By Jordan Mooney.
Photographs by Zhaos Photography.
With thanks to Kane, Eddie, Ross, Brad and Karla.
April Whitby Goth. Thursday the 23rd of April. It was too sunny, and my top hat’s leather band was beginning to make my forehead melt.
We were watching soundcheck with interest – every group finishing quickly and efficiently, after which we began plucking them for interviews to take part in Whitby Goth’s mindprobe. (Coming soon! Tell your friends! etc…) Bands turned up intermittently – we had never seen any of them before and had to make informed guesses, squinting desperately at the press photographs printed in the event’s booklets. Each time, we were wrong.
We decided not to ask musicians out of respect and instead just threw ourselves in with over-copious (but very polite) recitals of ‘excuse me’ and ‘can we borrow you for a moment?’
The first glimpses we got of the music were strong. The Red Paintings managed to turn a violin into a guitar. The Birthday Massacre acted with precision and certainty. Ashes to Angels stayed still for more than two minutes. All in all, it was nice to see the groups in a different – and far more ‘formal’ light – no audience, only sound engineers and stage hands, along with a little girl on a fold out scooter speeding around handing badges to everybody.
The Pavilion was a strange place when empty. But the buzz and excitement of the event was in the air – and the moment we stepped out of the doors, a bustling gaggle of goths had already clustered in the venue’s lobby.
Oh yes, it was Whitby Goth’s 21st Birthday. And some incredible people were here to celebrate on stage. This was not going to be an ordinary show…
Four days. Sixteen bands. And it was finally starting.
Cut to about two hours later, and the venue is filling rapidly. A suspicious number of teenagers gathered wearing AshestoAngels merchandise at the front barrier. A bit of a larger variety were wearing Birthday Massacre shirts.
It was clear that tonight appealed particularly to the younger demographic – many of this demographic had never been to Goth Weekend before and appeared to be very nervous, sitting on the floor nearby the barrier. The lighting rig, larger than any Whitby Goth past, was illuminating the stage garishly. A man with LED strips in his dreadlocks walked by clutching four drinks very precariously. Suddenly, myself and the other members of our party realised – this is it. We’re home again. Back at our biggest bi-annual event of the year! And here comes Glittery Craig to introduce our first act…
Crilly (vocals), Nico (Bass), Adam (Guitar), Jim (Drums)
It would be fair, I feel, to say that AshestoAngels is a group that splits audiences roughly down the middle. This is not to say it is a clean cut, but it is identifiably shooting for younger members of the Whitby Goth Weekend clientele. In particular, the group aim for small pockets of audience members they already know and offer a firm amount of face to face interaction even midst performance. Is this beyond them? Not at all. They are perfectly aware that their audience is a certain age group and know that they are catering to such tastes quite specifically. For this self-awareness the band garner a more than complimentary outlook.
This rabble are very active on stage. Incendiary, loud, natural performers – within a laymen’s term, they are natural show offs – showboaters. They are not very subtle or delicate, perhaps not even a group with the greatest amount of depth, but what they lack in this they make up tenfold with their charisma and energy. The Ashes lads are very obviously a younger gang still flying on a very quickly acclimated status among that delightful landscape of alternative bands.
Their music may not be quite my thing – I’m more for a slightly older-fashioned region of the rolling punky hills that make up my musical horizon – the band’s capabilities on the stage most certainly forces me to, by hook or by crook, watch the group and enjoy every moment.
I am well aware that many people in the audience – specifically the older members that decided to stay at the bar while this particular set was performed, would have been rolling their eyes and sighing as those rapscallious youths at the front were headbanging and jumping, tongues out of mouth.
I look forward to the day that these groups of people embrace the diversity of the line up that Whitby Goth has to cater to – These pockets of people whom still treat certain groups with disdain. This diversity has been a natural aspect of the event for two decades, and it isn’t going to change – nor should it. The weekend has a natural asset that all should embrace – it plunges the unaccustomed into new worlds and new experiences, new brands, new music, new groups. Everybody benefits from this, and do you know? I think I benefited immensely seeing AshestoAngels.
This is a spectacle to watch regardless of your feelings on their music – speaking as somebody who isn’t quite in their ‘scene’, it is clear that this group has benefitted an awful lot of people’s lives, and so help me, they benefited the evening by starting us off with an incendiary show.
THE RED PAINTINGS
Trash McSweeney (Vocals, Guitar), Alix Kol (Violin, Vocals), Ginny Eck (Bass), Hiroshi Kamoshita (Drums)
It is increasingly rare for Whitby Goth Weekend to pull an ace from the sleeve – not due to a lack of capability of them doing so, but as they’ve pulled so many that the audience has almost come to expect the unexpected.
