Chicago Tribune (7.20.98)


By Joshua Klein. Special to the Tribune.

Ah, to be young and Goth in the summertime! While joggers crowd the lakeshore and sunbathers pepper the beach, Chicago's wannabe undead population congregates indoors, applying pancake makeup to counter the effects of the malicious sun, dressing in black to blend into the night and listening to gloomy music really loud to distress their parents.

Seriously, though. This summer Chicago is a hotbed of Goth-rock activity. Well before announcing a national tour, seminal doom masters Bauhaus had already committed to two local shows. Additionally, The Creatures, a side project of Siouxsie and the Banshees featuring Siouxsie Sioux and drummer Budgie, signed on for their own two-night stay in town. And then there was Saturday night's Projekt Festival at the Vic, a four-band mope-a-thon celebrating Chicago's premier Goth label, Projekt Records, whose city presence has ensured strong support for one of the most misunderstood genres of music.

For a subculture so seemingly easy to stereotype, Goth has given us a surprisingly diverse selection of musical alternatives: There's Depeche Mode (synth-pop), Dead Can Dance (Medieval ambient folk), Swans (ultraslow metal), Nick Cave (pedantic poetry), and Marilyn Manson (pop-star posing), all included under the broad banner of Goth.

While musically dissimilar, these bands do all reveal an obsession with death, depression and disorder. Likewise, though Goth fans' adherence to Goth tenets runs the gamut from role-playing fantasy to fashion statement to outright rebellion, most can be identified by their penchant for black clothes, piercings, lace, patchouli and leather. But the fans who slunk out of the shadows to catch Voltaire, Arcanta, Lycia, and Black Tape for a Blue Girl appeared relaxed and jovial, hobnobbing with their fellow creatures of the night and even clapping after each act. It was less a music festival than a convention.

It's difficult to discern just where a Goth band's act ends and its true beliefs begin. Tragically, the real-life depressions of Ian Curtis (of Goth godfathers Joy Division) and Rozz Williams (of Christian Death) went unchecked for so long that both singers ultimately took their own lives. Luckily, New York's Voltaire began the night with a hilarious set that somewhat cheekily poked fun at Goth conventions while at the same time exploiting them, lending the evening some much-needed lightness.

Voltaire's set featured the kind of sharp songwriting that is too often absent from Goth music. The music, much of which can be found on his new disc "The Devil's Bris," ranged from Gypsy folk to melodramatic pop, with a cello and violin mingling with acoustic guitar and drums. Voltaire himself, an artist and animator when he's not on stage, sounded more than a little bit like Bauhaus head vampire Peter Murphy, but his wit was his own. "I love you all . . . in a Gothic sort of way," he joked.

The remainder of the evening quickly degenerated into a morass of pretentiousness and turgid music. The near-operatic, multilingual wails of Arcanta were softened by excessive reverb and synths, echoing through the room as if the Vic were some vast European cathedral. Lycia (the first group to break out the smoke machine) and Black Tape for a Blue Girl (the longtime band led by Projekt founder and festival organizer Sam Rosenthal), though the main draws for many eager festivalgoers, were a mess of ethereal guitar, programmed drums and all-too-earnest lyrics.

Contributed by Jerry Burch.

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