The Nostalgia of Subcultural Hopes - Review of 'The Nostalgia Project' by Dorian Bridges

Dorian Bridges’ ‘Millennium Gothic’, the first part of ‘The Nostalgia Project’ (which is what I’ll be referring from now on), feels like it could be whispered to you in the long hours of a smoking area: with Bridges’ personal stories, entwined together with tales from the goth scene of Birmingham in the early 200s, feels like it belongs to the intimacy of the small hours. It is best described as somewhere between and beyond a love letter, a gossip, and a funeral note.

‘The Nostalgia Project’, whilst touching on many important themes, besides my own focus here, is particularly important to me because of the connectedness it descibes. Despite, and precisely because of it, the alienation from the mainstream cultural production, Bridges weaves together an enchanting image of subcultural belonging that echo the descriptions in Poppy Z Brite’s ‘Lost Souls’, where the ‘children of the night’ are all swaying and dancing in their ragged black clothes, lost together in the beat of a song.

Bridges’ decriptions of the smoky goth clubs reveal the intimacy of these spaces, where intimacy is not just a private connection between two people, but an atmosphere, the condition for the emergence of these connections between bodies. It is the convening space of the ‘lost children’, looking for other, equally lost creatures of the night. It is a sense of the the space of the club as both public, and as private: public, because potentially, anyone could enter; it is private, because not just anyone enters. The people gathered there are conjoined by willingness to enter the spaces, a willingness for encountering each other, in ways that might be completely unexpected.

Moreover, the physicality of the world Bridges recalls spills from its every pore, like the chunky PC’s and the CD’s that contribute so importantly to ‘The Nostalgia Project’. The technology that is now so commonplace that it holds no shock value was at its infancy at the 2000s – there was a world of separation between the online and the offline, a luxury scarcely available to us now. Things seemed to pour from one to the other, where goths would exhange information precisely to change something in the offline – to find that venue to go to, or to find tutorials. The online was a place that could generate change in the ‘real world’ of the offline. This seems especially pertinent to how ‘Netgoth’ is portraid in The Nostalgia Project – a haven for the lost goths, connecting with the others.

Now, we’re incresingly circulating in the online, where a tutorial changes to a shirt, and the shirt goes back into an image to be posted as content. It is a full circle that leads back to the insulated world of online platforms, where nothing changes. Trends come and go, but the form stays the same. The online doesn’t explode to that interaction between the offline, but is simply directed towards itself, and itself only. Whilst the boredom of no available techonology might have been searing, as Bridges recalls, and isolating, the contemporary alternative certainly doesn’t seem like the promised land of freedom either.

Of course, I’m talking hyperbolically. The online is a much vaster landscape than it was twenty years ago, and platforms like TikTok, aren’t synonymous with it. Not all of it is bad, either – I’m sure as hell thankful for it, as I wouldn’t be writing this review without online access. However, there is a real change in the operation of the online that is visible in these platforms, and that is commodification. The ‘online’ is experienced through centralised platforms, where every move you make is another coin in the piggy bank of some corporation – and potentially to yours, as well. Therefore, every confession, every joke, every outfit picture, is potentially a product. Everything second spent there is money. And that is the difference of the online now and then.

This comparison of the landscapes of the online worlds reminds us why ‘Nostalgia Project’ is a tale of loss - the nostalgia of the project harks back to an bygone era, like the prologue’s musing on the death of the 2000s that laces the whole book to come with a bittersweet taste of eulogy. It warns you, that what you’re about to read, is dead.

It is the mourning of spaces, and their intimacy, that hits the hardest for me. All of the clubs that Bridges describes are gone - there are a handful goth ‘nights’ at small venues, and you might hear the occasional track in a ‘rock bar’, but the venues dedicated to the subculture are, without a doubt, gone. Instead, we have clubs that play the same 2010’s tunes because of the nostalgic hit the drunken 20-somethings get from them, everywhere you go. The tyranny of the ‘cater for everyone’ has trumped any sort of ability to focus, or to specialise, because the more customers, the more profit. Indeed, as much as I despise quoting Baudrillard, it seems apt to describe this as the ‘the hell of the same’ of late capitalism. Everywhere, same music – same tunes, same feelings, same people. Does there exist a remarkable distinction between any two clubs?

