New Times Los Angeles (10.29.98)
Return of the Vampires;
The '80s didn't drive a stake into the Goth movement, and now it's bigger than ever. Trick or treat
Victor Mejia, Johnny Angel
Wilshire Boulevard on a Sunday night is, for the most part, a stretch through a ghost town--traffic-free and eerily quiet. Except for the few blocks surrounding the El Rey Theatre. That's where Coven 13, the reigning Goth nightspot in L.A., takes place at the end of each week. Packs of black-clad people descend. Some in simple Ts and jeans. And others in the classic pale-powder/kohl-rimmed mascara death mask, or perhaps a leather corset, wedding dress, and crucifix satori.
They file through the El Rey's doors, into the theater's main space, where the bass-heavy, stentorian sounds of Siouxsie and the Banshees rumble on, just as they did 15 years ago. The DJs then segue into the quasi-industrial tones of Clock DVA or Throbbing Gristle. Or perhaps into newer sounds from Spahn Ranch or Switchblade Symphony. Or maybe it will be Goth's forbears: the Velvets doing "Venus in Furs" or Joy Division's timeless "She's Lost Control." Snippets of Disney kid classics might be mixed in, as well as the once-taboo inclusion of such new-wavers as Duran Duran or Depeche Mode. (Like any other venue, the idea is to keep them dancing.) Through the fog-machined morass, the attendees twirl to whatever spins; blissfully enraptured by this almost amniotic blend of fog and mid-range heavy ear wash, the skinny, pale boys and girls do the dance macabre, safely ensconced away from the big, bad outside world.
Problem is, the big, bad outside world is starting to notice them. That's because Goth has become, well, big. At least bigger than it has yet been in its two-decade, beneath-the-radar existence. Everywhere you turn in L.A., the sights and sounds of this once-invisible genre are in your face. The newly reformed Bauhaus--pretty much the archetypal Goth band--sold out three nights (11,000 tickets) at the Hollywood Palladium earlier this year. This from a group that, in its day, couldn't pack the Whisky on consecutive nights, a band that never had anything resembling a radio hit. Sisters of Mercy sold out the Palladium earlier this year as well.
Perhaps more compelling evidence for Goth's resurgence can be found in any and every record shop and boutique, where omnipresent posters advertise a slew of Goth events. Only a few years ago, there was but one club (Helter-Skelter) that spun the genre's favorites. Now, one-off events such as a recent fashion night at the Probe bring in thousands of ravenlike fans. New attention is being paid to acts that have been underneath the zeitgeist for their entire careers--see Death in June, which sold out the El Rey a month ago. Or Switchblade Symphony, which has been selling out huge venues in California for the last six years without a single major publication doing any features on it and without any commercial radio play except for a handful of specialty shows in its hometown of San Francisco. Switchblade's label, Cleopatra Records (based in Marina Del Rey), began six years ago as a Goth boutique label; it did $10 million in sales last year. Go to such hangouts as the Nova Express coffeehouse on Fairfax, and you'll find newfound palefaces and self-styled vampires among the majority; dig a little deeper, and you'll find an entire community of people--generally on the periphery of the entertainment business--who sleep in coffins, surgically enhance their teeth, and drink blood. In sum, look around. Goth is bigger than ever.
What the hell happened?
Like most of this decade's music revivals--punk, electronica, ska--Goth never really went away. Not completely. The movement began in the early '80s at London's Batcave club, where O.G.'s Bauhaus and Specimen were regulars, but even by then, the look and sound of the nascent scene were already encoded. Its fashions and visuals were derived from the "suicide cults" of 18th Century Europe: The death-mask makeup was a reflection of the tuberculosis epidemics that had wiped out parts of the population; the hairstyles were derived from guillotine victims (severely short in the back, flopping over in the front, so as to allow for a clean, quick slice). Its primary musical inspiration came from the gloomy basso-profundo of a genuine suicide victim, Joy Division's Ian Curtis; there were also hints of androgyny (see Bowie) and S&M (see the Velvet Underground) sprinkled throughout.
