kroeker. Strang is the percussive counterpart of Kroeker in Pop Crimes, opening for the band at the release show.

“I am a huge fan of rawer-sounding recordings and wanted to do a label based around weirder-sounding garage and punk bands,” Strang tells the Manitoban. “Around the time I had decided that this was the approach I wanted to take, the Party Dress had posted the three tracks that make up the single online; I liked them and figured they would make a good 7-inch.”

“When he approached us last summer and asked if the Party Dress would be interested in being Bonzer’s first release, we were blown away. He’s incredibly committed to music and local bands, and we’re honoured to be his guinea pigs. He’s given us the chance to put our music out on vinyl – something we’ve all dreamt about for years,” says Kroeker.

In addition to the release of You’re Dead, Bonzer is putting out some more albums soon, including recordings by Pop Crimes, Willower, Atomic Don & the Black Sunrise, and Mean Tikes.

Kroeker shares Strang’s desire to promote local music. “The rock ’n’ roll scene in Winnipeg is tight, and it’s always fun to play with friends who share an affinity for the darker side of garage rock,” says Kroeker.

“Music in Winnipeg has always been kind of a strange vice. I think a lot of us literally play to stay sane.” The drummer said he is glad that Union Sound Hall and the Windsor Hotel have filled the void left by the recent demise of both the Royal Albert Arms Hotel and the Lo Pub.

If you want to dance to terrifying screams of music, check out the release show for You’re Dead by the Party Dress at 10 p.m. on Feb. 27 at Union Sound Hall (110 Market Ave.) with Pop Crimes and Atomic Don & the Black Sunrise. $10 gets you in, and another $3 gets you the album. Until then, check out the songs at thepartydress.bandcamp.com