The world’s largest gathering of fans of Goth music and subculture celebrated its 25th Anniversary at this year’s four-day event held, as always, in the historic trade-fair city and convention center of East Germany, Leipzig. Beginning shortly after the collapse of Communism and the reunification of the Soviet-oppressed German Democratic Republic (GDR) with the free western German Federal Republic, Wave-Gotik-Treffen arose out of a substrate of seething cultural alienation among its youth, and the population harbored a small counter-culture of Goths, punks and heavy metal-heads. Since the Soviet dictatorship was thrown off with the fall of the Berlin Wall, and since freedom pervades the now-liberated East Germany, WGT has grown to be an honored, municipal institution in that great and ancient city.
With an all-inclusive ticket and the identifying wrist band for 140 Euros, attendees are granted entry to virtually every major and minor music venue, party, museum, gallery, opera house and performance and at the numerous medieval and Renaissance churches which all hold concerts of choral and pipe organ music. For an additional 15 Euros one receives a gorgeous souvenir hardcover guide printed amazingly with colorful metallic ink on glossy black pages, outlining and detailing the countless events, venues, institutions and performers. Free access to public transportation is granted to all wearing the identifying wristband.
The attire was basically—but not entirely—black. Steampunk style is now fully integrated into Goth style, and, with its top hats, parasols and crinoline dresses blends in with the Goth look of 19th century vampires with capes, tailcoats, bowties, vests and lace-up boots. Color was provided in the fabulous and lofty hairdos, Mohawk style and otherwise. Radioactive reds were in favor, but some sported incandescent yellows, gaudy greens and Agent Orange. Pants might be loose or tight, fabric, leather, spandex or vinyl. Skirts could be floor length gowns or micro-minis. Stockings were either opaque black or sheer, fishnets or tattered, knee-high or thigh-high. Footwear ranged from dainty stilettos to chunky heels to bulky combat-style boots to platform soles. Faces sported a variety of tattoos and piercings. Cosmetics ranged from eyeliner, in widespread use regardless of gender—to full ghastly white pancake make-up.
These are, above all, dedicated nonconformists who insist upon their own, self-defined uniqueness of appearance. Many are artists and performance artists—even make-up artists, and the level of diversity and accomplishment in grooming is beyond the imagination.
Grimmaescher Strasse is a wide, commercial promenade where locals and tourist come to photograph and gawk at the procession of elaborately costumed WGT participants passing through the center of town en route to their various festival-related events.
The following description includes ONLY the tiny sliver of available events that we attended of the many that were offered to attendees at WGT during the four-day festival.
Opening night parties were held at several locations, the most spectacular of which was at Belantis, a giant amusement theme park just outside of town featuring waterfalls, a pyramid and castle towers roller coasters and rides. Entrance was restricted to WGT attendees, so all the rides were accessible to entrants, and we took full advantage to ride the crazy elevated and gyrating carousels and dragon rides. There were three dance halls. One was huge and festive, the others smaller. One of the latter, called “Bodega,” was dark, foggy, and featured deep, pitch-black and downbeat extreme gothic music. It was there that theme music from the Game of Thrones was heard, worked seamlessly into the mix.
The Moritzbastei is a large stone building that historically served as an armory, defense fortification and jail. Now it houses multiple bars, restaurants and dance rooms. NYC’s own top DJ, Sean Templar, often mans the booth, spinning his signature “When We Were Young” mix, to which guests danced until the early morning hours. It is a favorite place to end the night with industrial-style dancing. Live band performances take place there every night, and there is an ongoing art exhibit hung from the walls with paintings and sculptural reliefs.
This is where we stumbled upon one of the most astonishing performances of a lifetime. Experimental duo, Die Wilde Jagd (The Wild Hunt), consisting of a drummer and a vocalist/guitarist who spent most of his time at a synthesizer and sound board manipulating continuous, repetitious, digital sound loops while remaining barely visible on a red-lit, densely-fogged stage. Every imaginable distortion of human vocals and guitar voices were fed back, layered, echoed and reverberated into mantra-like grooves, coming and going in undulating waves and crescendos that resulted in a drug-free, true, hypnotic trance experience that seemed to interrupt the Time-Space continuum and dissolve the Self.
During the daytime the upper deck of Moritzbastei is where vendors display hand-crafted (as well as “Made in China”) dark-themed artworks and garments and accessories. A variety of tasty alcoholic and non-alcoholic drinks are served. A group of musicians in medieval costumes—horned helmets, furs, feather headdresses—plays traditional instruments—bagpipes, fiddles and the like—evoking images of the real, original Goths of Medieval Europe. Moritzbastei is a good place to take lunch or a late night bratwurst sandwich, hot off the grill.
Agra is the indoor part of the city’s year-round fairgrounds. A cavernous hangar-like building divided into two parts: There’s a spacious event hall that is a huge, high-ceiling, standing room, equipped with a stage and sound system for spectators and dancing. This is where the really big bands and acts perform. The other half of this enormous building is given over to a vast and diverse marketplace for vendors of everything from costumes, garments and jewelry to accoutrements and accessories like helmets, goggles, gasmasks and fetish attire. Here, Los Angeles-based Fang master Fr. Sebastiaan sat crafting and fitting durable and wearable custom fangs for a would-be vampire clientele.