The original Goth scene never made much of a dent here in the States, save a small, feverish cult. Bauhaus, a group of college chums whose Boris-Karloff-meets-Marc-Bolan vibe made waves in Britain, never even punctured the American Top 100, nor did Alien Sex Fiend, Specimen, Sex Gang Children, or the other denizens of the Batcave, which folded in 1985. Not until Sisters of Mercy's nightclub/KROQ smash "This Corrosion" in 1986 did Gothic-influenced music ever reach Americans in numbers. But by then, hipsters had already deemed "Corrosion" to be passe, and L.A.'s first Goth nightspot, the Veil, had already shut its doors.
The gradual accumulation of decent, playable tracks from the Sisters, Mission UK, and Fields of the Nephilim--combined with the ongoing appeal of the Goth look to alienated suburban youths--created the music's second wave. That wave's popularity was aided and abetted by Goth's Teutonic cousin industrial, and a genuine movement began, fusing the two dark strains. For a while, it looked like this unholy mating might sweep the consciousness of the '90s; Ministry and, later, Nine Inch Nails demonstrated how Goth's superficial elements could be appropriated for wider acceptance--until it was soon elbowed out by the more trad strains of Seattle slop, post-Ramones power chordings, and ska. But slowly, quietly, Goth has endured and grown.
"There's no doubt in my mind that if this music were properly marketed, it could take over. Goth is ready to boil," says Brian Perrera, owner and founder of Marina Del Rey's Cleopatra Records, the largest domestic Goth label. (Well, it's not entirely Goth. Of Cleopatra's 900 titles, only about 200 can be classified under that wide banner. The rest are punk-reissues and videos, odd catalogue items like Jimmy Reed and Jerry Lee Lewis rarities, metal acts like Venom and Bang Tango, and Perrera's big sellers, prog-rock hoaries like Trapeze and, amazingly enough, Yes. "I have no attitude," he says smiling. "I'll put out anything".) Perrera obviously has a financial interest in such proclamations, but given that Cleopatra's sales are running at about $10 million a year after six years in business, he must be doing something right. The label began as a small, Goth-only concern, but the genre's small market and Perrera's ambitiousness were at loggerheads. He's still sees himself as a huge fan, even if his label has expanded its scope.
"I support the local bands here, the ones that I like by compilation disc. The trouble with a lot of these bands, well, all bands if you ask me, is that they have a few great songs, not enough for a full album. So I put them on our compilations, which get distributed everywhere. If they have a good track, it gets played in clubs all over the world, and then there is interest. Then you make a full-length disc."
Strolling through Cleopatra's enormous warehouse, there are box after box of "various artist" discs. A lot of these are theoretical easy sells, discs which have tracks by such heavies as Bauhaus or Siouxsie or Alien Sex Fiend on them, or "tribute" discs (tribs to such biggies as Bauhaus) featuring lots of Goth baby bands.
Perrera disagrees with the idea that Goth is all Halloween masquerade and, consequently, doomed to a small cult of fans. "Bauhaus sells out three nights in L.A., and maybe half of the people were Goth-looking," he says. "The problem with the scene is the same with every scene, it's fragmented. There are ethereal Goths who like almost ambient, churchy music. There are harder rock fans who like Misfits-like groups like Penis Flytrap. There are childlike types who love the music of Switchblade Symphony--our biggest act.
"The majors have never taken us seriously," he says. "They figure that as kids turn 20, they change their tastes and it's over, but I don't see it. Look at all the clothing stores on Melrose. Retail Slut is all 20-plus Goths. And the clubs are over 21 and full. Coven 13 is packed, all of the special nights around town are always full. Can the rock clubs say that?"