Even this, I feel, did not prepare any audience sufficiently for what The Red Paintings are capable of pulling off onstage. I have never – and I can say this with complete certainty and sincerity – seen a show quite on the level this group generated at the Pavilion. What we saw unfold defies a firm explanation or description, but it certainly generates a strong level of discussion.
The story goes that their vocalist, creator, writer and guitarist, the eminent prodigy Trash McSweeney, had a near-fatal seizure, and developed a capability of seeing colours in music. Since then, the Red Paintings have worked this premise to the absolute extreme and expanded it into a loose-narrative rock opera that has been astounding audiences continuously and consistently.
Blending numerous sources – geishas, aliens, Alice in Wonderland and a little plastic toy that sings Michael Jackson songs – not to mention the unexpected (but very welcome) addition of a Dancing Groot, It is a soundtrack to a vastly populated landscape of inspired ideas that simply haven’t infiltrated this world in any other form. If there’s any such thing as unique these days, this set of stars have mastered it.
While it’s difficult to dub The Red Paintings as ‘Goth’, there’s no denying that they are perfect for what we, as Goth Weekenders, represent. They are eccentric, theatrical, and, beyond all else, utterly unique. We’re talking violins that can be played like a death rock guitar here. (Their soundcheck will echo in my memories for many moons to come. I’d have it no other way.)
The group are hugely skilled, palpably entertaining and work with a fine sense of artistic fulfilment. Every moment they spend is full of their own creativity, and, as if to increase their own blatant interests in the performance arts, they provide human canvases (in sublime head masks)for members of the audience, chosen at random, to paint their immediate reactions to the music upon – often to stunning, or humorous results, and when these work in tandem with extravagant costumes and surprisingly in depth narratives – air raid sirens and guitars becoming guns within a blink of the eye, you end up with a performance which challenges you to choose an aspect to focus on.
The group demand attention – you simply HAVE to watch them. Every moment they’re doing something different. And, even better, they’re communicating. We learn while we watch the show – we find new things, see new things, even participate in new ways (Such as an audience whirlpool…) and, ultimately, come out as enriched as our senses are exhausted. Communication is hugely important to me in a live show (you’ll see plenty of that as we continue throughout the nights), and to see even the most abstract, beguiling concepts being split by common, decent and very passionate respect to the audience was refreshing.
While Alix Kol’s simply incredible skills on the violin deserve instantaneous credit – her work being absolutely mind blowing by every degree – every member we saw on the Spa’s stage was without fail incredible. Trash himself makes a masterful frontman (no surprise considering the amount of things he can actually do. I expect he also plays the spoons to a fine standard, but that’s not listed on the website…) Ginny Eck’s bass was, to our eyes, flawless, and the group’s drummer, Hiroshi Kamoshita, can play to such speeds that one could believe the noise is coming from a rampant, careening freight train travelling downhill.
This was an eye-opening performance. Sublime. Incredible. Inimitable.
The beauty of it is that it brings a sorely lacking concept of theatrical music to Whitby Goth, and for the first time at such a level. This kind of show is always a gamble to introduce to a show with some very cynical audience members – and you all know what I mean; Those that dictate ‘this is goth’, ‘that isn’t goth’, etc. etc. etc… but the audience seemed to react as fondly as the Cat on the Wall party did. And that made me a very happy man. The Red Paintings, whether it was their intention or otherwise, managed to upstage the event far too early with far too much of the audience wanting more. Future headliner? Yes please.
Particularly credit has to go for a fantastic cover of ‘Mad World’. I got far too excited. Visibly excited.
Cpt. Robert Brown (Vocals, Accordion, Goblet Drum), Kristina Erickson (Keys), Josh Goering (Guitar, Banjo Ukulele), Titus Munteanu (Violin), Derek Brown (Bass)
Abney Park are a legendary name in the world of steampunk. They’ve got their own roleplaying game, overarching plots and a continuous thematic punch that has impacted, resonated and built up a terrifyingly devoted following over their career.
They’re a cornerstone to one of WGW’s largest attending communities, and, naturally, I went in with some degree of interest and expectation concerning their act. When accordions and a goblet drum are involved, you’re bound to get some provision of variety and a certain foreign flavour to the group’s sound, and it’s this variety that manages to set itself up as a USP when the group are performing.
However, I’m not a man to keep quiet when something is bugging me (what a terrible reviewer that would make me!), and Abney Park’s biggest flaw, for me, was the lack of communication with their audience. There was the odd word here and there, of course, but as an outsider I was very interested in hearing their surprisingly elaborate backstory (time machines, alternate histories and dystopian steam powered futures…) explained – being told what these songs were, being told who the people on stage actually were – but, perhaps unsurprisingly, it wasn’t mentioned and I couldn’t really distinguish enough of the lyrics to find out for myself.
