Weird is good: Voidsinger offers a glimpse into Reno’s goth scene

For decades, musician Rob Pelikan has been a progenitor of the goth scene in Reno—from his days as a DJ on one of Reno’s first alternative-music radio shows on KUNR, to his role in starting numerous goth nights at bars and clubs around town. 

He’s a self-described “elder goth”—an honorific for how long he’s been part of the scene. Now he’s one-half of the band Voidsinger, and he and bandmate Casey Fritz are responsible for a hefty percentage of Reno’s goth-music output. Since starting their collaboration in early 2023, Voidsinger has released a whopping 10 albums. 

“Casey moved to Reno in 2019, and we met at one of the goth nights here—the main one is called Ritual,” Pelikan said. “We got the idea to do a collaboration, and I tell you what, as soon as we sat down at our first session, it was just like, ‘Bam, bam, bam.’ And we came up with our first album in, like, three weeks.” 

As a subculture, goth has plenty of stereotypes ingrained over decades of pop-culture representation. Pale makeup and black clothing, an affinity for being moody and brooding, and a fascination with all things macabre come to mind. But beneath the shadows and purple velvet of its vampire aesthetic, goth started as a musical subculture with roots in the ’80s new wave sound. Bands like Siouxsie and the Banshees, Joy Division and Bauhaus are some of the earliest examples. 

Celebrating the sonic tradition of goth culture is the fundamental goal of “goth nights” like Ritual, at Dead Ringer Analog Bar on Reno’s Fourth Street, which happens on the first Saturday of each month and celebrates goth, industrial and darkwave music. It’s an opportunity for members of the scene to meet up with like-minded people and dance. 

Pelikan started his own goth night in 2001 called the Violet Hour, which ran for about two years, and has guest-DJed for Ritual in the past. While Pelikan lists the heavy hitters of the new wave scene as his influences, Fritz draws much of his inspiration from the decade that followed. 

“My influences are like The Cure, New Order, Cocteau Twins, Love and Rockets—that kind of thing,” Pelikan said. “And (Fritz) is a decade after me, and so his influences are like Nirvana, Marilyn Manson, Elliott Smith and Nine Inch Nails. That’s what makes it fascinating. It’s not like we’re two birds of the same feather.” 

While Pelikan agrees that goth is perhaps the best catchall term for Voidsinger’s music, the duo’s combined tastes allow for experimentation with genres like country, jazz and acoustic. 

“It’s like 70% goth rock and 30% fell-into-other-territory,” Pelikan said. 

Pelikan said that The Gray Album, available on Spotify and other digital music sources, is most indicative of the band’s overall sound. The 12 tracks are dark and wonderfully spooky throughout, but they’re much more than just Halloween sounds. Voidsinger’s work is that rare breed of heavier music that is still undeniably danceable thanks to some of the hallmarks of the goth sound: a driving bass line, minor chords, and easily discernible beats. 

Tracks like “Days Gone” illustrate the dichotomy well, with an electronic four-on-the-floor beat right out of the ’80s, backed by a thumping bass and droning, melancholy synths. “Killing Me” leans into a heavier rock riff, as well as Pelikan’s vocals, which alternate between a monotonous, spoken-word verse and a screaming, heavily distorted chorus. You can almost envision someone wearing a black cloak playing the church organ backing the track. “Dead By Dawn,” “Skull King” and “Down in Hell” are almost ambient in their commitment to stripped-back riffs, sound effects and digital distortion. 

The entire album artfully balances harmonic discord with professional production to yield a result that is both unnerving and hypnotizingly groovy. One could imagine hearing it in the speakers of a shadowy nightclub or even as the soundtrack to an ’80s slasher flick. 

“I would call it, like, music from the shadows,” Pelikan said. “There’s nothing sunny about it, but there’s something comforting about it.” 

As for how Voidsinger can churn out music at such a breakneck pace: Pelikan and Fritz have developed a semi-remote process that allows them each to put their individual spin on a track, then meet up once a week to clean up the sound and record everything. 

“Casey doesn’t actually play an instrument,” Pelikan said. “He’s a savant with computers, so he will program the keyboard, the drum pattern and the basic overall background of the song. And sometimes it’s really melodic, and I’m like, ‘Wow, how do you not play an instrument? Like, this is fucking amazing.’” 

Fritz will then send the digital track to Pelikan to flesh out with an analog guitar, bass and keyboard in his home studio. Once Pelikan has added his influence to the track, they’ll pick a day to meet in person and make the final recording. Working like this allows Voidsinger to produce three or four finished tracks per week. 

“If you do that every week, you can get an album done in a month,” said Pelikan. “That’s sort of been our pace, and a lot of the credit goes to him. … He’ll just come out with song after song.” 

As efficient as their digital process is, it has limited Voidsinger’s ability to play live; as a result, they’ve operated as a studio band since their inception. But Pelikan hopes they’ll be able to play a debut show sometime this summer. 

In the meantime, he encourages anyone and everyone to familiarize themselves with Reno’s goth offerings by attending Ritual or seeking out the handful of other goth bands in town. As intimidating as the dark and somewhat isolating aesthetic can be, the community is accepting of social differences and eager to welcome newcomers, Pelikan said. It’s what originally drew him to alternative music in high school. 

“I remember high school in the middle ’80s; there was this punk-rock crowd that would hang out in this one part of the high school, and there were so many different types of people,” he said. “I was like, ‘Wow, these are my people. They don’t have any judgments; they’re embracing of weirdness.’ Weird is good.” 

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