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. 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.

The Gothic subculture 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, and 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 (Tim Burton, Siouxsie Sioux and Anne Rice 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. Goth should not be limited by what is considered "goth", inspiration comes from all places, the key is to look with open eyes, listen carefully and think with an open mind..

Saturday, 14 January 2012

Goth, Sub-Genres and Boundaries

I don't think Goth should be cliquish, or that it is at all wrong to use 'Goth' as a label if you like things that are outside the scope of the original 1980's subculture as well as things that are. If you're into commonly overlapping groups like Cyber/EBM, Japanese fashion, Metal, etc. or into completely not-usually-associated-with-goth hobbies like rambling, cookery, various sports, etc. it does not mean you should suddenly have your ability to call yourself 'Goth' revoked, after all, if someone is trying to fit themselves in a narrow box by avoiding all activities outside it as well as actively doing all those things within it, they are not being themselves at all, and being yourself is far more important than being Goth or not being Goth. 

Nobody should try to be Goth, they either like that sort of thing, or they don't, and that is all that should be to it. A lot of people get pressure from outside the Gothic community to try and be "normal" and the last thing they need is to get pressure from inside the Gothic community trying to force them down someone else's definition of Goth. Nobody has the right to dictate another person's taste, regardless of decades in the subculture. Also, anyone who has been in the subculture since the 1980's should have the emotional maturity becoming to their age and know better than to mock people for liking bands or fashion outside their tastes, and even if they don't think it truly Goth, they should approach the subject in a positive way (e.g encouraging people to listen to Sisters of Mercy or Bauhaus) instead of a judgemental way. This is common politeness, and no matter how Punk you are, there is a place for it. 

Goth has changed over the last 30-ish years, and it has changed a lot, and become an umbrella term for a lot of darker forms of self-expression, and it has mingled with other subcultures, like Visual Kei/J-Rock, and Lolita, and Metal, and while all these groups are different subcultures in their own right, and always will be, they have had an impact on Goth, and personally, I think it is this diversity that is keeping the subculture alive. Goth has gone from being the fans of a small group of bands from the 1970's, 1980's and early 1990's and become a broad, vibrant movement, an umbrella under which people can be their own dark selves, and find avenues to explore. Goth has grown, and this is no bad thing - an influx of new music that doesn't sound like the Post-Punk or Deathrock of the 1980s does not mean that people will stop listening to the original bands, it just means that they'll listen to other things too. These new bands are not calling themselves Goth (not that the original bands called themselves that); they are calling themselves Gothic Metal, or Dark Cabaret or Industrial or EBM, and are making no claims on the original subculture. What they are, though, is influenced by the original subculture and influencing the current subculture as it grows. 

Goth, after all, is a mere label that summarises a person's tastes, fashion and lifestyle, it is a name for a broad subculture that is as diverse as its members, and it has never, and will never, be a line in the sand on one side of which is Goth and on the other side of which is everything else. The boundaries of what is and isn't Goth are different for every single Goth, and while there are some that are approximately agreed on, those areas are fuzzy and indistinct. 

A lot of people who from the outside are clearly Goth renounce the name, and I think it is partly from this pressure from certain sections of the Goth community to adhere to certain criteria. If you stop calling yourself Goth, you're free to like all the Goth things you previously enjoyed, and yet are at liberty to enjoy anything else too, as you are no longer under pressure to stay within the bounds of Goth. This situation, though, should not arise. Goth should not be a limiting pigeon-hole, it should be an accepting community of dark outsiders, individuals who are outside the mainstream and drawn towards more morbid and unusual artistic expression, especially music and fashion. 

There is also an external pressure on professionally Goth members of the subculture - Goth has been identified as a target market, a demographic to sell to, and therefore it is in the commercial interest to pander to an interpretation of that market (and it is only an interpretation because it is coming from outside) and so, as a professionally Goth person or group, for example a band, get more popular, they will come under pressure from those financially involved to stick to a certain brand (or band) image that they assume will be popular and keep fans loyal.  Unfortunately this can very easily lead to either selling out or becoming bland and thus being totally counter-productive, or switching target audience to babybats. 

What motivates people to be militant about the boundaries of the subculture mystifies me. Received wisdom is that it is fuelled by their own insecurities as regards their subcultural identities, but I'm not sure  this really true. I don't think that the arguments over what is and isn't Goth and the judgement of people as their status of Goth or Not Goth is that simple. I think some of it is to do with how broad the subculture has got, and how a lot of people who are very different indeed from the original subculture (e.g cybergoths) identify as Goth, and this isn't something that people who have big hair and danced to strains of The Sisters of Mercy in the '80s do not recognise as part of what they know as their subculture. One thing that should be noted when it comes to these less traditional manifestations of the subculture is that someone who is dressed up as a Cybergoth and dancing to T3RR0R 3RR0R might also be fond of back-combing their hair and dancing to Siouxsie and The Banshees - they are not mutually exclusive. 

