Interview by Jessica Plumb
Photography by Altercarnated Photography
Victoria Fenbane is a London based DJ who has been on the Gothic scene for over 20 years, supporting the scene with her beauty and amazing DJ skills as well as putting on Gothic events for us all to attend. We had a chat with her to find out how her career started and what she’s been up to, starting right from the beginning…
Firstly, thank you so much for this interview today and I hope all is well, especially with what’s going on at the moment with COVID-19. Can you please introduce yourself and tell us from the start how you got into the London DJ and modelling world?
I was born and raised in Plymouth UK, which is where I discovered the goth/alternative scene via a weekly Monday night club called Angels. Before then I had always been very into music. I was into eyeliner indie bands like Suede and Placebo, immediately before getting sucked into the goth scene. The goth scene was the first place where I felt I fit in and turns out after 24 years it isn’t a phase!
While I was at university in Bath there was a monthly goth/industrial night called Exile. It was run by Dave Exile who is now a well known DJ on the London scene. It was unlike any other club events I had attended, due to a lot of new and recently released music being played. Exile introduced me to active bands which were making new goth/darkwave music, unlike most other goth nights at the time which played a lot of 8o’s gothic rock.
Would you say it was like a passion?
Yes! Music has always been my greatest passion, and I am slightly obsessed with finding new music and supporting artists. The goth scene experience for me is not a retro fest, it’s a living evolving scene.
What was the alternative/gothic scene like at University?
At university I was an active member of the alternative music society (Nemesis). I also joined the backstage society because I wanted to learn how to sound engineer live music. I started DJing the Nemesis club nights at the start of my second semester in 1999.
All the campus live shows is where I could learn sound engineering, were the same ones I was running or DJing at, so I never learned to be a sound engineer, and ended up instead learning how to DJ. As a newbie DJ I was only assigned the opening set of a night at first, but was eventually allowed to DJ later in the night when it was busy. I learned to DJ on the job, often pressing the wrong buttons and breaking things because I was curious! I would play little bit of goth at the start of the night, and indie later on. While at university I also had my first experience of putting on gigs. We put on Welsh band D.U.S.T. in my final year.
After university I moved to Nottingham, and ended up becoming a resident DJ at the local goth/industrial/ebm night Nightmare. From there I was invited to guest DJ at club nights all over the UK including Body Electric – York, Dark Trix – Basingstoke and Dark Angels in Plymouth. In Nottingham I started my own short lived goth\industrial night called Vendetta. Around 2004 I stopped DJing for a while because I couldn’t afford to travel to guest at the clubs I was being invited to, but still did the occasional bit of DJing in Nottingham.
When did you move to London?
I moved to London in 2006. I had pretty much given up DJing at that point. I assumed London was already full of awesome DJs, so I could instead enjoy myself as a punter. 6 months after moving to London I received a phone call from Mak asking if I wanted to DJ at Slimelight; which I never in my wildest dreams even dreamt would happen. A friend had recommended me. I assumed I would only be DJing between bands playing earlier in the night, but much to my surprise I also did 2 sets on the goth floor that evening. I was totally unprepared and terrified! After that I kept getting asked back!
I DJed with Loki on the goth floor for nearly 5 years, we had a lot of fun, and he was one of the best DJs I have worked with. I learnt a lot from Loki and miss him very much since he’s passed away. As well as DJing on the goth floor, I also did occasional sets on the EBM/futurepop floor, sometimes back to back, which involved running up and down stairs with heavy cases of CDs, while wearing silly shoes. It was a challenge to switch my brain from gothic rock to banging electronic tunes within a few minutes.
While at Slimelight I started a night called Departure with a few other DJs. The music policy was synthpop, industrial, EBM and Darkwave. I later started another night called Schattenspiel at the same small bar venue next to Euston station. Schattenspiel rans as an occasional event until 2015. The music policy started out as mittlealter, gothic rock, NDH and darkwave. The popularity of mittlealter lead to the inclusion of folk metal and symphonic metal.
What project are you currently working on now?
My most recent club event project is Exit the Grey, which I launched on International EBM day 2017. The music policy is synthpop, futurepop and EBM, and is more dancefloor focused than Departure, which was held in a small bar. Exit the Grey has been popular from the outset and has outgrown a couple of bar venues, graduating to nightclub venues.
