Every Day Is World Goth Day (But Especially Today)
by Isabel Slone
Wake up! Do you smell the pungent aroma of clove cigarettes in the air? Can you hear the opening strains of Ministry’s “(Every Day Is) Halloween” faintly tinkling in the distance? For today is not like other days. Today is World Goth Day. It’s time to crack out your finest black apparel — preferably floor-length and/or lace — and join in the celebration. There will be no parade or gaudy fireworks, only unsmiling nods to acknowledge the existence of other denizens of darkness you may pass on the street.
Much like World Sword Swallower’s Day, or World Cheese Doodle Day, World Goth Day was borne out of the idea that if you have an obscure interest meaningful enough to you, it deserves to have its own day. As it says on the World Goth Day website, “There are quite a few Goths who have fought damn hard to retain their identity despite peer pressure, family pressure and indeed, any pressure to conform. And if you’ve gone to all that trouble to preserve what you believe is the ‘real you’, don’t you think you owe it to yourself to shine for a day?”
At age 15 I had a Vampirefreaks.com account, where I spent the majority of my time pining over a boy from a neighbouring high school who wore eyeliner and a lot of rings. I started the account as a way to talk to him but eventually got into the website on my own terms: posting competitively overexposed photos of myself, rating other members, and entertaining philosophical conversations with a mysterious 40-year-old stranger from Britain who celebrated Pagan holidays. While I did not manage to ensnare the man of my dreams on Vampirefreaks.com, I did end up meeting my first boyfriend there. He was a video game nerd and listened to In Flames. I think he’s a software engineer now.
To honor the teen goth that lives within us all, I interviewed one of the founders of World Goth Day, DJ Cruel Britannia — a middle-aged goth with long black hair and a cheeky sense of humour — over Skype from his home in Telford, UK. About a half hour before the interview I felt the compulsive urge to vomit. All things considered, social anxiety is a pretty goth thing to feel on the emotional spectrum.
We talked about the legitimacy of health goth, how much Latinos love Morrissey, and the completely sensible reasons for holding World Goth Day in spring, among other dark and dour subjects.
I have to say I am probably more nervous to do this interview than any other interview I’ve done before.
This World Goth Day thing is very close to my heart. I don’t want to mess it up! So you just got home from work, correct? What is your day job?
I work for an IT outsourcing company. I know how horrifically disappointing that sounds. I should be saying “I work in a mortuary” or “I’m an undertaker.” No, I’m afraid not. It’s computer boffins.
What was your first exposure to the goth subculture?
Easily the radio. Telford, where I lived then and where I live now, is a very small town in a lot of respects. You didn’t have record shops other than commercial chain stores. So I got to hear a lot of the music that turned my ear on the radio late at night. I remember being 11 or 12, and I would just tape whatever was on the radio. Often it was John Peele, a very famous distinguished DJ over here. He would play the stuff nobody else would, in no particular order or fashion. He would play something by a very obscure 1930s blues player and then follow it up with Napalm Death. There was never really just “goth” in the 80s. It was called “alternative.” It covered a whole bunch of bases and got filtered down and called “goth” in the late eighties, early nineties.
So you’ve been into goth since you were a kid in the early-mid eighties?
Yes, absolutely. Prior to that I was listening to bands like Duran Duran, Toyah Willcox, Gary Numan. I suppose to a certain extent I blame Gary Numan. He came on Top of the Pops when he was at #1 with “Are Friends Electric” and he had the Doctor Who factor. He scared the crap out of me. I was 9 at the time and here was this guy, completely pale, in a black suit. I thought, “What am I watching? I don’t like this.”
But you did like it?
You know how some things are so horrific you’ve got to come back to it? That’s kind of what happened.
You identify as a goth, right? So what is it about the subculture that really speaks to who you are?
There’s an awful lot of factors in it. Obviously I look a hell of a lot better in black than I ever would in pink. It’s the image, it’s the music. There was something about it even in those younger years. Minor chords, sharp notes. It’s that kind of thing that psychologically drew me to it. But obviously the image helps. I don’t actually think I’ve had much of an image change in the past 30 years. I’m still wearing tight jeans. I’m still wearing my winklepickers. Goth band t-shirts. So nothing’s changed.
It’s a classic look.
That phase that my parents were hoping I would grow out of? Absolutely not.
