Friday, 2 May 2014

Goth Festival in Whitby

Held since 1997, the Goth festival in Whitby draws thousands of Goths twice a year. Whitby was chosen because of its links with Bam Stoker's Dracula and started as a gathering of a few penpals who met through NME magazine.

The Goth subculture has survived much longer than others and continues to diversify. Its imagery indicates influences from the 19th century gothic literature as well as horror films, combining elements of both horror and romance: Bam Stoker's Dracula, Charles Baudelaire's Les Fleurs du Mal, Edgar Allan Poe, Washington Irving's The Legend of Sleepy Hollow, Tim Burton's Sleepy Hollow, the films The Hunger and Edward Scissorhands are some of the influences. Styles are borrowed from the Elizabethan and Victorian periods, expressing pagan and occult imagery.

The festival attracts more than just Goths however. Emos, is a cool, young sub-sect of the Goths, adopting a just-got-out-of-a-coffin look, with black clothes, white faces, corsets, capes, Celtic crosses. They quite often court misery and death and elements of self-harm may be involved.  An androgynous style is also part of the image.

Steampunks is another very strong presence at the festival. Steampunks is a sub-genre of science fiction that features steam-powered machinery, especially in a setting inspired by industrialized Western civilization during the 19th century. It is set in an alternative history of the 19th century, in a post-apocalyptic future during which steam power has regained mainstream use, or in a fantasy world that employs steam power. Its most recognisable features are anachronistic technologies or retro-futuristic inventions which may include fictional machines like those found in the works of H.G. Wells, Mary Shelley and Jules Verne.

I'd wanted to go to the Goth weekend in Whitby for a long time. It wasn't exactly what I was expecting though. The Goths did not look 'gothic' enough to me - at times it felt like it was a Victorian fashion parade. A few years ago we came across hundreds of Goths in Berlin airport who did look like what my conception of a Goth is: lots of black, white faces, black make-up, skulls, blood, piercings - looking totally awesome. Whitby seemed quite tame in comparison. The other thing that really surprised me was the age of most of the people who had dressed up - mainly middle-aged or older people. I was expecting much larger numbers of young people.

Ken, who is a practicing sociologist, unlike me who gave up the practice of the discipline years ago, tells me that young people today aren't part of sub-cultures anymore. The 20th century idea of a youth culture is now outmoded, replaced by brief, microcosmic trends, a sort of pick-and-mix that can last for only a few days, replaced by some other fad a few weeks later. The reasons for this change? It could be Britain's changing class structure; or the plethora of entertainment on offer today so that the need for rebellion through dress or ritual is not an issue anymore; or that in these deeply depressing times people are too worried about their futures to be creative; or the lack of a radical student movement that in the past fed ideas into pop culture; or the speed at which the cycle of production and consumption now moves, resulting in the ability to buy different outfits and try out different styles. Probably, a combination of all of the above.

One the bus on the way to Whitby from Sleights we saw our first couple of Goths. The young woman looked amazing, and my photograph does not do her justice. An old white Victorian wedding dress, covered in blotches of blood, the same with the white cape, white face, black eye make-up, blood dripping from her lips. The archetypal Vampiric bride.

This was the first two-generation duo (or should we include the doll and say three-generation?) we came across

There were some young people, of course


mother and son

The goggles a dead giveaway of the Steampunks

It was impossible to take any spontaneous photographs as they all loved posing and being photographed - and why not?


A lot of thought, care and money spent on the costumes



and most couples were co-ordinated


in style and colour


and a lot of children with their parents


having a rest





a family affair

including a hat for the dog



man as machine

captain Nemo?

lots of black umbrellas



but it was the masks that I found disturbing


like this one

lots of brass goggles and instruments on the hats of the steampunks


another mask

This guy had this contraption on his back and when I asked if I could take a photograph he said 'hang on a minute', pressed a button and the wings popped out

you can see the wings in their full glory here 




she had the most amazing false eyelashes on


and some of the guns and other contraptions that people were carrying were amazing


in the pub


and I had to have a close up



his eye patch was amazing


no co-ordination here, but they all look quite amazing





Loads of skulls and other Goth paraphernalia in the car - too much reflection for a photograph of the inside

this was one of the most disturbing, because of the child in the pram, I guess

quite a few cross dressers - this one's a bride

I wanted this coat




it was the masks that did it for me

We then went to the Bizarre Bazaar held in the Spa Pavillion


a skull cake

lots of Goth clothing


I'm sure they were selling those jewel-encrusted skulls in Goth bazaars way before Damian Hirst made his


interesting buckle thingy at the back of her belt


gazing at the sea


still on West Cliff

East Cliff, by the churchyard and the tombstones

very appropriate

we stumbled upon a Goth wedding


in the middle of the tombstones


the bride and groom


a hearse


looking at the back




mother and daughter.

Finally, the Abbey - very atmospheric.


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