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..

Wednesday, 20 June 2012

The Original 'Goth' Bands Are Not Goth

I am going to say something vaguely controversial here: Siouxsie And The Banshees, Sisters of Mercy, Joy Division and suchlike are not 'Goth Bands'.

They are, though, the people who produced the music about which the nebulous thing we now call Goth crystallised. The term 'Goth' was one applied to these bands by the music press, but it was more applied to their fans. Goth came from the fans of musicians, not from the bands themselves. Many of these bands produced music in styles outside of what is considered Goth, some of them starting as punk bands that evolved through Post-Punk into producing things in the style that became the 'Goth' style, some of them taking their music in directions outside of that style later in their careers.

Siouxsie Sioux is a musician whose career illustrates both of these aspects of these changes in musical direction. She started out as Sex Pistols fan who decided to have a go with a few friends, and whose first public performance involved her reciting the Lord's Prayer over an improvised instrumental, and her musical career evolved through punk beginnings to Siouxsie and The Banshees' Post-Punk work a was actually quite experimental and influenced by quite a variety of things (David Quantick called 'Peek-a-Boo' an "oriental marching band hip hop with farting horns and catchy accordion" in his review in the NME, published 23 July 1988, and that I think illustrates this eclecticism.). 

After the Banshees were reduced to Siouxsie and Budgie being 'The Creatures' their music took another turn in direction, partly because Budgie being a drummer and Siouxsie being a singer meant that outside of the studio their music was quite pared down to percussion and vocals, and this had its practical limitations, but partly because their creativity drove them to try new things - "Manchild" for example, is a story in song set in Ancient Meso-America about human sacrifice - a dark theme - but musically its inspirations clearly come from various periods and places. 

Siouxsie's distinctive sense of fashion, the often dark subject matter of the music she performed, the timing of her work coinciding with the nascent Goth subculture, and her links to Post-Punk made her an early Goth icon, despite the fact that stylistically she and the Banshees were highly varied and not always within the stylistic bounds of what is now described as Goth.;This is partly because in the early 1980s Goth was a lot less concrete.Siouxsi and The Banshees were not the only band to have a stylistically varied career and yet somehow become part of the (oft debated) 'canon' of Goth music. The Cure, for example, went decidedly pop for a while, before returning to darker rock, although their later work was certainly not as Goth as their earlier work such as 'A Forest'.

It takes a substantial body of work for a genre to become established, and it takes innovators being followed by the people they inspire, and that takes time. The later imitators are probably actually more Goth because they tended to stick quite closely to their inspirations, and therefore had an output that was more stylistically consistent and within the bounds of what is now termed 'Goth', though this does not mean they were necessarily as good because in being derivative some were not necessarily fulfilling their potential and may have done better allowing themselves more creative scope rather than trying to stay within a style.

Quite a few of the first wave bands - most notably The Sisters of Mercy (though they were late in that wave) - reject the Goth label, and I actually support this. Goth is not a term to label the bands themselves, more a description of individual pieces of music that they produced. The people themselves do not identify with the subculture. Some find the label to be constrictive, with both commercial concerns and creative concerns about such a label possibly resulting in aiming music at a target audience and therefore loosing some creative freedom. Some simply do not fit that label consistently enough to think it applies to them.

The original Goths are not the members of these bands - they are the fans who took inspiration in terms of fashion and music from these people and expanded it into something much bigger, pulling in influences from sources as diverse as centuries-old architecture, Victorian literature, early 20thC horror movies and futuristic science-fiction costumery. While we can thank people like Siouxsie Sioux, Dave Vanian, Patricia Morrison and Robert Smith for inspiring us, we should thank ourselves for the community we have built, for the vast amount of expansion and creativity that has come after that initial musical spark, and for basically building the subculture. Goth exists because of Goths, especially promoters, designers, organisers, musicians, artists and crafters.

✤❇~~❇✤

(I had an interesting debate in the comments of one of my posts about whether the Cure were Goth once - I LIKE these debates - feel free to debate this or any other post with me in the comments. I find reasoned arguments for and against my position, positive reactions where people expand on what they like and  most of all constructive criticism to be the most helpful and interesting comments! It is actually reading and responding to the comments that is the most enjoyable part of blogging. I'm in this subculture and have ties to others for the love of their various  facets and discussing them is fun!)

