Let's Goth fly a kite: Celebrating Portland's 'longest-running subculture'
CAPE ELIZABETH — Thousands flocked to Fort Williams Park on a recent Saturday afternoon to lounge in the grass, barbecue, and soak up some rays on a blue-skied, 80-degree day.
One group, however, infused a dose of darkness and macabre – if only via its fashion sense – into an otherwise bright afternoon.
Black corsets, black kilts and black combat boots highlighted the monochromatic fashion parade at the 13th annual Goth Fly a Kite party, the centerpiece of the biggest weekend of the year for greater Portland's Goth community.
Goth Fly a Kite started as a way to expand social avenues for the local Goth scene, a community bound by its shared sense of spooky aesthetics, beyond the club nights that have been held across Portland for nearly 20 years.
"We wanted to do something social other than getting drunk in a club," said Wally Fenderson, 37, who deejays at Plague, a weekly Goth dance party at Asylum on Center Street, which has been the scene's home base for seven years.
The first year it rained and only six kite-fliers turned out, said Ian Graham, who founded the event. But it's grown steadily over time, and on June 7 over 100 people came to picnic, drink a few beers and, of course, fly kites, in full Goth regalia.
Tanning was not part of the equation. A ghostly white complexion is a common part of the Goth look, and there was plenty of sunblock being passed around, plus a few parasols. Still, some folks wound up with lobster-red shoulders and backs.
A few people, perhaps priming the next generation of Goths, brought young children. The kids didn't bat an eyelash at all the Mohawk haircuts, tattoos and pierced lips, or at the guy in the long dark robe with the cross-painted face.
Graham attributes the Portland scene's longevity and the success of events like Goth Fly a Kite to a strong foundation of regulars and an inclusive group that embraces newcomers and those just beginning to learn about the culture.
"I’ve watched a lot of scenes come and go in the time we’ve been here. They’ll be really big for a year or two and then fade away," Graham said, noting the decline and fall of the rave scene, and the swing music boom that hit the city in the late '90s. "We have people that've been coming for 10 years. So there’s a consistency of community. We're the longest-running subculture in Portland."
Goth Fly a Kite weekend kicked off on Friday, June 6, with Plague. After invading Fort Williams Park, the crew returned to Asylum on Saturday for another night of dancing to Goth rock and industrial music – bands like The Cure, Nine Inch Nails and Combichrist are among the most popular – and closed the weekend with Sunday brunch at Silly's on Washington Avenue.
For some attendees, the biggest challenge was deciding what to wear to all these events.
Katie Warner, 24, wore a black-and-white polka-dot dress with a black sunhat and dramatic, swooping eyeliner to Fort Williams Park. For the after-party, she planned a corseted dress, a nod to Goth's enduring fascination with Victorian fashion (the scene emerged in London circa 1980).
“I was always attracted to the darker aesthetic," Warner said. "I don’t want to say I was the (Goth) archetype or the stereotype, but I was, in a sense. I was the angsty, depressed teenager. Melodramatic. That really drew me initially into the alternative music and fashion scenes."
As a teenager, Warner cut her teeth listening to artists like Marilyn Manson and Rob Zombie. At age 17, she was shopping at Hot Topic when she saw a flier for Plague; she said she counted down the days until she turned 21 so she could start attending the weekly gathering. She's never looked back.
"To be quite frank, this community has been more of a family to me than my own family," Warner said on Saturday. "I had a lot of issues in my childhood, not a very close-knit family, and a lot of people I’ve met here have been super supportive of me in so many ways.
"This weekend is so special to me, this community is so special to me."