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Beau Velasco


Emily McDonough

By Michael Byrne | Posted 10/7/2009

Two Sundays ago, Sept. 27, Beau Velasco passed away in his adopted hometown of Brooklyn, N.Y. He was 31. (Nobody would confirm a cause of death on the record.) Earlier this summer, the afro'd, tattooed guitarist and singer played his first show with the Death Set, the scrappy punk band he co-founded with fellow Australia native Johnny Siera, since early 2007. The band was back together, he and Siera were writing new songs and making new plans. In three years, between Baltimore, Brooklyn, and the DIY arts underground nationwide, Velasco had reached one of the higher thrones of a subculture that, viewed from his and Siera's native Gold Coast--where Velasco grew up on a goat farm--looked insurmountable.

"It was awesome, it was perfect, the lineup I'd always imagined," says Siera of the reunion by phone from New York. "It was an essential kind of songwriting team. [Beau] was the kind of guy that I'd come to with an idea, and he would take that idea and turn it into something I would have never thought. The last two weeks before he passed, we were talking every day on the phone--messaging each other and just being kids again, just being excited. It's really sad." (Siera adds that the Death Set is not likely finished, but will go through some changes.)

When Siera and Velasco met on the Gold Coast in 2005, Velasco was playing in a band called Black Panda, a part-electronic spastic punk band that sounded like a prototype of what the Death Set would become. "The Gold Coast is fairly small and fairly . . . devoid of anything interesting, really," Siera says. "When I saw that band, it was mind-blowing. He was picking up amps and throwing them around the room and assaulting the audience. That kind of thing. I just wanted to play music with him. It was a small scene, and he asked me to play with him on a tour. [We went] in cold, absolutely cold. We moved to Sydney first and then wrote the first songs that the Death Set would be. We literally played four shows and then, like, put a picture of New York on the wall."

They did a U.S. tour as the Death Set, without many expectations. Through Dan Morris, a mutual friend from Sydney, the band's first demo EP made it into the hands of Emily McDonough, who was then working for Baltimore indie label Morphius. "'There's this crazy band playing next door to us, you'll love it,'" McDonough recalls Morris telling her. The band's debut, To, came out in 2005, marking the first release of McDonough's personal imprint on Morphius, RabbitFoot. "It was this punk aesthetic that was completely out of context," she says.

The rest, as they say, is history. The Death Set blew up. "It was, like, shit, wow, this label wants to put our EP and this label here wants to put out a 12-inch and so now we can go to Canada, and then it's like holy shit, NinjaTune wants to put out our record and now we're touring international," Siera recalls. "[There's] no way that we thought that the band could take us to where we went. I guess the whole idea of the band was quite naA_ve. I can't stress how much Australia has no real contact [with], or no real idea of the scene we became involved in."

But that kind of success means touring constantly, and Velasco quit the band, prompting a chain of successors to fill his spot, including Ecstatic Sunshine's Matt Papich, Sick Weapons' Peter O'Connell, and the Beat Traffickers' Dan Walker, who is also from the Gold Coast and a longtime friend of Velasco. "I don't think life on the road was really for [Beau], in hindsight," Siera says. "He enjoyed the creative process."

After leaving Death Set, Velasco moved from Baltimore to New York and threw himself into his artwork, jewelry making, and tattooing. "For the amount of time he'd been tattooing, it was kind of ridiculous how he'd been moving up in that world," Siera says. "It was one of his dreams. You look at him and he's covered in tattoos. It was something he achieved in America, which was amazing."

"He carried around a box of broken jewelry," McDonough recalls. "He was the kind of person that would just pick up little treasures off the street. I still find stuff, I still find [his] drawings in books. He used to irritate my roommates because he would draw all over the mail. I'm so glad I kept it. You'd flip through a Vogue and you'd find Beau's glasses on the models. He was the kind of person that customized everything he touched."

"In the best possible way, he was the kind of person where you can feel like he's your best friend but, like, in the same breath, you'll feel like you don't really know him at all," Siera says. "Then you kind of stand back and realize that he really affected you. For how much positivity, there was a really dark side to him where he had some dark demons he would have to battle, and that was the kind of [dichotomy] of his everyday life."

"People thought he was, like, a stunt man," McDonough says. "Maybe he was. I just thought he was magical. I never met anyone like that in my entire life, and I don't think I ever will [again]."

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