Happy World Goth Day 2018!


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Subcultures, Self-Harm and Psychology

Moral panics have been around as long as there was some outside force to blame for ‘ruining children’ rather than ignorance, neglect or wilful bloody-mindedness. Three years ago I was talking to The Today Programme on BBC Radio 4, about a brand new research study that linked alternative subcultures – like goth – with higher instances of self-harm and suicidal tendencies.

Fast-forward to April 2018, and a brand new research study has been released that links alternative subcultures – like goth – with higher instances of self-harm and suicidal tendencies. Experiencing some deja-vu? You should be – the 2015 study was one of the twelve that was selected and sifted for this uber review, looking to dig into whether or not there was a clear link between listening to Bauhaus, and wanting to take your own life or hurt yourself.

Photo Courtesy: Thomas Tadeus Bak

The bottom line to this comprehensive twenty page report, kindly provided to me by the very helpful University of Manchester’s Media Relations Department, and author Dr Peter Taylor?

It’s unclear.

After three years and eleven more studies there is still no firm conclusion that being a member of an alternative subculture will lead to an increased risk of self-harm and suicide. There is, again, some correlation but no indication of causation. Indeed, one theory advanced by the paper is that

“Young people who are vulnerable to low mood and self-harm may be attracted to groups with peers of similar difficulties who validate their experiences through music lyrics. This theory implies that a vulnerability to self-harm and suicide may be the cause of alternative subculture affiliation rather than a consequence.” (Emphasis mine). 

I contacted Dr Taylor through the Media Relations office, and he kindly clarified his thoughts to me, saying “We also note in the paper – and have commented in interviews – that these subculture[s] can be hugely positive for many people offering a place of support and belonging.”

And yet…

Even accounting for the idea that young people attracted to alternative subcultures might already be vulnerable to such behavior, Dr Taylor said “I think the data … does not fully explain away the relationship. For example even studies accounting for this sort of vulnerability still see an association.” 

Even after the books have been balanced, it seems inescapable that those who self-identify with goth, emo, punk or metal have an increased tendency towards self-destructive patterns.
Credit to Dr Taylor and his co-authors, one of his theories for contributing factors to the low mental-health and well-being of people in alternative subcultures, is their victimization. He mentions the tragic experiences of Sophie Lancaster, a thankfully isolated scenario, in particular.

Of course, those who ‘know better’ – like the mainstream media – would say that the associating with gruesome imagery and dolorous music is obviously depressing us. The research touches on the dark and foreboding appearance of alternative subcultures, pointing out that nobody has actually measured the correlation.

“It has also been suggested that the morbid aesthetic associated with certain alternative subcultures (e.g., Emo, Goth), results in increased exposure to images and themes linked to self-harm and suicide (Trnka et al., 2017), but again empirical support is

Indeed, one of my favourite lines that indicates a certain awareness amongst the researchers reads “the morbid and subversive imagery found within some alternative subcultures such as Goth can also be balanced with a sense of camp and self-irony”!

Well, they’re not wrong! I especially appreciate them titling the study “This Corrosion”…

I was very concerned about the media reporting of this study, as they inevitably go for the easiest conclusion regardless of whether it’s correct. I fired a few questions over to Dr Taylor, and he responded candidly and in detail for which I am very grateful.

[The author] correctly states “The public and media have at times, unhelpfully, demonised alternative subcultures and music as a cause of problems including self-harm.”
However as a result of there being no evidence for why members of alternative subcultures might be at a greater risk, the media reports on Dr Taylor’s study now seems to be leading readers to believe that merely being involved in a subculture may cause an increased risk of self-harm and suicide.

Dr Peter Taylor: This was a notable concern of mine (being someone who was and still is very much a fan of alternative music, and who grew up within these subcultures), and hence the reason we emphasised the way the media has at times been unhelpful.
In the paper we make it very clear that we are not suggesting that simply being a part of such subcultures leads to self-harm, and I have tried to make this very clear when speaking with journalists about this study.

My feeling is that it is important to identify groups that are at elevated risk of self-harm within our society, to better support those who might be struggling with these difficulties and raise awareness where this issue might otherwise go unnoticed. As noted in the paper the actual mechanism that links subculture affiliation to self-harm is still unclear and requires more research. There are various plausible mechanisms worth looking at – including the stress associated with being part of a minority group and victimisation some individuals face. We also note in the paper (and have commented in interviews) that these subculture[s] can be hugely positive for many people offering a place of support and belonging.
We have recently finished some further research trying to better unpick why young people in these subcultures might be more at risk of self-harm, but more work is still needed.

