Portland: A Gothic Recovery Project

I recently returned from a trip to Seattle, WA where I had the amazing opportunity to visit and be a part of their gothic culture. I consider myself a pretty adamant member of the gothic culture here in Portland, OR – I go to the weekly nights as much as I can, I go to special events and store openings, I support as many local businesses as I can, I go to as many shows as possible, I DJ occasionally, and I am a signed industrial artist – however, I must say that the scene here is extremely lacking comparatively. This is infinitely sad to me because I believe that Portland is a fairly liberal, progressive town in a lot of regards, but I feel that we are falling way behind some of the bigger cities.

My experience in Seattle was nostalgic to say the very least. My partner and I went to The Mercury, which is a private club that is home to many weekly industrial nights in the area, and were instantly impressed. On Friday night, which was a smoke-free night, there were a lot of people spread throughout the medium sized club space. The music selection was noticeably different from that in Portland. Aside from a little hassle at the door, due to some scheduling complications and some schmoozing, we were greeted with a set of club rules: Dress Code Enforced. Do not take pictures of people you don’t know, if you have to take pictures of your friends and stuff do it respectfully, away from the dance floor and try not to get anyone else in your shot (which is a problem we have in Portland, people are creepy); Do not approach people (mostly male to female encounter,) if they want to talk to you they will; If you have any problems, come to the bouncer first so that they can handle it and remove the member; Be respectful of what people are wearing, or not wearing; If you see something, report it to the bouncer, do not handle it yourself. Etc.

These rules seem like pretty basic guidelines for regular club goers; however these are some of the major problems that I see here in the Portland scene. People do not dress up anymore, as much as they used to anyway, because I think that they feel uncomfortable being weird, or revealing, or their exhibitionist selves due to all of the non-genre people (hipsters, bros, hip-hop kids, etc.) This is also attributed to some other factors, which I will address later. With the private club atmosphere you have control over who you let in and can afford to let in. There is security in this. People taking pictures of you is kind of an issue, for my partner and I personally anyway, because it makes you feel like you are being watched and documented without permission (I am not talking about your friends taking pictures of you at the bar – I am referring to the random hipster kids taking pictures of each other dancing and getting you in their shots, or worse yet the random older dude taking pictures with a disposable camera – happened and was gross.) Do not proposition people: another big issue that I see in the Portland clubs is these hipster drunk assholes slobbering all over these beautiful gothic girls and creeping them out to the point where they leave and tend not to be too up on coming back. This sounds kind of off putting (“do not proposition,”) however if you are respectful this should not be a problem at all. If you have a problem, go to the bouncer – Portland has a lack of bouncers at most clubs, however there are designated people that keep an eye out instinctively, like myself. But even if you take that into effect, I think too many people cause needless drama for things that could easily be taken care of with a third neutral party.

So, aside from the private club rules, which really helped the environment in my opinion, the music selection and DJing in general deserves its own debate. I did not hear one Combichrist song, the only VNV Nation song a really old alternative remix, the Nitzer Ebb song was not Muscle and Hate, no NIN, no Siouxsie and the Banshees, no Thrill Kill Kult, no Foetus, no Japanese Call Girl, no Slave to the Needle, and mostly all remixes or covers. It was amazing. For the first time in a very long time I approached a DJ, with lights in my eyes, excited, and asked who they had played because I had never heard it and it was amazing! It was a very strange feeling to be unaware of the music, I’m a big nerd. Secondarily to all of this – The DJs mixed the music flawlessly! There were no lead outs, no gaps between songs, etc. At times I would be dancing and suddenly realize that I was dancing to a completely different song! (If you live in Portland, you should know that this is exciting and foreign.) I cannot stress to you enough how amazing it was to hear real techniques being implemented in the DJing there. Don’t get me wrong, I do like the DJs in Portland, as people they are great – this is not a bash on them, however I think that they whole thing has become this constant playlist that is repeated. I hear the same thing every time I talk to someone about this issue – No one will dance to the new stuff, I play it and they all clear the floor. You have to play what they want to hear. Etc. This is bullshit. What is happening now is a culmination of many, many years of Djs copping out, and using the people as an excuse. I believe that this should end. Period. When I DJ I do not play the regular songs and guess what, people still dance. There was never a time when someone came up to me and said, “Hey, why aren’t you playing Combichrist?” Secondarily to that, I believe that the general lack of skill has been excused because the same people have been doing it for so long and they do not feel that they need to improve. Again, this is not a personal stab at DJs, I love them all as people and they play my music and I appreciate them endlessly for their support – this is more a call to do better.

