Art+Politics+History+Culture

Gothic Summer

Photo Courtesy of: JWNY 2014

If you grew up in Southern California during the 80’s and 90’s, and were exposed to street gangs and violence anywhere from San Diego to San Luis Obispo, you might have remembered that summers were some of the most violent periods. Famous gangster rappers like Snoop Dog, Ice Cube, Mack 10, and D.J. Quik all mentioned something to the effect of the oppressive summer eras, like the killing seasons in certain neighborhoods. People would hear more gun shots at night and gang members walked around their neighborhoods in the daytime wearing brown-colored gardening gloves to avoid fingerprints on their guns. The visual is so stark in my mind—bald heads, white t-shirts, shrink-to-fit Levis, white sneakers, and the ever-famous “brownies” on people’s hands. Recently I started listening to a band called “Prayers” from San Diego, who recently released an album titled “Gothic Summer.” The album itself is a trajectory of the survival mechanisms and philosophical tools needed in order to have survived such a lifestyle. In Thomas Hobbes’ Leviathan, he maintains that in a state of war, life is nasty, brutish, and short. That is the condensed version of the quote and since being part of a street gang organization is the equivalent to adopting a social contract, it couldn’t be more true for gang members.

Prayers’ front man, Rafael Reyes, has been described physically as a cross somewhere between Dave Gahan of Depeche Mode and Tupac Shakur. Short in stature, Rafael carries himself like a giant with scattered gang tattoos all over his body and the piercing eyes of someone who has endured long-term strife. And like Dave Gahan, he’s definitely the rebirth of cool with his dark sunglasses, earrings, gothic necklaces, vintage cowboy boots with intricate detail, onstage without a shirt while he dances to the sound of a minimalist, dark wave, kill wave synthesizer. The term “Cholo goth” has been thrown around for their heavy use of dark keyboard influence and contradictory street narratives that are often romantically devastating. Quite fitting and introspective for the message being conveyed. The beat maker, David Parley, looks like he stepped out of a dark romanticism-type novel and as soon as he starts playing you immediately think—Pet Shop Boys danceable, yet somber, bleak, and unsettling. It is a perfect blend of the barrio and dark wave in symbiotic union, especially for those of us exposed to both growing up.

The new video for “Gothic Summer,” takes you on a noir journey to the cemetery gates as you enter in a vintage Ford or Chevrolet pick-up as it slams onto the concrete of the underground. Reflections of palm trees and other greenery on the front windshield of the vehicle are a dire contrast of glamorous Southern California in where the topography and climate make the myth of what booster campaigns sold to the world as our main image. However, the band arrives fashionably uninvited to debunk the myth. In the lyrics to Gothic Summer, Rafael Reyes recalls an incident of getting caught slipping and getting stabbed in the face, and when a friend finds out, he engages in the cycle of revenge and now sits in prison for life being haunted by dead souls. The narrative tells of the dangers and high price paid for when you join the social contract of a street gang organization and the plague that follows. As we start a new season of bliss, those of us who were involved in prior gothic summers can put them to rest, yet we recall the age of coldness with anxiety and discomfort. Gothic Summer is this year’s anthem of dark progressivism and should be played all over Southern California radio stations to carry along the regional reality, rather than the dream of how this place was sold.

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3 Responses to “Gothic Summer”

  1. pete

    I too have always felt that summer is a more violent season….
    especially in socal.
    Just the other day early july…on my way to cvs I was a at a red light on the corner of manhattan beach blvd and hawthorne when four bald headed white tshirt wearing men in late teens early twenties got out of there car and jumped a guy sitting at the bus stop with the same description…..
    the beating went on for awhile while cars and pedestrians stopped to spectate.
    I instantly felt that old survivalist/social contract feeling…..as well anxiety,confused etc…
    Now that im older and wiser as well as a social contract survivor/survivalist I can give or speculate as to why that behaviour is more common in that age group and way of life during the summer months….I feel there are common factors in all barrios/ghettos in socal and abroad.
    Summer=
    1. Recreational activities…..
    you have the beach,promenades, supermall one stop shopping areas all easily accessible by metro. And curiosity of other areas and of course girls you are bound to run into the opposition!

    2. Less (WAR)drobe and if you aren’t tatted up and your overweight as well..you are exposed to the naked eye as less threatening hence the the idea of having something to prove is provoked. Where as if your slim with the burgundy trim and semi handsome your more likely a lover not a fighter

    3. Fruits of your labor….
    This type of demographic during the school year im assuming did not do so well in the scholastic department therefore summer is filled with anxiety and escapism (getting faded) from thoughts of whats to come next school year, am I going to graduate ,guilt trips from authority figures etc…making it even more difficult to enjoy the summer.

    All this paired with a fluctuating landscape and mindset , elevated climate, rolling in a car with no AC, lack of funds….

    Hot weather equals aggression!
    At the same time it elevates the seratonin levels in your brain due to vitamin d provided from the sun…but, when your a gangster the thought of feeling joy and having an uneventful non getting down summer …..well then?
    Do the social math!

    This of course is my humble opinion
    (dont quote me boy i aint said shit)?

    Reply
  2. rodburns1

    Okay, where do I start. It looks like you made a serious effort into thinking and writing your opinion about such a cultural phenomenon. I must admit that you have the insight to write a treatise on the WARdrobe and accessories of street gang culture and its significance throughout the street. That being said, if you are interested in formulating these ideas into a more serious study on the sociology and geographical implications of growing up in the hood, I would love to talk more about it. I wrote Urban Politics the same way, on a mere assessment of the street!

    Reply
  3. Pedro Chavez

    I would like that very much!!
    After listening to Gothic summer and watching there video…it occured to me that the difference between the old days and old ways (when shadow found out)
    Is that they are still in the DARK just Non-violently as well as othet artist who after exiting the violent gang/social contract life they consult the past for inspiration and articulating what they felt such an emotional response to such as music,graffitti,breakdance….ART

    Urban Politics is still and will be the only one of its kind….fascinating Read… The Denim of literature timeless!!
    Written from Imparical evidence as well as an assessment of the streets.

    Reply

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