In the end I am reassured that research has again found out being into an alternative subculture like goth is not an inevitable prerequisite to mental health issues and harm. What it has done has identified a slightly higher correlation between these two tendencies, without establishing what links them! In the absence of a concrete conclusion, people will try to apportion blame to something they struggle to comprehend. I maintain a watchful eye on such research.

I’m also enthused by the work of other academics such as Professor Catherine Spooner, whose latest book is subtitled ‘Rise of the Happy Gothic’ in which she explores the goth subculture through texts and media that shed new light on hitherto unseen strands of this complex scene. Based more in cultural studies than psychology, it’s nevertheless an important and informed analysis of the subculture.

She also wrote an article in 2015 responding to the last time we were on this mournful carousel, so I am delighted to end on an academic conclusion I can strongly identify with.

“The image of the Goth teenager as a depressed loner is a pervasive one. But it is not one that Goths tend to choose for themselves. Goth subculture produces images of itself that are variously glamorous, romantic, whimsical, melodramatic, erotic, mundane – and above all humorous.”

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Reviews from Whitby Goth Weekend April 2018

As always, many thanks to WGW management for providing me a pass into Friday and Saturday night’s events comprising the heart of the Whitby Goth Weekend festival. Other than that, I receive no preferential treatment so all reviews are untarnished except for any booze I spilled on them.


First off was the surprising relocation, the first in WGW’s history, to the Theatre room of the Pavilion Spa. With the seating removed, using the existing stage and taking advantage of the improved acoustics, in a lot of ways it’s a major improvement on the cavernous Main Hall. Still it’s a much lower capacity, and there’s only the small Theatre bar or all the way back to the Lobby for the main bar. Perhaps this will see a reduction in alcohol consumption and a more coherent review?* Only time will tell.

* – No it will not.

Friday 27th April

Rayguns Look Real Enough at Whitby Goth Weekend April 2018

Rayguns Look Real Enough – The opening act on the first night of WGW, and the band I had the most… reservations about. Pop-culture covers with a tiger onesie and ‘banter’?
It was, of course, exactly as expected. A surreal intro of crude comments about tiger-mating, before launching into a mashup of pop songs from Michael Jackson to Pharrell Williams.
Their humour aims at making you both cringe and chuckle, and the audience was hissing and hooting equally at their blue gags. Plenty of energy, but they launched a very bizarre act into a very small crowd. Acoustics are good though.

Dok Haze's Circus of Horrors Rayguns at Whitby Goth Weekend April 2018

Dok Haze’s “Circus of Horrors” Part One – To make up for there only being three performers on Friday, the crew from the Circus of Horrors were putting on two acts. Their MC was a fantastically made-up Count Orlok, who immediately began quipping about blowjobs, so the comedy level was at least consistent. I notice that the audience was fairly young, ironic considering this would be one of the most ‘adult’ night of performances I’ve seen yet. Anyway, the show begins with a talented contortionist, and two acrobatic blood-stained girls on a suspended hoist. Meanwhile, the light and sound crew are working overdrive to provide the right atmosphere, and it’s a stellar performance all taken together. That is, if you like your horror served shlock, and your sex done PG all overlaid with a faux-serious attitude.
The audience is engaged, but when the music stops, nobody claps – we’re off the standard festival map now, and nobody is sure when the ‘act’ has in fact ended! Of course, they draw on the old entertainment staples of ‘audience participation’ after which I have just written “Oh Christ”.

Des O'Connor at Whitby Goth Weekend April 2018

Desmond O’Connor – Another act I approach with trepidation – ukuleles have not always successfully migrated into the goth/alternative music scene. Nevertheless, Des is a veteran of the Edinburgh fringe and a gorgeously attired vaudeville performer. He at least tilts at his audience with a delightfully camp cover of ‘Tainted Love’ but he’s trailing in the dust of any number of familiar artists who’ve covered it before.
He exudes a wealth of natural charisma and is a superb ringmaster of any audience, including a half-convinced one. When he asks for the house lights to go up, he warns it may scare “the children of the night!” Still, his songs run into stomach-turning queasy comedy territory, ending on songs about accidentally sleeping with grandmothers and necrophilia (not thankfully connected). The applause is appreciative so he’s scored points with some of the crowd.

Dok Haze's Circus of Horrors at Whitby Goth Weekend April 2018

Dok Haze’s “Circus of Horrors” Part Two – Back with a new procession of performers, the Dok himself curates more gut-churning demonstrations of physical freakiness, as a goggled punk and a whipcracking Madame drill their own noses, whilst PVC-clad Nurses strut the stage. They bring on a dwarf professor, conscript more tolerant souls from the audience, and start playing with the entertainment of static electricity. Sadly, some of it seems to creep into the Dok’s headset mic – well, it wouldn’t be WGW without a few technical hitches!
We reach the point where the dwarf is a conduit for power into fluorescent light tubes, but when they start seeing if they can plug lights into his arse, I realize it’s just not ending at all how I’d like my Whitby Goth Weekends to go. It’s been a surreal night of circus and cabaret but for this jaded old curmudgeon of a trad-goth, I’d rather wait for the bands.

