Death. As people who are presumably alive, we haven’t experienced it yet, but we are all going to. And whether you feel really chill about the whole thing or sometimes find yourself breaking down in tears in the canned food section of Sainsburys about the existential unfairness of it all, you probably have your own way of dealing with the fact our time on earth is so fleeting it’s practically inconsequential.
But while some of us avoid the fact we're hurtling towards our demise, one segment of the population seems to have made friends with the Grim Reaper: Goths. Whether they’re hanging out in graveyards, wearing clothes that would be fitting for a funeral or covering themselves in blood-splattered belts and skulls, this is a subculture with a longstanding history of getting close and personal to the dark and deathly.
But is that really fair? After all, does the color black genuinely have any connection to the plain reality of death? Is it possible that someone can wear an above-average amount of skulls without having any interest in becoming one? Are goths just as afraid of the great beyond as someone who checks WebMD every time they have a cold? What exactly do they even think about death?
With all of these questions in mind, me and a photographer wondered around the world’s biggest goth festival—Wave Gotik-Treffen in Leipzig, Germany—and asked them outright.
Noisey: Hey, you’re dressed as the Grim Reaper. What do you think about death?
Yves: Death is nothing to fear because everyone has to die. Why should we fear it? We have to live our lives and enjoy it. There is nothing for us to lose.
Do you think death is fascinating?
Yeah, of course. No one has looked behind the veil and come back to tell the tale. Well – some people came back, but they can’t explain what they’ve experienced. So it’s a fascinating thing, because you can never know.
Why do you think goths identify so heavily with the macabre?
Some of us have a closer connection to death than most. I think most of us don’t fear it either, because we know it’s more difficult to fear something you can’t escape from.
Carmen, 24 and Reika, 28
Noisey: Hey! Some people think goths have an obsession with death—do you?
Carmen: I don’t really connect the topic “death” to goth, so...
Reika: Me neither. There’s the Satanic stuff, but that’s its own thing.
I mean—we are in a cemetery. Why did you guys want to come here?
Reika: Maybe because it’s peaceful. Places like this are great. But of course we are not always sad or think “I wish I were dead” or anything like that.
Do you think goths have a healthier relationship with death than “normal people”?
Carmen: I think some of the groups probably do, yeah. It depends on what kind of music you’re into as well. Some genres are more connected to death than others.
Reika: I think we know we’re not eternal, and that life is short. But I think we’re really happy and enjoy our lives. So I don’t really think about death a lot, or see it as something important in my life.
Veronique, 36, Yves, 51, and Hilde, 38
Noisey: Hey guys. So: death. Are you fascinated by it?
Hilde: Not sure I’d call it a fascination—it’s more the romantic idea of eternity. And also an awareness of the fact that things pass.
How do you feel about death, personally?
Hilde: I’ve lost people—everyone has lost people. It’s a sad part of life. But in some ways, depending on what you believe, it’s a new beginning.
Veronique: Two years ago I had breast cancer, and ever since then I have been thinking more about death. Sometimes I am very afraid of it, because I’ve gotten close. But it’s like she said—it’s part of life, and at some point you’re going to be dead. But if I could choose, not now.
Did you feel like being part of the goth subculture changed your perspective on mortality at all?
Veronique: I think for me personally, it’s not being goth that changes your perspective, but more that already having that perspective ends up drawing you to the scene. You find like-minded people.
Noisey: You’re looking very shiny! What type of goth would you say you are?
Marina: I dress myself according to my moods so yesterday I was romantic, today I feel kinky.
There are people who think goths are quite deathly—but you’re pretty cheerful. What are your thoughts on the great beyond?
Marina: I think everyone thinks about death, because everyone faces it in the end. But I think us Goths are quite ironic about the way we express our thoughts about death.
Would you say you think about death often?
Marina: For sure. I’m not scared, I think it’s normal. Just a different part of my life. People should learn to take it as part of life—it’s healthy!
Ceci, 29 and Emi, 26
Noisey: Some people think goths are obsessed with death and the macabre—would you say that’s true?
Ceci: Probably. For me, personally, I don’t think it’s a fascination with death, but with fucking up the mainstream. Everything that is a deviation from something fascinates me.
What about you, Emi?
Emi: I can’t really relate to that fascination. I wouldn’t say the majority of goths are obsessed with death either—I think it’s fashion. I don’t think there’s a deeper meaning—it’s just something you find cool, or relate to.