On top of all of this ranting, my partner and I were utterly amazed by the difference in fashion. Everyone dressed up, men and woman alike. People dress up in Portland, but not a lot of them. It was definitely a sight to be seen – it instantly brought me back to the Hawaii days and all of those weirdoes. It was great. I think that the private club thing had a lot to do with it – but I believe that The Metro Clothing store and Bedlem Bedlem had a lot more to do with it. We walked into the Metro Clothing Co store up in Capitol Hill and instantly knew why people dressed up in Seattle more than Portland. The store was packed with amazing new and awesome clothing, many companies I’d never heard of and clothing I’d never seen before that weekend. There are a lot of great quality clothes out there and I feel that we are missing it in Portland. The key difference between culture in Portland and Seattle is that Portland is a far more DIY culture that Seattle is. There was a diverse collection of styles presented in both stores that were 100% gothic and 100% independently owned. A lot of stores that have tried to start up in Portland have eventually failed for a number of different reasons – poor marketing, poor management, inexperience, poor choice in clothing and dingy clothing, and general lack of cultural involvement. We had the opportunity to talk with the store manager at Metro Clothing and were definitely impressed by his knowledge of not only the clothes, but the music, the culture, and the events/club nights/etc.

There is hope in this matter though! Good friends of mine just opened up a new store in Portland, Wells & Verne, which is more of a boutique than a regular clothing store. I think that this is what we need in Portland. I know a lot of people are kind of iffy about the price points and all that nonsense, but you have to remember that a lot of their clothing is great quality and also mostly locally made and free of child labor. I have hope for them. They are very involved.

Club nights are dropping very quickly, and changing locations, and being invaded by hipsters, and we are all just sitting here and wondering why? It is because people have given up caring and just excepted the fact that this is just the way the Portland scene is, and that is sad. I believe that it can be much, much better very easily. New Music, new stores, new events, new clothes, new skills, and no drama, no dubstep, no crossover, no top 40s or rock. Pure fucking industrial. Bring back Futurepop (the good kind.)  

Subculture: You VS. The DJ

You’re at home, getting ready for a good old fashion goth-night on the town (I like to call it, getting spooky ;) you’re pulling out your best outfit and posting your RSVP on facebook so that all of your friends know where to find you ; you’ve put on your “music to for club time” playlist and now you’re thinking to yourself, man, I wish the DJ would play this song…it would be so great to hear it at the club…I think everyone would like this song.

Well, you’re wrong.

Club patrons, myself included, are some of the snobbiest people around when it comes to what they want to dance to. They are the ultimate judge, which, if you know some of those people… definitely should not be the judge of anything. Of course, if anyone is to blame for the music selection, it’s the DJ right?

Wrong again.

Modern DJs, successful ones anyway (in a top (goth) 40s kind of way,) are merely the creative force behind the request list. Now, that is not to say that it is not a talent, and that DJs don’t really do anything, because they do – what I am saying is that people want to hear a certain set of songs, and it is hard to break them away from what they are used to dancing to. So if you’re ever sitting at the club thinking, goddamn I am tired of hearing the same songs every weekend, you will now know why. Drunk people don’t know the difference between a good song or a bad song as long as it’s catchy and they know the words, which is a lot of reason you hear things like She Wants Revenge or Ladytron at a grown up’s goth club – because they will dance to it, and in a pinch, that’s what you have to do to get people back on the floor.

Any DJ that has been in the scene for awhile, and is not a complete idiot, should know what selection of songs will get people to dance and what not to play. I have DJed, recently, with some DJs that don’t quite understand it yet, why people don’t like their 148BPM power-tech/aggro hybdrid jams. While, I could probably dance to it (because I’m from the techno generation,) most people are put off by its aggressiveness. People here in Portland especially, like it really slow compared to what I would prefer, but unfortunately, the majority will always win at a successful goth night. Although I am 22 and vibrantly ready to dance to nothing but the harshest EBM around - a majority of the crowd isn’t. In fact, a majority of the crowd hovers in the average of 30 years old, which seems like a short 8 years from me, but is a lifetime in taste.

A little secret for those of you who are trying to cheat the system and get one or two good quality industrial songs out of a dance night that is primarily futurepop from 2000: get chummy with the DJ. Find yourself a good quality song that fits all of the criteria needed to satisfy those who are less in tune with good music, and is still catchy and danceable. Write it on the request list every hour or so, every time you go out – eventually they will get fed up and buy the CD, or download that one track you want and play it. Don’t be surprised if the DJ applies the Combichrist theory.

**Sidenote: The Combichrist Theory:

The Combichrist theory states that any semi aggressive to full on aggrotech/harshEBM song should be preceded by a Combichrist song to trick patrons into dancing to songs that they are familiar with (pick any song, they’re all the same anyway,) and then hit them with the new/unheard song directly after. The effect causes confusion and sometime delusional behavior, which also manages to trap people on the dance floor without them knowing the song changed. It’s a pretty effective tool, with the exception of applying it to a futurepop or slower song. **

So, what I’ve learned, over the last year or so, is to accept the fact that 90% of the music that you will hear at the most popular dance night in your city (where all of the people are,) is going to be mostly the same bands with the same songs singing the same lyrics to the same people – but you don’t have a choice. You cannot change it. It’s the same to say that I agree with the “people’s” decision that VNV Nation cleaned house at the Side-Line Music Awards this year. You don’t have to agree with it, you just have to suck it up and dance to what you get. Bribe the DJs to play that one Aesthetic Perfection song that you like so much (that is a compliment, not a bash, AP is amazing,) or just choose any Skinny Puppy song you prefer (also not a bash.)