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Olli Wisdom of Specimen and the Legendary Batcave Has Passed Away

It is with heavy hearts we have to relay the tragic news of the passing of Olli Wisdom, singer, and co-founder of both the gothic rock band Specimen and the legendary Batcave venue and event night that began in 1982. We’re still getting details, but Wisdom appears to have passed away yesterday, August 23. He was 63.

The aptly-named Batcave’s location at 69 Dean Street at the Gargoyle Club in London, England, (though it frequently moved around) introduced early 80s crowds to DJs spinning a new, darker style of music that was only just beginning to be called goth, and the club also provided a forum for then-current underground goth and postpunk live acts, including Olli’s own Specimen, who served as the house band. The haunted house, cobweb-y, Halloween-esque atmosphere also set down a template for goth club decor thereafter.

Famous regular’s at Olli’s Batcave club included a who’s who of postpunks, goths, and even aging punks (including members of The Clash, who popped in once to see what the fuss was about). Other patrons included included Nick Cave, Robert Smith of the Cure, Siouxsie Sioux, Steven Severin, the members of Bauhaus, Marc Almond, and the members of Foetus. Not all of them loved the admittedly campy digs, but this list reveals to what extent Olli’s club was becoming a launching place for the new Gothic movement.

 

Olli Wisdom of Specimen and Batcave, always happy and pleasant despite the dark trappings of his horror-themed club.

 

The Batcave’s popularity grew phenomenally, providing a friendly place for goths, punks, misfits, club kids, and other assorted colorful characters that had come from the punk scene or were exploring new underground music’s darker side. Alien Sex Fiend and others were notable regular performers. Resident DJ Mark Scaithe kept track of what some of the popular dance floor hits were, songs you couldn’t hear at other clubs at the time. Batcave resident DJ Hamish MacDonald added in his diary at the time: “There are big differences between ’77 punks and ’83 punks. Mick Jones came to the Batcave once and stood there not knowing where he was. Old punks just want the Pistols; new punks have switched into people like Alien Sex Fiend.”

Olli’s band Specimen was like the Rocky Horror Picture Show come to life: Ian Astbury of Southern Death Cult and later The Cult, a fan, said they were “like a Death Bowie.” The Batcave even assembled a vinyl sampler, Batcave: Young Hymns and Numb Limbs, of acts they wanted to promote for the club. Olli Wisdom and keyboardist Jonny Slut’s glam-vampire-punk image helped define what’s still thought of as the “Batcave” or “deathrock” look today.

Olli Wisdom (second from left) with Specimen at the Batcave in San Francisco in 1986

Besides his band, Wisdom selflessly tried to champion other acts and DJs, and in fact, a lot of his time was spent behind the scenes, coordinating, promoting, organizing, and advocating for current underground dark bands in the UK, the USA, and Europe. In the mid-1980s Olli took the Batcave event as a roadshow across America through various clubs where acts like Christian Death performed, helping sow the seeds for the further development of goth in the US, or at least linking up previously isolated bands and scenes.

Olli later moved into trance music (Space Tribe) and psytrance DJing after the Batcave shut down in San Francisco in the late 1980s. But Olli was always incredibly generous with his time and with his efforts to bring new bands to new audiences and to help patch together isolated dark music scenes in a time where there was no social media, messaging boards, or cell phones.

Olli Wisdom is a founder of modern goth culture  and will be greatly, greatly missed.

Olli Wisdom apparently died on August 23, 2021. Details are still forthcoming.

Below, Olli and the gang at their finest:

Oliver Sheppard

Oliver is a writer from Texas. Author of two collections of verse (Destruction: Text I and Thirteen Nocturnes), founder of the Wardance event night in Dallas as well as the Funeral Parade event night in Austin, Texas, and editor of the old Cultpunk.org website, Oliver has written for Bandcamp, Maximum Rock-n-Roll, CVLT Nation, Post-punk.com, Souciant, and has dj'd for Killing Joke, Drab Majesty, and others.

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