Music

We're All Mad Here

Wicked Wonderland Empire taking over the underworld

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It started with Ginger Christiansen's birthday party.

About 12 years ago, Christiansen was dancing and tending bar at the Torch 2. She approached the club's owner, Darrell Barrett, with an idea for a fetish-themed event that would tie in with her big day.

"It happened, and it was a massive hit," she said. "[Barrett] was really happy, and so he put me in charge of running events for the club."

Eventually, Christiansen began booking shows at other bars with the help of her then-boyfriend, a fellow goth scene regular known as The Mad Hatter. These efforts led her to form her own production company, Wicked Wonderland.

Now called Wicked Wonderland Empire, Christiansen's company has organized or sponsored events in Boise; Seattle (her current home base); Bellingham, Wash.; New Orleans; and Winnipeg, Manitoba. It has booked two upcoming local events, Red Room's Sunday, Aug. 18, release party for Italian industrial-techno band XP8's album Adrenochrome, and The Shredder's Electric Tea Party on Saturday, Aug. 24. The latter will feature Chicago-based EDM artist V1rtual D3scent.

In addition to promoting live shows, Wicked Wonderland Empire launched a music label this year with assistance from Seattle-based independent recording company Grammercy Records. Its debut release, The Death of Alice: A Compilation of Goth, Industrial and Other Dark Music from Beyond the Looking Glass, appeared in May. Featuring artists ranging from local groups The Acrotomoans and Satyr Co. to Russian industrial band Roppongi Inc. Project, it is available on Amazon and iTunes, as well as at the local clothing store Subspace.

While Christiansen dubbed her company--which now has branches in Boise, Seattle and New Orleans--an "empire," James Soward (better known in the Boise goth scene as DJ Bones) was less sweeping in his description.

"Ginger's passion is seeing the scenes grow in the goth world [or] the goth/industrial world," he said, "and going from being a scene to being a community."

According to Soward--who currently books, promotes and handles sound for Wicked Wonderland Empire's Boise events--local goths were split before Christiansen began promoting.

"We all had a common frame of mind, but we didn't really talk to each other," he said.

In those days, he added, Christiansen served as "the ambassador between all the little cliques, scenes and groups."

Today, Boise's goths are a more cohesive group. Wicked Wonderland Empire even offers a membership card via its website and Facebook page. Costing $30 to purchase and $25 to renew, the cards allow holders to attend many major events for free, including the Electric Tea Party and the annual Fetish Ball. Cardholders also receive discounts on purchases from select local vendors such as Subspace and Oh Look! Shiny Creations.

Trina Lockary, a longtime member of the Boise goth community, experienced Christiansen's ambassadorial efforts firsthand back in 2004. She went downtown one night "dressed all goth-y" and was being harassed. Christiansen introduced herself and invited Lockary to join her at the Balcony.

"Within six months of then, we had a birthday party at the Cafe Ole and 35 people showed up," Lockary said. "All of a sudden, I had friends."

Lockary now volunteers with hospitality for major Wicked Wonderland Empire events, which average about six or seven a year, by feeding and sheltering touring performers at her house.

Wes Malvini, booker for Red Room, characterized Christiansen and Soward as "extremely professional [and] polite."

"They put the needs of their community above anything else, that's for sure," he said. "Even before money or anything like that."

Malvini cited the deals that come with Wicked Wonderland Empire's membership card as examples of the company's generosity toward the local goth community.

"Anybody with those cards gets in for free to their events or for extreme discounts," he said. "And obviously, there's expenses that need to be paid, so they're going to make a little bit of money back. It's not charity work. But by no means would I say that they're a greedy group."

Malvini's only difficulty in working with Christiansen and company involved advance notice of booking.

"They don't think ahead a whole lot on stuff," he explained. "So a lot of times, I'd have to pass on an event that I knew would be successful because I was already booked up. But they only gave me a month notice, and usually, I book six to eight weeks out."

By her own admission, Christiansen didn't think ahead much when she moved from Boise to Seattle, but something drew her to the Emerald City.

"I went and visited several cities to ... make up my mind and decide where I wanted to go. And there were a lot of good choices [but] this one called to me right now," she said.

Christiansen added that she hadn't planned to start a music label after moving to Seattle, either. When the people at Grammercy Records encouraged her to do so, she jumped at the chance.

Vaughn Kiefer, co-owner and president of Grammercy Records, said that he first encountered Christiansen while she was touring with her Boise-based (now Seattle-based) band Lithium Dolls. They met after a show at the Highline Bar and got to know each other during Christiansen's subsequent visits.

Her savvy handling of concerts persuaded Kiefer that she could manage her own music label. "She was smart and she didn't seem like she was too crazy--or inappropriately crazy--because I think everyone is in the music business, no matter what aspect you're involved with," he said.

From there, it wasn't too much of a leap to running a label.

"When you're doing live promotion," Kiefer added, "you're already halfway there--if not more than halfway there--to being able to start a record label, publishing company, things like that."

For her part, Christiansen said that Grammercy's straightforward business practices attracted her.

"Even if it's a $2 check, you pay your checks on time. Don't be dicks; just because you can take an extra 2 percent by calling it something doesn't mean that you should," she said.

Kiefer coached Christiansen on the legal aspects of the music business, such as copyright and intellectual property law. Grammercy Records also handles distribution for Wicked Wonderland Empire, manufacturing CDs for sale, as well as employing its direct agreements with iTunes, Rhapsody and other online retailers. In exchange for these services, Grammercy receives a percentage of Wicked Wonderland Empire's net income from its music label.

Neither Christiansen nor Kiefer could provide exact sales figures for The Death of Alice--various outlets were still sending them records for first quarter sales, they said--but Christiansen estimated that they had sold "a few hundred [copies] at least."

Wicked Wonderland Empire's second release, Lafayette, La.-based SINthetik Messiah's EP Revelations of the Nintendo Generation, appeared in July. Christiansen and Soward declined to give precise details but said that new music and concerts would be coming soon.

But for all of her ambition, Christiansen--who remains close with people in the Boise community--keeps her ultimate goal modest:

"Getting to hang out with freaky people, doing freaky things, having fun, making art and just being together with those sorts of people," she said.

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