Why Defend Goth?

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The idea behind this has been rolling around in my head for a while. Every now and then I have a conversation somewhere online or hear a comment that makes me think of this and how it is a good topic to discuss. On top of that we all have our moments where we question what we believe and even if holding such perceptions and ideas is even worth it. So why do we defend goth?

I'm going to take a bit of a journalistic approach and explore the who, what, when, where, how and why of it all. For those of us who do defend goth it may help strengthen our resolve as to why we do it. For those who do not, maybe they will understand the minds of those who do defend goth a little.

WHO

I think it is worth identifying the different stakeholders. I am going to deliberately avoid using slang terms (Eg - Elders, Elitists, Babybats, Poseurs etc) for them. Everyone has a different idea what each of those terms mean. Many of the groups I am talking about have some elements of crossover too.

To be clear this isn't a way to classify goths into types like those darn chibi things. It is just a way to look at who is in the equation and where their motivations may lie. Don't take them too seriously as I'm just having fun with it.

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For the love of god please don't bombard me with "LOL I am this stakeholder" posts!

 

Defenders

The people defending the goth subculture from too much outside influence. These people know their subculture history and music pretty well, possibly to the point of over-obsession.  Some may view them as "gatekeepers", some may not. Subcultures have rules and these are the people who enforce them. Through enforcement they may also educate on what is expected and what is and isn't goth. These people generally have a fair bit of experience in the goth subculture going to events and gigs. Online however, they could also include newer people who are well researched on goth but have little to no experience in the flesh. Defenders can have a habit of being Genre Nazis, often going beyond what is simply goth or not to the exact genre music fits into as well. There is a long term invested interest in the goth subculture and many people help run their local scene.

The Rank and File

I am using this as a catch all term for people who participate in goth subculture but don't really care much about the politics of it all. Many wouldn't even call themselves goths and many that do possibly have it wrong. They just listen to the music, go to the events, see some bands and don't care about much else. I would say the bulk of crowds at goth events fall into this as they are just out for a good time. This can also include people who have dropped out of the goth subculture and are taking a break from it, yet still maintain some contact with it. Online, it could cover people who talk goth and may even produce things for social media but aren't really noticed all that much. In short, for the most part these people are happy enough to go along for the ride. Many of these people are likely experimenting and for them goth will simply be a phase. Others will learn more as their interest grows.

 

Wallbreakers

These people come from inside and outside the goth subculture. These are people either trying to climb the social status ladder quickly or build a large online presence through social media to push a singular agenda. This agenda could be themselves or something they are trying to force into goth. Things like Health Goth, trying to force a non-goth music genre or style to be called goth, coattail riding/name dropping in an attempt to social climb and so on. The aim is to break down the walls of the status quo to suit their selves. To force change instead of having it evolve from within.

 

Unitarians

People who dive into a singular aspect of goth and think that is all you need. People who see goth as only a fashion style, people who think the music and nothing else matters, lifestyle vampires, dark romantics etc.

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One aspect per customer only

 

Prima Donnas

Drama queens, social butterflies, rumour mongers, shit stirrers, maybe even elitists - call them what you will. They play the social politics game and play for keeps. Whatever they do the aim is to be the best (or at least most noticed) while doing it and maintain (or reach) a  position at the top. Or at least they think they are at the top,  some may have a greater sense of self importance than they really deserve. If they are involved in events it may be purely for the notoriety and fame. The game is similar online and in the flesh. Often they overlap - used to be you could go out and have your fun with drama on the weekend and leave it there. Nowadays it follows you home and never ends.

 

New People

People new to the goth scene. Some will be willing to learn, others will not. Most come into the goth subculture with preconceptions on what they think it is. Online its as simple as joining a social forum (Reddit, Facebook groups, Vampirefreaks etc), in the flesh could be dressing the part (or what you think is dressing the part - we all make that mistake when new) and being seen/going to events.

There are probably more but that should cover everyone somewhere in those groups. I know what you are thinking "Ok, so where do you fit in all this Aytakk?"

I think I am a combination of Defender and Prima Donna. I am sometimes a Wallbreaker when introducing outside music too though I don't force it.

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Goth damn it, Aytakk. You hypocrite!

 

WHAT

So what are we defending? The goth subculture, of course. But what exactly in the goth subculture needs defending?

I would say the subculture's integrity. If we stray too far away from the core of the goth subculture (that being the music and the history around it) then it will become something else. The people who defend goth like it as it is and want it to evolve naturally. Change is inevitable but it has to be our change, not the change from some Johnny-come-lately who wants to change goth to suit themselves.

