Better Red Than Dead

Goth rockers Deep Red are in the black

Inside his small, two-story Hialeah townhouse, DC Astro sits in his gray-walled recording studio with bandmate Martha Arce. The duo, two thirds of the goth rock band Deep Red, are dressed in all black. Astro dons a T-shirt, jeans, and thick-soled shoes. Arce wears a small tank top and velvet pants with shiny, platform boots that reach the top of her calves. Astro has a pair of large, gold hoop earrings; Arce's left ear sports five small silver loop earrings and a dangling skull. Long, wavy, cranberry-color hair covers her other ear.

Astro and Arce may look every inch the dour goth rockers, but completely shedding their Cuban heritage is impossible. (Astro was born Dely Castro in Cuba, and Arce's mother is Cuban.) Today's beverage of choice, for instance, is café cubano, sipped from dainty cups. And then there's the weather. Rather than dark, foreboding skies, the sun shines brightly outside, and the trees stand bloated with green leaves. Astro's patio is overflowing with lush plants.

Most frustrating for Deep Red, rounded out by drummer/backup vocalist Mario Soto, has been the lack of musical kinship. The dominant soundtrack in this neck of the woods is good-time party music: a mélange of big, bouncy dance beats, Top 40 fluff, salsa, pop, hip-hop. In other words music suited to hedonistic revelry, not brooding self-reflection. It should come as no surprise that Deep Red is not exactly a household name in South Florida. "I think the main thing that we know now, that we did not know a few years ago, is how to target your audience," Astro says. "If I sent a tape of my stuff to Emilio Estefan, it would be a total waste of time, and if I sent a tape of my stuff to ZETA [WZTA-FM 94.9] they would be like, 'What the hell is this? Where are the guitars?'"

DJ Astro and Martha Arce are Deep Red Cuban-Americans
DJ Astro and Martha Arce are Deep Red Cuban-Americans

Elsewhere, however, the band enjoys considerable renown. Formed seven years ago by Astro and Arce, Deep Red caught its big break in 1996, when the tandem signed a deal to release their debut album. Candyland Records, a label run by the Hamburg-based, synth-pop band Project Pitchfork, put out The Awakening in September of that year and distributed the disc throughout Germany, Austria, and Switzerland. The album, which featured Astro's keyboard-driven compositions and Arce's passionate vocals, was available in the U.S. only as an import.

Although promotion was concentrated in Germany, Deep Red soon found airplay on radio stations from Canada to Hawaii. The twosome was included in various radio-station samplers, alongside some of the world's most famed synth-pop artists, including And One, Laibach, and Front Line Assembly. Before the release of The Awakening, international fans of goth music first began to take notice of Deep Red through compilations by Cleopatra Records, an indie label specializing in goth. The Los Angeles- based label included Deep Red on the prestigious four-disc volume The Goth Box and on a tribute CD to goth pioneers Siouxsie and the Banshees.

Deep Red is currently recording album number two, Darkwaters, with a release slated for February, on its own label, Osiris SoundWorks. Arce has stopped by Astro's studio on this bright December day to hear some rough mixes. The room is crammed with various samplers, synthesizer modules, and sound processors, plus two computers and two keyboards. The hardware is an indication of the elaborate process Astro uses to record. Today's work, for instance, includes the new song "Breath in the Mirror," which calls for a lead vocal, a "verse echo," a "verse high harmony," and, forebodingly enough, "God's voice."

As Astro is quick to note, four vocal tracks is about his minimum. The cut "I Live," from The Awakening, features ten. His instrumental production is equally intricate. Deep Red's songs float on ethereal waves of synthesized, multilayered melodies, propelled by powerful electronic rhythms. Arce's vocals swirl through Astro's misty sonic backdrops, rising into extended howls.

Astro cites influences as diverse as the pioneering German synth band Tangerine Dream and Italian filmmaker Dario Argento, whose horror movies of the '70s, especially Suspiria, have been a touchstone for directors such as Quentin Tarantino and other goth bands. Astro says he sometimes watches Argento's movies while composing or mixing songs. "I get more out of visual elements than music," he says. "If you're in the right mood, it creates some sort of atmosphere that makes it easier to create." Deep Red's name, in fact, is a translation of the title from Argento's 1975 movie Profondo Rosso. The opening cut on The Awakening, "Red," is built around a sample from the film's score.

The album was quickly hailed by goth aficionados. Project Pitchfork was so taken with the cut "I Live" that the group released its own remixed single of the song in Germany. Soon after that Project Pitchfork invited Deep Red to serve as the opening act on its Spring 1997 tour. "We found it kind of surprising to be asked to tour," Astro admits, breaking into bemused laughter. "We'd never played live before with this kind of setup." At the time Deep Red was just Astro on keyboards and singer Arce.

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