Goth for Life? A View from the Dark Side
When I stumbled upon Emily Gordon's Lemondrop post "A Secret Most Dark (I Was a Teenage Goth)," I read it eagerly. While it was an amusing, slice-of-life piece, I couldn't understand why Gordon would be embarrassed by her goth past. Is it any different than having been a hippie in the '60s or a punk in the '70s?
In the annals of pop culture, goth has, and perhaps always will have, a bad reputation. A penchant for black clothing and macabre points of references is often interpreted as threatening, a sure sign that someone is up to no good. A fascination with '80s music before the decade became fashionable again made goths seem slightly out-dated if they appeared at any point in time after 1989. But, it's nothing shocking.
I too was a teenage goth. In fact, I might still be a goth. If you're a regular reader, you probably already assumed that.
It all started with The Cure's Disintegration, which I received for Christmas in sixth grade. This was my latest in a string of favorite albums, a cassette tape that, according to the liner notes was meant to be played "loud." I did just that every day for months on end. Every time I heard it, I was blown away by some new sound that I hadn't heard on a previous listen. It's still my favorite album and I still have that cassette, but sometime after that, I began searching for other music that could inspire the same sense of awe.
My list of favorites quickly expanded, thanks to KROQ 106.7 FM and the now-defunct KDOC program Request Video: Bauhaus, Joy Division, Siouxsie and the Banshees, Sisters of Mercy, Skinny Puppy, Nine Inch Nails. I spent most of my babysitting money at the local record store, the rest at the mall trying to imitate the look of the cool high school and college kids who bought the same albums I did. I ditched the pastel and permed look of 1990 for black dresses, red lipstick, stick straight hair, Doc Martens and a black, metal trimmed box handbag that I covered with stickers bought at stores called Retail Slut and Vinyl Fetish. But, I didn't know what any of this meant until freshman year of high school, when a senior informed me that we were goths.
Growing up goth in Los Angeles probably isn't as awkward as it is elsewhere. There has always been a healthy scene here and, when I got into it in the 1990s, it was peaking. Lots of kids were experimenting with black lipstick and Bauhaus t-shirts. For many, it was a passing phase. For some of us, it became a way of life, not in the cultish, "Do you know what your kids are doing?" sort of way that was portrayed in TV news reports of the time, but rather in the sense that we were set on creating a dark fantasy world for ourselves.
The biggest misconception was that all goths were wild, strange looking beasts set on rebelling against societal norms by waging havoc across the land. The reality was that, at least in the world I knew, goths were young geeks with unusual haircuts and studded jewelry, kids who read Victorian literature, played with computers, watched silent films and engaged in art projects. Music and clothing were only a small part of the subculture. In the end, it seemed that people were more interested in sharing ideas and fostering creativity.
I spent the bulk of the decade engulfed in the local scene, first as a teenager who simply liked the music and style and later as an active participant. From 1995 through 1999, I DJed at KXLU, where, much to the chagrin of fellow DJs and diehard indie rock listeners,
I played the latest darkwave releases, some classic tracks and tons of Legendary Pink Dots and Marc Almond. About a year after starting at KXLU, I became a regular DJ at Coven 13. Soon after, I fell into a gig writing record reviews and interviewing bands for Outburn Magazine, which was, at that time, primarily focused on goth and industrial sounds. Sure, I can laugh about some of my old outfits (Got a rip? Dress too large? Just add safety pins, really big safety pins.) or that time my friends and I ended up on local TV, but there's no shame in it. If it weren't for the LA goth scene, I wouldn't have learned how to DJ, write a record review or interview a band. Nor would I have made the friends that I did. Undoubtedly, there are other people who have similar stories.
By 2000, I had moved on to other clubs and other styles of music, not because of any particular problem with goths or a need to "grow up," but out of curiosity. There's a lot of music out there, a lot of clubs to hit and a lot of people to meet. But, I can never escape the darkside, nor would I want to do that. Today, most of my favorite newer artists, like IAMX, Fever Ray and even Sally Shapiro are somehow reminiscent of things first heard inside goth clubs years ago, and some of the most exciting parties I've attended recently (both for journalistic purposes and for fun) are associated with the scene.
Oftentimes, the genres tagged on the party flyers have changed, growing more specific in defining the sound (darkwave, minimal synth, ethereal, neo-classical). At its core, though, it's the same subculture that it was when everything was simply labeled goth or goth/industrial, a group of people brought together over knowledge that beauty doesn't have to be packaged in bright colors and perky pop hooks.
See Page 2 for some goth club classics.