Monday, May 22, 2023

glum + glam =

In celebration of World Goth Day, here's my Los Angeles Times piece on Cruel World, the festival of Goth and mope-rock that takes place just up the road from us in Pasadena. It's also a mini-thinkpiece on the perennial allure of Goth as a subcultural option and style identity. 

It's a sequel to last year's blog report on the debut Cruel World. 

Last year, the main draw for me was first-time sightings of PiL and Devo, plus Morrissey (not seen since his solo debut in Wolverhampton in 1988). This time round offered the opportunity to see Siouxsie (but not the Banshees) for the first time; Iggy Pop for the first time since 1988;  and Echo & the Bunnymen for the first time since 1984. It would also have been an opportunity to see Adam & the Ants for the first time since 1980 (the very eve of Antmania) except he pulled out at the last minute, to be replaced by the not very Gothic or mopey Squeeze. As for my first-time Human League live experience - another attraction - their excellence was truncated by an extreme weather event! Headliners Iggy and Siouxsie got rescheduled to the next day, which resulted in the oddness of my first-time and second-time live encounters with Gary Numan occurring on successive days (for unknown reasons he got to play a whole set again). Unfortunately he was shit both times. 

With a lot of these acts, you can't help thinking morbidly that as well as the first time or first-time-since, it's most likely the last time - either they'll snuff it, or you will. 

Offcuts and further thoughts: 

The nostalgia pitch of Cruel World is a little odd, if you think about it – remember the good old days when you felt so bad? When you thought about suicide, wrote tortured poetry, dressed in black to externalize your despair, and imagined you'd never have a girlfriend or boyfriend? When bands like the Smiths, the Cure, and Joy Division were lifesavers? It’s a form of fidelity to the younger you, a refusal to grow out of it and leave it all behind. To stay connected with the purity of that period of doubt, dread and anguish. 


One song  Echo and the Bunnymen played was “Lips Like Sugar”, the nearest they ever came to a hit in America. It’s always struck me as a killer chorus looking for a verse and pre-chorus.  Love and Rockets likewise felt like a great guitarist looking for a matching rhythm section and some decent tunes.  Just like with last year’s Bauhaus show, Daniel Ash’s gnarly but intricately textured racket, as heard on tunes like “Mirror People”, was a highlight. But everything else in their package was a mid or low light.


Iggy's shirtless physique is fascinating in its combination of muscle and wrinkle. You can't tear your eyes off it, the way the flesh ripples, seems to simultaneously tauten and sag. The skin looks like a topographical map of the Rockies, the snake-like squiggle of distended veins on his chest resembling dried up gulches seen from far aloft. It makes him seem monumental: like he's been carved into rock’s equivalent of Rushmore – then broke loose to keep on marauding stages across the world.


Unlike Iggy, who understands the strengths of his own back catalogue, Siouxsie repeated the Numan Error.  Instead of using her extended set time to disinter classics from A Kiss in the Dreamhouse or play the Goth National Anthem “Fireworks”, she played no less than four songs from the little-loved solo album Mantaray. There was a tune off the Batman Returns soundtrack and a pair of duds from 1986’s sparkless Tinderbox.  One unusual choice that did entrance was “But Not Them” from her percussion-and-voice side project The Creatures.  

It’s noticeable that the video projections oscillated in quality and imagination in parallel with the tunes – “Christine” came with a mesmerizing psychedelic kaleidoscope, whereas Batman tune “Face To Face” clunkily deployed cat’s eyes. 


Goths as victims of violence: this I remember only too vividly from attending a show by Killing Joke  circa Fire Dances (supported by Play Dead).  Inside the theatre, it was all menace and apocalypse. But outside the Queensway Hall, the fearsome-looking Goths dispersed peaceably, and it was a gang of ordinary lads, hooligans with no subcultural affiliation, who looked around for someone who looked punky but weak enough to attack - and saw me. I got chased all across Dunstable, bottles whizzing past my head at intervals. It was only through the intervention of a burly middle-aged bloke who sized up the situation instantly (no, I had not "bottled some cunt" as the instant false accusation rang out!) and held them off long enough for me to make a getaway, that saved me from receiving a good kicking. I sprinted back to the center and rejoined my younger brother, sheltering in the protection of a kindly black-clad crew. We waited for our mother to pick us up in the car. 


On the perennial allure of the look - although closer to a Bunnyman in appearance in those days, I married into the tribe. 

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