Alongside running club events I promote occasional live shows. Most recently I put on dark electro band Hocico, which was my biggest project to date. Other headliners of my shows include The Beauty of Gemina, Ash Code, Chrom, Pretentious Moi?, Nosferatu and Method Cell, all accompanied by many excellent support bands.
Unfortunately my live music projects are on hold until at least 2022, but I always have ideas churning away in my head, and look forward to helping more bands play live shows.
How did you get into modelling?
Is what I prefer to call posing 😊
I am very much into goth makeup and fashion, I enjoy making an effort with my appearance. I own piles of impractical clothes and silly goth boots, but am quite camera shy. I enjoy the ritual of getting ready for a night out, and I will a couple of hours getting ready for a night out, however it is rarely documented in photos. I’m usually in too much of a rush to faff about with selfies.
The first shoot I did was modelling full head hair extensions done by the amazing hairstylist Emma Watts/Elfin Dreams. I am terrible at knowing how to pose, but there were some great photos which showed off Emma’s stunning work on my head. I always give all the credit for good photos of me to the photographer, because I need a lot of direction and am probably hard to work with!
It’s fantastic how much you have achieved in two decades, it’s inspiring and you’re clearly very talented. How do you prepare for modelling compared to DJ’ing?
My DJ sets are always a fine balance of wanting to play every new song I’m excited about and, what the crowd want to hear. In clubs people mostly want to hear what they are familiar with. I spend most of my prep time working out how to slip a newer song into a set, hoping it will catch the attention of new fans, without affecting the dancefloor. I also have to take into account the music policy of the night, the styles of the other DJs, and my set times.
Any preparation I do needs to have flexibility built in. A good DJ should not stick to a pre-planned setlist, be able to read the room, take into account what other DJs are playing, and be amenable to requests. I have a policy of not allowing people to guest DJ at my events if they refuse to take requests. I love it when a clubber makes a request which just perfect for the moment, however persistent and rude requests are not welcome. Learning how to handle requests is a skill in itself.
When it come to modelling shoots I pick the outfits I’m currently the most in love with, while trying to create a clean and striking image. I also have to bear in mind the location, and how easy it is the change between outfits if on location. I have large collection of goth boots, and they always feature in any shoots I have done.
When you’re in front of the camera, what helps you create the poses? Is there anything, in particular, you think about or does it come naturally?
I am not a natural poser, because I’m quite self conscious. I have learned from direction provided by patient photographers. Having music playing in the background helps a lot.
What’s you’re favourite makeup brand you use for shoots and do you apply the makeup yourself?
I’ve not been lucky enough to do any shoots where a make-up artist has been involved. I use the same makeup kit for events and shoots. Over time I have worked out a tried and tested routine which stays in place for hours. Years of all night clubbing at Slimelight makes long wearing makeup essential. I have levelled up my makeup skills in recent years, thanks to make-up lessons from my friend Sali/Ms Moo Make Up.
Before that it was all self taught. When I started wearing makeup there were no YouTube tutorials (or YouTube). I learned by experimentation, tips from friends, and watching older goths apply makeup in club toilets. When I was starting out in the scene I used a mix of joke shop white and the palest cheap foundation I could find, topped with translucent loose powder, then set my face with hairspray. Eventually I grew out of white face, and instead go for a more natural look. I alternate between Fenty and Illamasqua foundation, combined with Illamasqua and Smashbox primer. Black Moon Cosmetics make amazing vegan metallic liquid lipsticks, which I use nearly every time I wear makeup. I’ve been using the same Maybelline liquid eyeliner for over 20 years, it’s the only one I trust not to come off. I buy my eyeliner in bulk in case it gets discontinued one day!
How do you like to wind down after a shoot/ DJ’ing?
By having a few drinks 😊
What’s your favourite photoshoot to date and why?
That’s a difficult question. They were all so different, and I learn more with each one. I suppose my first with Canadian photographer Stéphane Lord is the most ‘special’, because it was so unexpected. While DJing at my old London club night Departure, I was approached by Stéphane and he asked to do a shoot with me. I had been a fan of his work and website for a very long time, because it is full of beautiful images of goth and alt girls in interesting locations. Of course I accepted, despite having no experience. In total I have done 3 shoots with Stephane. All have been done in interesting locations around London, including one in a derelict sail factory.
All the shoots produced images I am very proud of. My favourite style of images are those done in gritty locations; however they are the hardest work to achieve. The locations are filthy and I had to negotiate piles of rubble, rats, human poop (just once in a car park!) and balance on uneven floors, while wearing the least practical shoes for such a location.