I’m sure, of course, I’m in a ridiculously small minority of those in the audience who didn’t know. But it still seems a little odd to me that a group with such a grand plot to their name didn’t take the time to bring it attention – those whom hadn’t seen them before would doubtless have been won over if we’d had more explanation to the grand visuals we had before us.
I suppose this all boils down to the grand question of theatrics in music. Should a narrative interrupt the flow of songs and potentially infuriate the fans whom have heard it all before, or should the music play continuously, even if it buries the story of it all?
I suppose it’ll always cross opinion.
Regardless, the group did provide a lot of variety, some admirable costumes and vocalist, Robert Brown, Cossack dancing while playing his accordion. No matter which part of the world you’re in, that’ll be some brilliant entertainment, and despite my misgivings, I was overjoyed to see a second theatrical band in one night. Hopefully this trend will continue in future Whitby Goths – who wouldn’t want an extra dimension to a performance?
THE BIRTHDAY MASSACRE
Chibi (Vocals), M. Falcore (Guitar), Rhim (Drums), Owen (Keyboards), Nate Manor (Bass)
This headliner tonight is possibly one of the most difficult bands I’ve ever had to review. Not as they’re bad – quite the opposite. The group is so well practised. Their show is seemingly prepared for anything, and their music performed to such a continuously high standard that it becomes almost difficult to find anything to point out and speak of.
The main line, I suppose, is that the group replicate the sound on the numerous records and releases that they have to their name – their keys, in particular, become a strong driving force to their sound on stage and their frontlady, Chibi, has very beguiling vocals. A powerful, haunting – but completely non-threatening – voice. One destined to win everybody in the audience over at least once.
They’re one of the benchmarks of the Goth scene – without fail, they operate within a consistent volume of success without dropping the ball, and together with a vibrant use of online media and a strong sense of open discussion with their fans, they’ve managed to become unofficial ambassadors to the alternative.
This is highlighted when they speak on stage – their crowd loved them. Listened to them. Cheered to every passionate statement about how wonderful it is for the group to be at the Pavilion.
But what were they actually like on stage?
A black and white fairground Waltzer spinning into a world combining the most fantastical and bizarre elements of an alternative childhood. A strange, seductive world that hides the most terrible aspects of its own wonderment behind a certain, pleasant innocence and naivety and a thick layer of mascara.
They’re a form of escapism – painting up weird and wonderful landscapes without once trying to break their own sense of adventure. They’re not, perhaps, a band that immediately aims for beautiful or elegant. They shoot (at least, in my view) more towards the prospect of taking their listeners – or in this case, listeners and watchers – into a sense of twirling adventure. And I think they manage that very well.
It’s perhaps this that qualms my slight bewilderment towards their tour with The Red Paintings. I wouldn’t, having viewed the Red Paintings earlier this evening, have grouped the two together – but having seen both bands perform on the Pavilion stage, any sense of confusion or reservation is very quickly lost. The two work beautifully in tandem.
All I know is I wish I knew about this bloody tour. It sounds like it would be a most beauteous riot!
I have no doubt that The Birthday Massacre were a great success to all and sundry in the audience, as strong as they were for myself – although their merch stand was worryingly void of CDs, and a dubious sign stated they were sold out before soundcheck was over and the audience was permitted to enter. No doubt shifted on their current tour, but all the same…never attend WGW without CDs, ladies and gents – even if you have to get a crate Fedex’d. You’ll get a lot sold very quickly here, regardless of whether the audience has seen you before.
I think the main issue I have with this evening is that the bands seemed to cater for a younger audience a day early – when a lot of them would have been unable to attend. When I spoke to a few of the groups and audience members, they held the same sentiments – it was a Thursday, after all, and without trying to sound patronising, many of the teenagers whom would have flocked in even greater numbers to see AshestoAngels or The Birthday Massacre had school the next day..!
Other than this – and to be fair, it would be a logistics nightmare to swap nights over – this first night ran like a charm, as smooth as silk – and I think everybody will have gone away with at least one new band reverberating in their ears.
The Red Paintings definitely get our top pick for the first night. But this isn’t just for music – to see a sense of theatrical performance hit the Pavilion stage brings a very personal sense of excitement to your intrepid writer, and I truly hope this won’t be the last time. They brought with them that terrible affliction of night domination that so many early performances have had in the past – they’re a born headliner. I don’t give that sort of praise lightly, let me tell you..!
I always stand by my belief that a live performance should be more than just music – there’s more than one dimension to entertainment, always should be – and it seems to me that the groups we see on the Pavilion stage are ticking more of these boxes than ever.
Communication, visual, thematic, movement and, above all else, escapism. Tonight’s music can claim to cater for all of it.
I left the Pavilion this evening a very happy – and rather excited – man. It feels as if Whitby Goth Weekend is still experimenting on its big 21st – that, ladies and gentlemen, is something you can take to the bank. And we’re only just getting started…!