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Tabula Rasa

Under the Blue Moon, 2008

A review by Kyla Ward

Under the Blue Moon coffin"If being a Goth is about anything," said Josh Shipton, MC at the Under the Blue Moon launch party, "it's sacrificing comfort for pleasure." Something was listening. Over the next week, conditions ranged from 35 degree dry heat to tropical humidity to freezing gales: the full gauntlet of a Sydney spring.

Under the Blue Moon began in 2004 as a street fair co-ordinated by shops on the Gothic Mile -- the Newtown end of Enmore Road. Each succeeding year has broadened the experience with Viking protection rituals, art exhibitions, cemetery tours and an ever more impressive live music stream. Events soon spilled over from the central day. But this year, between the 27th of September and the 6th of October, something happened every single night. So I had no choice but to loosen my cravat, find a black umbrella and brave the elements.

Josh is the front man for local band Meat Safe. As well as hosting the launch party, he performed on Local Legends night at the Sandringham Hotel. Unsigned bands competed for spots on this bill in a series of death matches commencing in August. "Really, we need events like this. It's important that you not just be a miserable shit in your bedroom, but that you can come and be a miserable shit in a place like this."

Not to mention watch a man sew his right testicle to his thigh, which was among the curiosities presented at the launch and my introduction to the manifold talents of Circusoc. From juggling to lamp-dancing (like ribbon dancing but in the dark), acrobatics and other bodily manipulations, from the Blue Moon cabaret to the stage in Newtown Square, this intrepid group from the University of New South Wales were unmissable.

To get into the spirit of things, on Wednesday 1st, St Luke's Anglican hosted Australia's first Gothic Mass. Laura, who describes herself as no longer a Christian, was nonetheless impressed. "They had all the lights out, with two large candelabras and we all held little single candles. It was a really mysterious sort of atmosphere, there was a real sense of reverence with it." Music, including Metallica, was provided by a DJ, dressed as a vampire and set up next to the altar. The Reverend Gwilym Henry-Edwards led prayers and opined that there was nothing wrong with looking into the darkness. "By being fascinated with death, we also celebrate life."

The flesh and the devil held the stage on succeeding nights, quite literally at the Cabaret and the Lunamorph fashion show. "Somnium", a sleight-of-mind performance by Adamada featuring fellow magician Julia Madotti was the highlight of the cabaret, although I did enjoy the dancing zombies. Vesper White performed thematic burlesque at both events, to acclaim from all sexes. But the highlight of Lunamorph was without doubt the display by Modified Souls, a performance troupe associated with the Polymorph piercing studio. I fear that merely sewing a testicle wouldn't impress in this company. But whether your taste lay in blood or lilies, there was something there for you.

A theme which carried through into the next day, the informal street parade. There were Goth Lolitas, Bleeding Brides and Metal Gods. There were piercings, tattoos, scarification and -- face painting? "You'd be surprised how many people get into it," said Gill at her stall outside the T. J. Andrews Funeral Home. "Today we've been doing both adults and children, but not any of the regular things: a lot more interesting, decorative designs. Really, it's whatever people want."

And that, I think, is the key to Under the Blue Moon, which probably says something vaguely profound about the gothic scene. It's not about exchanging one set of rules for another. You get to pick and choose, assembling elements to meet your needs much as Robyn, who travelled from Canberra, did her own incredible look. "I'm a cybergoth. It's taken a long time to put this together, I could never duplicate it. The circuitry-patterned corset came from Gallery Serpentine, but I just went at the top and skirt and did it myself."

Of course, the catch is that it's simply impossible to experience everything. To join the Art Walk, I sacrificed a tour inside the T. J. Andrews premises. Pausing to greet friends and admire the stilt-walkers in Newtown Square, I lost the Art Walk party and never found them again. I dropped into the Gothic Auction for a quick peek and emerged an hour later with a gargoyle. Then it was either "Sydney Murder and Mayhem Stories" in the Simplicity Funerals chapel or the vintage hearse cortege outside on the street. The Surgical Sideshow was a must, but then whether to catch the DOOMED Goth metal show or listen to Mistress Scarlett, dominatrix, hold forth in the Ambo Ars salon? The choices became agonising!

Melbourne band The Eternal topped the bill at DOOMED. With two albums to their credit, they drew an appreciative crowd. "Under The Blue Moon is a great event for all the darker bands," said Mark Kelson, lead singer and guitarist. "The 'Doomed' show for me was a special one, as it was one of the first shows in Australia that was exclusively for Gothic & Doom Metal. It was great to see so many people coming out and supporting these styles, and I can only hope this is the beginning of something great. With so many new, great bands, the Australian scene is about to enter a time of emotion, beauty & darkness..." Their set featured songs from their forthcoming third album, Kartika, which should be available by the time you're reading this.

Any label like "Goth metal" is always going to be a little arbitrary. What the bands at DOOMED did share was ampage (and in one case an amp) and a truly dire attitude. And if that's not to your liking, there's always Toydeath.

Under the Blue Moon is, undoubtedly, a triumph of co-operation, participation and community spirit. The festival association, co-directed by Stephanie Calkin (manager of Gallery Serpentine) and Natalie Harker have created an arena for so many disparate people, groups and ideas that the end result of this or any year can only be described as unique. "Blue moon n. an ideal time to do something you have never done before." And I for one thank them for the opportunity!

 

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