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Profiles of people who uplift, maintain, or change traditions within their communities.

Children of the night — a glimpse into the Bay’s Goth scene

Christina C. Villanueva DJing at a "Hot Goths Near You" event at Oakland club 'Crybaby' on 08/31/23
Deja Whitney
Christina C. Villanueva DJing at a "Hot Goths Near You" event at Oakland club 'Crybaby' on 08/31/23
"These spaces are vital. And that's something that I love so much about working in nightlife and entertainment ... what some people could see as a Friday night out, many people see as their space, that their identities are accepted and encouraged and celebrated."
Christina C. Villanueva

DJ Hot Goth GF has every dancer inside of Eli’s Mile High Club – under her spell. I survey a darkly-angelic crowd. People are dressed in mostly black-and-silver – twirling and shifting. Red lights shine upon safety pins, thick chains, bondage gear, elegant satin, and shredded clothing.

The people in the crowd hail from a broad range of ages, backgrounds and gender identities. The thing most have in common though – is a deep love of Goth Culture.

There are a lot of misconceptions about goth. The word itself has existed – and been applied to literature and art – long before it was ever associated with the subculture we know now. In history, goths were a Germanic people, who helped bring about the fall of the Roman Empire. The Gothic architectureof the Middle Ages was dramatic, featuring asymmetrical buildings and high, pointed arches. Centuries later, Gothic literature took inspiration from these buildings for stories of mystery, horror, and romance, while tackling existential questions.

Fast-forward to the music-based subculture that developed in the 1980s. If you’re picturing a sulking, pale, straight white guy with teased hair in a trench coat you might be thinking too narrowly, says DJ Hot Goth GF – otherwise known as Christina C. Villanueva.

“Maybe a misperception is that goths are mean or standoffish or exclusive or whatever. But as far as my experience has gone it's been the total opposite,” Christina says. “Everyone is so nice and encouraging and friendly and inviting and inclusive.”

Christina curates music and events by and for Queer and Trans People of Color – QTPOC.

She didn’t grow up a die-hard goth, but she listened to goth-adjacent punk and death rock. Five years ago, she first heard the atmospheric “Siouxsie and the Banshees” songs‘Love in a Void’ and ‘Monitor,’ and she felt a sense of safety.

“When I discovered Siouxsie, I would just listen to her as I was walking on the street at night, or just like around others or, you know, like commuting in the world. And it really just gave me this sense of power and almost like a veil from the rest of the world,” Christina says.

And what she first felt within the music, she felt in abundance from the scene itself.

“I love the music. I love participating in the community. But what I love most about it and what it's meant to me, is not only acceptance and inclusion in this community but like freedom of expression and almost like encouragement to be your freakiest self,” Christina says.

And when she moved to the Bay Area in 2021, those feelings continued to flourish.

“Here it feels so not intimidating. It feels so welcoming. I feel like I don't even know if Hot Goth GF as events or as my radio show or even as me as a DJ would exist anywhere else,” Christina says. “I feel that the Bay is so special for really intentionally creating and uplifting communities like through action, through creation and production and collaboration.”

The transition from being a fan of gothic music to DJing the music herself came after Christina curated a playlist for the bar, the “Knockout’ in the Mission district.

“Someone who was at the show worked at the Rickshaw stop and mentioned to me, ‘oh, we need a DJ for a show at the Rickshaw stop. I love the music you played. Would you be willing to DJ’” Christina says. “And I had no idea how to DJ. But I said ‘yes, of course,’ because I'm always going to jump on an opportunity and I was really flattered that they liked my tastes.”

And more and more venues booked her!

“And now they're more willing to work with me, because they see the community that comes through…” Christina says.

Christina works to platform femme-and-queer lead gothic artists.

“Hot Goth GF is a meme that I always thought was really funny,” Christina says. “And then my girlfriend started calling me her hot goth GF, just like – to be funny. And then I started collecting songs that kind of fit under this phrase Hot Goth GF as a playlist on my phone.”

And once she started hosting and throwing live events herself it became natural to refer to them as ‘Hot Goth GF Presents.’

“It does sound binary but I hope that once you start engaging with the events or once any fan or audience member or collaborator sees what it's about, you get that it is trans-inclusive, non-binary-inclusive, queer-inclusive in general,” Christina says.

Christina hosts a show that streams every second Sunday night on Lower Grand Radio. On her show,she plays music and interviews key players within the goth scene. Including Bay Area goth legend – DJ Melting Girl –Melting Girl, says goth has a decades long relationship with the Bay Area.

“One of the most classic vampire novels, ‘Interview with a Vampire,’ part of that takes place in San Francisco” Melting Girl says.

Mollie Venn - aka Melting Girl - DJing at San Francisco's DNA Lounge in October 2023.
Nick Venn
Mollie Venn - aka Melting Girl - DJing at San Francisco's DNA Lounge in October 2023.

Melting Girl – or Mollie Venn — grew up in what she considers to be one of the Golden Ages of music – the 80’s. She came of age listening to bands like Depeche Mode and The Cure.

“Growing up in LA, I was very fortunate. We had KROQ, which was probably one of the best alternative radio stations in the country. And at that time, they really broke a lot of bands,” Mollie says. “I was with my friend at the time. We were returning videotapes to the video store… Her mom went in to return the tapes. And we were just sitting in the car and she left the engine on so we could still hear the radio. And they played “Bela Lugosi's dead” by Bauhaus. And I never heard it before. And I was like, this is the most amazing song ever.”

