Dark's Shadows

The jolly neon at Sliders is an antithesis to the people within -- at least on Monday nights. That's when a carnival of black is on bittersweet parade. A clutch of men and women with pale and drawn complexions, their ebony hair cascading in ponyfalls or romantically unkempt, gathers around the bar. The music, too, jars with the happy-go-lucky decor. Thanks to DJs Dana Dark and St. Augustine, Bauhaus, an old-school goth band from the early '80s, is getting quite a few spins, though less goth-friendly material is in the mix as well. But it's when the Bauhaus bleeds from the speakers that the Day-Glo daiquiri bar seems the most immensely out of sync with its creatures-of-the-dark congregation.

While Houston doesn't boast a large active goth scene, it certainly has an organized one. The city holds the biggest, most nationally renowned events in the state. The Bayou City has hosted concerts by many big-name goth bands including Death in June, Attrition, Switchblade Symphony, the Wake, the Legendary Pink Dots, and yes, even Bauhaus. Considering the lack of gothic music on mainstream radio, the scarcity of goth nights, and the fickle audiences, it's surprising that the local community has survived beyond its '80s heyday; yet not only does it survive but it also evolves.

Every scene needs a champion, and in Houston that person is DJ Dana Dark. From goth's birth in Houston through its mid-'90s starvation to its somewhat resurgent present day, Dark has been the scene's chief cook and bottlewasher. Paul Fredric from the dark electronic band Asmodeus X heaps on the praise: "Dana has provided quite a force in keeping Houston's dark underground scene alive."

For Dark, it was a case of love at first sight. At age 12 she caught a glimpse of the crowd outside a goth show and was instantly mesmerized by its inherent bleak beauty. "I thought it was a very beautiful scene: their clothes, the way they presented themselves, the way they acted," she recalls. "I felt a lot closer to that than anything else." Soon Dark was combing the Value Villages of the world seeking to cobble together goth outfits, mixing her own nail polish colors, and buying arcane mail-order CDs.

Those were the genre's salad days, with club after club focused on punk and a new strain of music that journalists called goth. (The genre is believed to have been named by Joy Division's manager, who on a BBC television program described his band's music as more gothic than punk.) Groups like Joy Division, Siouxsie and the Banshees, Bauhaus and, later, the Cure fused punk's devil-may-care spirit with a decidedly darker, more resigned tone. This was a music less of bottomless rage than of infinite sadness, and its devotees dressed for a funeral with hair, nail polish and lipstick of (to quote Henry Ford miles out of context) "any color so long as it's black."

Boasting a history that goes back to the melancholy German poets of the late 18th century, goth's various incarnations are among the oldest social trends still in existence. The poets Byron and Shelley (and his wife, Mary Shelley, author of the goth masterpiece Frankenstein) were spiritual cousins, as was Edgar Allan Poe, not to mention the Daphne du Maurier/Bram Stoker/Anne Rice school of literature. Movies with goth content include The Crow series and Beetlejuice and the rest of Tim Burton's oeuvre. Morticia Addams was goth long before it was cool, and reruns of The Addams Family provided legions of larval goths with a fantasy woman and/or fashion plate through the late '70s.

But by the mid-'90s goth had gone the way of all scenes, and local goths, mainly newbies, were reduced to hanging out at Numbers on retro night, hoping the DJ would toss them the occasional Sisters of Mercy bone. It was a tiny scene consisting of a mere 25 to 30 people. Augustine was one of the people who made the switch to the gothier Morgue, the first of many Dark endeavors to preserve the life she loves.

"When I first started the Morgue," Dark says, "I started playing this music, and they just stood there. They were thinking that goth was what Numbers played, the '80s stuff." Still, she persisted, and despite the lack of experience, she deejayed and booked touring bands, sometimes losing a lot of money in the process. Successful promoters will tell you to never mix business with pleasure, but Dark didn't give a damn about the cash. What mattered was the music.

"I did it all myself, paid for them all myself, didn't eat for a while," she says matter-of-factly.

She's had to stop at times. She lost the Morgue when new management took over, but she has rebounded with various other club nights over the years. The latest, Elixir 13, has run for 18 months. She also promotes concerts at The Underworld, the Thursday-night goth club at Numbers.

Dark's gothic lifestyle goes far beyond music, however. She's also involved with fashion. For the second year, she managed Houston's goth beauty pageant, the perfect opportunity to show off popular subcategories such as romantigoth, punk-goth, perkygoth and cybergoth. National and international magazines covered the pageant, and Dark has received e-mails asking her to join in organizing a Miss Goth World.

Events like the beauty pageant typically draw around 400 people to The Underworld. While big, the events are not as ghoulish as outsiders might imagine. "It's not so much gloom and doom," insists Augustine. "These are people interacting, dancing, simply having fun."

Nevertheless, its graveyard imagery and melancholy-on-a-sleeve are easy to lampoon, and thus many latter-day goths run a gauntlet of derision. They always have. Early goth prototypes were gently mocked in both War and Peace and Huckleberry Finn. Even today, spiritually close cousins view goth as cheesy or the asinine practice of vampire wanna-bes. Although they might listen to gothic music, they don't want to be associated with it. Goths are "sad clowns" or, in kinder words, "self-conscious souls who are Very Sensitive and Poetic and Feel Things Deeply." Many inclined toward the lifestyle thus keep it to themselves.

Dark urges closet goths to reconsider: "If you like something, go for it, even if you have a profession. Maybe you can't dress like it, but you can still go home and listen to the music and you can still go support the scene."

Although Dark (who refused to allow her birth name to be used in this article) now works at a professional job, she hasn't given up on the dark style. She will be performing at Damina 2001 on Thursday, June 14, with Psychonaut 75, her dark goth band, and she models both nude and clothed on www.blueblood.net as well as on other erotic Web sites. She admits she has evolved into different goth looks, and may not look as drastic as she once did. But she still maintains the same philosophy.

"Here in Texas," says Dark, "I think we are pressured. Once you get to this certain age, you have to stop listening to [goth] because it's juvenile. You have to stop dressing that way because that's juvenile. You have to settle down with your life, and you can't get anywhere ahead in life if you look like that. That's wrong, because I did. I look like this, and I keep getting more ahead."

Dark's perseverance and gumption have rightfully made her a celebrity on the scene. In hindsight, Dark's glad she put in all the effort. Without her boundless dedication, the Houston goth scene couldn't have walked away from its mid-'90s near-death experience.

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Sande Chen