Welcome to Gotham

Black clothes, heavy makeup and piercings. Who are 'Goths' among us?

Goth 88 224 (photo credit: Courtesy, Deadine Studios)
Goth 88 224
(photo credit: Courtesy, Deadine Studios)
Their eyes, smudged black with eyeliner or shadowed with red, peer from their sockets. Their hair is usually dyed black or different candy-colored hues. Silver or titanium jewelry glints from almost every imaginable anatomical feature, often eliciting winces from those who wonder at how much the piercing process had to hurt. Clad in uniform black even on the hottest days, these human apparitions seem unnatural, even frightening, to some. They term themselves "Goth," short for "Gothic," and delve into all that literary genre's darkness and drama as part of their chosen lifestyle, albeit to different degrees. The original Goths trudged into world consciousness as a Germanic tribe that contributed to the fall of the Roman Empire. Gothic society was looked upon as dark and barbaric in comparison to the newly-Christianized Europe. Later, during the Renaissance, medieval architecture was termed "Gothic." A few centuries later, Horace Walpole set the Gothic stage with trappings that remain today. Credited as the founder of the gothic literary genre with his Castle of Otranto (1764), Walpole claimed that his novel was a serendipitous discovery - hailing from the same medieval period that produced Beowulf - but he was lying through his fangs. Meanwhile, Hollywood's horror and freak show melodramas were born and became a trademark of today's Gothic sensibility. Bram Stoker's Dracula, Mary Shelley's Frankenstein and Edgar Allen Poe are staples of the Gothic bookshelf. Nietzsche, Voltaire, Anne Rice and the Marquis De Sade are also quite commonplace in the Goth library. But literature is only a drop in the blood bag - Israel's gothic scene is almost completely centered around music. DJ, concert booker and promoter Von Elixir is one of the main public relations pointmen in the Israeli alternative, trance and techno music scenes, specifically in Tel Aviv. He hosts Gothic parties and promotes on a regular basis under the Tel Aviv party line (event promotional entity) Dark Revolution/Schwarze Union, often in conjunction with other party lines. Gothic music is his business, and business is good. Von Elixir is aware that much of the subject matter that Gothic bands sing about is dark, atheistic and nihilistic, and is even seen by some as seriously disturbing. But Von Elixir feels that a lot of the performers are merely putting on a show, as their jobs as entertainers demand. "I know so many bands personally. Most of them are just normal guys, providing their audience with what [it] wants to hear in order to make a living." An interesting sticking point for the local Goth scene is that most of the bands Von Elixir knows are from Germany. He has brought four German bands to perform in Tel Aviv, bringing in audiences ranging from 350-500 people, depending on the show. "Today the German scene is the motherland of the Gothic scene," Von Elixir exclaims. "It is the anvil and hammer that creates the fine metal and the fine Goth music for the masses. Germany is the prime source for this kind of music, the schwarze scene, which is the name for all the different genres of the Goth scene, no doubt today the most popular scene all over the world," according to Von Elixir. "Depeche Mode, Rammstein and HIM are all parts of the schwarze scene. A colossal number of music genres are included in this mainstream: synpop, dark 80s, electro, Gothic, and others," he says. DJ Nimrod, a cultural anthropologist and founder of the party line Dark Jerusalem, adds that today's Gothic scene, "includes many subcategories: many different music styles, all of them considered to be dark in their lyricism or appearance of the band members, from bands who sound ethereal or neo-classical, to more heavy sounds up to harsh electronic and rock and melodic heavy metal." When asked if his promotion of an aspect of German culture clashes in any way with his Jewish identity, Von Elixir replies, "I booked four bands from Germany. All of them are extremely nice and polite and very positive about Israeli culture, absolutely fascinated. More than ever, these people can't stand fascism, can't stand brutality. I brought [the band] Diary of Dreams to Jerusalem, to the churches, to Yad Vashem. They want me to book them once again. Maybe, a year from now." DJ Nimrod wants to makes it clear, however, that Germany is not the only source of Goth music. "The most famous acts come from the UK," he says. Viki, a longtime fixture of the Tel Aviv scene, currently resides in Jerusalem, where she co-hosts the Dark Jerusalem Gothic parties. She explains that the Gothic scene "began as a musical movement, with bands like Bauhaus, The Cure, and later, The Sisters of Mercy." The late Ofra Haza lent her voice to the 1992 version of The Sisters of Mercy's song "Temple of Love." The band added the phrase, "Touched By An Angel," to that song's title, honoring Haza's artistic contribution. However, these acts were heavily influenced by German culture, and The Sisters of Mercy often sang in German. The archetypical Gothic band, Bauhaus, is named after the movement that spawned much of Tel Aviv's famous architecture. Bauhaus (who drew its influence from acts like David Bowie and other 70s bands), wrote the quintessential Gothic song "Bela Lugosi is Dead," and marked the Gothic scene's first exposure to mainstream culture through Hollywood, when, in the early 80s, the song was featured on the soundtrack for The Hunger. The band performed as an onstage club act in the opening scene of the film, as well. Films are, of course, a prime medium for the Gothic subculture. Every vampire movie ever made, beginning with Max Schreck's Nosferatu, has had an impact on the scene, as has every classic horror film. Director Tim Burton is the contemporary master of the genre, mixing emotional elements of ostracism and loneliness with dark and sensual visual imagery. Many of those who call themselves Goth choose to be outcasts from