The skin I live in

It’s a sub-culture that attracts more negative reactions than most, but the goth scene in Malta harbours a perhaps unexpectedly gregarious bunch. RENE FARRUGIA (aka DJ HADES), one of the very few local DJs who specialise in the genre, talks about music and misconceptions ahead of his upcoming Halloween event at Coconut. An edited version of this interview appeared on The Sunday Times of Malta.

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There’s no denying that the typical ‘goth’ – and I don’t use the word in its classic sense, but in the pop culture meaning that it has acquired in past decades – is likely to instil feelings of unease among those who are not used to the style. As subcultures go, goth is probably one of the more visually extreme; black clothes, black make-up, black everything and an (undeserved, as it turns out) association with the occult. Not even punks manage to create quite the same strong feelings of apprehension.

I meet up with Rene Farrugia, not only one of the main movers on the local scene, but also probably the only DJ and event organiser who specialises in the genre.  His look is typical of the sub-culture – The Cure tee-shirt, black trousers, black boots, tattoos. At the coffee-shop where we are meeting, the style attracts some funny stares from those who are more used to a mainstream fashion. Others, perhaps with a more appreciative eye for the unusual and the non-conforming, give him more interested glances. But is it all about the look, or is there more substance to the sub-culture?

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Photo by Michelle Sullivan at Shells’ Shots. www.shellsshots.biz/

“More than anything, it is a lifestyle that encompasses fashion, music, art, literature, architecture… The sub-culture is actually an offshoot of the post-punk era, and finds its roots in the late 1970s UK when bands like Joy Division, and later Bauhaus, were emerging. The music led to the fashion and the accompanying lifestyle, but you could say that classic gothic literature started it all,” Farrugia says.

Contrary to what most people think, being ‘goth’ is not about wearing black eyeliner. And, Farrugia adds, it most certainly is not about occult practices. So what is the cause of the ‘mad, bad and dangerous’ label that the sub-culture got stuck with? The reason, Farrugia says, can be found in the word ‘sub-culture’ itself.

“Anything that is not mainstream commercial tends to suffer from a bad image, particularly in Malta, where stereotyping remains very common. You could say the negative associations kicked off around the 1980s, when metal music got a reputation for being occult. Goth music is even more niche than metal, which of course makes people more suspicious. But no, it’s not like you are going to show up at a goth event and find people worshipping the devil,” Farrugia says with a chuckle.

The question begs itself – so what exactly will you find at such an event? As it turns out, pretty much the same thing you would expect to find at any other niche event – people who enjoy the same kind of music and who favour the same fashion, literature and artistic choices. The music, as is to be expected, is derived from the rock/metal side of things. Bands like Bauhaus, Siouxie and the Banshees, Nine Inch Nails, some early Depeche Mode numbers, The Cure, Rammstein and Sisters of Mercy are among the most popular, although Farrugia tells me that the term ‘goth music’ is a bit of a misnomer.

“Goth is the sub-culture itself. With the possible exception of Bauhaus, whose sound is very particular, the bands associated with this genre tend to fall under the EBM and Industrial descriptor. The sound is best described as an amalgamation of electro and rock, often characterised with heavy basslines,” Farrugia explains.

This is precisely how Farrugia got involved in the scene – although “born into rock”, he also developed a soft spot for electro music. The bands favoured by the goth scene typically amalgamate both electronica and rock. Eventually he launched Hades Events, which is celebrating its 10th year anniversary this year, and started organising niche events on a regular basis. Today, his name is synonymous with the scene.

I turn the conversation back to the issue of fashion. While black features heavily in the style, goth is also associated with Victoriana. Habituees of these events typically show up in the full garb.

“I would much rather see a girl dressed in elegant Victorian wear, than in the sleazy styles that seem to be so popular around Paceville. This is why I don’t understand why people are so judgmental, just because we dress differently. It is even weirder when you consider that the style does get adopted into the mainstream, occasionally. Last year, for instance, studs and corsets– which are intrinsically linked to goth – became popular with the main brands. Suddenly, they were acceptable.”

Does this mean that acceptance is a problem? Farrugia shrugs. Some people have a problem with anything different, others are more accepting, he says.

“The important thing is to be true to yourself. It’s not about following a trend, or about what people say. It’s about being you.”

Halloween Massacre is taking place at Coconut Grove, Paceville, on October 31. For more information visit the Facebook event page here.

 

I goth you under my skin

It’s a tendency to enjoy Edgar Allan Poe poetry, a love for mysterious buildings, a sense of style that gravitates towards ornate Victoriana in various shades of black and… most of all, of course… it is the music.

While the former all part of the package, many who fit within the subculture would say that it is the latter that seals the deal.  Considering the cultural heritage that surrounds the word ‘gothic’, the music itself is a relatively new development. It was only the late 1970s that the word first emerged, reportedly when used by music producer Tony Wilson to describe the music of Joy Division. The term was immediately picked up by the media, who proceeded to coin the band as “masters of gothic doom”.

The term stuck, and started being applied to bands like Bauhaus. Hailed as purveyors of the only true goth music by many, their Bela Lugos’s Dead debut single runs for about nine minutes and is considered the definitive work in the genre.

With the emergence of other bands like Siouxie and the Banshees, The Cure, The Sisters of Mercy and The Birthday Party, the genre soon developed into a fully-fledged subculture. The opening of The Batcave in Soho, London – one of the first clubs in Europe aimed specifically at goths – sealed it.

As the 1980s progressed, the music genre developed into more hardcore styles that included EBM, industrial, aggrotech, darkelectro and electropop.  Bands like Ministry on the industrial front; Skinny Puppy and Front Line Assembly on the electro-industrial side; and early Nine Inch Nails on the industrial/EBM front contributed to the emergence of several sub-genres that today are also accepted as part of the wider goth scene.

 

 

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