DIY to Death: Remembering Dancing Feet March To War

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Art and life co-habitate, informing, imitating, and enriching each other constantly. Each week in Better Living Through Music, RFT Music writer Ryan Wasoba explores this symbiotic relationship.

RFT's Daniel Hill wrote an article last week about Stlpunk, a localized proto-social networking site that helped musicians and fans connect to each other in surprisingly efficient ways. Stlpunk is one of the many trademarks of the St. Louis DIY music scene circa 2002-2006 whose significance is difficult to describe to those who were not involved (other examples: the Mega Rad Youth Crew, "Turtle Pole," and Adam the Devastator). One such strange, singular fixture of the time was the band Dancing Feet March To War.

See also: Remembering STLPunk.com -- How to View the Site Today and Find Your Old Profile Page

DFMTW was a spitfire noise punk band that formed around 2004. I saw most of its first shows, all of which were memorable for better or worse. Sometimes the band would put on a performance that made it seem like the only relevant group in the universe, and other times its shows were so attemptedly abstract that they were flat out embarrassing. The band appeared fearless at times, even though it was so caught up in ideology and concept that it was internally petrified of becoming part of some vague capitalist system if it achieved any amount of success.

DFMTW was the brainchild of bassist Stephen Inman (previously of streetpunk band Nineteen) and guitarist Robert Mayfield (formerly a member of adorable garage rock group The Reactions and later part of hardcore band Civic Progress). The band had a revolving door of drummers including perpetual band quitter Corey Smale, Clayton Kunstel of So Many Dynamos, Mic Boshans of The Floating City/Humdrum/Union Electric/Nee, and this one dirty hippie named Tyler.

The unofficial fourth member of the band was Lemp Arts Center owner Mark Sarich, who mentored the group. The phrase "Dancing Feet March To War" was even a Sarich quote. His involvement was obvious; he stood at the front rim of the crowd at every show and gave its members lengthy critiques afterwards. Much of his advice ate away at Inman and Mayfield from the inside, causing them to live so far inside of their own heads that what came out of their mouths and instruments was distorted or poorly translated. Some turn Sarich into a scapegoat for DFMTW's faults, but the band would not have even existed without his influence.

When DFMTW succeeded, its shows were legendary. Inman turned his confrontational frontman persona into performance art, and he sometimes ended shows by lulling the audience into sitting cross legged on the ground while he led a quiet singalong. Mayfield was more insular, and he had a way of convulsing that made me worry he was going to pull a muscle and made him lose about thirty pounds by the time the band ended.


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6 comments
lanedd
lanedd

What do I have to do?! What do I have to do?! What do I have to do?! (For you to listen?)

 

GODDAMN. Thank you for writing this.  DFMTW is still one of my favorite band (along with Realicide, another Sarich-mentored band, though not from St. Louis).  They were the first band I ever saw at Lemp, which became more of a home to me than my real home in the county.  It was also Mark Sarich who, for all of his faults and missteps, became my mentor, and whom I think about on almost a daily basis.  There was a time when I really believed that DFMTW was going to take off, become the next Fugazi, and make St. Louis the best place in the country for underground, non-commercial music.  

 

It makes me really sad that I was nodding my head vigorously to your very insightful points about how distanced the band members were at times, how they got so caught up in theory that it seemed impossible for them to even have a good time.  I remember one particular show that they played with Man at Arms and Ari.Ari, where, after incredible, transcendent performances from all three acts, Sarich wouldn't even speak to Inman, and at that point I'm pretty sure Tyler and Robert had pretty much given up.  It was really heartbreaking to see, because I witnessed Stephen getting chewed out so many times by the man that I looked up to immensely....and then when he absolutely killed it during the show, he was ignored.  

 

But, I still have the recordings and many fond memories of deconstructing Tyler's drum set during the last few songs to band along with them, and even playing bass during that Man at Arms/Ari Ari show during the song "Anyone Can Do This."  I'm pretty sure I'm in that video above too, haha!

 

Thanks for writing!

 

-Kerns 

Fref
Fref

This is too obscure. I am stupid. Write about something we know.

xixrox
xixrox

Great article.  Eerily accurate.

 

The shows really were hit or miss.  On one hand, we were wise enough to realize the performances could have a meaningful impact, if we just let ourselves love the audience and love what we were doing. On the other hand, I felt awkward as shit sometimes, or was too worried about what Mark would say when it was all over.  The embarrassing nights were definitely worth good ones, though

 

We did fear the idea of Success (or at least LOOKING like we cared about it), and that would certainly manifest itself as pretentiousness.  But we also wanted to offer something different than music as mere entertainment, and we were attempting to create our own model of what that would look like.  I think part of our downfall was trying to fit ourselves into the mold of what a band "should be," even to the small extent that we attempted to do that (touring, recording, playing other venues, etc).  Dancing Feet only ever worked live at the Arts Center, with all our people in the room with us.  That was by design, not default.

 

I don't know if we DIYed ourselves to death.  We definitely couldn't sell albums (are those boxes of CDs holding down the lid to your dryer?), and we never learned how to play on a stage (I'm still no good at it).  But like plenty of defunct bands, the meaning lives on in the minds of those who were touched by it, which was all the success we wanted. 

 

~Stephen

Daniel_Hill
Daniel_Hill like.author.displayName 1 Like

TURTLE POLE!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

MicB
MicB

Great piece Ryan... Thanks for telling this story. But, as a select few know, you really had to be there. I distinctly remember the night of the Q & Not U show. I was torn about which one to attend. Mirah was breathtaking that night. ;) ps. There was one other DFMTW show in STL outside of LNAC, we played with the Conformists at Radio Cherokee but I think it was a secret. Like no one was there. :)

MicB
MicB

"We write the end and we'll transcend from audience... To active participants."

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