Crush(ed) with Eyeliner
I hang with the Doors crowd like the alt-poser I am, and feel right at home among the wannabe rockers.
Alternative: something I used to pretend to be in high school. I was a scene kid before scene kids existed, a poser with one seldom-played Marilyn Manson CD and a collection of secondhand copies of NME, from which I would memorize random facts about the Sex Pistols and Nine Inch Nails to impress my poser friends, even though none of us had really heard the music of either group. These days, although I have actually listened to the whole Never Mind the Bollocks, I’m very comfortable with my preference for Crosby Stills & Nash, and spend more time in coffee shops than I do in laddered tights. I’m not an alternative girl. I have a collection of show tunes that would sustain the gay community of Cape Town well into the apocalypse, and I think Nirvana is overrated to say the least.
Still, the wild alterity and fuck-you-I-won’t-do-what-you-tell-me attitude of alternative culture hasn’t entirely lost its appeal. I wondered how much had changed since my former glory days of alternative posing, and whether I would be shocked by the outrageousness of alternative kids these days, were I to revisit the scene with innumerable years of experience behind me, and an attitude of healthy indifference. I would be an outsider, after all - an objective eye casting a raised eyebrow on alternative culture and the quality of the alternative experience in Jo’burg.
I decided to begin at the beginning - the granddaddy of alternative nightclubs in Jo’burg - The Doors nightclub. The Doors Nightclub began thirty-odd years ago in Marshalltown in Johannesburg CBD. Described on the Facebook group page as a "psychedelic rock of sanctuary in the heart of late eighties and early nineties downtown Jo’burg, with its own eccentric mix of goth, punk, skin and ska poetry, The Doors Nightclub was a genuine urban legend of the Jo’burg underground". A legend indeed. The club was one of the main venues, along with Glass Onion, Icon and the famous punk venue Club Double Image, which sprang up as underground culture emerged in what were still the bad old days of a conservative South Africa. Sadly, like most of the establishments in Marshalltown, the venue did not survive the degeneration of the inner city and the club moved to Edenvale in the mid 90s.
I have had many a good time at Doors, but what I realized tonight was that all of those times hinged on one thing: my being entirely wasted. A friend used to work the door at Doors and she would stamp my arm and stuff my palm full of drinks comps every Tuesday night, which would almost guarantee my enjoyment of the evening. Also, my taste in music and company back then was about as discerning as my choice of free drinks (apple sours and double rum and cokes being the refreshment of choice). Like I said, good times.
Tonight’s score of Total Alternative Points is calculated based on the overall hardcoreness of the establishment minus the amount of times The Cure is played.
20:45 Arrive at Doors
The Doors Nightclub is situated on a debaucherous little strip of road, along with some corner-cafes, a Burgerland Roadhouse and a strip joint called The Max X, in Edenvale, East of Johannesburg. For everyone unfamiliar with this particular area, we are deep in Ford Cortina country here.
At the front of the non-existent line (we’ve arrived way too early), we are rebuffed by a morbidly obese bouncer, let’s call him Steve, for bringing a digital camera, which we are instructed to leave in the car. (Maybe he felt like they didn’t have enough time to tidy up for us, maybe the squeak of my newly unwrapped Dr Martens made him think that we were narcotics agents, or maybe they didn’t want any photos of twelve year olds being served alcohol emerging on the internet). Apparently Steve still uses a Nokia 5110 and is not aware that cell phones take pictures, so I took photos of the inside of this establishment on my phone. Suck it, tubs.
Anyway, what Steve lacked in people skills, the door ladies made up for in slow-wittedness. They suggested that entrance was free with a valid student card, but an expired student card from 2004 worked just as well as they didn’t seem to notice the discrepancy between the people in the gawky student card photos taken almost a decade ago, and the older, fatter, significantly more cynical specimens before them.
At least the drinks were cheap. And if there’s one other thing I can say for The Doors, it’s that the bar staff and cleaning people work damn hard. The facilities are always clean and I don’t have to wait at the bar till I’m sober to get another drink.
21:15 Marilyn Manson - Antichrist Superstar
"Grungy" in the literal sense, Doors is the kind of establishment that should not be seen in the stark light of day. A collage of alt artists grace the wall-to-wall black and white mural, Jim Morrison taking centre stage among a host of his compatriots: Kurt Cobain, Mick Jagger, Nick Cave and...wait, is that...Michael Jackson? Apparently my definitions of ’alternative’ may need to be slightly broadened.
