There are all these stereotypical images of goths: smoking clove cigarettes while writing gloomy poetry in a Composition notebook; dancing like they’re parting fog to Joy Division; posing for photos in a cemetery; moping around the mall. But sipping margaritas on a party boat? At what vector does goth intersect with yacht rock? Local DJ collective Goth Barge are the ones who have successfully hit that target, like a well-placed missile strike in Battleship. They’ve created the hottest goth ticket to sail the Great Lakes.

The co-captains of this enterprise are Jeffrey Allen Joseph (a.k.a. Dance Commandr) and J.J. Fortune (XdominionX). Joseph, a logistics manager for distribution centers by day, is verbose and animated while Fortune, a software engineer consultant, is more laid back, peering at Joseph as he talks through his sunglasses, adding a sentence here and there to emphasize a point.

Photo: Goth Barge. L-R: DJs Dance Commandr, XdominionX, Scary Lady Sarah

Joseph and Fortune say they owe a debt of their musical interest to Mad Planet. Both attended the club’s teen goth dance nights as baby bats (a term some use for young goths), and they view their current status as goth captains as “paying the community back.”

“We try to make as many of our events 18-plus and free that we possibly can, so that kid that’s having a really hard time, doesn’t know how to make friends—I want to give that kid a place to go.” Joseph says. “I’ll have people say, ‘I don’t want to dance with a bunch of kids, can we not do that?’ And then I try to explain to them that you were that kid.” Joseph looks at Fortune, who nods in agreement. “We were both that kid.”

Seven summers ago, the first Goth Barge excursion embarked, but back then it was less like a pleasure cruise and a bit more like Washington crossing the Delaware—for a friend’s bachelor party, they decided to skip the strip clubs and cruise around on a rebel pontoon with a cooler full of booze and a single speaker bumping dark jams.

“The whole time we’re listening to goth music and yelling at other boats, cause that’s what you do, and we’re yelling ‘GOTH BARGE!’ It was the most ridiculous situation ever,” Joseph laughs. “Next summer we’re like, we’re doing Goth Barge again, right?”

Word had gotten out, and so the barge increased to a fleet of three small pontoons, then switched to a bigger 60-person pontoon. This setup required lugging marine batteries, sound equipment, and a bar onboard. Demand for tickets still outweighed supply. To paraphrase Chief Brody in Jaws, they knew they were going to “need a bigger boat.” So three years ago, they approached Milwaukee Boat Lines to book the Vista King. The boat accommodates about 150 people, but tickets still sell out within a couple days.

It’s Sunday before Memorial Day and the dock in front of the Vista King is crowded with a mass of people dressed in all shades of black. The weather is appropriately paradoxical for the cruise—bright and sunny on one half of the sky, gloomy and drizzling on the other. While Fortune gets the set rolling with “More” by Odonis Odonis (a Canadian industrial group), Joseph acts as ambassador, welcoming people aboard as they file up the gangway. Their special guest for this voyage is Chicago’s DJ Scary Lady Sarah, “probably the most well-known goth DJ in the Midwest,” Joseph says.

Although the palette of clothing doesn’t differ much, there are different styles and the age range of attendees varies quite a bit. Perhaps the only ones who don’t enjoy the Goth Barge concept, Fortune says, are a small contingency of traditional or “trad goths.” These sour goths don’t like looking out their window to see their moonlit lawn filled with cybergoths, dark wavers, deathrockers, gothabillies, and other new-fangled creatures of the night. They prefer the scene to be like a Siouxsie And The Banshees album on repeat.

“We do get some criticism about not taking ourselves too seriously, but we’re just a couple of assholes on a pontoon,” Joseph says. Fortune lets out a burst of laughter, and adds, “And we’ll always be that in our hearts!”

Joseph says part of the cruise’s appeal is that it turns the goth stereotypes on their head. Goth Barge thumbs their nose with an idea subversive to what goths (and for that matter, boat cruises) are supposed to be like. It’s a hell of a fun piece of irony.

“All the pompous kind of vibe, we don’t care for it,” Joseph says. “We’re having a good time, we love the fashion, we love the music, but we also love our community. We’re not into gatekeeping. We want to be inclusive to all genders, races, we want nothing to do with the ‘isms.’ We’re trans-positive. Embrace yourself as who you are.”

Photo: Alan Thompson-Wallace

Welcoming does seem to be the tone on the boat, as the goths mingle on deck, enjoying the view cruising down the Milwaukee River, occasional bridges clanging open overhead. The music is appropriate for the landscape as the boat chugs along on the brown river, surrounded by gnarled steel beams, concrete silos, old warehouses, smokestacks, and flotsam and jetsam junk. My Life With The Thrill Kill Kult is a more appropriate soundtrack than the Beach Boys for this industrial setting.

On the dance floor goths are getting down to classics (“Just Like Heaven” by The Cure gets a big round of applause) and newer songs, like Sierra’s “Gone,” which packs the floor. Swaying, the dancers grab onto poles for balance as the boat hits a choppy patch on Lake Michigan.

After the boat docks, there’s still plenty of party left. A caravan of goths heads south to Cactus Club, where the “After Barge” party has already begun, with another DJ crew, Subspace.

Photo: Goth Barge

In addition to cruises, Goth Barge began to host events on terra firma shortly before the pandemic with Goth Prom, now one of their biggest annual events, with a line of people waiting to get into Mad Planet extending down the street and around the corner. During the pandemic they hosted patio dance parties at X-Ray Arcade, popular for people who wanted some fresh air and some socially distanced dancing. They do a number of other events throughout the year, and have expanded the number of boat excursions to three this summer. (The next ones are July 20, which has a special “Goth Barbie” theme; and September 1, the Sunday before Labor Day.)

Photo: Goth Barge

But they say rather than saturate the waterways here, they’ll be looking to open and close the season in Milwaukee and add Goth Barge trips to Madison, Minneapolis, and Chicago.

“This is a beacon, send me all your weirdos,” Joseph says. “That’s what this is all about.”

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About The Author

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Tea Krulos is a freelance writer and author from Milwaukee. His books include Heroes In The Night, Monster Hunters, Apocalypse Any Day Now, and American Madness. You can find more at