In 2019 I was invited to work with Catherine Beltramini for her project on gothic culture, which she was doing with Jo Blackened and it was a very fun shoot, my first time in a studio setting too. The images which were produced are simply stunning. I find it difficult to believe it is me in those photos! Again, all credit goes to Catherine.
In 2019 I finally worked with Jo Blackened of Altercarnated Photography, after us talking about it for years. It was back in her studio setting, and Jo managed to bring out a side of me I had not done in shoots before, where I was very expressive. Wine & music helped!
Also 2019 I did a location shoot with David McKnight on the site of the Road to Ruin post apocalyptic festival. Being a fan of all things post apocalyptic and industrial decay, it was amazing to shoot with Mad Max style cars, and get some fun images.
Is there anyone you want to shoot with as a model and haven’t yet?
I would like to do more shoots, but don’t have any confidence in reaching out to photographers I would like to work with. I get approached sometimes, but they are not people I would feel comfortable working with.
I have long admired the work which Silent View in Germany do. All porcelain skin and immaculate clean images. I am constantly in awe of the work Morgana/Threnody In Velvet produces, more so because she takes the images herself. I would like to do more studio shoots, because it’s easier work through a range out outfits in a single session. I have a lot of nice boots to show off!
I know you have been a regular guest DJ at the Black Rose Ball in York since 2015 (an annual gothic ball and raise money for charity), which is amazing! What charities were you able to raise money for and what elements your enjoy of this even?
The ball is run by Estelle who does an amazing job every year, making the venue look beautiful and ensuring it is an elegant evening. I enjoy contributing to the soundtrack of the night, and helping out where I can. The ball provides an opportunity to play atmospheric tunes in opulent surroundings, before moving to a dance floor focus later in the night. The ball has raised money for the Sophie Lancaster Foundation for the past few years. In September 2021 we are working on a one off special, with the event will taking place in the chapel of York’s Victorian cemetery. The event will be livestreamed, with a small gathering of people in the chapel.
What is it like being a frequent guest at Dark Disco in London and Intrusion in Oxford, and to have DJ’ed at the official after-show of Sisters and Mercy and Nosferatu gigs?
Being a guest DJ is a lot less stressful than DJing my own events, because I just have to turn up and play. Dark Disco and Intrusion both have a great regular crowd, and I enjoy going to both nights as a punter, as well as a DJ.
I also DJ’ed a Peter Murphy after-show back in 2010. For all the after-shows I build playlists which include artists related to the headliner. They are also an excuse to dig out the B-side of the artist. Playing an event where the music is influenced by a specific artist, is an interesting change from a general club night. Dark Disco does regular artist focused nights, so I get the after-show practice in when I DJ those.
You have put on occasional live shows in London. What influences your choice of band to book?
Initially I approached bands I wanted to work with and help get shows in London. My first London show was Method Cell, supported by Last July. Once I got a reputation as someone willing to put themselves through the pressure, and financial risk of promoting live music, I started getting offers from bands and booking agents. I have to be fan of the band’s music, in order to give them a show, because putting on a show is takes a lot of my free time outside of a full time job. I have to be doing it for the love of music, and not status or money.
To me the support line up is as important as the headliner, and I enjoy bringing together bands which compliment each other and will be enjoyed by the audience. I have a principle of treating bands fairly, and ensuring they are looked after.
Do you have anyone you admire or draw inspiration from when it comes to your image?
As I’ve got older I have found my own style which I tend to think of as ‘modern goth’, but on the way there I have drawn inspiration from Shirley Manson, Debra Fogarty from Diva Destruction, and Patricia Morrison.
What are your favourite bands you like to listen to and which ones first drew you to the gothic scene?
Being someone who listens to a lot of new music means my ‘current’ favourite is always changing. I was drawn by the goth image initially, but it’s the music which made it more than a teenage phase. Sisters of Mercy were the first goth band I heavily got into, but my first exposure to goth music was bands like The March Violets, Rosetta Stone, Bauhaus…basically anything on the Gothic Rock 2 complication CD which I picked up in a second hand record shop.
The 5 bands which have constantly been in my personal top 10 over the years are Nine Inch Nails, Assemblage 23, Diary of Dreams, Ashbury Heights and Fields of the Nephilim. These are also the bands I get most excited about seeing live.
If someone wants to start DJ’ing, what advice would you give them?