19 comments:

  1. "I am going to say something controversial here: Siouxsie And The Banshees, Sisters of Mercy, Joy Division and suchlike are not 'Goth Bands'."

    Ummm with the exception of Joy Divison these aren't the original goth bands... The Sisters were way to late to the game to ever be considered "original", popular yes, original no.
    While I like this article I don't really think you're being that controversial either, numerous people have said all of this and more, and like you said that even includes the bands themselves some of the time.

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    1. I wonder what you would consider the "original" ones.

      Joy Division was probably the first band to work in the very morose sound that influenced the others. My level of Bauhaus appreciation has gone up in recent years, and I'm starting to say they really got the style down, but I wouldn't say they were the first to use it. Unknown Pleasures is probably the first album released in what I would consider a Goth sound, and then Bela Lugosi's Dead by Bauhaus came out two months later. Three Imaginary Boys by the Cure was released in May of that year, so earlier, but didn't sound Goth for most of the album - maybe "Another Day" from that album could be classed as Goth-ish, but it does not typify the album.

      Sisters were definitely later, I was lumping them in as a first wave of Goth, which I see as Goth bands founded between about 1976 and 1980, and were producing Goth things before 1985. They weren't right at the very, very start, but they're certainly not a more recent act such as Zola Jesus or one of the later '80s acts like The Mission or Love And Rockets (which both formed out of earlier bands). Technically Sisters sort of began in 1979, but they weren't really being Goth until the early '80s, so I'd agree that they are later, and weren't at the cutting edge of Goth.

      Siouxsie & The Banshees' first incarnation started around 1976, which placed them pretty early, but I'd say they weren't sounding actually Goth until about 1981 (JuJu). Bauhaus, who are often credited as 'starting the whole thing' and as being one of the most consistently Goth-sounding bands didn't form until 1978, which is after the Banshees, and even The Birthday Party weren't active as The Birthday Party and being really Goth until 1980, after they'd changed names and moved from Australia to the UK. Robert Smith was making music with a few teenage secondary school bands from about 1973 onwards, but the Cure didn't release anything until 1979. I can't really find any bands being Goth before 1978 -It was 1979 when Tony Wilson, on "Something Else," described Joy Division's sound as "gothic in comparison with mainstream pop." and it was the same year, Siouxsie Sioux made the comment that her band's music was moving in a "gothic" direction.

      I don't think I am making an original point, but I do come across a lot of people who get very insistent that Eldritch is a Goth-in-denial and that Siouxsie should be our queen. As much as I admire Siouxsie and think she's wonderful, she's not the Goth Queen (although I occasionally refer to her as that as a joke on account of her stylishness at the time), and it is not a horrible sin against Goth for Peter Murphy to have converted to Islam and stopped performing some of his/Bauhaus's early material, but I encounter these sorts of opinions quite regularly. The bands of the early '80s are regarded as founding fathers/mothers by some, usually by my generation of Goths, people who missed out on being around old enough to have witnessed and understood the origins of the subculture (although not necessarily missing out on the '80s entirely). I think it's a conflation of the concept of "XYZ produced music later termed Goth, the fans of which were the first Goths" into "XYZ themselves were Goths". I don't think producing Goth music means you're automatically a Goth, anymore than producing non-Goth music means you're automatically no longer Goth. (I'm not having my metaphorical Goth card revoked for writing folk-rock. Folk-rock with dark lyrics may be dark, but it isn't Goth.)

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    2. I 've tweaked that first paragraph to "vaguely controversial" - I think you do have a point that it is an issue that has been raised before, and that a lot of people do see it as accepted music history that the music and the followers could have the word "Goth" applied, not the musicians, but there are still those that debate that point.

      On re-reading what I've actually said, while I still say they are one of the original bands, Sisters aren't "seminal", that lies with Bauhaus and Joy Division, so I've re-worded that to be a bit more accurate.

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  2. For the most part, I agree with what you're saying here. The funny thing is that, with their occasional use of choirs in songs like "Dominion" and "This Corrosion," I think the Sisters actually did have somewhat of a more Gothic sound; in spite of their denying any association with Goth.

