I’ve wanted to write this post for over a year. I’ve started and deleted it so many times because at a certain point it starts to become painful. There have been many conversations about goth, identity in and out of the community, community itself and what’s to come in the future. This piece isn’t meant to dishearten but instead share a perspective. Pairs well with coffee and some toast.
But who even are you? I’m Zakkarrii. I’m The Strange Goth. I’ve Been. A. Goth. for almost two decades and when I say that it’s less “Bitch I’ve been here” and more simply a statement I’ve engaged with the scene in some way for years. I’ve consistently joked that my weakest subject in the goth academy was music. I remember my baby bat days being shaped by DeviantArt and then Tumblr, the tail end of LARPing (Live Action Role Play) and that sea of ARGs (Alternate Reality Games) of 2008-2012, and when black eyeliner doubled as lipstick. The Angelfire and Geocities sites of baby eating propaganda, LiveJournal, Blogspot, 2006 Youtube and so much more. I say all of this to list some touchstones that don’t really exist now and I think that’s changed things.
It’s a strange position to be in, to have conversations with the original club kids of New York, people who shaped Goth around the world for decades and who is getting into it now. With every passing day it’s relieving that it’s not so hard to find goths that look like me, are nonbinary like me, are...strange in some way like me. But then there’s the rest of it.
Goth is a music based subculture. I know. I hear it every time there’s even an attempt to pin down what exactly we’re doing here. It’s so well practiced that conversations just seem to die at that point. Does someone have the map of the subgenres of music that fall under the goth umbrella with actual terms to identify why that band, that song, fits that thing? (Would it really be that hard to create the catalog? Here is a dissertation of Goth Music in case you wanna explore that: https://diginole.lib.fsu.edu/islandora/object/fsu:180435/datastream/PDF/view) People mention the Big 5 classic bands, I know there’s several “Songs that are overplayed at a goth club” lists, but we eventually run into the fusion of genres and how they don’t count. (I think about Pale Waves far more than someone should considering I don’t listen to them.)
Personally, I feel like the clash we’re seeing now between my generation and the one after us concerning music is both new and not new. We (millennials) occupy that beautiful window of time where we grew up with technology. Pretty decent quality cameras? Accessible (sort of) now. Remember grainy photos on a Razor? What about not taking pictures at all on a phone? What about before cell phones were a thing everyone had? That growing up with technology also applies to music (or what passes for music depending on who you ask). And as technology has changed so has the sound, the stories people tell, and who gets to tell them.
I’m generalizing a bit, but I’m here to get the gears turning, not write a dissertation. I don’t see the collective whole really acting like goth is a music based subculture. As a collective whole. Does that change goth? I never thought I would miss the grating elitism of music trivia gatekeeping, but to me, in this moment of nostalgia spiral, I do miss it a tiny bit. With how much music is being made right now…(maybe this is where the spiral turns fever dream…) you’d think we’d be ravenous for the new and novel and not aggressively shutting the door on anyone who dares to use #goth on SoundCloud. “We talk about music.” Sure but why does it always end in a shouting match about what doesn’t count and it’s never “Hey, I’ve never heard them before, I’ll check it out.”, “How does this speak to you?”, or “I didn’t like their sound at first but it’s starting to grow on me.”
But not everything is goth. You don’t get to throw out “dark” as your definitive encapsulation of goth as a whole, be surprised that entire generations of traumatized people find something to lead them here to “Goth, see dark” and then, AND THEN, magically have the authority to gatekeep what you yourself won’t articulate.
My interest isn’t in gatekeeping goth or even to fence it in so aggressively nothing new gets in. I just want to know. Because, and I’m generalizing a complicated web of feeling, it seems like goth has followed the corruption of consumerism/capitalism, as those who create, contribute and compete within goth try to survive, and those that make the money want to escape into that world. So now full time goths do the dance of are you a weekender, a tourist or like me? Will this night be “I’m not like other people” in Wish.com knock offs or will someone actually understand me authentically as myself?
And it’s strange to shame those who can’t afford what the influencers wear so those on the min wage/buried under student loans get what they can get. Then newcomers believe what they see when goth surges in the mainstream media (the 1 million people can’t be wrong effect against teeny tiny individuals saying that’s not what we do??) so tourists mirror that while the supposed OGs don’t get promoted unless they memefy themselves. AND for as goddamn much as we seek to create the beautiful pristine spooky oasis of our dreams, that’s not the reality we get in the slightest so we make smaller and smaller oases until we’re all islands of a few.
But...but...No. *shakes head in done* no.
There is such a weird pronounced division between POC goths/alternatives and white goths/alternatives, it is actually painful to look at. Some of that relationship is shaped by cultural contexts woven and overlapping with goth’s swirling soup of symbolism that somehow always get devoured and trivialized via appropriation with zero discussion. There is such a quickness to dismissal whenever someone says something counter to the reigning god of goth in the comment thread that it pains me “bat fight” is a phrase that doesn’t get used nearly as much as it should. And the jockeying for who can postulate the hardest as authority figure/ influencer is...well, something else.
