Happy Black Goth Appreciation Day! Several years ago, this was originally created on Dining with Dana in the form of a short article. Over time, however, it has taken on a new dimension as black goths of all backgrounds have contributed in their own way. This year, we would like to go beyond a one-time article and extend it into a series. This will allow us to truly immerse ourselves into the lives of creatives we chose to focus on for this holiday.
What is Black Goth Appreciation Day?
Every June 21st we take the time to appreciate the progress people have made within the scene. From those who paved the path to young bats taking each other under their wings, it is important to acknowledge the variety within black narratives. We tell our own stories, put our own ideas into action. Shortly after Juneteenth, Black Goth Appreciation Day is an international celebration started on the web, with the goal of live events in the future. Each puts their own spin on it. We are simply here to uplift voices.
Okandi: The Disco Dancer’s (Un)dead
This year, we are excited to host Tobias Okandi, creator of O. Children, art installations, independent music, forefront activist in the alternative scene. Here, he takes time out to give us his definition of goth and how it has helped him make an impact on our racialized world, pushing him to dismantle the colonizer’s constructs.
Could you tell us a bit about yourself? How did your upbringing affect who you are today? Could you describe the culture you grew up under?
I don’t even really know where to start. I was born in London UK and have been living here independently since the age of 15. I grew up pretty displaced from my family due to an assassination attempt on my father (he was a Nigerian diplomat at one point in time – it happens), meaning we had to pretty much split up when I was very young. I’m the youngest of 5 and there’s about a 10 year gap between myself and my siblings. They also grew up in Nigeria (where we’re from originally) and the United States, whereas I primarily grew up in the UK around a load of white people (in boarding schools), so culturally I’d say we’re worlds apart. The key link in our relationship is definitely our parents and the lessons they taught us on how to move and survive in the western world. They’re the special type of African immigrants who just have all the answers, even though they make you work for them – they taught me resilience and how to read between the lines. All that free game came in handy soon after I started O. Children. I was in a very unique position where I’d become a ‘black goth’ – kinda on accident – and also become an illegal immigrant all in the space of 2 years. Backstory here, (https://www.thelineofbestfit.com/features/interviews/o-children-99265) but basically at the height of my success with O. Children the UK government claimed I had overstayed my visa in the UK, put me in a prison cell for a week awaiting deportation to Nigeria – a country I’d never even been in – and I spent the next 10 years trying to survive in the UK while being legally unable to work, travel or have access to welfare benefits or outside help. Only music. It’s basically what they tried to do to 21 Savage. It was a pretty crazy hustle which involved a lot of code-switching, networking and experimentation, but I managed to make a living out of music regardless – thanks in part to the advice my parents gave me growing up and also thanks to me realizing myself through experimentation, self-expression, self-care, leading with love and writing dope songs! Only thing is because I had to do everything under the radar I never got my full credit or my roses – a tale similar to countless black musicians, (goth and beyond). To go into detail would take way too much of your time, I’ll save it for a book. All I’ll say is that I’m very proud of the way O. Children – a project that had to be shelved after I got hit by a car, lost my brother and had a nervous breakdown a couple of years back – has organically reached the ears of millions of listeners worldwide regardless of all the setbacks – especially when the second album Apnea is all about racial injustice and prejudice. It’s karmic.
Let’s get some history on O. Children:
How did it start?
All my projects are intended to be art installations. I started a band/art-project called ‘Bono Must Die’ at 15 and it was basically a huge troll. The intention was to highlight the gatekeepers of the at the time very ‘indie’, very white UK alternative music scene. Think U2, The Killers, The Libertines, The Strokes – all good bands in their own right – but not a black face in sight apart from Bloc Party. That always irked me so I decided to write a bunch of songs essentially ‘dissing’ the elite. It was inspired by hip-hop culture, as I always wondered why indie bands and mainstream musicians never embraced ‘beef’. To me it’s a valid and competitive artform as long as it never escalates to murder (RIP Biggie, Tupac, Pop Smoke). Anyway, we made waves in the UK till I got sued by literal Bono from U2 and had to change the name. This was fine because a lot more black voices (myself included) were being played on UK radio so I knew my work was done so it was time for a new thing.
