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BEYOND BLACK AND WHITE

Marc Andre, who works as an extra in films, owns up to being an exhibitionist. Here he is at the annual Whitby gothic festival. (File photo, April 23, 2016.)

 

Astbury / DPA

Think of goths and you think of pierced and pale-faced youngsters head-to-toe in black. Think again.
The goth fashion scene is now a riot of colour and open to eccentrics and exhibitionists of all ages. A talent for outlandish dressing goes on public display at weekend gatherings like a festival in the English coastal town of Whitby.
Goth began as an outgrowth of the 1970s punk pop music scene. It has emerged as a flourishing subculture that reveres gothic expressions in music, literature, the theatre and film. Its most vibrant element is steampunk, a goth genre drawing inspiration from 19th-century steam-powered industrial machinery, science fiction and fantasy films.
“We look at ourselves as being old goths and old punks,” said Jacqui Jones, whose leatherwork business focuses on goth accoutrements. “But as the punks did, we don’t want to be like you. We want to do something that’s different. There isn’t any structure. It can work for any age.”
Some hard-core goths are miffed at their subculture gaining popularity, going mainstream and garnering ever more arcane subsets. At Whitby there were steampunk Stormtroopers, a pirate with a parrot and a pair dressed as ballet dancers.
“A lot of these people are here to have their picture taken. They are just here to dress up,” said Missy Morrow, who with partner Jodie Porter flew from Canada just for the Whitby weekend. “For us, it’s a complete lifestyle, 24/7. This is what we look like all the time.”
Morrow runs her own goth costume design shop in Toronto. At the first Whitby weekend 22 years ago she would have easily merged into the small crowd. Now, traditional goths are overwhelmed at the festival by those some dismissively call weekend goths.
Yet it is the comparative newcomers who give the subculture its vibrancy. They have pushed it into fresh expressions, opened it up to older people and families, and broadened its appeal away from its early insistence on being an alternative lifestyle.
Michael Young, a Whitby regular, used to come dressed up as Blade, a Marvel comic superhero who took on Dracula.
“Being a black person, I didn’t think I could pass myself off as a goth, so I just dressed as something linked to the history of Whitby,”
he said.
“Dracula is a vampire, Blade is a vampire, and so that’s why I picked this character.” Irish-born Bram Stoker, who wrote the gothic horror novel Dracula, was a regular visitor to Whitby in the five years to 1896.
The festival, initially an annual affair in the east coast Yorkshire town, is now held twice a year. Lyn Barrett and her husband Tim
describe themselves as weekend goths. Not for them the swirling undercurrents that carry along the new romantics, post-Apocalypse goths, the industrial goths, cyber goths and the techno goths.
“But it’s nice to see what other people are wearing,” Lyn Barrett said. “You see children to people in their 80s. My granddaughter is eight and she started off when she was three or four. She loves it.” It is the same with Brian and Priscilla Burbidge, who brought their dog along to Whitby.
“We love it. There’s the friendliness. The spectacle of it all. People make an effort,” Priscilla Burbidge said. “We’re weekend goths, but we’ve friends who live the lifestyle and always dress as goths.”
Jones, although her full-time job is outfitting goths, has fought shy of immersing herself in the subculture full-time.
“It can be something that ends up taking over people’s whole lives,” she warned. “For about 80 per cent, it’s a weekend thing.”
Not absolutely. That person in your office with the pocket watch and the waxed moustache, the manager who is inordinately fond of laced-up corsets; they might be goths, weekend goths who like to bring a bit of steampunk bling to their workaday world.
Marc Andre, whose alter ego at the Whitby weekend was celluloid hero Captain Jack Sparrow from Pirates of the Caribbean, disputes the notion that goths are melancholic, drawn to the dark side of life, the sort who find more beauty in a dead tree than a live one.
“I don’t think anybody is born goth,” he said. “You make choices as you go on. Some people don’t like being looked at, while other people, like me, are exhibitionists, extroverts. I would like to be doing this every day.”
The camaraderie and good cheer at Whitby testify to a subculture that is now outgoing rather than inward looking, friendly rather than antagonistic and above all out and proud.
“It’s a case of embracing anyone who wants to be different, or wants to be themselves,” Jones said. Keywords: culture Britain tourism music cinema

Trevor Wright gets the inspiration for his goth outfits from films. Here he is at the annual Whitby gothic festival. (File photo, April 23, 2016.)

 

Michael Young ditched comic character Blade for steampunk. Here he is at the annual Whitby gothic festival. (File photo, April 23, 2016.)

 

Lynn Barrett and Tim Barrett are weekend goths who enjoy the spectacle of it all. Here they are at the annual Whitby gothic festival. (File photo, April 23, 2016.)

 

 

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