Why so serious?

Paul and I were glad to end up in NYC for many reasons. Not the least of these is that there is still a goth scene here. Goth is a dying subculture, after all, in a quite literal sense. In cities all over America, clubs are closing and in places where the subculture wasn’t strong to start with, it hasn’t taken much to wipe it out entirely. And while my husband and I do not feel like we need to be hardcore goths every single day, there are times when we just want to wear our stompy boots and black outfits and dance with each other to that particular strain of melancholia that is goth music. Hence, we are happy to live in New York, the birthplace of American goths, and one of only a handful of cities remaining with a dedicated scene.

And so, we have been trying to explore the goth scene, and trying to understand where we belong in it. In Los Angeles, we knew all the promoters and clubs. We followed DJ Xian, with her synth pop and steampunk scene. We went to Das Bunker, with its three rooms of hardcore industrial, retro EBM and powernoize. And we went to Bar Sinister, Los Angeles’ longest running, privately owned goth club, which was predictable in the best way possible in that it always looked and sounded like something out of a dystopia, plus it had both a live band playing outside and a dance floor. (I saw Shiny Toy Guns there. Before they were cool)

We have found some clubs we really like in the process. Two weeks ago, we went to Necropolis, in the basement space of a club in the Lower East Side. We were early, and walked in before midnight to a DJ a little older than us, playing a mix of what we could only describe as real goth, first-wave goth, classic goth rock from before the culture started evolving and splitting into sub genres in the 1990s. It’s a style of music we know, and like, but not a genre where we know any artists beyond the big, popular, bands that are still staples of clubs everywhere – bands like Virgin Prunes or Christian Death, or, most recognizably, Sisters of Mercy.

The second DJ who came on was playing music that was more from what we think of as “our era”: Rosetta Stone, London after Midnight. I bounced off the floor when he threw in an EBM dance track: Icon of Coil’s “Dead Enough for Life” (it had been so long since I’d heard it that I didn’t remember the song title, even though I was happily singing along). But after that oneindustrial techno track, it was 1990s goth rock – not a synthesizer, sample or drum machine to be heard.

I’m used to second -wave clubs where the DJS play a mix of synth, electro, Deathrock and mandatory classic goth tracks. In fact, a year ago, if someone had told me there were clubs where no one put VNV Nation on the playlist, or where it wasn’t mandatory to play “This Corrosion” once a night, I would have been surprised. After all, I came of age in the goth scene in 2000, in Seattle, which, at the time, was all EBM and electronic industrial and the Metropolis record label. And Los Angeles, much to my surprise and delight, was very similar to Seattle. I adapted fast to L.A., and it was that existng familiarity with the West Coast goth scene that led to meeting my husband at Bar Sinister a few months after I started going back to goth clubs.

But here in NYC, there is no Bar Sinister…or, at least, we have yet to find it. There is no self-stereotyped goth club, nothing that is borderline vampy and campy like Sinister was. The scene here is serious, old-school serious, Deathrock and goth rock and post punk dominate, and there are none of the new goth bands (like my beloved Birthday Massacre) to be heard. My equally beloved rave-influenced electronic dance music is missing, and instead, everything is from a generation I missed entirely. Not by much, mind you – the advent of electronics and synthesizers into goth coincided with my 21st birthday – but it’s still something I never picked up.

It isn’t that I don’t know or haven’t heard of these bands. I know who Mission UK are, or Gene loves Jezebel, or Fields of the Nephilim. I definitely know the Chameleons, because “Swamp Thing” is our song, a late 80s alternative track that my husband liked enough to gain enough courage from to ask me to dance, all those years ago (and we played it at our wedding, and I sang it to Ben as a lullaby). But hearing these songs without a track listing in a club, I can’t identify the artists. Much of it has that melodramatic sound, the melodic, mournful sound of that late 80s/early 90s goth rock. Or it has the sharp edges and asynchromatic nature of post punk, the discordant, minimal bass, guitar and drum around less sung than spoken vocals. ( Paul likes post punk better than I do – it overlaps with his indie rock nature.)

And it has been like that in the clubs we have been to in Lower Manhattan. Maybe its that these clubs are in “Gothtown”, the East Village, Alphabet City and Lower East Side scene that goth came from, and it just hasnt changed since. The only other major variation has been the extremely stompy hardcore industrial club that Paul enjoys, but it is really stompy, like Skinny Puppy stompy. Before my time, and not my variation, either – I was never a rivethead.

It is also a different scene here, in terms of dress and fashion, than it was in LA. The biggest DJ/promoter in LA was DJ Xian, who somehow managed to run and play at multiple clubs. Her influence skewed to New Romantic and synth pop, in clubs like Malediction Society and MODE:M, which was an entire night of music influenced by Depeche Mode. She ran Alice in Wonderland and Victoriana special events: Paul and I spent one NYE at a party called “Theater des Wyrm”, complete with absinthe. This fit my corsets and long dresses style perfectly. I have always been a Victoriana style goth, and my favorite clothes – the ones I feel most comfortable in – are ankle-length, laced at the waist, and high necked, preferably with lace sleeves and visible lacing.

The box of clothes I brought from LA are therefore all skewed to this aesthetic. Yet I don’t see any steampunk or repro Victoriana in the clubs here. I don’t even see much cyber goth, although that may be more due to cyber goth being outdated. (I flirted with cyber goth ten years ago, but even then, my PVC dress was ankle length…and I was never able to get the cyber goth braids and dyed hair I wanted because I work in office jobs)

But while I miss the predictability and the familiarity of the L.A. Goth scene, I am getting used to this more old school version of the goth scene. It’s still a scene, a sound, a style I love. It’s still music I like and enjoy listening to, even if I don’t know it. And that’s why, when I went out with my husband two weeks ago, we still managed to dance for an hour, even though we didn’t know the music by heart. It was music we liked, it was our people, and we could have stayed all night had we not been already tired.

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