After BMD I found myself as the only black artist in a blossoming east London art-post-punk/goth/rave scene by accident simply because I liked the music. You’d hear skinny puppy, birthday party, the cure, klaxons, metal, drum-n-bass, techno etc next to up-and-coming black UK artists like Skepta, Wiley, Jme and a host of others. Mainstream media called it ‘New Rave’ and clowned it but it was truly a thing of beauty and ahead of its time in terms of musical unity and diversity. After a hazy late-night afterparty conversation with a member of new-rave-goth-band The Horrors (who shall remain nameless) – in which we debated goth being a predominantly white genre, and whether it’s a style of music I could make as well as them – I basically started O. Children from my bedroom overnight to prove a point. I’ve never told anyone this version of the story before.
Why did it stop? Tell us a bit about your personal music journey and where you’ve moved on.
It stopped because people in my life stopped paying attention. It’s really that simple. O. Children would have been huge if I didn’t go through all my legal issues, which in turn turned into mental/self-esteem issues. I was deeply depressed my entire time being in O. Children because I felt like a prisoner in the UK. I just didn’t realize it until much later. I essentially had a nervous breakdown after Album 2 and no one took notice. A few years after that album release my brother died and I got hit by a car – on top of all my immigration woes – so I spent a lot of time recovering, grieving and generally getting better. I figured we could just pick up where we left off afterward but that wasn’t the case. Instead, I was told that I had become ‘a liability’ to labels, publishers, bookers etc and the people that were riding for me when things were good disappeared. My managers tried their best, but ultimately when it was time to keep the fire burning, they had moved on. So I decided to do the same. I couldn’t legally work so I just made friends. Essentially using the tools my Nigerian parents laid out for me when I was younger – lead with love, shed ego, and know yourself. That mentality opened many doors for me which saw me writing for, and with a lot of established musicians and producers and getting paid ‘under the table’ so to speak. Basically I’m a ghostwriter for a lot of people’s favourite songs but I can’t go into that for about a year as I’ve still got a case pending. Anyway, that was me for a few years. Self-expression, therapy, self-care and ghostwriting. Then I met my now fiance, we had our daughter together within 6 months and now I’m chilling, writing songs and not chasing anything but peace and unity through the healing power of art.
We see you have a family now. How have they influenced your music and what do they think of your past in O. Children?
They’ve allowed me to know myself fully and to be myself. As mentioned earlier I always felt displaced, like I didn’t belong. The reason there’s a 10 year gap between myself and the rest of my siblings is because – after my 3 brothers and 1 sister – I was low-key never even meant to be born. That always stayed with me and I guess was compounded by my legal issues and the fact that I was alone in the UK thousands of miles away from my actual family. For that reason I always treated the, predominantly white, people around me, in my professional life like my real life family. I tried to raise them the way I would have liked to be raised – always. That’s why it hurt extra when they dipped. Luckily with my very own actual family I’m the happiest I’ve ever been and I say that with full black goth confidence. I wrote a whole song about it, which apparently people cry to on the regular (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_34OeBJF5RE). I appreciate that!
Back to the band, what was the dynamic between you and the other members?
We were always cool with each other. We barely had any issues and if there were any they were squashed quickly. I always made it very clear I was the boss though and I think that rubbed some people the wrong way. eg. When I released ‘Blessed’ (still a demo to this day) it was supposed to be released as nothing more than a tribute to my new family and the birth of my daughter. That song technically has parts played by a former O. Children member, who I always thought I was cool with. I basically took him out of a gross college dorm and put him up in my own home because he was a talented but depressed and suicidal goth who had just been dumped. I put him in the band I formed and gave him full credit for every single line I wrote – credit which he took in full – no questions asked. In reality I wrote and played 95% of the material over both O. Children albums. Anyway, I told him of my intention to release said song, and asked for permission to release it months before its release, which he agreed on, only to return to me after said release with hate in his heart, claiming he had not been credited or informed of my intention…when he very clearly had. During our conversation he told me (unsolicited) that we were never really friends for all those years and we left it at that. All I could do was explain to him that he has been eating off me and my art for the last 10 years, laugh, and tell him to relax. He didn’t invite me to his wedding. It’s fine. I forgive him.
You made a huge footprint on the goth scene in 2010. Why do you think your music is classic today? Do you feel nostalgic for that era?
