“A Place Both Wonderful And Strange” – Geography through a Goth lens

American Gods by StarzThe TV adaption of Neil Gaiman’s acclaimed fantasy novel American Gods has been unreal and amazing so far. It would be so easy to mangle this complex combination of subtle themes and sly allusions, but Starz seem to have come through it perfectly. I look forward to more episodes with great anticipation.

In a recent interview, Gaiman explains how much of the novel was rooted in his perception of the ‘weirdness’ of Wisconsin, the Midwest American state where he wrote it. You can see it echoed in the strange locations that litter American Gods, the ‘new temples’ raised by post-theological Americans to areas of power not bound up in monolithic, classical Christianity. There are chapels of the curious, synagogues of strange.
Much of American Gods is a road-trip across weird America, and to me channels the Gothic trope of the eerie and unusual, amidst the ordered ordinariness of the contemporary United States.

It is a common trait underpinning much of the pop-culture end of Gothic, such as the Goth subculture and its attendant creative strands of literature, film and music. It is in the music of antipodean anarchist Nick Cave that I also hear America, but for me it is the sweltering, stinking, swamps and stinging, searing sands of the Bible Belt and beyond, a soundtrack of Southern Gothic.

Dig Lazarus Dig!!!Cave ranges far and wide across the North American continent though, much like Shadow, the protagonist in American Gods. In the Bad Seeds song “Albert Goes West” from the 2008 album Dig, Lazarus, Dig!!! characters – or maybe aspects of the narrator himself, it is open to interpretation – head South, West, North and East and meet various fates, implied and deadly.

Cave himself however “ain’t going anywhere – just sit and watch the sun come up – I like it here!” He remains in some theoretical ‘centre of America’, safe and isolated from the dangers that beset others.
Equally, the characters of American Gods will convene for their final struggle in the semi-mystical ‘middle of America’ – not Middle America, which is another concept entirely! – and it all hearkens back to half-recalled pagan mysticism, the meeting of ley lines and the nexus of power. Once again we have accessed the old tropes of Gothic, permeating and linking all these creative outputs.

Twin Peaks by ShowtimeOne place Cave failed to visit was the far North-West, those primeval forest-wrapped mountains that are only the foothills of the forbidding British Columbia ranges. Up there, the collision between quirky Americana and deadly phenomena has been delightfully, if cryptically, described by David Lynch’s cult classic TV series, Twin Peaks.

Once again, the Gothic traits are showing in this world-between-worlds as deadly otherworldly killers lurk behind the faces of trustworthy friends and family, and an unnameable something stalks the gorgeous woods of Washington state. That Twin Peaks has returned to TV screens as well speaks volumes for our appreciation of the trope.

That perception, the ‘haunting’ of American geography, is then exported to spiritual successor The X-Files, where government procedure takes on cryptids, extraterrestrials and urban legends in a sprawling jaunt around the US – and beyond – to prove ‘there are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, than are dreamt of in your philosophy.’ Agents Mulder and Scully strive to push back the borders of ignorance, to force the paranormal into just the ‘normal’, revealing only greater mysteries and more deadly threats – a journey so fascinating, The X-Files has also been resurrected from its grave of Nineties counter-culture. Their journey is even sound-tracked by none other than Nick Cave, in the second season’s sixth episode “Ascension”, alluding in his all-knowing ways to the catastrophic plans of the sinister forces of conspiracy.

Those forces of conspiracy became a lynchpin for public imagination in the Nineties, to such an extent that the passionate belief in the ‘Men In Black’ is directly tapped as a solid threat for our protagonist in… American Gods. All mysteries merge I suppose, all have their roots in Gothic horror, and all have painted a uniform shade of deepest, inscrutable black beneath those brazen red, white and blue stars and stripes.

People's Republic of West YorkshireNot that we can limit ourselves to America, in fact. I gave a presentation to the Gothic Manchester conference focusing on the relationship between places – in this instance, Northern England – and the Gothic. I observed the ‘dark satanic mills’ that Blake described could well have referred to the smoke-blackened industrial wasteland of the North, that would later originate some of our most definitive artists within the Goth subculture.