I am tired. I have AGED in ways that the sun will never be able to rival and I want you to know that. LOL
How dare you mention race! Honestly, I think I’m doing the scene a touch of disservice by not going through the entire list of divisions and that would also include to some extent how straight, white and/or men are treated. Because that’s the larger, barely graspable societal story arc here isn’t it? Everyone got fucked with in the before times in some way and, my god, we’re collectively unequipped to even look at that tangled mess.
When we talk about goth being a place for the (and I mean this loosely and jokingly) broken and the damned, it feels like there is some splicing out the individual from the context that shapes, I don’t know, the depression, for example. This is one of the places where it starts to hurt. I think, in some way, being a haven for the othered (and the othered of the othered) that we in some way became our “brokenness”, our “damnation”. Not just had it. And even as I say that, I think that’s changing too. From the brief glimpses of some of your lives, you’ve changed. You’ve healed, discovered self love, self sufficiency, interdependence, healthier relationships. You’ve grown up and in some cases, away and I don’t know the full impact of that yet but I am happy for you.
But that has nothing to do with goth? But it does, because goth truly has never existed so wholly separate from mainstream society we somehow magically escaped things like racism and sexism. I believe I’ve used the phrase “tracking mud into our happy house” before.
I understand that for some (many? *tilts head*) goth is purely a beautiful escapist fantasy come to life. For others it’s tied very much to who they are, who they’ve been and will be. I don’t think giving some structure to the rendezvous point between these two groups in goth ruins goth itself. First of all, it gives us something to lean against, a frame of reference, to pull from creatively as we collect new experiences. Second, some clear definition makes it safer. I understand I could be asking for a lot at a time like this but I’ve seen goths adapt pretty quickly to change. We tend to be a little ahead of the curve of society when we focus and remember our humanity and if we’re really on it today, each other’s.
So what do you want? You haven’t even defined goth yourself.
My “demands”: There is a beauty to goth that doesn’t get talked about as much as say Dolls Kill or Bauhaus and it is the community, for better or for worse. At least to me that’s what keeps me here. In the past, I could talk about suicide and depression and leave little notes like a paper trail to tomorrow for someone else when I felt completely alone. I don’t think I’m at the age yet where I can process fully the impact goth has had on my life, my friends’ lives, my enemies’ lives because we all ended up here in different ways and to me that is part of the beauty. For as much as people oooh and aaah at the visual glamour of goth...there’s a level of intimacy within the goth community I’m not sure you’ll find anywhere else. We are, for better or for worse, in this together.
As for defining goth...my god. From where I’m standing there’s sometimes an odd expectation of kinship across multiple lines of division that is often misplaced. We are fragile strangers with deep wounds and I know that because it’s often the first thing that comes up when we talk about goth and why we’re here. For a sense of belonging, a place to be vulnerable, a place that won’t be like the other places. I think it is possible. I think people are trying to do the impossible right now learning and unlearning the entire inheritance that is the history of man’s mistakes in the blink of an eye (during a pandemic). I miss the curiosity and fascination with what we created under the term goth, the intoxicating medley of all our uniqueness in goth clubs. I miss the whispers of truth in our choice of pretension and escapism of what we wanted, needed and could eventually be. I miss the kindness of our strangers like my first night vending and someone lent me a pair of scissors when they could have just easily told me to fuck off or the stranger who saw me alone at the end of the night and made sure I was okay, offered to wait with me so I wouldn’t be alone. I miss melodramatic arguments of mostly inconsequential nonsense because it is/was fun to wave the goth card around with people who got the joke.
On the cusp of adulthood, I don’t know what to tell you of goth as a whole right now and for that I’ve kept most of this post in the vein of bittersweet. For as much as I want a brighter goth future *insert exceptionally wistful gaze here*, I don’t think I can do much for the larger factors that shape the lives of the people who make up goth. Many of you have day jobs, many of you are unemployed. Some of you are healthcare workers, grocery store clerks, retail workers deemed essential but not essential enough to get actual support as you carry the rest of us through this. Some of you are Black and still fighting for space in places that “don’t like your tone”. Some of you are male who are actually trying and yet your support is deemed unnecessary because “fuck all men”. Some of you are disabled where the new accessibility of goth events online might disappear when things reopen. The list goes on, it leads right back here and we put each other at each other’s mercy and...I am tired.
I try to imagine a world that didn’t experience 2020 and think of what I would say of goth then. I think I would have been more frustrated and the lines of division would have hit harder, not softer, but at least I could get a drink at the bar and see a familiar face. I think goth will always exist with or without definition. It has solidified its place as not mainstream in a way that might spill over into absurdity in a minute. (which is a little amusing to think about) But when the world screeched to a halt, so too did we and it was an opportunity to catch ourselves. Some have and others have not and when the world opens up again, I can only hope we are closer to, not further from, that spooky oasis.
Until next time,
Don’t be hungry for life. Be ravenous and check out the shop: https://strangeandsavage.com/
Zakkarrii Edison Daniels