A lot has changed over the years but for the most part its happened internally. The new goth music now is very sifferent to that of the 80s and 90s. You can't rely on fashion as a constant as that changes a lot. A new fad comes along, it gets popular for a while then dies down with a few people who really like it carrying it on. When you have been doing this for 20 years as I have you see a lot of fashions come and go. You also see a lot of people come and go with them.

So then you have the "mindset" which is a bad work for describing it. But there is a reason why people choose goth over other subcultures with similar aesthetics. The main difference is in the music. So we have people with a common interest and for the most part similar tastes in other things too. And this doesn't mean you can't like other stuff too. Hell if everything was the same the world would be a pretty boring place.

But you have a lot of people trying to force things into goth that don't really belong there. This is what defenders are up against as too many of these things will mean the goth subculture will no longer exist. Sure, we can still listen to the music in our bedrooms but that sense of community means a lot to a lot of people. I know if the goth subculture ended today I would find no solace going to metal and emo gigs even if they share some aesthetics. They just aren't my thing.

We defend against outside takeover and misconceptions thanks to external influences like social media and mainstream media.

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No. It is not. Poseur.

 

WHEN

I would say Goth has been defending itself pretty much since the beginning. In many cases literally as there is quite the history of Goths being physically and verbally attacked for being who they are. That said different eras had different priorities.

I can't say a lot about things before my time but from what I can gather early on the barriers between goth and punk were pretty non-existant.  So in a way goth had to fight to gain an identity in a time where so many other things had similar aesthetics (New wave, new romantic, deathrock, horror punk etc) and there was a lot of overlap.

By the 90s goth had a solid identity yet the heat was dying down. From what I have heard from people around then mid 80s-mid 90s was goth in its heyday as goth with its own identity.

Around the mid 90s was when club were putting goth and industrial/EBM events together. Yes, I know - industrial used to be played at some goth events all along. But it was never like this. The dancier EBM stuff began to take over and Goth was pushed into a corner in many places across the world. So the defenders at the time were fighting for goth to be played beyond a couple of token songs and for people to understand that industrial and EBM are not goth. Then you have artists with a darker edge like Nine Inch Nails and Marilyn Manson in the mix and people began to get really confused.

The mainstream music media pushed them as goth all because goth went underground and they thought it was non-existent. It reminds me of how emo died and came back in the 00s but was completely different  to the original in a way. Black metal made an appearance too and muddied the waters. Bands like Cradle of Filth ran with the aesthetic but sounded awful with all that shrieking. Then there was the scourge known as Nu Metal and the rise of Mall Goth... all these things people tried to shoehorn into goth. As a newbie I mistook many for goth myself.

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NOOB!!!

 

In the 00s it was still more of the same but then we had Emo thrown into the mix. So now we have ignorant outsiders confusing goths with Emos, black metalheads (is that a thing?), Mansonites and Mall Goths. The goth identity was on the ropes. I think this is a big reason why the Deathrock revival in the 00s happened when it did as I noticed at the time a lot of people stopped calling themselves goths and started calling themselves Deathrockers. It was also a rebellion against the prevalence of "goth" clubs playing nothing but EBM. You won't play our music so we'll make our own events that will.

Eventually the deathrock revival died down. Social media was beginning to take off as people took to youtube, myspace then later facebook and other things. The social media snowball has only grown over the years since then creating a bigger, worldwide battleground to defend against misinformation and outside forces.

A couple of years later the post-punk revival began in the early 10s. Though its fair to say there have been two as there was a lull for a few years. We are still experiencing it now with a lot of outside post-punk influenced bands making very goth friendly music. Social media is a monster now where people are made or broken by reputations based mainly on good looks and vapid content. More misinformation to defend against as goth is so much more than a single aspect.

As well there are people declaring themselves to be goth online while having done none of the work to even see what it is about. They treat goth like a costume to be paraded around in front of a camera and thrown aside all for the mighty "like and subscribe". So of course we defend against that and whatever outsider "X Goth" is the fad of the month.

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This picture is neat so I put it here. Just like Instagram. LIKE AND SUBSCRIBE!

Over the years since 80s, 90s, 00s and 10s, there has been plenty of goth, deathrock and darkwave music made within the goth subculture too. If you compare music from each era there are differences as well as nods back to the classics too. Evolution has happened within the goth subculture - outside influence or not.