It’s because O. Children is ‘goth’ in the truest sense of the word. While I’m not exactly the poster-child of goth, aesthetically – no pentagrams, bats, skulls, BnW tights, creepers, or eyeliner in sight (anymore), I was basically born goth. I bleed big black goth pain, based on my life experiences and I write them down and turn them to song. In my eyes goth isn’t so much ‘Release The Bats’ as it is ‘Pictures Of You’. To me goth is pure emotion – dark emotion. That’s why when a trad-goth gatekeeper (a black one especially…[anon]) tells me on twitter that they will ‘keep me out of the subculture’ because I also happen to know how to make hip-hop music, and throws dirt on my name I can’t help but laugh once again. Screamin-Jay Hawkins invented goth, because he was trying to convey his emotions in HIS own way as a pioneering black artist. People don’t really pay attention to that. I was just trying to do what he did! And continue to – to this day.
What was the meaning behind the lyrics of Dead Disco Dancer?
It’s literally about white industry (not white people – there’s a big difference) co-opting black music any chance they get since the beginning of time and using it to demonize black artists while raising and celebrating white ones in an unbalanced environment. It upholds systemic racism and kills a lot of black artists in the process either through violence or mental health lapses. I’ve been saying this since Bono Must Die, and O. Children was literally inspired by a conversation about black voices in goth spaces. ‘They’re trying to find his essence, so they’re digging up his grave…‘ is probably the line that says it best. The disco dancer is myself and any black/marginalised goth or artist who feels like they are marginalised I guess. Also a pretty crazy side note, everything that I wrote about in that song 10 years ago ended up happening to me in real life, except instead of being ‘found at the tracks with a bullet in his head’, I ended up being found on the side of the road bleeding out after being run over. Wild.
If you could go back and change anything about the band’s journey, what would it be?
God so much. Hindsight is a beautiful thing, but I also feel like there’s not much point dwelling on the past. It’s all love and I love them all. What I am proud of is that I had the wherewithal to understand the importance of ownership and independence as an artist even back then. I signed a very good deal back then which means that I can celebrate the humble success that my back catalogue is seeing today without bitterness or regrets – and with a clear conscience! I strongly advise all artists, of all colours, to do the same.
What is your opinion on current post-punk and goth rock?
It’s dope. Just, more of them need to put more black artists on. There’s a meme going around as I type of this with the sarcastic headline “GOTH IS NOT FOR BLACK PEOPLE” – which then goes on to feature myself as well as many other prominent black goth artists (I’m next to Shannon Funchess – a dream come true!) I appreciate it and it’s dope to be a meme – it’s just ideally I want to see people of colour in the goth scene in actual places of power and not just as lap-dogs to the current gatekeeper (aka color-keeper) mindset or a by-line because Black Lives suddenly Matter again. I’m talking more than a handful black and p.o.c goth artists side-by-side with icons, and furthering the blueprint in publications and on blogs. That way we hopefully see true progress and these black goth kids will not need to keep DMing me on IG asking how they can be playlisted, only to be shocked when I tell them I, as an independent black goth artist, can’t get playlisted myself. Also the conversation surrounding goth-rap or rap-goth is so tired. I don’t understand what twitter goths are so mad at all the time.
Mainstream audiences often likened you to Joy Division for lack of other musical references. How would you describe your vocals?
I’m just a black artist with a deep voice who can sing his ass off.
Could you bring us behind the scenes and discuss what the public didn’t see the band go through?
- Immigration/prisoner trauma + PTSD
- Playing during a political uprising/riot in Bulgaria
- Playing during a political uprising/ riot in Ukraine
- Literally fighting racists in Moscow, Ekaterinburg
- Hanging out with Pussy Riot in Moscow/London
- The time I kicked everyone out of the studio, banned them for a week and finished Apnea myself
- My slow descent into madness
- Band-groupie mentality nonsense
- My constant cheating
- Drug Addiction
‘O. Children’ was actually originally meant to be named after myself (last name Okandi) but white people told me would be better if we said it was named after Nick Cave.
Never once had a shout-out from Nick Cave.
More about yourself:
You talk openly about your mental health. How have you juggled mental illness with a family and career?
I believe in the healing power of art and have always used music and art as a form of ‘free therapy’. Still, once I found out I was going to become a father unexpectedly, I basically pulled all my resources together and got myself a therapist. I wanted to be on a steady page mentally for the new task ahead. Essentially be the best version of a ‘black father’ I could ever be. It’s been life-changing and I urge all black artists to consider therapy if they have access to it. Diminished mental health is still very much stigmatized in our community, even though I personally believe it is a major factor in the advancement of all humans regardless of race, creed colour or scene.
Any upcoming projects we should know about?
