Bela Lugusi is still dead, but the contemporary goth scene, which traces its history back to – and through – the seminal 1979 Bauhaus song, remains alive and, in large part, well.
The scene remains vital here in the (614), too, an intergenerational subculture built on love of the music, shared aesthetics and an affirming, welcoming community that belies the stereotype of the moody, dark, disaffected goth.
(614) Magazine visited with a handful of folks who are connected to the local goth scene to get a better grip on the pulse of the Arch City’s scene.
- Steph Francis
Goths are intimidating. At least that’s what then-10-year-old Stephanie Francis thought about the young guy she saw at the grocery store.
“I was selling Girl Scout cookies. Most people are trying to walk by you without making eye contact. But this guy, with his makeup and piercings, and I remember he had sparkly shoes… he was really nice. He bought a couple boxes and paid us a compliment,” Francis, who grew up in Westerville, recalled. “So when I was 10, I Googled ‘How to be a goth.’”
“As I got older, it just started resonating,” she said during an interview at a Victorian Village coffee shop. “It was cool. I got into emo and scene kid looks and music that I was finding on the internet. I found I loved the clothing and the image and the self-expression even more than I loved the music. I just kept looking for more and more and, eventually, I was old enough to go out to local events.”
The first of these was a “Broken Hearts Masquerade Ball” at Ace of Cups.
“I was shy but I went with my best friend/now-girlfriend, and I learned that it’s not that scary to be out with other people,” Francis said.
Francis soon learned several important things about the scene, she said.
First, that events (like the longstanding dance party CHURCH and its monthly counterpart, Cathedral) are intergenerational, featuring young people like herself up through folks who were her age 40 years prior, part of the first generation of goth kids.
“These are people I probably wouldn’t have had the opportunity to even meet let alone become friends with,” Francis said. Plus, she said with a smile, “My mom’s not goth but we can still talk about The Cure.”
She also learned that goth and alternative culture is–despite what many stereotypes imply–endlessly welcoming.
“There’s no gatekeeping,” she said. “The scene is healthy, warm and welcoming. Goth culture kind of intersects with different other cultures – queer culture, for example – and it all becomes one big umbrella.”
A hair stylist, Francis is connected to the scene professionally, as well, specializing in goth and alt- cuts and coloring. From her own history pushing the limits with her own hair and what her parents would allow to the feeling she gets when she helps someone with their own self-expression via a new style and/or color, the path to becoming a professional stylist seemed natural.
“Self-expression is at the core of who I am,” she said. “I mean, adornment has always been a part of human expression, how you can tell everyone around you who you are or at least something about yourself. I love being able to help other people do that.”
Today, the 25-year-old Francis admits, she looks kind of intimidating.
“I mean, I have six holes in my face,” she said, not even mentioning her dark makeup and angular haircut. Maybe some little kid will see her and Google what it means to be a goth.
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- Kevin Grimm
“Goth comes from in here,” Kevin Grimm said, pointing to the middle of his chest. “And my heart is as black as hell.”
Grimm was smiling when he said it, but there’s no reason to doubt him.
As DJ KevyKev, he has co-hosted the goth dance night CHURCH for nearly two decades, plus a larger “companion” event, Cathedral, for around 10 years.
But the 57-year-old Grimm offered the look into his heart of darkness as a way to bolster his goth bona fides, after jokingly being asked about his look.
“I guess, aesthetically, I am a failed goth,” Grimm said during an interview at a Short North watering hole. “I have no piercings, visible or otherwise, and I don’t usually wear makeup. But I am dressed head-to-toe in black, although I might be one of only four people who wear sneakers (to CHURCH).”
Grimm said he’s been DJ-ing events since his college days in the mid-80s, starting at Mean Mr. Mustard’s on the Ohio State University campus. He’s worked with a bunch of partners at a litany of venues, most of them Downtown.
“I never really took a break. There was a time when I did six nights a week,” Grimm said.
Eventually, he joined Travis Boggs (aka dj broken boy), starting CHURCH at the original Outland location.
Over the years, their events have developed some signature traditions, too, often driven by the crowd.
“Our crowd loves to sing along,” Grimm said, “so 80 percent or more of the tracks we use have words.”
Since the closing of the second iteration of Outland, the goth scene has been without a regular home, although the scene now knows Cathedral is at Ace of Cups and CHURCH is at Spacebar. Grimm noted that those are live music venues that have added a dance night to their lineups, rather than a formal dance club.