Some people talked about not being afraid.
Ceci: Maybe they’re demystifying it. I’m kind of fascinated—in my sociology studies there’s this thing called “the sociology of death” which is about how we talk about death, and what happens in families, culturally. But it’s not about death itself, more about the culture surrounding it.
Emi: I’m terrified of death. I’m very scared of dying, I don’t ever want to die. So maybe I should get into this whole death fascination thing. It sounds healthier not to be scared.
Alternatively, you can become a cyborg.
Sarah, 43 and Laura, 31
Noisey: Hey, what attracted you to goth in the first place?
Laura: I like the literature, films, architecture and imagery.
Sarah: I used to watch all the goths walking past when I was younger and thought they looked incredible. So I started dressing like them before I’d even heard the music. Then I started listening to Sisters of Mercy and loved it.
Do you think goths have a fascination with death?
Sarah: I think it’s more of an appreciation. Rather than denying our mortality, we embrace it. We’re really into the “death aesthetic”, I suppose.
Laura: Death is quite a taboo subject, so rather than shunning it, we celebrate it. It’s the one thing in life that you know it’s going to happen at some point.
Are you scared of death?
Laura: Not scared—but I’ve got a lot I want to do before it happens. I would like to know when it happens so I could have a little time table [laughs]. You’ve got to live your life when you can, dress up, just go for it you know. Be yourself.
Sarah: Be true to yourself, I suppose, is the moral of this.
What could other humans learn from goths about dealing with dying?
Laura: Try not to be scared of something you don’t know and can’t control. I always go with the adage “It’s better to regret something that you did than something that you didn’t do.”
Mrs Chibichan, 31
Noisey: What attracted you to goth in the first place?
Mrs Chibichan: The scene, the music, the fashion and the fact that I can be free in myself.
Some people think goth is closely connected to death—do you think that’s true?
Yes. I like the morbid. For me, death is not the end station, so that’s where my fascination comes from.
What happens after you die? Reincarnation?
No, no. I think there’s an undead life—like ghosts and stuff. I’m not scared of death at all.
Awesome. See you as ectoplasm!
Nadege, 29 and Zéphirin, 29
Noisey: Are you both into the deathly side of goth?
Nadege: I think we have a romantic, 19th-century fascination for things which are dark. We like to laugh about it.
Zephirin: Goths are very conscious about life and death—we know we will die, so instead of fearing death we embrace it through gothic culture.
Would you say you’re scared?
What happens after you die?
Nadege: In my opinion, I don’t think anything happens, I don’t believe in anything. But I know a lot of goths think different things—It’s not a political or religious movement, so there are a lot of different points of view.
Zéphirin: Ah—I will live again. Either here or elsewhere, I don’t know. I strongly believe in reincarnation.
Dominique, 26 and Lea, 21
Noisey: What first attracted you to the scene?
Dominique: Marilyn Manson. I think I was six years old when I saw him on TV, and I was wowed.
Lea: I think I was ten years old, and I saw a lot of goth music videos.
You have a replica of removed teeth on your shoes. Do you think goths have a fascination with death?
Dominique: Of course, yeah. It’s the main thing about goth – living life alongside death. You can make very creative things with this mindset.
Do you think this creativity is fuelled by a fear of death or an interest?
Dominique: It’s both. Maybe it’s something good—but the fear is there too. I’m just going to let myself be surprised by what happens.
What can regular people learn from goths about dealing with death?
Dominique: Maybe that they don’t have to be afraid, and that they can be creative about handling this fear.
Thomas, 47, Nadine, 40 and Beeke, 25
Noisey: Hey guys, you’re having a family outing at a cemetery. What are your thoughts on death?
Beeke: I have no special thoughts about death. I’m not really more interested in death than other people. But with cemeteries, I like the peace and the quietness as well as the beautiful statues.
Would you say those in the goth scene have a healthier relationship to mortality than the rest of humans?
Thomas: Yeah, we're more open to it. Normal people sometimes need religion or something like that to handle death. But we deal with it in a different way.
Beeke: There's a general acceptance and lack of fear.
If you were to give goth advice to someone who’s struggling to accept their mortality, what would you say?
Beeke: For me that’s a tough question because I don’t understand why people fear death. It’s the same as in life—you never know what will come. Be it next week, or in the next ten years. So don’t be afraid of death. Create your own idea of death, then it'll be OK.
This article originally appeared on Noisey UK.