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40 Years of Goth Style Gratitude

What a whirlwind. Friends, it’s been too long. But I’ve been on a trip. Not the work trips I took to Europe this summer but the trip of watching something I made with my friends go around the world. Here’s a long story of how that happened……

Way back in March now (on International Woman’s Day, actually), some of my favourite ladies got together to make 40 Years of Goth Style. It’s a concept I came up with my long-time bestie, fellow Siouxsie lover and ace make-up artist Andrea Heldman. To take the fashion history timelapse video and give it an alternative make-over. Do our own version, celebrating the darker styles we’ve always loved: 40 Years of Goth Style in under four minutes.

I wanted to make this an all-woman production. And so I enlisted other talented colleagues, like my hairstylist Karen Wallington of Modlocks, to make authentic cyber dread falls; Ashley Davies and Mina Smart from House of Etiquette became my stylists and confidantes; pin-up model Kassandra Love, a not-so-secret goth and sweet gal. We hired Lisa Lightbourn-Lay as our Director of Photography. And several kind friends helped with all the little things that you can’t do without. I borrowed clothes from all over town — pulling vintage velvet dresses and corsets from the closets of my pals, extra grateful for those who have become designers, like Plastik Wrap and Totally Waisted, and who generously lent us things from their collections. Thrilled especially that these items were coming from local, independent, female designers who were actual members of the goth and alternative subculture. Purchased the rest from what my budget would allow. This was a completely independent production, funded by me, and even with all of the favours, it wasn’t cheap to make. I say all this only because some critics of the project have called us out for being too costumey, and of having no idea what goths actually dress like. They couldn’t be more wrong about me and this team.

We spent two full days crammed into a studio trying to make this all work in time—extensive make-ups that tested just how much a person can have intense black eyeliner applied and rubbed off over and over; a black light sequence that proved more difficult than it first seemed; discovering that I hadn’t accounted for adding platforms and giant hair when fixing the time-lapse frame, etc. In the end, the experiments all worked out. Not everything perfectly as in my dreams, but certainly something to be proud of. I secured music tracks from three great local independent bands — Johnny Hollow, Amy’s Arms, For Esme — and after many late nights with Mina and even more favours from several talented women I know who work in post-production, the edit was done.

June 21 I uploaded it to YouTube. We had already posted a teaser on Facebook, which attracted media attention. Kim Kelly at Vice offered to premiere the video on Noisey, so that was a really cool way to launch into the world — she called us “spookily perfect.” The Daily Mail did a feature. I was interviewed for the Washington Post. And we were profiled on Buzzfeed. (We were also pirated a lot; it’s infuriating how many people think they can just download shit from the internet and upload it to their own sites without credit. GRRR.) The views rocketed upwards — 400,000 in the first week. Admittedly, I spent a lot of time watching Google alerts and hitting the refresh button. It was super exciting.

Then came the critics. An avalanche of negative comments that basically boiled down to “This has nothing to do with goth!” To many, the video was a travesty, yet another clickbait made by people who know nothing at all. The Lolitas were particularly enraged — cultural appropriation, one Tweeted at me — that we misrepresented them. I tried to explain that this wasn’t a video about Lolita style history, but rather acknowledging that moment in time where Goths discovered Japanese street style and adopted it into their looks. It’s not actually supposed to be authentic or pure Lolita! Ditto Steampunk. But Goths of the Internet wouldn’t have it! No Death Rocker has blonde hair! Pastel Goth is a cancer to the culture! Nu Goth is offensive to pagans and real witches! For a few days, it really bummed me out, and I honestly tried to dialogue in YouTube comments. (Spoiler: it doesn’t work.) Even though I know very well that arguing about Goth is one of the core tenents of Gothdom. (I called the intro to my book — an actual encyclopedia of Goth! — “What is, ‘What is Goth?’”) I gave up after reading one too many comments from (presumably) kids so upset that we had a punk look — because punk and goth have nothing to do with each other, in their view. How can you care so much about Goth that you are freaking out about a video on the internet but not enough to know its basic history? Le sigh.

At the same time, I welcomed and relished the many response videos popping up. They too had critiques, but fair ones, I thought. I found it flattering actually to be acknowledged by my favourite Goth YouTube personalities and bloggers. There were blog posts from around the world. And many positive comments, which came more often as the weeks went on. Yeah, even from Pastel Goths. I adore hearing that people are falling in love with the songs we used, discovering new music. Almost every time I went out in Toronto, someone else told me they saw and liked the video. It started to feel good again.

Last week, 40 Years of Goth Style reached 1 million views! That’s kind of crazy. It’s a pretty significant milestone, and I’m extremely proud of that. At the same time, it’s just the beginning. We are planning a Male Goth Style follow-up. (Yes, there will be Tripp pants.) And I have a “director’s commentary” type video almost ready to go up that explains more about our rationale and research into these different looks used. Because I genuinely do care about this subculture, and I want people to learn more about it, to appreciate this thing of beautiful subversion that captured my imagination all those years ago, and still does.

It’s Thanksgiving in Canada right now. As I type this, I am surrounded by the smell of sweet potatoes and roasted beets and a view of trees turning burnt orange and red. It’s a day to think about gratitude. Well, I’m thankful for a lot of things this year but none as much as the ladies who helped me make this video, as well as the people who helped me get the word out, and those who watched it, all 1, 114, 732 of you, and counting.

Thank you always for reading, for caring about what I do, for being you. Now it’s time to light a candle and get back to Work.

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