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  KALTIO 1/2004: Northern Goths

In English


Northern Goths

Kaltio 1/04


Fininsh text: Katariina Parhi
English translation: Anniina Vuori
Images: Vesa Ranta


Goth girls Anna Koivulehto and Annika Laitinen, who both live in Oulu, are enjoying the evening, drinking tea and giggling. They are sitting in Annika's apartment, which is decorated with dark colours, mainly black. Long, black coats are hanging on a coat rack by the door, and underneath them lie feminine, long-legged boots. The shelves are full of books and CDs.

"I got my first H. P. Lovecraft for Christmas last year," Annika smiles, referring to one of the goths' classic authors.

The goths have no official or required novels, but the girls list a few favoured by many: Anne Rice, Edgar Allan Poe, Poppy Z. Brite, modern fantasy, science fiction, poetry, and literary classics in general.

Strictly speaking, the goths are only connected by their taste in music, 1980's goth rock and, among other things, industrial music ranging from classic industrial to a more danceable electronic EBM-subcategory. The genres have effectively intermingled, so specific definitions are difficult to make.

But also something else in common can be found; namely, aesthetics. Anna mentions elitist taste in interior design; beautiful forms, using fantasy. Velvet, black wood, and candelabras... In addition, many goths dress up impressively. The girls list a few styles. Velvet goths wear classic dresses, lace, velvet, silver jewellery, corsets, big sleeves, and trains. The style in question is the most delicate of the goth styles.
"These are the ones who sip red wine," the girls laugh.

Cyber goths can be recognised by their hair extentions, neon colours, straps, and fun materials like plastic and rain coat fabric. Punk goths, on the other hand, wear torn pantyhose, tartan, Mohicans, regular and army surplus boots. Death rock goths wear also Mohicans, but they often use dark make-up on whitened face, tight trousers and string vests. Anna and Annika mention trends sounding more and more extraordinary:
"Gothic lolitas! They dress up as little girls. There's even one amazing guy in Oulu!"

However, a person unfamiliar with the gothic culture might still not be able to tell apart a goth and a metal music fans, since both are fond of the colour black.


Originally the word "goth" referred to a Germanic tribe, later on also to medieval architecture. In 18th and 19th centuries, literature centering around death and the supernatural was called gothic.

Goth music was born as a darker version of punk; its roots are thus in rock music. First connected with the term were a few British bands in the late 70's and early 80's; the name gothic rock was given to such bands as Siouxsie and the Banshees, UK Decay, Bauhaus, and Joy Division. During the 1980s, the word became commonly used, also of fashion and people around the music, of a subculture.

Jyrki "Witch" Virtanen, who since 1980 has actively taken part of the Finnish goths' events, believes he is responsible for the Finnish term "goottirock", goth rock. People still talked about broody music or black lipped punk at the end of 1980s.

The goths are doing well. The term "goth" is known by the popular media also in Finland, although often used wrong: metal fans are labeled as goths, even though they do not necessarily have anything to do with the subculture. The word is apt, exhaustive and it sounds mystic, so it is prone to be used wrong. Moreover, it is hard to describe what is gothic-the goths cannot even do it themselves- and many popular bands, like HIM and 69 Eyes, have gothic influences.

Nowadays, the goths' centre in Europe is Germany and Berlin which has several clubs for each day of the week. Outside of Europe, there are substantial goth areas in Latin America--especially Brazil and Mexico--and Japan. South Africa has active goths as well.


Things are happening in Finland's neighbouring countries. The most notable goth cities in Russia are Moscow and St. Petersburg; the bands most familiar in the western countries, Romowe Rikoito and Moon Far Away, are from Kaliningrad and Arkangel. Compared to other Eastern European countries, goths in Russia are rather active.

In Sweden, the most northern goth city is presumably Umea. In one night, close to 700 music listeners visit local Club Greyscale, although not many more than one hundred of them are goths. Umea has a number of goth-styled bands. As could be expected, the goths are otherwise active mainly in southern Sweden, in Stockholm, Gothenburg and Malmo. The situation is similar in Norway: dark lips can be found in Trondheim, Oslo, Kristiansand and Stavanger.

In Finland, Tampere has the most events, althought goths are also active in Helsinki and Turku. Oulu is at least Finland's northernmost active goth city--Rovaniemi lacks goth events. However, even small and remote villages can be expected to have some goths.

Poison Door, a group of five friends who got tired of the musical narrowness of night life in Oulu and decided to do something about it, are mainly resposible for goth events in the city. Poison Door was originally founded by nine friends of alternative music on the winter solstice day in 1998. Back then, the group was more heterogeneous, as it had also fans of punk rock and techno. Later on, a few people dropped off the group, and Poison Door started focusing more on goth music.

A friend of Anna and Annika, Poison Door's Antti Näyhä, says that Poison Door was formed at a time when goth music started regaining listeners after a slower period. Näyhä, aka DJ sairwas calls the new success "some sort of renaissance". The new rise of dark music has presumably greatly affected the hightened popularity.

