With gloomy skies above, the heavens wept on those who approached Reelworks in Denver on June 29th to attend the 8th Annual Goth Prom. There could not have been a more appropriate welcome given to the creatures of the night in attendance, as all the performances that evening were filled with the same kind of raw (emotional) release.


The Setting: A “New Dimension”

As I crossed the threshold and was given my wristband, I was greeted with an entryway that was filled to the brim with horror kitsch, but constructed in such a way as to mimic exactly what a high school prom would look like.

From floor to ceiling, the walls were decorated with ghost-white sheets that had been overcome by spiders and their webs; the skeleton candelabras in this area were also a nice touch. There were also giant spiders in the corners that helped aid the luminescent candles that had been placed on the floor in guiding you toward the ticket taker. After that, you entered a completely new dimension.

Given that the first thing I encountered once entering the main floor was a woman in a white police officer’s hat, wearing an incredibly skimpy black pleather onesie that was accentuated by Beetlejuice-striped flourishes, all while walking by on six-foot stilts, I believe “new dimension” is definitely the most fitting description.

On my immediate left was the larger, main stage. Jutting out on both sides of the stage were additional black boxes where dancers could be seen dancing between the sets of the main acts to the myriad of goth subgenres that various DJs would play through the night. Beyond the dance area on stage left is where the vendors began.

Around the entire circumference of the venue (minus the bar areas), were about seven or eight vendors that sold various sundries. These vendors could also be found on the outside smoking patio that shared space with a taco truck. The items being sold included eyewear, S&M gear, body jewelry, and prom photos. The inside “vendor row” was also where Aurelio Voltaire’s merch table could be found; where, as is customary at every show, he spent the entire time meeting his fans before hitting the stage.

Also, it’s important to note that even with this amount of real estate being occupied, because Reelworks can hold up to 3,500 people, once the sold-out crowd was at capacity, the entire place became a complete sea of humanity.

After I arrived, I had to use the venue’s gender-neutral restroom. This was another element to the prom that was missing from the ones held at the high school I attended in Rock Springs, Wyoming—tolerance. Between all restrooms being gender-neutral, and the fact that the entire rooftop of Reelworks had a Pride Flag hanging from a pole every 10 feet, the concept of acceptance was everywhere.

Once I returned, the show began …


Dancing on the Darkwave Edge

Because all the dancers were sprinkled throughout the show, I’m including my favorite performances here, in one area.

Taking a break from his DJ duties to become the night’s MC, Julian Black introduced the first act of the evening—the goth dancers.

First up was Anna Volak. As the DJs continued to play the steady rhythms that accompanied their various choices of dance-goth music, Volak entranced the audience with a gypsy-infused belly dance that utilized bowls of fire that had been strategically placed in her palms. With her arms weaving as she crossed the stage, the fire became more like a dance partner than a prop. As the fire went out, so did the music. Once the last notes faded out, a separate set of lights exploded from the back of the venue, exposing a second stage that had been constructed under the balcony area.

Alice Sin was introduced and began to perform a goth burlesque striptease. Her performance was captivating, and all eyes were glued to her for the entire duration of her dance. Tasteful, yet incredibly dark, it had all the hallmarks of what great goth titillation can look like.

Though Alice Sin was a show-stealer for sure, my favorite act of the second stage came from the combination of Rui, Alana, and 37 Frets. As rhythmic electronica played, 37 Frets masterfully played an emotional guitar solo while Alana was bound by hooked piercings in her back and suspended from the ceiling. Upon being secured, she was swung in circles by Rui. Bondage and emotional music; how could you have a goth prom without such elements?


Vision Video

As soon as Vision Video guitarist/vocalist Dusty Gannon strummed his guitar and welcomed everyone to Goth Prom 2024, the venue became a source of electricity; the crowd, the monster, was alive. And it was going to stay this way through the duration of their set.

From the opening song “Cruelty Commodity” to the last notes of “In My Side,” the sounds of goth-dance-infused post-punk grabbed everyone in the crowd and refused to let go. With a sound that rings of a combination including The Smiths (minus the pretentiousness), Joy Division, and “Flowers of Evil”-era Ulver, their music is replete with beautifully melancholic melodies.

Oddly enough, as beautiful as their music is, the lyrics are a completely different beast. When you read the lyric sheet, you begin to wonder if they hired Jello Biafra as a lyricist.

