Gothic Tribes: Scott Royce holds down the basement. Credit: Darrow Montgomery

Scott Royce discovered the District’s goth scene in 2001. A year later, he was helping to run it. In 2002, the Fairfax legal researcher—newly outfitted in after-hours black—launched Midnight, a Saturday dance night for District goths, Wiccans, vampirists, fetishists, and pewtersmithing enthusiasts, at underground L Street bar the Meeting Place. “I’m a politician at heart. I’m not happy unless I’m running something,” says Royce, who served on the Libertarian National Committee before turning independent.

Now, Royce is fighting a darker battle in the basements of L Street. Last October, five years into Royce’s regime, a group of more established scenesters—a cadre of D.C. übergoths led by local goth fixture Lori Beth—turned their backs on Midnight and set up an alternate Saturday event, Spellbound, at Recessions, a similar basement bar two blocks away.

The old-school upstart has created a bit of a rift between two sectors of an already narrow local goth community. Though some nightcrawlers attend both Midnight and Spellbound every Saturday, most must choose their loyalties. Royce, for one, isn’t too keen on Spellbound. “I’ve never been, (a) because I’m busy, and (b) because of how they are,” he says. “Spellbound thinks they’re goth’s gift to humanity. They expect everyone to genuflect in their direction whenever they walk into the room.” Royce says the competition doesn’t worry him. “No matter how long those people have been running the scene, we came in here as independents, and we’ve been running consistently the largest event for six years,” he says.

Lori Beth describes the reason for the split in more neutral terms. “We wanted to have an option for the older gothic crowd,” she explains. “Midnight is 18-and-over. We’re 21-plus. I’m getting pretty close to 40, and I want to be dancing and listening to music with people who were born before 1985.” Still, Lori Beth, who has been involved in the scene since ’85—first as clubber, then as caterer—admits the split did cause some tension between the clubs. “Yeah, yeah,” she says. “At first, you know, they just thought we were trying to steal their business.”

Lori Beth, Spellbound’s goth queen. (Photograph by Darrow Montgomery)

Whether their differences lie in attitude or age, Midnight and Spellbound have been competing for local goth pocket cash ever since, using any tool they can, from character assassination to novelty goth drinks to free birthday cakes. One reveler who frequents both nights—and wished to remain anonymous—explains the Midnight-Spellbound social rift: “It’s like the Titanic,” she says. “Midnight is below-deck: We’re the Irish immigrants who play fiddles and dance jigs and drink too much whiskey. Spellbound is above-deck: They’re the upper-crust clique in stuffy Victorian clothing. When the ship goes down, they’re the ones who take the life boats.”

Another goth: “Midnight has cake,” she says. “That is the only difference.”

Now for a more comprehensive inventory of the similarities between downtown’s goth establishments, as gleaned from a survey taken last Saturday night.

THE ATMOSPHERE

Midnight: Orange stringed lights, seeping green light from ATM sign

Spellbound: Orange stringed lights, colored gels, custom dance-floor, televisions broadcasting fog, fog machine

(Photograph by Darrow Montgomery)

THE ATTIRE

Midnight: “There is no dress code,” says Royce. “One person’s $5 is as good as any other’s,” adding, “We encourage people to dress in black.” Spellbound, he says, is known to be a bit more finicky. “They’re a snootier group. They’re better dressed.”

Spellbound: Counters Lori Beth, “You can wear anything you want here.”

THE GOODS

Midnight: In a corner even darker than the rest of the bar, Thomas Mulvey displays his collection of imported English pewter, Nepalese rings, and Bali poison vials. “The Thor’s hammers are really popular,” says Mulvey. “There’s a decent amount of our customers who are actually followers of Thor.”

Spellbound: On a table near the back, artist and musician Steven Archer offers up charcoal drawings, paintings, CDs of band Ego Likeness, and a goth children’s book, Luna Maris. His artwork, much of it mounted on the back of old book covers, includes dragon-winged pixies, a naked man meditating, and a portrait that appears to be a white-eyed Martin Luther King, Jr. “I try to leave interpretation up to the viewer,” says Archer. “If I’ve gotten it right, most people should be able to find something in the piece.”

THE FREEBIES

Midnight: Plop down a $5 cover, then enter to win CDs from The Cruxshadows, XUBERX, and Bow Ever Down. Cake—in both chocolate and strawberry shortcake flavors—is always free at midnight. A tray of lollipops is provided for sucking.

Spellbound: Sink $7 in Spellbound, then pick up some mints and Hershey’s kisses—free of charge. Attendees can enter to win a drawing for a $50 gas card at the door.

THE REGULAR

Midnight: A woman calling herself “Kerie,” who wears a ponytail of springy metallic hair falls, a long-sleeve mesh shirt, a strategically torn black T-shirt, a corset, plaid Capri pants, combat boots, spiked wrist cuffs, Cleopatra eye makeup, blood-red lipstick, and numerous rings, attends Midnight nearly every Saturday. “They’re not as outgoing over there,” she says of Spellbound.

Spellbound: Resident DJ Philip Shade, who has DJ’d goth events at the now-defunct Nation and Chief Ike’s Mambo Room for more than a decade, insists that he’s not a poser. “My motto is DJ Shade—yes, that’s his real name!” says Shade. “I see all these DJs coming out going by names like ‘DJ Nom de Plume’ and ‘DJ Cybernetic 26.’ Sure, that name sounds cool now when you’re 23, but will it sound cool when you’re 34? I’ve learned that it won’t.”

THE LIBATIONS

Midnight: The “Black Death Shooter,” an ever-changing secret-recipe drink that always contains a blackberry liqueur.

Spellbound: The “Gothmopolitan,” a cosmo with grape-flavored vodka and Razzmataz instead of triple sec, perfect for the berry gothic. Lori Beth, however, has been known to drink a yuppier spirit: the Red Bull and vodka.

(Photograph by Darrow Montgomery)

THE DOUBLE AGENT

Midnight: Daniel Starling, a crimson-shirted, leather-panted, slender solo dancer, starts off the night at Midnight, then wanders, alone, between the scenes, stopping to move to New Order and Sisters of Mercy. “In any scene, there’s always the little political rifts,” says Starling. “This is D.C. we’re talking about.” Starling says he’s “kind of inside the scene, kind of outside the scene,” and is unsure of his future in goth. “You can’t really call something ‘goth’ anymore because you’ll just get people thinking it’s Marilyn Manson and shit like that. You get a lot of occultists, Wiccans, people who actually think they’re vampires” he says. “Those people are stuck in the ’80s.”

Spellbound: Marc Usatine, who carries a wooden staff topped by the pewter head of wine god Bacchus and sips from a chalice of Captain Morgan and Sprite, always attends both Spellbound and Midnight. Tonight, he hits Spellbound first, standing at the sidelines of the dance floor, watching. “Spellbound is a more refined taste,” he says. “Midnight is sort of prenatal.”

Later, Usatine takes back his comment. “Let me give you something to compare,” he says of the dueling nights. “There is nothing to compare.”

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