- Goth in the UK
- Goth in Europe and beyond
- Why people worldwide are attracted to Goth?
Goth in the UKI have a confession to make.
I have never been to the Whitby Goth Festival, or even to visit the town. Or at least I have not in the flesh, I may have been there as a phantom, given that Polly says she thinks she's seen me there; a little cut out Steve intruding on her psyche. In truth I cannot say why going up for the Festival has never happened, plenty of friends go, be they traders or just part of the motley cavalcade that gives the town's tourist industry a boost at the start and end of the season.
I would like to go, and stand in the graveyard, looking down at where the Demeter is meant to have beached, and Count Dracula to have come ashore. More than that I would like to make a journey around the Gothic and Goth heartlands, not just of the UK, but out into Europe and then into America, seeing the world through dark adapted eyes one foot in the real world, the other in the Gothic one. The journey is one I have mapped out, written down and am ready to travel, passing through various locations; binding Goth, vampires, cemetery tourism, and a love of the macabre into a map of icons: of gravestones waiting to be read.
The journey itself would take me around the UK, to Leeds, to Bacup where Sophie Lancaster was killed, and onward, through cities and towns, and eventually to London, which sometimes feels as if it's the only place in the country which truly tolerates subculture. That may be an illusion of course, though cities are more welcoming in general. We, by which I mean Goths but I think it extends to any group that falls outside the norm, travel to them for anonymity and safety in numbers, and then when we are older, we try to get the same effect in suburbia in houses which look the same as everybody else's, and a veneer of respectability. Until recently London was the only place where the subculture thrived, but that may be changing now that Camden Market is due to be demolished; replaced by another monument to the power of Mammon (how very New Model Army). Still, it beats Birmingham's three areas where subcultures can gather, until a Policeman moves them along.
Goth in Europe and beyond
From there I would head out into the rest of the world, to explore Parisian catacombs, and the origins of Cyber Goth, to Italy for Goth Metal, for Otranto and Udolpho, and Crowley's Sicilian 'abbey', before turning north to Germany for Wave-Gotic Treffen, the world's biggest alternative culture festival. Wave is Europe's big deal, and is funded entirely by alternative fashion businesses – businesses like Jed's but on a massive scale. The Schwarze Szene in Germany is so big it can pretty much support itself, compare that with the UK, and the lonely Goth nights at your local metal club. After a stop in Prague, it would be off to Romania, and the inevitable Count. I confess I want to find Dracula's castle, but there are a few places that claim that title, including a Gothic hotel from the 1970s that's more or less where Borgo Pass is in the novel (and how, by all that's sacred, did a Gothic hotel get built in Communist Romania under the Ceaucescus?) This is the rub, none of the contenders is in the right place and if you find the location it's more than likely a bare patch of mountaintop. What's interesting is why we care, given that Dracula is fictional.
A similar map tracks across America, stretching from Baltimore to Culver City, California, embracing places as disparate as New York, New Orleans, St Louis and then the West Coast. I'm told that at one point there was a Goth skating event in San Francisco. Wouldn't you have loved to see that? Sadly, it looks as if it no longer exists, but even to see the place it happened, to hear the stories of what motivated a bunch of Gothic types to strap on skates and whizz about to something like Project Pitchfork, or Siouxsie and the Banshees, would be amazing to hear. The West Coast's other attractions lie in Seattle, for its focus on the Industrial scene, and Los Angeles, one of the birth places of Death Rock and bands like Christian Death, who played at London's Bat Cave (there's always a club called the Bat Cave somewhere) in the early Post Punk days. The plan is to leave the Gothic world at Bela Lugosi's grave, bookending the journey with the immortal Count, truly the icon of three centuries.
Why people worldwide are attracted to Goth?
So far, so self indulgent. The sort of trip most of us would give our eye teeth for (unless one has plans of actually becoming a vampire, I suppose. It must be hard to drink blood without your fangs).But there's another reason for my little slice of hedonism; the people. I am fascinated by why we choose this life, this look. Why we stumble off the mainstream path with its safety and it's well intentioned, if vanilla, protections that are yours as long as you keep up with the Jones' and follow the herd. There must be countless stories out there, just waiting to be told about why we adopted Goth, or it adopted us, and why we never really went back, even after children, and jobs, and all that other stuff. I suspect it's something emotional more than anything, a feeling that we would not fit in, even if we stopped wearing so much black and swapped to more sensible shoes. The fact that so much depression is linked to the tribe is probably not a coincidence because of this; a certain type of person is attracted to Goth and its many bastard children. I still believe that Goths are born not made and that once you stumble onto the subculture it will continue to inform who you are, even if you go incognito and try to fit in with the rest of the world.
This is just all my perspective, you might feel differently. Part of the joy, and the pain, of subculture, is how individual it all is, you can no more categorise why someone adopts a mohawk or a pair of huge boots, or hangs around a graveyard than you can their choice of curtains. That's the fascination: all those stories, all those reasons, and lives. At the end of the day, that's what makes this human, and beautiful.
Jed Phoenix of London will have a pop up shop in the main room of the Leisure Centre at Whitby Goth Weekend, West Cliff, Whitby, England, Crescent Ave, Whitby, North Yorkshire YO21 3HT. Come and see us on Friday 22nd April and Saturday 23rd April between 10am and 5pm, and on Sunday 24th April 2016 between 10am and 4pm.