Perrera's A&R assistant, Athan Maroulis, concurs. "As the Goth scene begins to overlap into more industrial, more metal, more techno, it'll grow exponentially. Look at bands that use small parts of the Goth look and sound, like Marilyn Manson or Nine Inch Nails--huge acts. I think that if the fans accept those groups, can Switchblade or Spahn Ranch (Maroulis' own band) be far behind?"
It's 1 a.m. on a warm Saturday morning in Hollywood, and Alejandro Miguel Quezada is drinking an Italian almond soda with a group of friends at Nova Express. He's a tall guy, about six-foot-three, with long black hair and sharp features. He's the lead singer of his own Goth band, Malkador. He's L.A.'s leading fang designer. He has been "living in darkness"--never coming outside during daylight--for almost 10 years. He claims to be a direct descendent of Ponce de Leon, the Spanish explorer who in the 16th Century "discovered" Florida and went searching for the fountain of youth. ("His blood is in me," Quezada says.) And he's also one of L.A.'s best-known vampires.
Quezada sits at Nova Express, engaged in a philosophical discussion about matter and spirit and about the concept of zero in the alpha-numeric system. He says the zero with the cross in the center is the communion of all the numbers between one and nine. He talks about the various dimensions that exist, that must exist in the universe; and he describes the vast emptiness that surrounds us.
"Even at the microcosmic level, where the atoms are spinning, there is a lot of empty space between the revolving protons and the nucleus," he says. "To me, it is clear that there is more black, vacuous space then there is light." He grins and a set of chrome double fangs flash in the dim light, then he adds, "My goal as a vampire is to find communion with all the artists who live from the dark energy."
By all accounts, there are many of them; L.A., it seems, is teeming with vampires. Quezada is one of hundreds who revolve around the city's Goth nightclub scene. But their lifestyle is beyond mere trend. They avoid the sun at all costs. Some drink blood and perform ritual magic. Most claim to possess psychic abilities. Some say they are tormented by wandering spirits. Almost all of them live in Hollywood and work on the fringes of the entertainment industry.
J. Gordon Melton--director of the Institute for the Study of American Religions (a research facility in Santa Barbara) and also head of the American chapter of the Transylvanian Society of Dracula, an international club for vampire lore enthusiasts--says that hardcore Goths and vampires tend to be in their 20s. Most have little or no relations with their families, and their affectations represent "a delayed adolescence. They grow out of it much later than everyone else." Melton divides vampires into three groups: The "wannabes," who are mostly young kids who dress in black and are attracted to the Goth fashion; the metaphorical vampires, who adopt such trappings as sleeping in coffins, wearing fangs, and keeping nighttime jobs; and the "real" vampires who drink blood and exhibit a psychosis. Many cross the lines of these groups, but almost all of them are adults with marginal incomes "who appear to be living out a fantasy world." Some may even get involved in vampire cults, but cases of families wanting to rescue their children from vampiric cults are extremely rare.
"We get about two calls on Goths per year," says Nancy O'Meara, West Coast coordinator of the Cult Awareness Network, a hotline and referral service. "What that tells us is the people who join Goth groups are adults who are already disassociated from their families."
Another researcher working in the Seattle area found that, of the Goths interviewed by his team, about 80 percent had a record of child abuse.
"It's an extremely high rate," says the researcher, who asked not to be named. "It's very preliminary research, but it appears that the Goth community functions as a holding tank, a therapeutic community or space for healing for kids with these backgrounds. We think it's one reason why these kids get involved in this scene."
Quezada does not fit any standard profile of a Goth; unlike most people in the scene--typically white, suburban kids trying to find an identity that's the opposite of who they really are--he's a Mexican born in East L.A. He says his family moved around a lot as he was growing up. By the time he was a teenager, Quezada had lived in Massachusetts, Mexico, and Brazil. At 17 he dropped out of Glendale High School to become an actor. He had some small parts in a few films, but gradually became more and more involved in the vampire scene. When asked why he joined it, Quezada responds:
"Why did I create it is the question. The vampire scene didn't exist back then. There were no vampire clubs. It was always a fantasy of mine to make vampire teeth. I've been making them for eight years now. For me it's about eternal life and about being artistic. I hope my legacy will be that I was the father of the vampire scene in L.A."
