Theatrically made-up eyes stare defiantly from behind the thick black curtain of her hair as her dark lips envelop the filter of her long, thin menthol cigarette.
Squeezed into a black lace corset, a black velvet skirt billows around as she walks. Looking at her, one would be forgiven for thinking that Halloween had come early.
There are words in a song which declare “every day is Halloween” – and for Goths it definitely is.
The Gothic phenomenon has been around since the late 1970s early 1980s. It developed as part of the punk culture and as a reaction to the disco era. As time went by, the Gothic scene evolved into its own sub-culture.
In 1994 and 1995 there was an upsurge in support for South African music and new Gothic bands breathed some life into the scene, but since then, it has fluctuated.
Although Gothic sub-culture may appear dead, it is actually alive and well – underground – and every now and then it raises its head in mainstream society.
But, according to Ashton Nyte, the lead vocalist of The Awakening, one of South Africa’s leading Goth bands, “it has a tendency to return underground; it wants to stay underground”.
In his view, the sub-culture can only be as strong as the live venues that support it, as well as the “pro-active elements that breathe life into a culture, like artists and bands”.
The Gothic movement may be described as a subculture that is based on the interplay of the people, the fashion and the music.
According to Lee Wilson, 34, of Alter Ego Records, the Goth scene at the moment is more like “a bloody cult than about the music”.
Which is why his company has been trying to spice up the scene by bringing international bands to the country such as New Model Army, Diary of Dreams and will be bringing VNV Nation to South Africa on June 4 and 5.
It is up to the individual to define what it is to be Goth. But according to one website, the general mentality among Goths is a desire to be left alone, but to be seen and to see the shock on other people’s faces.
A pale beauty with long, dark hair, dressed in black, sits reading a fantasy novel by candlelight in the DJ booth of the EBM/Industrial dance floor at Zeppelins night club in Pretoria. Jayme (28) looks the picture of a stereotypical Goth.
“I’m not a Goth,” she declares with a grin at my ignorance of such things. “I’m into dark electra. It’s different music and we’re not sorry for ourselves like them,” she says, gesturing at the entrance to the Gothic dance floor next door.
Her boyfriend Stephen or “DJ Sekt” explains that EBM is more like rave in a way, something with a beat to which you can dance.
“They look funky,” says a shy Connie Mogale, 24, a cleaner at the club.
“I would dress like that” she says, peering out on to the dance floor – “but only for a club”, she is quick to add, as one of the patrons waltzes past in little more than black lingerie.
Brian, 24, one of the patrons at Zeppelins, says that the whole scene “is very misconceived” and that the stereotypes are not really justified.
“It’s not depressing, it’s bliss; it’s just a way of portraying what life has done to you.”
He, himself, says he is not a Goth, but is just living in a culture which is “more alternative than Gothic”.
His friend Neil Malan, 23, is, however, a Goth. “I’ve been a Goth for five years. It’s my whole personality, it’s a lifestyle for me. I can relate to it 100 percent.”
His girlfriend, Sarah, 21, agrees: “I fit in and it’s a place where you don’t have to fit in.”
“And the men are beautiful,” she adds with a sly grin as she looks at Malan. “It’s funny what PVC pants can do for a man.”
Dressed completely in black with numerous piercings on his face and chunky silver rings on his fingers, Stephan Venter, 33, is the lead vocalist of Silex, another popular South African Gothic band.
In his opinion “it’s very difficult to define what Goth is. What Goth is for me, won’t be the same for anyone else.
“It’s not all about sitting in the corner cutting your wrists or drinking blood and that kind of shit,” he says with distaste.
“There is definitely a difference between ‘the scene’ and people that call themselves Goths.
Gothic subculture is very individualistic mindset, a way of thinking which is very difficult to define.”
Popular people on the scene these days, in Venter’s opinion, are not the people with the different mindsets, but rather with the coolest clothes.
“As long as you have got the clothes and hairstyle you’re cool,” he says sarcastically.
He says that although most Goths are “definitely more drawn to the darker side of life in general, or indulging in the dark side of the human soul” you can see they are different to people who rely on the clichés such as vampires, death,
occult and esoteric literature as a mask to prove something, or to fit the mould.
Venter says that he loves to dress up when he goes out. “It’s part of the whole fantasy – dress up and express yourself as an individual.”
But he says that some people are “like clones … wearing PVC and extensions.
“Many people hide behind the masks that they wear. It’s a huge fashion show.”
Nyte agrees and says that one of the main reasons he started his club Red Room in Honeydew outside Johannesburg, was because he wanted a club where people wouldn’t be hassled by what they look like or what CDs they own.
He wanted to create a positive environment and a completely non-genre specific venue.
A lot of Goths don’t even call themselves Goth because they don’t relate to “the scene” any more.
The scene, as it is today, according to numerous “old school” Goths, definitely does not represent what Gothic really is.
Many people don’t want to be labelled as Goth because they don’t agree with what’s happening on “the scene”.
Venter says: “If you have a strong mind and believe in certain things, it’s difficult to go to a club nowadays when you would like to relate to other people, have conversations with them – and then find out they have nothing to say.”
In his opinion, this is because old-school Goths are “definitely more strong-minded individual people, artistic people”.
He says that old school Goths read a lot of books, study a lot of different philosophies, religions and other esoteric, interesting subjects.
“We open ourselves up to a lot of things, but we know what we want, what we like. There are specific things we’re interested in.”
In the end, according to Venter, Goths have “nothing to prove. It’s not about the coolest outfit or making clever statements. We don’t really give a f**k what other people think.”
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