Undead: Goth mystery and history survive in Jacksonville
A dark saga has developed over hundreds of years, creating a vast cultural network. We chatted with personalities from the local scene about the life of the Gothic subculture in Northeast Florida.
It is Resurgence Goth Night in 1904. Occult symbols are projected on dark walls and absinthe flows from the cups. A pulse slips into a squeaky bass and guitar melody, invoking a sea of black fabric on the dance floor. Intricate layered bodies of corsets and capes, adorned with silver, sway together in ominous tones. A heavy echo on each note, a voice enters the mix for three minutes in: “Translucent black capes white on white / Back on the stand / Bela Lugosi is dead.”
Citing the star of the 1931 film Dracula, the song carries the elegant morbidity of the film and countless other tracks in the genre.
The Bauhaus single in 1979, Bela Lugosi’s Dead, was one of the first songs to be classified as gothic rock, marking the sonic genesis of an ancient paradigm. Its name and distinction of destruction and decay comes from the Gothic tribes who conquered Rome in the 5th century AD. The ornate architecture and allegorical art of the European Dark Age was called Gothic. The art and literature of the Romanesque period of the 18th and 19th centuries inspired awe and terror. The gothic film captured shadows and moving horror. Victorian culture was obsessed with death, and the black mourning clothes of the time were certainly preserved.
Bands like Joy Division and Siouxsie and the Banshees have mixed punk nonconformity with gothic themes to create a haunting and elegant sound. The label had been stuck on an array of vaguely interconnected cultural movements and artifacts, but with Gothic rock music, those with a taste for dark romanticism, macabre and mystique, for history and ritual, had found a sound signature to congregate on. . Gothic clubs began to open up in England and around the world. More gothic rock and bands adjacent to the genre began to appear. An international subculture was born.
Nearly half a century later, the community is alive and well. Here in Jacksonville there are two active Gothic nights: Sanctuary and Resurgence. Styles are varied but generally convey a dark nonconformity: opulent Victorian attire, fishnets and leather, traditional 2000s emo outfits. DJs spin Gothic and industrial music, from Sisters of Mercy and The Cure to Brand New and Crystal Castles. Absinthe drinks, named after songs, are served in the bars. People of all ages and from all walks of life are present. The energy of club nights is pretty cheerful for a crowd of people in mourning gear. Perhaps because of the ritual air or the free expression of a club filled with misfits, Sanctuary was voted the best place to dance in last year’s Best of Jax poll.
The refined taste and grim disposition of the Goths might create an expectation of grim arrogance – but the scene is actually remarkably friendly. The Gothic aesthetic projects the image of an outcast and the scene heals alienation. A Gothic will rarely call themselves a Goth (even members of core Gothic groups won’t), but they’re happy to share elements of the subculture to welcome newcomers.
“It’s this weird cultural realm where there’s so much niche that you want more people, and you’re happy to see them all coming,” said Cliff Hensley, a local community figure. “I think the group needs to accept people into it because they feel more obligated to look after each other. You are just delighted to see the numbers increase. “
JoHanna Moresco, who hosts the city’s two active Gothic parties, said Jacksonville’s Gothic scene is particularly sweet: “I’ve attended a lot of Gothic nights in a lot of places; it’s a very, very friendly and welcoming scene. Even for the Gothic scene, which is generally very friendly and welcoming.
Moresco plays violin for the Jacksonville-based group Darkwave Crüxshadows. She has spent much of the last fifteen plus years on international tours, performing in clubs and headlining major goth festivals around the world. She takes her craftsmanship from the world stage and brings it home to help create a vibrant goth community locally – spaces where people can be themselves and be celebrated for it.
Hailing from rural Kansas, where Westboro Baptist picket signs lined a dry sepia landscape, she entered the scene in a spirit of dissent. As a teenager, she snuck into punk shows, used the dial-up internet to check out gothic.net, and soon began playing bass and touring with Apocalypse Theater, before moving to Florida to play the violin for Crüxshadows. Moresco’s heroes have now become his contemporaries.
The international Gothic community is large but tight-knit. The movement is made up of a lush network of local stages and decades-old online platforms, so many friendships aren’t based on age or closeness. The Gothic subculture was born at the precipice of the information age, giving it a place of growth and maintenance.
