Author and CNNGo contributor La Carmina spends much of her time hopping across the globe, from her hometown of Vancouver to Los Angeles, New York City, Hong Kong and Tokyo, the latter being the focus of her work. While she has explored various aspects of Japanese pop culture, including the cute cooking phenomenon (Cute Yummy Time) and themed restaurants (Crazy, Wacky Theme Restaurants: Tokyo), it's the coverage of Tokyo's small but inspiring gothic scene featured on her own blog that has earned her a worldwide following of alternative-minded music lovers and fashionistas.
Last year, when La Carmina stopped in LA, we headed to M/R/X-Wolfpak, the monthly LA party that she said most reminded her of the Tokyo scene. So, when she returned to LA last weekend for a series of book signings, we met up again at M/R/X-Wolfpak to discuss the differences between Western gothic culture and its Japanese counterpart.
La Carmina will be signing Crazy, Wacky Theme Restaurants: Tokyo at GR2 in West LA tonight at 6:30 p.m.
What do you see as being the difference between North American goth and Japanese goth?
In Japan, the gothic symbols, such as the crucifix, even images of morbidity, mourning, don't have the same cultural resonance that they do in the West. They don't share the same background of Christianity, the Victorian age and everything that came with that culture. Everything is taken at face value. You'll see people wearing very elaborate, elegant gothic outfits. In Japan, there's more detail put into the creation of the outfit, for example, you might see intricate lace. You might see gothic Lolita. In the West, you'll see a lot more casual gothic, it's the general American goth that you would imagine, t-shirts, dark pants, pleather, PVC. It doesn't have the same romance as the Japanese gothic scene.
Were you involved in the American gothic scene before going to Tokyo a lot?
Yeah, when I was in college in New York, I would go to the Pyramid club and a couple of these industrial/goth places. Honestly, I didn't like the scene as much as I would have liked to. The fashion wasn't 100% for me. I didn't feel carried away the way that I do in Tokyo.
I think that the Japanese gothic scene fashion, there's more of an outer-worldly, romantic aspect to it that I didn't find in the American scene in the late-'90s, early-2000s.
When did you first become enamored by the Tokyo gothic scene?
I would always be traveling to Japan and Hong Kong with my family as a child. So around my early teens, mid-teens, that's when I started noticing the gothic scene. That's when I began to dress in alternative styles, particularly goth. That's when I first began to notice it. I began learning about the brand names, experimenting, trying the clothes on, until it's predominantly what I wear today.
Musically, how does it differ?
It's a very small scene. Most parties bring in Western bands, Covenant, Skinny Puppy. They're very interested in these bands because people hadn't heard them before. There's a renewed popularity. They love Marilyn Manson.
A lot of the Japanese goth bands, they don't play what you think of as gothic music. A lot of it is more hard rock or with a Halloween element to it, think of Tim Burton soundtracks. It's extremely visual. Sometimes, it's more about the look, the spooky make-up, the costumes, than the music itself.
[Fashion designer/DJ] Takuya Angel and his crew are considered part of the scene too, aren't they?
They are, yes.
But, they're more of what would be considered rave-y out here.
It's funny how the industrial, gothic and cyber kids all merge together. It's because of the way the parties are structured. Things like Tokyo Decadance, Midnight Mess, Tokyo Dark Castle and similar events, all the gothic, industrial and cyber kids come together. The fashion has a lot of overlap and fluidity between the styles. Again, because goth doesn't have the same cultural elements as in the West, where there's more of a lifestyle element to it, in Japan it's more visual. So, goth and cyber, why not be hand-in-glove with each other?
What's popular in the Tokyo goth scene right now?
You see a lot of decadent eyelashes. There's a designer Vivi who hand makes eyelashes. She makes these beautiful eyelashes with bats on them, beads. So you see extremely decorated eye make-up, stickers around the face, the way DJ Sisen does it. You'll see a lot of cyber hair. For gothic fashion, a lot of long skirts, not always Lolita, but definitely more covered than in the west. It tends to be harking back to the Victorian era or the Rococo era. You'll see those types of shapes in the clothing.
You said last year that M/R/X was closer to a Tokyo club than anything you had seen in the US before.
It was. I feel that the fashion was a lot more experimental there, the way that it was in Tokyo. You'll see a lot of heavy, theatrical make-up and hair. That's something that you don't see too often in American clubs. People don't dress up to the extremes that they do in Tokyo gothic and cyber clubs, they transform themselves into outer space beings. That's what I love so much.
If you were going to tell people to check out some bands from the Japanese gothic scene, would would you recommend?
I would say, check out The Candy Spooky Theater. They are spooky, but candy and so yum-yum-yummy. I would say SaTaN. Also, 13th Moon. They're quite popular and play some of the events. The lead singer speaks some English and is on Twitter, so he's a good guy to get to know.
What Western gothic stuff is popular in Tokyo?
A lot. Midnight Mess Maya, she's had Spanking Machine, Das Ich. She's brought in quite a few gothic bands over the years. She flies them in and they do pretty well there.