The VICE UK Census: Goths
Interviews with members of the UK's longest standing subculture.
All photos by Chris Bethell
Who are they? Goths.
What are they? Being a goth – gothicness – is a broad church. What for most people means little more than black boots and Jack Skellington rucksacks, is in fact a complex umbrella term for a world of alternative identities.
While they may not be as prevalent as they were 15 years ago, goths still make up one of the largest and most widely-recognised subcultures in the UK. This reputation hasn't always been welcome. Over the years goths have been regular targets of abuse and bullying thanks to their visible outsider status. The most widely reported incident of this kind was the murder of Sophie Lancaster in 2007, whose death resulted in Greater Manchester Police recognising attacks on goths as hate crimes – a watershed moment, which elevated gothic identity to something more than a sense of dress.
Yet their place in alternative culture remains steadfast. There is a timeless quality to the British goth. Seasons change, decades roll by, fashions flare and disappear, yet they remain. Perhaps too anachronistic to ever be "on trend", they have managed to defy generational logic and persist long after other subcultures have fallen by the wayside: huddled in the furthest reaches of the playground, boot-stomping down high-streets.
We asked the current generation of goth what their subculture means in 2017.
Arcade, 25 (Photographed)
I was 15 when I bought my first pair of New Rocks. They were my first major purchase with my own money. I'd just got my paycheck from the nursery I was working in at the time and I spent all of it on those boots. I wore them out of the shop, and at first it felt like the boots were wearing me. I thought, "oh no, people will know I'm not a real goth." Over time you get more used to wearing them, and less aware. Gradually it helped me find my own identity, at a time when I needed it.
I still cared what people thought – I still care today – but by stomping around school in massive boots and a badly fitting leather jacket, I was able to express my own personality.
Teenage alternative people will always find each-other. You'll always find the other person in the metal t-shirt at the party, and then you'll probably end up talking and becoming friends. It's almost like you can skip ahead in knowing someone because you have so many shared experiences. Going to metal bars or goth clubs is that feeling squared. There are hubs like Slimelight, which is the longest running goth night in the world. There are less dedicated spaces but more club nights at different venues. We're very much a community which, if there isn't a night, we will make one.
I've haven't had many bad experiences in public because of the way I dress, but then I haven't had many bad experiences because of my sexuality either. There are occasions when I will stop holding hands with my boyfriend, but even dressed like this I haven't had many bad experiences. But that's luck. That's a lot of luck. Basically everyone I know has a handful of stories. You do definitely think of ways to minimise danger. It's like women walking home with their keys in their hands, or taking the longer way home because it's well lit. When the big group of shouty men get on the train you start to think: what will I do? Shall I sit somewhere else? Am I paranoid? It sucks that that has to be a thing.
The goth/alternative community is a very strong social group. We take care of each-other, offer help and advice, pop round for a cup of tea. The scene is becoming more diverse than ever, people are expressing themselves with more freedom than ever before without fear of judgement, and due to that it's attracting more people to it who find they can be themselves but also explore a new style of music and fashion. I feel that London is a good place to be a goth but the rest of the country not so much. It's still frowned up on: accusations of devil worshiping, beatings for being different and abuse shouted in the streets. Also getting a job is made more difficult because of the stigma surrounding goth that has been instilled by media. I've been physically attacked and beaten for my subculture. I get abuse online and my mother thinks I worship the devil. I don't even believe in the devil.
As soon as I started finding my own style, I wanted to explore alternative subcultures. When I was around 13/14, there was a little goth shop just a quick bus ride away, so I used to go in there everyday after school to collect badges for my schoolbag. I didn't have much access to music as I didn't have much money for CDs or a solid friendship group to swap with, and these were the days before Spotify, so I had a core of bands I'd found out about from hanging around the local goth club (who ran an underage night on Saturdays). Mainly this consisted of Marilyn Manson, Placebo and HIM, although as I got older I started adding things like David Bowie and Iggy Pop.
Goth is just a stylistic term I think. There are loads of different strands of gothic style but for me, I prefer an old school horror mistress vibe, or the chic nu-goth styles that are around just now. I don't really care what other people think of me! I have been treated badly for being a goth, but not by anybody I particularly want to be around.
I feel like the goth scene is definitely having a renaissance period! I see so many people on the internet talk about goth things, or just having a darker aesthetic than most people. Basically a lot of emo kids grew up and went goth instead.
Nothing terrible has ever happened to me because of my aesthetic, but I've had men calling me a witch in the street and mothers pull their kids away from me sometimes. Also something I hear a lot is that I'm scary and intimidating. However, I definitely get a lot less dirty looks than I did when I lived in France. I still get some looks, but so far I haven't had anyone talk to me about how I look in an inappropriate way in the year and a bit I've lived here. It's not perfect here [UK], but compared to my previous experience it's a lot better. I feel like I see a lot more people who look like me.
