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Nashvilles goth scene

Research and ethnographic paper looking at the Nashville Goth scene and its inner-workings through two monthly Goth nights.

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Nashvilles goth scene

  1. 1. GOTH NIGHTS AS A TOOL FOR BUILDING COMMUNITY IN THE NASHVILLE GOTH SCENE Kaysha Iverson Dr. Ken Spring Sociology of Music, Spring 2016 April 14, 2016
  2. 2. 1 Goth Nights as a Tool for Building Community in the Nashville Goth Scene INTRODUCTION Studying music through a sociological viewpointallows us to look atmusic in a new light. Music is not merely sound or lyric. Withoutcenturies of people coming together to consume music, itis likely that society would have forgotten aboutit long ago. Today, music is a major aspectfor a lotof people. The music that a person chooses to listen to and identify with, or to not, and the groups that use music to identify themselves is an important sociological phenomenon thatcan show us how people use music to form their personal identities and how music can also determine the joining ofa group and that group’s identity. Roy and Dowd (2013:38) state that individuals and groups “use music to give meaning to themselves and their world.” One of they ways this is done is through the meaningful construction of identity using music to signal and help constitute the identity ofindividuals and collectives. Roy and Dowd state that “music is identified by people inside (and outside) the group as belonging to it, and membership in the group is marked partly by embracing this music (2013:40).” So how does music helps to create a group identity through attracting people with similar taste in music, art, style, and thought? One way that people come together is in music scenes. In a local music scene, the music is often a determining factor in who joins or doesn’tjoin the scene, and how involved they are. Music scenes attract individuals who appreciate similar types ofmusic. While music helps many different types ofgroups come together, the local music scene is one example ofhow music is used to help identify and define a group. Through researching the Nashville Goth scene, Ihave determined that the scene is mainly held together by the two Goth nights in Nashville, Fascination Streetand She’s LostControl. These two club nights geared specifically toward the Goth subcultural community in Nashville allow the members ofthe Goth scene to come together, socialize, and be the insiders who know and identify with the different aspects ofGoth night. In this paper, Iam going to
  3. 3. 2 look athow music scenes mightallow people to come together through a collective identity in a place that is made comfortable to the group’s members. In the case ofNashville’s Goth scene, Iwill explore the two Goth nights and how their location, the music played, the aesthetics ofthe attendees and the eventnorms allow the members ofthe Goth scene to socialize. Iwill also briefly look atthe way that the social hierarchy in the Nashville Goth scene plays outatthe events. MUSIC SCENES Since this paper looks atthe Goth scene in Nashville, itis important to take a look atmusic scenes and how they are defined and viewed. “The conceptofmusic scene typically refers to a particular local setting where a particular style of music has either originated, or has been appropriated and locally adapted (Bennett 2004).” Music scenes are groups ofindividuals who come together based on a particular type of music. The term music scene originated in journalism and the everyday contextin the 1940s aboutthe jazz scene. The term is used to describe the shared music, style ofdress, and demeanor that was appropriate to the scene (Peterson and Bennett2004). The scene also provides a cultural resource for fans, allowing them to find one another, forge collective interests, and identify cultural distinctiveness to differentiate themselves from the mainstream. In academia, Will Straw (1991) put out a paper significantto scenes and attempted to presentthe conceptofscene in a theoretically grounded model ofanalysis. Describing scenes as “actualizing a particular state ofrelations between various populations and social groups,as these coalesce around specific coalitions ofmusical style (1991:379). Straw’s work is now a model for academic research on production, performance, and reception ofpopular music. The scenes perspective looks at“situations where performers, supportfacilities, and fans come together to collectively create music for their own enjoyment(Peterson and Bennett2004).”
