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Wednesday, 15 December 2010

The world's biggest Goth festival - Wave Gotik Treffen

I WILL have attended WGT by the time I'm 21. I WILL. I should have done this post ages ago - how could I neglect posting about what is possibly the most important event for the entire international Goth scene? Goodness knows. To make up for it, here's a link for some lovely free downloads from punk/dark cabaret superstars the Dresden Dolls. At this link you can (legally) grab live and unreleased tracks, some studio favourites (I recommend Girl Anachronism, Half Jack and Missed Me) and listen to some interviews with the Dolls. Am I forgiven?

Anyway. The Wave Gotik Treffen, also known as WGT (that's pronounced Ve Ge Te - yes, it's a German event) or simply the Treffen (the word 'treffen' means 'meeting') is an annual festival celebrating dark music and culture. It's held in Leipzig, Germany, and can attract up to 20,000 regular attendees (the average number of attendees is between 18,000 and 20,000. Now that's a lot of Goths...).



In the video above you can see some of the amazing outfits on display at the Treffen - my favourite is the lady in blue at about 0:03. Interestingly, the tinkling you can hear in the background is the sound of bells, which are a common accessory amongst German Goths (or 'gruftis' which means 'dark people'). The idea comes from a time waybackwhen, when people who were 'unclean' wore or carried bells to warn others of their passing. Why this caught on as a fashion statement amongst the gruftis I don't know, but I think it's just a little bit awesome.

The WGT has something for everyone in our shadowy little subculture - hundreds of live bands, EBM raves, shopping, a medieval village complete with jousts, literary readings, more shopping, Ren Faires, a Victorian picnic, body piercers and tattooists, clubnights, movie premieres, artist signing events, meetups, a Gothic Pogo Party and probably more. On average, 200 bands play over the four days of the festival. The music spectrum encompasses the furthest reaches of what could be considered Gothic/Industrial (cyber, darkwave, deathrock, trad, ambient, electro, medieval and more) and even includes genres often enjoyed by Goths although not Goth themselves such as metal, neo-folk, neo-classical, symphonic and Gothic metal, rock and 'Goth'n'roll' (aka The 69 Eyes).

The WGT takes place on different dates each year, but is always held on the German holiday weekend of Pfingsten (that's Pentecost or Whitsun in English), which is seven weeks after Easter - so is always between 10th May and 13th June. Unofficial spin-off events begin on the Thursday night and the festival itself begins on Friday. As the Monday is an official holiday, the event usually runs on into the early hours of Tuesday morning.

Yes, all Goths look the same. Obviously.
Source: Goth Fashion on Tumblr
The very first attempt to hold the WGT met with disaster: it took place in 1987 in Potsdam, but at the time the laws of what was then the German Democratic Republic made such an event illegal. Nevertheless a few hundred people attended - nothing compared to the record numbers of 2002, when over 25,000 people were estimated to have attended and 300 bands played. (The event actually managed to get off the ground in 1992, when it was held at the Eiskeller club in Leipzig.)

However the 2002 event also fared badly - the festival suffered financial collapse on day three and was aborted as security guards, staff and bands left. Leipzig police feared that the thousands of Goths left disappointed would riot, but there was no violence whatsoever. In fact the last day of the festival went ahead, albeit greatly diminished - volunteer helpers and the few bands who had stayed put together an unpaid concert.

Wikipedia claims that the festival events take place at about a dozen venues around the city - however I have read that there are actually 20 or more venues. Attendees are given a wristband that allows them free travel on public transport around Leipzig. Many visitors pay extra to be able to camp in the area surrounding the AGRA venue - how people manage such extravagant outfits, hair and make-up after going through international customs and whilst staying in a tend I shall never know. I know I'm never going to be able to get my spiky, chained New Rocks on the plane into Germany...


The one piece of advice I always come across in articles about WGT both in magazines and online is to plan well - venues can fill up quickly, public transport can be slow, and well, we all know how distracting shopping can be. Out of all of the hundreds of bands that play it is common to see only about 10-20 because there is so much else going on (which should give you an idea of the sheer scale of this event).

There isn't much point giving you a list of bands that have performed at the WGT because there are simply so many, so I shall just pick a few of my favourite big names from 2010's line-up: Alien Sex Fiend, Attrittion, Catastrophe Ballet, Diary of Dreams, Faith and the Muse, In Strict Confidence, Kommunity FK, Rotersand, Sex Gang Children, Suicide Commando, The Lovecrave, Voices of Masada, Zeraphine. As you can see, the line-up generally reads like a who's who of Goth.

I'm now going to go and spend an hour staring in awe at the WGT images on Google Images. See you in Germany soon, I hope.

Listening to: Waste of Love - Ashbury Heights

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