“Travis and I have what we need to turn any venue into what we want,” Grimm said with the confidence of a veteran event host. “And we’ve just grown and grown, so not having a ‘home’… while we miss Outland, it’s more about the people than the space.”
Grimm, like Francis, appreciates the intergenerational aspect of the scene, and what he called the “lack of clique-iness.”
In fact, he said the better other goth nights do, the better it is for his event, for the whole scene.
“It’s not a competition. The more the merrier,” he said. “Community is huge. It offers a level of autonomy for our people. At the same time, we don’t discriminate…There’s a home for anyone.”
- Jesamie Houghtby
Jesamie Houghtby didn’t know anyone else like himself growing up in Mt. Gilead in Morrow County, about an hour north of Columbus.
“I was always interested in alternative subcultures. But no one else I knew was,” Houghtby said in an interview in a Short North coffee shop. “I was finding community in online spaces. I had tons of friends online, but I was very much by myself.”
Houghtby went on to say that his parents were very supportive, and that his mom taught him how to style his own hair. “She calls me her free spirit,” Houghtby said.
It just wasn’t until arriving at Columbus College of Art and Design that he learned he could actually do anything with either of those interests. Not only that, but combine them.
“I always made my own outfits, and I drew inspiration from darker, even more macabre things,” he said. “As I got more into goth, I just kind of fell into my own design aesthetic. At CCAD, I started in fine arts, but I realized I could do something with fashion.”
At the same time, Houghtby was building community within the Columbus goth scene making friends who were not just dance night companions.
“It saved my life, honestly. I had never had the kind of community I have here. I didn’t even know that kind of community existed until I came to Columbus,” he said. “We get together before dance nights, hang out afterward, attend all kinds of events and do all kinds of things that aren’t goth-related.”
Houghtby’s love of the music, which started with his discovery of Belarussian act Molchat Doma, grew too, as he discovered bands both new and old. He picked up bands from friends, dance nights and just leafing through the records and CDs at Used Kids Records.
“I have come to love both old and new goth music equally,” he said. “As I’ve learned the history of the goth scene, it feels like my history.”
Houghtby honed his fashion aesthetic as well, developing a speciality with latex.
“There are not many latex designers. It’s popular in Europe, in the club scenes and the fetish scene there,” he said. “The appeal is what you can make it look like. It’s an interesting material – it looks ethereal but it’s made from natural material.”
He’s taken to adorning his looks with spikes and other hardware, he said, continually inspired by goth style. And recently, he launched a pop-up store for his latex fashion.
“For the first time, my fashion work seemed real,” he said. “And it all started within the goth community.”
- Joey Pigg
Joey Pigg grew up in Florida, steeped in the goth scene first in Miami and later in Tampa. There were established clubs that were known as goth clubs, and Pigg acknowledged Columbus hasn’t had that kind of dedicated space since Outland closed almost a decade ago.
And yet, Pigg acknowledged, it hasn’t really hamperfed the scene here, which is built on the dedication of individuals and the longstanding events they have created, as well as on the scenesters themselves, a diverse group that features at least three generations of “goth kids.”
“There are bands and events that keep it going through ebbs and flows,” Pigg, who’s been hosting primary one-off events in Columbus for more than a decade, said. “Over the last five years or so, there’s been a renaissance, too, as far as the goth scene, an energy in the scene as far as people going to events.”
Pigg added that, while the scene starts with monthly dance nights, it also offers live acts, a cadre of visual artists and designers (like his own Cell Five, which features those elements, including his own video projections) plus suspension performers.
“It’s bigger than just an 80s-90s music subculture,” Pigg said. “It starts there, or people find that in their exploration, but there’s a very vibrant and creative scene in Columbus.”
Of course, longstanding institutions provide infrastructure for the scene, and older goths still have a home in it, but infusions of younger generations of goth kids is what makes the scene vibrant and energetic, Pigg said.
“Your teen and early 20s are where a lot of people find themselves as a moody, broody place. That’s why the darker imagery and aesthetic,” Pigg said. “For me, I don’t think that I’ve ever lost or outgrown that. I may not always do dark eyeliner or have spiky hair, but that ethic still informs my creativity.”
In fact, he said, the scene has staying power because the community not only shares a predisposition to certain styles and genres, but also emotions and ideologies.
“It’s ‘alternative.’ It’s a look, yes, but that grows out of other things, represents these other things,” Pigg said. “Right now, it runs counter to the growing conservative energy that we’ve seen. It’s a reaction against that…People can tap in on the consumer or the creative end. It works together like one organic community.”
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