Brian Gardner and Goth Swing Dancing in San Francisco
It's not just about the dancing, though. Swing Goth events are also an excuse to meet and mingle, and to show off outfits that in many cases took a great deal of time and effort to put together. At the Burton Returns event, which Gothic Beauty attended, we saw multiple Mad Hatters (the most popular costume choice of the night for men), several Alices, and a whole host of female attendees dressed up in classic theatrical gothwear, with corsets and full silk and satin skirts making more than a few appearances. As much as San Francisco crowds like to dress up though, it never gets too serious for its own good. "At the Addams-Munster Family Wedding I went dressed as Pugsley in an absolutely hideous striped shirt," Gardner remarks. "It was coral and blue and yellow. The thing was atrocious, but that was the point. Pugsley never was the king of fashion."
Most Swing Goth events feature, and in many cases are built around, live bands. Abney Park has been a particular favorite as well as local act The Tiger Club (most notable for their hilarious lyrics and general campiness). At the Burton Returns event the audience was also treated to performances from Vernian Process and Imaginary Daughter. Von Claret was definitely the star of the night, and the one that many audience members had clearly turned out to see, but the other bands also had some fans in attendance, and Tiger Club in particular seemed to be winning over a few new ones. Imaginary Daughter's set was a good way to close out the night. Von Claret is a natural performer with a classic chanteuse-style voice and stage presence befitting someone trained as a dancer. Imaginary Daughter are a very grown up sort of band with a charmingly dark sense of humor evident in the lyrics and a complete absence of the sort of cutesy girly nonsense often demanded of female singers. Von Finn is sexy, no doubt about that, but in a cool, self-possessed sort of way.
The Burton Returns event also featured a number of vendors who set up tables in the back and sold merchandise throughout the night. Gardner says this isn't unusual for Swing Goth events, and the emphasis was on vendors who produce their own crafts on a small, local scale. Their presence definitely added to the distinctively San Francisco feel of the event, particularly in the case of the living-off-the-grid leatherworkers who were happy to adjust belts and bracelets to the specifications of interested potential customers on the spot.
With multiple events spread over the course of the year and attendance that varies from 100 to over 700, Swing Goth is very much a staple of the San Francisco goth scene. Although some events are built around a concept (as in the case of the release of Tim Burton's Alice in Wonderland), and some built around a band (such as the Ball of Cthulhu, envisioned as a steampunk event and a vehicle for bands like Abney Park and Unextraordinary Gentleman), the focus on allowing and encouraging goths to dance always remains.
It may not seem like the most traditional thing to build a goth event around swing dancing but it works. As founder Gardner puts it, "If the guy who wrote Bela Lugosi's Dead is behind us, I don't see how anyone can feel justified throwing stones!" (That would be David J from Bauhaus, another performer who's graced the Swing Goth event and given his seal of approval). With a team of about 20 people involved in putting on events and an attempt to strike a balance between creating new themes and building traditions, almost any goth will probably find something that appeals to them in at least one of the Swing Goth events. It's really just a matter of whether or not you're brave enough to dance. swinggoth.com