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    1. I think Sisters definitely had something that tied back to the 'Gothic' vision of old cathedrals with the inclusion of choirs in their music. If you hear the demo to 'This Corrosion', in that form it was actually very sparse. I think filling out the sound for that track was a brilliant decision.

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  3. Very well said! I've felt the same thing for a while now. I really don't think of Goth as a genre since there is so much musical diversity within the bands we attribute as Goth bands. Goth music is defined by the audience. Which is why bands like Sopor Aeternus and Bauhaus are typically thrown under the same label yet sound nothing alike. What they do share is a common aesthetic and audience.

    I define Goth as a subculture that is focused around artistic expressions and creative endeavors of the Gothic aesthetic. It's a celebration of the Arts as seen through a Gothic perspective. I used to think Goth music was defined by the musical structural sound of a band until I actually started listening to the music. There's SO much diversity. And, I feel that's exactly the point! That's why Goth has been around for song long because it can always be added to and it will always be relevant to the times because of it's ability to adopt or assimilate outside sources into the larger subculture that fit the overarching aesthetic. As well as taking practices traditionally not associated with the subculture and filtering it through the goth aesthetic. I've seen this done with belly dancing, ballet, cabaret, high tea, and etcetera. As you said so wonderfully, "Goth exists because of Goths, especially promoters, designers, organisers, musicians, artists and crafters". YES, a million times over.

    Also, I get rather upset that people forget that The Doors, in 1967, were labeled Goth. Making them the first band to be labeled Goth not Joy Division. Their music was largely held at the time as being pretty dark music (and rightfully so). Even Ian Curtis (as well as Rozz Williams) were huge fan of Jim Morrisson and drew a lot of influence from him and his band The Doors. It astounds me that people constantly look over this! Then again I am a huge fan of Jim Morrison.

    I wish that one day we could meet up and have delightfully expansive conversations about the subculture over tea and some biscuits. :D

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    1. You've written enough in my comments to write a full post on your blog!

      I must admit I have a soft-spot for Sopor Aternus - it sounds like they're using real instruments rather than samples on their neo-folk/neo-baroque tracks and their singer is being genuinely original with that decidedly undead image. I'd say they were a truly Gothic band with the use of the term as in "Gothic Horror" and "Gothic Literature" but hey definitely don't sound like Bauhaus or Joy Division! I actually like that diversity - I'd love to go to WGT and hear the broad spectrum of sounds on offer, to sway to the retrospective bands who wear period garb and include recorders and violins, to re-configure martial arts manoeuvres as dance for EBM tracks and then to pull the imaginary cobwebs and 'do the Crow' to the strains of bands playing things in the original Goth vein.

      "There's SO much diversity. And, I feel that's exactly the point! That's why Goth has been around for song long because it can always be added to and it will always be relevant to the times because of it's ability to adopt or assimilate outside sources into the larger subculture that fit the overarching aesthetic. As well as taking practices traditionally not associated with the subculture and filtering it through the goth aesthetic. I've seen this done with belly dancing, ballet, cabaret, high tea, and etcetera."

      This is exactly HOW the scene continues to flourish. Goth thrives on what you bring to the table, and all the time people aren't bringing anything new, and only regurgitating the old, it lacks nourishment.

      Ack! I HAD heard that quote about The Doors being labeled Gothic waaay back in the '60s. Jim Morrison married in a Pagan handfasting (wedding) in 1970 to an author, and I think it was on the Pagan connection that I ended up reading about The Doors and the quote. I must say, I'm not a huge fan of their music; I don't think there's anything wrong with it but I just don't get enthused by it. Considering the themes in the music, the Pagan connection, the darkness in the music, by all means I SHOULD be a fan, but somehow, nope.

      Depending on your location and how well we get to know each other, that might just be.

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  4. There was also a relatively unknown underground band from Boston called The Ultimate Spinach, which released an LP during 1967. On that first album, they did a song called the "Ballad of the Hip Death Goddess." The song's intro and lyrics were quite dark and the band's sound was very experimental. I have seen that ballad referred to as the first Goth song by people who are aware of its existence.