Andrew Eldritch is the lead singer of The Sisters of Mercy, arguably one of the most definitive Goth bands ever. He remains inextricably linked to the ‘People’s Republic of West Yorkshire’, a comical description he felt impelled to suggest based on his anarcho-syndicalist political leanings and the far-left political aspirations of that industrialised, marginalized North.
He even referred to subcultural outposts like Le Phonographique (contender for first ‘Goth’ club in the world with the more-famous Batcave of Camden) in his song “Floorshow”. Here the locations are migrating into popular culture, becoming less of a real-world place and more a conceptual idea.

By the time the album Floodland arrived, its focus on water, death and sex are demonstrative of Eldritch’s relocation to Hamburg in Northern Germany. A port town (water), a potential first-strike target for a belligerent Soviet Union during the Cold War (death) and his openly-admitted headquarters on the Reeperbahn, Hamburg’s Red Light district (sex) are all Eldritch once again gleefully ringing those ‘Goth’ tropes, all the while pushing the irony barrier with his increasingly ardent denials of his G-word heritage.

Eldritch’s fleeing from that potential Andrew Eldritch in the video for "Doctor Jeep", 1990black albatross about his neck led him to Vision Thing, the ‘last’ album by The Sisters of Mercy. He threw himself and his band into a cruel, cool deconstruction of Nineties rock and metal, effortlessly vanquishing with virtuoso verbal style the politics, culture and phenomena that was… America.

He created another fantastical, hardly-believable but so-true-it-hurts version of Bush Senior’s United States with songs like “Doctor Jeep” in 1990, recognizing as Gaiman would in 2001 the ‘new’ Gods of greed and war and media. The artificial horrors amidst natural, normal life, those echoing Gothic tropes at work again.

I regret that I can say little outside of the Western bubble. However, I was delighted to read in History Today a refreshingly down to Earth account entitled Romania’s Problem with Dracula. Here, the Gothic trope found it surprisingly difficult to take root, in the country that was nominally the birthplace of the most famous vampire to ever live, a walking trope and father of tropes. The reality was of course that there was precious little ‘real’ geography to attach to Stoker’s famous Count, and even if the canny businessmen in Romania’s tourism industry were inclined, they were still in the grip of the ‘scientific communism’ of the USSR, at that time the dominant authority.

By SîmbotinOwn work, CC BY-SA 3.0 ro, Link

Of course, creativity is the handmaiden of all I have discussed here. The entrepreneurs of Romania were able to outmaneuver Moscow’s creaking centralised bureaucracy and actually appropriate existing locations (the tenuously connected Bran Castle) or build entirely new geography (Hotel Tihuta, later Hotel Castel Dracula) to which could be attached Gothic tropes – and hordes of money-spending tourists.
It is a delightfully apt reversal of our observations so far. Where American Gods, Nick Cave, Twin Peaks, Andrew Eldritch and The X Files all found the clichés of Gothic culture to attach to the geography, in Romania the location was created to house the trope.

There are two worlds being discussed here, and we find ourselves very much in between, whilst our creators and dreamers weave impossible connections to bridge the divide, that nevertheless seem just real enough to thrill.

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World Goth Day 2017 from The Blogging Goth

LeGoth is French for Goth! (Un)happy World Goth Day, darklings! We are in the thick of it on Facebook and Twitter today as the world takes a walk on the gloomier side.

There has been some great coverage from the media, like The Independent (who interviewed me last year and have quietly re-used my comments), and some cute coverage from The Telegraph who are basically posting someone’s Twitter thread and calling it an article – clever!

 

There’s also some rubbish from Metro, who are a part of the Daily Mail Group. I won’t be linking to them – if you want to know what the Daily Mail really thinks of Goths, I wrote an article in 2012 responding to their coverage of Adam Lanza and the Sandy Hook tragedy. I won’t forget that in a hurry.

In stranger news, the UK qualifications board AQA decided today would be the perfect day to use one of my articles for use in the AS English Language exam. My Twitter is filling up with baffled students – the ‘bantz are legendary!

For a refresher, you can visit some of my previous articles published on World Goth Day and find out that, as Dr Catherine Spooner says, Goth is very much cyclical, including the media coverage!

