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Gothic rock

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Gothic rock

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Gothic Rock
Stylistic origins: Punk rock, post-punk, glam rock, psychedelic rock
Cultural origins: Late 1970s United Kingdom and other regions
Typical instruments: Guitar - Bass - Drums - Synthesizers
Mainstream popularity: Largely underground, some major visibility since the mid-80s in the UK and Europe
Fusion genres
Dark Cabaret - Gothabilly
Other topics
Alternative rock - Culture - Darkwave -Industrial music

Gothic rock (also called goth rock or simply goth) is a genre of rock music that evolved out of post-punk during the late 1970s. Originally considered just a label for a small handful of punk rock/post-punk bands, goth only began to be defined as a separate movement in 1981. While most punk bands focused on aggressive, outward rock, the early gothic bands were more introspective, concerned with aesthetics, and personal, with elements that can be traced to much older literary movements such as gothic horror, Romanticism, existential philosophy, and the philosophical construct of nihilism. Notable gothic rock bands include Bauhaus (considered one of the first), Siouxsie & the Banshees, The Cure, The Sisters of Mercy, and Fields of the Nephilim.

Largely separate from other genres of alternative rock that developed during the 1980s, the original gothic rock scene gave birth to the goth subculture, which has a presence in many areas of the world today.


First generation (c. 1979–c. 1985)

Associating the goth subculture with the first generation of goth bands can be troublesome. Since the adjective "gothic" was used to describe the sound of specific punk, post punk, and new wave bands, not all punks and new wavers who liked these groups associated themselves with a goth scene; regardless these early groups are where goth rock traces its origins. What is most notable about the core 1970s and 1980s bands is that, typical to their punk roots, they had a general distaste for labels, presumably seeing such things as anathema to creative expression [1].

With some exceptions, such as Christian Death from Los Angeles, the Virgin Prunes from Ireland, and Xmal Deutschland from Germany, most of these first gothic rock groups were British.

Early goth bands in the United Kingdom

The first post punk/new wave groups later to be labeled gothic were Joy Division and Siouxsie & the Banshees in 1979. They seem to have been a part of a wave of bands developing a haunting sound and dark, art-oriented expression between 1978 and 1979. Two other examples of this trend were Johnny Rotten's Public Image Ltd and Killing Joke. Though these groups may not have been part of the goth scene that sprung up a few years later, they were very influential. Among influential albums by Siouxsie & the Banshees would be everything put out between their debut album The Scream (1978) and Nocturne (1983). Joy Division were short lived because vocalist Ian Curtis committed suicide, but the two albums they put out, Unknown Pleasures (1979) and Closer (1980), were both gothic in sound and highly influential. The remaining members of Joy Division became New Order and New Order's first album Movement (1981) continued Joy Division's influential gothic style. New Order afterwards turned into a New Wave/dance group but not before the British press began slamming gothic rock groups, such as Danse Society, as New Order rip offs.

As the gothic label began to stick to Joy Division and Siouxsie & the Banshees in 1979; then came Bauhaus, originally called Bauhaus 1919. They started out wearing plain jeans and t-shirts, but after appearing on the same bill as Gloria Mundi (who looked and sounded gothic yet remained unknown since nobody ever saw them), Bauhaus ended up having a make over, dressing in all black and wearing make up. Strongly influenced by English Glam rock, such as David Bowie and T. Rex, Bauhaus's debut single "Bela Lugosi's Dead" released in late 1979, is considered to be the gothic anthem that sparked several people to follow in their gothic footsteps.

More bands came along in 1980-1981; among them were Danse Society, Theatre of Hate, Play Dead, and The Sisters of Mercy. In February 1981, Abbo from UK Decay jokingly labeled this emerging movement gothic and so it went from being a label for a few bands to a label for a movement. UK Decay started out as a punk band in the late 1970s and, though they sounded very gothic since their beginning, they became more important in the emerging scene of the early 1980s.