Saturday 28th April

1919 at Whitby Goth Weekend April 2018

1919 – I’m heading down the corridor from the main bar when I hear a very familiar drum-beat. 1919 kick off with an aggressive version of “Cry Wolf”, one of their most enduring hits. Back from a long and tragic past, 1919 have a new album out and they’re reminding us of where they’ve come from, before showing us exactly where they’re going. Looking about, I note the room is twice as a full as it was for last night’s opener. Lead singer Rio is a consummate performer, casually chatting to the band and even promoting the footie before kicking off another track filled with fast tribal drumming and jangling guitar lines. They storm it with “Retrograde”, a fantastic anthem that plants the flag for bands squarely on the map.

Sigue Sigue Sputnik Electronica at Whitby Goth Weekend April 2018

Sigue Sigue Sputnik Electronica – Back again after performing at the 2015 and 2016 events, Martin Degville (from the original lineup) and SSSE are a predictable panoply of glitter and horny extravagance. He’s still a stand-out vocalist, crooning and crowing equally ably. We get classic anthems like Satellite of Love, but then a sad and surreal moment when Degville reveals a recent struggle with cancer and sends round a collection bucket. I don’t begrudge donating but it bloody derails the momentum of a gig! Then, he decides to present his thigh-high gold glitter boots to some lucky punter, and congratulations go to ‘Waspy’ for winning and for taking it seriously when she parades across the stage in just one boot! SSSE deliver a few more tracks impeccably, and end on Love Missile – naturally. If it wasn’t for the bizarre segues, it was a very slick – if familiar – set.

The Last Cry at Whitby Goth Weekend April 2018

The Last Cry – Their intro sums up this acclaimed band well. They deliver a powerful, dramatic and glorious instrumental that concludes with lead singer Andrew Birch shambling on stage with a mug clutched in one hand and a quiet “Ello” to the crowd. Immensely capable and amusingly intimate, The Last Cry are rock-solid professionals with a popular line in emotional trauma.
I watch in mingled awe and concern as Birch stumbles across the stage, a puppet with his strings cut. He cradles the audience in his hands, and I can appreciate that even if I prefer my frontmen emotionally-detached obsidian-coated machines. The track list is spot-on, surging from “Walking To The Edge” and straight into “Follow”, both firm fan favourites that see proper audience participation as the lyrics boom to the rafters.

Aurelio Voltaire at Whitby Goth Weekend April 2018

Voltaire – The master of heading up a successful Whitby line-up, the American dark solo cabaret artist is back again after 2017’s April festival. He has crafted a perfect set for the audience widely spread between diehard veteran fans and intrigued newcomers, kicking off with a fun retrospective of tracks from earlier albums. He links each one with that unbelievable charisma and charm in that rich, honeyed voice, even when he’s ranting about the British predilection for chip butties! Alongside painful tracks about youthful alienation – “Raised By Bats” – that form an immediate rapport with this crowd of freaks and weirdos, is a bizarre shouting match about birthdays.

Then, he elects for a cover of Cohen’s (not Buckley’s) “Hallelujah” that is actually delivered pretty damn well, and a novel choice for a set that was pretty familiar. It all builds up to “When You’re Evil”, and unlike being asked to violate a dwarf with a light-fitting, Voltaire invites a large crowd up to bellow out this most classic of his anthems.
I’m with a newcomer who has never seen Voltaire before, and she is knocked back by his supernatural stage presence and first-class performance. It’s always a successful show, even if you’ve seen it before.

An odd Whitby Goth Weekend there, with a bizarre raft of novelties; the new room, the Friday night line-up of comedy and cabaret, sandwiched right next to the tried-and-tested, with just one band on the entire line-up that hasn’t played in the last three years of WGW.
The next weekend dates have been announced by WGW management, the 26th – 28th October. No line-up is yet existent it seems, and considering April’s was announced barely a month prior we could be in the dark for a long while yet. The internet is just as vociferous as usual with everyone throwing their opinions and rumours about but no facts will be known for certain until they’re confirmed. Watch this space…

In lighter news, the UK’s only goth football team Real Gothic FC also turned in a novelty when they won the charity match against locals Stokoemotive FC! You can watch the thrilling second-half with some dreadful commentary courtesy of myself on the livestream and Al Fiendish on the PA.

