It was the morning of October 31st, fittingly, and I was loading up my car with every item of black clothing I owned in preparation for the seven hour journey up to the blustery North East coast. I was en route to Whitby Goth Weekend (WGW), a bi-annual festival for Goths so popular that all accommodation in the town had sold out by the time I had decided to attend. I ended up staying with a good friend’s Aunty and Uncle who live locally. Despite not knowing me from Adam, Lin and Paul were wonderful hosts; putting up with my lengthy attempts at gothic makeup (I really had no idea what I was doing!), my entirely monochrome wardrobe, and the ungodly hours I kept; all without batting an eyelid.
The first WGW was held in 1993. From its humble beginning as an ad hoc get together in a pub, the festival now draws thousands of revelers from around the world and is a major event in the Goth calendar. A sequence of traditions run from Thursday to Monday, including a beach party complete with a game of ‘Maff Ball’ (think dodge ball but replace the ball with flaming toilet paper rolls, and replace the snazzy kit with… pants), a football match in the local stadium between Whitby Gazette F.C. and Goth F.C., an 80’s night, a series of live music events in the Spa Pavilion, a gothic photo shoot at Whitby Abbey and a ‘Bizarre Bazaar’ (a gothic market) which is now so big it sprawls across 3 different venues.
The local community is, perhaps surprisingly, very happy about the influx of Goths into the seaside town twice a year, not only because of the positive commercial impact on an otherwise sleepy winter town, but because “there is always so much to look at – you never know what you are going to see!” Apparently there is never any trouble; everybody just comes here for a good time. I ask my friend Lee why he thinks the gothic community is so well liked by the locals and he answers simply “Goths never fight – they might smudge their eyeliner!”
The October 2007 festival was dedicated to the memory of the murdered Goth Sophie Lancaster who was brutally beaten by a gang of youths for nothing other than looking different. I was shocked to hear about this terrible crime and couldn’t believe that, despite the gentle, polite and friendly nature of the Goth community, intolerance is still a problem for them in our ‘progressed’ society. Although the darker costumes unnerved me a little at first, especially those on the more extreme side of the ‘fetish’ spectrum(!), the community was very welcoming and I soon found Goths to be a very friendly bunch indeed, to the extent that I was able to go out into town each night knowing nobody and return having made a whole new group of friends with minimal effort. A lesson for all of us, myself included, to reserve judgment and get to know the people behind the appearance before all else.
The costumes at WGW are truly a spectacle to behold, attention to detail is fabulous and the creative energy that has gone into pulling together these designs oozes into the surrounding atmosphere. I spent the weekend deepening my knowledge of the multiple genres within the wider Goth community, examples of which are:
Steam Punk Goth (“an adventure in a speculative past” think ’80 Days Around the World’)
Cyber Goth (think ‘We Will Rock You’, the musical)
Lolita or ‘J’ Goth (think cutesy Japanese Goth)
Trad Goth (think traditional gothic attire, often inspired by the Victorian era)
Fetish Goth (think PVC, whips and chains)
Corporate Goth (think 3 piece, pinstripe suits)
Hippy Goth (think tie dye dresses & multiple piercings)
See http://www.blackwaterfall.com/viewall.php for illustrations.
I returned to London feeling enriched having had the pleasure of sharing my weekend with such a diverse and creative group of people. Within 20 minutes of being home I was out of the door again en route to a British themed dinner party dressed as Margaret Thatcher – from one extreme to the other – although I had forgotten to remove my black nail polish! Perhaps I had created a new genre of Goth: Conservative Goth? I wonder if it will catch on…