Echo and the Bunnymen were another early post punk outfit that would bear substantial influence on the gothic look and sound, particularly with the album Crocodiles (1980) and songs like 'Happy Death Men'. The 'Bunnymen' in their turn influenced other bands, including Dead Fingers Talk, fronted by Nottingham musician and poet Steve Gad who had spent the previous year with them.

The origins of gothic fashion can be traced to Siouxsie & the Banshees, Bauhaus and The Cure, though some mention should be given to The Damned, a 1977 punk band whos lead singer Dave Vanian dressed up as a vampire for kicks. Siouxsie & the Banshees and The Cure have retained their goth imagery throughout their careers, but their music has strayed from the gothic style. After the Nocturne album, Siouxsie's output shifted to softer focus on gothic themes. Bauhaus remained a consistently gothic band up until their break up in 1983. Some members of Bauhaus had a side project called Tones on Tail and continued with it during the mid 1980s, releasing gothic music influenced strongly by Pet Sounds-era The Beach Boys and psychedelia.

Early Gary Numan material from Tubeway Army to The Pleasure Principle can be considered goth. The use of analog synthesizers and subject matter were a definite influence on later goth bands. His imagery & fashion have influenced contemporary goth Cyberpunk fashion.

1982 saw gothic rock turn into a full on sub-culture, not just because of the emergence of bands like Sex Gang Children, Southern Death Cult, Skeletal Family, Specimen, and Alien Sex Fiend, but because it saw the opening of the Batcave in London, a venue with the purpose of reinventing David Bowie's style of glam rock with a darker, horror-type twist. Some members of gothic rock bands began hanging out there and it ended up becoming the prototype goth club. By 1984, music played by the DJs there ranged from Siouxsie, The Cramps, Sweet, Specimen, Eddie Cochran, and Death Cult. 1982-83 also saw the gothic rock scene gaining a lot of media attention from the British press and venues similar to the Batcave started popping up all over England.

Early goth bands in America and Canada

The American Deathrock scene, which was primarily centered in and around Los Angeles, California, began in the late seventies with such bands as Christian Death (1979) [2], 45 Grave (1979) [3], Voodoo Church, Kommunity FK (1979) [4], Theatre of Ice (1978) etc.. At the time that Christian Death were recording their debut album Only Theatre of Pain in 1982, frontman Rozz Williams knew of the goth scene in England but had not yet heard any of those bands. Christian Death soon became popular in France and started touring Europe and England in 1984. Their second two albums Catastrophe Ballet and Ashes showed more direct influence from goth as Rozz Williams became interested in surrealism and the dada movement. The Gun Club also started playing in Europe and England a lot, often opening up for the Sisters of Mercy.

Early goth bands in Europe and Australia

Goth was as much a continental European phenomenon as it was British or American. At the same time bands like Bauhaus and Christian Death were forming in those countries, dark bands such as Einstürzende Neubauten (1980), Xmal Deutschland (1980), Die Krupps (1981), and Pink Turns Blue were forming in Germany. Belgium gave rise to electronic body music (EBM) with influence from bands such as Kraftwerk and the early EBM band Front 242 (1981). Amsterdam soon joined in with Clan of Xymox, who formed in 1983. Subsequently, Germany is now home to the largest modern gothic festival, the yearly Wave Gotik Treffen in Leipzig, which began in 1992.

Australia and New Zealand also deserve a mention. The emerging movement there was characterized by Nick Cave's second band, The Birthday Party (c. 1979 and later moving to London) and other post-punk collectives like Fetus Productions (also called The Features/The Fetals, c.1979), who as of 2004 were still holding art museum exhibits for their controversial depictions of deformed human beings. From the New Zealand Film Archive site: "Operating as an audio-visual company from 1980-1989, Fetus Productions were part of a small global 'industrial' culture network, which included Throbbing Gristle in Britain, and Survival Research Laboratories on the West Coast of America. They released seven albums, designed clothing, wrote manifestos, made films, and challenged the parameters of music and art, blending pop, industrial and philosophical methodologies. Their work attacked advertising's promulgation of perfect images and perfect bodies using images of medical misadventure and mutation."