What this has robbed us from is the alternative sense of belonging and kinship that is so precious in Bridges’ tale – no one in the goth clubs is looking to settle down with mortgages payments, washing machines, cars, a TV. No one is choosing life in the club. Or, as Jack Halberstam characterises it, domestic passivity. But, like Halberstam’s critique of the macho anarchism of Trainspotting, what follows isn’t a complete abandonment of any hope for solidarity or future. Instead, were shown that at least some of the relations forged in the depths of the clubs can face the day with love and hopefulness for a future together that doesn’t dwindle into the nuclear family drama.

After all of this bemoaning of loss, I’ll profess to what I believe to be the final nail on the coffin: goth is dead. As trendy and annoying it is to announce something to be ‘dead’, I don’t mean to invoke the logic of development, where we can wave goodbye to goth as it was, and cheerfully move on to the next thing. Nor do I mean to say, evoking the air of an aged elitist, that goth just ‘isn’t like it used to be’, and hence, is dead. No. I mean goth is dead, and what we’re tending to is a ghost. That is the testament of ‘The Nostalgia Project’.

Risking annoyance, the ghost I’m referring to is in the spirit, and not necessarily faithfully so, the once oh-so-popular concept of hauntology, as it appears in Jacques Derrida’s writing, and later became widely associated with Mark Fisher’s writing. For Derrida, and Fisher, the ghost is a virtual existence that disrupts the present and disjoints time. It’s virtuality is due to its non-existence – the ghost, in fact, is only an effect. It doesn’t exist either in the past nor in the present, but tracks the present to haunt it – it is an effect of things gone by. Therefore, it disjoints, as it doesn’t let the past ‘remain past’, but neither does it become present. It is a haunting, always both in the past and in the present.

The goth that we now know persists as a recollection of the past, which the contemporary goths invoke. We listen to Bauhaus and Siouxsie Sioux in our closed-off rooms as an invocation, a channelling of the spirit of the ghostly Goth, whilst imagining ourselves onto the promised land of the 80s or the 90s – or on to the beginning of the ruination of the 2000s, the scenes of ‘The Nostalgia Project’, filled with smoke and music and weirdly dressed friends.What we imagine is the possibility of a goth community, beyond some subreddits and TikTok, existing in the wilderness of the world.

What we’re imagining is a connection that isn’t algorithmically determined and kept at the safe distance of a screen. What we’re imagining is the possibility of some fateful boy appearing and leaving us with the gift of a phone number, like Bridge’s beautiful description of meeting Ash. That magic of random encounters, and all the places it could take us.

Having all of this said, I don’t mean to imply that the picture of ‘goth community’ in The Nostalgia Project is perfect – far from it. The scenes of ‘The Nostalgia Project’ do not promise its subcultures to have existed beyond culture, and its forms of social power, neither do they exist beyond capitalism, but are lodged in and condtioned by them to different extents. Neither do I insist that you find the happy image of a ‘community’ that you’d be christened to solely on the attribute of being goth. The point, then, is not to mourn the loss of some imagined immaculate anti-capitalist queer goth heaven that existed solely in Birmigham in the early 2000’s.

Rather, what we have lost is an impetus, a drive, towards something. The nostalgia of ‘The Nostalgia Project’ alerts us to register the loss of some potential there was to explode the world and create intimacies within the hellscape of late capitalism, to harness the potentialities within it to do something different. That life wasn’t just about learning how to do ‘corp goth’ and taking pictures of your outfit. The nostalgia, then, is not only a fond remembering, but an urgent request to the ‘us’, the invokers of the ghost of Goth; it is the promise to the ‘us’, who are without a light in the gossipy smoking area of ‘The Nostalgia Project’.