Black is hard to beat

By Louise Ho Source:Global Times Published: 2012-10-31 19:32:08


Goth fans gather for a Victorian picnic in Shanghai. Photo: Courtesy of Nikita Ryazantsev
Goth fans gather for a Victorian picnic in Shanghai. Photo: Courtesy of Nikita Ryazantsev

It's not Halloween but when you meet these Shanghai residents on the street you might be forgiven for thinking they are part of a dark trick or treat scene. They wear black clothes, have dyed black hair, black eyeliner, black fingernails and wear crosses and spikes as accessories. But this is their everyday dress.

They are Goths, a subculture, and now a lifestyle that started in England in the early 1980s spawned by Gothic rock music which developed from post-punk music and culture.

While the black clothes and makeup are a signature of Goth culture, there is much more than this to the way of life.

"Music is a very important part of Goth culture,"explained 25-year-old Russian Nikita Ryazantsev, who started a Goth website in Shanghai six months ago, the first of its kind in the city.

There's a big variety of Gothic music which can range from Gothic rock, which originated with post-punk bands, through dance music like dark wave and up to modern ambient music like dark ambient.

Ryazantsev moved to Shanghai in August 2010 after completing his college education in Madrid, Spain, where he was introduced to Goth culture. What prompted him and his wife, 25-year-old German Janina Gantzert, to set up a website for Goth culture in Shanghai was the lack of any organized Goth culture or parties in the city.

Angry and disappointed

"When I arrived in Shanghai 18 months ago I asked in forums whether there was a Goth club but the answer was no, so we decided to start one ourselves,"Gantzert said.

About six months ago they went to a party at Dada bar because the promotional flier promised Gothic music but there were just two or three real Gothic tracks played at the party.

"We had been waiting for good music. We were so angry and disappointed that we just went home,"said Ryazantsev.

"We want to find more people who share the same interest and try to build a community in Shanghai,"Gantzert said.

One Chinese girl saw their website, Gothic Shanghai, and told Gantzert: "It's so cool that I can find other people who like Goth culture. I don't have to hide in the closet anymore."

This year Gothic Shanghai started to organize concerts, parties and Victorian picnics. Their Halloween party took place on October 27 and featured dark wave, Gothic and black metal music.

At Goth Victorian picnics, participants wear Victorian era clothes to a picnic at a park, bringing their food in hampers. Victorian clothes are part of Goth culture, a form of neoclassicism. The first Victorian picnic they held was in Zhongshan Park in April.

They promote their website and events by handing out fliers at concerts at places like Mao Livehouse, a city music venue that offers live performances by Chinese and foreign indie bands, and which is also a good place for them to meet other Goths.

A 32-year-old German catering sales manager in Shanghai, known by his nickname Wurstregal, said he learnt about the Gothic Shanghai website after seeing a post by Gantzert on a German forum.

He likes industrial and dark ambient music which are sub-genres of Gothic music. As there are not that many Goth parties in Shanghai yet, he sometimes goes to metal parties. "In Germany Goth parties are popular and people know what they want. But in Shanghai you have to take what you can get,"said Wurstregal, who has been living in Shanghai for 12 years.


Janina Gantzert Photo: Louise Ho/GT
Janina Gantzert Photo: Louise Ho/GT

Grandmothers in costumes

Goth is very popular in Germany which boasts the largest Goth community in the world. A five-day music festival called Wave Gotik Treffen is held in Germany every year and this attracts 25,000 Gothic music fans, mostly German but others from Australia and the US. Even grandmothers don Victorian costumes and go to this festival with their families.

Twenty-seven-year-old May Zhang is one of the few Chinese Goths in Shanghai. She met Ryazantsev and Gantzert at a concert this year and has been attending events ever since.

She has been following Goth culture for five years. "It's very relaxing to be at the Goth gatherings and I like hanging out with them,"she said.

Unlike most Chinese Goths whose families oppose this style of life, Zhang said her parents were open-minded and let her enjoy the culture.

But her friends and colleagues don't understand why she likes being a Goth. "They think that what we wear is too overstated."She spends her spare time with other Goths.