  4. 4. 3 According to Straw, the term scene allows for a more varied and dynamic series ofsocial relationships than does the term subculture (1991). To be a part of a subculture, the individuals all must buy into everything aboutthe subculture to be considered a true member. In music scenes,there is a greater range of fluidity in becoming a partofa scene. While the subcultural capital one might have can help them attain a higher hierarchical status in a scene, having subcultural capital in a scene is not necessary to identifying with it. Class, gender, and ethnicity do no restrict scene memberships. (Straw 1991). As observed by Stahl (2004:52), scene acknowledges that“different interpretive tools are called for in order to accountfor the many-layered circuits, loose affiliations, networks, contexts, and pointofcontact determining the socio-musical experience.” Because ofthis, the notion of scene is better able to incorporate differentelements and allow for an expanded consideration of“the industrial, institutional, historical, social and economic contexts alongside the ideological and aesthetic strategies that underpin music-making.” Scene implies an urban context. Where a subculture looks ata group ofpeople,scene helped to determine location as a factor. This means that the same subculture can look differentwhen the contextof location and all the factors that come with it are factored into the scene ofa particular city. For example, Spring (2004) looks atthe Rave scene in a city near Detroit and determines the reasons itwas able to occur; Eckart(2005) looks atthe Gothic scene is Germany; Kruse (1993) looks atthe Grunge scene in Seattle; and there are articles upon articles unmentioned here that look at other scenes, location-based groups that come together as a community over music that might be tied to a subculture but looks different depending on the factors of the location. Peterson and Bennett have divided the music scene into three subcategories:local, trans-local, and virtual. In their book Music Scenes: Local,Translocal, and Virtual (Bennett and Peterson 2004), they describe each ofthe subcategories and explain their importance to the study of scenes. When thinking of scenes, mostpeople will typically think oflocal scenes. These are scenes thatare based within a specific
  5. 5. 4 geographic location (Peterson and Bennett2004). Studying local scenes allows sociologists to look at different factors in a particular area that contribute to the developmentand identity ofthe areas music scenes. Rather than looking ata subculture or genre as a whole, music scenes can help us understand why certain people in certain areas are attracted to particular styles and sounds, and how the area works to allow those people to come together to form a scene. Boundaries play a key role in music scenes. While entry into a music scene is readily available and fluid, music scenes still utilize boundaries in determining who is and is nota part of the scene. Scene members find their individual identities through interaction with the scene’s social space (Cohen 1985). The identities ofthe scene determine the boundaries between the insiders and the outsiders. People in the scene who are looking outward construct what they see in terms oftheir own stereotypes. Nashville’s Goth scene shows how the scenes perspective and the other aspects ofscenes in previous sociological research can be used to look athow the interaction of the individuals in the Nashville Goth scene work to define the scene through a variety of aspects. NASHVILLE’S GOTH SCENE What Is Goth? Before delving into the specifics ofthe Nashville Goth scene, itis important first to determine what Goth is. The Goth subculture came aboutin the early 1980’s in London as a genre derived from punk and post-punk music. Stemming outofthe punk subculture, the Goth subculture took the darker aspects of punk style and punk music and adapted them into the aesthetics that we now view as Goth: dark music, black clothes, dark makeup, etc. Today, the Goth subculture is a worldwide phenomenon. There are subcultural insiders in nearly every country (Issitt 2011). Those who are a part of the Goth subculture have a “reverence for those phenomena considered frightening unsettling by mostpeople (Issitt2011:13).” They prefer Goth music, which has come to include a variety ofgenres and subgenres such as classic gothic,
  6. 6. 5 post-punk, electric body music,aggrotech, apocalyptic folk, black metal, cybergoth, darkwave, deathrock, futurepop, gothabilly, gothic rock, gothic metal, hellektro, industrial, neo-folk, neo-medieval, old school, power noise, psychobilly, and synthpop (Van Elferen and Weinstock 2016). The Goth subculture is primarily white and middle class, between the ages of16-30 (Hodkinson 2002:70). Goth In Nashville Nashville has a small but decided Goth scene. Because ofthe small number ofparticipants, there are very few places that are dedicated to and cater to the Goth scene in Nashville on a daily basis. Since 2012, there have been two separate Goth nights that have allowed the Goth scene in Nashville to come together for events twice a month. These two events, Fascination Street and She’s LostControl, show how a variety of components have come together for the participants of the scene to be able to interactwith one another in a place that is specifically