My personal blog as a 'grown-up' Goth and Romantic living in the Highlands of Scotland. I write about the places I go, the things I see and my thoughts on life as a Goth and the subculture. Sometimes I write about music I like and sometimes I review things. This blog often includes architectural photography, graveyards and other images from the darker side of life.

The Gothic subculture is not just about imitating each other, it is a creative movement and subculture that grew out of post-punk and is based on seeing beauty in the dark places of the world, and looks back to the various ways throughout history in which people have confronted and explored the macabre, the dark and the taboo, and as such I'm going to post about more than the just the standards of the subculture (Tim Burton, Siouxsie Sioux and Anne Rice et al.) and look at things by people who might not consider themselves anything to do with the subculture, but have eyes for the dark places. Goth should not be limited by what is considered "goth", inspiration comes from all places, the key is to look with open eyes, listen carefully and think with an open mind..

Wednesday, 28 March 2012

Steampunk

I think Steampunk literature, art, cinema, etc. is fabulous, but I don't like Steampunk as a fashion or decor choice.

This may sound a bit hypocritical as I went through a Neo-Victorian/ Steampunk phase, but it's a conclusion I've recently come to. Don't get me wrong, this is purely my reasoning as to why I am going to stay Goth/Aristo and not go back towards Steampunk and not a criticism of those who incorporate Steampunk into their personal style. This is about my personal style decisions.

Firstly, I like the aesthetic, but to me it is a branch of speculative fiction - it is the world as re-emagined if steam and clockwork remained as the dominant technologies, or as if the Victorians were more scientifically advanced than they actually were. It is inspired by Jules Vernes and H G Wells. To me, all the cogs and non-functional gadgetry is from the realms of costuming, of "dressing up", especially when people put on a persona, and is akin to L.A.R.P, which is fine, and can be quite a lot of fun, but it is not something I want to do as an everyday fashion choice - to me, my clothes are not a costume, not a representation of a fantasy-world version of myself, but a representation of my actual self here and now. Yes, people can say that there is a certain 'Hammer Horror' and Gothic Romance inspiration but I'm not trying to dress as a character from that sort of world, I just appreciate the aesthetic. Now, I know people are going to say that they just appreciate the aesthetic, and that is fine, but I think there is a line, and the non-functional gadgetry and suchlike cross that line and land in costumery. I have a hard time as it is explaining to people that this is "really me" without wearing something that clearly is a costume. My life is not a game of dress-up, I am a Goth, and often one in a Romantic or Aristocrat inspired outfit, every single day of my life, even when I'm not dressed as one.

Secondly, it would either be very expensive or very complicated in terms of crafts to do properly and well. 

Neo-Victorian, without the extra cogs and non-functional gearing looks pretty amazing, and part of the reason behind that is that it was everyday wear in its time, and if made to clothing standards rather than costume standards, retains that elegance and a degree of functionality (people in the past seem to have been willing to be a lot more impractical in their everyday style choices than people of today, partly because people in elaborate clothes generally had staff to do practical things for them.). A lot of my Romantic clothes are definitely inspired by Victorian and earlier fashion, and I try and retain the elements that made them work as viable fashion choices then to make them work now, as well as incorporate elements of modern fashion that I appreciate. To me my clothes are clothes, and being Goth or historically inspired does not give them allowance to be any less good as clothes.

The difference between Neo-Victorian and Steampunk is the addition of that steam and clockwork science fiction element.  Most of it is non-functional (things like modified headphones that look Steampunk but really work are discounted), it isn't "real", these are accessories designed to give the impression of some mechanical device, and unless done to an exacting standard, are clearly not real, clearly part of an imaginative costume. It is exceedingly hard to make plastic look convincingly like brass in real life - what works for the cameras does not always work for the eye. There is also the fact that it is clear that in most cases, those cogs and pistons do not do anything. To me, it is like the thought processes behind Cosplay representations of materials - the wearer knows that it does not look like brass, but for the purposes of make-believe, it must give a reasonable representation of brass and those around them accept it on a make-believe level as "brassy" but also know that it is only supposed to be a representation of brass.

