A woman in a white corset-crossed wedding dress has a winged demon for a groom. Jungle boy has mud smeared across naked abs. A girl is dressed like pineapple. This is tradition, and though the day is cold and overcast, this is the time for the annual Victorian Picnic: the unofficial opening act of the Wave-Gotik-Treffen.
Perhaps 2000 people or so have taken up this open invitation addressed to the broad congregation of world gothic subculture, to graze and eat cake on the grass outside the Musikpavillon in Clara Zetkin Park.
One middle-aged man in a top hat has decked out the lawn with his own silver platters, and is feeding his wife pastries with a gloved hand, straight to her mouth. She is located on a separate blanket; their only contact point is when she licks the sugar from his latex fingers. Something about this scene makes me think of Michelangelo’s Creation of Adam set to S&M sex. No, he tells me, not every day:
“When it’s over, the clothes go away for another year,” he says. “But for these four days when we are in Leipzig, we can act however way we want without judgement.”
A wide variety of personalities are spread like a black parade across the lawn.
The common goth in a black dress shirt is here. The fetish community with their leashes and chains and deep-sea cleavage are here. We have the pineapples. Victorian ladies and gentlemen are here. Marilyn Manson’s 1990s wardrobe has become sentient and is here. Spooky bastards and Suicide Girls. Curious Normies. Women with big ruffled dresses. Men with hand-made wings. People dressed in outfits made from nothing, from everything, and from raw dreams.
Feline and Strange, a Berlin-based steampunk folk duo, are playing short impromptu concerts right here on the grass at the picnic. Feline Lang, the vocalist, rocks an unplugged ukulele and pounces and purrs through her performance like a personification of her namesake. Christoph Klemke stoically backs her on electric cello.
“This is a song called Lobotomy,” says Feline “I’m always looking for ways to make life more bearable…”
How long have Feline and Strange been performing as a duo?
Feline: We started out as a 5 piece, and made two records like that. Then we got this email from the States from a famous producer who wanted to work with us, and he turned out to be the real deal. So, he came over to Berlin to work with us. By then we were only a trio. Two records later, we’re only a duo, with guest musicians – amazing guest musicians from the States.
Was it a conscious choice to pare down your set-up?
Feline: It was circumstance, people not getting a visa for the States where we were going to record. Also we were going in a different direction. We didn’t really want to go too jazzy. I like jazz. I liked the swing that we had before, but I’d rather go in a more new-wave direction, more punk. That’s what we did with our producer, so we had to find a new drummer and a new bass player.
What music are you listening to right now?
Feline: I listen to the WGT playlist, of course! Right now I’m listening to a lot of old school female-fronted punk. We listened to The Slits on the way over here; we both like that stuff a lot.
Christoph: Nina Hagen.
Feline: Also, a lot of electro-punk like Berlin based Bonaparte, which I like a lot. Of course I keep listening to The Dresden Dolls, and solo stuff Amanda Palmer has been releasing.
The Dresden Dolls are clearly a massive influence for you.
Feline: Yeah, we actually made our record in the States with [Dresden Dolls’ drummer] Brian Viglione.
What shows are you playing at the WGT this year?
Feline: We already played a show yesterday at the Lesebühne theatre with Christian von Aster. We’re here today [on the 18th]. We’re playing at the Victorian Village tomorrow at 5pm. On Sunday we have an unplugged show for VEID e.v., a charity. Then we have our big show at Sixtina at 8pm, which we’re sharing with other acts on our British label, Steampunk Records UK.
What do you believe is the connection between Steampunk and Gothic culture?
Feline: In short, the corsets! We’re all freaks and we like fashion of former times. Also at the base of goth is being an outsider, being a nerd, or somebody that doesn’t really fit in. Steampunk is similar to goth in that it says: ‘I don’t want to fit in, I want to wear whatever the fuck I like and I don’t care what you think of it.’
Would you describe the WGT as a festival for outsiders?
Feline: I would describe every goth in the world as an outsider. So yes, the WGT is an outsider meeting. However, here we do not feel like we are outsiders anymore. People like you, with sneakers and coloured outfits, are the outsiders. And we all get along very well. We complement each other’s outfits. We talk about dark and depressing things and amuse ourselves with music that other people think is nerdy.
How important do you think your aesthetics are to your music?
Feline: For us, it’s the second [most] important thing. First I have to know what I’m going to say, then we have to find a way to make it sound beautiful. Beautiful can also be screaming at the audience! For me, I’m a former classical musician; as an opera singer, the structure is important. Well-made music is very important. Sometimes we just punk around, but there’s always a classical base to what we do.
How did the opportunity to play at this festival come up?
Feline: We started out with two gigs. The first one, yesterday, was with Christian von Aster, who is a very famous Leipzig-based author, and he is well known in the gothic scene. I think he has been an official artist since the very beginning of WGT. He invited us to play. He knows us from Berlin and is a big fan of ours.
Last autumn we made a tour with Steampunk Records, and the label head honcho is flying out here to the WGT and he invited us to play at Sixtina tomorrow night.
Then we asked around with friends we know from other festivals like La Dutchessa, a famous model we know from the Netherlands. She connected us to the Victorian Village; and the VEID e.v., the charity, also happened in Berlin, and I knew one of the organisers and they said that they were over the moon that we wanted to play.
Right now everyone is “over the moon” when they hear we want to play. It’s a good feeling, actually!
Have you been to WGT before?
Feline: No, never. We’re WGT virgins. We shouldn’t tell anyone, but it’s true we’ve not been before! The last few years we’ve been playing at the Steampunk Worlds festival in New Jersey, which is on at the same time. This year Steampunk Worlds was cancelled, so now we’re here.
What makes music gothic?
Feline: What makes music goth is talking about feelings, very dark feelings that are not really allowed in pop music.
Feline and Strange
20 May, 8 PM, SIXTINA: STEAMPUNK RECORDS LABEL UK
No WGT wristband needed
Cover: WGT 2018 Victorian Picnic in Clara Zetkin Park. Shot by Erik Braga