“Goth? Isn’t that just a more miserable version of emo?”
I probably hear this or something along these lines seven out of ten times I explain to a new person that I love the gothic scene and consider myself part of gothic subculture. This invariably causes me to sigh in frustration before launching into a heartfelt defence of my own little niche, regardless of how futile such a response may be.
“No, it’s completely different,” I say, acutely aware that I’m talking out of my arse but unwilling to admit it. It’s only later that I come to realise the gothic subculture in general has massive similarities to just about any alternative scene you’d care to name. Why is emo so passionate, metal so aggressive, or prog so bombastic? For exactly the same reason goth is so theatrical, of course. It’s all wonderfully cathartic escapism, a way to forget about how utterly mundane the sanitised world of popular music is.
There will always be a number of people, myself included, who feel like they ‘don’t fit in’, for one reason or another. Our music and fashion preferences are a way to deal with this. However, as corporate giants increasingly find ways to pasteurise and homogenise more and more forms of expression, a situation develops where we now don’t even fit in amongst people who don’t fit in.
This happens to all of us sooner or later, and we generally react in one of two ways. One is to give in to insecurity, pigeon hole ourselves even further and fall into elitist nonsense. The other is to come somewhere closer to full circle, by holding onto our own individual passion while embracing diversity once again. This latter option is highly visible within the gothic subculture, which is clearly one of things I love most about it. We’re subjected to so much intolerance that we’re generally unwilling to display it ourselves.
There are various clubs and events I attend that can reasonably be considered as ‘gothic’. However, not one of them caters for a single genre of music. When attending ‘The Catacomb’ in Bristol, ‘Slimelight’ in London, or any of the clubs I’ve found on my travels further afield, I’ll hear post-punk, 1980s new wave, industrial, dark cabaret, aggrotech, futurepop, EBM, and half a dozen other distinct types of music. These will often have individual dress senses to match.
Once upon a time, all of these genres were independent scenes of their own, highly distinct from one another. Purists may pine wistfully for these long forgotten days, and there are times when I can see the appeal. However, the simple reality of the situation is that our scenes just aren’t as widespread as they once were. There’s no longer a sufficient market for weekly nights dedicated just to gothic post-punk, harsh electro, or darkwave, individually.
Naturally, this means that our scenes have become amalgamated and transformed into sub-scenes. Events have become more centralised, and less frequent. In regular cities such as our fair Bristol, we’re generally lucky to have one or two nights a month. Even the sprawling behemoth known as London only has one really big weekly goth club, along with a handful of special nights on a less frequent basis.
I take no real issue with this, overall. Some may say it’s a shame, that it feels like a dilution of what once was. Not I, however. In my view, it can be looked at as a positive thing. Now, when I go out to these nights, it feels like a genuine celebration. It encourages everyone to make a real effort, whether that be in terms of their outlandish outfits, or their desire to well and truly dance the night away. It means we mingle, meet people, and revel in the immense diversity of it all. We get swept up in the euphoria and have a considerably more fantastic time than we would if these nights were more frequent, but much smaller in scope.
The gothic scene may well be as alternative as alternative gets, but in my experience, it’s also one of the most tolerant and welcoming scenes there is. This is partially because we experience an awful lot of prejudice ourselves and wish to conduct ourselves in a better manner, but equally due to the diversification thrust upon us. Being noticeably different encourages us to acknowledge that everyone else is, too.
So, in conclusion? If you’re part of a scene that’s marginalised, or even of dwindling popularity, I would encourage you to not simply accept, but truly embrace diversity. Being part of such an obscure subgroup while loving the associated styles helps me to understand and enjoy a world of other genres and movements.
Well, except ska. That’s just a step too far.