By William Michael Smith
By Jef With One F
By Craig Hlavaty
By Jesse Sendejas Jr.
By Sonya Harvey
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By Nathan Smith
By Craig Hlavaty
LOG ON. TUNE IN. BURN OUT.
That was the rallying cry of the net.goths on the USENET newsgroup alt.gothic as it rang out through cyberspace in 1994. And for Houstonian Christopher K. Derrick, it was the inspiration to organize what would be the first and most influential North American gothic music festival, Convergence. After that, goth scenes in Texas, and across the country, would never be the same again.
Convergence is now in its sixth year of planning, and the last one, Convergence 5 in New Orleans, drew more than 1,000 attendees. In the past year, three more goth festivals akin to Convergence were announced on larger-than-ever goth newsgroups and mailing lists.
Before the airing of that message five years ago, Derrick, now an employee of the State Department, had left the Air Force for the University of Illinois at Chicago. At the time, goth was for goofs. Besides the short Procession tour, which featured Faith & The Muse, Rosetta Stone, Das Ich and Corpus Delicti, gothic music had no exposure. Goth's dark, nihilistic sound was dismissed as pretentious and some of its icons as WWF rejects. The gothic lifestyle -- that of introversion, black clothes, black boots and ratted-up hair -- was not a lifestyle at all, but something high schoolers did when they weren't studying chemistry or English.
In Texas, the goth scenes were even more isolated. Troy Hunt, an Austin net.goth who would eventually meet Derrick at Convergence, says Texas goths like him felt like strangers to everyone, but even to goths in other cities. "We never really even had any faith that there were many, if any, in other cities."
Both Hunt and Derrick looked to alt.gothic, or a.g., to find like-minded individuals. Derrick had been a goth for years, but he hadn't met any others. He was a black jeans, black T-shirt kind of goth, but his Lone Star belt buckle often attracted attention, to the point of becoming his fashion trademark. After months of avid a.g. reading, Derrick volunteered in January 1995 to help out with a nationwide net.gathering in the works. He readily admits that he thought the idea was just talk.
Meanwhile, for Hunt, the discovery of a.g. was a godsend. Unlike the small e-mail list of eight to ten goth friends in Austin, a.g. was a gateway to hundreds of goths. "It was my first experience with the Net in general," says Hunt. "I was just blown away."
Undoubtedly, a.g. elicited this communal feeling among goths. The newsgroup, a spin-off of a music newsgroup, started on November 1, 1991, in response to a tide of "Is [insert band name here] gothic?" questions. By early 1995 a.g. had developed a culture of its own. Sometimes witty and other times angst-ridden, a.g. became a de facto support group for goths who lacked a local scene. Who else could relate to, as Derrick says, "the reflection of the dark side, the sadness of modern life" or chat about the band Fields of the Nephilim or just offer advice on corsets and pointy boots?
Austin Govella, a Houston net. goth who found a.g. around the same time, agrees: "Back then," he says, "alt.gothic was the only really central place for people to share their version of gothic culture. It made you feel like a part of this huge international scene."
Derrick, now on a committee composed of Chicago, Seattle and California net.goths, found himself increasingly involved after a.g. voted to select Chicago as the site for the upcoming meeting. It wasn't long before the non-Chicago net.goths, uninterested in long-distance planning, dropped out.
But Derrick stayed on and coined the name Convergence, a gothic-sounding title that meant "a coming together." In the next few months, he would charge $3,000 to his credit card for his part in Convergence, meet with club owners, act as a liaison to a.g. and respond to one potential catastrophe after another. "I wasn't in this to make money," he says. "I was just in this to see it come off, to make it happen. I guess that's all that mattered to me."
From the beginning, the committee actively sought on-line bands and on-line fashion designers for the Convergence events. It wasn't "on-line" in the sense of today, notes Derrick, because the Web was just beginning. On-line simply meant a band or the band's friend was on a.g. or on e-mail. The only publicity was through word of mouth and a.g.
Says Govella: "That was the coolest thing about it. In the truest sense of a grassroots thing, you look around, and it's just all your friends. It's not some promoter with a bunch of money pulling a band in and trying to make a buck. It's just all your friends putting a show on."
The final ten-band lineup was impressive, a mix of well-known and unknown gothic bands: The Wake, Lycia, Mephisto Waltz, Machine in the Garden, Sunshine Blind, Arcanta, Lestat, Trance to the Sun, Seraphim Gothique and Garden of Dreams. The date was fixed for June 23 and 24, 1995.
Even so, Derrick found resistance from promoters who had never heard of any of the bands. Derrick met with a top promoter in Chicago to investigate the possibility of renting Metro, a fairly big venue.
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