    Today, there's a performer in the Los Angeles area who calls herself the Hip Death Goddess as a result of that song. Her band's music is defined as a cross between psychedelic and Goth.

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    1. It's these little titbits of information about small acts that are so useful and make comments worthwhile, thanks :)

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    2. The Hip Death Goddess mentioned in the comment above, unfortunately died two years ago. Her name was Bryna Golden and she sang for Southern California band "Babylonian Tiles."

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  5. "The later imitators are probably actually more Goth because they tended to stick quite closely to their inspirations, and therefore had an output that was more stylistically consistent and within the bounds of what is now termed 'Goth', though this does not mean they were necessarily as good because in being derivative some were not necessarily fulfilling their potential and may have done better allowing themselves more creative scope rather than trying to stay within a style."

    This is too true. One of my biggest gripes with today's Goth scene is the lack of innovative music. There are a lot of bands that try very hard to stick within the lines of what the original bands sounded like. Sometimes almost to the point where they sound exactly like them. I really find this very boring. I know there are some who can listen to a whole horde of bands that sound like Bauhaus sound-a-likes and be perfectly happy. For me, it's like nails on a chalkboard.

    Maybe this is just an American point of view. Since I've noticed that the Goth scene in Europe (Germany in particular) to be more expansive in regards to it's boundaries. But, the sad part of my generation of Goths is the lack of creativity. People are content to rehash the same old riffs and defunct bands over and over again without daring to mix it up or seek out new innovative music in keeping with the Goth aesthetic. And, when something new and innovative comes a long that is in keeping with the subculture's overarching aesthetic people reject it (i.e. witchouse, bands like Zola Jesus). Honestly, I don't know how long the Goth subculture will be around if people are only intent on listening to the same bands over and over. Who I might add have all moved on. Nick Cave, Peter Murphy, Johnny Slut, Siouxsie Sioux, and Andrew Eldritch have all left their "Goth" days behind them. They don't tour nor are they making new albums (and if they are making new music it has no relation to the Goth aesthetic). It's why I've chosen to not limit myself these days. Sad to say, but some of the best music coming out in today's underground scene isn't coming out of the Goth scene. Why? Because the Goth scene is no longer a conducive environment for expression and creativity.

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    1. Darling Violetta said, "Because the Goth scene is no longer a conducive environment for expression and creativity."

      I'd like to suggest that you check out a band called Demona Mortiss. They're characterized as metal but their aesthetic is totally Goth and their music will amaze you. Here's a link that will take you to a place where you can listen to several of their songs:

      http://soundcloud.com/demona-mortiss

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    2. I can listen to bands that try to sound like Bauhaus as long as they do a reasonable job of making music. It's a high mark to hit, emulating the early bands and poor imitations are especially painful when you know what that style being done well sound like.

      One quirky thing to look at is Patricia Morrison's later work - It is not exactly murky Joy Division/Bauhaus/Also The Trees inspired stuff that I would call the core '80s Goth sound, nor is it like her work with Sisters or what she did later with The Damned. She had a brief solo career in the early '90s and it was definitely still dark music. You could call her a bit of a missing link between Goth rock and later 90's 'Gothic' female fronted acts, but without that feeling of trying too hard to be Gothic. I feel that bands like Within Temptation, Nightwish, Evanescence and suchlike are to music what the prints on Spiral t-shirts and Amy Brown fairies are to art or that Raven panne-velvet and lace are to fashion. It is narrow genre art, which while well produced doesn't have the same brilliance as those who are not trying fit a genre but who are genuinely following their vision.

      I don't think Goth as a subculture will die if people keep looking outside of its confines for good music and for inspiration. I personally cannot see the reason to reject new acts such as Zola Jesus when they are making fresh music from the old idiom, especially when the rejection is based only off allegations of them being "hipster".

      I quite like Peter Murphy's newer work, but it is more like The Divine Comedy than Bauhaus.