Even though she couldn’t catch the name of the band or the song she heard, she got her mom to take her to Tower Records.

And so I went up to the person working at Tower and I was like, ‘Okay, so I heard this song on the radio, and it was something about Bella something. Undead, undead, undead.’ And the guy was like, ‘Yeah, I know what you're talking about.’”

It was an imported double cassette tape that cost $23, a high price for her mother to pay at the time. But it introduced her to a community that she felt accepted by.

“For me, I never felt like I fit in,” Mollie says “and once I started going to the goth clubs, I was like these are my people and suddenly I had friends.”

Melting Girl has been working as a DJ and promoter since 1994.She’s one of the resident DJs at the weekly goth clubDeath Guild, at San Francisco’s DNA Lounge. It is the longest running weekly goth and industrial genre club in the world, previously preceded only by London’s Slimelight. Their motto is “a club for the people, by the people.”

We now know people who've met at Death Guild, gotten married, had children, and their kids have shown up at Death Guide like it's been a full lifecycle,” Mollie says.

And she’s had to change with the times.

“I mean, when I started, all I had to do was make a flier, maybe run an ad in a local paper. You know, we had SF weekly and Bay Guardian back then,” Mollie says.

Today’s scene depends a lot on social media.

“Some people it comes very naturally to, some people have an easier time than others. Personally, I really struggle with it,” Mollie says.

But she did start a Twitch channelin 2020 that she continues to host twice a week, live from her home.

“All I really want to do is play music for people…show up at the club, play that song, and then see everyone dancing to it, and then just be like, yes, like, that's what I love.”

“I don’t know, this may sound kind of old school but there is something deep and innate about people that requires community that the internet is not yet able to fulfill…” says VampiHurtado Zafra. And we are at the DIY cultural space she is working to permit and open in San Francisco – the Enzyme Cultural Center.The atrium of the room is overflowing with tools, ladders and paints.

Vampi Hurtado Zafra, co-hosting an event at Eli's Mile High Club in Oakland on Sept 29th 2023.
Deja Whitney
Vampi Hurtado Zafra, co-hosting an event at Eli's Mile High Club in Oakland on Sept 29th 2023.

“And so spaces like this or endeavoring to make spaces like this, even though they're not necessarily profitable in the scheme of capitalism at all, is absolutely necessary, and something that cities and communities require. Individual people require,” Vampi says.

Vampi has been working as a goth DJ and promoter for more than a decade, and has performed in gothic drag for a little more than a year.

Vampi blends traditional goth and darkwave with cumbia, perreo, reggaeton and dembow into her sets.

You're listening and following your heart and following the beat,” Vampi says. “And when the beat is there, it just flows. And so I can't really describe that process because it's not something I can speak with words, but it's something I feel. And so you just kind of feel when something wants to be with something.”

She organizes the goth club ‘The Batcave’ at the Knockout. But this innovative blend of Latinx and gothic genres hasn’t always been received warmly outside of the Bay.

“Interestingly, like going and playing internationally, I would start mixing cumbia into my sets, cumbia specifically, and they'd be like, ‘What the fuck are you doing?’ Like, ‘This makes zero sense. This is a goth club.’ Like ‘why would you why would you do that?’” Vampi says. “And I'm sitting there like defending myself, you know, and I'm just like, ‘I don't know, this is what we do in San Francisco, and people have fun doing that, I'm sharing it with you. That's cool, if you don't like it, you don't have to.’”

Not everyone is friendlyto this scene, so promoters have to be careful.

The community andrave organizers decide who can be trusted. And that’s especially the case for hosting secret raves like a renegade. It’s an occasional underground event.

And the bill for ‘Demon Hours II’ clearly states, there’s “no drama, creeps, cops or non-consensual contact allowed!” Hot Goth GF is one of the organizers and DJs.

“If there is an emergency, there's people you can talk to. We want to help you mitigate any kind of abusive…or just not cool interactions that you have, you know,” Christina says. “Whether it's with a creep or whether your abuser shows up, now I have policies in place so that guests know, there's a path for me to take if something like this happens, rather than dealing with it themselves.”

Hot Goth GF recently received a grantfrom the Center for Cultural Innovation, to continue to produce these events, and pay a diverse array of performing artists.

“I love the baby bats. I love the baby gays, the baby goths…” Christina says.“It's not all just coming from one perspective or, you know, one voice, the cis straight hetero voice that might be the dominant voice of traditional goth, or even like goth throughout the years. Finding and appreciating and platforming goth artists from other cultures is so important to me. And I think what keeps the music interesting.”

It’s easy to hear everything that’s interesting and beautiful about it. Standing soaked in blue moonlight, listening to the Bay’s goth community blare music that shakes the cold air.

This story aired in the November 29, 2023 episode of Crosscurrents.

Born and raised in the San Francisco Bay Area, Paul C. Kelly Campos is a writer, poet and translator of Irish and Nicaraguan descent. His bilingual work has appeared in NPR’s Next Generation Radio, The Washington Post, KQED Forum, KALW, Prism, The Golden Gate Xpress, Seen and Heard, The San Franciscan, and Borderless magazine.