Mike Madriaga 9:30 a.m., May 25
Sound description: Experimental goth-centric performance-art circus rock.
RIYL: Tragic Tantrum, Theda Bara, Lene Lovich, Nina Hagen, Bjork, Sally Bowles, Dresden Dolls-style rock 'n' roll circus
- Blurt: "Cabaret Closed" · Aug. 24, 2011
- Blurt: "Mary Poppins Gone Mad" · Jan. 4, 2007
Inception: San Diego, 2004
Ex-Band Members: zOe, Vocals
Influences: The Dresden Dolls, Björk, Rasputina, HUMANWINE, My Chemical Romance, the White Stripes, Sxip Shirey, the Silent Comedy, Blasphemous Guitars, Siouxsie and the Banshees, Tim Mudd
Previously known as Tragic Tantrum, London Below was formed in 2004. “Our band blends the fuck-it-and-just-play mentality of punk with the theatrics of cabaret,” says singer/guitarist Zephyrus Rex. The performance-art duo composes songs around a melodica and a toy xylophone. “There’s a lot of unexplored territory there. With punk music, you can perform and entertain and deliver a message whether or not you have a wealth of musical know-how. In a way, it’s sort of an underground music for the people, though not necessarily music for the masses.”
“I think there’s also an element of circus to our act,” says singer/lyricist zOe. “There’s something about painting your face that allows your true self to come out. With both Zeph and myself having a background in theater, it was a very natural thing to fall into. If our show were a dessert, I think it would be Red Hots mixed with chocolate, strawberries, and licorice. Hot, sweet, tart, and manufactured.”
So is there anything the band would like to reveal to the world that perhaps few have ever known or guessed before? “One night, in another city far, far away, zOe spray-painted characters all over the town. No reason other than she wanted to know what the big deal was with graffiti. She succeeded, and her characters still lurk in some alleys and side streets there. People talked about these images, but the culprit was kept secret. She never did it again; once was enough. But she did prove her prowess, and she enjoyed the experience.”
“Zeph is an old-school Nintendo fan. We even have a Wii. It’s how Zeph gets his news and weather.”
The band released their album Mirror Mirror as Tragic Tantrum in early 2011. In August of that year, they changed their name to London Below, adding new bassist Randy Renaud and drummer Cruz Caudillo.
According to zOe, “When [singer/guitarist] Zeph and I started playing open-mic nights with smeared clown makeup and just a vague idea of what we were trying to do, we were not yet formed...did not yet have direction or shape.”
When Tragic Tantrum debuted, it featured Zeph on piano and zOe on vocals, accompanied by a varying cast of dancers, stilt walkers, and other nonmusical accoutrements. Becoming regulars at local theatrical events such as Technomania Circus in Logan Heights and Queen Bee’s monthly steampunk gathering Chrononaut, they began adding instruments, such as melodicas and toy xylophones to their performances.
“We let the cabaret section go so that we could focus on the music [and] have developed into a full band.... It has become clear that the more focus we give to the music, the more true we are being to ourselves and the heart of the project.”
The new name was mostly inspired by Neil Gaiman’s graphic novel and movie Neverwhere. “London Below is a place that exists beneath the city. It’s an underworld where magic and mystery can happen. It’s another dimension, so to speak, that lies right beneath the surface.”
“The fact is, when we chose the name Tragic Tantrum, it had little meaning,” says zOe. “We were playing open mics and people wanted to know what we called ourselves.... We will shed old and bring in new. Keeping the same formula...makes for stagnation.”
In 2012, co-founder zOe is left the band to pursue solo projects, effective after a final performance with the group that summer.