tailored to the Goth aesthetics. NASHVILLE GOTH NIGHTS: FASCINATION STREET AND SHE’S LOST CONTROL The next sections ofthis paper will take a deeper look into the details behind Fascination Street and She’s LostControl (SLC). Starting out, I will give a briefdescription ofeach event. After a quick description, Iwill take a look at the details ofthe two events’ Facebook pages. Then I will look atsome of the other factors ofthese events that are involved in helping to foster a sense ofcommunity in the Nashville Goth scene. Fascination Streetand She’s LostControl (SLC) are both once-monthly Goth events that take place in Nashville. Both events have been happening for years. Fascination Streetstarted in 2012, and She’s LostControl followed closely behind in 2013. Fascination Street, which takes its name from the song title of a Gothic anthem by the Cure, occurs every second Saturday ofthe month. She’s LostControl happens place on the fourth Saturday ofthe month and takes its name from the title of the Joy Division
  7. 7. 6 song. Between the two events, there is often a Goth night every other weekend. Both events take place in venues in East Nashville, Fascination Street at the East Room, a music, comedy, and artvenue, and SLC occurs at Foobar, a bar and music venue, and both run from 10pm-3am. The Facebook Pages and Community Each Goth night has a Facebook page and description. SLC uses its Facebook page to describe itself as being the destination “FOR ALL THINGS DARK!!!!” ( and playing “current & classic/the weird & the hits ofgoth, postpunk, deathrock, new wave, darkwave, industrial, ebm, synthpop, and more.” Fascination Street’s Facebook page goes more in depth with its eventdescription, identifying the nightas “Nashville’s destination for current and classic Post-punk, Darkwave, Deathrock, and traditional Goth music” ( Fascination Streetclaims to be “putting the goth back in ‘Goth Night.’” Both Facebook pages offer the fans and attendees ofthe Goth nights to talk to one another and those putting on the events. The Facebook pages are also used to promote the events, especially as the eventdates grow closer. The pages also allow participants in the scene to postmusic videos,songs, and other information relating to the scene. Typically both events have photographers who attend and take photos ofthe people there throughoutthe night, and they postthese to the respective Facebook pages a few days after the events. One significant difference between the two Facebook pages is thatFascination Street’s has the option to look atthe previous shows’ playlists. While Nashville’s Goth scene is primarily a local scene (Local in the sense that I’m speaking specifically aboutthe Nashville scene. The Goth scene, in general, would be considered translocal because ofthe connections between members ofthe scene around the world (Hodkinson 2004), the use of the internet as an extended means ofcommunication shows elements ofa virtual scene as well (Hodkinson 2005). While the scene is based in Nashville, the rise oftechnology and the internet has allowed the scene
  8. 8. 7 to transcend the physical, geographical environment. Now people who live outside ofNashville, or people who are out of town but want to keep up with the scene, can go online and see whathas been happening. This also gives the members ofthe Nashville Goth scene a forum for discussing the events and other interests. Hodkinson (2005:569-570) looked atthe virtual online Goth scene and determined thatthe online forum can help to enhance subcultural participation, allowing for the facilitation of “providing special knowledge,contrasting values, offering practical information, and generating friendships.” The virtual aspects ofthe Nashville Goth scene also allow participants to gain subcultural capital (Thornton 1995) in the scene in addition to gaining or losing subcultural capital in the physical scene. Using Facebook pages has also affected perceptions ofboundaries ofinclusion and exclusion in the scene (Hodkinson 2005), in that a person can “Like” or “Follow” the Facebook pages withoutever attending, or having any intention of attending, an event. The virtual scene has also taken the place ofword of mouth promotion. Location As mentioned in the previous section both ofthe Goth nights in Nashville take place at venues in Nashville. More specifically, Fascination Street, which takes place in the East Room, and SLC, which is at Foobar, are both located in EastNashville, about two miles away from the active nightlife ofthe Five Points area. While two miles doesn’tseem like a large distance, the walk down Gallatin is not one that someone is likely to take, especially atnight. Essentially, the East Room and Foobar, which are located less than a block away from one another, are what I refer to as destination venues. By this, Imean that they are venues located in an area that people aren’tlikely to wander upon by mistake. Ifa person ends up atthe East Room or Foobar, they did notstumble in from the bar next door, as there is no bar next door. As discussed previously, location plays a huge partin local music scenes. Brandellero and Pfeffer state that “a premium is placed on locations thatcombine […] innovative potential and creativity with a supportive infrastructure, while constituting socially constructed sites ofshared consumption (2015:1575).”