Finally, every year I wake up on the Saturday and Sunday to find out the big newspapers have bought a tranche of photos from the ‘togs who prowl Church Street and capture all the best ‘costumes’.
It’s not exactly an accurate representation of Whitby Goth Weekend so below is a brief gallery for you to show to people when they ask you what you ‘dress up as’, when you go to Whitby. Many thanks to event photographers Paul Baxter and Bob Slassor plus my friends whose galleries I plundered!

Until next time…

Whitby Goth Weekend April 2018 Whitby Goth Weekend April 2018 Whitby Goth Weekend April 2018
Whitby Goth Weekend April 2018 Whitby Goth Weekend April 2018 Whitby Goth Weekend April 2018
Whitby Goth Weekend April 2018 Whitby Goth Weekend April 2018 Whitby Goth Weekend April 2018
Whitby Goth Weekend April 2018 Whitby Goth Weekend April 2018 Whitby Goth Weekend April 2018
Whitby Goth Weekend April 2018 Whitby Goth Weekend April 2018 Whitby Goth Weekend April 2018
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Coming Up: Whitby Goth Weekend Spring 2018

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.

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Black Rainbows – the Pride Flag and Goth

The moment I saw the headline, I did a sort of combined cringe and sigh. “Vampire Gay Goth wants to add black stripe to LGBT rainbow flag”, boggled the Lancashire Telegraph, an esteemed title probably more concerned with neighbourly disputes and weather turmoil. Instead, the article is doing a booming trade in the usual horrific drivel inhabiting any comments section on the internet – their advertising department will be happy at least.


Image courtesy of Lancashire Telegraph

A disclaimer should come first – I’m a straight man and thus cannot speak with authority on LGBT matters. I’ll defer wherever possible to those more qualified to speak.

On with the tale then. Meet Darkness Vlad Tepes, who just one-upped you as a teenager when you tried to get people to call you ‘Raven’. He’s no stranger to the media, having already asked the public to ‘treat him like anyone else’ – in an article where he acknowledges he drinks animal blood, sleeps in a coffin, and visits pubs in a tiny Northern town decked in mourning finery, only to be affronted when he’s subjected to abuse.

Put simply, Darkness – or Mr Tepes as the paper superbly calls him – is not like ‘everyone else’. No kidding. I’d like to stress as well, he’s not like other goths – I know too many vegans who recoil at the thought of animal blood, too many old post-punk music fans who scoff at wannabe bloodsuckers, too many people with Cure t-shirts who have no patience for this kind of pantomime schlock-horror. I strive to accommodate all the various odd factions under the flapping black banner of goth, but not when they lead to headlines from Pink News, the leading online LGBT+ voice, who describes his activities “as part of his vampiric goth life”. That is the sound of more of our meagre hoard of respectability being chipped away.

“He’s not like other goths”. That’s what I want you to take away from this article. I wildly presume to speak on behalf of the goth subculture, and I hope they would agree with me that this is juvenile attention-seeking that does our fun (no, really!) subculture a disservice – and an even greater disservice to the ongoing worldwide struggle for recognition and acceptance of the LGBT+ community.

His actual complaints aren’t grounded in any sense of reality. To support his ‘campaign’, he claims

“Very few goths are ever seen in the gay community but when they are they are not always welcomed due to their dark gothic fashion. When some goths go to the gay scene a minority of them get confused with being into the dominatrix sexual lifestyle which is not the case.”

I can find no evidence that goths are not welcome in any gay community, and vice-versa – you can see in some of the tweets below. Tepes seems to be describing some narrow personal anecdote that I do not believe exists outside his world-view – and therefore is undeserving of the level of disruption it has caused.

For additional clarity, I reached out to Queer Alternative, who are not only already carrying out the hard work that Tepes seems blissfully unaware of, but also work to promote the visibility of alternate sexualities within alternative subcultures, including punk and metal. They responded promptly, explaining how they cheerfully mix and match their own imagery with the accepted symbols of LGBT+.

“The Queer Alternative is a UK charity which works to promote the visibility and acceptance of members of alternative subcultures within the wider LGBT+ community and raise awareness of the presence of LGBT+ people within those subcultures.

As part of this work we take part in Pride events and parades across the UK. As well as carrying our distinctive black and white banner, members often carry rainbow, trans and other pride flags as symbols of our diverse community.”


Image courtesy of The Queer Alternative

Grown adults, cognizant of their own sexuality, can easily navigate the purely hypothetical situation he lays out – clumsily – regarding confusion around their interests. I doubt a hasty modification to a flag will change how people in alternative subcultures navigate alternative sexuality. The whole concept is a glitter-storm in a gothic goblet, and I sincerely look forward to it blowing over.

As we close off an article I never imagined I’d have to write, I wonder – instead of a black stripe on the Pride flag, how about some Pride colours on a traditional symbol of the goth scene?


Image Courtesy of The Sisters of Mercy

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