It is possible to make things to a standard where it looks convincing, but that involves the use of actual wood, leather and brass rather than paint effects, and craft skills that even most crafty people don't have. If you go to somewhere like the Museum of Science in Oxford (which held a Steampunk exhibition the year before last) you will find that in Victorian times things were made to very, very precise standards, and polished wood and brass really were materials for scientific instruments, and if you place these antiques next to modern steampunk accessories, the gap shows. I'm not saying that is necessarily a very bad thing, but personally, in my outfits I like everything to be what it looks like.

If I have funds, I can browse antique shops for accessories that fit in with Romantic Goth aesthetics because there is no necessity for things to include elements that were not actually around in the past, unlike with Steampunk, which necessitates this by its very nature, I can also find modern findings and details for my craft projects that again are of excellent quality and attention to detail, but which are moderately priced - I replace plastic buttons on clothes with good metal ones either scavenged from old clothes or bought new, for example. It is actually reasonably possible for me to put together a Romantic Goth outfit where nothing looks like it is part of a costume and everything does what it looks like it should do.

To get a Steampunk outfit to that same level, I would have to get someone with some engineering knowhow to first design things like exoskeletal arms and other gizmos with at least realistic moving parts, if not genuine functionality, and then find craftsmen skilled in wood turning, leather working and making things from brass and then pay good money to have them made. If I was going to spend that much on having something made, I would probably commission something with some functionality at least, at which point it stops being excellent costumery anyway and starts being an actual wood, leather and brass gadget of some sort. A few curios from antique shops could be purchased, and plenty of the base garments are available through people catering for the re-enactor and Neo-Victorian market, but it is generally financially impractical for me to be a convincing Steampunk even if I wanted to be. I do not have a cinematic special effects budget, I have a meagre wage and thrift skills.

Thirdly, I find an all-black outfit with a few colour accents is a lot less visually imposing. All the colour of Steampunk can get visually cluttered, and also be a bit too flashy and colourful for my tastes. I'm not just into the all black wardrobe because it is the Goth thing to do. When I do wear colours, they are in small doses and in dark or jewel shades - I prefer the interplay of textures in black to harmonising colours. I also like the symbolism of black - it is a colour of sombre, serious matters, the colour of business suits, lawyers and priests; it is the colour of death, the colour of mourning; it is the colour of the night, made up of either the absence of light entirely or, if in RGB colour management, all the colours at their maximum, a non-colour or all the colours. To me, all of that is interesting, it's a symbolism I don't want to loose.

Fourth, it just wouldn't suit me. Steampunk is generally warm colours, wood browns, sepia tones, khaki, rust and deep bottle green, accented with gold-like brass and polished copper - it isn't a cool black, and it certainly isn't in any colours that enhance my skin tones, hair or eyes. I'm naturally a dark haired, pale-skinned, grey eyed sort of girl, black will always suit me, cool colours will always suit me, warm colours will just make me look sickly. I can only do cool reds, those with a hint of purple to them. If I dressed in brown, my dark hair would look muddier. Gold really does make me look ill, it brings out what little pink there is in my skin and makes me look like I have a cold. Black makes a wonderful contrast, and even without makeup it makes my skin look like it's supposed to be that way instead of it looking like I ought see a doctor about something. Silver is paler than I am and at least makes it look like I'm not actually a corpse and doesn't bring out the red in my skin. Pale with a hint of ruddy is the worst sort of pale to be; it makes it difficult to not look perpetually sick.

