photo by Marcus Junius Law

photo by Marcus Junius Law

Ryan Darbonne went to school at UNT where he mainly hid out in the Radio, Television and Film building for four years. Now, he lives in Austin, working for the Austin Film Festival and rapping about racism in a highly entertaining group called Space Camp Death Squad. On second thought, maybe Darbonne actually got out of the RTVF building every once in a while. After all, he is best buds with plenty of people who still live in town, including our talented friends over at Amandus Studios. In fact, it was some of those great guys that introduced him to the incredible music and creative culture that make up our humble abode. 

You may have caught Space Camp Death Squad playing one of their two shows during 35 Denton, but if you didn't, we highly recommend that you make your way over to Rubber Gloves Rehearsal Studios this Saturday to check them out. 


You live in Austin now, but you lived in Denton for years and still have a community and friends here that brings you back up pretty often. Tell us about your history with Denton.

In 2004, I moved to Denton where I attended the University of North Texas. In 2009, I graduated cum laude and received my BA in - Wait. Hold on. Jesus. This sounds like the formulaic dust jacket synopsis of my future autobiography (which, b-t-w, I have tentatively titled: “Oh no! There’s a Negro in my Wife! The Ryan Darbonne Story”). Here’s the real scoop: I went to UNT because my grades were shit and no one else would have me. Took some film classes and junk or whatever. Got to direct a thesis film. Had a crush on my French professor. Made sketch comedy videos with some of my best friends in the world. Had sex…once…and went to house shows. That’s it. No. Seriously. My history with Denton is pretty, preetttyy, preeettttyyy, pretty boring yet those five years were some of the best of my life. 

I love Denton. It’s my home away from home. My, short lived, time there not only helped me grow as a person but as an artist. The town’s dedication to its creative community served as a continued source of inspiration. Moreover, I was fortunate enough to meet an amazing group people (I knew Neon Indian before he was famous!!!! LULZ!!! SMH!!! FML AND MY BUTT!!!!) who became like family to me. I left Denton with an overabundance of fond memories (my favorite being the time Chris Flemmons, having just seen our sketch comedy series “Hello Optimism”, drunkenly accosted me at RGRS to tell me that was some of the funniest shit he had ever seen) and I miss it dearly.

Does that answer your question? I don’t think it does. Whatever. Eat a dick. 

Space Camp originally started as a kind of social commentary... Can you give us a little more insight into why you started Space Camp - why hip hop?

Noah Swords (founding member who left the group in February to build mosques in Lubbock, TX) and I originally started SPACE CAMP as a joke. Nothing more. We had no intention of ever playing shows or even being a hip-hop group proper. We both loved Das Racist and just wanted to rhyme about non-sequiturs (our first three songs were about pooping in space) over electronic dance beats. We chose hip-hop as a medium because it was a cheap, and relatively easy, way to make music.

Eventually, SPACE CAMP (we added the Death Squad later) became a lot more involved. We got a DJ (Murk Jones AKA I’m Legally Obligated To Stay 400ft Away From Schools) and started playing shows.  We started to take the writing more seriously and out of that the sociopolitical aspect of the group was born.  Noah and I both hated hip-hop culture and wanted to lash out against it in the most aggressive way possible. So we evolved into a group that represented all the worst parts of hip-hop (the materialism, the violence, etc…) and we, in turn, became id personified. However, we had rules in place. We would never refer to women as “bitches, hoes, or cunts” nor would we ever advocate violence against women. In addition, we would never use the word “fag” or any other derogatory term against the LGBTQ community. Everything else was up for grabs. Soon race became a defining factor in our lyrics and whatever else we wanted to make fun of. SPACE CAMP Death Squad has gone from a tactless joke to a satirical performance art piece.

After Noah left local (white) rappers P-tek and Secret Levels joined the group.

photo by Marcus Junius Law

photo by Marcus Junius Law

Most of your lyrics really seem to center around racism... Tell us about why and how you attack such a heady issue in such an entertaining way.

This goes without saying but racism is absolutely fucking ridiculous. I am continually horrified and humored by its existence. I write about it because it’s a way for me to explore why it exists, as a social construct, and why it’s such big deal for me (sometimes I feel like the black Woody Allen when it comes to racial paranoia). Even though the lyrics are heady it’s really important for me to approach race in a comedic and entertaining way; I want an audience to like the music and not feel alienated (although screaming “fuck white people and their cargo shorts” doesn’t help). There’s something to be said about a group of strangers who can all come together and post-post-ironically mock racism. Also, for us as a group, it’s important we don’t take ourselves too seriously. For every line about apartheid or black on black crime there’s a doo doo joke in there. At the end of the day we’re performers who want to put on a good show.

Outside of your role in Space Camp Death Squad you have some other pretty creative pursuits... tell us about those.

In addition to being the sixth best rapper in Austin, TX, I am a repertory film programmer and filmmaker. I’ve dedicated a lot of time and effort to the art of filmmaking. Writing, directing, film theory/criticism/history are all things I’m insanely passionate about and will, probably, spend the rest of my life trying to master. For me, it’s much more than a hobby; it’s my raison d'être. Given the opportunity I would drop hip-hop in a fucking heartbeat to make films full time.

I sound like an asshole.

photo by Marcus Junius Law 

photo by Marcus Junius Law 

How does a creative community come into play when you’re writing lyrics, filming a short, or planning a feature?

A creative community means fuck all to me when it comes to writing rap lyrics. SPACE CAMP is a self-indulgent project. It’s a semi-healthy outlet for me to exorcise aggression and all the things I hate about myself. I could care less about the homogeneous music community in Austin. 

However, in saying all that, the creative community is absolutely essential when it comes to filmmaking. Film, by design, is the most collaborative art form there is. As a director, you’re only as good as the people you surround yourself with. Whenever I direct a new project I am beholden to my crew, to my cast and to anyone who offers their free time to help. Austin is an ideal place to shoot a film because the community support is overwhelming and without that making a GOOD film would be virtually impossible.  

Biggest creative influences?

The Cohen Brothers, Mark Twain, Sugar Ray 

Favorite three things about Denton...

1. All the overeducated college grads that still make minimum wage

2. All the ugly white guys with beards

3. Waffle House

Details about Saturday’s show at Rubber Gloves:

Saturday’s going to amazing! In addition to us (SPACE CAMP Death Squad Bang Bus Squad We Whip Our Dicks Out For Money And Smash Mouth Tickets), the lineup includes: MC Sex, Tijuana Bible and that other band no one I know has ever heard of. It’s $5 to get in. $7 if you’re under 21. Doors open at 9pm. Show starts at 10pm. If you like watching mediocre bands in a mediocre venue then you definitely want to check this show out!*



photo by Marcus Junius Law 

photo by Marcus Junius Law