Brisbane’s Goth scene, 2009

This article was first printed in The Courier-Mail in March, 2009. Note that, as of 2011, Faith nightclub can now be found at Facebook and Twitter. Atmosphere is on hiatus but keep an eye on its MySpace page just in case.

THEY loiter outside Hungry Jack’s in Brisbane’s Queen Street Mall, a mere shade of their former glory.

Gone are the frock coats and lacy bustiers. Now it’s jeans and band shirts, flesh peeping through the tears, chains and piercings. Where the Romantics once swanned, there are the cyber Goths. The industrial Goths. The emos. And more.

Brisbane is a goth stronghold on the eastern seaboard, paradoxically flourishing in the sub-tropical heat, nonchalantly not grinning but bearing it. Styles have changed, the occasional ankle-length black coat and defiant eyeliner the last signs of fashion sense over pragmatism.

When the sun goes down over Queensland’s capital, however, then the corsets and the vests might yet be seen, dappling their old-age charm amid the cavorting vinyl and leather in a fog-shrouded dance floor in the City or the Valley.

“Brisbane had an incredible scene,” says Jeff Harrold, who has been involved in the city’s Goth scene since the 1980s, when he would head up from the Gold Coast to attend clubs.

“I think because we wanted to get rid of the feeling of oppression around town. Everything in the ’80s was oppressive, so we’d rebel by getting gothed up and having a good time.”

Harrold runs Atmosphere night club at Tank in Brisbane’s Queen St with his wife, Emma. Their two-year-old Oscar’s favourite band is The Cure, especially ‘Boys Don’t Cry’. Jeff says Oscar has been known to turn off the stereo at playgroup when the Wiggles come on.

For Harrold, Goth has always been about the music, with Atmosphere concentrating on classic tunes and now opening its stage to bands.

He discovered Gothic music on the Rock Arena television show. “One night I saw three clips by the Sisters of Mercy and one by Bauhaus. I came up to Brisbane to Rockinghorse (record shop) to find those bands. I’d been listening to the Jam, the Damned, the Sex Pistols.”

He sees the gothic subculture emerging from the music, the fashion following bands such as Sisters of Mercy and The Cure – acts that have never actively identified themselves as Gothic. The Sisters have even attempted to distance themselves from their most loyal fanbase.

Eighteen-year-old Todd Mannion, wearing spiky black hair and animal print trousers, was attracted to the scene by the aesthetic but embraced the music.

“At 12 I found Joy Division. To me they’re the quintessential Goth band. Without the music I would have faded with the fashion.”

He says there’s blurring between the subgroups’ fashions, but the music is the border. Emo, for instance, is more aggressive, with more metal influence than old-school Goth, he says.

Brett Mann, like Harrold, migrated to the Goth scene from the “swampie” set in the ’80s, “because of the fashion, the finer dress, and the music”.

“We all were into the scene because it was a sanctuary – we didn’t fit anywhere else.

“It was never an aggressive scene, most Goths were passive. A lot are artistic, they all seem to be into some form of art – pursuing a Romantic aesthetic.”

Claudia Raven, a DJ who, with Mannion, will play at Brisbane’s Midnight Calling in April, said the music lured her to the Goth scene.

“I found the scene in the late ’80s. I drifted in from the punk scene. I changed, I started liking the more mellow gothic music.”

And she agrees the times have changed, fashion following the music.

“People don’t dress up as much these days. I think they’re a bit lazy, really. But fashion has changed, with EBM and industrial. Down in Melbourne, everybody dresses up to the nines. Here you can’t wear all the fancy velvet and PVC; it’s hot too much of the time.

“I’ve been known to wear hippie clothes to survive the heat but you become accustomed to it.”

The fashion is also a drawcard for Samantha Wisteria.

“A big medieval influence gave way in the ’90s to industrial and PVC. When Francis Ford Coppola’s Dracula came out, everyone was dressing like that, and in Morticia dresses, but then it changed.”

She says she loves the “happy melancholy sound” of ’80s bass and guitars, of which Joy Division is a perfect example: “The music might not be funereal, but the lyrics may be.”

Richard Warman has watched and heard the fashions change in the 27 years he’s been DJ-ing and running clubs in Brisbane.

“I started DJ-ing at Outpost in Ann St when the Sisters of Mercy were big. We were playing ‘Alice’ and ‘Body Electric’ on 12 inch vinyl. And then I went to Backstage at the Alliance (in Spring Hill) where we played Sisters of Mercy but also reggae, Pixies, Sonic Youth and even Motown, and it was packed to capacity every night. We were playing three in a row, and some were 10 minutes long: it was incredible.

“Industrial came out with Nine Inch Nails and evolved into Marilyn Manson. Now we’ve got the rise of EBM with Covenant, VNV Nation and Psyche. There was some resentment amongst the older Goths and we had some clubs where we promised not to play NIN or Manson. But they’ve mostly come around now.”

He says fashion has changed with the music and also movies.

“When The Crow came out, a lot of the kids were looking like Brandon Lee.

“Before that, a lot looked like Sisters of Mercy, the Mission, or Fields of the Nephilim with the brim hats. Trent Reznor (Nine Inch Nails), Robert Smith’s hair, Marilyn Manson’s make-up, Siouxsie Sioux have all had influences, though you don’t see them as much these days.

“‘Now people are into the EBM and industrial gear.”

While Warman says Brisbane’s club heyday was probably in the Backstage days of the ’80s when Goth rock was at its peak, the scene works in cycles.

“Brisbane was considered the biggest scene four years ago, but people are saying it has switched to Melbourne now. I think it’s coming back to Brisbane, we’ve got more clubs.”

While the clubs come and go – Warman was recently out of action for three months while he found a new venue – one thing that hasn’t changed is the placid nature of the crowd.

“In 27 years, we’ve never had any trouble, never had the police called out,” he says. “They’re a polite, gentle crowd. But they can bitch a bit.”

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