It’s a Saturday night at Prague’s Palac Akropolis. While the canopy-covered benches outside the somewhat infamous venue never fail to attract a crowd on weekends, tonight something is different: instead of the usual suspects sinking pints to muffled bass beats, I am greeted with a veritable parade of frock coats and corsetry, drainpipe jeans and doublets – even the children are black-clad for the event. What, you ask, is the occasion? A celebration of the Czech Republic’s small yet tenacious Gothic music scene, oddly and wonderfully enough featuring a trio from England’s idyllic Cotswolds – Inkubus Sukkubus.
For those who have never heard of the band, their somewhat demonic name speaks much of their aesthetic – arcane and sexually charged, an energy stemming from the balance of male and female entities. In this case, the entities in question are Tony and Candia McKormack, guitarist and vocalist respectively, and the powerhouse behind the band’s 25-year history. Onstage, their combined persona is magnetic as they toe a delicate line between ritualistic theatricality and moments of genuine marital affection. Together with self confessed ‘new boy’ Dave Saunders and his driving bass lines, they blur the lines between the spiritual and the sensual to create something rather spellbinding.
After the intensity of their onstage act, I am keen to catch up with them backstage and discuss Bohemia, the Gothic, and 25 years of pioneering ‘Pagan Rock’. I am greeted warmly by a positively jittering Candia, who is thrilled with the gift of a Bohemian Gothic Tarot deck. “You’ve caught us nice and fresh from offstage, so we’re still buzzing,” she says, grinning, “I don’t know when I’m going to come down from this!” It’s good to know that even after a quarter of a century of gigging around the world, the band got as much from their Prague performance as the audience did. “It’s very much a magical experience,” Candia explains, “I always feel like I’m being quite cheesy when I say that, but it really is, to make eye contact and know the audience is feeling it too.”
Perhaps surprisingly, given the band’s extensive touring history and their shared love of all things Medieval, this is their first time in Prague. “I know,” laughs Candia, “It’s our 25th anniversary and we’re all thinking, why on earth haven’t we been to Prague already?” Dave chips in, “It’s Bohemian by definition, isn’t it? A real mix of styles.” So, what was on the band’s must-see list? With a back-catalogue of songs regarding witch burnings, it’s little wonder: “We were determined to find the Medieval museum of torture, says Candia, “and we got a little lost, but we saw a lot more of the city than we would have otherwise.”
This ethos of heading somewhere Medieval, willing to get lost on the way for the sake of discovering new inspiration, could sum up the band’s musical outlook as well as their sightseeing. “Even though we have similar themes in every album – Medieval witchcraft, Paganism, vampires – sometimes you’ll just find a random love song because, why not?” postulates Candia, “It just sort of flows, you know?” I ask what making “Goth rock” means to Candia, “I guess we can only say what it means with us,” she responds, “and I think it’s important to never be afraid to draw on anything if it feels right. The Gothic scene has changed so much over the years, which is how it’s survived really.”
And how does the band’s Gothic image tie in with their Pagan ethos? “I think it’s probably happy coincidence really. As a kid there were so many things, even when I was very young, that I had an interest in – witchcraft and Gothic novels and ancient Egypt – and moving to college from my small Severnside village and meeting someone like Tony… it made it all fall together really.” Indeed, these interests are well-represented in the band’s lyrics, alongside deities from ancient Roman mythology, Biblical demons, and Celtic-inspired depictions of the Goddess.
It begs the question, what do this notoriously Pagan band actually believe? “It’s a different thing for different people,” explains Tony, “For some it’s purely based on Celtic Britain, for others there are Roman and Greek aspects, but for us it’s just a general acceptance of the natural forces of the Universe – a nature-based ideal, but basically Science as well – it’s all to do with biology.” Candia agrees, “Everybody who has a Pagan spark in them will have a different idea of what it means to them. It’s what keeps it strong. Everyone has their own book of shadows.” Is the band’s music a part of this spirituality? A unanimous yes. “From my experience with the band, I think there’s a genuine sense of reverie from the fans,” adds Dave, “a real absorption, and you know they’re feeling it too.”
I ask Tony about the band’s strong lyrical condemnation of the Medieval Church and its treatment of witches and other non-Christians. “I think people have to be aware that these things actually happened,” he postulates, “And that in some ways that’s quite similar to what is still going on with Islam. History is an indication of what could go on happening. You have to be aware of what people are really capable of, because as soon as you forget that, these attitudes arise without you even realising it.” I ask if the band consider themselves spokespeople for misrepresented Pagans. “It was never a mission,” Tony explains, “we never set out to convert people. We always were just the way we are.” Perhaps it is this unapologetic self-expression that has – somewhat ironically – won the band such a cultish following.
Make no mistakes though, despite the ritualism of the band’s performance and the often dark matter of their lyrics, their take on the Gothic is laced with humour and self-conscious drama. “We all need fantasy in our lives,” says Candia, “and if you can find a part of yourself where you can get rid of the mundane and enter a temporary reality, why not? As long as you know how to get out.” Dave adds, “A lot of bands have that theatrical element – most of them really, and we’re no different.” In fact, Dave has his own, somewhat unique manner of mixing up the energies onstage: “Bass-wise I try to bring a disco groove to things, as much as I can get away with it!”
So is the Gothic aesthetic simply an onstage gimmick for the trio, as with so many modern bands, or does it flow into their personal lives? “Well, we’ve got a bit of a spooky house,” laughs Tony. Candia adds, “Let’s just say we can be a real embarrassment to the children!”
Inkubus Sukkubus has always seemed to me to encapsulate something of heaven and something of hell. The real surprise is just how down to earth they remain after 25 years in the rock business! Before I return to the surging crowd of goths outside, eagerly awaiting the next act, I ask the band if they have any final words to the Bohemian Gothic scene. Again, the response is unanimous – “When can we come back?”
A big thank you to Tony, Candia and Dave for a spectacular concert and an insightful discussion – do check out the band at their homepage and check in with us on Facebook to let us know what the Gothic music scene means to you!