Dark ages

It's not yet 10 p.m. on a desolate downtown Sunday, but Kimber Parrish is first in line outside Barbarella for "Das Maschine," the evening's carnival of dark sounds. Though she's bereft of the fright wig she wears as the Bride of Frankenstein in Universal's "Halloween Horror Nights," her own jet-black hair and matching evening dress make a purposefully spooky contrast with her milk-white skin.

"They never start on time," she giggles in excitement.

Like any good vampire, Parrish is an old soul in a young body. Only 18, she's already a three-year veteran of Orlando's deathless Goth underground. She started by sneaking into the old Club Z in Winter Park, where IDs were rarely checked. Her older friends had similar experiences at the long-gone Visage and Club Zen.

The Goth bug -- the awareness that she was, well, different -- hit her in middle school, she remembers. Among her set, such an awakening is a rite of passage ... except that few ever reach the "passage" part.

After enduring as many peaks and valleys as a Transylvanian landscape, Goth is poised for a resurgence in Orlando. And the weekly "Das Maschine" is providing the new blood.

"It's the future," affirms DJ eX (George Kolakis), a 35-year-old Melbourne Beach resident who launched the evening just over a year ago. "When we started the night, we were getting about three pages of requests -- all the typical stuff. Now we only get one page, but it's all the stuff I've been playing for the past year."

That "stuff" is industrial, the mechanical, mostly European timbres that are supplanting the old Goth's cleaner keyboards, croaking vocals and snatches of acoustic guitar. (Other styles embraced by generation eX include darkwave, a downcast cousin of synth-pop, and EBM, or "electronic body movement," a more danceable, uptempo strain.) So marked is the difference that eX prefers not to refer to his fare as "Goth" at all. But few of his constituents have a problem with the term, employing it as shorthand for a pervasive societal thread that's as much about outlook and fashion as music.

That thread takes its cues from the horrific antiheroes of literature and film, amoral predators with names like Vlad and Lucretia. But to the Goths, full-moon fever has less to do with being "bad" than simply being yourself.

"I do wear black all the time, but I don't sit at home in a dark room," says Tara Drahl, 23. For her, the appeal is an immersion in a pastime that's "totally different from everybody else's lifestyle."

"I think it's the romanticism that makes it more attractive," elaborates Sandy Torres, a writer and clubgoer who has spent several years watching Goth evolve here and across the nation.

Its Orlando subgenus, she says, is more innocent than the ones in Fort Lauderdale and Miami, which have "lots of S&M overtones. I think it's [more] puritanical here because of Disney."

Her characterization is confirmed by Julie Denicola, a 23-year-old computer programmer whose hair on club nights rises from her head like a gnarled tree. "I'm one of those diehard romantic girls," she volunteers, "but not one of those pathetic little girls."

Such is the push-and-pull on which the culture relies. For all their aloof postures, these night creatures are devoted to the ideal that their daily existences can be made more vivid through personal exaggeration and the comforting cloak of antiquity.

Knowing where to shop helps. In cyberspace, the Goths browse such online boutiques as Bone Church Gothic Clothing for brocade-hooded capes and coffin-shaped purses. In the real world, they frequent local establishments like Unity and The Freak Shoppe for jewelry and accessories, then spirit themselves to Hot Topic, a chain outlet in the Altamonte Mall whose extreme fashions make it a gloomy Gap.

The musical Mecca is Winter Park's Waxtree, a strip-mall operation that's said to provide the best selection of imports and other cutting-edge discs. "There's a wider variety of tastes," store manager Mark Snapp says of his current, "Das Maschine"-influenced clientele. "To me, that's a healthy sign."

Like many of his customers, Snapp often visits Tampa's The Castle, a nightspot regarded as Central Florida's headquarters for doom-minded listening and dancing. But ever since the club became known as "the place to see freaks," he reports, an influx of mainstream barflies has caused its playlist to become less daring.

If he's ever confronted with a similar crowd, Orlando DJ Reverend Garith says he has no intention of catering to them. The 24-year-old Fort Myers native holds down the fort on Mondays at the Blue Room's three-month-old "Salvation," and recently joined jock-of-all trades DJ Spinman Wally for the Tuesday Gothic nights at Persuasions, a gay bar in Casselberry.

Though his personal tastes run to industrial, the lanky, leather-wearing Reverend fits in vintage tunes by Bauhaus and the Cure when he can. When your caped community is in flux, flexibility is the best way to stay working.

And Garith has been working steadily for years. Originally indoctrinated into the black art of spinning by a Lestat-like mentor named DJ Guy, he had soon amassed the skills to land a gig at Club Z, which for a while was a favored hangout of Goths young and old.

When the club closed in 1998, the crowd drifted elsewhere. Some went to Barbarella (which, in addition to "Das Maschine," offers forbidding sounds in its back room on Fridays). The former owners of Club Z eventually took over the sports bar around the corner, reopening it as The Haven and offering a still-struggling Tuesday night of somber moods.

James Tucker, a trenchcoated 26-year-old habitué, is unperturbed by the music's up-and-down fortunes. "It's probably always going to be around," he opines. "It's never totally dead. It just depends on what's going on at the time."

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For proof, he points to last fall's Bauhaus reunion concert at the Carr Performing Arts Centre, which was a hot ticket among Orlando's network of witches and warlocks. The Sisters of Mercy likewise packed the House of Blues two weeks ago with a throng of old-schoolers, who lovingly inhaled the dry ice the band wafted from the stage. The fog may hover over HOB a while longer: Its publicity department acknowledges that a monthly Goth night is in the talking stages.

In tandem with "Das Maschine" and the stepped-up efforts elsewhere, those plans point to a subculture that may be approaching an infernal renaissance. It's a distinct improvement over the fallow period of 1995-98, when many Orlando Goths drifted into the then-hot rave environment and the media's obsession with "vampire cults" bestowed upon the holdouts the unfortunate stereotype of assassins-in-waiting.

"There's some rather deranged people out there listening to Kenny G," Garith ponders ... though he admits he caught Meet Joe Black just "to see Brad Pitt get hit by a bus."

Back at Barbarella, Parrish isn't acting remotely vindictive. Now safely inside, she greets her friends warmly as they pass through the front door. In her sun-deprived hands, she clutches a plush Eeyore the donkey -- a gift from a boy she likes. She smiles a lot, and with good reason: You'd grin too, if you knew you were immortal.