I’ve even prepared a short soundtrack on Spotify with classic – and some new! – Goth tunes to keep you in the (sullen) mood. I hope you’re planning a Black Celebration today, let us know via #WorldGothDay or see if it’s on the list by clicking on the World Goth Day link below. But of course, to us, every day is Halloween…

And while you’re at it, remember to Register to Vote in the UK elections! The deadline is today!

World Goth Day

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WGW April 2017: Saturday Reviews

magic eight ballWelcome to The Blogging Goth’s biannual review of Whitby Goth Weekend! I’ve already covered Friday’s line-up in a previous post, so make sure you are all caught up to now! We go crashing into Saturday with… a heartfelt apologies. Despite doing this job for several Goth Weekends I completely messed-up the timings.

I will politely hand over to my talented colleague Jordan Mooney of Cat On The Wall Zine who was on time and caught the opening act, Magic Eight Ball, to do my job for me! Sincerest apologies all round.

 

I’m finally stage left, and already a song or two into the set by fabulously named London steamPUNKS, “The Men That Will Not Be Blamed For Nothing“. These canny lads know their audience, and have included songs about coffins – well, who’d have thought you’d like that? Lead singer Andy Heintz should know of course – he was in anarcho-goth band Creaming Jesus back in the day!

These guys have amazing, angry presence, and when stage technicians must suddenly rescue Jez’ drum-kit from spontaneous combustion, they are utterly unflappable. I must also observe that Andy’s voice is gorgeous, like gravel made of jet, menacing and baritone. I am put in mind of Tom Hardy from Taboo’s…. Dad!

Dark comedy runs throughout their bleak history lessons of nineteenth century London, and it’s far from union jacks, gin and genteel patriotism. Andy plays the saw and Mark punks up a double bass for a delightfully slow song about ending up with your child stuffed! There’s even a delightful aside where he improvs the Jaws theme!

Andrew snaps out gags from his lightning stand-up set that goes down brilliantly – “if you’re medicated and you know it clap your hands!” Never let it be said Goths don’t have a sense of humour!
Their spooky new song – “This House Is Not Haunted” – is an appropriately dark ghost story with a twist. It’s a real pleasure to see it live. Of course, they must end triumphantly on Brunel, and the crowd absolutely goes wild for this Blamed For Nothing hit!

****

That was a hard act to follow, but Abney Park are veterans and rise to the challenge. They’re technically brilliant, an expertly coordinated team of professionals, but my first instincts are that their complex and swirling music has been swamped by the aggressive ruckus of “The Men”.

I’ve always cherished string music, and I adore their violin accompaniment – it’s so perfect at transporting you to the gorgeous and dangerous world of Abney Park. The musicians themselves are very mobile, roaming the stage and clearly in their element. I love watching a band thoroughly enjoy performing! I also linger appreciatively on the stage setup –  their customized equipment turns the stage into a portal to their steampunk paradise.

As I listen along, I find it difficult to distinguish the instruments and they seem to come across at the same level. Through bitter experience, I know the bass and percussion need additional strength to punch through the dead air in the Spa. Looking out at the packed venue, I can see the crowd are appreciative and cheering, but I also can tell they aren’t moving at all as much as for The Men.

Captain Robert himself whips out a phone, spins and takes a quick selfie with the jubilant crowd. To witness this band is to see Abney Park effortlessly crossing genres, moving from heart-string tuggers to cabaret style hypnotic, evil, little numbers! “You guys having fun now?” the Captain shouts out… and of course, they roar considerably!
A guaranteed and successful crowd-pleaser, I still came away thinking Abney Park solidified their fans opinions, whilst upstart youths The Men won many new converts. Is there room on the block for a couple of steampunk champions?

***

Although he is but one man, he has enough charisma to fill a stage! It is of course, Saturday’s headliner – the charismatic, outrageous and hilarious Voltaire. His Lyrics peppered with innuendo, delivered through the cheekiest smile this side of the Atlantic! He kicks off, conversationally as always, with a cover of “Music of the Night” from Phantom of Opera… and even managed to spice that ponderous stage classic right up!