“Every country has a Gothic scene and presence,” Moresco said. “There is this common point that transcends time and space.”
It was a club scene initially. Goths identified themselves with eyeliner, ankhs, and black clothing. They met in clubs and Gothic halls. Albums were found in stores, with their unmistakably disturbing glamorous covers. As a visual and aural movement, MTV’s beginnings in the early 1980s were essential in exposing young people across the country to the sound and vision of Gothic rock.
Max Michaels is often cited as the most important figure in the local Gothic community. He’s been on the scene for over 25 years, hosting several club nights over time and featuring performers in Movement magazine. His involvement in the scene started with MTV – he sneaked in at low volume late at night, aiming to find as much new music as possible.
“One night they played a live version of Depeche Mode’s People Are People video,” Michaels recalls. “I watched in wonder at the released jaw. That sound, the lyrics, the look. Everything about them resonated with me. I jumped over to grab some paper and a pen to write down their information when it appeared at the end because I knew I would never remember or even pronounce it. That week my parents took me to the record store and I bought Some Great Reward with my allowance. From there, it naturally led to discovering all the groups that are now classic.
From there, at age fifteen, he began dating Einstein A Go-Go, a hall that operated on the beaches until 1997. There Michaels found a small group of similar misfits who enjoyed the music and style alike. than him.
Cliff Hensley grew up in Atlanta in the 90s, where he attended The Masquerade. The scene at the time used message board systems to exchange information on club nights and Gothic raves.
Then came the rise of the Internet. “It was my resource in the middle of nowhere in Kansas,” Moresco says. “In a town of just under a thousand inhabitants, something like going to the castle was a dream for me.” Websites and forums around the subculture quickly began to appear, with music and fashion discussion boards, articles on the Gothic Girl of the Week, and countless photos to inform the image. That way, those who weren’t near a big city came into the picture, including JoHanna.
Today, Gothic communities are sharing updates in local Facebook groups. The forums are still active, although r / goth and #gothic on Instagram and Tik Tok have a lot more traction than gothic.net. There is as much information about movement as one could read in a lifetime. Online stores sell Gothic-inspired clothing. Millions of images with the keyword “goth” populate the Web.
With this abundance of resources, many zoomers embrace the Gothic aesthetic before hearing the music, when it was the other way around. “They see fashion and they may or may not know its roots,” says Moresco. “Some people end up finding a connection to music through fashion and social events, and it’s like they’re reverse-engineering. It’s fun to see them discover it all. “
Before the turn of the century, fashion was largely second-hand and DIY. Max Michaels shopped at thrift stores and small local shops; JoHanna Moresco took her clothes off with dye and scissors. Now she co-manages Subculture, a store in the Avenues mall that specializes in gothic and pin-up clothing, as well as JoHanna’s line of cosmetics and fashion pieces. She’s worked with the boutique since moving to Jacksonville when she was a jewelry storefront at Five Points. Here, Moresco sells newcomers the outfits they wear on club nights, helping them discover their own personal styles; and became a kind of mentor for baby bats (young goths), sharing music and passing on old gothic clothes. In this way, she helps keep the dark mystery alive for generations to come.
“There are over four decades of music to dive into, and a lot of new music is being created. They may or may not become fans of music, but if they are drawn to any aspect of the culture, we have something in common. And if there is some kind of commonality, why not connect with it and fill in the gaps? “
“I think my look would also make sense 20, 30, 40 years ago. But I think people see it now and they’re still drawn to it as well. Maybe it’s because he sort of holds onto a lot of those classic archetypes that goth in general pulls from what humans can’t help but feel intrigued and drawn to, ”Moresco said.
Perhaps when Bauhaus frontman Peter Murphy chanted “UNDEAD, UNDEAD, UNDEAD” at the sonic climax of Bela Lugosi’s Dead, he manifested immortality for the scene he helped create – a scene that has stood the test of time, transcended the boundaries of space, and maintained the historical roots from which it came.
Sanctuary takes place on the second Sunday of each month at Myth, and Resurgence takes place every fourth Saturday at 1904 Music Hall.