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An Anti-Social Grace

An Anti-Social Grace
Editorial by Sam B. Grant

There is a certain frustration that comes from that which is unsaid and people are generally an inexpressive bunch. However, in spite of the blandness they seem to exhibit and also the apparent misery that underlies this, they have a few ways of expressing themselves positively and none is so accessible, or expressive, as that of appearance. Appearance is a fine leveller of judgement, it is the way that we want others to think of us, as well as exhibiting how we feel about ourselves. So it’s unfortunate, given this extraordinarily simple premise, that most people choose to ignore its importance altogether.

A lot of people choose to wear things like denim. Knitwear. Roll neck sweaters. Sandals. Even cagoules. These things, even as concepts, are utterly beyond me, but to actually manifest them physically takes things to a whole new level of human fallibility. And it’s not only the everyday man on the street that shares this rather ark-like boat with many of his kin, but the Gothic Metal industry seems to be firmly opposed, or is at least in ignorance, of how to use the tool of band attire to its advantages. In fact, it’s downright terrible at it.

Cut to McDonald’s along the Archway road a couple of months ago. A seedy, detestable hovel rammed with seedy, detestable people. There’s something about the burgers here that makes these people angry, but they always come back for more. In their shell suits and braids they look like little fur cones chomping rodentially on 99p cheeseburgers. Food in fast food joints is thrown together carelessly out of some sense of corporate demand, there’s no sense of real creativity. The only thing that’s created in places like these are new strains of viruses and new urban spaces for the chavvy underclass of North London to bicker and snap at each other. There are a couple of kids at the table next to me with Bluetooth devices strapped to their heads looking like something out of Universal Soldier, shouting about how they’re going to get their names stitched into the seats of their Fiat Puntos. At every level of society it’s interesting to see what people choose to spend their money on.

However, I am obviously very much regarded as an impostor here and people seem to have taken offence at my appearance. There’s nothing overly gaudy about the way that I look, quite the opposite. You’d think that black was effective at fading into the background, but on a night like this where I foreground myself against the blues and whites of the Archway shell-suit mafia, subtlety has most certainly gone out the window, and I’m likely to follow it headfirst if I don’t make myself scarce pretty soon. I take the remainder of my quarter-pounder and leave, blithe to the slurred, French-fry affected murmuring of the beatniks behind me. It seems that people are averse to things which appear out of place or that they don’t understand.

Nevertheless, what is mine and McDonald’s dear loss should be the gain of the music industry when it comes to marketing yourself, when it comes to flamboyantly showing off what the denizens of your label have to offer. However, this is something that remarkably few of the record-regurgitating media have grasped. I remember last year in Poland asking Anja from Closterkeller when the definition of Gothic was, to which she gave the reply that it was a state of the human soul. I think the answer is far more objective. Many people’s definitions of what Gothic is are different. The more classical definition of the word was something that was darkly extravagant, lavish and gloomy, but if you check out the attire of the majority of Gothic Metal bands, you’re likely to see them sporting little else but a black t-shirt and trousers. Where is the style, the flair, the finesse, the desperate exploiting of a gaping hole in the market? Maybe the t-shirts and the drainpipe trousers are trying to redefine what Gothic in the mainstream is. Sure, the females may look extravagant occasionally, but there’s no idea of the band as a unit. Look at the promotional pictures for Epica, Nemesea, Within Temptation, where the female is pictured as the dominant icon while the other band members appear as purely expendable commodities, necessary only for the completion of the musical package. Bands have to earn status rather than be depicted as status symbols. The only band who are truly thought of as a single unit are Nightwish, but that has only come about after a lot of hard work and a lot of money have pumped them mercilessly and gratuitously into the limelight.

The idea of the Goth is not really something exploited to its fullest degree by the Gothic Metal media. Bands like Marilyn Manson and Korn have been considered Gothic in the past, while many would think such a moniker was out of place alongside bands like Within Temptation or Lacuna Coil. However, whereas you may get to see Sharon del Adel in a meringue puff, and rightly so, you’ll only see other ‘Gothic’ bands like After Forever in ridiculous Blakes 7-style jumpsuits. This would be, presumably, due to the fact that After Forever hate being labelled as producing ‘Gothic Metal’ so they are going more and more overboard in order to disassociate themselves from the tag. So what comes with disassociation? Looking ridiculous? Dressing yourself so you inhabit no relatable territory in the metal scene? These are dangerous times when I can wonder whether a band’s outfits have come from Xtrax, charity shops, or the 1970s BBC wardrobe. I don’t know about you, but I don’t want to see any of the bands I actually like suited and booted in Sally Knyvette‘s hand-me-downs.

It’s a shame that out of all the things that people associate – and want to associate – with this form of music, a shockingly extravagant appearance is not one of them. I’ve seen pictures of Blue and the Coronation Street cast all wearing black before and if you put them alongside Epica or Nightwish on a bad day you’d hardly notice the difference. But then we’re missing an important point here. Gothicism is still a niche, still a little bit of a closed community, and if the bands went for the full-blown all-out Gothic look then some people might feel a little bit alienated from a scene that they want to get into. Such style and cliquiness would seem a little further away and a little more unattainable.

For the labels this is also bad news. Exclude your listeners and one of the first things you’re going to suffer from is a drop in sales. It’s far better to go for the halfway house approach, to dip your toes into the waters of Gothic, to hint at it delicately and to give others the feeling that they can have what they want without having to be too blasé. Maybe as time goes on and as the genre reaches greater popularity things will change but it’s a shame that it’s not a case as ‘Gothic is as Gothic does’ but ‘Gothic is as it’s allowed to do’. I would love to see the next Within Temptation, Nightwish or Lacuna Coil gig with the band fully kitted out as a unit with all the right frills, flows and flairs of Gothic attire, but apparently it’s only the music which is allowed to be extravagant, and this increasingly less and less so too. Gothicism is one of the only genres which is all about not holding back, physically, emotionally or introspectively, and to enforce restrictions is to suffocate a natural process. The best way to let this scene develop is to let it gather its own momentum and not to hold it back for the sake of commercialism. I hope that somewhere, style and substance - the key ingredients to the perfect Gothic package - can still overcome the necessity to make a hard sell.

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