He also discusses the worldwide Voltaire Creative Empire, and talked about a visual novel he’s contributed the music to – he loved the artwork, every stroke!
Volatire delivers just the catchiest songs, his voice is a syrupy and flexible sound that benefits from just the acoustic accompaniment.

His chatter in between songs is so personal and charming, that the whole audience feels connected. In particular, ever the peacemaker, he rallies the whole audience against the Gother-than-thou philosophy with his music! Of course, getting it to stick can take more than song or two…

Then, it got really personal. His heartfelt reporting of his experiences with suicide utterly weld his audience to him through bitter shared experience, and leads perfectly into the defiant “Raised By Bats”. Voltaire is a consummate showman. Then, Voltaire moves into my own interests and asks the audience to cast their votes on sci-fi. The results are that Star Trek beats Star Wars, and that Doctor Who beats both! Not sure the Box Office bears that out, but it’s a great opportunity to segue into “Bigger on the Inside”! A delightfully naughty Doctor, could Voltaire be angling for a seat in the most famous time machine of all, er… time?!

There are no surprises as we near the ending of this performance. The utterly beloved “When You’re Evil” is the crowning (morning) glory of his live performance – and always results in a stage full of adoring – and clumsy! – fans as the perfect choir. It’s a familiar sight, and yet a valiant personal touch that keeps Voltaire fans the most loyal in the world. A solid headline performance – as always!

***

And so ends my review of Whitby Goth Weekend’s live line-up. My thanks to Bob Slassor Photography for the professional images, and to Cat On The Wall Zine for being able press comrades (and superior in many ways!). Finally, of course, I am grateful for the provision of press access by Whitby Goth Weekend, the leading UK Goth music event!

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Gourmet Goth: Enjoy a Monochrome Meal

Goth BurgerScientists are working feverishly to generate an entire meal in only the darkest hues, to perfect that Goth dining experience.
In the past you’ve been able to snack on black burgers, and move onto sweet treats such as charcoal-infused ice-cream (which apparently tastes nicer than it sounds!).

Goth Ice-cream

Finally, you can round off your midnight meal with a cup of black coffee. Conventional, you might say. For ‘normies’ you might sneer. Well, you’ve not had a coffee this black yet!
We’re back at it again with the infused charcoal which some publications are arguing can even help purge you of toxins – but I’m waiting for a medical expert’s opinion on that.

It seems like an appetite for obsidian is sweeping the food world. I’m excited to see how many other meals can make it in monochrome, and if that absence of colour will appeal. Planning a feast for the upcoming World Goth Day? Could you enjoy eating pure black pasta, or jet jelly? Let us know in the comments!

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WGW April 2017: Friday Reviews


Whitby Goth Weekend 2017The most challenging act, the opening band of the opening night of Whitby Goth Weekend. I’m intrigued by Healthy Junkies, who bill themselves as “Female fronted New wave punk grunge band..DIY and hungry!”
“This is not a suicide!” hollers lead singer Nina Courson. This band effortlessly delivers a really tight, thrash punk riot grrl sound. I love it! They fill the stage really well for a standard four piece, really dominating the space.

Their music is regular but hypnotic, repetitive and catchy. It’s easy to get sucked into the rhythm and energy of this keen band. Sometimes, Nina’s vocals lack presence but thisHealthy Junkies is an ongoing issue and not surprising in the cave-like Spa, where the huge open space always robs the impact. Guitarist Phil Honey must be applauded for some awesome solos!

As I look about to gauge their impact, I note many people singing along in the audience – I’m pleased to see the crowd is fascinated! The band have clearly brought some veteran fans, and are well on their way to making new converts. A great performance in one of the trickiest Whitby slots.

***

Catering to the occasionally overlooked bleepy/stompy end of Goth, WGW have engaged Mancunian veterans Deviant UK. Jay and his mercenary band of cyber-warriors deliver unforgiving drums, shredding guitars and sci-fi dystopia backing tracks. The man himself channels what seems to me to be the youthful voice of Gary ‘Android’ Numan. The projected video occasionally shows sequences of delightfully dark deviancy – spicing up our night deliciously.