  9. 9. 8 The case ofthe Goth scene in Nashville is interesting because itis an example ofa fringe social group placing themselves in a fringe area ofthe city. Rather than having Goth nights in the Five Points neighborhood, Midtown area, or another area heavily populated with bars, nightlife, and people, both Fascination Streetand SLC have chosen locations that are out ofthe way. While people can still go to these Goth nights without being a part ofthe Goth scene (I have seen many a person come into Foobar without realizing it was Goth night), for the mostpart, these locations are not going to be visited by people outside ofthe scene. Glass (2012) talks about the importance ofsome scenes to create marginal spaces for themselves. This means scenes often create areas that match up with their ideals and aesthetical values. The East Room is a venue, nota bar, so while it has some alcohol, itis beer-only,and nota location that is going to be visited by anyone unless they know that there is an eventhappening there. It is not open nightly, only when there is an eventgoing on. Foobar, on the other hand, is open nightly and has regular theme nights of all kinds throughout the week that cater to all kinds ofgroups, scenes, and personalities. Despite the different personalities, itcan attract throughout the week, Foobar is still located in a place where people go there specifically to go there. This means mostof the people who attend Foobar are regulars, going at leastonce a week, and knowing what events are what nights. On She’s LostControl nights, the people who don’twant to participate in the Goth scene are likely to avoid Foobar thatfourth Saturday ofthe month. The Goth subculture, while not against the mainstream culture but an alternative to it, prefers to stay outof the mainstream eye when possible, and the locations ofthe Goth nights in Nashville’s scene both follow Glass’s (2012) framework for creating marginal spaces thatfit the scene. Music: Goth Music, DJs, and Dancing Both Fascination Street and She’s LostControl utilize music as their primary source to gather the Goth scene together attheir events. Music is importantto the Goth scene because the Goth subculture was formed around Goth music when it started in the late 1970s with Bauhaus and became more in the
  10. 10. 9 mid-1980s in England. Based on my experience in the music scene, all the participants listen to some form of Goth music, and that is what they associate with most. The music at Nashville’s Goth nights allows the community to come together to enjoy something that they hold as a strong part oftheir identity. From a symbolic interaction lens, in the Goth scene, a lotof meaning is placed on music, and the individuals and the group as a whole use this to identify themselves as partof the Goth scene, and those who don’tare not part of the scene. The genres ofmusic that are considered Goth were previously noted. Both ofthese events utilize DJs rather than live bands. The DJs at both events are key players in putting the eventtogether, promotion, and providing a good time by playing atthe shows. Goth music was mostprominentin the 1980s, so to capture the history ofGoth music, the DJs must be able to play classic Goth music because that is the music that gave meaning to the Goth subculture. The main difference in terms of music at She’s LostControl and Fascination Street is that She’s LostControl caters to the more Goth music; the music that has worked it’s way closer to the mainstream. Fascination Streetchooses to stick with the classics and the music that is mostimportant to the Goth subculture itself, regardless ofwhether or not it has been introduced in the mainstream in any form. There are two Fascination Street DJs, and they both pride themselves on their use ofrecords rather than computers. They use their music to control the dance floor, providing a mix ofmusic that appeals to the Goth scene. Fascination Streetis often looked atas being more authentic to the Goth scene, playing music thatlets the members show offtheir knowledge ofthe truly Gothic and gaining subcultural capital through that knowledge. They will typically play a few songs well known by the Goth community, and then introduce some new songs or artists. The DJs at Fascination Streetgo by their DJ names: Baron von Birk and Icabod, taking on names that go with the Goth subculture. She’s LostControl has had a variety ofDJs throughout its years. Currently, there is one main DJ and often guestDJs. SLC provides a differentatmosphere than Fascination Street. The DJ uses a
  11. 11. 10 computer and playlistto play music. The music is also more geared toward people who don’tknow the Goth scene or Goth music as well, and it is typically more mainstreamed (think popular Nine Inch Nails, The Cure, The Smiths, Gang of Four). The DJs don’ttry to gain subcultural capital in the scene; rather, they attempt to keep the attendees drinking and the dance floor filled throughoutthe night. Dancing at these two venues differs as well, showing that the identities ofthe two different Goth nights vary from one another. At Foobar, the dancing is often what you would see ata typical nightclub. With the music tending to be more popular and upbeat, the dancing takes on a less Goth-like feel and a more popular dance club feel, making She’s LostControl feeling less like a Goth nightin terms ofthe individuals on the dance floor. There are the occasional Gothic dancers, who ”move like jittery corpses, lifting their arms slowly, with the jaded naivete ofthe dead reawakened to a hostile world” and dancing at though “pulling taffy,” moving their arms slowly and pulling them apart from one another (Henry Young 1999:82). This is a much more common scene atFascination Street, where the dancing looks more like interpretive movementthan typical club dancing. According to Driver and Bennett(2015), the use of the body is pivotal to the way in which scene identities and behaviors are embedded in the individual. The dancing ofindividuals at Fascination Streetand She’s LostControl both contribute to the ways the two different Goth nights are viewed in terms ofsubcultural capital, and how the individuals define themselves within the Goth scene. As Iwill discuss later on, this also plays into the hierarchy that is found in the Nashville Goth scene. Style According to Hebdige (1979:18), subcultures are “intrigued by the mostmundane objects…which…take on a symbolic dimension, becoming a form ofstigmata, tokens ofself-imposed exile.” The stylistic choices ofthe Goth scene in Nashville serve to presentthe members ofthe scene as “others,” as outsiders to mass society, butalso as insiders to their scene. Atboth Goth nights in Nashville, members