"Al is genuine," says Blade, promoter of Vampiricus, a vampire club in Long Beach. "He has been very instrumental in shaping this club. He has all the vampire connections, and he is actively out there looking for people who live the vampire lifestyle."
Quezada never sees the sun set or the sun rise. He doesn't wear a watch and claims that he no longer remembers how old he is, although he looks to be in his mid-20s. He sleeps all day and works at night. He scrapes a living making fangs out of removable acrylic dental shells for other vampire clubgoers. It's a small business that doesn't make him a lot of money, though it has earned him the nickname "Lord of the Fangs" and brought him some fame and notoriety in the Goth scene.
"I was the first person in L.A. to make fangs for the club scene," he says. "I'm not a sculptor, but I am a great fangmaker."
A set of fangs runs anywhere between $80 and $250, depending on the size and material. Each pair he makes is unique, especially designed to complement a person's identity. Quezada takes into consideration the size of a person's teeth, the shape of their skull, and their height. ("The thing that defines a vampire from a human is the fangs," he says. "Otherwise you are just a cannibal, a fiend, or a ghoul.") He has made so many fangs that he has begun to develop carpal tunnel syndrome from grinding and molding.
Like traditional vampires, Quezada sleeps in a coffin, in a blackened room with no windows or mirrors. His "batcave" is a sound-proof rehearsal studio with no ventilation. There are fake tombstones lined up against the walls, and his coffin is a massive wooden box that looks more like a small stage. ("It took me months to build it," he says. "This is like a party coffin; I can fit five or six people in there.") On one of the walls hangs a spiked warrior's shield; a Hollywood prop used in the film Mortal Kombat. On the other side of the room hangs a massive steel sword.
"This is my anti-vampire hunting sword," he says. "There are some people who really don't like vampires and who will kill you if they know you are a vampire."
Vampire slayers are out there, Quezada says. And he believes some of them are on his trail. He has had premonitions of being stabbed at a nightclub and says his enemies include other vampires who are after him because he won't acknowledge them as vampires. Moreover, he is adamantly opposed to biting people and drinking blood--quite a departure for a vampire--which he says is very common in the Goth scene.
"I feel like I'm in the middle of this big sex orgy, and I'm the only person telling everyone to use a condom," he says. "Drinking blood won't do a damn thing for you except give you a stomachache."
Quezada has been living the "vampire myth" for 10 years and claims that he is in touch with real "dark" forces. He says evil spirits torment him and make his life miserable by toying with his electrical equipment and interrupting his phone conversations. (The spirits did not return repeated calls for comment.) Most people who know him say great things about him; that is he driven and generous, but they can't understand why a such a good-natured person is plagued by so much bad luck.
"It can be anything from his car not starting to someone wanting to stab him in the neck at a club," says Danichi Vam-Phyere, a friend and former bandmate. "I'm just in awe of the things that happen to him. Every time the band Malkador would be ready to perform something drastic would happen. We would have equipment failure, someone would get poison oak, someone would die. Wherever Al went, things went wrong: The TV wouldn't work, the CD player would jam--truly unexplainable things."
Others acquaintances, however, are more skeptical. They don't buy the dark-forces theory and say Quezada is just a flake who couldn't cut it as an actor.
"He blames every mistake on ghosts," says a friend who doesn't socialize with Quezada any more and wished to remain anonymous. "That's his excuse for everything. I had to get off the blame-it-on-the-dark-forces thing. Al is extremely intelligent; he can quote shit from a million different books. He could be very successful if he wanted to."
