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..

Thursday, 20 September 2012

♫ Music Showcase: Dead Can Dance ♫

Band Name: Dead Can Dance
Initially Post-Punk/Goth then Neo-Folk and World Fusion
Language: English
Active: 1980-1996, 2005-Present
Origin: Australia

Page: ::Dead Can Dance::
Wiki: ::Dead Can Dance Wikipedia Article::

Dead Can Dance are my first love, when it comes to 'Goth' music. I was working on a school production of Arthur Miller's The Crucible, and we were looking for suitable background music. Somewhere in the library of CDs was a copy of The Serpent's Egg. From the start I was hooked. I borrowed the CD, put it on repeat and listened to it through the headphones with my eyes shut, letting the music lead me off on wild imaginings. I was living in the city of Bristol, in England, at the time, and had access to a variety of record and CD shops, and started my mission to track down more music by this band and by similar. 

I was only flirting with the idea of joining the Goth subculture at the time, but was more of a bohemian, and it did not occur to me that the band were at all associated with anything Goth. Their early music actually did not really appeal to me at that time; I was looking for music that was ethereal, ancient in feel, that would take me away to a believable fantasy of a 'former Golden Age'. Unlike a lot of the Neo-Folk, New Age and World Fusion music I had listened to at the time, the music of Dead Can Dance did not seem like pastiche or a parody. It was not trying to be fantasy music; to me it was as the difference between the Luxor Hotel in Las Vegas and the real Pyramids and Sphinx. 

My record and CD collection is largely still at my father's house, so I can't take a photo, but I have pretty much all of their discography, except for the live releases, and both in vinyl and CD. If I had the money, I would order Anastasis, but sadly I don't. I have always found their cover art intriguing, and the booklet art in terms of CDs. It has always made me curious to see what images were used to accompany the music. 

Severance: The Winds of Change

Dead Can Dance formed in Melbourne, in 1981, originally as a quartet, with Lisa Gerrard, Paul Erickson, and Brendan Perry and Simon Monroe. Previously, Brendan Perry (who performed under the stage name "Ronnie Recent") and Simon Monroe had been in the Australian punk band 'Marching Girls' (which became The Scavengers) and Lisa Gerrard had previously been with New Wave band 'Microfilm'. Gerrard, Perry and Monroe all moved to London in 1982. Peter Ulrich joined the band in London, in 1982, and was one of the original band members signed to 4AD records, alongside James Pinker, and continued playing live with them until 1990. 

Dead Can Dance's first album (self-titled) was released in 1984, with 4AD records, followed by 'Garden of the Arcane Delights'. Some of their early work was more in a more 'Goth' style with tracks like 'The Trial' and 'The Arcane' but also included tracks in a very different style such as 'Frontier' that were early indications of where the band was to go musically. They still ended up playing support to the likes of Xmal Deutschland (1883, Brixton Ace, London), The March Violets (March 1984, London) and The Cocteau Twins (February 1984, Victoria Palace Theatre, London) in concert. 

Allmusic's reviewer, Ned Raggett felt their early work had been "as goth as it gets", and while I would definitely say that they started off a Goth band, I think they rapidly became a Gothic band instead; their music conjures up images of ancient ruins, vast cathedrals, eerie landscapes and strange rituals. Their music is constructed of vast soundscapes, statuesque and mesmerising in their grandeur and global scope. They are so eclectic and unique that they are genuinely hard to classify into any genre; I have gone with 'world fusion' simply because I feel I need to write something, but even that does not seem truly accurate. You can find references to a wide variety of cultures, mythologies and time periods, and yet it is all brought together so harmoniously. Despite, or maybe because of, the broad scope, their music is more Gothic than even the lyrical content and imagery of And Also The Trees, and their world fusion stylings with a distinct choral element certainly seem many miles from the sounds of Bauhaus or Siouxsie and The Banshees. There are a couple of Joy Division quotes in their lyrics - in 'The Carnival Is Over', the line "Procession moves on, the shouting is over" is a quote from Joy Division song 'The Eternal' and in 'Tell Me About The Forest You Once Called Home' there is an adaptation of part of 'Love Will Tear Us Apart'. 

Primarily, Dead Can Dance are and were a duo; Lisa Gerrard and Brendan Perry. The band's music has had a plethora of contributors. A lot of their tracks involve both instrumental and vocal multi-tracking, so the lineup for stage sets is often much broader than for studio line-ups, as they have a variety of backing musicians play the layered parts. Both Lisa and Brendan have incredibly powerful and mesmerising voices, with Lisa Gerrard often singing in her own idiosyncratic 'language' or glossolalia. As a contralto myself, Lisa's singing is something of an inspiration to me. Lisa Gerrard also plays the Yangquin, or Chinese Hammered Dulcimer, one of the instruments that gives the band its characteristic sound. 

