Monday, April 27, 2015

“Subcultural love thing”: Creative minds, bad reputations and the early days of electronic music in Missoula

Posted By on Mon, Apr 27, 2015 at 5:23 PM

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Before the Badlander was a bar, it was the moniker for an old brick party house nestled in the lower Rattlesnake. On any given night you could find a DJ mixing and matching beats in the corner of the living room, lit up by the glow of funky rummage sale lamps, headphones on, surrounded by milkcrates full of records. The Badlander was the childhood home of Aaron Bolton, but he’d taken it over after his parents and siblings moved out. Friends had moved in as roommates (there was also a dog, a cat, a pig and snake), and often even more friends, acquaintances and strangers crashed on the couch and floor after all-night dance parties. Among the regulars at the Badlander was Chris Henry. 

“What attracted me to the Badlander was the nice, intelligent, open-minded people that were all about being creative and doing stuff,” he says. “It wasn’t like a sit-around-and-watch-TV kind of group. We made our own fun, DIY.”

Electronic music was barely a blip on the radar for most music listeners in Missoula. It was a rock town, after all, (and a folk and bluegrass town) with Jay’s Upstairs being the main venue for seeing anything hard or experimental. But for those who had gotten hooked on early house and techno, the Badlander became a place to go. The people who showed up to parties would be treated to a typical lineup of a couple live rock bands playing garage and punk, but also DJs experimenting with early house, breakbeat, techno, drum-n-bass and a little bit of trance.

“The Badlander definitely created its own reality in terms of a group of people with cultural crossover because there were bands and DJs,” Henry says. “It all felt very organic, but it wasn’t until later that we realized how that’s actually not that typical. People instinctively segregate themselves more when it comes to these genres. And this was a group of people—of friends—that was not into segregation.”

Sometimes they’d throw shows at venues like the Legion Hall, and Henry still has posters one of his non-electronic music friends made using terms like “dull and distant trance” and “repetitive techno.”
“I remember thinking, ‘This is very funny because I’m a sarcastic guy myself—but I don’t know if this is good promotion,’” he says, laughing.
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Later, in the early 2000s, Henry would end up DJing a little bit under the moniker Hendawg, but for the most part he was a logistics guy in the early years who helped set up shows. His brief stint running the record label Don’t Panic Records put him in the business of introducing new electronic records to the small but growing contingent of fans and DJs in town. The record label went under while Henry was traveling overseas. One of his partners took $25,000 of investment money to throw a huge EDM party at Flathead Lake in 1999—and it flopped.

“She had a lot of experience throwing big raves on the East coast,” Henry says. “Like, $100,000 in cash. She basically thought that she could take that kind of an event and plop it into western Montana. But obviously there was no population density and not much cultural precedent. But this is a different place, and something that works somewhere else, you need to sort of modify it to make it work here. It’s a sub-cultural love thing. It’s impervious to exploitation because anyone that thinks they’re going to make money off of it is going to be disappointed very quickly.”

A handful of people associated with the Badlander, including Bolton, bought a sound system for $5,000. They used it at the Badlander but also took it to set up rogue shows, one of which happened in an abandoned train car on the outskirts of town, which they outfitted with black plastic on the inside. That show was Bolton’s debut as DJ Major Terror. Afterward, they’d set up all kinds of shows, sometimes inside abandoned buildings which they’d have to spend days cleaning up. Despite the reputation for partying, the crew put in a lot of work to make it all happen.


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