Lastly, it doesn't quite fit in with my way of thinking - Steampunk glorifies technology as well as romanticises the Victorian era as a politer, more educated and well mannered age. I know enough history to know that it was no golden age, and having read a good bit of literature from Blake through to E.M Forster, I know that industrialisation even through steam power rather than the internal (or infernal) combustion engine and an oil-based economy still wasn't nice, and was polluting and horrible to witness. Burning coal for steam isn't clean at all, and I've been close enough to a coal-fired power-station to know that the sulphurous clouds and permeating smell is not nice at all.  England was once covered in brick chimneys spewing out smoke from the coal-fired furnaces of industry, and it was actually rather horrible. Science fiction of an idealistic nature tends to leave those sort of details for dystopian fiction to deal with.   It is an aesthetic based on the glorification of things that aren't quite as we romanticise them to be.  At least, in my mind anyway, my aesthetic is not divorced from context, but not an idealisation of anything more than an aesthetic and art form. 

I have never been the sort of person to chase after technology, to be excited by the boundaries of science, other things pique my curiosity instead, and this vision of the time from industrial revolution into the Victorian era as an age of unbridled forwards motion and progress doesn't sit with my way of thinking (or my understanding of the consequences of that so-called 'progress') and I'm happy to leave it to science-fiction, and to leave re-imaginings full of low-tech versions of our high-tech world where electronics and the internal combustion engine have been replaced with intricate clockwork and steam engines for escapist moments when I relax enough to really not care. It's another, imaginary world, things work differently there, disbelief can be suspended and I can sit back and enjoy. 

I can hold with the Neo-Victorian movement that culls the better things from that era (such as good manners, corsets and how to make good fun outside of technological amusements), and knowingly discards things we have thankfully moved on from (like cultural misogyny, racism and a rigid class structure) with an understanding of how things historically were, and I can hold with a Victorian-inspired aesthetic that I can competently carry in the 21stC, but I can't wear a costume every day, and I can't make speculative science-fiction into a lifestyle. I also can't follow an aesthetic that doesn't key into my own tastes despite running parallel to them. 

I've explained why Steampunk does not do it for me, but these are my personal reasons, and I don't want hold anybody else back from doing what they enjoy. I also do not mean to denigrate anyone who is into Steampunk - it just isn't the choice for me. My last reasons are based on how I see Steampunk, and I do understand that from person to person the ideas and ideals behind what they do will be different, and that there probably are a lot of historically aware people who still really enjoy Steampunk and don't see the romanticisation of an imperfect time (not that we've ever had a perfect time, there are no golden ages) as a problem with it, delineating it as a clear fantasy, but to me, that is a sticking point. 

Monday, 26 March 2012

Cartoons, South Park Style and Boredom

I got bored yesterday, and went on the ::South Park Studio:: character creator on the internet. It's basically an internet dress-up game. I was really very bored indeed.


I don't particularly like South Park as a TV show - I find the humour too coarse, leaning too much towards slapstick, toilet humour and sexual references. It isn't my sort of thing at all. However, I do love the art style and also have a soft-spot for the South Park Goth Kids (My favourite is the tall male one with the white shirt) and their hiss of "Conformissssstsssss".


Anyway, I started off with portraits of myself and Raven, and then moved on to stock horror movie characters. These started off as done in the online character creator, and then were edited in Photoshop.

⚜Raven: 
Raven Is A Rivethead/Cyber. 
Raven, Casual & Out Taking Photographs


⚜Me:
A HouseCat in the Wild

A HouseCat in its favourite habitat, missing camera.

Getting Overenthusiastic About Swords
⚜Monsters: 

Missing her eyeballs, but not her tear-ducts.

Expect a fake Romanian accent

The Devil has his own KISS tribute band. 
Waking up after this night out will involve more than a hangover.

Sunday, 25 March 2012

The Cure, Reading Festival and a Modern Gothic Revival

I saw Robert Smith on the cover of the N.M.E and did a double take, saw that it really was him and that the front page article was on the Cure and immediately bought a copy. I'm not the hugest fan of the Cure ('Pornography' was my favourite album of theirs, and some of their work between 'Pornography' and 'Disintegration' became too "poppy" for me.) but seeing an what had been a Goth band about 30 years ago on the front of the mainstream music press was something that piqued my interest. There was Robert Smith, albeit older than before, with black eye-makeup, mad hair and his signature ill-applied red lipstick, on the front of what is pretty much the mainstream music magazine in the UK, above the likes of Florence and the Machine.

