Fairies and Gargoyles, red velvet, donkey-eared Anne Rice novels and jewellery boxes of symbolic treasures.
The enigmatic & elusive “people of the night”, a subculture that has outlived most others. …what is Goth? Is it a Lifestyle? An escape? A common ground? An identity? And are they, er, alive in Cape Town?
Is our city a refuge for the alternative and uninvited? Does it’s plethora of narrow streets resonate with forbidden passion and breathe crushed velvet?
Our underground world is a composition of wandering vagabonds, who destroy to create, challenge to learn. Aesthetic transformations from day to night. And we all have a place of refuge, where, together, we disseminate information through creative expression. We free up information to break down existing thought patterns in mainstream culture. It’s about being experimental and explosive, tapping into a collective energy, which has force, passion and an ability to revolutionize.
So, if they’re out there. The Goths that is. Where are they hiding? Turns out, they’re not really hiding. Not in Obs, at least. In fact, they pretty much own Lower Main Road. Gandalfs is the refuge for the Emos, Gotham….well, more for the Goths.
The Emo generation embraces, and pays tribute to, their youthful angst. What started as a musical movement, Emo is now, for many, a way of life. A melancholy subculture; emotionally charged, passionately existing through self-expression. A bit of an Emo myself, although not quite sure what that means, I venture to Gandalfs first. Somehow, having a group to compare the Goths with made me feel more comfortable. God, me and my insecurities. I’m definitely Emo.
It’s good to have a plan. Straight to the bar. Avoid the gloomy stares piercing me from behind dyed-black fringes.
“How much is a jack and lime”
My habitual hesitation to hand over R20-something was overcome, and resisting the urge to do my renowned “little happy dance”, I ordered a double and left a R5 tip. Gandalfs had potential. At least for lurkers like me.
Well, as I expected, and like me, skinny jeans and dirty converses decorate the sticky floor. Grungey and melancholy. Bitter-sweet symphonies. It didn’t seem like much of a party here, but it was still early. Perhaps being fashionably late is an Emo thing too?
Flashbacks of those painful school PE lessons, I felt both marginalised, and in need for another jack. It seems as much a trend, this Emo Thing, as Crocs. Much hotter though, I must admit.
Luring a young frightened looking Emo boy to an empty table, I was hoping to get to the nitty gritty of this, wondering if this Emo thing was more than just another trend. I was about to delve into the world, that is apparently my own.
“Well, you have to be HOT and play in a band” giggle Emo Boy’s Emily-lovin’ entourage. He exuded an air of grandiose. Emo Boy seems to pick on my irritation and suddenly and vigorously leads me hastily to the bathroom corridor. Expecting some kind of drug-fuelled interlude, he instead lifts up his sleeve bearing white, veiny, scarred arms.
“So, it’s about pain, this Emo thing?”
“No, it’s about self-exploration and self-awareness”
“Why did you cut your arms?”
“It made me realize my fragility”
I learn that this Emo Boy is not yet 18, but reads Nietzsche and feels that life is ultimately meaningless. He’s a nihilist that wants, one day, to be a conservationist and human rights activist…hmmm. Exuding an infectious youthful angst, Emo Boy is determined to make the most of the life, which he finds so meaningless.
He’s on a reckless voyage of self-realisation. But, as with many, he is part of a subculture of contradictions…Nelly Furtado comes on, and I can’t help but laugh at the thought of Emo Boy listening to candy pop whilst reading Dostoyevsky’s “Notes from the Underground”.
Gotham. How did I not know about this place? I’m brought back to my days in North London; a surreal myriad of punks, Goths, emos and psych-trancers that surprise you with their exchanges of kind words and child-like smiles.
A structured world of black, white and red. Hazy textures and 80s bass lines. No strange smells, but I do have The Swine. I think. I gaze at painted faces resembling vengeful felines, their delicate lines creating silhouettes of ethereal beings. These women are beautiful, femme fatales of the night.
With my Granny’s vintage checked dress, with red lollypop buttons, tucked into my grey skinny’s, I felt like an aesthetic intruder.