mainstream Israeli society, while claiming to belong to their own private society. And Tel Aviv is a magnet for them. Scarlet, a 21-year-old university student, gives the reason: "In small towns, they don't accept people like us. Now, a lot of kids are coming into the scene. It's part of the population. But the normal person on the street can't accept it; it's really bizarre. And for us, it's normal." When asked to define what a Goth is, Von Elixir states, "In my personal opinion, being Goth is being original. If you call yourself Goth, start thinking of yourself as being an individual." But society tends to be threatened by individuals, especially individuals garbed in black, ceramic fangs and semi-erotic costumes. The Columbine school shootings didn't make for cuddly public relations for Goths worldwide, either, after it was noted that the shooters listened to Rammstein and wore a lot of black. In fact, Goths have been attacked in more than one instance in the United States. In Great Britain in August of 2007, Sophie Lancaster, 20, was walking through a park with her boyfriend, Robert Maltby, when both were attacked by a mob and severely beaten. Lancaster later succumbed to her wounds. At their attacker's subsequent trial, the prosecution told the hearing: "Sophie and Robert were singled out not for anything they had said or done but because they looked and dressed differently." This general intolerance toward acolytes of the Gothic subculture makes some of its rules all the more ironic. DJ Nimrod describes some of the principles: "Usually, you have to look like a Goth in order to be considered one, since it's based on a special look. But many just like the fashion, some of which is from related styles like black metal. So you have to like the music too, [in order to be called Goth.]" But even the type of music one listens to and the type of gothic clothes one wears will determine which Goth subgroup one belongs to. According to Von Elixir, there are four different Gothic party lines in Tel Aviv alone. Events ranging the gamut of Gothic preferences are usually held in clubs such as The Sublime, The Alternative, the Zamir, the Asylum, and the Kultura (for more information on events in Tel Aviv, visit http://su-union.com/eru/news.php" http://su-union.com/eru/news.php. In Jerusalem, http://www.geocities.com/darkjerusalem"http://www.geocities.com/darkjerusalem). Von Elixir asserts that "There are perhaps 1,000 or more people in Israel involved in the Gothic scene, and that's growing from nothing. And this is only the number of people I know personally, so I couldn't give you an exact number." DJ Nimrod also maintains that the number of Goth followers can't be easily counted. "There are several hundred, maybe, who like the music. There are very few who actually dress like this on a daily basis. Some are just weekend Goths, who just wear black when they go to clubs or gigs. Old-school Goths listen to many kinds of dark music, and sometimes favor dark art or Gothic-era architecture. Some are also very artistic themselves." He points out that "Many young people who join the scene as a phase in life [temporary rebellious act] are mostly drawn to the visual side of [the] clothes, bands and electronic music played at parties. This is because Israeli society tends to be conservative and doesn't show much tolerance for the different and weird. Many have to give up their special look when they join the army. Not many of them go back to their teenage look. "Like I said before, there are so many subgenres that everyone can find something [to] connect with. Everyone can find his own place in the Goth scene. As long as the place is dark!" he adds. Ideologically, Goth seems almost a religion - or lack of it - in its own right. Mina, 18 (not her real name), interviewed by Metro at a Tel Aviv party, was wearing a cross around her neck. When asked why she wore it when she was obviously Jewish, she said, "Oh, it doesn't mean anything. I just love crosses. They're so Gothic." She refused to answer any questions dealing with Israel or religion because she didn't deem them relevant to the topic of Gothic culture. DJ Nimrod elaborates that "Goth is not a religion, although sometimes it involves religious symbolism or is connected to neo-pagan (mostly Wicca) religions. You can be Goth or hold any religious views without any connection between the two." Von Elixir explains that most people in the Gothic scene have no defined beliefs or are avowed unbelievers. Personally, he says, he belongs "to the class of old-fashioned people. I'm a believer. I believe in 'God Almighty' and I most definitely think that people with fine faith are doing the right thing. Human beings are supposed to believe in something, to be normal, polite, intellectual. People who don't do that - I really hope they find that faith at some point in their lives. But we [Goths] have all types of people." When asked why people in Israel seem to be drawn to Gothic culture, Von Elixir is very enthusiastic about the subject. "Israel is an anvil for this kind of culture. All of the ancient cultures were born in this country. Because of this we are no doubt a prime center... Everything that is Gothic, enchanted and magical is supposed to be in our country. We are unique. There are plenty of bands all over the world that are dying to come over here, and the bands that I brought here are dying to come again. "The reason is that every meter of our country is so, so powerful. So magnetic. People from abroad cannot resist it. Therefore, I believe that Israel is an amazing, amazing center for everything which is not standard." Viki doesn't agree that Israelis show any particular affinity toward the Gothic scene. "I don't think it has anything to do with Israel. If you like the music, the clothing, the atmosphere, and all the other things, it doesn't matter if you're from Israel, England, Germany or Japan." According to Mina, everyone has his or her own definition of Gothic. "It's really an individual thing. It's like a bitchy black cat you want to pet, but keeps running away from you," she says.