Wednesday, August 31, 2011

5 Minutes With Natasha Scharf

"Photograph (c) Taya Uddin, jewellery by Alchemy 1977 and make-up/hair colour by Manic Panic"

NATASHA SCHARF is an author, disc jockey, presenter and freelance journalist best known for her work publicising gothic, rock, metal and progressive metal music and subcultures. She currently works as a freelance music journalist writing articles and reviews for Metal Hammer and Classic Rock Presents: Prog.

Her first book, Worldwide Gothic, an exploration of the development of the worldwide goth scene, was published on 23 June 2011 by Independent Music Press.

Q1. What was the first record you bought and how did it change your life?

I've always been surrounded by music, ever since I was a baby. My mum was a big fan of '70s glam such as David Bowie, T-Rex and Queen and my father was a big fan of '50s rock 'n' roll - I'm sure both had an influence on me even from an early age. Most of the music I was exposed to was either borrowed from my parents or taped off the radio but my very first record was probably something age-appropriate like the 'Theme Tune From Fraggle Rock'! That said, I do remember buying Siouxsie And The Banshees' 'Peepshow' album on vinyl when I was young. I'd been into the band ever since I first heard 'Hong Kong Garden' when I was a very, very young but 'Peepshow' had such a different sound - it was poppier yet somehow darker than their other songs. I remember watching Siouxsie being interviewed on television at the time and being surprised by her sudden change of image - from big hair to a sleek Louise Brooks-style bob. I saved up my pocket money and bought it from the local Our Price, which had a really good range of music. I'm not sure whether buying it changed my life although I think that being into Siouxsie and the Banshees in the first place certainly ended up shaping where I headed!

Q2. How did you become involved in the Gothic rock, metal and progressive metal music subcultures?

That's three different movements you've mentioned there! Ok, the goth thing came out of punk. I was born in the summer of punk and as a child, was really drawn towards its dramatic look and the simplistic but emotive sound. By the early '80s, it was changing into a slightly artier, more experimental and darker thing and that attracted me even more - it was that movement that developed into what we now refer to as 'goth'. I come from a small town in the South East of England, which has always had an alternative scene but it was always what I call a hybrid alternative scene so punks, goths, hippies, metallers etc would all mix together and you'd get merging of styles and blurring of boundaries. And that's really where the metal and progressive elements come in - the scenes were all blended where I came from so everyone liked a bit of everything regardless of labels. Even to this day, my musical tastes are a bit schizophrenic - I have different styles to suit my moods, so progressive for epic, concentrated listening (I love a lot of the darker styles) and metal for something a little harder and more aggressive. Over the years, my tastes have developed more and I've become more involved with each scene on a larger scale. Nowadays, these are my main specialist areas as a music journalist and DJ so I'm living my loves!

Q3. Can you tell me a bit about the ‘Natasha's Batcave’ radio show?

Well, I joined TotalRock Radio back in 2001 when I stood in for a presenter called Diamond Dave over a period of about 6 weeks. I'd been harrassing them for ages about doing a goth show so the programme controller asked me to just that during my stand-in period and we named it after the 'zine I was running at the time - meltdown. After the stint finished, I was given my own show, which we decided to call The Batcave - I named it after London's first gothic club and played around with the Batman connection by using Alien Sex Fiend's cover of the Batman theme tune as my intro (ASF were an original Batcave band so it was like a circular acknowledgement!). I started off presenting it once a month, on a Sunday afternoon, and eventually it went weekly. The idea was that I played music that fitted under the 'gothic' umbrella, which included gothic metal, industrial, electronica, post-punk, psychobilly - all sorts of stuff. Although there are quite a few gothic radio shows around now, when I started the Batcave, there was nothing else like it so I was doing something very unique. I used to interview bands on air and go backstage to gigs, get bands in to do sessions and play lots of unsigned stuff.

I left TotalRock last year, after 9 years of broadcasting on the station so the Batcave show is no more but I hope to resurrect it one day as a podcast or something similar when I get a spare moment! I do miss broadcasting but I've been so busy with my writing recently that it's taken a bit of a back seat.

Q4. You have been interviewed in various music documentaries including Adam And The Ants - Stand And Deliver. Were you a big Ants fan and do you think they influenced the Gothic scene?

I was a huge Ants fan back in the day! Again, this goes back to being attracted to the whole drama of punk I think. Adam had such a striking, almost cartoonish image and the music was so infectious, it really struck a chord with me - I remember painting toothpaste down my face like warrior stripes and watching his videos on Top Of The Pops! I still listen to the songs now and have been lucky enough to catch some of Adam's recent shows - he can still do it and his music still sounds exciting. I absolutely think they influenced that early goth scene - afterall Marco Pirroni played in the original line-up of Siouxsie and the Banshees. Adam's early look was very fetishy and not dissimilar to the modern deathrock look and of course there's all his military wear, which fits in perfectly with the current steampunk movement. The early Ants music was inspired by the same stuff as early goth, with a heavy dose of glam - it all came from the same scene. By the early '80s, the Ants had that wonderful tribal beat running through their music and that's been replicated so many times throughout gothic rock and post-punk music.

I do remember having a similar conversation with the music journalist Mick Mercer about this years ago. We came to the conclusion that both Adam and Toyah were big influences on what became the gothic scene - there's no one who really does it quite the way they did.

Q5. The Asian ‘Gothic Lolita’ movement seems to be more about fashion than music-would you agree and what is your take on it?

As I explain in my book 'Worldwide Gothic', the Gothic Lolita movement is very much a fashion and has become even more so in recent years, especially outside Asia. Despite its name, it actually has very little to do with Western goth. It's basically a subgenre of the popular Lolita fashion that was adopted by a musician called Mana who was, at that time, in the band Malice Mizer - he was simply combining two things he was interested in and making something new from it. He later set up his own fashion label where fans could purchase his own designs and that's clearly influenced a lot of contemporary fashion. But the big difference is that Mana looks at 'gothic' not as we would through music but more as an arts movement and he takes a lot of influence from classical paintings and fashions.

Musically, the visual kei bands that adopt the look are more progressive than gothic although there is an actual Japanese gothic movement as well. It's interesting that the gothic lolita look has become so popular in Western cultures recently but very few of its followers are interested in actual gothic music. It Asian roots were originally more in cosplay but it's now a fashion in its own right.

Worldwide Gothic: A Chronicle of a Tribe by Natasha Scharf.

STOP PRESS! Two new book signings confirmed! Author Natasha Scharf will be signing books at Cornucopia's 10th birthday in Belfast on Saturday on Saturday 22 October (and will also be guest DJ at the club!) and at the Spa as part of the Whitby Gothic Weekend on Saturday 5 November.

Publisher's website:

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