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.)