Second generation (c. 1985–c. 1995)

In the UK this period saw goth bands at their most popular, and the subculture at its largest extent. Throughout the 80s, there was much cross-pollination between the European goth subcultures, the Death Rock movement, and the New Romantic (New Wave) movement. The rise in popularity of rock music in the mid-eighties, was mirrored by the rise of gothic rock, most notably in the form of the seminal goth rock bands, The Sisters of Mercy, Fields of the Nephilim (1984), a new version of Christian Death (1985), The Mission (1986), and Mephisto Walz (c.1987) founded by former Christian Death composer / guitarist Barry Galvin (alias Bari Bari), Galvin defined the dark droning style of Christian Death on the album Atrocities, the songs of which he composed and later transferred to the Mephisto Walz repertoire.

Around 1985, the post-punk era came to an end and many of the first generation gothic groups either disbanded or changed their style. That era closes with The Sisters of Mercy's debut album First and Last and Always (1985) which cracked the British top ten and is a good picture of the transition between first and second generation goth. Despite the fact that they had formed in 1980, the Sisters would prove to be very influential on the second generation. Vocalist Andrew Eldritch had a voice very different from any of the other first generation gothic rock groups and by the late 1980s was labeled the "Godfather of Goth." The Sisters of Mercy were also the first among the gothic rock groups to use a drum machine, along with the March Violets, who, like the Sisters, were also from Leeds, England. The drum machine seems to have been a unique feature of goth bands coming out of Leeds (the Three Johns and Red Lorry Yellow Lorry are good examples) and became much more common during the second generation. The drum machine continues to be common in goth music to this day.

It was during the second wave of goth that the term and the style became noticed outside of a few tight-knit circles. The term began to appear in mainstream British publications like The Face and the NME, fanzines and goth-only clubs began to spring up in the tradition of London's Batcave (which was still going strong). The 1983 vampire film "The Hunger" starred David Bowie and featured an appearance by Bauhaus, cementing the relationship between glam, horror, goth and mainstream in a way that influenced much of the second generation. The popularity of these acts was cemented by the emerging popularity on European stages and US college radio of 4AD recording artists such as Clan of Xymox (who scored a mainstream hit with "Imagination" after dropping the "Clan of" from their name), Dead Can Dance, and The Cocteau Twins, as well as the continued popular success of acts like Siousxie and the Banshees, who despite no longer operating actively or exclusively in the Gothic scene, were still its de facto spokespeople to the mainstream.

Several goth magazines arose during this time, the first possibly being Propaganda (though it later became a softcore gay porn magazine). Goth zines split their direction in much the same way that the scene itself did; earlier magazines such as Permission were allied to the punk roots of goth, and tended to veer towards industrial music as the years went on, while later magazines such as Carpe Noctem focused more on the lace-and-poetry romantic sound, setting the stage for the "spooky kids" of the third wave.

By 1987, gothic groups started to emerge in Toronto and Montreal, Canada. Those achieving acclaim include: Disappointed a Few People (Montreal 1986) and Masochistic Religion (Toronto, 1988?-2003) whose signer, Mitch Kroll, relocated to Montreal and is still active as a musician but the band is now dormant. Masochistic Religion also included the singer from Armed and Hammered, the Guitarist from technicolour rain coats and a member from Ichor. Toronto band Exovedate signed with German record label Pandaimonium Records and their third CD "Seduced by Illusions" received airplay in Australia, Russia, the United States, Brazil, Guam, Germany, and Canada.

By this time, a cross-pollination with the growing global industrial music scene was developing (though the scenes had always been at least acquainted with each other), and acts like Dog Pile, Crash Worship, and Skinny Puppy blended more and more elements from these scenes. Though not ever involved with the goth scene directly, Depeche Mode was also tremendously influential (though musicians at the time may have been loathe to admit it) in their blending of goth and industrial elements within a popular idiom. Synthpop acts such as Camouflage, Secession, Celebrate the Nun, and Red Flag began to work in their footsteps during this period, and their incorporation of the gothic into club music was a seminal experiment that foreshadowed the culling of synthpop into goth rock that would heavily characterize the scene in the late 90s.