(Florence Welch, by the way, was once "a grunge kid, a little goth", wearing "baggy trousers and skate chains". I'm somehow not surprised that she was once a Babybat.) 

I see The Cure as one of the originals, even if they went pop, and also they didn't stay pop - they've been doing Goth-ier stuff from 'Disintegration' onwards, making music for The Crow and putting out 'Wild Mood Swings' in the '90s and then putting out 'Bloodflowers' in 2000. The most recent album '4:13 Dream' came out in 2008, which as was talked about again in the N.M.E, is only half an album really, and is theoretically the lighter half, the accessible, poppy stuff that   was pushed to be released while other tracks were recorded and left unreleased.  I've listened to that album, it's got some pretty dark things, "The Reasons Why" is not "light" - it's a song about being suicidal, "The Hungry Ghost" is a paean about the emptiness of materialism, which while not as musically dark as some things, isn't exactly an "upbeat" song, but put amongst songs like "Sirensong"  that are more pop with shades of Echo and the Bunnymen. Anyway, I'm getting sidetracked. 

It turns out they are playing Reading Festival for the first time in 33 years - a very long time between huge gigs in terms of modern musical careers. They have played other big festivals in the UK, most notably playing headline slots at the vast and fabulous Glastonbury in 1986, 1990 and 1995, and I'd guess they've played big festivals around the world that I don't know about - they're certainly playing other ::festivals:: across Europe this year. They're still playing the more 'alternative' Friday, but they've got a very good slot, and I'm intrigued as to what this means for that kind of music. They're evening going on to Reading's twin, Leeds Festival for the Saturday. Festivals are out to make a profit, and they're not going to put someone in the headline slot if they don't think it fits in with the festival and will get a sizeable audience. Reading is not Rewind (a couple of miles along the river at Henley-on-Thames), it's not a retrospective. They played at Bestival last year, which while a small festival by comparison with Reading, and which has a yuppie/hipster reputation of trying to be a Burning Man for respectable middle-class types, is still the sort of festival that has contemporary big names. 

It at least means the Cure are still big enough not to get sidelined for being too Goth even after moving away from their latter '80s/early '90s pop sound and returning to the stuff they were originally known for. 

I am not the sort of person who thinks that Goth must never become successful, must never be liked by the mainstream, because personally, it means more people are enjoying things I think are worth enjoying, and it also means that when people do come across Goths, they'll hopefully have slightly more of a clue than the usual idiot that shouts "MARILYN MANSONNN" and asks about vampires and self-harm. Or calls me an Emo and asks about Bullet For My Valentine. I only object to popularity when bands start changing what they produce to be commercial. 

Robert says that The Cure were playing to the audience at Bestival: "We concentrated a lot on the more well known songs and we went down well, there have been times when I've played whatever I wanted to play and I have had absolutely no regard for the audience, whereas now I kind of consider that I'm part of an event. I'm aware that we're playing probably to a lot of people who would other wise not come and see The Cure. We're part of the weekend, so it's kind of dumb not to try and play tracks that are your most accessible songs." (Robert in the N.M.E, page 20, 17/03/12). but this they're headlining major festivals across Europe, and if there wasn't the demand, they wouldn't get that sort of opportunity; the music industry is nothing if not mercenary. Hopefully they will play their dark delights, not just their more accessible pieces and entrance a new generation of back-combed and black-clad spooky types, and hopefully they will continue to inspire new musicians in a similar idiom. To me, seeing this is a sign that our genre of music still has life.

I would like there to be a resurgence - I like the original Goth music, and while I like some of its later incarnations, I would still like to hear new music in that old vein. I've noticed that some Nu-Goth types are not ignoring the musical roots of the subculture (even if they're still ignoring the subculture, but Andrew Eldritch himself takes steps to distance himself from the subculture, so that's not really a sign of anything but personal obstinence.) and that there is new music appearing that does definitely have its stylistic roots in the early Goth music - Zola Jesus is somewhere between Siouxsie Sioux and the Cocteau Twins, for example. What I want, though, is more.