One very important, and probably obvious point that I shouldn't have to mention but sadly do, is that just because someone doesn't like a band, brand, shop, item of clothing, etc. that does not impact whether or not it is "Goth" or whether or not someone else should like it or think it is good. Opinions are not absolute truth. 

11 comments:

  1. I just discovered your blog and I must say that I enjoy your well thought out opinions. I especially agree with your point of view concerning sub-genres and boundaries, and believe that I am a case in point.

    Generally speaking, I define myself as a metal Goth as opposed to metal head. Sure, I like a lot of the older original Goth music, and I also enjoy some of the newer Goth bands. Still, most of the time I listen to metal; not all of it, but that which sounds particularly ethereal and spooky such as that of the Gothic and Doom sub-genres. I also listen to a fair amount of Classical, Dark Ambient and even folk music.

    I read and write Gothic fiction, but I also enjoy the occasional delving into other literary genres.

    I have my own style of dressing, which although not ordinarily too over the top, leaves little doubt as to my Gothic orientation.

    All things considered, I'd have to say that although my personal style and musical preferences vary somewhat from those dating back to the early days, I'm happy with who I am and how I express my dark interests. Life is not about stagnation. Were we to only adhere to the old, early eighties' model of Goth, we would certainly not be a very creative or vibrant sub-culture.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I'm kind of like you in reverse - I mostly like the older Goth bands, but I quite like a few metal bands too, and a few of the heavier progressive rock bands (the kinds that end up in the Metal section of record stores because they don't know where else to put them).

      Being a Goth/Metal hybrid is fine, but I come across so much vehement bitchiness towards that particular hybrid on forums etc. and it makes no sense to me. What is wrong with someone liking more than one genre of music? When I was at college, the Metal Heads, Punks, Goths and other Alt. types all hung around together, and we often listened to each other's music - didn't always like it, but we'd at least listen. Also, what with a definite "dark" lyrical style and aesthetic for both, it seems pretty logical that you're going to get people who like both Metal and Goth. My partner is a Rivethead/Metal hybrid - he's always been more interested in things he can headbang, mosh or stomp to.

      Exactly, life is certainly not about stagnation. About the one certainty in the universe is change! Goths are far too creative and vibrant to stay the same, by nature we're people who will experiment and innovate and do our own thing, so it's perfectly natural for Goth to have grown and evolved over time.

      Personally, I'm into frills, lace and being as anachronistic as possible. In my own time, I tend to be quite obviously Goth and quite obviously not in the fashion mainstream. I'll wear a frilly shirt and frock-coat and pirate boots shopping.

      Delete
    2. The Goth scene in my town was more pronounced seven to ten years ago than it is now. There are no longer any musical venues catering to the Gothic scene around here. There are metal nights however, and these seem to attract both metal heads and Goths. Not only do the two groups get along but I know a MIXED COUPLE. Can you believe it? There is a Goth lady I know who actually married a metal head--and she's heads over heels over him!

      Delete
    3. I think because Goth has dwindled generally over the last 10 years, as more of the teenagers who would have become Goth have taken to steampunk, emo, hipster and other subcultures that were much less of a presence before. It's also to do with the fact that there are fewer Goth acts with broad appeal. Marilyn Manson and Evanescence between them brought in thousands of Babybats who later became fully fledged goths (Evanescence was one of my Gothdom entry bands). Black Veil Brides seems to be the current goth-looking popular band, but I'm not sure they're actually as good as MM or Evanescence and I'm not sure they'll attract the same cult following, however attractive the members. I will say that their Deathrock/Trad Goth inspired look is fabulous.

      If there's a lack of good Goth events were you are, you might want to try starting up a goth meet-up, picnic day or social group, just to get people making friends, interacting, etc.

      Anyway, that is a tangent. I can quite believe that metalheads and goth fall in love. I'm a frills-and-lace through-and-through Goth that loves post-punk, goth rock, coldwave, etc. and my partner is a Rivethead/Metal Head who likes industrial, cyber and various genres of metal.

      Delete
    4. Actually, a group started up last spring. It's a tea society that meets once a month. We're planning field trips and various activities, including a picnic in one of the cemeteries that I take care of. Not everyone in the group is Goth, but some certainly are.

      There are other activities that Goths attend around here such as the annual Renaissance Faire, and various horror/sci-fi/fantasy conferences that sometimes occur in neighboring cities. Still, there used to be night clubs that catered to the Goth music scene. That doesn't seem to be the case anymore except for the metal events.

      Ah! So you have experience with that cross-cultural relationship thing! Good for you.

