A Big Night Out with... London's Goths!
Surely they must socialise sometimes, right?
There's a Chris Rock routine where he talks about how you know Native Americans are dying out because you never see more than one of them together at a time. Being from London, I don't see any, but I do feel the same way about goths. Essentially, they're Britain's lost tribe, our cultural Yahi, if you will. I only ever encounter them on their own, showerfacing the consumer drones as they stomp their way down the high street with anti-personnel industrial noise blaring from their Skullcandy headphones.
But surely they must socialise sometimes, right? Where do these gloom warriors go to indulge their collective cray in London? Or would a war memorial in Cumbria be the best place to look? It's something I've spent a lot of time thinking about, but in the end, I just had to admit it: I was stumped.
But then an intern of ours named Oz piped up, claiming that he used to be a big noise in the London goth scene and could act as my fixer to get me into something called "Slimelight", an Islington-based social club for goths which has been going since the 80s. So I went down with him and a photographer to mingle.
The thing with goths is that they're wary of outsiders. So Oz said that, if we were gonna blend in, we'd have to disguise ourselves. Alas, my three-quarter length pinstripe neoprene jacket was at the dry cleaners, so I had to make do with a (borrowed) Tool T-shirt.
I think we looked more like venue staff than heckle hardened full-time goths, which is probably why the chick behind us is looking shifty with her smuggled in bottle of own-brand cola. Don't worry baby, I get ya. I may not be able to chirpse you with any dialogue from The Crow, but we're talking about cola and poverty here; the two great social levellers of our times.
Despite the EBM tunes belting out over the soundsystem, this tired soul still managed to catch a couple of Z's. I don't know who he was, but the durable footwear and utility belt suggested to me that he might be an undercover cop nursing a Jameson hangover on a stakeout. I assume the whole club would have happily cock n' balled his face with their eyeliner if they weren't so worried he might wake up and pull a taser out of his bum bag.
Taking photos wasn't easy. After the flash went on this one, a panicking DJ/promoter charged at us. I expected a walkie-talkie call to the bouncers and a camera smashing to follow, but luckily goths are a peaceful bunch. He started pleading with us to only take photos in the toilets (which was weird) and told us that "the people here have real lives to think about". But I dunno, it didn't seem like a crowd of civil servants who call themselves "Kane" on weekends. If you have pink candy dreads and a double septum piercing, chances are your boss/mother/wife already knows.
Exiled to the unisex bogs, we met Kyle and Fiona, who claimed to be a mother-and-son goth clubbing team. Is it kind of sweet or kind of weird that these two go out to raves together? Of course it's fucking weird, it's your mum, bro, it doesn't matter what the subculture is. But I suppose when your old dear's got purple dreadlocks, there's not much for you to rebel against; you'd probably have to play Sting's Greatest Hits at a reasonable volume just to get a slap out of her.
Out in the smoking area, we met one of the few steampunks in the house. Ash here had fled cultural persecution in backwards Iran to embrace the modern world; Guinness and clothes from a time when it was also fashionable to get your porn from wooden boxes operated by string and keep children as slaves.
I didn't see much interaction between the steampunks, the 80s Bauhaus types and the cybergoths. And whilst they aren't going to be throwing deckchairs at each other on Brighton beach any time soon, there were clear divisions between the tribes.
The venue had been double-booked that night, and some hipster house affair was going on next door. The contrast between the two separated smoking pens was pretty striking. No beer cans were thrown, but the two sides eyed each other like animals from different continents meeting for the first time; Nine Inch Nails and Kassem Mosse 12-inch edits forming an unholy mashup in the no man's land between the two soundsystems.
This guy's name was "Addz" and he told me that he was a member of one of the scene's biggest industrial bands, called Grendel. I felt a bit ashamed of my ignorance of his work. Like somebody's nan going to the Source Awards and meeting "a very nice man called Waka Flocka something or other".
The cool thing about the venue is that it was totally fitting for the occasion. Occasionally I'll walk past this sort of night going on in what are essentially backrooms of bad pubs or old drum and bass venues, but Slimelight actually made sense at Electrowerkz. It's dingy and industrial there, so it felt kind of impromptu and bohemian, but also sort of like Laser Quest. Which is what the goth aesthetic is, really; caught somewhere between an industrial past and a mid-80s vision of the future.
This guy had obviously come as "Prince Charming"-era Adam Ant, which is a strong look for sure, but if you really want to scare people at a goth night, it wouldn't be the era of Adam Ant that I would choose to replicate. No, he should have gone as the bald and crazy Adam Ant of recent times, though maybe people would only have recognised him if he'd tried to hold up the bar with a cap gun.
