Memphis has never afforded nationally touring extreme/underground metal bands a huge audience, but there's generally been enough local interest in those genres to support a venue. This decade has seen well-attended metal shows at the Hi-Tone Café (Mastodon, Skeletonwitch, High on Fire, Darkest Hour, etc.), plus the rise and demise of the mostly metal and hardcore-exclusive Complex, The Caravan, and, most recently, The Dregs.
For the last half of 2007, the Dregs, which was located on Lamar Avenue just south of Cooper-Young, offered Memphians the chance to see some exalted underground heaviness they might have otherwise missed, bands such as Between the Buried and Me, Dead to Fall, Horse the Band, At All Cost, and local rising stars Nights Like These. The venue was the combined effort of Eddie Riley, Ashton Bedwell, and Nick Pyland. The group experienced perpetual problems with shortsighted showgoers before ultimately butting heads with the building's landlord. "We opened on June 27th of last year," Riley explains. "That was a slow time for the scene; not a lot of people were going out to shows in July, August, or September."
Additionally, the venue's location presented a conundrum for certain prospective patrons. "It was younger kids coming out of Cordova and Collierville, people from the suburbs who automatically associated the word 'Lamar' with something bad," Riley says.
The collective's response to this issue was a blog posting on the Dregs' MySpace profile that, among other things, reported how many crimes were reported near the Dregs along with the far greater number that occurred close to Wolfchase Galleria. Pyland and Riley included the following information in their poignant introduction to the post (titled "It's on Lamar"):
"It has recently come to our attention that a ton of people can't or won't come out to The Dregs because 'it's on Lamar.' The former owner and tenant of this building, Stephen Crump, is the Vice President of the Cooper-Young Business Association. During the time Mr. Crump occupied the building he started weekly neighborhood meetings and a neighborhood watch group, which is still heavily implemented today. 1688 Lamar was also home to an art studio. During its seven-year tenure, Studio 1688 had one tail light that was broken out...in seven years. We have also included in this blog a list of the crimes in our neighborhood, along with other popular hangouts, for the past 30 days. Thanks for taking the time to read this and we hope to see you out!"
Despite this obstacle, the Dregs saw success with the multi-band, modern death-metal showcase of Putrification, Kavatica, Burial Within, and Impending Doom on October 10th. Even better, the venue came close to reaching its capacity when Between the Buried and Me brought their increasingly popular brand of all-over-the-map progressive death metal/metalcore last fall. "That was the best show we did, attendance-wise — 224 people came out," Pyland says.
The Dregs occupied the first floor of a two-story building, and the landlord issues started when the collective was offered the second floor when another tenant showed interest in their space.
"Allegedly, a daycare had agreed to pay a lot of money to rent the first floor, so we moved upstairs for two shows," Pyland says. "Then that didn't work out because we had to face the bands in the opposite direction, and you could hear the shows all over the neighborhood. But for some reason, the daycare never moved in, so we moved back downstairs."
Then, earlier this month, the landlord decided that this extreme-metal venue was not his idea of a long-term tenant. "We had absolutely no warning, no 30-day notice, and had to get our gear out of the place in one day," Pyland says.
Though a handful of shows had to be canceled, there is good news. The guys have experienced relative good luck in moving the bigger, previously booked events to different venues. Last weekend, the fantastic Skeletonwitch played The Rally Point, the same venue that will host Atlanta's masters of demented, neo-doom metal, Zoroaster, on February 3rd. "They are literally the loudest band I have ever seen," Riley says.
The group is currently looking for another space.
"The bottom line is that we were solely a venue, not a bar, and we'll probably have to have a bar of some sort. It's very hard to maintain your bills otherwise," Riley says.
This Thursday night, Beale Street Caravan presents its "Tune Into Memphis" Showcase, the first in a series of lineups featuring local bands who'll be recorded for future radio play on the program...