They are a band with decidedly poetical lyrics and not always the sort where the meaning is immediately apparent. The content often seems spiritual, and I have noticed a tendency to more Pagan philosophy in the songs sung by Brendan and his own solo work and do wonder if he is quietly Pagan, although that could be my own inference as a Pagan myself. I've read that he's an Agnostic and that he's an Atheist, and that he's Wiccan, and as he can't be all three, where he actually stands I do not know. There are people who say Lisa's voice channels the Divine, and that she has the voice of an angel in a more literal sense than when that phrase is applied to the likes of Charlotte Church. Whether there is any inherent spiritual intent behind the music or not, I always find that it in response, I feel in a more spiritual frame of mind. 

Brendan Perry and Lisa Gerrard split up as a couple in the 1990s, and it seemed like 1996 album 'Spirit Chaser' was going to be their final album of new material. Their next album was titled 'Wake', and was a retrospective - to me   the title seemed like "wake" was intended as something that came after; a wake for the dead, the wake of a boat (especially with the ripples on the album cover). For a long time it seemed that Dead Can Dance had parted ways for good, Brendan and Lisa were following successful solo careers and that was the way it would stay. 

Dawn of the Iconoclasts

Back when I was at college, I did an art project on the band, cause it meant I could spend a whole term illustrating Dead Can Dance songs. It's from this project that the art I have used to illustrate this post has come.  

Lisa Gerrard had the more successful of the solo careers, mostly through collaborating with Hans Zimmer on the immensely popular soundtrack to Ridley Scott's 'Gladiator'. She has produced quite a body of work away from Dead Can Dance, and has released several albums of her own. Brendan Perry also produced solo work ('Eye of the Hunter' and 'Ark')

Brendan Perry and Lisa Gerrard finally toured again (As 'Dead Can Dance and Lisa Gerrard') in 2005 - I didn't get a chance to see them then, nor will I get to seem them on October 26th, when they perform in London, as it is now a sold out performance and there would be no way of me affording to go to London or taking time off work to travel. Their latest album is 'Anastasis', named after the Greek word for resurrection, a fitting name for an album that is the band's first recording of new work in 16 years. I haven't got a copy of it yet (too poor for buying albums, even Dead Can Dance albums), but expect a review as soon as I get it. (Dear Raven, you could hurry this up by buying me the album... ) Oh, to one day hear them live! 

In my opinion they are an amazing and unique musical force, well worth listening to, even if they are somewhat away from the 'Goth' niche. Even my Dad, who is rarely in accordance with any of my musical tastes, liked what he heard when I put 'Host of the Seraphim' on the CD player, and Raven, a definite Rivethead and Metalhead, lets me put Dead Can Dance in the in-car CD thingy-whatsit. They are really, really good, with solid compositions, an amazing synthesis of widely varying styles and techniques, and with lyrics that are beautiful poetry, and albums that are one amazing song followed by the next. I can't think of any Dead Can Dance song that I don't actually like (but that might be because I'm a very biased fan!). 


  1. I always liked Dead Can Dance, but haven't heard any of their newer material after "Spirit Chaser"
    I've always enjoyed Loreena McKennitt as well. I think her music is, or at least was, quite similar to that of Dead Can Dance.

    1. If you join the Dead Can Dance mailing list, you can get a few free downloads.

      I used to like Loreena McKennitt quite a bit (and Enya and Clannad), but while there's a few songs that I still listen to quite a bit (The Lady of Shalott, but that's no surprise) I've sort of gone off her a bit over time. In the videos of her playing live, she's fabulous, but some of her albums are a bit over-processed, it's almost like they're trying too hard to be atmospheric and it comes over as a tad cheesy to me. She has got a lovely voice, and I like her harp playing. I still stick a few songs on now and again. The same goes for Enya, and the Clannad songs I listen to regularly have dwindled in number too.

  2. I'm not a great fan of DCD, I like very much their first album, but the rest is not quite in my taste.
    What caught my attention in your post was the mentioning about Dead Can Dance playing as support before Xmal Deutschland concert. Funny thing - the 'star-of-the-evening' is nonexistent now and only die hard goths know about this band - and their supporting band is widely known and expiensive tickets for their concerts are being bought quickly.

    1. I don't think I'm a a die-hard Goth (although trying to de-Goth me might be a challenge and a half...) and I've heard of them (and heard music by them)... Maybe I should do my next music showcase on Xmal Deutschland!

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