Third generation (c. 1995 to Present)

The nineties saw the further growth of eighties bands and emergence of many new acts, with most of the North American examples, such as Switchblade Symphony, and London After Midnight, being released by the Cleopatra label while England gave birth to Children On Stun and Rosetta Stone. Meanwhile in Germany, interest in Gothic music began to grow, with Apollyon Records releasing numerous Gothic compilations, and soon pushing full length recordings from American Gothic bands like The Last Dance, and The Deep Eynde.

Goth bands on other labels whose popularity grew in the 90s include The Cruxshadows, The Last Dance, Sunshine Blind, Trance to the Sun, The Empire Hideous, The Shroud, and Voltaire.

The mid and late 90s were a transitional period for gothic music, in no small part owing to a wider cultural obsession with hard rock acts — particularly in the United States — that had been influenced by and somewhat erroneously labelled as "gothic" and/or "industrial." The corporatization of goth, as displayed in the music of HIM, Marylin Manson and several other popular acts, as well as the rise of the Hot Topic chain and the "mallgoth" aesthetic meant that traditional goth acts were now interacting in a scene composed of a new and mixed audience whose preconceptions of goth music changed these acts' opportunities for artistic and commercial success. The upshot was that many talented acts toured and recorded from 1995 to the end of the millennium, though their work was overshadowed both in popularity and ultimate influence by bands and fans alike who merely dabbled in the scene but largely abandoned it, perhaps not coincidentally, around the time of the Columbine school shooting and the American press's subsequent villification and scrutiny of goth culture in 1999.

In the underground, Cleopatra's heyday had diminished by the turn of the millennium, and Goth rock, to survive in a subculture dominated more and more by dance club attendance, adapted. Contemporary dance club goth evolved simultaneously with beat driven industrial music during this era, and both use the same techniques and types of synthesis equipment. The main difference is that danceable industrial is "harder" sounding, and goth is "softer" sounding, with less distortion on vocals and guitars, and generally with less influence from techno and metal. Modern goth often has the evolutionary feel of New Wave music or synth pop, while modern industrial is an evolution of Electronic Body Music. These distinctions are hazy at best, and while there are still many "old school" gothic rock or faux-medieval acts around, functionally speaking the line between (sub)genres has blurred considerably.

Today, some fans of early gothic rock are embracing a Death Rock revival that has taken height recently as a return to the original music and fashions of the first generation of goth. Bands such as Cinema Strange, Bella Morte, The Deep Eynde and Black Ice, along with the website have contributed to the revitalization of the genre, and Nina Hagen even headlined the recent Drop Dead Festival in New York City (2005), already in its third year. This movement within the scene has been given an indirect boost from mainstream culture with the contemporary widespread success of acts like Interpol, The Dresden Dolls, and The Stills, whose sounds all owe heavily to post-punk, if not directly to early goth music. Coupled with their success have been successful career phases for The Cure and Bauhaus, all furthering the popularity of janglier, less club-oriented Goth fare.

As pluralism, genre-bending, and retro sensibility have been dominant forces in Goth music's underground since approximately 2002, the incorporation of cabaret music, electroclash, and indie rock into the stylistic palette has been taken in stride (and even pioneered) by young acts such as Rasputina, The Prids, Black Ice, Submarine Fleet, Fields of Aplomb and The Phantom Limbs. Common to many such newer acts are live shows incorporating spectacle, elaborate dress, and acting. Doing all this with the marked absence of the Shakespearean affectation that characterized Goth in the late 80s and early 90s, in many ways the latest wave of musicians pick up where The Virgin Prunes left off.