With topics like imperialism (“Normalized”), and war (“Kandahar”) not being typical lyrical fodder for artists who play a somewhat pop-infused form of goth, it’s possible to think this combination could only lead to disaster. However, Gannon’s ability to use the darkest elements of his life—namely fighting in Afghanistan—and turn them into beautiful art is the core of what being goth is.

To really solidify this point, Gannon performed another act that is often attributed as a core ingredient to the goth movement: metaphorically ripping himself open and spilling out every emotion (onto the stage).

Not only did his stage banter tell the story of a man deeply impacted by his time fighting in a losing battle in another world, but he also explained what we could do politically to change the world around us into a better place. Each song’s introduction was a call to arms to help propel those who support individuality and human rights to the top of the political food chain, all while taking hard shots at the old guard who has been in charge for far too long.

But even the darkest of souls can have a heart … Gannon loves cats.

In the middle of the set, right before going into the song “I Love Cats,” Gannon had everyone in the audience grab their phones and pull up the best picture of their kitty. And whoever had the cutest kitty, he would give them a treat to take home to give to their feline friend. Though the song itself is about online hate, it was nice to have this moment of levity.

Another moment during their set that was a highlight came when keyboardist/vocalist Emily Fredock took center stage as lead vocalist to perform “Comfort In The Grave.” Not only was it a great track that showcased Fredock’s vocal style incredibly well, but her infectious energy as a frontwoman cannot be denied.

In fact, from start to finish there was never a time when Gannon, Fredock or drummer Ryan (a.k.a. Count Rackula) wasn’t giving every ounce of energy they had. And though I thought they’d surely be winded by the time they ended their set with the high-energy “In My Side,” I was proven wrong; they never stopped giving 110%.

Though it was just recently that I was introduced to this band, their live show has quickly solidified them as a new favorite.


Aurelio Voltaire

Before headliner Aurelio Voltaire hit the stage to end the night’s festivities, promoters/founders AJ Ritual of Ritual Noize Entertainment and Desiree Albee of Albee Damned Productions drew from a raffle bucket to determine the Prom Royalty. After they were brought on stage and given intricate, custom-made crowns and an official sash, they were whisked away to a special VIP section so the “Goth Daddy” could properly send us off to be with the bats of the night.

With this being the fourth time I’ve seen Voltaire, I’m utterly convinced that it is only he who can do such a thing properly.

A Voltaire show is an event. It’s not just about the music, it’s not just about the humorously spooky atmosphere he provides, and it’s not just about the very personal stories he shares about the inspirations behind his music—it’s about combining all those elements into a completely (dark) magical experience.

When it comes to the music, it’s a true goth lover’s buffet. From the set opener “The Last Halloween Party” forward, each song took the audience on its own little adventure. Though all his music carries with it the certain melancholy undertones that is associated with goth music, every tune adds something different.

For example, with “Brains,” you’re going to be thrown into a goth-swing revival. Whereas with a song like “It’s Always Wednesday,” it’s pure pop-goth bliss. And when you add in the fact that a Voltaire show features just him and an acoustic guitar, you get to fully realize the power of the songwriting uncluttered.

Like Gannon’s between-song banter, Voltaire’s is filled with personal, pain-filled stories of isolation and how they impacted both him as a person and as an artist. However, unlike Gannon, Voltaire uses humor in his stories to punctuate the absurdity of what happened to him, allowing for a somewhat softer blow. Always self-aware and self-deprecating, there’s no way you can go to a Voltaire show and not find yourself busting up laughing for at least a time or two.

It was this humor that helped offset some of the darker moments during Voltaire’s set. This was especially true during “Feathery Wings” when, by the time it was over, he had become weepy due to its content.

Other set highlights included the viral sensation “The Night,” “The Skeleton Dance,” and “Raised By Bats.”

At the end of the night, as is tradition at a Voltaire show, he enlisted the services of the “Beelzebub Philharmonic Orchestra of Denver” for the song “When You’re Evil.” This basically meant that any audience member who wanted to, could go up on stage and sing the chorus to the song. Since this was my fourth go-around and I had never become a member previously, I figured it was my time to shine.

Singing incredibly off-key while backing a legend in the goth community on one of the biggest nights of the year for that same community … I can’t imagine it ending any better.

With Goth Prom being in the books, I’m hoping that the one refrain shared repeatedly by both Voltaire and Gannon during their sets will stay with everyone in attendance—that in order for the scene to stay alive, events like Goth Prom need to flourish through the continued support of the community. All I can say is this: if Goth Prom is the standard of what an audience can expect, then I see the scene lasting for many, many years.