I discover shadowy echoes of 18th Century Victorian Era mystery. Gotham is a place of first loves and sweet revenge. It is a place that begs to tell a story.
A musical movement emerging from the Punk Scene in the late 70s, the Goth culture seemed to be rooted much further back. In literature, cold stone walls, capes and supernatural night invaders. And then rediscovered in music. Siouxsie & the Banshees, Bauhaus….melodies that are audacious, crude, honest and fuelled with passion. An introspective movement, music and literature became daily conversation. A poignant self-awareness, Goth became a script for life. Or at least a blue print.
“White on white, translucent black capes.
Bats have left the tower, the victims have bled.
Red velvet lines the black box.
Bela Lugosidead. Undead. Undead. Undead.”
Goth was reborn. Narcissistic and academic, introspective and passionate. Doc Marins, drawn in eyebrows, garters and crushed velvet. These were a complex bunch, dressing up just to go and hide in the corner.
“Here’s your beer”. Buying drinks before asking questions seemed the polite thing to do. I don’t want to assume that Goths are NOT polite.
“So what is Goth?”
“Well, I’m very feminine. Not gay at all. In fact, I think I am a lesbian”. Okay. Was that an answer?
My confusion is interrupted by a monotone moving spectacle, I looked around the room and was absorbed into a wraithlike realm. The sound of The Damned flowing through the crowd. Each person embracing the lyrics with raw passion, creating a surreal atmosphere where time & space never once seemed to matter.
“We’re not a depressed crowd”. I’m brought back. I sensed he had seen the unexpected, but welcomed, intrigue I had felt. I have also always wanted to move to my own tune.
“Okay, so if you are not depressed, what are you?”
“It’s about being sad. Western Culture places so much emphasis on the constant pursuit of happiness – if you are always trying to pursue this you never get it. You’ll be pursuing your whole fucking life and never get it, so you just end up more pissed off than you think we are. It is not reality. Happiness is not all that life is about.”
Instead of a subculture that prays on pessimism, it seems to be more about reaching a state of purity, achieved only by searching all avenues of one’s mind.
It’s about using sadness as a self-empowering tool, to reach a state of clarity so to say.
It’s not about the drugs, or the sex. Although sex is an exploration and can be as dark as it can be light. “Yeah, I have no problem with sex at all”
Suspension, self-mutilation, bondage and black leather. Pain and Pleasure. Passion and Revenge. None are considered mutually exclusive.
“I mean when you see blood, you see yourself. Blood is what keeps you alive”. “And that is truly beautiful”.
Once again I see the value placed on Life, being alive. Not death.
To truly understand yourself, to see the colours of life, and find the beauty in tragedy, you need to embrace each sphere of your psyche, with an unrelentless raging passion.
“So, why do you wear black”
“Not to sound lame, but black absorbs all colours, so we are actually embracing all colours”. I’m taken back to high school science class, and have a vivid image of the rainbow of colours filtering through the glass prism. I feel uplifted and we end off on a smile.
Putting on some bright red lipstick, I immerse into this other-worldly group of visual contrasts. I am filled with energy, and I even request a song. Jane’s Addiction, Summertime Roll’s. “Cut me a piece with some fine wine, bringing peace back to my mind, in the summertime”. It’s my wedding song.
Oh, and whilst trying to compose myself over a Halaal hot dog outside, I chat to a friendly Goth. Tragically, poetically dressed in black ruffles and wearing a quirky but kind face, he hands me a sharpened knife as a relic of my time at Gotham, and then gives me a lift home. And, no, he didn’t come inside.
So, the difference between Emo and Goth? Well, and I quote “I think the best way of answering this question would be to cage an Emo and see how it reacts to not having hair styling products for a week”.
I still don’t know what Goth really is. But I do know it’s about a group of people who find comfort amongst one another, in this confusing world we are all a part of. And the scene will be kept alive in Cape Town, perhaps underground, but that’s what it’s about, after all.
Anyway, who really gives a fuck what Goth means? It means whatever you want it to. Dress it up in silver jewellery and black capes, skinny jeans or painted skin, it’s just another group of fun-lovin criminals. Go say hi.