WHERE

Defending happens anywhere goths and people interested in goth are. In the flesh and online. At events, live gigs, coffee shops, alternative clothing stores, online forums, online live chats, social media, Youtube comment sections and so on. I can't think of anything else to say here. Wow, that was short.

HOW

For the most part the how of defending goth is through debate. Goths in general are intellectual creatures and like a nice verbal (or textual for online forums) tussle.

The internet is a vast place of conjecture and debate be it from old experienced goths weilding their years in the subculture like a hammer to new Johnny-come-lately types boning up on information and assuming they know it all.

It is also worth considering that at different times in the goth subculture's history, greater importance has been placed on different things. Being seen and knowing the right people has always been a priority for scene politics and social status. But how do you accomplish this? It can vary from time and place. Simply being there and participating for the long term  is one way, knowledge about goth music is another. Knowing obscure bands is often highly prized provided the bands were any good. A great sense of style and a flair for the dramatic may win people over in some places. But for most the pinnacle historically was to climb the ladder and become the DJ as the DJ shapes the local scene. Or play in a well known goth band and influence the scene worldwide.

In the end anything worth defending can stand up to scrutiny. Everyone is a critic and no two people will have exctly the same definition of "What is goth?". But there are lots of similarities, familiarities and shared experiences in how we interact and debate it.

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I am still standing. Are you?

 

WHY

Why do we defend the goth subculture? Many reasons. We defend the goth subculture because it is what we live for.

Granted, I also have heavy interests in other things too (as do we all) but I have been involved with goth for a very long time. From discovering bands when I was new to discovering unfamiliar bands today, from honing my personal sense of style, from participating in the subculture with other people, from learning and educating at the same time, from talking shit about goth on the internet. It is all so fantastic.

We get into goth because various aspects speak to us. The sum of the parts lures us to goth instead of something else and we find a home within it. Like all homes there are neighbours close and far removed but generally I'll have a coffee or a beer with anyone. If they are cool with little old weirdo me, I'm cool with them.

But...

Accepting people as they are does not mean I must accept their ideas or even accept them as goth. The same goes for other people dealing with us.  As I said before, how goth I think I am is usually not the same as how goth others think I am. But I defend goth because I have invested so much into it and I want to see it thrive. When I was new I was blown away by the events here. I try to create that magic for new people today. I want to inspire people to become fans of goth as big as I am. 

When I stop organising events in my town, I hope someone else takes over so in turn I have something to go to. And I hope it continues down the same evolution path and isn't taken over by outsiders who are only in it for the edge factor and to make goth like everything else just because. Go start your own thing instead of trying to change ours!

It's funny. No other music subculture is taken liberty of like goth. It's like people think goth owes them a piece and its the village bicycle everyone gets to ride. Try that shit with metal or hip hop and you'll be put in your place. But try to defend goth and educate and noooooo - you're an ELITIST GATEKEEPER!

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And an elitist gatekeeper? Oh woe is me!

 

We don't want the goth subculture to become bland and boring like how we see the mainstream. We reject the mainstream! We defend goth's integrity. We like the silly inside jokes, the silly theatrics, the silly music, the even sillier bands, the silly fashions, the silly obsessions. To outsiders it could be a waste of time but for us it is our lives. It doesn't make sense and it is a first world problem (that is spreading across the globe) but we still pour time and energy into it. Maybe it keeps us sane? Everyone needs a hobby.

Sure, we could sit alone listening to music or ogling pictures of flying buttresses and Victorian undergarnments in the safety of our bedrooms. Or buying clothes we only wear once for an instagram photo. But where is the fun in that? The goth subculture is a community and we are made all the richer in sharing the experience with others - young or old.

Get out there and live it. Talk to people, listen to music together, go to a meet up. The goth subculture isn't just the music or the fashion or the sacking of Rome. It is people interested in similar things gathering together to share in those interests. This is why we defend it, we need all of it or goth isn't goth anymore.

But the music is still pretty important. Music subculture and all that.

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See the crap I have to defend against? This guy in particular is especially awful.

1 Comment

Aytakk

Aytakk has been active in the goth scene since the mid 90s both online and in real life. He firmly believes in the old line "if you don't get the joke, you are the joke". As well as this he produces music for a couple of music projects: Corpulence On The Catwalk (goth/darkwave/coldwave) and Hypnophile (aggrotech/power noise). He is also a club DJ and nemesis of DJ Jelly.