Deviant UKJay occasionally chews up and spits out unexpected pop covers, and cavorts on stage spanking himself. One issue I always have is the band feels occasionally hindered by the immobility of a laptop musician – but then I’ve been spoiled by impossibly mobile guitar bands!
Again, looking through the crowd, I can see they love it – they’re mobile, entranced by pounding techno beats. “This is for people who go out on Friday in Whitby and wake up on Tuesday with no memory!” crows Jay, and for a few minutes you don’t feel quite as old as you worry!

He’s very chatty with the crowd in fact. “I’ve been sidetracked by life but I’m back…!” he hollers. Is he teasing a new album? As far as the audience go, hopefully! The absolutely thumping dance tunes have the whole room hooked.
“On your knees!” he roars in the faces of an audience he’s suddenly invaded, jostling manically through the front rows. A chaotic and manic performer to the very end. The old electro-dance fan in me is well pleased with Deviant UK’s inclusion.

***

“This is a song about revenge” Olivia proclaims – and you start to realize every song by Bad Pollyanna feels so very real and raw. They are firm fan favourites, very much on their way to becoming a household band of Whitby Goth Weekend. The audience is incredibly energised, and the room surges with attention and enthusiasm.
Olivia’s powerful and seductive vocals channel bitterness, passion, experience and hope in equal measures; magically, she can connect to every person individually and in doing so has built a fantastically loyal fanbase. Bad Pollyanna

The sound is one of thunderous metal, led by Olivia’s intense vox, powerful and mobile. “This is one of the darkest songs were gonna do” she warns us – and that’s saying something. They build beautifully complex songs laced with a significant emotional undercurrent.

Of course they play to their strengths, and Olivia dedicates the painfully beautiful “I See You” to everyone in the room, once again reinforcing that powerful relationship between stage and audience. There’s a brilliant duet with Eloise Kerry, and as I adore female-fronted music this is a wonderfully rewarding performance. All in all, a very significant and powerful show from Bad Pollyanna.

***

ToyahToyah is the treasured veteran making a welcome return to headline status this Friday. She comes out singing in fine form, her voice as powerful and flexible as always! She’s so friendly, clearly a consummate professional having a damn good time!
“Good Morning Universe” evokes powerful memories of Seventies Doctor Who – in a great way, I mean! It’s crammed with soaring eerie sci-fi anthems and Toyah’s effortless crooning.

Out of nowhere, she produces a hilarious and enjoyable cover – “Echo Beach” is a delightful pop classic that reveals Goths love any kind of decent music as long as it pops!
The audience is incredibly mobile, plugging into a fizzing energy that is very different from the painful but beautiful experience of Bad Pollyanna.

Again, I must register my concern that occasionally  Toyah’s vocals lack the full impact – but the Spa devours bass like a vampire!

She provides a delightful commentary before effortlessly delivering another rendition of a classic tune, it’s a fascinating look behind the scenes as she recalls the writing, recording and performance of songs from decades ago. But don’t think she’s gone rusty – every song is hair-trigger tight, and utterly note perfect.

The electro fan in me is also rewarded by the polyphonic delights courtesy of “Jupiter” – the Radiophonic workshop would be proud. Through it all Toyah’s vocals are liquid metal – flexible and powerful in equal measure! Absolutely gorgeous and conveys an audience back in time to rapturous applause. “You must think I’m quite the space cadet” she comments. But we love it! (and I am a proud space cadet, so who am I to judge?)

ToyahAs we draw to a close, she presents a gift to her hooked audience – “It’s A Mystery” of course! The crowd adores, the guaranteed set-topping classics. Then, another fun and enjoyable cover – “These Boots are Made for Walking”!
Toyah gives it a really nice edgy modern revision, under her throbbing vocals. It feels like it’s over incredibly fast, but that is the hallmark of a great performance.

***

Thus concludes our reviews of Friday Night at Whitby Goth Weekend April 2017! My thanks to Bob Slassor and Paul Baxter, official WGW Photographers. You can also enjoy the reviews provided by my comrade-in-arms, Lord Jordan of Cat On The Wall zine! Saturday’s views will arrive as soon as possible.

As always, my thanks to Whitby Goth Weekend for being fabulous hosts!

 

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