I haven't been to many goth shows recently so I'm not sure if they're more or less popular than they used to be, but I feel like I see a lot less goths out and about than I used to. I was definitely treated like crap in school due to my music taste and clothing but as an adult I thankfully haven't experienced it again. I'd say the UK isn't a very inclusive place to be goth as I have so many memories of being laughed at in the street back when I dressed a lot more goth than I do now.
I met most of my goth and alternative friends through rock/punk shows. We're from all over the country but all converge on a tiny venue for a night to enjoy a music scene we've all helped build and feel a part of. I don't really have many alternative friends outside of that social circle. I may well have been the only goth in my hometown growing up, and there's very few of them even at university. I was ostracised in my teens by almost everyone else my age because of the way I dressed.
A lot of misconceptions exist, sadly. When I was younger the biggest misconception was that I was cutting myself. In school, there were a lot of rumours that I practiced voodoo or that I drank blood or whatnot. As I've reached early adulthood, however, people have become a lot more accepting and even admiring of it. A lot of young people compliment my confidence for choosing to dress differently from the majority. I get told that I have an "aesthetic" a lot recently, I like it.
I currently work as an online sales advisor for a guitar retailer. I run in a few different social circles, most of them are based on our music tastes, but not all. Since I moved to Newcastle, it's a very free thinking city compared to Carlisle. I'm at an age now where I don't worry about other people's thoughts. My son does enjoy some of the style and music I enjoy. Though he has remarked some of his friends make fun of my long hair. People judged me a lot more when I was younger, it dropped a lot when I moved here, though there still have been occasions.
The goth scene has gone a little more mainstream than it was when I moved here, and not in a bad way, I guess it's more accessible now. Music-wise, the club nights are predominantly more mainstream rock than they used to be. Fashion-wise, with places like Primark and H&M selling more rock/goth orientated clothing. It has grown a little in that sense.
I'm a freelance model maker and set dresser. I feel a part of the goth/metal community and the Harry Potter fandom/LARP community. I think the goth scene has gotten smaller, or broken down into smaller sub-genres now.
When I was a teenager I used to get bullied a lot and even got attacked once – my head was split open by rocks thrown at me. But my aunt worked with Sophie Lancaster's mum and we didn't live far away from where her attack happened so there was a big community shift after that. I think the country is overall an inclusive place to be a goth. I'm not patriotic at all, it's just luck that we're born here and it's all one world.
I think very young kids think I look like a Disney villain but are confused because I'm so smiley. I think teenage goths probably think I'm quite cool, but regular teenagers probably don't understand why I'm not covered in fake tan like the majority of the North-East. I used to get shouted at a lot in the streets when I was younger (13-20) and get the odd group of kids or even adults, trying to intimidate me as I used to have a more traditionally goth look in those days. There was a teacher at my high school who despised goths, so she would often treat me unfairly in her classes, accusing me of cheating with homework, that kind of thing.
Now I'm more minimalist in my style so tend not to get many comments at all. Saying that, a bloke was asking me the other week if I worshipped Satan – he'd always assumed all goths did. He was so shocked to discover I was actually christened Catholic. My tattoos are always extremely fascinating to middle aged men too, much to my annoyance. They often think it's a good excuse to ask me intimate questions, because you know, I must be kinky mustn't I?
I currently live in a very small village, where I totally stand out with my fashion so judgmental looks are a given. Also back in high school people use to call me Satanist because of my black eyeliner and love for Marilyn Manson. I went to a Catholic school so the logic of people amazed me. But even now I find that people judge me for my black clothes without even saying a word to me. It's cool. Their loss I guess. At the end of the day it says more about them than me.
I feel more part of the community now than a few years ago due to the beauty of the internet and social media. It's so much easier to connect with people though Instagram, Twitter or Tumblr and even meet some of those people in real life. I get mixed response to how I look. Some find my way of dressing, being and my hobbies really cool and admire that, others don't get it in slightest. But going through an emo/scene phase when being younger prepared me for that so at this point I couldn't care less if someone dislikes the style or subculture I am a part off.
It seems like the goth scene is much more open and diverse than in past years, there's still a bit of elitism but it seems to be dying out. There's lots of people in the gothic (and alternative) community that are kind, open minded, willing to talk to you and make you feel very included no matter how much of a goth you are. I feel like the gothic culture is much bigger now days, mostly due to the amount of subcultures that were created to the standard "goth" image, such as pastel Goths, nu-goths, Lolita Goths, health Goths... the list goes on. It feels like there's something for everyone so more people feel included! It's really awesome!
Additional reporting by Marianne Eloise.
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