Though the scene's identity has decentralized and its record sales have arguably diminished in recent years, many events, labels, and publications remain popular. Dancing Ferret Discs, Projekt Records and Metropolis Records have all found considerable success in the American market, while Cherry Red has been reissuing an extensive set of vital early Goth rock recordings, assuring the longevity of the scene's roots. The genre's most popular live events, such as the German Wave Gotik Treffen, Zillo festivals and the British Whitby Gothic Weekends or NYC Drop Dead Festival still draw tens of thousands. From the days of the zine explosion, some magazines have transitioned to the web, including Blue Blood, Asleep By Dawn, and Others are Still in Print like Gothic Beauty, Virus and Drop Dead Magazine

Musical predecessors (1960s–1970s or Earlier)

  • David Bowie and glam rock. Elements of the seventies glam subculture helped influence goth both musically and visually. As goth broke further away from punk, the androgynous look, which Bauhaus favoured, developed, and was taken even further by bands like Alien Sex Fiend and their followers. David Bowie's androgynous appearance, love of melodrama and his use of dark themes meant he had a major influence on many early goth bands. His songs frequently appeared on the Batcave playlists. Bowie had also described his Diamond Dogs (1974) album as gothic when it first came out.
  • The Velvet Underground (1960s), whose dark and depressing sound and themes were frequently referenced by early goth bands, especially by Siouxsie & the Banshees. Joy Division performed a cover version of "Sister Ray", and Christian Death covered "Venus in Furs". Nico, who performed with the Velvets, is sometimes considered the first Gothic Rock artist.
  • The Doors influenced the Los Angeles emergence of Death Rock, particularly with the album Strange Days (1967). Joy Division and Echo and the Bunnymen were also suggested to have borrowed The Doors' sound. The Bunnymen's cover of "People Are Strange" is included in the film (as well as on the film's soundtrack) The Lost Boys. A 2000 album on Cleopatra Records, Darken My Fire: A Gothic Tribute to The Doors, featured covers by bands such as Mephisto Walz, Ex Voto, Alien Sex Fiend, and The Mission UK. The New Creatures, heavily influenced by The Doors, also took their name from a book of poetry by Jim Morrison. Dave Vanian's vocal style shown in The Damned's later albums and also his work in Phantom Chords owes heavily to Jim morrison.
  • Alice Cooper is also worth acknowledging. Despite rarely being considered goth music, they were key influences in the darker trend rock music began to take and have continued to take. Alien Sex Fiend in particular were Cooper fans. Generally speaking, musicians like Cooper only set the stage for makeup wearing as acceptable among youth subcultural groups.
  • The Stooges, an early punk band featuring Iggy Pop, have been credited as influencing early goth bands like Ausgang and Killing Joke.
  • T-Rex, another glam rock band and peers of David Bowie. Marc Bolan's style and lyrics were extremely influential. Records of early playlists from the Batcave include T-Rex tunes, and Bauhaus recorded a cover of "Telegram Sam" which appeared on their debut record, In the Flat Field.

Musical arrangements

While today the genre has no universally employed identifying musical characteristics, certain tendencies of early English gothic rock have endured as common within and quintessential to the genre throughout its entire history. Very broadly, and by no means comprehensively, guitar effects settings are the most notable identifier of the overall musical style. Typically, a clean or wamrly overdriven guitar sound is processed through chorusing, flanging, analog delay, and/or dense reverb, resulting in a timbre that resembles those used by Bauhaus, Siouxsie and the Banshees, and The Cure. Taking its downstroke playing from punk, this style of guitar performance generally emphasizes angular melodic lines instead of thick chords. Minor key themes are prevalent, but major keys are not shunned. The most uniquely gothic tonal inflection is the flatted scale degree two, producing a Phrygian mode.

While this is perhaps overspecifying a general timbre and approach to playing, this jangly guitar tone and pitch set in gothic rock is almost entirely idiosyncratic to the genre, and must be understood as an historical signifier thusly. Some bands in the genre (though certainly not all) detoured from this sound briefly in the early 90s in favor of a more hard rock feel, as exemplified on the Sisters of Mercy's "Floodland" and Vision Thing albums, as well as by acts such as Fields of the Nephilim, Rosetta Stone, and The Wake. However, as stated at above, the scene reemphasized its early musical roots in the time thereafter, making this sound today commonplace once again.


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Music Sound, v. 2.0, by MultiMedia

This guide is licensed under the GNU Free Documentation License. It uses material from the Wikipedia.