What did sadden me was the photographs - Robert hasn't aged well at all - as a younger man he was always a bit round-faced and boyish but this was endearing, now with age this has gone against him - he does not look healthy. The original scruffy back-combed hair and deliberately ill-applied makeup that he originally wore so well now makes him look like an ageing Gothic transvestite rather than someone with a streak of the rebellious scruffiness of punk and deliberate madman hair. I'm not sure if this is just unflattering camera angles, changing the colours (especially for the cover) so he's a bit... green, or that the passing of time has really taken a heavier toll on him, but I do hope it isn't a sign of him being in decline. At least he doesn't look too bad in the main article photo on page 20. With the recent deaths of people like Polly Styrene, I do worry. Part of it is selfish - I don't want my favourite bands to retire or even die before I get to see them. Porl Thompson, who has been around The Cure (he left for a bit then rejoined) since 1976 is looking a lot better for the years than his brother-in-law. Even with tattoos instead of hair. 

I won't make it to Reading or Leeds, or anywhere else in Europe this year, but I do wish them all the best. I hope they continue in their success, and that Robert is in better health than he looks. I hope that bands like The Cure continue to have an influence, and that new bands emerge to carry the torch. 

Friday, 9 March 2012

Mausoleums, Cemeteries and Sundials

I did not want to spam everyone with too many pictures at once yesterday, so today I am posting some of the pictures of other areas of Inverness, notably the cemetery at the end of Academy Street and pictures from Falcon Square.

A broken urn
These pictures are of a broken urn in the Cemetery at the far end Academy Street. It is not the sort of hollow urn for ashes, just a decorative one from atop a monument. I found something distinctly beautiful yet terribly tragic about this ornament. It is from above a grave marker, has broken and then been put upon the edge of this wall. I love all the textures and colours, the dark green especially, and the yellow-green of the moss. When I go to graveyards and cemeteries, I do not take photographs of actual headstones and markers, as feel it is disrespectful to the memory those interred and their families to use something so important for aesthetic entertainment. Architecture and statuary are not so personal, so I am more comfortable photographing those things. 

Sculptors' Mark on Headstone
This is an exception to my policy of not photographing grave-markers. The actual text on this grave had been obliterated by time and weather, but the sculptor's mark remained. It is also the first time I've actually spotted a sculptor's mark on a headstone. 

Skulls with Bat-Wings, Bones and Ravens
I saw this part of a mausoleum and thought it was fascinating. One difference I have seen between Scottish and English graveyards is that in Scotland there are far more open references to death - I see a lot of skulls, inverted chalices, bones etc. In England I saw more angels and Madonnas, more floral designs and more poetry. I'd never seen a skull design in a graveyard before I moved up here. The graveyard in Academy Street is full of such designs, and it does make the place a bit eerie. 

I do not just take photographs of cemeteries and churches, and there is actually quite a bit of interest in the city, as there are in most British towns and cities (and most mainland European ones too). One of the wonderful things about Scotland is that history surrounds you and virtually everything has a story. Even the modern things are often beautiful, and I see a lot of pubic statues and monuments. 

Sundial at Falcon Square
In Falcon Square, which is the main square outside the Eastgate Shopping Centre (the mall, to Americans) is a statue of a unicorn rearing on a pedestal, birds swooping round it. At the base of the pedestal there are four sun dials, one each face of the pedestal. Here are photographs of parts of two of them. A lot of people, including those who live in the city, forget that these sundials are here, or ignore them. There are people who regularly sit on the pedestal steps and have still not noticed the sundials. Personally, this is very peculiar - there are four metal dishes, quite large, inserted into the side of a very large pedestal; this should be obvious. The bronze has gained a beautiful patina, with hints of green and gold. The sundials are relatively recent, so the casting is still crisp. Personally, I find the sundials one of the more attractive features of the square. It's much nicer to look at than the bus-stops and gaggles of teenagers and shoppers, anyway. 