I’m currently working on an ongoing collaborative art installation called ‘Hanging On Your Wave’. It’s inspired by my only official solo release to date ‘Devil I Know’ – which is a song about leading with love and shedding ego in a bid to destroy ‘The White Devil’™ (institutions of power which hold us all down while using black and poc as scapegoats – not white people). It’s basically a continuation of Bono Must Die – a disruptive art installation which combines music, art, academia and psychology with my emotionally charged, unfiltered takes to highlight psychological congress between blackness and art within the creative industry – and the politics therin. It’s purely about black art and not politics. Any credence to politics is just a by-product of the current unsustainable human condition (racism). I’m currently in the first phase where I adopt the role of the ‘angry black stereotype’ / lie and use that to call out overt racism, ignorance and performative allies on my socials (Instagram mainly) in the wake of the ongoing #BlackLivesMatter protests. I’m basically trolling for good as opposed to evil and I ask my white followers (or #Colonizers) to donate if they have learnt anything about checking their privilege/covert racist tropes. It’s been going on for just over a week and myself and my partner have raised quite a lot of money ($2000+) for various BLM-adjacent charities so far – off a pretty ridiculous concept, that kinda likes a bit like fin-dom… (https://okandimusic.bandcamp.com/merch/okandi-x-hanging-on-your-wave). We hope to do a lot more. I urge people to check it out as there will be some pretty exciting updates regarding all of it soon, I hope.
Words for aspiring black artists?
Never settle for less. Never be tokenized. Never ever sell yourself short at the whim of people in ‘power’. It takes time to know yourself, but once you finally get there and the burden placed upon you by your oppressor (real or imagined) is lifted, it is a truly freeing experience and you and your art can move mountains. There could never be a better time. Do something great and exceed expectations.
Where can we find your work?
Lastly, what are your thoughts on current protests and Black Lives Matter? Do not hesitate to voice your honest opinion at length.
They’re mostly depressing, sometimes uplifting but ultimately unsurprising. The second I heard the world was going into a ‘lockdown’ I turned to my partner and said word for word, “They better not kill a n***a during all this or else the world might burn.” I’m not psychic, I don’t know all the answers. I am just black. I do know that I am with every black person actively making their voices heard whether it be in the streets or online. All forms of protest are valid. I also understand that LOUD support for the Black Lives Matter movement now (and the protestors therein) means a start on true freedom and unity for all. I don’t understand what the ‘All Lives Matter’ gang is so mad about. The way I see it if you are on the wrong side of the BLM movement – no matter the race, as it currently stands, you’re either very rich – and comfortable in your complicity – or very ignorant and uneducated to the truly horrific genocidal tactics of subordination placed on people of colour by white oppressors. One of these factors is far easier to fix in the short term than the other and available en masse – education. If everyone took the time to read up on what they were fighting over – actual books not headlines – I’m not sure we’d all be as ‘angry’ as they make us out to be. But the pattern, like racism, slavery and prejudice is systemic and has been historically engrained in us all. I think we all need to be educated – (white people especially – we don’t make the rules) – so we can speak freely, and confidently without looking or feeling stupid. That’s the only way we can see real progress, and that’s why I’m currently comfortable screaming out ‘FUCK THE WHITE DEVIL TO DEATH’ over on IG while losing ignorant followers and gaining amazing new ones with a clear conscience (and a heavy heart) daily. As far as I’m concerned, the BLM movement is at the front of my mind from now till the day I die because it could be – and has been – myself or any other member of my family. Justice for Ahmed Arbery, George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Tony McDade, Rayshard Brooks, Sandra Bland, Philando Castile, and my own brother Soji Olowokandi and every other person of colour taken from us. It’s incredibly important.
Okandi pointed us towards a Juneteenth mixtape he was featured in, well worth mentioning, on Bandcamp. You can listen here.
Featured artist: Madame St. Beatrice
We chose the haunting, passionate vocals of Beatrice as the feature for this year’s Black Goth Day. Following Q. Lazzarrus, her work is sure to be considered an anthem throughout the years.
Black Goth Appreciation Day in the next coming weeks:
We will be spacing out our articles featuring impactful black creators within the scene in order to give each a complete feature. The next article will feature Lucy Jenkins, creator of alternative brand Gothic Lamb. We’ll take a look at the process of producing items, inspiration, and the trials of running a black-owned business.
Use #Blackgothappreciationday and #Blackgothmusic on Instagram, Facebook and Twitter to be featured on all @fatbatdana socials!