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..

Sunday, 25 March 2012

The Cure, Reading Festival and a Modern Gothic Revival

I saw Robert Smith on the cover of the N.M.E and did a double take, saw that it really was him and that the front page article was on the Cure and immediately bought a copy. I'm not the hugest fan of the Cure ('Pornography' was my favourite album of theirs, and some of their work between 'Pornography' and 'Disintegration' became too "poppy" for me.) but seeing an what had been a Goth band about 30 years ago on the front of the mainstream music press was something that piqued my interest. There was Robert Smith, albeit older than before, with black eye-makeup, mad hair and his signature ill-applied red lipstick, on the front of what is pretty much the mainstream music magazine in the UK, above the likes of Florence and the Machine.

(Florence Welch, by the way, was once "a grunge kid, a little goth", wearing "baggy trousers and skate chains". I'm somehow not surprised that she was once a Babybat.) 

I see The Cure as one of the originals, even if they went pop, and also they didn't stay pop - they've been doing Goth-ier stuff from 'Disintegration' onwards, making music for The Crow and putting out 'Wild Mood Swings' in the '90s and then putting out 'Bloodflowers' in 2000. The most recent album '4:13 Dream' came out in 2008, which as was talked about again in the N.M.E, is only half an album really, and is theoretically the lighter half, the accessible, poppy stuff that   was pushed to be released while other tracks were recorded and left unreleased.  I've listened to that album, it's got some pretty dark things, "The Reasons Why" is not "light" - it's a song about being suicidal, "The Hungry Ghost" is a paean about the emptiness of materialism, which while not as musically dark as some things, isn't exactly an "upbeat" song, but put amongst songs like "Sirensong"  that are more pop with shades of Echo and the Bunnymen. Anyway, I'm getting sidetracked. 

It turns out they are playing Reading Festival for the first time in 33 years - a very long time between huge gigs in terms of modern musical careers. They have played other big festivals in the UK, most notably playing headline slots at the vast and fabulous Glastonbury in 1986, 1990 and 1995, and I'd guess they've played big festivals around the world that I don't know about - they're certainly playing other ::festivals:: across Europe this year. They're still playing the more 'alternative' Friday, but they've got a very good slot, and I'm intrigued as to what this means for that kind of music. They're evening going on to Reading's twin, Leeds Festival for the Saturday. Festivals are out to make a profit, and they're not going to put someone in the headline slot if they don't think it fits in with the festival and will get a sizeable audience. Reading is not Rewind (a couple of miles along the river at Henley-on-Thames), it's not a retrospective. They played at Bestival last year, which while a small festival by comparison with Reading, and which has a yuppie/hipster reputation of trying to be a Burning Man for respectable middle-class types, is still the sort of festival that has contemporary big names. 

It at least means the Cure are still big enough not to get sidelined for being too Goth even after moving away from their latter '80s/early '90s pop sound and returning to the stuff they were originally known for. 

I am not the sort of person who thinks that Goth must never become successful, must never be liked by the mainstream, because personally, it means more people are enjoying things I think are worth enjoying, and it also means that when people do come across Goths, they'll hopefully have slightly more of a clue than the usual idiot that shouts "MARILYN MANSONNN" and asks about vampires and self-harm. Or calls me an Emo and asks about Bullet For My Valentine. I only object to popularity when bands start changing what they produce to be commercial. 

Robert says that The Cure were playing to the audience at Bestival: "We concentrated a lot on the more well known songs and we went down well, there have been times when I've played whatever I wanted to play and I have had absolutely no regard for the audience, whereas now I kind of consider that I'm part of an event. I'm aware that we're playing probably to a lot of people who would other wise not come and see The Cure. We're part of the weekend, so it's kind of dumb not to try and play tracks that are your most accessible songs." (Robert in the N.M.E, page 20, 17/03/12). but this they're headlining major festivals across Europe, and if there wasn't the demand, they wouldn't get that sort of opportunity; the music industry is nothing if not mercenary. Hopefully they will play their dark delights, not just their more accessible pieces and entrance a new generation of back-combed and black-clad spooky types, and hopefully they will continue to inspire new musicians in a similar idiom. To me, seeing this is a sign that our genre of music still has life.

I would like there to be a resurgence - I like the original Goth music, and while I like some of its later incarnations, I would still like to hear new music in that old vein. I've noticed that some Nu-Goth types are not ignoring the musical roots of the subculture (even if they're still ignoring the subculture, but Andrew Eldritch himself takes steps to distance himself from the subculture, so that's not really a sign of anything but personal obstinence.) and that there is new music appearing that does definitely have its stylistic roots in the early Goth music - Zola Jesus is somewhere between Siouxsie Sioux and the Cocteau Twins, for example. What I want, though, is more.

What did sadden me was the photographs - Robert hasn't aged well at all - as a younger man he was always a bit round-faced and boyish but this was endearing, now with age this has gone against him - he does not look healthy. The original scruffy back-combed hair and deliberately ill-applied makeup that he originally wore so well now makes him look like an ageing Gothic transvestite rather than someone with a streak of the rebellious scruffiness of punk and deliberate madman hair. I'm not sure if this is just unflattering camera angles, changing the colours (especially for the cover) so he's a bit... green, or that the passing of time has really taken a heavier toll on him, but I do hope it isn't a sign of him being in decline. At least he doesn't look too bad in the main article photo on page 20. With the recent deaths of people like Polly Styrene, I do worry. Part of it is selfish - I don't want my favourite bands to retire or even die before I get to see them. Porl Thompson, who has been around The Cure (he left for a bit then rejoined) since 1976 is looking a lot better for the years than his brother-in-law. Even with tattoos instead of hair. 

