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THE ART OF GOTHIC – Interview with author Natasha Scharf

Natasha Scharf is a writer, author, DJ, and broadcaster. She is the founder of Meltdown magazine and is well known in the UK Alt scene. Scharf has recently released a new book called The Art of Gothic that goes into detail about the Gothic culture, the music that compliments it, the important people involved with it, and more. I was lucky enough to get in contact with her to find out more about her books and work.

Meltdown Magazine was a huge hit in the UK while it was still in print. How do you manage to keep the spirit of Meltdown alive after all these years?

Well, ‘meltdown’ was my baby and, in many ways, it was an extension of my personality so I guess it makes sense that all the things I’ve done subsequently – from radio and television to my more recent books – have also reflected my personality. They have an essence of that spirit, if that makes sense. Of course, ‘meltdown’ also had a wonderful pool of contributors, without whom I couldn’t have maintained a quarterly ‘zine.

Back when I started ‘meltdown’, my aim was to take goth seriously as a subculture, style and genre and that’s something that I still maintain. And I don’t mean that ‘meltdown’ never had a sense of humour because that’s one of the things that readers really liked about it! Goth is such a creative movement and contains some of the most incredible talent so I’ve always worked hard to push that and get goth-related articles commissioned in publications and on websites that you might not necessarily associate with goth. For me, it’s all about getting goth out to new audiences that I know will appreciate it once they hear or read about it.

How do you balance being an author, DJ, broadcaster and a music journalist?

They actually work in harmony with each other because they’re all ways of communicating about music. I’m always listening to new sounds and always discovering exciting new things so by embracing different mediums, I can choose the most appropriate way, or ways, of getting those discoveries out there.

When I first started mixing mediums in the early ‘00s, I had criticism from people who accused me of getting “too big for my boots” because they thought I was on some kind of power trip. I never understood those accusations because that wasn’t what I was doing. In my mind, I was simply looking for opportunities and openings to spread the good word of goth and maximising the mediums that were available. Fast forward 10 years, and it seems like everyone uses multiple mediums now so maybe I was ahead of the trend?!

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Your first book, Worldwide Gothic: A Chronicle of a Tribe, really delved into the origins of Goth culture and how it’s still strong present day around the world. How did the process go for writing the book? How did you know what would be right to put in and what to leave out?

‘Worldwide Gothic’ collated a lifetime’s worth of research into one book. Until I started ‘meltdown’, I hadn’t really given much thought to the different goth scenes around the world and so when I started finding out about them, I was so excited and wanted to know more. Over the years, I’ve interviewed bands from all over the world but no one had actually knitted all those dark threads together into one book. There have been books on goth in different countries and Mick Mercer’s ‘21st Century Goth’, which was a brilliant directory of international goth bands but no one had actually written a book that effectively told the story of goth from a global perspective. So that was my task and it was no mean feat.

The publisher (Independent Music Press) and I discussed the best way of doing this and we came to the conclusion that telling the story chronologically, rather than doing it per country, would be most appropriate. I drew up a paper timeline so I could spot any parallels and it was really interesting to go back and see all the cross pollination with, say, elements of London’s Batcave Club influencing LA’s deathrock movement. They’re things you’re not always aware of at the time. I had just over a month to carry out any additional interviews and write the book to a fixed word count so it was really tough. I tried to include as much as I possibly could but I was governed by time and word limits, although I did have to cut the finished manuscript down to size in the end! Really, the book ended up writing itself from all the raw interviews I’d collected over the years and I only really needed to make sure everything was in the right place and flowed properly.

Music and scenes move so quickly that whenever you write a book, it’s going to be out-of-date by the time it’s published so I was lucky that this one came out soon after I’d finished it so it is still fairly contemporary, three years on. Despite what some corners of the media think, goth is still very much alive and constantly evolving so I knew that it would be impossible to include every single band, every single event and every single everything that had ever happened but, looking back on it, I think the finished book is fairly comprehensive.

Your new book, The Art of Gothic: Music + Fashion + Alt Culture, was released back in October. What inspired you to write another book? What was the funnest part while making it?

Again, my inspiration was simply a desire to tell a story that hadn’t yet been told. As I mentioned before, goth is hugely creative but no one had actually put together a book on the art that’s come out of this scene. Yes, some visual aspects have been featured in books like Gavin Baddeley’s ‘Goth Chic’, Mick Mercer profiled several artists in ‘Hex Files’ back in the 1990s and there was Tiffany Godoy’s gorgeous ‘Japanese Goth’ book, but no one had created a book that was exclusively about gothic art as a whole – that is, art relating to or created by the goth subculture. I was very insistent that it would include both well-known and underground artists, as well as album cover art, sculptures (including hand-made dolls), manga and comics, fine art, photography etc. It was originally intended as the natural progression to Omnibus Press’ ‘The Art of Punk’, which touched on some of the early post-punk album covers and just took on a life of its own. It seems my projects have a habit of doing this!

I started work on ‘The Art of Gothic’ back in 2011 and it was wonderfully indulgent to spend hours, days, weeks, months looking up so much gorgeous art, tracking down the artists, discovering some of my favourite pieces were by the same artists and learning the stories behind them. I really enjoyed that and I loved uncovering new art too. Probably the toughest part was cutting down my original wish-list of artwork so it would fit into the book, which is part of a series on genre-defined art.

How has the overall response been to your books?

It’s been really positive. I’ve had some great feedback from my signings and it’s been especially gratifying to have goths come up to me from countries like Czech Republic, Brazil and Israel saying they were so excited that I’d included their favourite local band in ‘Worldwide Gothic’. I also really love it when people tell me that they’ve discovered certain artists or artistes through my work and even more so, when I’ve had them tell me that they’ve actually rediscovered goth through my work.

What are some of your favourite bands that have influenced you?

I have so many! I make new music discovery almost on a daily basis so I have the longest list of favourites and they’re always changing but one constant is definitely Siouxsie And The Banshees. I’ve been a fan of theirs since the late ‘70s and was over the moon when they gave permission for us to use some of their single covers in ‘The Art Of Gothic’. Their music has influenced the way I edit and pace my radio documentaries and features – I use a lot of experimental music production techniques to add colour and create unexpected textures to my sound work, which has become a bit of a trademark.

What style of Goth are you more drawn to? (Gothic Lolita, Cybergoth, Deathrock, etc)

I’ve always considered goth to be more of an umbrella for all things dark and interesting so I would say that I’m simply drawn to goth, in all its shapes and forms! I like to mix and match.

Do you have any other big projects in the making? If so, can you give us a hint of what they will be?

Yes, I do but I’m not allowed to talk about any of them yet! Let’s just say, I will have more books coming out in the future and there may even be some fiction too!

‘The Art of Gothic’ by Natasha Scharf is out now through Omnibus Press (UK and Commonwealth) and Backbeat Books (North America). For news of signings and events, visit: www.facebook.com/artofgothic 

*all photo credit goes to Taya Uddin

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