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Is the Health Goth Movement Selling Out to the Mainstream?

I spoke to the guys behind the HG Facebook page about how the started the latest internet trend, their net art influences, and whether they're working with adidas now

A Health Goth. Photo courtesy Adelaide Valerie

Health Goth is a Facebook page started at the beginning of last year. Every day the moderators post a couple of images—net art, black-and-white sportswear (like the above), heavily branded prosthetic limbs—and the community lurks, likes, or leaves a comment. The burgeoning trend spent over 12 months bubbling quietly, occupying a corner of Facebook where people appreciate photos of muscular men wearing gas masks.

However, over the past couple of weeks a number of mainstream media outlets have been picking up on it, describing the whole thing as a “lifestyle trend that involves working out in dark clothing.” Which isn’t really what it is at all.

This evaluation aggravated a few commenters on the HG Facebook page: No one was getting their thing. Then Marie Claire ran a piece on the movement next to articles about Matthew McConaughey’s beauty rules and how fasting for brief periods can prevent Alzheimer’s, and a few more commenters voiced their distress. No one was getting their thing.

“Don’t get me wrong I loved the health goth movement but so many articles have come out about it and it’s been getting lots of attention,” said one. “I just feel like it’s getting into the wrong hands and wrong publicity.”

Then, over the weekend, this image appeared on the Health Goth Facebook:

So what does this mean? Obviously it means the guys behind the page met some people from adidas. But what does that mean? Did Marie Claire just unearth the next big thing? Or will corporate interest take the edge off a group whose interests include tactical weaponry, motocross body armor, and BDSM?

I received an email from a PR flack yesterday informing me that "the number of Health Goths has doubled in the last year," and that "the trend is being attributed to ‘goth-like’ celebrities including Kylie Jenner, Kat Von Dee, and Jessie J." So I'm edging towards the latter. 

Chris Cantino, Mike Grabarek, and Jeremy Scott (not the designer) started the page and have been curating the images posted there since May of 2013. Chris is a video artist and Mike and Jeremy work in medicine and have a band called Magic Fades. I spoke to the three of them (but collated all their answers into one Health Goth voice) to find out what they think about all this mainstream attention.

VICE: Hi there. Can you define what Health Goth is for anyone who's in the dark about it?
Health Goth: At its most basic, Health Goth is a collection of styles and mindsets that already exist—like street goth, various internet stuff, and clothing fetish videos—that we’ve brought together on Facebook. It’s also obviously influenced by sports advertisements and the rendered environments they create.

You’ve spoken out against articles written about Health Goth. How do you feel you’ve been misrepresented in the media?
It’s mostly just that they're trying to define something that is essentially amorphous. Plus there’s an emphasis on going to the gym, which is something we never really even did.

Photo courtesy of Chris Cantino

I think they emphasize the health side of things because they see an attention to physical improvement as being in opposition to "traditional" goth principles—stuff like wearing lace and trying to stay really pale.
Yeah, and that contradiction is partly where the interest comes from, because it’s constantly unearthing these new juxtapositions. But there’s also more to being healthy than keeping in shape: meditation, eating well, occupying super clean environments.

The whole thing about working out came from this Jonny Deathface guy. He wrote the "Ten Commandments of Health Goth" and bought the domain name and started selling all these really tacky shirts. We accept we don’t have ownership of Health Goth, but we don’t want people thinking we’re just selling shitty shirts.

Is there a subversive element to what you’re doing with sportswear, or do you just genuinely like what the brands are doing?
When we started we’d just see an ad or some clothes we liked, and we’d see something dark or sexual in them that wasn’t intended to be there. So really the subversive side was just portraying the ads in a new light, because we wished these aspects were intentional. Things sort of went from there.

Photo courtesy of Jan-Peter Gieseking

What’s going on with adidas?
We just had a meeting with adidas at the Portland headquarters. A lot of times these companies can’t really connect to their ads—they don’t realize what they're doing. So I guess that’s where we come in.

Has there been a backlash since the adidas thing?
People’s reaction is gonna be what it’s gonna be, but we’re not trying to do something stupid for a quick buck. There are thirsty people out there, but that’s not us. We all do pretty well in our normal lives. If we can put something out that’s cool, then that’s great—selling out is awesome.

How big of a role does net art have to play in the Health Goth aesthetic?
When we were getting into this world we were taken in by a lot net artists who were doing their thing. People like Ramona Vektroid, Gergo Kovacs, and Jono Mi Lo, who was there at the start of seapunk. We’re connected by Accelerationism as a movement in general, and all of this stuff draws things out from the constant bombardment of advertising.

A few years ago there was shit when Rihanna and Azealia Banks picked up the whole seapunk thing. Do you think the fact you're now talking to big brands speaks to the fact that nothing can really last for five minutes outside of the mainstream?
The perspective people have on this is really strange. Everyone in that small scene freaks out when Rihanna starts using seapunk imagery on Saturday Night Live, but think how many people saw that performance who had no idea where that came from. You can’t care about people co-opting net art because that’s the nature of culture on the internet. It has the power to cause things to reference itself exponentially. What are you going to do?

Photo courtesy of Adam Martinakis

Now that you could be on the verge of being co-opted, what’s next?
The thing with Accelerationist aesthetics is that they can rise and then be reduced to nothing in a matter of weeks. But, inevitably, some of these aesthetics will command more attention than others. That’s where we’re at. We can keep curating these images, but it’s really about how people engage and reinterpret it. If this gets pigeonholed into being just about working out it’s going to die super fast. No one’s going to give a fuck about seeing someone in all black hitting the gym on their Facebook feeds.

Finally, what's on the Health Goth playlist at the moment?
Dystopian electronic music has an obvious appeal—labels like Pan and Liminal Sounds. And we’re into industrial sounds, which links back to OG goth. Take stuff like L-Vis 1990, who’s pretty forward in terms of production, but drops mixes with Front Line Assembly in them. A lot of his production is taken from whatever sounds those original guys were using, but his shit is clean.

But we’ve steered clear of associating a particular sound with Health Goth, because when you tie audio and visual stuff together it becomes more limited and homogenized. Just look at Witch House, which got to a point where there might as well have been a Witch House app that could put together hip-hop hi-hats and deep bass and thrown a fucking triangle on there. We don’t want that.

Follow Alex Horne on Twitter.