My personal blog as a 'grown-up' Goth and Romantic living in the Highlands of Scotland. I write about the places I go, the things I see and my thoughts on life as a Goth and the subculture, and things in the broader realm of the Gothic and darkly Romantic. Sometimes I write about music I like and sometimes I review things. This blog often includes architectural photography, graveyards and other images from the darker side of life.

Goth is not just about imitating each other, it is a creative movement and subculture that grew out of post-punk and is based on seeing beauty in the dark places of the world, the expression of that in Goth rock. It looks back to the various ways throughout history in which people have confronted and explored the macabre, the dark and the taboo, and as such I'm going to post about more than the just the standards of the subculture (Siouxsie, Sisters of Mercy, Bauhaus, et al) and look at things by people who might not consider themselves anything to do with the subculture, but have eyes for the dark places. The Gothic should not be limited by what is already within it; inspiration comes from all places, the key is to look with open eyes, listen carefully and think with an open mind..

Saturday, 10 December 2011

What IS Goth?

I think one of the most common questions I get are those of "What is this whole "Goth" thing" as it seems that people  tend to either know of shock stories in tabloids and gossip magazines or just see these strange-looking people in a lot of black and metal walking around and are understandably curious.  There are already numerous attempts to answer that question that present it as a fashion,  a music scene, an artistic movement, a lifestyle, a subculture. I believe it is all of those things, or rather that it is a subculture that encompasses being all of the other things, and am going to make my attempt at explaining this. Goth is probably far too shifting and broad to ever define properly, and so this is quite brief and while I've tried to be as inclusive as possible, I'm probably missing bits.

Goth is one of my favourite aesthetics, or rather it is one of my favourite way of blending all my other favourite aesthetics. I can combine Baroque, Art Nouveau, Deco, Neo-Gothic, Victorian, etc. and then I can throw in some futuristic things I saw in Ultra Violet or The Matrix or off the cover of a science fiction paperback... Goth is this wonderfully huge umbrella that covers everything from the cutesiest halloween kitsch to the most elegant funereal anachronism because rather than a specific stylistic guide, it is an approach, its basic premise is to look at the dark side of life - the deathly, the dystopian, the twisted, and bring it into the light whether by turning it into macabre high art or looking at it with humour or turning it into something adorable. In that way, it is an art movement defined by approach that spans music, literature, visual arts, fashion and decor.

Goth is also a fashion. You can wear goth clothes without reading Poe, Neil Gaiman and Anne Rice; watching Interview With A Vampire, Sweeney Todd and The Crow; and listening to Bauhaus, Emilie Autumn and Sisters of Mercy, although I think that being fully immersed in the subculture leads to being more individual and better dressed because you can then be inspired by what you've read about, or by the stage costumes and clothes of musicians, costumes from films, etc. It is perfectly possible to go into certain shops or look on the internet and assemble a beautiful outfit or several and only be in it for the clothes without any real interest in the rest of Goth. Many teenagers do this badly as a rebellious phase, quite a few Goths who weren't around in the '80s probably started out this way, and there are probably quite a few people who simply like the clothes. Of course, mainstream fashion and the hipster subculture routinely mine the fashion side for inspiration too.

Goth is definitely a music scene. While there have been darkly inclined people for centuries doing the this sort of thing (Paganini, Liszt, Theda Bara, to name a few) the Post-Punk and Deathrock scenes  in the latter 1970s and 1980s gave it point about which to crystalise and grow.  The music itself has changed a lot since the days of Siouxsie Sioux and Bauhaus, and is now as broad as the space between Emilie Autumn and Centhron (not that either artist is Goth, just that they have a significant number of Goths in their fan-base), not to mention people like Marilyn Manson (he is clearly a Goth, but his music's between shock-rock and metal) and the influence of the Visual Kei scene. The other aspects of Goth have broadened with the music as various musical genres have merged and diverged and brought with them different band aesthetics and different inspirations. The music is important, but cannot be divorced from its musical antecedents and non-musical inspiration.

The visual aesthetic and lyric content and dark but danceable sound links back to the concept of Goth as an art-movement, but  at the same time, it is a form of "pop culture" although it wasn't all that popular, even in the 1980s. Goth, as well as being in fine hand-made Victorian  gowns, art photography of graveyards and bones and macabre sculpture is also in mass-produced consumables available in Hot Topic. This is probably why the word "scene" developed its modern meaning, to describe what happens around a pop-culture focus. Yes, someone somewhere drew the kitsch zombies on Iron Fist shoes  and people made their own collars before you could buy them for a fiver, and somebody had to design  Draculaura and her classmates, but that initial effort has been turned into things produced in their thousands. Monster High isn't even actually aimed at goths, but Draculaura combines Gothic Lolita fashion with pink New Rock boots (not branded, of course) and bringing a parasol to school.

Goth is also a lifestyle. The longer you spend in the subculture, the more likely you are to decorate your house to your own take on that aesthetic, probably because it takes time to be able to afford one's own place and the materials to decorate it! But it's more than the aesthetic creeping in to all aspects of your life until you have black crockery and spiderweb toilet paper. It is appreciating the old architecture you see, it is taking photographs of dead flowers, it is visiting graveyards that aren't the final resting place of any of your relatives, it is in visiting parks to appreciate their beauty rather than just to have a space to drink or play sport in, it is writing letters by hand in purple ink instead of sending e-mails, it crafting your own dark aesthetic. It's more than going to concerts and Goth clubs and gatherings.

Look what I found in Tesco at Halloween...
The important thing is to do things because you enjoy them, not because they are on the fictitious Goth Lifestyle Tick-Box List, but some activities (like reading too much, lighting the house with candles even when the electricity is working and having picnics in the graveyard) have become stereotypically Goth for a reason - people who like the fashion and the music tend to like doing those things too. That's not to say that anyone in all black and spikes collects weaponry or skulls or both, eats lunch in the Graveyard and has more black candles than black socks, but you will find goths that do.

For a less text-intensive version of answering that recurring "What is Goth?" question check out this video by Jillian Venters aka The Lady of the Manners from Gothic Charm School (there's always a link to her site in my Blog Roll) ::here::


  1. I REALLY love your way of describing the subculture. Wonderfully put! :)


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