Synopsis: A blast from the past. This film was rescued from an old and very damaged VHS cassette tape. The original video was commissioned by the couple who ran the club (Annie and Pete Swallow) and sold or given to family, friends and regulars (£2 per copy). This is the complete full length video as originally presented.
eyelights: the awesome ’80s alternative soundtrack. there’s no gloss; it’s not staged, it’s real.
eyesores: the poor editing. nothing happens. the lame interviewer.
As I was mapping out my annual October Horrorfest, I decided to make an effort to watch concert DVDs of goth/industrial bands that I have, some of which I have actually never watched before, and others that I’ve had on the shelf since I upgraded from cheaper copies. I figured that it would be a perfect opportunity to finally get around to it, and it would tie in nicely – plus which it might introduce readers to bands they’d otherwise never know.
I started digging through my pile of music videos for ideas and I immediately got pulled in by a documentary on industrial music and Nine Inch Nails, as well as a Nine Inch Nails concert. But I wasn’t sure what to follow those with, and struggled with my options. Would I watch some KMFDM or My Life With The Thrill Kill Kult? Or would I branch out to metal with a Heaven And Hell concert? I was unsure: it seemed tenuous at best, and really what I would have preferred would be more traditionally spooky stuff of the vintage goth variety.
So I began to look for documentaries on Goth culture. There aren’t many of them. Not only does it appear like it remains a fringe movement, but few of its participants seem to have been compelled to turn the cameras on themselves and their subculture. Was it a product of ambivalence or simply typical of the oft-reclusive scene and its members? One may never know, but I did find a 2-3 video documents, most of which are of questionable quality – at least based on the reviews I found.
The most intriguing of the lot was ‘A Night at the Xclusiv Nightclub: Batley, Yorkshire, UK’. (for the record, I’m not 100% sure about the title, since this is only available in bootleg form online).
What appealed to me was not only the positive write-ups that I found everywhere on the interweb, but the notion that it was shot in 1984, at the height of the goth movement; it’s not a retrospective or a revisionist piece. If anything, ‘A Night at the Xclusiv Nightclub’ is essentially a recording of one night in this alternative club in the UK, and then edited down to a cushy 125-minute look at the club and its patrons, most of whom are goths, punks, new wave types.
And I mean that in the best sense. I would have loved that scene.
The film sets the tone with amateurish interviews with the owners and staff of the club as well as a few patrons, mostly of the regular bar-room types – while the more interesting alternative crowd were busy dancing to the sounds of New Order, Siouxsie and The Banshees, The Sisters of Mercy, David Bowie, Bauhaus, The Cult, The Birthday Party and countless other awesome bands – too many to be bother listing.
This is what most of this so-called documentary is, really: people dancing to then-alternative music.
Because this video, which was commissioned by the Anne and Pete Swallow, the couple that ran the Xclusiv Nightclub at the time, may run a full 125 minutes long, but it barely features about 20 mins of interview footage, spread out here and there, between endless dancing. If you can call it dancing: the men shook their limbs and had spastic fits, while the women swooped their arms while staying in place.
Not that I’m in any position to comment on their dancing, given my own inability to dance and my lack of expertise in the matter. Well, while it’s not especially notable, these nightbirds’ moves had their own flavour. There was this superb moment towards the end that had the clubbers miming or vogue-ing to the sounds of Bowie’s “Life on Mars?”. It was so unusual and yet mesmerizing, so very awesome.
Much like their look, which consists of lots of black clothing of a punk and new wave blend, lots of crazy hair-sprayed ‘dos (often with the sides shaved off in a pseudo-mohawk fashion) and lots of eyeliners and decorative make-up. On both the men and women – it’s a very gender-neutral look. Frankly, I love it. LOVE it. I wish I had known this era in my youth (I just missed it by a few years. Dammit).
Anyway, finally, after well over an hour into the film, some of the local vampires take a break from flailing about for a few questions . The interviewer, completely out of his element with his moustache, suit and bow tie, had only inane things on his mind: “What do you like about the club? What kind of music to you listen to? Where do you get your clothes?”. Which inevitably left the club-goers looking particularly vacant.
The thing I liked the most, aside from the goff’s look, was the music; I don’t know if there’s one song that I disliked throughout the whole set! And many were major classics and/or favourites of mine. I almost wish that there were a track listing to go along with the film because there’s a bunch of stuff that was unfamiliar to me and that I would certainly want to explore. For rights reasons, I doubt this film will get a formal release or soundtrack, unfortunately…
Sadly, due to the way the film was edited, the songs were frequently interrupted. What we would get would be snippets of footage from different angles – but, since they only had one camera, they had to wander about to get the shots. Then the editor cut the footage together, leaving massive gaping holes in the music where the footage was cut out. Not only was this disrespectful of the material being played, but it was discordant and unpleasant.
The DJ, a Nick Kershaw-type who had been there for a year by the time this was shot, didn’t help matters much: even though he clearly knew the material and his crowd well, he would abruptly change songs and tone from time to time, instead of smoothly transitioning – something I would never have done. I don’t know why any DJ worth their salt would ever be so callous in their transitions, so this was a bit sucky to hear. Maybe he was having an “off” night.
Anyway, it doesn’t change the fact that I enjoyed watching this document (I daren’t call it a documentary, all things considered). Perhaps I was watching it from an anthropological perspective as much as I was enjoying seeing this subculture in full bloom, but I really dug it. I recognize, however, that it would be extremely redundant to anyone not remotely intrigued by the culture.
So, for fans of goths, I’d give ‘Height of Goth: A Night at the Xclusiv Nightclub’ a 7.0, but for almost anyone else it can be nothing more than a 2.0 – there’s far too little being stretched over the course of far too much time. This could easily have been cut down to a 25-30 piece without any regrettable loses. Still, I would nonetheless want to get a proper copy of this on DVD, if only because it feels like home to me somehow.
If only someone would bother to make a film on goth culture of the likes of ‘Metal: A Headbanger’s Journey‘. Now that’s something I’d sink my fangs into.
Date of viewing: September 16, 2013