Thick white candles were the only source of light at the entrance to Club Nova, where a special party dubbed 'Heart of Darkness' was in full swing.
Inside the dimly-lit club, young men and women clad entirely in black and heavily made up with thick eyeliner clustered together as thumping electronic music blasted across the floor.
AdvertisementBut the aim of the recent "goth" event was far from sinister or macabre.
After all, this is Singapore, a city-state famous for clean living and tough laws against drugs, violence, pornography and anti-social behavior.
"What we're doing recently is a bit of a departure from the old violence, drugs, oversexualisation (of goth culture)," said Mark Koh, chairman of the Singapore Dark Alternative Movement (SDAM) and organizer of the event.
"We have to actually strive for more social good."
In a largely conservative, multiracial society like Singapore, SDAM aims to bring together goths and other unorthodox and alienated youths yearning for a sense of belonging and social purpose.
Dalif Roos Heilig, a 22-year-old paramedic, found just that a few years ago when he joined SDAM, which claims to be the largest alternative social group in Singapore.
"After joining SDAM, I realized that I'm not the only one out there who is dressed in black, or (has) such morbid thoughts," said Heilig, whose white work uniform is in stark contrast to his hardcore goth look at night.
The goth subculture grew out of so-called gothic rock in the 1980s in Britain. Followers, many of whom cultivated a pale and gaunt look, wore black clothes and were typically immersed in the macabre and supernatural.
It has gained a following in Asia, particularly in Japan, in recent years.
Alternative subcultures have also been finding a foothold in Singapore, with SDAM's declared membership of 406 almost treble that of a year ago, according to chairman Koh, an events manager.
"As a youth, finding and establishing an identity in Singapore is not easy. This sterile environment can have the effect of stifling creativity and this is exactly why subcultures have emerged over the years," said the 28-year-old, who also goes by his goth moniker Saito Nagasaki.
Goths are increasingly visible in the prim city state, but Koh emphasized that the subculture here is vastly different from its more extreme forms in some parts of the world.
"We had to basically disassociate the whole alternative image with the drugs and the violence... We have to continue our mission of breaking the stereotype," he added.
In fact, SDAM functions much like a mainstream social group.
It stages youth bonding programs, themed clubbing events and concerts, and functions like an informal peer-support network.
For 23-year-old Vanessa Toh, SDAM was instrumental in helping her overcome anorexia-bulimia, an eating disorder characterized by minimal food intake and forced vomiting.
"When you have some people you can talk with, it really, really helps you get out of your isolation phase because the thing is, when you're in your addiction, eating disorder, you are very alone," the student said.
"I kind of threw myself into this and threw myself out of the whole eating disorder."
Despite the fact that SDAM was a major factor in curing Toh of her disorder, her parents remained sceptical of the subculture.
"They don't like it. They ask, 'why are you always dressing so weirdly?'" Toh said, adding that she had to compromise by wearing less black clothing when going out with her family.
Koh, SDAM chairman, said the situation was slowly improving for young Singaporeans who reject the mainstream teen and young adult lifestyle.
"Although we are still very conservative, there are signs of gradual progression and increasing acceptance for alternative recreation and lifestyles," he said of Singaporean society as a whole.
Ray Wong, a 35-year-old goth veteran who has been in the scene for 20 years, said this change had to come eventually.
"It's inevitable the society has to open up even if they like it or not... these children are becoming adults and they have their own culture, which they are used to and it will just bring the society forward," he said.
For paramedic Heilig, who admits his patients might be alarmed if they saw him in his nighttime goth clothes and makeup, the alternative community is like a rediscovered family.
"They know how it feels ... what it's like to be somebody who's different from the rest."
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