So you live in a small town. Is it harder to be a goth in a small town than in a bigger city like London?
Absolutely, and I can imagine it’s the same all over the world. You’re going to have to deal with small-town attitudes, and have probably an even smaller group of friends who you can share that sort of thing with. When you get older and you’re able to go out by yourself you head to the larger towns and cities nearby. But having said that, the small collection of friends you do have, you tend to stick with for a very long time.
Goth seems to be a lot bigger in the UK than it is in North America. Do you have any idea why that might be?
It’s only fair, without sounding too arrogant about it, Britain invented goth. If it wasn’t for the horrible living conditions in the dour early eighties, and the post-punk scene, we wouldn’t have it. You come through the late seventies with the punk scene, which started off brash and against everything. By the time our political climate had trodden everybody down, everything seemed grey and miserable. Especially in the further North of England. Leeds is name checked as the birthplace of goth. There was low employment, people were living from hand to mouth. So really it’s no big surprise that a certain type of music ended up deriving from that.
I’m curious to know if you think goth is having a moment in media and fashion right now? What do you think of Health Goth?
Wasn’t it this thing that lasted about a week on Facebook and then disappeared in a puff of smoke? It absolutely baffled me from the outset when I heard of it. I couldn’t make anything of it other than it seemed to be a way to sell overpriced black t-shirts and jogging bottoms. It also evaporated really quickly.
Pretty much. I guess it was just about people who want to go to the gym but they don’t want to wear neon clothes while working out? Its also ironic because it’s hard to imagine a goth going to a gym. I guess exercise is very un-goth?
It’s hard to say whether that is true or not. A lot of goths follow vegetarian or vegan diets. So if they’re going to be health conscious in that aspect, then it would be no surprise to learn that they may be hitting the gym. It just means they’re listening to something different on their iPod on the treadmill. There are a couple of people who spring to mind who I know run. Andrew Birch from the Last Cry does an awful lot of charity running. But we’re not all at the gym. We don’t all come with shiny, laminated gym passes.
You started World Goth Day in 2009. What was the impetus behind that?
Technically World Goth Day started in 2010. Goth Day started in 2009. That came about due to BBC Radio 6. They decided to air a subculture weekend. Friday, Saturday and Sunday they devoted entirely to specific genres of music. As it was, Friday May 22, 2009, they were just airing an hour of goth music, mostly the well-known stuff, and archive interviews with bands back in the eighties and things like that. One evening, probably after too much coffee, I thought, “We should just have a Goth Day.” Remember Myspace?
I wrote this torturously long blog about how we should just have a Goth Day. Wear black to work and phone into local radio stations and make requests for The Cure, Siouxsie and the Banshees, The Damned, Sisters of Mercy. Just bombard them for a day. What I wasn’t expecting was for people to listen to me. It should’ve been lost in the annals in the Internet, some strange bloke talking. But before I know it, other people were latching onto it. That same evening I made the Goth Day smiley that we all know and see now. It was something I knocked out in about half an hour on Photoshop. It’s the typical English attitude, “Let’s do it for a gig, it’ll be fun.” So I built the website, put the word around, and five years down the line the joke still sticks.
So it wasn’t a political decision to hold World Goth Day in the spring?
No, not at all. Because it started May 22 on that one fateful evening, we thought we’d just stick with it. We’ve already got Hallowe’en taken up. Hallowe’en is just when everybody else decides to dress in black and eat sweets. We didn’t want to be mixed up with that. We just stuck with May 22 regardless of whatever season it was.
Have you seen the blog Goths in Hot Weather?
No. I’ve seen lots of blogs like Goths Up Trees, things like that. But I’ve not seen that one.
It’s just pictures of people in full goth regalia when it’s really sunny, nice weather outside. They all look so out of place!
Having been in Coney Island in August two years ago on the hottest week, it was balls. There was no shade. It was just me on that huge bloody boardwalk, and I thought, “This is the most miserable day of my life. I’m going to die here.”
Were you surprised that nobody else had created World Goth Day yet?
Not particularly. It wasn’t a particularly ordinary idea. The only thing I’m surprised about is five years down the line World Goth Day is still a thing, and has spread to places like Brazil, Mexico. Did you know Mexico has seven events?
Well, it’s been very well-documented how much Latinos love Morrissey. In Los Angeles they have Morrissey conventions and almost everyone who attends is Mexican.