Interestingly enough, neither KROQ nor LIVE 105 (the altie station in San Francisco, which is generally considered America's biggest Goth city) has an all-Goth radio show, despite the huge number of young people that flock to Goth clubs. So it's in these clubs that the fans get their first aural taste of the latest sounds. In L.A., that means Coven 13. The club's promoter and head DJ is the legendary Joseph Brooks. A lean, wide-eyed, gray-haired fellow in his early 40s, Brooks almost single-handedly started the L.A. Goth scene in the early '80s.
"I met Siouxsie in 1978," he says. "And Bauhaus in 1981. I started the Veil, which was Goth and New Romantic in 1981. I kind of thought that the scene lost its way in '84, just like in England, so I threw a 'death of Death-rock' night at the Starwood in 1984--the expression "Goth" didn't really exist then. What a night: caskets on stage, people in caskets, flowers, coffins everywhere--wonderful. I was sure it was over. But there were other people waiting in the wings, like with Scream after that. It wasn't over."
Brooks went on to co-found L.A.'s legendary S&M/Industrial hangout Club Fuck in the '90s, but Fuck was hardly Gothic; at that point, only the formulaic Helter-Skelter and its ironclad playlist drew Goths. But two years ago, Brooks saw the scene regain a kind of momentum it had never had before, and so Coven 13 was born.
"I wanted to present new acts and new records in a new setting, it was that simple," he says. "I was so into these great records like Faith and the Muse--and they weren't getting played at Helter-Skelter--so I brought them in. It worked."
Brooks, like Cleopatra's Perrera, believes that any number of Goth acts could be the "Goth Green Day."
"The potential and talent is there, but there's this desire for obscurity that is a main element of this scene. That was the same with punk, too, so who knows? And the Bauhaus reunion was so huge--all those stupid old farts in the record business must have surely taken notice. If they can sell that many tickets, well, then they must have value--that's what those idiots think."
One of the movement's biggest booking agents is Ben DeWalt, who cut his teeth with hardcore and speed-metal tour booking; today, Goth tours comprise around a quarter of his business, and he says that it's continued to pick up considerably.
"Promoters have been willing to admit that bands that aren't on the radio can sell tickets," he says. "They never used to admit that. We can do legit shows at the Palace, instead of a 'Goth night' somewhere, because now there appear to be the bodies to justify it. There are more fans, basically. And many more cities, too. There are vibrant scenes in Austin, Baton Rouge, Denver, Phoenix, where there never were before. It's good."
Not good enough to attract serious major-label dollars. At least not yet.
"It's never a matter of vision," says Brooks, his anger rising. "They know nothing, it's the nature of their jobs. What they know is this--if something is already selling, let's find all the similar-sounding shit we can and put it out. Crap begets more crap. They don't 'break' anything. What--they 'broke' Nirvana? I don't think so. Faith and the Muse and Project Pitchfork have great songs. They could be KROQ stars, if they were ever played there. It's all a matter of time. What we were spinning at Fuck in 1990 is now mainstream techno--Madonna does that kind of music now. Eventually it has to break through because there will be nothing left to prevent it."
It's a Wednesday night in Pasadena, and Danichi Vam-Phyere is drinking a black and tan with his manager at the Colorado Bar. He's a charismatic 31-year-old Black-Asian with a hairdo reminiscent of a young James Brown. His name is real. He flashes a California driver's license to prove it, as well as a faded green ID from the Department of Defense. ("I did some work for them," he says. "I'm a linguist.") Danichi speaks several Asian languages and is a veteran of the Persian Gulf war. He was in the Navy, trained marines in martial arts, and was among the forces that invaded Panama in 1989. But above all, Vam-Phyere is (how did you guess?) a vampire. If asked directly, he will deny that he is one, but, as his pal Quezada says, "that's a true vampire's answer."