Friday, 2 March 2012

11 Questions circular

How does it work?
Post the rules on your blog
Write 11 things about you
Answer it
Create 11 new questions for the future tagged ones
Put a link to the tagged blogs
No information about it in the "tag" section
Tag 11 people

11 things about me
1. I can dislocate my own jaw.
2. My eyes are naturally dark grey, those aren't contact lenses.
3. I once got impaled on a broken tree-branch.
4. My first language is actually French
5. I used to be a choir-girl and love Renaissance polyphony.
6. I can sew but I can't knit to save my life.
7. I've made a cheetah purr.
8. I collect blue glass and earthenware pottery.
9. When I was little I got stuck in a Roman pottery kiln.
10. One of my rock collections is on vinyl, the other is minerals in boxes.
11. My laptop, musical instruments and weapons all have names.


11 Questions Asked by 'Appy
1. Favourite Font (Type face)
Ooo, that's a tricky one, I have quite a few favourites, mostly based on Victorian Gothic-Revival-y stuff.
2. Which would hurt the most; been called dishonest or boring?
Dishonest. I probably am boring to some tastes.
3. Do you always carry a camera ?
Nearly. Why do you think my blog is so full of pictures of pretty buildings? I've also learnt that it is when I don't have my camera on me that interesting things happen.
4. Favourite Drink ?
Don't laugh, but rose milkshakes. Yes, they're pink and as girly as is possible, but they taste gorgeous. I like mine really cold, made with ice-cream and in a tall glass with a drinking straw.
5. Do you still keep a favourite item of clothing that will never fit you again ?
There is this copper-coloured vaguely Medieval-inspired top that did not fit me when I bought it, but I still have anyway. It is like a tent on me, but the fabric and design is so pretty. I used to wear it with a copper, red and gold scarf tied as a sash around my waist and a long rusty red velvet skirt, back when I was fairly bohemian.
6. If you thought your boss was a serial killer would you tell the police ?
Yes, not that I have a boss right now. Being unemployed is less bad than not speaking up about something like that.
7. Would you rather have a bench with plaque or a tree planted in your memory after you’ve died?
A tree, preferably an apple tree. They might not live as long as an oak or yew, but I'd like people to think of me as they chomp down on the delicious fruit, but if they were mean to me while I was alive, I hope the apple they eat has a maggot in it.
8. Favourite Flower or Plant ?
Phaeleonopsis 'Taida Salu'. It's a dappled purple-red moth orchid. As I live in an apartment, I tend to go for houseplants, mostly orchids, but I have a few succulents and a philodendron growing up a tangle of sticks.
9. What was the worst day of your life ?
Back when I was younger there were a lot of really awful days, it's hard to pick a single worst day. There was one REALLY bad week where I was hit by 3 life changing disasters in the space of a few days and understandably cracked at the end of it. I did manage to glue myself back together, though, which is the important thing. It doesn't matter how bad life gets, one must pick up the bits, dig out the glue, and get on with things.
10. Have you ever tried eating dog treats ?
No, but when I was little I ate some cat biscuits because I wanted to try the "cereal" the cat was eating.
11. Would you rather live in the city or countryside ?
It has been a nearly lifelong dream of mine to live in a quiet house in the country. Preferably one with enough land to live off, have a horse, and grow too many clematis plants up the walls, and have stacked bay windows in a rather pointless Victorian style spire. I like space, quiet and greenery.

My 11 Questions
1. What is your favourite ancient monument?
2. Have you ever climbed a mountain, if so, which one/ones?
3. Can you eat with chopsticks?
4. What is your favourite poem?
5. Would you rather have a newly discovered fish, plant or insect named after you?
6. What is your favourite fruit?
7. Do you have a favourite graveyard or cemetery? 
8. Do you know how to waltz?
9. What is the wildest colour you have dyed your hair?
10. What is the strangest thing you have seen on a bus?
11. What languages do you know?