Steampunk giants Abney Park opened the first night at 7 pm at Agra. Several more bands played, and the night closed out with a midnight performance by the headliner and the original founding father of Goth Music, Peter Murphy performing his “Mr. Moonlight” set, based mostly on the first Goth band, Bauhaus. He declined, however, to reprise the all-time favorite “Bela Lugosi’s Dead,” because the preceding band had spoiled the occasion by performing it just before he came on stage. Instead he numbed the crowd with a sleepy Near Eastern piece off his least favored album, “Dust.” Eventually, however, he did redeem himself with rocking and extended versions of “Telegram Sam,” “She’s In Parties” and “The Passion of Lovers,” and by ending with a cover of Bowie’s “Space Oddity (Ground Control to Major Tom).”
At more or less the same time, at a large theater called Felsenkeller, fabulous electro-industrial trio Girls Under Glass packed the huge, open-floor theater. One great song followed another from their mature repertoire. The high point was reached with the performance of their unique and gorgeous interpretation of Madonna’s “Frozen,” surely one of the finest examples of the genre that has ever been composed.
Sixtina is a bar whose menu boasts no less than 237 varieties of absinth plus dozens of cocktails made with or without this special ingredient. Plus beer and wine. There’s a tent-covered outdoor garden with its own little service bar in back, and it is furnished with picnic tables. Indoors there was ongoing a series of five consecutive band performances. We caught one of these, a female-led quartet called Eigensinn performing a kind of hard-edged “dark rock” similar to, but nastier than, Lacuna Coil.
The Museum of the City of Leipzig was putting on an exhibition called “Leipzig in Schwarz” (Leipzig in Black) where photos, explanatory posters, models, record jackets, sculptures and installation artworks were on display, documenting the Gothic subculture that had spawned the annual Wave-Gotik-Treffen; and tracing its growth into the massive and complex phenomenon that is today on its 25th Anniversary. There was even a Lego assembly constructed to epitomize Goths and this festival itself. A commemorative hardcover book was available and on sale.
One museum located in the former headquarters of the East German Communist spy agency, the Stasi (a compression of the German words for State Security). Its existence is dedicated to collecting and categorizing the massive store of surviving records from the former spy agency where English-language guided tours and lectures are conducted. Emphasis is on the Stasi’s ludicrous obsession with spying on, infiltrating and studying the curious subcultures that were springing up in the 1980s, namely Goths (whom they called “Gruftis”), punks and heavy metal-heads. File cards on teenage alternative music fans are displayed and explained, mug shots of kids who were dolled up like Robert Smith of The Cure hang from the agency walls, and rooms upon rooms containing hundreds of thousands of paper files (said to measure up to five miles in height if stacked) are stored.
An Egyptian Museum and endless varieties of ancient and modern art museums and galleries are open to WGT attendees. The Bildendenkunst Museum has an unparalleled collection of Dutch masters’ paintings.
Heathen (Pagan) Village
Adjacent to Agra’s campgrounds, there is a RenFaire-like village called the Heathen Village or the Pagan Village with vendors, traditional and rustic food and drink, and a performance stage. The always-entertaining Aurelio Voltaire put on a captivating performance that was a jolly and mildly offensive stand-up skit, tailored to poking fun at the predominantly German audience. Voltaire’s cavorting musical set in his own inimitable, anti-folk style charmed and delighted both his die-hard fans from New York and newcomers.
A beautiful modern theater called Musikalische Komödie held nightly performances of the musical “Dracula” on world tour since its debut on Broadway in 2004 by composer Frank Wildhorn (“Jekyll and Hyde”). “Dracula” proved to be not only compositionally spectacular, but the quality of the singing and live orchestral accompaniment were of grand opera quality, matched only by the fabulous and imaginative sets, scenery and choreographed acting.
Numerous venues hosted music of a classical or traditional, i.e. non-gothic-industrial nature. The Leipzig Opera House threw its doors open to WGT guests for a couple of Wagner operas and an ultra-modern ballet interpretation of Mozart’s “Requiem,” an oratorio work with chorus and live orchestra.
There are numerous churches in Leipzig, including Bach’s St. Thomas Church where there is an adjacent museum in his honor. Many churches host organ, choral and dramatic musical /operatic performances both during the day and late-nights.
Let’s face it. Goth is really about the music. But there is neither conformity nor convention either among Goth or WGT. Hundreds of bands performed in dozens of venues and perhaps as many DJs. It is impossible to review or comment upon even a significant fraction of these. But the following listing touches the tip of several icebergs in demonstrating the wide spectrum of musical styles favored by this crowd:
Swiss-based German duo Lacrimosa plays a symphonic blend of arena and mournful Gothic rock, with touches of 20th century cabaret, traditional central European folk and classical music. Public Image Limited (PiL) and the vehement John Lydon (aka Johnny Rotten) reprise his post-Sex Pistols, post-punk style of anarchy set to very poppy, rock music. Neurotic Fish from Germany and Velvet Acid Christ from Colorado represent the very best electro-industrial EBM in the future-pop style. Eigensinn performs a kind of hard-edged, standard “dark rock”. Die Wilde Jagd is superb example of the experimental/trance genre. The sheer diversity and variety of musical genres matches the mind-boggling diversity and variety of Goths, punks and industrial freaks making up the festivalgoers at Wave-Gotik-Treffen.