Week 8: Subculture Tangent, or It’s a Bad Idea to Let Me Loose In Camden

This is a bit of a combination post because there are two separate incidents that more or less rely on each other for discussion.

It shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone that I love goth music, and the awesome thing about England is that this is where the goth subculture got started.  Out of the mess that was punk rock grew goth, led by Siouxie and the Banshees, Peter Murphy, and many others.

In the US (especially over here in the west) goth isn’t nearly what it is in Europe.  I mentioned to a German professor that I use German music to practice my listening skills, and when the exchange of

“What kind of music do you like to listen to?”

“Eh…  Goth rock.”

happened, the prof’s response was “Well, you won’t have any problem finding music then!”

While the comment was specific to Germany, it’s true throughout Europe, and London is no different—as anyone who has set foot in Camden would know.  (Camden is well known for it’s alternative subcultures, especially goth and punk.)

Throughout my time in London, there were several bands that I listen to regularly who were playing in or around London, and while I missed quite a few of them, I did manage to hit two.  Back in week four, a couple of us from the flat went into Camden to the Underworld nightclub to catch Voltaire’s London gig, and then almost a month later, I took a trip out to Bristol with my friend Maggie to catch VNV Nation at the Fleece, a popular club for alternative rock gigs.

If you had told my fifteen-year-old self that I would be seeing Voltaire live, I wouldn’t have believed you.  First of all, I lived in Idaho, where there is no goth scene to any degree, and I’ve never been one for concerts.  And VNV Nation doesn’t tend to tour America very often, which is really the case for most goth musicians—when they do, they stick to the east coast where the scene is quite a bit bigger (ironically enough, it’s pretty big in Florida…).

So, there was that…

The real reason I want to bring it up, though, is because between the two concerts, the variety within the goth subculture itself was amazing.  A lot of people don’t realise that there is more than one type of goth, and between the two concerts, I saw almost every single one of them (I can’t imagine what I would have seen if I’d made it to either Diary of Dreams or Combichrist!).

Background:  Voltaire is certainly goth, but he’s also filk.  That is, quite a bit of his music would appeal to science fiction/fantasy fans, and he uses a lot of folk music techniques.  He’s not gloomy, he’s not aggressive, but he is hilarious.  He monologues, and it’s great.  He makes snide comments in the middle of a song.  He also drinks a bottle of Captain Morgan while onstage, and he can be a bit offensive (if you’re the type to be offended).

Exhibit A.

Exhibit A.

The eye-patch makes it.

The eye-patch makes it.

VNV Nation is on the opposite side of the scale.  They’re serious.  They’re more than a man on a stage with only a guitar and his voice.  They’re big.  But you’d never guess they were goth by listening to them, or by looking at them.  But they are.  Ronan formed the group in the early ‘90s, so they’re part of the original movement.  They are, for lack of a better word, inspiring.

Exhibit B.

Exhibit B.

Ronan has a lot more energy than people expect him to (so he says).

Ronan has a lot more energy than people expect him to (so he says).

So, two different types of goth music: acoustic, dark, and funny; electronic, light, and energetic.

With that, you would think that you would get two completely different groups of goths attending the concerts, but the funny thing is, you really don’t.  It’s true that VNV didn’t draw much, if any, from the Renaissance/vampire crowd, and Voltaire didn’t pull too many cybergoths, but otherwise, there was quite a bit of cross-pollination between the two.

I find that to be a lovely thing.  I love how the culture thrives in London, and I love how you can go to two completely different concerts and see quite a few of the same types of people, but the diversity of the crowd is anything but small.  If anything, I just liked to see what kinds of people listened to the same music I do, and the variety was surprising.  Both gigs ranged from “I just got off work” to “You don’t know this, but I sleep in a coffin every night,” and that’s amazing.  If nothing else, I’m glad I got to go to London if only to see and experience this subculture in its natural habitat.

My fifteen-year-old self would have died.

My fifteen-year-old self would have died.

For the last song of the night, Voltaire invited everyone up on stage to sing with him.

For the last song of the night, Voltaire invited everyone up on stage to sing with him.

Ronan is so much fun.

Ronan is so much fun.

My friend Maggie went with me to Bristol to see VNV Nation, which was awesome.

My friend Maggie went with me to Bristol to see VNV Nation, which was awesome.

2 thoughts on “Week 8: Subculture Tangent, or It’s a Bad Idea to Let Me Loose In Camden

  1. Looks like you’re trip was amazing! I appreciate you learning German through music I did the same thing! Did you meet any German’s there you were able to chat with? While in India I am definitely utilizing the music and movies to practice Hindi. So much harder than German. Best of luck to you! ~Annie

    • I didn’t, no, but my flatmate from Spain was also learning German, and we were at the same level, so we would occasionally use German as our medium to explain concepts about English.

      I did, though, spend five days in Germany before I came home, and although I didn’t actually speak to anybody, I was a lot more confident in my abilities by the time I got home. :)

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