The group emphasized that Goths were not angry, depressive or violent. "Some of the lyrics and songs can be brutal like about killing people but it doesn't mean people are doing what the lyrics say,"said Gantzert. "Most Goths wouldn't hurt a fly."

On Facebook, some young girls have posted pictures of themselves in black dresses and appearing to slit their wrists but Ryazantsev said these were just "baby Goths"who didn't really understand Gothic culture.

The Goths feel frustrated that it's difficult to find suitable venues for their events in Shanghai. Most of their activities have been at Inferno, a Goth-themed bar on Yongjia Road, which opened early last year. Owned by a Dane who is a Goth fan, it is one of the few Goth bars in China.

Most of the customers at Inferno are foreigners and the majority of the Chinese customers there are underground heavy metal bands, according to Cassandra Chen, a DJ and bartender at Inferno.

As a fan of heavy metal music (Gothic is a variety of heavy metal), she used to be a customer at Inferno making friends with people who enjoyed the same things as she did. When there was a job going at the bar Chen quit her daytime job as a landscape designer and began working there.

"I'm the kind of person who is never satisfied with the status quo. It is more fun to work here where I can hang out with people who also like heavy metal culture,"she said.

Vampire theme

Haven on Zhongshan Road South is a bar with a vampire theme but its Goth elements are limited to its decor, Ryazantsev said. "The place plays pop music like Lady Gaga instead of Gothic music, which is very disappointing,"he said. He wants to open his own Goth bar in Shanghai one day.

Most of the Goth fans in Shanghai are expatriates. For a lot of people in China, even in the first-tier cities of Beijing and Shanghai, Goth culture is completely unknown.

When Ryazantsev and his Goth friends had their Victorian picnic, a lot of Chinese were fascinated and took photographs and the Goths attract a lot of attention on the street wearing black clothes, chains and spikes. But Ryazantsev is not upset by this.

"A lot of people in Shanghai don't understand the culture, especially those from villages who have never seen this kind of outfit before,"he said.

Some of the couple's Chinese Goth friends have problems with their parents. One girl wore a white dress with a corset to the Victorian picnic but had to change clothes before she went home so she would look normal for her parents.

Apart from family problems, it is difficult for the Goths to organize concerts. A Goth festival of folk music with Chinese and Euro bands was cancelled in October.

"According to our Chinese friends, it was cancelled for political reasons,"said Gantzert, but the friends did not explain. "We felt very disappointed because concerts and music festivals are an important way for us to meet other people,"she said.

Ryazantsev was told by a concert organizer that organizing a metal concert could be difficult in China. "Metal bands wear skulls and crosses and perhaps the government is concerned that the bands may be Satanist or related to cults,"he noted.

With a growing market for Goth clothes and accessories in China, some European Goth brands have moved production lines to China.

"Ninety percent of Goth products are now made in China,"said Ryazantsev. "There are Japanese brands but they are very expensive and there is nothing special about the designs."

German Goth clothes brand X-tra-X has opened a factory in Shanghai. Spanish Goth boots brand New Rock is also going to move some production lines to China.

The online shopping site Taobao is a good source for Goth clothes well below European prices. A Goth silver ring only costs 6 yuan ($0.96) where the same ring at Wave Gotik Treffen costs 10 euro ($12.95).

Showing interest

In Shanghai, the number of Chinese Goth followers is not huge but some locals have begun to show interest in Gothic music and are joining the Goth activities.

After a Gothic concert earlier this year in Shanghai featuring European bands Krypteria and Insomnium, a Chinese man came up to Ryazantsev and told him that he really liked the bands. "The Chinese who are really interested in the music will search for information on the Internet and are willing to pay a lot of money for it,"said Ryazantsev.

But for some expatriate Goths, Gothic culture has not really been growing in Shanghai. "I think Gothic culture has not been getting more popular in the past few years. The music scene in Shanghai has been more mainstream than anything else,"Wurstregal said.

Inferno's Chen said that she heard the atmosphere of Goth culture is better in Beijing. "It's only so so in Shanghai,"she said.

Nevertheless, Ryazantsev still feels optimistic that more people will take to Goth culture in China. "Step by step Goth culture has become more open here. Maybe in 10 years the scene will be more interesting,"he said.


Posted in: Metro Shanghai

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