Saturday, September 8, 2007

Clashing subcultures

Last night, I went to a goth event at Dynamo, a "youth culture house." Dynamo has two spaces for holding music-based events: a large hall suitable for a few hundred people on the fifth floor, and what looks like a cave carved out of the basement, which can accommodate perhaps 75 people without risk of suffocation or trampling. The entire complex seems to be maintained by an ouroboros of angry teenagers and twenty-somethings, the youth at the head constantly consuming the jaded veterans. In the main basement room, the walls of rough-hewn stone curve up towards the ceiling like a large train tunnel accidentally lost in subterranean Zurich during the industrial revolution. Sophisticated modern club lights are bolted directly to the unfinished ceiling. They flash and twirl mindlessly, without regard to the tempo or character of the music. In the place of a fog machine, a box fan or two hum in the corners to reduce the risk of hypoxia. I hope that the smaller girls will serve as the canaries in this mine, but my manic dancing probably means that I will be the first to fall.

Dynamo has goth nights approximately twice per month, produced by various groups, and invariably confined to this basement. The building is set into the side of a steep river bank, so when walking to the dungeon, I pass by the upper floors. Last night, the walkways and stairs leading from the street down to the basement were covered with what looked like an international punk convention. In an affluent, mild-mannered place like Switzerland, you'd think that the youth would have relatively little to rebel against, but comfort and security often breed contempt. The Swiss equivalent of America's white middle-class suburban ganstas seems to be a carefully preened pseudo-punk, replete with faux-hawk, tight jeans, and Converse All-Stars. This forces the counter-culture to go even further. In 100 feet, I saw enough metal both wrapped around and pierced through the massed bodies to outfit a small hardware store. Dyed hair and mohawks were definitely the order of the day. Few articles of clothing had been spared intentional damage and reconstruction.

The grand irony of this brief saunter through punk never-never-land is that the punk aesthetic is not so different from goth culture. Both forms of music share common roots. And yet, there was an unmarked but blindingly obvious line dividing the punks from the goths. Even middle school cafeterias permit less rigidly demarcated social stratifications. When I left for the night at 3am, there were still clumps of punks milling around Dynamo. I imagine that their concert ended hours before, but since public transportation would not shake off its nightly torpor for another three hours, they were just smoking cigarettes while watching for the dawn. I saw only a single punk breach the line and wander into the basement, where it was warm and the beer was still flowing.

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