A Study of Gothic Subculture

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USA Today
Nov 10, 1994
By Tim Friend

Hip Children of the Dark

A lithe young man and his lanky girlfriend, long hair swaying in time with the driving beat, suddenly squat to the floor, weaving arms and waving hands in front of their faces. First the boy, then the girl, lurch to their feet and pirouette on the dance floor of the Sanctuary Vampire Sex Bar. The words of Type O Negative blare on the sound system:

She's in love with herself.
She likes the dark.
On her milk white neck.
The devil's mark.

Everyone is dressed in black - velvet gowns, capes, elaborately embroidered shirts, or skirts too short to measure. They dance next to a coffin as mist rises from the floor. Welcome to the lusty underground of Goth, where vampires are in and all things dark and dead are chic. For those swimming in the mainstream for the last 15 years, Goth(ic) is a scene with roots buried in the early 1980's. Its popularity waxes and wanes like the moon, but it's flourishing again with the vampire rage. Goth has always been dark in mood and music and absolutely pretentious. Indeed, it's so dark, so morbid, that it seems to derive pleasure from being a parody of itself. And if it becomes too popular, it will rebel and crawl back into the ground and wait until no one is paying attention.

"Gothic is an outbranch of punk that's decided to be more morbid and beautiful instead of being the joke that punk was - dressing like an idiot and being talentless," says Lance Goth, owner of the Vampire Sex Bar in Toronto's Queen West Village. "I wanted this to be a real sanctuary for people who enjoy the gothic/industrial musical scene."

But vampire sex bar? Don't vampires just drink blood? "I never really believed that. And everyone I've met who claims to be a vampire loves sex," says Goth, in whose bar people "may hunt but cannot feed." Vampire bars are a feature in Anne Rice's novels. But whether they inspired real vampire bars is hard to say. What's clear is her books have had a cultural influence. "The vampire scene has grown 100% due to the accessibility of Anne Rice with the young," Goth says. Goth believes his club is the only one that labels itself a vampire bar. But others can be found in weekend newspaper sections under the label gothic/industrial. The music is a hybrid of monastic gothic and the electronic hard beat of industrial. Dracula meets Mad Max.

"There's definitely a vampire clique, but the Goth crowd is really more dedicated to the culinary arts, fashion and culture of the period," says Peter Stone, host of the House of Usher, Tuesday nights at Club DV8 in San Francisco. House of Usher night packs in 300 to 700 lavishly dressed young "vampires." New York has The Batcave at Downtime, the Limelight and Communion.

Even in staid Washington, D.C., the V Column draws 600 people on its Gothic Mondays. Mode of dress: a combination of Victorian, Renaissance and Victoria's Secret. "The scary thing is that some of these people you work with," Stone says. But are these people serious? Get real, Stone says. "Our club isn't filled with people who think they're blood-sucking vampires. If someone came here who actually believed they were a vampire, they'd be laughed off the floor."

Says Neville Wells, who orchestrates the New York scene: "Most of the kids in the scene will be the type that are very intelligent and go to Columbia or NYU. The vampire theme is more on the commercial level. But a lot of these kids tend to be pale-skinned anyway and don't get out much into the sun."

Most pretentious is the gothic way of dancing. "There's really not a name for the dance style. But you could say it's a cross between emotional, depressed, ethereal, ballroom, solo dancing," Stone says. "Dramatic is the best word. It's choreographed with moves you can make fun of. I have no problem thinking it's comical." Then Stone turns serious. He and the others sense danger lurking just around the commercial corner. What will happen when the popularity of Interview With the Vampire drags their underground mystique into the naked light of day? Says Stone: "Yes we're afraid. After the movie comes out, little Biffy and Boffy from the MTV crowd are going to go out and get fangs and ruin it for everybody."

A taste of the Goth(IC) from the mainstream.

Curious about the gothic/industrial scene? Cruise the Internet and you get club and music information, and even dance moves, on alt.gothic or cyberden.com. And, if you aren't brave enough to go to a club to see and hear for yourself, here's a listening list to get you acquainted from Alternative Press magazine (the November issue features a story on the Goth movement):

Siouxsie and the Banshees, Voices (1978)
Bauhaus, Bela Lugosi's Dead (1979)
The Cure, Faith (1981)
Christian Death, Only Theatre of Pain (1982)
Dead Can Dance, Dead Can Dance (1984)
Flesh for Lulu, Subterraneans (1984)
Sisters of Mercy, First and Last and Always (1985)
The Mission, Wake (RSVP) (1986)
Rosetta Stone, Adrenaline (1993)
Nosferatu, Rise (1993)
Two Witches, The Vampire's Kiss (1993)
Screams for Tina, Screams for Tina (1994)

For a wide selection of newer releases, check out anything on the Cleopatra label.