I won't make it to Reading or Leeds, or anywhere else in Europe this year, but I do wish them all the best. I hope they continue in their success, and that Robert is in better health than he looks. I hope that bands like The Cure continue to have an influence, and that new bands emerge to carry the torch. 

10 comments:

  1. I don't consider The Cure goth at all ... they are pop. In their earlier days they were more post-punk/new-wave, but never goth. Robert Smith himself is horrified with the goth tag, and rightly so! :P

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    1. Eldritch and Siouxsie deny it too :P Although I think Siouxsie's labelled stuff Goth too if I remember rightly... Robert does have a point - their band's output is too varied to be singularly called Goth.

      I think it depends on the album and at which point in their output you look at. The way I see it, to begin with they were definitely post-punk, but then Robert Smith went to play as a Banshee as well as be the lead singer of the Cure (to the detriment of his health but the benefit of The Cure's music) and they went pretty Goth and from 'Seventeen Seconds' to 'Pornography' they pretty much produced Goth stuff, and then they went in another direction entirely. One theory is that the record company decided that 'Pornography' was in an uncommercial direction and pressure was put on them to be more upbeat and accessible. The other theory is that the band had worked out all that nihilist, dark impetus and it was time for something else, but I don't think it was ever quite gone, which could account for why two follow up albums to Pornography were released after their popularity had seemingly peaked in the '90s. It has been... patchy since they went poppy, and 4:13 dream, while not what Robert intended and he claims he was pushed in a more accessible direction, still has its moments. It has its moments of being annoying, too, though.

      I think the way their output has hopped through genres a lot might be one of the reasons I'm not a huge, huge fan of them. There's too much stuff of theirs that I simply don't like. Play "Lovecats" at me and I will vanish. It's cheesy, it's annoying. It makes me cringe.

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    2. I am going to tweak the post a bit, on re-reading what I've written.

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    3. Haaha, we'll just agree to disagree!!

      And yeah, as much as I love the Banshees, they're not a goth band either ... though they did enough goth songs that we still play them occasionally on our goth radio show ;)

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    4. Agreeing to disagree is fine :) I think we delineate where 'Goth' begins differently... I think I start somewhere when post-punk started getting dark. It's not just lyric content, I think it's when it started getting more atmospherically dark, too. The sound changed, and 'm not enough of a musician to name what changed (at some point I'll ask Raven, who is pretty proficient at things like guitars and drums, to educate me) but that's where I draw the edges of my "Goth" cloud. To me, 'Forests' by The Cure sounds quintessentially Goth.

      Which bands would you see as Goth?

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    5. Early Bauhaus, Screams For Tina, The Wake, Mephisto Walz, Big Electric Cat, Ikon, Carcrash International, early Christian Death (though they called it deathrock!), Corpus Delicti, early Sisters Of Mercy, Dead Souls Rising, Vendemmian, Subterfuge, Disjecta Membra, Morthem Vlade Art, Il Giardina Violetto, Suspiria (electro-goth), Sex Gang Children, Children On Stun, X-Mal Deutschland, Blade Fetish, Judith, Lacrima Necromanzia ... WAY too many more!!

      There are also quite a few 'trad goth' bands from the UK popping up, like Angels Of Liberty and Snakedance.

      Bet you wish you didn't ask!!! :P

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    6. Actually, I am glad I asked because while I know a good few of those, there's a few that are new to me (Morthem Vlade Art and Lacrima Necromanzia for example) and I like finding stuff I didn't know about :3 I'm going to have to type a few of those into YouTube :3

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    7. Morthem Vlade Art's 'Barbaric Breath' is a goth dancefloor classic ;)

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    8. I remember the intro from clubbing in London once, but that was it. Usually the most Gothy things I hear when actually out clubbing are Sisters' This Corrosion, Dominion/Mother Russia, and The Temple of Love, lots of Siouxsie especially Cities in Dust, Peekaboo and and Spellbound, Bauhaus's She's in Parties and Ziggy Stardust, and then its a mix of lots of stuff from bands like Killing Miranda and Blutengel to Emilie Autumn and Marilyn Manson and a good bit of EBM, Synthpop, Futurepop, Industrial, etc and I got into that sort of stuff via my other half so I don't mind too much, but a lot of the stuff you mention, while good, somehow doesn't get on enough playlists. I think I've always been in places with too few Goths so to get a reasonable attendance they need a pretty diverse play list and a variety of genres, and this is squeezing out the non-obvious Goth stuff. A shame, really, but I'd rather have a diluted night of clubbing than no clubbing at all.

      Actually, this is a topic I keep moaning about and keep spotting in forums and such - I think it might be time to write a blog on the lack of Goth at the Goth club.

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    9. (I'll always dance to Discotheque Necronomicon and Burn Sinister despite them being terribly cheesy. I admit a softspot for Killing Miranda)

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