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24 July 2012

The Toronto Goth Scene



The Toronto goth scene, the cultural locus of the goth subculture in Toronto, Ontario, Canada and the associated music and fashion scene, has distinct origins from goth scenes of other goth subcultural centres, such as the UK or Germany. Originally known as the "Batcavers", the term "goth" appeared only after 1988, when it was applied to the pre-existent subculture. Distinctive features included internationally recognized gothic and vampiric fashion store 'Siren', a goth-industrial bar named 'Sanctuary: The Vampire Sex Bar', and Forever Knight, a television series about an 800-year-old vampire living in Toronto. 

In Toronto, the goths did not seek to reject mainstream status, and achieved partial acceptance throughout the mid to late 1990s.

The goth subculture faced public suspicion and the local goth scene declined after allegedly goth-related acts of violence, the Columbine High School massacre in the United States in particular.

In the UK, where goth rock originated, the term "gothic" or "goth" was used to refer to a subculture and style of music since circa 1982; however, in Toronto the usage of the term "goth" and the identification of a subculture as goth did not occur until years later in 1988, when goth rock was already in the midst of what is often referred to as the 'second generation' or 'second wave'.


In Toronto, a subculture called "the freaks" existed prior to 1982 and was a cultural blend of New Romantic, Punk rock, Death punk and Hardcore punk enthusiasts. The term "freak" was a reference to individuals in this scene, and as inclusion had no specific requirements beyond participation in the music scene, it was more diverse than other goth/punk scenes. The "freaks" at this time included fans of specific music genres, and did not exclude people of colour, transgendered individuals, gays, or any others who participated in the Toronto underground music scene.

Some "freaks", notably Death punks and New Romantics, were extremely fashion-conscious, dressing in darker styles modeled on old black-and-white horror films, Morticia Addams, Lily Munster, film noir or ratty New Romantic and glam rock fashions, but maintained a local "freak" identity and a general lack of knowledge of burgeoning UK goth scene.

 Some thought of these individuals as "pretentious, vacuous, fashion victims." Although the term "freak" was used generically, many punks disliked being labelled freaks themselves, and considered the term to apply only to others. Some punks used the term "Blitz Kids" when referring to the darker styled New Romantics after 1982.

New Romantic style

Paul Samuels, co-owner of Goth Club 'Savage Garden', Toronto's longest running goth-bar, reported "we were wearing pointy skull buckle boots, black jeans and tour t-shirts; after that it was the frilly shirts with long sleeves. Then I mashed in make-up and black, backcombed hair with lots of hairspray. We became the freaks of the town."

The word "freak" was not derogatory; those who called themselves "freak" tended to call everyone in this music scene "freak". In this group were the same individuals who would later become known as "the goths" after 1988. However, unlike concurrent goth subcultures elsewhere, many of these "freaks" were primarily fashion-oriented as opposed to identifying as strongly with gothic rock genre of music in particular.


It was 1988 that "Goth" arrived in Toronto. The term "Goth" began to be used to refer to those "freaks" who centred on Gothic fashion and Gothic rock. Elsewhere, merely being a fan of Gothic rock would generally define an individual as a "Goth", but this was not the case in Toronto, where the idea of being "Gothic" was taken very literally; until the mid '90s, the Goths in Toronto considered Gothic literature, romantic poetry, Gothic fashion and Gothic aesthetics, especially beauty, to be subcultural requirements as well. Anne Rice, Edgar Allan Poe, Lord Byron, Bram Stoker and other Gothic romanticist authors were extensively read and considered social obligations. A new, darker vampire fashion became the default definition of Torontonian Goth style.

The mid-80's - 1991 saw the eruption of goth music being played in alternative night clubs by Djs.
and proto-type gothic bands such as Vital Sines, Breeding Ground, National Velvet & the Furies.

The year 1988 also saw the opening of a dedicated Gothic fashion store, Siren on Queen Street West (which was the main goth area in Toronto at the time) and it eventually became the "world's oldest shop catering to the combined enthusiasms of the overlapping communities devoted to the gothic and vampire genres." Groovella Blak (Karen), who owned Siren, also later founded the Gothic Society of Canada with then husband Morpheus Blak (Stan).

Groovella was Toronto's best known "Goth girl", considered a sort of 'fairy godmother', and at the height of the Toronto vampire craze in mid-'90s had her canine teeth filed into fangs and always wore black or black with red. 