Poison Door has attempted to bring out a traditional view of what goth is with their music selections. Even though wrong ideas of what the goth phenonmenon really is are everywhere, goths have gotten mixed up with metal music particularly in Oulu.
"Oulu has an especially strong heavy metal tradition, and that's why goths are easily connected with heavy metal," Näyhä says. Accoring to him, many metal fans come to the parties and holler at the DJ to play Sentenced in the banging sound of the drum machine.

Many people get interested in goths through metal, for that culture is very deeply rooted in the north. Näyhä tell amused about the competition goths and heavy metal people have: metal fans regard goths as posers, "fags who wear make-up", whereas the goths consider metal fans to be uncivilized louts. The prejudices should not be taken seriously, especially since many goths listen to heavier music as well, at least in the secrecy of their homes.

At their best, events organized by Poison Door have had about 600 visitors. Generally, the number of people is between two and three hundred people. It is impossible to estimate how many of them are goths; visitors in general outnumber passionate devotees. The parties have only had three or four goth bands from Oulu during the the groupäs whole existence. Of these groups, 80th Disorder and March Maggot play so-called cross over instead of pure goth music, but they fit the parties well.

Anna and Annika say that Oulu has enough goth activities to make to the town pleasant. According to them, the parties are better than for instance in Helsinki, because all kinds of people come to Poison Door's events, not only goths.

"It's not important to make everyone a goth but to be able to share good things with other people," Anna says. It is significant to display your own subculture and to get to know other people.


Goth Sofi Oksanen, whose first book is called Stalinin lehmät, Stalin's Cows, lives in Helsinki. She brings new aspects to defining goths:
"In my own gothness, I would stress the meaning of fetishism and feminism ."

From a young age, Oksanen has favoured purple and black, medieval conserts in addition to other music--and traditional goth aesthetics. She is equally attracted to PVC, seamed pantyhose and tattoos. To Oksanen, being a goth is fetishism which she implements in herself, and which fascinates in others.

She perceives gothism as a more feminine style and other genres of rock, and that is why she connects with it:
"Goth aesthetics is appealing because it doesn't attempt to minimise the signs of women's femininity, and thus it doesn't conflict with my political conviction. Part of my own feminist manifesto was for years not to wear trousers. I focused on skirts and high heels as a protest against your society becoming overtly masculine."

Oksanen describes goth aesthetics as the aesthetics of the balance between life and death. According to her, objecting to death and fighting against it is on the rise.
"Death is a inevitable part of life. Traditional graveyard aesthetics understands that, unlike the rest of the world today. People who see the aesthetics I just mentioned as broodiness do not notice that candles are also part of graveyard aesthetics. Imagine a goth who doesn't enjoy being in candle light! The fact is that candles always symbolise life."

Oksanen says that being a goth can offer someone who is looking for his or her identity an option, in the sense that it might look, at least superficially, like a very clear identity, like something that has clear limits and clear paradigms. In this, gothness can be for some young people only a phase, initiator.

"That's why people can treat also us older goths as if we are having somekind of phase, and that soon we will become adults and leave the leather jacket at the back of the closet. Every now and then you hear people wonder when will that phase end and that they are sure it will pass."

Also Anna and Annika ponder young people's range of thoughts as they look for reasons for goths' popularity.
"Young people search for their set of values," the girls say.

Today, the main culture is so full of expressions of subculture--piercings and tattoos for example--that it seems easier to stand out even more. Goth men, who are not interested in macho behaviour and clothes, receive the most critique. But the women get comments too:
"The worst that people can think is probably when they take me as a prostitute when I am going to a party all dressed up," Anna chuckles.

Otherwise, the goths do not have any uniform social views or lines of thought shared by everybody. Especially those who are influential in the subculture in one way or another are careful not to name features common to all goths beyond taste in music, having fun, and being together with people who have similar thoughts. Going deeper in philosophies and theories becomes easily artificial, and unanimity cannot be found.

"There is no goth ideology. This means that goths are not satanists, black metal fans, nazis, fags--and still are all of these. These are the most common examples goths hear in bar conversations," Toni Lahti, who is active in the scene, says.

Some estimate that goths are tolerant towards differences, at least more tolerant than the average Joe. Anna and Annika agree: according to the girls, there are very few taboos among the goths. For example, many give same sex marriage their approval. The girls list other features that many goths share: differing from the mainstream; green values; emphasizing self-expression, artistry, and individuality; fondness for beauty; sentimentality; enjoying life and its good aspects; culture.

"Goths are broody on the surface, but the whole issue of broodiness is a cliché," Annika says.
"Broodiness counterbalances enjoying life," Anna adds.
"We are just regular people. Our attitude towards life is not twisted, even though our hair might be, and we wear funny make-up."


Photographic Artist Vesa Ranta, who lives in Ruukki but feels himself an Oulu person, graduated at Turku Art Academy in 2001. Ranta photographed the Goths of Oulu in the spring of 2003. He plans to continue this project in new Goth cities.