Like Quezada, Vam-Phyere lives in darkness and is a well-known figure in L.A.'s Goth scene. He also worked with Quezada's band, Malkador, but "took a leave of absence" because he grew tired of the inexplicable forces plaguing the band. He's now trying to break into the music industry with his own brand of Japanese-style techno/Goth music. He also works in the entertainment industry; he's a stunt coordinator for Star Trek: Deep Space Nine. But he hasn't been a vampire for very long; his first contact with the "dark realm" came in 1992, when he was a soldier helping patrol the city during the L.A. riots.
"I was interviewed by one of the TV stations during the riots, and two weeks later a group of people from the Church of Satan knocked at my door in Oceanside," he says. "They wanted to talk to me about the Church. They thought I was a Satanist because of my name, Vam-Phyere, which they saw on T.V."
The group not only knew where he lived but also knew his parents' names. ("That scared me," he says.) And since then, his peculiar name has continued to attract vampires and Goths. Most of the people in the scene are "wannabes," he says, but occasionally he comes across a vampire who is truly enigmatic, who has an uncanny presence and a keen intelligence.
"There's always one or two who make me think," he says. "For example, I have a friend whom I've known for 15 years. He drinks blood, and his eyes seem to be perpetually glassed over. He is also an alchemist. Anyway, we went hiking in the Angeles Crest Forest one day. We hiked for eight straight hours and I saw him climb a 20-foot tree, jump off, and jog another four miles without breaking a sweat. I kept a good pace with him, but I was astounded that someone could do that."
As music fans, Goths tend to come in two types. The most common one is the despairing, anguished teen who deeply identifies with the confusion and displacement voiced by so many of the genre's musical acts; it's the dark, exaggerated fantasy that manifests itself in blazing candles and incense, Anne Rice novels on the shelf, and some anonymous baritone intoning plaints of cognitive dissonance over synthoid mush. The other side of Goth is the playful, childlike fantasy side, the soundtrack of which would surely be the Banshees classic "Christine," an endless foray into the psyche of a nine-year-old. These two aren't entirely incompatible--fantasy is fantasy, which is why Disney soundtracks will draw a loud whoop when they're spun at Coven 13.
The latter type of Goth enchantment is the likely basis for the immense popularity of San Francisco's Switchblade Symphony, the best of the '90s groups. Founded and led by two women, singer Tina Root and keyboardist/songwriter Susan Wallace, Switchblade Symphony's last disc for Cleopatra, Bread and Jam for Frances, sold more than 50,000 copies (remarkable for an indie release), mostly due to incessant touring. Ethereal and pleasant, Switchblade is far more melodic and listenable than the stereotypical Goth band; their sound is closer to the Cocteau Twins or Portishead than to, say, Red Lorry Yellow Lorry. Frances features a slew of vaguely hip-hoppy loops over which Root intones her Fantasia lyricism, with its references to goblins and spirits. It is for this that they are so popular with Goths: The delicate, childlike sound of the band lends itself to flights of dreaminess and self-hypnosis.
In the flesh, they are two of the least "Goth" folks you may ever see. Sitting in the half-completed living room of a Ventura County mansion overlooking the Pacific, Root and Wallace could easily pass for a pair of very pretty co-eds on holiday. (Co-eds who refuse with incredible insistence to reveal their ages; they look to be in their early 30s, but they say their ages are "12 and 13.") Nary a strand on either head has been blue-blacked by Lady Clairol or Manic Panic, they're tattoo- and (for the most part) piercing-free, and they smile incessantly. Gloomy they ain't. If they told you that they were, say, Amy Grant's backup singers, they could pass, except perhaps for Wallace's impressive head of medusa-esque blonde dreads.
"We're liked by Goths, but we really aren't Gothic,'' Wallace says. "I don't own a Siouxsie record other than the one 'Nightshift' was on, which we recorded for the Banshees tribute disc Fangs. Crucifixes, religious imagery--that's not us."