We pour our cheap beers into plastic cups and take our conversation about the changing nature of Metal and its sub-genres to the rooftop, where we form the ’Manson Rule’, which holds that on hearing the third Manson song of the evening, one should always call it a night.
21.30 The Cure - A Forest (lose 1X Alt Point)
The metalcore kids in Iron Maiden shirts are getting dropped off outside by their moms.
21.45 Korn - Coming Undone
From the balcony, we can also see a couple in their car arranging some white powder on a mirror. Probably nothing, but I take it as a sign that pretty soon, the goth brigade is going to storm this place and we are all going to be swept up in a wave of interpretive dance that will blow my mind. Probably on the very next song.
22.00 Marilyn Manson - Mobscene
Okay, the song after this, for sure.
22:15 Slipknot - Blister Exists
I’m fairly convinced that I once met Ron Jeremy here. It was probably him. 100% maybe. Leaning over the balcony to watch the comings and goings of those on Van Riebek Ave, it strikes me that I cannot really tell the difference between the patrons of The Doors and those of The Max X. Both groups have an unusually large group of single males, and both a penchant for tribal tattoos and New Rocks (which, I was under the apparently-false impression, were the victims of a fashion double suicide in the early 90s).
Rammstein’s Du Hast sends a group of young girls to the dancefloor, squealing and drinking Brutal Fruits, where they dance provocatively to the song, which, Google tells me, is a play on German wedding vows.
22:30 The Killers - Somebody Told Me
In the line for the bathroom, I notice a girl with a lip ring. "Nice piercing," I say, "do you have to hide it at school?" She laughs and unclips the silver ring. "It’s fake. But I’m getting a real one as soon as I’m finished matric this year" she assures me.
I know something is wrong when, while listening in on the teenage drama unfolding in the bathroom stall next to mine, I hear a song I know. The Killers? Surely not. They’ve been on Highveld Stereo, for the love of Christ. What next, pop punk?
22:35 Good Charlotte - Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous
Even I know this isn’t cool. And what makes it worse is that almost everyone in here has mobbed the dance floor to live out their fantasy of playing air guitar in a band where the members wear a lot of eyeliner.
As I look around me at the mixed-bag of Doors patrons, I see not only the stereotypical long-haired, black-clad, dog-collared metal heads (in fact, I see very few of those) but also an array of golf shorts and even a couple of pastels. I wonder how many of these Nirvana shirts were purchased before Cobain offed himself. I wonder whether the wearers of Tool merch are aware of the ironic implications of a slogan shirt that just says ’Tool’.
There are a couple of girls here in heels, and when I mention that it should be interesting to see them moshing later, someone clarifies that moshing is no longer acceptable on this dance floor, but enthusiasm is apparently rewarded with "Champagne" giveaways. I didn’t think alternative kids cared much for Champagne. I thought they wanted to partake in sex, drugs and loud distorted music until they puked, and then set themselves alight and do it all again, but on fire.
Rock ’n’ roll... ’n’ surfing.
23:20 Seether - Fake It
I take a minute to mull this all over against the backdrop of the music. The music - ostensibly the rhetoric that unites this group of people. Dancing conservatively to metal (or, perhaps in this case "metal"). Doesn’t seem right, does it? Isn’t the whole alternative ethos all about fucking shit up? I watch an out-of-place middle aged man in a pinstriped, collared shirt at the bar, clinging to the vestiges of youth, knocking back too-expensive drinks with his free, Rolexed arm and chatting up a girl in a Catholic school uniform type getup. I can’t help but wonder how this crowd is alternative, exactly; how they’re different from the crowd you’d find at any club on a Saturday night. They’re behaving badly, but not too badly, the DJ equalizes the music when it’s too loud, there’s no moshing allowed and generally, things all seem under control. On Monday morning, everyone will put on their grey polyester, remove their clip-on piercings, and go back to their IT jobs, their schools, their lives as average, obedient citizens. When the DJ plays Bullet With butterfly Wings, and I hear the familiar lyrics ’despite all my rage, I am still just a rat in a cage’, it does seem sort of apt.
23.51 Marilyn Manson - I Don’t Like The Drugs (But the Drugs Like Me)
Manson again. I’m afraid we have to call it.
The Doors may have been among the originators of alternative venues in Johannesburg, but the hole-in-the-wall we visited tonight was very mainstream indeed. Perhaps the granddaddy of all alt venues is just showing its age. Or maybe alternative culture itself is just more mainstream than ever, and the meaning of the movement has changed. There are at least a dozen other alternative venues in Johannesburg, and one of those must have more to offer than The Doors. If the alt kids are out there, I’m going to find them.