Please tell me they all have flowers in their back pocket and draw on the unibrow.
I don’t know! So do you think World Goth Day be the legacy you leave behind in this world?
This is exactly the thing I was saying to Martin Oldgoth as well. He sent me a video of World Goth Day in Brazil, and it’s insane. I said to him quite literally, “I think we successfully left a legacy in this scene that is purely a social network full of inappropriate language.” This is something we both did for a laugh and we’re still now freaked out about it.
For a while there were hate crimes happening against people who looked gothic. (In 2007, a goth girl named Sophie Lancaster died in the hospital of injuries after being attacked in a park in Lancashire, UK. The motive for the attack was attributed to Lancaster’s gothic style of dress). Do you think it’s become easier for kids to identify as and look goth these days, now that they can connect with like-minded people on the Internet?
Kids will always be whatever the hell they want to be. That’s never going to change. But it is going to make people aware that you can’t do the sort of things that you do if you see a goth in the street anymore. Intolerance is less tolerated now.
So of all the different ways a goth can dress — cyber goth, Lolita goth, Edgar Allan Poe goth — what is your favourite goth look?
T-shirt and jeans goth! As you start getting older you put on a few pounds and you start looking at your PVC trousers and thinking “no.” You start dressing more for comfort rather than speed. I’ve always been a t-shirt and jeans goth anyways. My thing is skinny jeans, winklepickers, a t-shirt, and a suit jacket. I’ve got my old biker jacket over there and occasionally I’ll put on a hoodie. But it’s England, with that sort of weather we have to.
So you were never a particularly out-there dresser? What was the craziest thing you used to wear as a young goth?
PVC jeans and Demonia boots. I only tended to wear those bloody things when I was regularly DJing on the weekends, so I could stand still. Walking around in them I looked like a newborn baby giraffe. It was ridiculous. My hair at the time, I had a bleached fringe and it was bright red. I was fairly conservative. I like the corporate goth look, with the pinstripe suit, that sort of thing.
What are your plans for World Goth Day?
I’ve got the day off work, which is great. It’s not very exciting but I find I have to answer a lot of e-mails. People will e-mail me last minute about World Goth Day events. Because I live in Britain and live and breathe goth 24 hours a day, I don’t do anything particularly different. I would like to go and do an overseas DJ event. That would be great. Maybe one of these countries where I don’t speak the language.
What are the ultimate goth anthems you would play at this DJ night?
A lot of my favourite bands at the moment are not only UK bands but also friends. Bands like Rhombus, The Last Cry, Dead Eyes Opened. These guys are churning out wonderful music that isn’t necessarily that dark, but its very tuneful, very melodic stuff. For dance floor fillers, there’s a wonderful track which I keep coming back to all the time, Room 57 by Dream Disciples. If that doesn’t make you dance in your room or drive faster in your car, then you have no soul. It’s a real good slap of nineties goth.
You mentioned on your website that you absolutely will not play nu-metal or symphonic metal. What’s up with that?
There’s a couple facets to it really. First of all, having an opera singer shrieking over metal grates horribly on me. The frequencies. Ugh. Also in talking to female friends of mine, when it comes to goth-metal a lot of it was almost used as a segway for metalheads to get into goth girls’ pants.
It’s a really bizarre concept. Essentially all the goth-metal thing did was open that door. “If I’m into this music, than goth chicks will dig me.” That’s how it felt. The other side of it is that I can’t listen to it whatsoever. It’s like listening to a Broadway musical set to metal. I took my eldest daughter when she was 16 to go see Nightwish, and the only saving grace was that everybody else there was so young and small, that I could actually see for a change. I’m not very tall, so to be able to see the band was a bit of a plus for me. But I listened to it and thought, “This is horrific.”
Are your kids also into goth?
No! (laughs) Not really. My eldest daughter is neither metal, nor goth, nor anything. Her thing is more Dresden Dolls, quirky stuff. The other two kids are too young to know what they really like but they do dig The Crüxshadows.
Last question. Is Morrissey a goth?
No! Morrissey is a grumpy old man. Bless him and we love him all the same, but he’s not a goth. He’s disgruntled. He’s cantankerous. He’s like your grumpy uncle.
This interview has been edited and condensed.
Isabel Slone still identifies as a goth. You can follow her on Twitter.