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    3. I can understand that. Even so, for me, it's still strikes me as old hat as it's been done far too much in the scene under the guise of "staying true to Goth's roots". There is one Sisters sound a like band I like called Subterfuge. But, their lyrics are very touching to me. So, that was my one exception. haha. :)

      I'll have to check that out! I love Patricia Morrison. Very true. You could also say the exact same thing about the majority of those early 2000s "Deathrock Revival" bands. They're extremely narrowed in their image as well as their music. I really couldn't tell most of them apart. While I'm not huge fans of Nightwish and the rest I much rather listen to Within Temptation than the majority of those "Neo-Trad-Goth" bands. As I've heard far too many of them over the years and I'm terribly sick of it. At least it's something, anything different than a cover of "Romeo's Distress" or "Spiritual Cramp". LOL! ;)

      I agree. I heard someone say that it's the "elitists" that keep/have kept the scene alive. I couldn't help but laugh at that. In any scene it's never the elitists who make things happen. Actually, they keep progress from happening because of their desire to keep the scene elite. It's the people who are willing to look outside the confines of "the scene" for new inspiration that move things forward. Bad Brains were accomplished Jazz musicians before they played Punk. They bought what they had to the table, mixed it in with punk, and completely rocked the punk scene back in the 80s and still today. It's high time this attitude comes back to today's American Goth scene (as it seems that European Goths have already gotten hold of this). It's good that people like Bauhaus. But, take Bauhaus's initial spirit by being creative and thinking outside of the box. Or better yet why not just bring in bands that share a common aesthetic? I really don't think a band has to have roots in the original scene or bands in order for it to be within the confines of "Goth". Have Munly Lee Lewis & the Harlots play a gig with Fields of the Nephilim. That's more interesting to me than trying to narrow it all down to sound. Particularly since most goth bands come from all different genres anyway. I think I may have to make a blog about this! Haha. :)

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    4. The Deathrock revival ended up self-parodying in the end, which was suicide for the revival. I used to like bands like Within Temptation and Evanescence and Nightwish when I was a teenager, and to me they are like my resin dragons, pewter 'Celtic' jewellery and Gothic fairy posters from the same period of my life...

      Is it bad that I like the De Volanges cover of Spiritual Cramp? There's something about the heavy Belgian accent I find terribly charming. I'm going to music Hell for that :P I must admit that the charm wears off after the first couple of De Volanges songs, though - he really should just sing in his native language, it would be enjoyable to hear him sing in French (They're French-speaking Belgians). I enjoy the English lyrics, I think they're actually quite cool, but you get a certain lack of flow, the odd place where the syllables and notes don't match. It's not like there isn't a Francophone market for that sort of music. That style of music is not an only Anglophone phenomena. I'd sit there and listen to him warble away in Belgian French for hours.

      I think you're quite right - trying to keep the scene narrow and "elite" does not help anybody. I'm sadly hundreds of miles from the beating heart of Goth in the UK (London) or even from the much more lively scene in Glasgow. I'm so far North in Scotland that even Glasgow is far away. Anyway, I'm not that integrated into the genuinely creative musical Goth scene here to comment on it.

      I look forwards to reading that blog!

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  6. Darling Violetta said, "...the Goth scene is no longer a conducive environment for expression and creativity."

    I think one problem we have is that some people define Gothic music so narrowly that it leaves little room for creativity. That's one reason why I listen to a lot of metal; it's diverse.

    That said, Have you heard of Demona Mortiss? If not, I would like to urge you to check them out. They're categorized as metal, but they certainly incorporate elements of Goth Rock and industrial into their music as well. My feeling is that the band is absolutely amazing and it's members are totally Goth. I see groups such as Demona Mortiss as the future of Goth music. Stagnation is not an option. Anyway, you can see them doing a live performance of their song entitled "Lost" on You Tube and here's a link that will take you to several of their songs:

    http://soundcloud.com/demona-mortiss

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    1. So true. It's one of the reasons I've recently been delving back into my hardcore punk music collection.

      I've heard of them. I really like their sound! I didn't know they had live music up. I'll go check that out. Thanks! :)

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  7. I ve said this before but I remember when Andrew Eldritch used to sit at the back of the DJ’s box in the Leeds F Club in 1979.

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    1. He has a reputation for being a bit of an arrogant person these days - did he have good manners and a better demeanour back then?

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