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Gothic Houston

Nationwide goth music conference inspired by Houstonian

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.

Though he no longer looks the part, Christopher K. Derrick still follows goth culture and music.
Maike Overlack
Though he no longer looks the part, Christopher K. Derrick still follows goth culture and music.
A relic from the first Convergence.
A relic from the first Convergence.

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.

"We tried to explain things to him. 'Look, we got a lot of people coming,' " says Derrick. "Promoters weren't looking at goth as something that was very marketable."

Originally the committee had set upon Noir, a new venue, but Noir never got an occupancy license. The committee scrambled to find another club in one month's time and landed on a heavy-metal bar called Bedrocks. The place was set.

Hunt had gotten to know Derrick through his posts on the newsgroup and wanted to meet him, as well as other net.goths, so he, Govella and their friends made the 24-hour trek from Austin to Houston to Chicago.

"I was expecting to go and find people with whom I could relate to on the level of the soul," says Hunt. Besides, Govella says, "I wanted to see Mephisto Waltz, and Mephisto Waltz would never, ever, ever play Houston, Austin, Dallas or anywhere near."

He wasn't disappointed. Beyond the band nights and other events, such as the poetry reading and fashion show, the underlying purpose of Convergence was to promote social interaction. Many of the net.goths got along well, amazingly well for being only on-line acquaintances.

Hunt recalls: "You could bump into people in the hallways of the hotel and just strike up a conversation with no introduction whatsoever. You didn't have to explain anything [goth] to them because they already knew that."

To many, Convergence, as a celebration of the goth scene, was successful. Despite the fact that Bedrocks didn't allow minors, more than 700 people attended, and, as far as Derrick knows, the committee, while certainly not making any money, didn't lose any, either. Govella likens Convergence to a gothic Woodstock, and Hunt says it was like "stepping up on the Mount of Transfiguration." Talk on a.g. naturally turned to thoughts of a Convergence II.

Goth, it seemed, was an untapped, viable market. The networking established at Convergence led to more shows, more gothic music labels, such as Projekt, Cleopatra, Seraph, Hyperium and Tess, and more possibilities.

As a direct result of their experiences at Convergence, Govella and Hunt set up Oblivion, a booking company based in Austin. The first Oblivion show, which turned a profit, featured the Dallas band Seraphim Gothique and Falling Janus from New Orleans. Both were bands Govella had gotten to know at Convergence.

At the same time, Hunt and another Austin net.goth envisioned broadening the small e-mail list of friends into something grander, a Texas net.goth mailing list that would effectively draw goths into an active, cohesive community. The two would stop people on the street if the person looked interesting. That was their main recruiting technique when not on-line.

"We tried to make this group a circle of friends," says Hunt. "We tried to identify on a personal level rather than just some aesthetic appearance or worldview."

Already the Austin net.goths were visiting the Dallas net.goths on alternate weekends, and vice versa. With the expansion of the tex.goth list, the interaction between formerly isolated scenes in major Texas cities grew friendlier. Austin net.goths went to shows and clubs in Houston. Anyone could post a note about visiting another city and find goths to be tour guides. At one point members of the list converged upon a summer home on Galveston Bay for a weekend together.

In September 1995 the e-mail list became a majordomo list, and the name changed to SWGoths, which was one of the first and largest net.goth regional mailing lists. It eventually would cover Texas, Oklahoma, Arizona, New Mexico and Louisiana. There are now about 150 subscribers to SWGoths.

Govella remains active in the Houston goth scene. He and his wife run Object A mail order, which specializes in gothic music. They self-publish the gothic music 'zine Object A and a calendar guide to gothic Houston, Mode News. Houston has three goth club nights -- gothic belly dancing at the Mausoleum on Tuesdays, goth/industrial night at Spy on Wednesdays and gothic/darkwave/deathrock DJ music at Slider's on Mondays -- and three local 'zines. Such an outpouring of gothic activity would have been unimaginable five years ago.

Govella says: "That's just people doing what they love, and that's the only thing that's ever going on in Houston. A certain set of people keep on doing stuff."

Hunt continues to embrace the Convergence spirit by announcing invites on SWGoths and opening his house to parties. He conscientiously tries to create an environment that recalls the first Convergence. Just last month Derrick attended one to meet more of the Austin goths.

Derrick continues to support the Houston goth scene while waiting for his assignment from the State Department. He tries to meet with goths from all over. He's an unassuming soon-to-be-diplomat who tends to downplay his deeds. Yet Convergence and its offspring have become big events. And he's partly to thank.

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