"The fashion code is sad," Root says. "It's the thing of being a weirdo and an outcast, the lonely one in high school, and now, all dressed up in a room full of people like you, you have an identity. That's cool, but don't claim that makes you some kind of unique individual. In fact you're the opposite. Skinny white kids all into the fear, sadness, and torture thing. But they like us. It's weird--the crowds are scared stiff at first at shows, and then I encourage them to move, and it's like they're relieved, like 'Oh, I don't have to pose now, good!' "
This is pretty accurate. At a recent Hollywood Athletic Club show with Psychotica, Root's stage demeanor was more cheerleader than sad-faced chanteuse. And Wallace, when she isn't leaning into her bank of keyboards, shakes her dreads with abandon. It's more like an old-fashioned dance-rock band than a combo of stern-faced zombies. It hasn't always been like this, though. Root and Wallace confess that they were "stiff" when they first performed, but have "become more sensuous, humane, womanly" as they've progressed.
Formed eight years ago in San Francisco, Switchblade Symphony has also grown to eschew the regular band ethic ("too many opinions"), adopting instead the ethos that "as the two of us, we can do anything." Despite its touring successes, the band has been virtually blackballed by the media, save the hardcore Goth fanzines.
"We get so much less press than bands that sell a fraction of the records we do," Root says. "The industry seems to think that Goth is a joke, that it boils down to strange looking kids as 'bloodsuckers on Jenny Jones,' a bunch of confused-looking junkies and vampires--the people who are a joke in the scene. We aren't like that, and neither is the majority of our fans.
"Look," she continues, "if Switchblade Symphony got played on the radio, it would be huge, just like anything else. We toured with Gary Numan recently, we've been touring on our own, doing 'Goth nights' all over the place, and we've built a fan base that's not just the stereotypical Goth. But it's all the same thing to the record companies. They want to hear what they think is a hit, and it doesn't move them that we've sold so many records on our own."
The duo is here in Ventura recording its third disc for Cleopatra; the house is down a two-mile dirt road above Deer Canyon, near Oxnard, miles away from any distraction. Today there are no session players about. Just the women and an engineer. In the background, the basic tracks for the discs play, shades of Arabic music, a bit of hip-hop, some deep cello, a lot of interesting stuff. Root has yet to compose most of the melodies and lyrics, but it's a nice start. After this new disc is done, the duo will return to S.F. and their day gigs, which like their ages, they are reluctant to discuss.
"We'd love to see the Goth thing explode," they both say.
"We wouldn't get buried in the backlash if there is one," Root adds. "We would never alter our sound or deliberately change to become more acceptable. The rest of the world has to come to us."
Damiann Demigodd lives in Hollywood in a small studio apartment where several people have been murdered in his building in the last 30 years. His room is completely blacked out, and there's a seven-foot-high black wooden cross in front of the main window. On another wall is a massive mirror with baroque candle holders nailed above it. On the opposite wall hangs a wooden cuckoo clock with a tiny deer's head which Demigodd painted black and mutilated to look like a demon. He also has three mannequins in Gothic/bondage attire that keep him company in his dark lonely apartment.
"This is my deathtrap," he says.
Demigodd is not his legal name, but it will be soon, he says. He's a slender 24-year-old, with pale skin, gaunt features, and a perpetually sad face. His hair is black and looks modeled after the infamous coiffure of the Cure's lead singer Robert Smith. Demigodd claims he's directed several music videos, "but none that you would ever recognize. I also do some acting." He doesn't drink blood and considers himself only a part-time vampire. ("I have fangs, but I don't wear them that much.") He does, however, drive a black 1961 Cadillac hearse and has a predilection for eating raw meat. He has tried cow, fish, pig, and horse. "My favorite is raw bacon and raw ham," he says. "I want to try whale meat, too."
Demigodd is originally from Ventura but was raised in Northern California in an old Victorian house that he says was haunted. He never really saw the ghost but does claim to have sensed it. He says there's a history of psychic ability in his family and that he has premonitions regularly. The events he sees usually occur within seconds after he envisions them, he says.