      Delete
  2. This article makes so many excellent points (you're naturally good at that, aren't you?)!

    You are so right - Goths pressure other Goths to be more Goth all the time. I used to get picked on for not caring about Halloween... And sometimes on my blog I'll get comments like "That would be more Goth if..." Which is fine, because blogging is all about two-way communication and it's fun and interesting to share ideas, but sometimes I wince at the thought of the whole point is to be as Goth as possible, when for me, the point is to be whatever "degree" of Goth I feel is suitable for me at a particular time, given the circumstances.

    Not to mention, if you plan to be Goth for life it would get extremely boring to force yourself to fit into a narrow definition for your entire adult life. My style has morphed continually over the years, with several different styles manifesting, plateauing for a while and then evolving into something different. If I had spent the past 25 years worrying primarily about "whether I am Goth" I would have missed out on becoming ME: an individual.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Aww, thanks! I'm not naturally good at writing excellent points, I just go through several drafts before I'm happy with it, and often write blogs days or weeks in advance, so I get time to mull them over.

      Not good to hear that other Goths pick on you for not being terribly excited about Halloween. Personally, commercialised Halloween holds no interest to me, but costume parties do, and as a Pagan, the celebration of Samhain that preceded the existence of Halloween, is a religious and sombre occasion where I think about family members that have died, my ancestors, the people who have gone before us and made the world a better place, etc. Also, as I'm not a fan of the colour orange :P

      While it is always interesting to think of ways of "Gothifying" stuff, being as Goth as possible is not, and should not be, the purpose of being Goth... Your blog is about that balancing point between mundane work clothes and Goth clothes, managing to keep your identity while remaining within the bounds of work-wear, and so making something as Goth as is possible falls outside of the scope of what you do anyway.

      I agree with you entirely on how being Goth long-term would get rather boring and uncomfortable if it involved trying to fit into a narrow definition of Goth rather than going with what you really want to wear. It's important to be You the Individual rather than any cookie-cutter 'Gothclone".

      I sometimes go around completely un-Goth, especially if I'm going out to dinner, as I use that as an opportunity to wear cheongsams, kimonos and other things from my collection of fancy oriental clothes. I love Hong-Kong style Chinese clothes, with the colourful brocades and lovely cuts... Not Goth, but definitely something that makes me happy! I might actually do a Chinese New Year post on my Chinese clothes...

      Delete
  3. I'm not interested in labels, but sometimes they can be helpful. For example, I co-host a goth/darkwave/deathrock radio show, and too many bands send me music that they've labelled as 'goth' which doesn't bear *any* relation to the genre at all.

    I find that most of the people who are supportive of the progression of (real) goth music are the ones who don't necessarily 'dress up' and tell everyone how goth they are ;)

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I do think that in terms of music it is certainly important to be clear about exactly where in "dark" the music lies - for example, I write dark acoustic and that doesn't sound the least bit like Siouxsie or Bauhaus! - and this where labels are very useful. I think it's also useful for labels to be clear, especially in an age where a lot of information is accessed by the internet and thus keywords - for example European Coldwave often sounds a lot like UK Postpunk, and when I was searching for French-language Post-punk I wasn't getting anywhere, when I heard of Coldwave, I found a lot of bands I now quite like.

      I think a lot of the people dedicated to the music got into the scene in the 1980s (back when I was knee high to a grasshopper!) and don't necessarily dress the way they did as teenagers, but have kept the passion for that music. I don't think musical passion correlates with fashion, they're different facets of Goth. Personally I would love to find more people currently producing music based on the Postpunk/original Goth style as I don't think it was exhausted as a stylstic medium in the 1980s. I like Zola Jesus, but I'm finding more hipster-y Witch House than contemporary Postpunk/Goth rock - do you have any suggestions

      Delete
    2. Well, I have to be biased and suggest listening to a couple of radio shows - Shadowplay (http://shadowplayradio.blogspot.com) is a radio show that airs on Cathedral 13 every Sunday - we concentrate on mainly goth, darkwave and deathrock, and get sent new music quite often, but we also play the 'classics'. Podcasts of previous shows are on the blog.

      My solo show, Cannibal Roses (http://cannibalrosesradio.blogspot.com) is more for French Coldwave and Post-Punk.

      There *are* some goth bands around at the moment, like Angels Of Liberty and Snakedance from the UK, but there are whole lot more deathrock and post-punk at the moment. That's how Cannibal Roses came about - bands sending us 'goth' music that was really post-punk, but still very cool. I'm afraid I'm not into the hipster stuff either, heh heh!

      Delete
  4. This comment has been removed by the author.

    ReplyDelete

Please be polite and respectful. Comments containing gratuitous swearing and insults will be deleted.