Starting out as a DJ is so different now than it was when I started. I needed a lot of CDs, and could only practice in the club, because I didn’t have the equipment at home. I think female DJs are more respected now, but things could always be better. It’s great to see loads of other goth women DJing and livestreaming, now. I think I only knew of a couple of female goth DJ’s when I was starting out. Scary Lady Sarah from Chicago was a big influence on me. I had to fight against a lot of sexism, and prove my knowledge of music and skill over and over again. I was judged on appearance, not ability. Livestreaming has made DJing more accessible to people, but it is nothing like DJing to a live audience in a club. My advice is if you have built up an audience livestreaming, don’t expect ‘real life’ Dj’ing to be the same. It’s a very different experience.
Are there any other hobbies or interests you have/like doing?
I’m a sci-fi nerd, and enjoy going on the Hidden London tours of abandoned tube stations.
Is there anywhere you’d love to travel to do a DJ-ing set the future?
I have been lucky enough to DJ at the goth DJ holy grail Slimelight, and Infest Festival. Since then I have also DJed at Death Guild in San Francisco. I enjoy travel and am open to invites to guest DJ club nights. I would like to do more DJing abroad. I would be great to do an overseas festival, as that would be a nice goal to tick off. I hope to travel to Germany as soon as possible and DJ with the Dark Infection team in Munich. Guesting on their livestream was the best part of lockdown online DJing.
In your teenage years you’ve said you wanted to be a music journalist. Since 2011 you have followed that dream and have written for a few online and print publications. Who was your favourite band you interviewed/reviewed?
I only started writing after being nagged into doing some live music reviews. I lived above Nambucca on Holloway Road at the time, so I just had to pop downstairs for some of the shows at the time.
I’ve been lucky to interview some well known metal bands, like Epica. Xandria were fun to hang out with, and I got to interview them twice. Repeat interviews are usually easier, because the band are familiar with you. Daniel Graves from Aesthetic Perfection was a pleasure to interview. Probably my favourite live review was Nightwish when Floor Jansen had only just joined. It was an amazing show and I was given an AAA pass, and a ticket to the after-show. Unfortunately it was a work night, a, so I stupidly went home straight after the show. I’ve had to deal with some bad behaviour from bands who did not like my reviews. I now laugh it off, but it was time it was unpleasant to deal with.
You’re a very busy person, especially in today’s climate as you’re currently working on a phase 3 COVID-19 vaccine trial, which is so amazing by the way! This seems like it would be both very demanding and rewarding. Within whatever you are allowed to say, is there anything you can tell us about how it’s going?
My day job involves designing software used in clinical trials. It’s an interesting and fulfilling job. Being involved in some of the vaccine trials made lockdown a little easier to deal with, as it felt like I was helping get us back to clubs and gigs. The start-up timelines for the trials were very tight which meant working long hours, to ensure the systems were ready in time. Working on the vaccines was the reason I did less livestreaming than I would have otherwise.
During lockdown you did some live streamed shows. How did that go?
Initially Exit the Grey went online with Simon Briggs the other resident DJ streaming from Bury, and me streaming from Reading. It was a technical challenge, but we had lot of fun. Later I started doing solo streams. I resurrected my old club event Schattenspiel during lockdown as a livestream, with the original music policy of mittlealter, gothic rock, NDH and darkwave. It’s popularity has encouraged me to start thinking about bringing back Schattenspiel as an in person event. As mentioned above I guest streamed with Dark Infection in Munich, and the Black Rose Ball event in September will also be streamed this year. Solo livestreaming can be lonely, and it can be difficult to balance the streaming tech, text chat and DJing. During lockdown I am very much missed the communal experience of enjoying music with others who get excited about the same music as me.
Recently I have been doing online DJing in person with other DJs. It’s much more fun that way and I think it’s more fun for the viewers too. I hope keep live streaming in some capacity, now I have learned the technical skills, and bought lots of kit. Possibly in a radio show format (I have bought a microphone!)
Do you have any exciting projects coming up, now lockdown has lifted?
Yes, I will be putting on more live shows. I was working on my first band tour before the pandemic hit. Every time I do a live show I wonder why I’m putting myself through the stress, but once I see the bands on stage, and the audience are enjoying themselves it’s all worth it. Bands ask to work with me again, so I must be doing something right 😊
Thank you for your time today Victoria, is there anything else you would like to say to our readers?
Come to Exit the Grey!!!!