Forget the Batcave, Highgate or Camden Market, Leeds is going to embrace its dark heritage as the true capital of UK Goth with the welcome return of Goth City Festival in just a few weeks time.
A smorgasbord of live music, DJs and traders catering to a vast influx of black-clad fans, it’s popular with old-school and bleeding-edge goths alike. I dropped GCF Comandante Joel Heyes a line to chat about the event, as well as challenging some old-fashioned thinking in the scene!
Hi Joel, how’s it going?
Very busily! But everything is on schedule, and the agony will be over again soon, so it’s just a matter of keep working and we’ll all be having Piña Coladas on Scarborough beach before we know it.
Can you give us a quick intro for anyone who’s not encountered GCF before?
Goth City Festival is Leeds’ homegrown goth festival, presenting dozens of acts at four venues across the city, and all in the best DIY postpunk traditions of Leeds goth. And more importantly all proceeds go to PAFRAS (Positive Action For Refugees & Asylum Seekers), a local charity working with destitute refugees, for which we’ve raised £15,000 so far. This year will be our sixth instalment, and the first in our new summer schedule, so it’s all very exciting at the moment.
What’s the thinking behind this year’s theme, “The Vampire Strikes Back”?
Well last year’s event was obviously very difficult to organise, with the various pressures on live music generally and also specifically on us due to competition from larger events, and we were close to calling it a day. However, once we’d decided to stick up for ourselves and work through it the idea of possibly continuing it for a sixth event was floated.
I think it was Rob from Rhombus who suggested “The Vampire Strikes Back” as a title for the next event, and it was clearly such a great title to sum up our new sense of resolve to take the event forward. We’re also really pleased with the amazing artwork by David Frampton, which has really brought the concept to life and will make this year’s merchandise extremely desirable!
It’s very much a musical festival, but I see there are side-events too including a market?
Indeed there is – we used to have several non-musical events during our original, much longer format but there’s not really as much room for them in our new weekend schedule, however our colleagues at T&A Productions are running a stalls event for us which is a great asset for the festival. Hopefully next year we’ll be able to run a few more side-events utilising some of the incredible venues in the city.
Going onto the bands, I’m sure you don’t have favourites, but are there any stand-out acts you particularly recommend?
I’d definitely single out Caroline Blind’s performance on the opening night, which will not only be a rare UK appearance but will also feature a full live band and a few surprises too. Obviously Rose of Avalanche’s return to headline a Leeds goth festival will also be very special. Plus Left Bank on Cardigan Road in LS6 will be a wonderful venue for our Friday evening show, and one that’s unlikely to be repeated.
Well known for flirting with the controversial, you recently stated ” Actually getting a little bored of gothic rock if I’m honest ” – could you expand on this?
There has been much talk recently of celebrating Leeds’ premier place in UK subcultural history, and there’s a good representation of several key drum-machine-based guitar-driven dark-alternative rock bands on your festival’s line-up – how should we interpret your comments?
Ha ha! I guess I was being a little ‘provocative’ with those comments, but I was really just expressing a sense of dissatisfaction with the general lack of ambition and innovation in the scene at present – our acts are great, we don’t book any that we don’t rate or don’t think aren’t making an important contribution, but there’s clearly a direction of travel which the scene is heading in that will be very boring indeed. I don’t think we’re part of the problem, but I definitely think there’s a problem.
I’d like to expand on your entirely justified comments about the direction of travel of UK Goth. What kind of innovation would you like to see happen?
I’d like to see bands think more creatively and strategically about building their fanbase, making bold statements, thinking of new ways to move forward. I can’t think of many UK acts that even want to move forward – I know we’ve all bashed our heads against the PVC ceiling down the years, but we have to keep trying to build. There also needs to be a pathway for bands to move up to billing and develop their potential.
What kind of reception do you think new bands challenging old concepts of goth will get? If you aren’t wearing one of the Golden Age bands on your sleeve of influences, do you think a band has a chance in what can be a very conservative scene?
Well this is an issue with the lack of variety in the scene, but also because a lot of people miss the point of these acts. It was the Mission’s cavalier spirit, the Sisters’ dark stubborn wit, and the Nephs’ committed atmosphere that made them special; we don’t need more bands that sound exactly like they did, we need bands with those qualities – no matter what exact variety of goth they sound like.
We’re about to begin the Summer season with a lot of major UK goth festivals kicking off between now and Halloween. What’s your perspective of the UK goth live music, gigging and festival circuit as we look ahead to a stuffed calendar?
I think UK goth is in a bit of a dangerous position at the moment – there’s a problem not only with an increasingly small pool of headline acts, and the same ones performing in a nearly constant loop, but also the ageing demographic that go to see them. Goth is in danger of joining the ‘heritage’ end of the musical spectrum, unless some new ideas are brought into it. Plus there’s many events and festivals throughout the year in the UK now, and it’s clearly a very competitive environment as well as being very expensive.
We’re moving towards a top-heavy scene where there’s almost as many festivals as there are gigs on the circuit, which is a concern. From Goth City’s point of view, we’re trying to build something which has spirit and integrity and doing it in a sustainable way; and to an extent the fact that we can’t go with the usual suspects works in our favour in that regard.
Suffice to say, we try to have conscience and creativity and a sense of fun, commensurate with how we’d remember goth events being years ago, so that’s what we’re working towards. There’s no room for complacency when you’re the underdog, after all!
Thanks Joel! Goth City Festival runs from 7th July to 10th July, at several venues around Leeds, with tickets to some and all events still available online – click below.