Back in our toilet-based ghetto, we met Simon here. And before you dicks start commenting that Si really needs to work on his pecs if he's going to insist on wearing mesh shirts, etc, you should know that Simon is a female-to-male transsexual. Though I have to say, if I was going to change gender like that, Simon would not be the name I'd go for. It's not a bad name, but faced with a clean slate of identity, I'd probably call myself "Rocky" or "Fabio" or something.
Goths have a rep for being a bit po-faced, stereotypes dictating that they generally prefer the mediums of poetry and sado-masochism to puerile graf-banter. But not even they could resist this glaring opportunity. And who could blame them? The word "balls" equals lolz, as I'm sure anybody who's ever seen an episode of Soccer AM will tell you.
Also in the social mix were quite a few "norms". This high street honey might look like a bit of a rabbit in the strobe lights, but she seemed to be a dab hand at the Slimelight thing. The real goths seemed to accept her and I wondered if she was an ex-goth scenester who'd flown the nest, coming back to the club because it's just a really great place to get drunk and dance to "Boys Don't Cry". And to be honest, these days that's my only real requirement from a club, too. I was feeling more at home by the second.
As for this guy, well, I rumbled him straight away. The leather jacket and camo jacket combo, combined with that wig? Come on bro, that's worse than a bad sitcom writer's idea of what a goth looks like. He was obviously somebody who'd turned up to Gilles Peterson's night next door at capacity and was trying to sneak in via Slimelight, only to find himself making headway with the lady in leather at his side. We acknowledged each other as fellow disguisees, like escaped WWII POWs nodding at each other in a Bavarian village.
To be honest, the only people letting the side down in the fashion stakes were the cybergoths. The trad shtick has a kind of steadfast charm to it, whereas people like this tend to think they're really pushing society's boundaries. They don't seem to realise that that kind of Tokyo futurism stopped being interesting around the same time the PS2 came out. Listen guys, stop trying to make it happen. Progressive house never caught on, China is growing faster than Japan and that Final Fantasy movie fucking sucked. We don't think you're from the future, we think you're from the 90s and/or Finland.
I never really liked ball ponds as a kid. They were always so shallow your Cica Lights would get caught on the dirty lino beneath, they were used by a transient population in motorway service stations and I'm pretty sure some kids used to piss in them. But while I'm positive there were plenty of bodily fluids to be found in Slimelight's version, I was several drinks deep by this point, so I threw caution to the wind and ended up in a slow-motion, Matrix-style ball-throwing battle with a Nick Cave lookalike. And it was probably the most genuine fun I've had since I first saw The Matrix.
This guy won the "Creep Of The Night" award hands down. That isn't some pose we got him to pull, he was just sitting like that all night clutching his bag like a worried tourist on a night bus. He remained glued to his dusty red seat, watching from behind his Kabuki mask like a character from an experimental opera. I began to ask myself why he might be wearing the mask, but could think of no possible reason other than that he might be a professional footballer whose team-mates won't accept his interests, or a Community Support Officer, or just a charisma-free admin drone desperately trying to weird people out in a shit mask.
Whilst waiting for the door girl to write us some receipts, we spotted this guy in the Royal Mail jacket. Now I don't know if he was a real postie killing time before a shift, or just somebody who'd drawn the short straw in the fetish uniform shop, but goths and the Post Office have more in common than you might think. They're both long-running British institutions faced with declining numbers, a lack of public investment, an innate hatred of daylight and perpetual misery. In America, both groups are prone to shooting sprees, but thank god that, over in civilised Blighty, they just channel their problems into al fresco drinking and petty theft.
Eventually, the music got louder and people got drunker and it became harder and harder to ask permission to take their picture. Which was a shame, because I really enjoyed Slimelight.
In the capital's shifting and fickle club culture, it's a genuine rarity to see a club night that's been going for a year, let alone one like Slimelight, which has been going since 1987. You've got to have some respect for a scene which can live through The Black Parade and come out the other side. Of course, there are inherently laughable aspects to it, but in a world of pre-ticketed entry, Swedish House Mafia stabbings and retina scans, it's refreshing to see something as purely fun as Slimelight going on. It's a scene, and one that remains genuinely alternative at that.
Though as a scene it could do without the cybergoths. Jesus, those guys are the fucking worst.
Follow Clive on Twitter: @thugclive
Photos: Nicholas Pomeroy
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