It's been a wild ride for Armageddon Beachparty. When we last spoke to Detroit's self-styled "ambassadors of psychedelia" — married couple Elena (aka "Kozma") and Aubrey (aka "Motu") Smyth — a few years ago, they were traveling the music festival circuit, where they would create and sell their distinct brand of surrealist pop art.
Since then, they've celebrated a decade as a romantic item, five years as a married couple, and six years as Armageddon Beachparty. In December, Elena gave birth to a daughter, Margot. It should come as no surprise, then, that the nomadic artists would want to settle down.
In July, the couple opened their Armageddon Beachparty Store & Lounge, breathing life into a Woodbridge storefront that had been abandoned for nearly two decades. Part retail store, studio, and performance space, the spot is a physical manifestation of the duo's distinct aesthetic, which might be best described as an apocalyptic tiki party.
There's a massive mural featuring their mascot, Gidget the Cyclops Cat, whose image can also be found on colorful paintings, prints, T-shirts, enamel pins, found-object assemblages, and other objets d'art (made even brighter against the store's faded west wall, which has an original ghost sign advertising a 1930s creamery).
"We followed that thing where it's like, if you want to get big, you have to go do stuff elsewhere," Elena says. The music festivals, they explain, opened doors and created opportunities — some in very unexpected places.
"Over the past few years, oddly enough, we've become pretty good friends with Zac Brown," of Zac Brown Band, Aubrey says. "We met him down at Voodoo Experience in New Orleans a few years back, and he instantly loved our artwork and bought a bunch of paintings. At the festival he hung out with us for a while and he was talking very seriously about bringing us out for an artists residency. We were like, 'Oh yeah, that sounds great.'"
"People talk big shit all the time," Elena says. "So we were like, sure, this famous country musician from down South is going to have these wild, eccentric Detroit artists..."
"...of color!" Aubrey adds. "We've come to learn not to put too much stock into things until they start to pan out.'"
Sure enough, Brown kept in touch, inviting Armageddon Beachparty to his studio in Nashville, as well as his business headquarters and personal property in Georgia. It was the Detroit artists' unexpected Southern benefactor that allowed them to raise enough money to open their storefront, which they say they were inspired to create after visiting art-owned galleries and studios in New Orleans and Brooklyn, New York, "where you could walk in and see them working on a piece, see their other work, and actually have a moment with the artist not just at a gallery exhibit opening," Elena says.
"We met so many cool people, tons of really famous performers," she says. "It was a really fun way of life, but the thing about it is it was killing us."
"In the long term it's not really sustainable," Aubrey says. "It's destroying your body on a regular basis, just lugging all that heavy stuff around — the mental, physical, and emotional toll. It's amazing, but it's hard."
They say they would like to eventually get back into the festival scene once they settle in to the new spot, maybe doing two or three fests a year. That's not to say music won't be a big part of Armageddon Beachparty going forward. The storefront has a stage, which has already hosted performances by the likes of psych-rockers Sisters of Your Sunshine Vapor and rapper Sheefy McFly. "We want to keep up that interesting relationship between art and music," Elena says. "So this way we're helping to highlight the various talents that are here."
"We're really staking ourselves to be a central hub to these different subcultures of Detroit right now," Aubrey says. "You have these very tight-knit scenes, but in the end a lot of these cats know each other but they don't frequent the same spots. We want to be that kind of place where on a regular basis you can come in on any given night and there will be a different type of genre, and you may still see some familiar faces." On that note, the spot will also host monthly "Sketchy Citizens Brigade" sketching sessions, where artists can meet up and draw a live model. (The next one will be held from 7-10 p.m. on Thursday, Sept. 20.)
Things are quiet at the storefront now, but they should be on track to heat up soon. Armageddon Beachparty is the first tenant to move into the complex, which was purchased and renovated by Woodbridge Pub owner Jim Geary. Armageddon Beachparty's future neighbors include Lucki's Cheesecakes, a Japanese-style izakaya called Katsu Detroit, a spot called Bikes & Coffee, and Lexington Bar, a rock 'n' roll-themed whiskey bar, all of which will open in the coming months.
The duo believes it's important for a space like Armageddon Beachparty to be in the middle of such a boom. "For us, born and raised Detroiters, it's always been the plan to open up our actual brick and mortar here in Detroit, especially with everything that's going on in the city right now," Aubrey says. "As natives here, we feel the best way to stand up against this idea of gentrification or of losing the soul of the city is inclusion."
In the meantime, while they wait for their neighbors to move in, the Smyths say they will work on finessing their space.
"We wanted to create our own little world," Elena says. "Somewhere you could get lost in."
Armageddon Beachparty Store & Lounge is located at 1517 Putnam St., Detroit; 313-704-4407; armageddonbeachpartydetroit.com; Hours are noon-8 p.m. Wednesdays, noon-10 p.m. on Thursdays, and 2 p.m.-midnight on Fridays and Saturdays.