Industrial music became a major additional style popular in the Toronto goth scene; Skinny Puppy a Vancouver-based Industrial band inspired an interest in animal rights in many "Industrial-goths" in Toronto. Also at this time, bands such as Depeche Mode, although not goth themselves, were very influential in attracting mainstream music followers into the goth subculture in Toronto.

On September 3, 1992, a bar named "Sanctuary: The Vampire Sex Bar" opened on Queen Street West, in step with the increasing popularity of vampiric-goth archetypes. Sanctuary originally imposed a gothic dress code to strictly adhere to the gothic fashion aspect of the scene. Sexual activity did not actually occur in the bar. 

Fetish fashion had always been associated with the early goth scene having adopted it from the punk scene aesthetics. When it started to gain mass popularity in the Toronto goth scene, many individuals soon equated "Fetish" with "Goth". Similarly pop-culture began to heavily influence the Toronto goths: with Marilyn Manson and Betty Page being perceived by the public as "goth", and the movie The Crow showcasing gothic aesthetics and goth protagonists, more and more Torontonians became interested in being part of the "goth subculture". 


Although these new emerging movements did not necessarily share the same outlooks as the earlier goths, nor an interest in the same styles of music and fashion, the scene itself flourished with a new emphasis on sexuality.
By the mid 90s, and continuing thereafter, Toronto goths held regular BDSM or goth fetish nights. Costuming was a major aspect of this event. Unlike purist fetishists, goths were more likely to be found laughing or taking turns. Sex and sexuality also played a larger part at goth fetish nights than purist fetishist events.


In Toronto, the goth subculture became widespread enough that the media referred to it as "pop-culture", in contrast with the term "cult" that would be applied in later years. In 1998, Johnson Cummins, a music journalist for the Montreal Mirror, reported that Toronto had a higher concentration of goths than anywhere else in the world and that anyone walking down Queen Street could not avoid seeing many of them. At this time, Mitch Krol, lead singer of the Toronto-based goth band Masochistic Religion, became disenchanted with direction of the Toronto scene, calling it shallow, pretentious, primarily concerned with money and glam, and stating that it was no longer goth. Masochistic Religion thereafter relocated to Montreal, Quebec.


COLUMBINE HIGH SCHOOL SHOOTING

In 1999, a school shooting at Columbine High School in Littleton, Colorado created a public backlash against local goths and especially gothic youths as some teachers and parents suddenly began to view goth fashion with suspicion and mistrust. Violence of any kind had always been very rare at Toronto goth clubs, and notable figures in the goth community spoke to the media against associating violence with "goth". They insisted that the shooters were not goths, did not listen to goth music, and that goths were non-violent and pacifistic. Certain elements of the media, notably the local entertainment and culture media, also defended goths. Five months later a report from authorities in Colorado confirmed that the shooting was not related to goth subculture, and stated that the shooters held goth music in "contempt".
The Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance researched the subculture and published a report with the conclusion that goths are non-violent, pacifistic, passive and tolerant of others, and that many in the media had incorrectly associated the goth subculture with violence, hatred of minorities, white supremacy, etc. They found that the goth ideology is actually based on recognition, identification and grief over societal and personal evils that the mainstream culture wished to ignore or forget, these being the prevalent themes in goth music.

These are the boys who commited the crime at Columbine High


Regardless of the fact that the Columbine Shooting was not related to goth subculture, the Toronto goth scene began to decline. Goth bars closed, and goth culture-oriented businesses shut down, including Siren and Sanctuary, which was the longest-running gothic bar as well as the first industrial club in Canada. By mid 2001 goth music was no longer in significant demand in Toronto, and consequently night clubs had generally stopped playing it. Clinging to the idea that the goth subculture was not dying but merely changing, in 2002, local goths tried to revitalize the community by holding events keyed towards introducing older goths to the younger generation. In 2003 it was reported that where other cities had lost their base of goth and industrial fans, Toronto's scene was holding on, or even growing. By 2004 it was reported that local interest in goth rock was stagnant, and some DJ's advocated a shift towards cybergoth music. By late 2005, one media outlet was predicting the downfall of the goth scene in Toronto, stating goth had "returned to its sociopathic roots" and advising readers to "bask in the nostalgia while it lasts."

(all info found on Wikipedia)

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