  12. 12. 11 of the Goth scene can getdressed up in their darkestand finest clothes, do their hair and makeup however they please, and utilize whatever kinds ofjewelry or body artthey desire. The more Goth they look, the more subcultural capital they gain, and they can do so without the pressure ofthe restof society looking at them as different. The style of individuals atGoth night, while each different, showcase an effort to be a part of the Goth scene, by dressing dark and in a Gothic style. The styles representa shared identity as a part ofthe Goth scene, butthey also provide individual identities through the clothing, makeup, hair, and body art choices. Hodkinson (2004) notes that in the Goth scene, the stylistic choices made tend to representa theme of darkness, through the color black, and a theme of androgyny. As already noted, black and dark style ofdress is very common atFascination Streetand She’s LostControl. Androgyny in appearance is also a popular theme atboth. Many men at both events can be seen wearing makeup similar to that which the women wear. Many men in the Nashville Goth scene wear their hair long. Through their choices in style, the members ofthe Nashville Goth scene can notonly express themselves, butthey are also able to express their identity as a scene. The effort that they put into their appearance being thatof the Goth subculture also plays a role in determining their place in the hierarchy, which will be discussed next. Hierarchy In the Goth scene, members distinguish themselves from non-members and create hierarchies of status within the scene (Hodkinson 2002:80-81). Subcultural capital, or the degree ofstatus-inducing properties one holds aboutthe particular tastes or values ofa given subcultural group, determines the hierarchy. Looking ata scene, subcultural capital works the same way as it does in a subculture. Thornton gives the example that“Just as books and paintings display cultural capital in the family home, so
  13. 13. 12 subcultural capital is objectified in the form of fashionable haircuts and well assembled record collections (Thornton 1995:11).” Nashville’s Goth scene is full ofindividuals at different levels ofthe hierarchy. I would argue that those who consider themselves as a part ofthe Goth subculture, what I would call the “true Goths,” who identify with the Goth every day through their beliefs, aesthetic choices, and choices in artconsumption, are at the top of the hierarchy, only after the DJs. The DJs at both events have this subcultural capital, along with the musical knowledge,both of songs and artists, butalso the history of Goth music and the history of the scene itself. The DJs are also the ones who put the events together, promote them, and play the music that gets and keeps the other members ofthe scene there. After the DJs and the “true Goths,” would be the members who have been a part ofthe Goth scene in Nashville for a long time. These would be the people who know the people atthe top ofthe hierarchy and attend all the events they can. They dress up for Goth night and go to socialize and enjoy the music, but they do not buy into the subculture as a daily part oftheir lives. As clothing is an important elementin identifying the Goth scene, these members gain subcultural capital due to the Goth mentality (Iacob 2012). Next, would be the members ofthe Goth scene who attend some ofthe events. They are usually friends with someone higher up in the hierarchy of the scene, and they know other members and are known. They mightattend every once in a while, and they may or may not dress up. The second to lastgroup in the hierarchy would be the newcomers. They are new to the Goth scene in Nashville and don’tyethave the subcultural capital to move up in the hierarchy. They don’tyet know the other members and haven’thad a chance to socialize and build up their capital within the scene. Finally, there are the outsiders. These are the people who have no idea whata Goth night is about. They don’tknow the music, they don’tdress up, and they have no subcultural capital. These are the people who mightstumble into Foobar on the fourth Saturday ofthe month because they are new to the
  14. 14. 13 area and didn’t know aboutGoth night. While the Nashville Goth scene accepts these people, they are at the bottom ofthe hierarchy because they do nothave any subcultural capital and, mostlikely, no intention of trying to move up in the hierarchy. CONCLUSION Using the Nashville Goth scene as an example, itis evidentthat many different facets play into creating a scene that allows for the Goth community in Nashville to come together. From the music scenes perspective, differentelements ofthe local and virtual scenes have come together to create a scene unique to Nashville. All ofthese elements come together with the Goth scene in mind. From utilizing technology to bring the community together and to promote events, to the locations ofthe events themselves being in places that fit with the Goth aesthetics, to the way the DJs utilize music and the attendees choose to socialize and dance, Nashville’s Goth scene is catered to its members. Membership into the Goth scene is easy due to the accessible information aboutevents online as well as the openness ofthe events to the public; however, due to the subcultural capital needed to move up in the hierarchy, knowledge ofthe Goth subculture is important to achieving and maintaining a high social status in the scene. Knowing the music and what to wear are two ofthe mostimportant elements in the Goth scene, butthis subcultural capital is something that can be obtained simply attending more events and getting to know more people in the scene.
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