"The last one I had, I was standing at a street corner and thought: A car is going to wreck," he explains. "Moments later there was an accident halfway down the street." On another occasion, he thought: The freaks are out. "Then, five minutes later, some guy tried to rob me."
Demigodd doesn't sleep in a coffin or bite people, but he does have shrines which he uses to bless or curse individuals that cross him. He also has a 17th Century book filled with etchings of bondage and animal torture, and he often undergoes long periods of fasting and sleep deprivation to "become more spiritual." He says he has an uncanny aura that frightens people and intimidates animals.
"Animals don't like me," he says. "They bite me all the time. When I was a kid, I was attacked by a tiger in a petting zoo in Oregon. A lot of people flip me off, too."
If the current Goth resurgence is going to become anything greater than what it already is, that will require capturing the attention of tastemakers with serious money to throw around, i.e., record-label executives. But all of the arguments put forth haven't yet made believers out of the suits in the towers. And they're not quite as removed as they're perceived by Coven 13's Brooks, the women of Switchblade Symphony, or Cleopatra's Brian Perrera.
A&R man David Katz-Nelson has been at Warner/Reprise for seven years and has signed such acts as the Flaming Lips, Mudhoney, the Muffs, and Green Day. And he's a self-admitted fan of Goth, "since I was a little kid." But he isn't moved by any of the analogies to past movements or the idea that a massive boom is pending in that music's popularity.
"Other than Bauhaus and its spin-off bands, or the Sisters of Mercy, there's never been a Goth band that could write a memorable song, bottom line," he says flatly. "The image is great, the sound is fine, but pure Goth acts begin and end there: no songs."
And the problem is not only limited to what he sees as poor tunesmanship.
"Goth has definitely been a hot topic in our boardroom. It's been broached as an issue. We've been checking out all the bands, we know what they're selling," Katz-Nelson says. "There is definitely a grassroots-level excitement about it. You see more Goth-friendly shops everywhere. I get more invites to events in the genre than I ever did. But what we are worried about, and I think this is really valid, is that we don't know if we can take a Goth band above their 40,000-unit mark. When a trend embraces the outcasts, and Goth does that, it alienates them as soon as an act gains any popularity. So you have to write off their initial fan base. It's a Catch-22: Either they have to adopt a more pop sensibility, and that can't be forced on anyone; or they'll remain where they are, doesn't make a difference who's distributing or pushing them. That's the weak point in the whole theory right there."
Even those with a financial interest in the commercial appeal of a Goth revival aren't entirely sure that it has the break-out potential of punk, techno, or ska. Even though he's a business man, booking agent DeWalt seems hesitant to crow over the possibility of a "Goth Explosion."
"It's too dark as it is now," he says. "Most people wanna be happy, and Green Day, Rancid, the Offspring were, and are, happy acts. Switchblade could cross over--I can see them touring with the Sneaker Pimps or Portishead--but for the harder Goth to break in, it would have to be accepted by the metal-heads, the ones whose idea of 'Goth' is Type-O Negative or Manson."
But there again, Katz-Nelson believes that genre stereotypes will ultimately inhibit large-scale commercial success.
"Goths are seen as kind of wimpy, poofy," he says. "That doesn't fly, that kind of androgynous thing. Not with most rock fans--and I do think that hard rock will be coming back. The problem is that the music is really homogenized, interchangeable, and with all the smoke and lights, comes across as bad performance art when the band's songs aren't great."
"Bands like Orgy, who are Goth-oriented but not stuck in the genre, they have a chance. They don't get weak when it comes time to embracing the dark side, which is what so many of these bands do, despite their imagery. Switchblade Symphony? I don't know, I don't hear it."
Then, in true A&R man fashion, he catches himself.
"But I might be making a dastardly mistake."
Contributed by Jerry Burch.