Looking for European Christmas furry Devil mayhem? The Krampus Ball (Saturday, December 7th) kicks off Krampusfest 2013, a multi-venue celebration of the Krampus tradition December 5 – 21. We caught up with Al Ridenour, former LA Cacophony Society leader and one of the members of the LA Krampus Troupe, to get some insight on Krampusfest.
What exactly is Krampus?
He is the folkloric sidekick to St. Nicholas who appears to children (in bishop’s robes, not a Santa suit) on his traditional feast day December 6 or its eve. It’s basically a good cop/bad cop scene, with St. Nicholas playing the good cop, and you-know-who as the bad. Children who have misbehaved are menaced by Krampus, the shaggy devil-like beast at his side. The Krampus creature brandishes switches and rattles chains. There are lots of regional variations, but the name is Austrian, and the figure is found in Southern Germany, Alpine Italy, and to a lesser extent in Slovenia, the Slovak & Czech Republic, and Hungary. Not to mention all the seedling American groups like ours here in LA, and our senior group in Philadelphia. There’s more than a half dozen of these American groups just getting their footing.
So what’s planned for Krampus Fest here in LA?
All of the events feature appearances by our costumed troupe of about 15 performers. The festivities kick off with the Krampus Ball, (12/7) where we’ll have some authentic Bavarian folk dancers and alpenhorn along with acts like Timur and the Dime Museum (performing as Santa Klaus Nomi), Ego Plug as Krampwerk, the Kramps, Lux & Ivy’s horned and hairy alpine cousins (featuring Radioactive Chicken Heads, Haunted Garage, 45 Grave, Rosemary’s Billygoat).
We’re also doing a public Krampus Walk (12/12) in conjunction with the December Art Walk in Downtown, LA, and we have a big show at Copro Gallery (12/14), which includes some art by some well-known artists like Sandow Birk, Chet Zar, Luke Chueh, Travis Louie, and even Tim Burton. Outside we’ll be setting up an infernal “Krampus Habitat” with bones, cages, screaming children and hellish photo-ops a-plenty. And wrapping up the season, we have The Krampus Rumpus (12/21), headlined by Krammpstein, an epic collision of the German Industrial band Rammstein with our horned friend. There’s also traditional Austrian music from Free Range Orkestar (yes, that’s the spelling) and a “She-Krampus Spanking Salon” for those so inclined.
As one of the founding members of the Los Angeles Cacophony Society, what compelled you create KrampusFest?
I didn’t actually create it. What happened was I had my opportunity to finally go see several actual Krampus events in Europe last winter after dreaming of this for about 20 years. The first night I came back all breathless from excitement and wet with snow, I open my email, and my friend and fellow Cacophony organizer Al Guerrero is announcing the creation of a Krampus group for LA. I spent the rest of my visit studying Krampus suits and dreaming about making my own.
And to some extent, I think the group we gathered, which is largely composed of people who had been involved with the Cacophony Society’s pranks and guerilla theater stunts, missed being out in public pushing buttons and expanding the cultural envelope. Our Society also started Santacon, the annual mob of drunken Santas, which now happens in 300+ cities. As that event expanded, it also degenerated in some ways, losing the thrills and challenges it originally posed, so I think we were in some ways looking to re-create that, but with the added challenge (and fun) of getting creative with the suits, which take weeks to make.
What does the Krampus Troupe do?
What they do in Europe, I hope. Even though we’re having some fun with ideas like cover bands in costumes, we are also eager to anchor this in the genuine traditions. We’ve hosted two casual lectures by visiting Austrians involved with the tradition, and I’m giving a lecture on the tradition myself. At the Downtown Art Walk, we’ll come closest to what Krampus traditionally does, and that is basically stride along creating a god-awful racket with his belt of cowbells and wave his switches menacingly. The cowbells, which in Europe are custom-made monsters, are an artifact inherited from Krampus pre-Christian ancestor, Alpine spirits called the Perchten, which were associated more with the turning of the year. It sounds very odd, but hints of these traditions (at least bell-ringing at the turning of the year, have been preserved here.) The switches, also are generally understood in Europe to have a double meaning. When he makes visits to children with St. Nicholas (a fairly rare custom nowadays) they represent simply punishment. But when he runs in herds, the thriving custom of the Krampuslauf (“krampus run”), which is what we’ll be doing in LA, a light, playful blow from the switches represents good luck, much like a birthday spanking. Of course, Americans don’t know this, so we’ll have to really be on our toes in sizing up reactions, but that’s part of what makes it fun – the challenge and the unknown, as well as bringing something very old to our culture where it can be excitingly new.
Where can we learn more about Krampus Fest?
Where can we get tickets for the ball and other events?
Tickets for the Ball can be purchased here
Tickets for the Rumpus can be purchased here
The other events are free.
Note: The Krampus Ball has changed venue to the Highland Park Ebell Club Inc 131 S Avenue 57 Los Angeles, California 90042-4701 Phone (323) 478-9562