Goth Today, Gone Tomorrow

Back in Black: "We fit in accidentally," says Julie Plante of the band Autumn--a four-year favorite of the black-lipstick set.

IN HIS SOON-to-be-released memoir, The Long Hard Road Out of Hell, our 48th president, Marilyn Manson, recounts a recent meeting with his earthly idol, Anton LaVey, founder of the Church of Satan. "LaVey had been accused of being a Nazi and a racist," Manson writes, "but his whole trip was elitism, which is the basic principle behind misanthropy." Manson speaks his homage from a smug distance, perhaps because his own special trip runs opposite to that of his mentor: Marilyn took LaVey's shtick to the sticks, and successfully oozed into every nook and cranny of Middle America. In so doing he realized every exhibitionist's dream, but he also exploited and deflated the eyeliner-streaked goth subculture that invented his everything. Really, there's nothing more annoying to a burgeoning goth elitist than seeing his subculture co-opted by the mainstream and turned into a novelty, or even worse, a joke.

"You'll never hear any Marilyn Manson here," says Eric Hoover, a DJ for Radio K's Saturday afternoon plunge into the dark side, The Descent. He and the program's assorted friends recently took their radio agenda to the Back, a small chill-out room adjacent to Ground Zero, and started a Wednesday night goth dance party called The Edge of Darkness. On the sleeting, midwinter night that I chose to make my own descent into darkness, a black angel would have had a hard time rounding up enough souls to venture through the gloom outside to get to the gloom inside. Most of the club's Victorian-style couches were empty when I arrived. Yet, after a while, a small stream of believers filtered in, until the size of the crowd in the Back eventually rivaled the one in Ground Zero's expansive mainroom.

DJ Femme Fatale played a remix of the Cure's "Never Enough," followed by a set of goth-purist staples, including Sisters of Mercy, Bauhaus, and the diva-driven Switchblade Symphony. It wasn't 1982 all over again; it wasn't even '89 (though I did spot a dead ringer for MTV dinosaur Dave Kendall). But even if The Edge of Darkness isn't a netherworld of doom and despair, it is the best (and possibly only) place in the metro to hear genuine goth banter. You know the sort: Who's better, Bauhaus, Peter Murphy, or Love and Rockets? Sound trite? Well, the arguments I heard were no less compelling than the discursive din that ensues when local roots rockers start fighting about the Uncle Tupelo split.

The Saloon's goth night, Hard Mondays, offers a different monster. As a gay bar that frequently supports disparate scenes, the Saloon would seem the perfect place for moody and androgynous minds to mingle. So hell, why not try a goth/industrial night? I walked in next to a zombified gloomster, but many of the people inside were exercising straight privilege, and the barflies were dressed in slacker daywear. On the dance floor latex prevailed, as one of the country's biggest techno-as-rock anthems, the Crystal Method's "Busy Child," blared through the speakers. This isn't a place to feel goth nostalgia. You may think you spy a Siouxsie and the Banshees-style de-souled sista, but upon closer examination she looks more like a tired Stevie Nicks. No one in the club seemed to care: It was fun, dammit, and at least the DJ didn't play Manson's "Beautiful People."

And the purists? Julie Plante, singer for the local band Autumn, has watched clubs attempt goth nights for years, only to see them go the way of 8-track stereo. "I remember seeing the same people who go to the Saloon at the Varsity Theater in the early '90s," she says. "Then there was the Uptown scene at Chaos, which is now Williams Pub. And the Cage on Lake Street; they didn't last because they couldn't get a liquor license."

The climate for local goth bands hasn't been much better. When Autumn first began four years ago, the major venues around town were ensconced in the grunge movement. "Minneapolis has always been a rank place for this genre," she says. "Everyone thinks Minneapolis is on the cutting edge, but everyone goes to see the Radiators or Tina and the B-side Movement."

All the same, Autumn resists being pigeonholed as a goth band. They mock the donated plastic skeleton that hangs from their practice-space ceiling. They do, however, admit that the goth label has given them a ready-made audience. Driven by Neil McKaye's guitar, which runs through a ridiculous series of effects pedals--five chorus, one reverb, one delay, an overdrive, and a distortion--the band's sound is reminiscent of a creepy early '80s sub-subgenre commonly known as "ethereal."

"We fit in accidentally," Plante says. "Sure we have kids come that wear the black lipstick, and walk around like vampires. But mostly we attract a good, core group of fans." If there's a common thread here, it's a shared thirst for melancholic music. And one inalienable truth: Everyone looks good in black.

 
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