Later this month I’ll be making the biannual trip to Whitby for the premier event in the UK goth calendar – Whitby Goth Weekend, now in its twenty-fourth year. Anchored as always at the Spa Pavilion it’s primarily a music event with two nights of live artists performing for ticket-holders.
This year however the festival seem to be playing with the format extensively. For the first time in its two-decade run, the live events will be relocated to the Spa Pavilion’s Theatre, rather than the cavernous main hall it has always been held in. This could definitely be an improvement on the cruel acoustics I’ve always complained about, but will the reduced capacity support the crowds I’ve seen at previous Weekends? I’ve seen solid arguments for and against in the various social media chats…
Still, grumbling about WGW is a tradition, and organizer Jo Hampshire is countering the objections on social media.
Looking at the line-up, the festival is holding true to their slogan of “expanding the definition of Goth” – the Friday night is ambitiously introducing elements of cabaret and comedy to what has usually been a line-up of traditional musicians.
Comedy at a goth festival? The preview specifically identifies opening act Rayguns Look Real Enough as having the potential to entertain even the most cynical audience – as they’ll be first on the first night of WGW, they’re heading into the teeth of the gale!
A quick visit to YouTube identifies a couple of mischievous mashup makers bursting with energy. They’ll either soar high or sink without a trace, especially if they’re trying to swim in onesies…
Hot on their heels comes Desmond O’Connor, a riot of quips and innuendos backed by ukulele and outrageous stage attire. To ask goths to laugh at one band seems a tall order – to enjoy two cabaret style artists may be pushing tolerances.
Nevertheless Des is a darling of the Edinburgh fringe and if he can win over the hard-bitten connoisseurs of culture there, perhaps a room full of pissed alternative types may just lap it up…
Then, a surprisingly shortened set brings us to the headliners of Friday night, the rock and gore performance of Circus of Horrors. World-travelling, celebrity-meeting (Dani Filth and Lenny Henry?) steampunk and goth and horror lashed entertainment providers since 1995 are these. Dancers cavorting in corsets, evil clowns creeping the stage, fire and flame, blood and sweat, all under the demonic direction of proprietor Doctor Haze – I actually think they’ll go down exceptionally well.
Year after year I’ve seen bombastic performances – by artists like Vince Ripper – that are as much spectacle as sound. An increasingly younger audience have absolutely lapped it up, and I believe this year will be the culmination of that canny catering to your core fans. It may not even register on the radar of hardened trad-goths – not a hoary old Eighties act to be seen – but I believe a younger generation of alternative fans will flock to this line-up.
So, it’s a complete one-eighty flip for Saturday night. Kicking off proceedings will be the impressively authentic 1919, formed as far back as 1980 in Bradford, orbiting the original Black Planet of goth, Leeds. What was then a gorgeously grungy post-punk sound is now a slick and modern razor-slice of dark rock, performed by a lineup still featuring original drummer Mick Reed. An absolute must-see for me.
Sigue Sigue Sputnik Electronic are another blast from the past of 1982 – as well as 2016 when they last played WGW. Impossibly flamboyant, implausibly performed and led by irrepressible frontman Martin Degville, it’s all sex and cyber-dystopia style. Still possessing that classic sound, but mixing in fresher, newly-written content, I expect old fans will enjoy SSSE and I’m certain they’ll win over new converts as well with their taut and toned live performance.
Emotional, intense, and possessed of a fervently loyal fanbase, The Last Cry are a familiar sight near the top of the bill at gigs and festivals across the UK. I hear they’re now headed to WGT where they’ll undoubtedly succeed with the legions of fans of soulful and sincerely dark tunes. Persistently at the top of their game, they’re a solid foundation for the entire weekend as well as Saturday night.
Saturday’s headliner seems guaranteed to continue the theme of dark cabaret set by Friday’s line-up. Aurelio Voltaire is a mainstay of the festival – he headlined WGW in Spring 2017 – and commands a fanatically loyal following in England.
Supernaturally charismatic, stratospherically successful and a certified genius songwriter, Voltaire will wrap WGW up in the sexiest, most stylish wrapping paper and present it to an adoring audience. Guaranteed.
Despite all the above, I approach WGW with a strange sort of resignation. A few bands pique my interest, but there’s a familiar retread of established artists, coupled with a startling foray into alternative entertainment… in every sense of the word.
WGW’s line-up seems to reflect a static world of goth-friendly artists and stage-shows owing more to spectacle than soundtrack, even though more and more bands are just starting out and seeking opportunities to play.
I believe this venerable festival has succeeded itself to difficult heights, where its large audiences must have their appetite whetted with acts guaranteed to draw them in – simultaneously, an audience perhaps less inclined to accept breaking new bands who are experimenting with the bloody, bleeding edge of post-punk, goth, dark indie, cold-wave, witch-house or whatever weird new genre music journalism has invented today.
You must decide for yourself if the festival line-up is a clever crowd-pleasing call, or a lurch even further away from bands that enshrine the goth sound… whatever that may be!
As well as the main events, Whitby is swarming with many other events at which to drink, dance and pose. If you see The Blogging Goth in your travels, tell him how you’re finding it all!