Recently returning from my first trip to Chicago for the 20th annual Goth Convergence, I’m filled with a rekindled enthusiasm for a scene that I fell in love with as a teen and reaffirmed how it is still as relevant to me and my life in adulthood.
Convergence is the yearly goth festival held in America. Initially started by the net.goths from the Usenet group alt.gothic as an opportunity to put faces to avatars, over the years its patrons have been drawn from every corner of the goth scene. What’s slightly more unusual about this gothic gathering (as opposed to the ones in the UK and Europe) is that its location changes year on year. Cities bid to host it and the winning city forms a committee to run the event. In a country as large as America, this does make sense and it also means each festival really has its own flavour as well as giving a number of people the opportunity to play a key role in the scene rather than this honour going to a very select few.
The very first convergence in 1995 was held in Chicago, as was the tenth. So it was only fitting that the twentieth anniversary should be Chicago too. The committee was headed by scene veterans Scary Lady Sarah (DJ and event organiser extraordinaire) and William Faith (of one of my favourite bands Faith and the Muse), who incidentally also have their own band together called Bell Weather Syndicate
The festival consists of two main nights of bands, a club night, a fashion show and a Bizarre Bazaar where goth designers and artisans peddle their wares. The band line up consisted of The Gothsicles, I:Scintilla, Arch Visceral Parlor, Peeling Grey, Ending the Vicious Cycle, Sunshine Blind and two of our very own home-grown bands: Pretentious, Moi? and The March Violets.
Although I may be slightly biased (since it’s my husband’s project) I do think Pretentious, Moi? are one of the best new bands on the scene and perfect the 90s Goth sound, which is my particular favourite. I am reassured by the fact that Scary Lady Sarah has been an avid supporter of the band ever since Tim started it as a side project in 1994 and the astounding reception they got from the gig, that my opinion is justified! Added to this is the high pedigree of musicians he has assembled to form the band: Rachel Iden (Die Laughing), Gordon Young (ex-Dream Disciples), Christian Tonkin (Manuskript) and Matt Helm (Red Sun Revival), that you know it’s going to be something worth listening to.
The final headliners of the weekend were The March Violets. Formed in Leeds in the post punk era at the very start of the 80s, they were one of the 4 dark Northern Bands that are often blamed for starting the Gothic scene (along with The Danse Society, The Sisters of Mercy, and The Southern Death Cult). We thought they were lost to us until three original members reformed in 2008 and have been painting stages purple once again and this time round they were joined by William Faith on base. They were wonderfully received by fans who loved them the first time round alongside the newly initiated.
And Britain was also represented in the form of Alchemy there too! I spotted a number of pieces in the crowd and of course had to wear some of my own.
It was great to have scene veterans (a number of whom were even at the first convergence) dance alongside fledgling goths and feel a real sense of unity, belonging and a feeling of a common understanding, something I haven’t really felt since my first days of descending into the underground clubs of Johannesburg in my late teens and early 20s. Perhaps though it’s also because the dance style and music affinity of the Americans do seem a lot closer to the South African tastes than that of elsewhere. However I do think in many ways this is something many of the larger European festivals lack and even Whitby Goth Weekend feels to me that it’s lost its soul to a degree… although I will again be attending and reviewing both Wave Gotik Treffen in Leipzig and Whitby Goth Weekend in Whitby this year… so it’ll be good to make the comparison with fresh eyes.
Although I do know my feelings of this particular festival were echoed by most of the attendees, with wonderful messages flooding into the facebook group before our plane even landed back on UK soil. Kyla, a C20 attendee who found goth slightly later in life (and you know – it’s never too late ;), describes it thus, “I found the festival euphoric. Anything that keeps the spark of my first and foremost passion – music – alive and burning bright is a wonderful thing. Additionally, it was a true joy meeting other people from around the world who are drawn to the same things as I. Someone said once by the time people reach their 30-40s, they find their tribe, and indeed such a statement is true for me.”
Through the years the festival has varied in size attracting between 400 to 1,500 attendees and it seems to have been a conscious decision a few years ago (along with waning scene interest) that it be kept as close to the original idea as possible rather than allowing it to become commercialised and watered down with too many fringe elements. However it remains a place where you are fully welcomed if you truly want to experience and be part of the dark collective. I think it is this more intimate gathering of a like-minded group with a real passion for all the scene has to offer, in an event by-the-people-for-the-people that really set the tone for the festival. This is definitely a festival to earmark for the dark at heart! See you at Convergence 30 Chicago!
Until next time,