Coffin Classics

The Subculture that Would Not (Un) Die Lusts for New Blood

"I know that light is not for me, save that of the moon over the rock tombs of Neb, nor any gaiety save the unnamed feasts of Nitokris beneath the Great Pyramid; yet in my new wildness and freedom I almost welcome the bitterness of alienage ... I know always that I am an outsider; a stranger in this century and among those who are still men."

-- H.P. Lovecraft, "The Outsider"

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The top-hatted Aiden and his parasol-toting compatriot Miriam take a stand for traditional Gothic values
The top-hatted Aiden and his parasol-toting compatriot Miriam take a stand for traditional Gothic values
The KitchenÂ’s sixteenth anniversary party: Still (somewhat) Gothic after all these years
The KitchenÂ’s sixteenth anniversary party: Still (somewhat) Gothic after all these years

Mantilla black, clown white, and blood red are definitely the preferred colors of clothing and makeup on the second floor of SoHo Lounge in the Miami Design District, where the music ranges from pulsing EBM (electronic body music) to a particularly aggro Ministry cut to such crossover classics as the Cure and Wolfsheim. A few images stand out: penetrating brown eyes under penciled eyebrows and black Betty Page bangs, a swirl of green Victorian lace, black trenchcoat and eyeliner, blond ponytail.

But the majority of the hundred or so revelers milling about the balcony bar and swaying around the dance floor during the Kitchen Club's 16th Anniversary Party are what some Goths call "The Mundanes" -- non-Goths. Just your average Miami clubgoers whose musical tastes run toward the drum-and-synthesizer-based.

So what does this relative dearth of deathly pale partiers tell us? After the Kitchen helped grow and define what it meant to be a Goth in Miami, why haven't more hard-core Goths showed up to celebrate?

Some veterans of our local Goth culture have been giving this some serious thought in recent years. As anyone Goth will tell you, the club scene is only one aspect of Gothdom, but as the most visible facet, it is as good a place as any to take the subculture's pulse. Most in the scene agree its heartbeat is fluttering like a plastic bat on a string; what they can't agree on is why.

That is hardly surprising. You would be hard-pressed to find any two Goths who agree completely on an all-encompassing definition of what Goth is anyway. The former South Florida club kid now known as Marilyn Manson has appropriated and popularized certain aspects of the Goth aesthetic -- to the near-universal disdain of Gotherati in South Florida and around the world. (The Marilyn Manson entry in 21st Century Goth, the 2002 tome by British scene chronicler Mick Mercer, reads simply, "Bowie tribute band.")

Indeed, if you shine a dripping pewter candelabrum around the dark, dark corners of this dark, dark subculture, you'll find the rhetorical barbs, bruised egos, and hurt feelings typical of any ideological battle. What are they squabbling about? What aren't they squabbling about? Darkwave vs. EBM, Fetish Goths vs. Romantic Vampires, dress codes vs. all access. Some want to grow the scene by blending genres of music and style. Others argue that too much of that kind of mixing dilutes the spirit of what Goth is supposed to be about.

And you're not going to get to the bottom of this pit by talking to some Baby Bat fresh from his first trip to Hot Topic. No, you need to talk to the kind of Goths who have seen at least four iterations of the Kitchen come and go, who know Christian Death from Cinema Strange, a Gangrel from a Ventrue.

You're going to have to knock on the coffin doors of the Elder Goths.

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When we say Goth, what do we mean? In this chicken-and-egg equation, the music definitely came first, and definitely came from England in the New Wave/Postpunk era: Bauhaus, Joy Division, Siouxsie and the Banshees, Alien Sex Fiend, the Sisters of Mercy (who have vehemently repudiated the Goth tag). The Cure? Yeah, sorta, but they're generally viewed as more of a "crossover" band. Stray any farther afield than these core artists, and you're sure to violate some Goth or other's definition of what the genre is and what it ain't.

During the Nineties, Gothic music became entwined with the industrial grindcore scene and the label grew to include everyone from Nine Inch Nails, whose brilliant frontman Trent Reznor birthed a few radio-friendly hits, to dystopic, experimental noise units such as Chemlab, Frontline Assembly, and, well, Noise Unit.

People who were into these bands, and went to clubs to hear them, hadn't necessarily applied the Gothic tag to the music -- or to themselves. Carlos Saint Germain, who moved from Kansas to Miami in 1991, began frequenting the Kitchen at its Miami Beach location in the Seagull Hotel at 21st Street and Collins Avenue, where it had opened in 1988. He liked the music being played, but he also had a few of his own dark favorites that he began bringing in for the DJs to play.

Once the Kitchen moved to its Coconut Grove location at the intersection of McDonald Street and Grand Avenue in 1993, Saint Germain came with it, and began playing a more active role, eventually promoting his own extremely Gothic night and DJing it himself. He dressed the part, tending toward the Victorian/Vampire side of the Goth spectrum. He cemented his cred by running a Vampire: The Masquerade game at the club.

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