History of gothic part II

Britisch developments: rise of the new gothic movement

During the 1980’s a new gothic movement came to the surface. It was preceded by punk, which came into life at the end of the 70’s when there was a need for a distinctive non-conformist alternative culture. Maybe gothic came as a sort of reaction against punk, at the same time a group of people seemed to share certain needs and tastes. According to The Vampire Book; the Encyclopedia of the Undead: “Gothic music, as all counter-cultural forms, articulated an explicit nonconformist stance vis-a-vis the dominant esthablishment. It opposed narrow sexual mores and traditional established religions. (..) The music celebrated the dark, shadowy side of life and had a distinct fascination with death. Its slow, driving sound was frequently described as melancholy, gloomy, even morbid. Those enthralled by the new gothic culture found the vampire the single most appropriate image for the movement”.

According to J. Gunn in his article “Bela Lugosi´s Dead; On gothic music and the inevitability of genre”, there were obvious links between the new gothic movement and 19th-century Romanticism: “Lyrically, themes of death, destruction and explorations of darkness are common among gothic artists, as well as romantic themes of love and loss found in the gothic novels of the literary movement. The music, despite the addition of electronic sounds and dance-beats as the genre has evolved to present, continues to emphasize minor chords, sparse, minimalist rhythms, and slower tempos characteristic of an recognizable “eerie” or “gloomy” texture. Visually, gothic artists and fans seem to promote a death-like aesthetic that, para-musically, abides the dark timbre: pale white faces, black clothing, victorian-styled fashions such as corsets or ruffled shirts, medieval ruins and gothic architecture and so on.”

It’s hard to give an exact date of birth of gothic. At the end of 70’s many new groups emerged with a somewhat dark sound and/or image. To name but a few: The Cure, Siouxsie and the Banshees, The Damned, Adam & the Ants, Ultravox, Killing Joke, The Sound, the Comsat Angels and Joy Division.Their New Wave or dark pop music had a lot of influence on people who would later call themselves gothic. Perhaps the first real goth anthem was `Bela Lugosi’s dead’ by Bauhaus. The story goes that gothic originated from the London club the Batcave, but when this club opened in 1981, gothic already was well on its way. But the bands that performed there, like the Virgin Prunes and Alien Sex Fiend with their horror image, helped to spread the movement.

Someone who wrote a lot about the history of the early (British) gothic movement was the journalist Mick Mercer (writer of ‘The Goth Bible’). He tries to explain the attraction of gothic (in a series of articles for the German Zillo Magazine in 1995): “Heutzutage ist offensichtlich, weshalb Goth intelligente Menschen anspricht, und weshalb er als Szene weiterhin blüht: weil Leute auch durch andere Dinge als nur durch Musik auf diese Bewegung stößen können. Filme, Literatur, Kunst, Dichtung, Mode spielen alle ihre Rolle beim anlocken der Menschen.”
(in short: It is clear why intelligent people are attracted to goth: it´s not only about music, film, literature, art, poetry and fashion play a part as well)

One of the first popular gothic bands in England was UK Decay, now not so well-known any more. In the same Zillo-article: “Es war diese Band gewesen, der das Etikett ‘Goth’ aufgedrückt wurde, und ihre Artwork basierte natürlich auf der inzwischen stereotypisierten Bilderwelt von Tod, Grabsteinen und Vampirismus. Das hatte ursprünglich in Fanzines begonnen, die aus Horror-Magazinen ausschnitten, was immer sie brauchten, um ihre Seiten lebendiger zu machen. (..) Mit dem Tod zusammenhangende Illustrationen waren es gewesen, weil das einfach cool war. Von da ausgehend entwickelte sich die Bilderwelt, die seitdem den Goth dominiert, und es hat alles mit den Fanzines angefangen!”
(in short: Uk Decay was labeled goth, their artwork showed imagery of death and vampires, which became stereotypes and whch originated from horror magazines).

In the mid 80’s gothic reached its height with the succes of bands like The Sisters of Mercy, The Mission and Fields of the Nephilim. Their gothic rock and image became the standard form of gothic for years (and maybe still is in Britain). Alice, Laura, Temple of Love, Tower of Strenght, For Her Light and Garden of Delight have become absolute classics.

Other groups were for instance And also the Trees, Xmal Deutschland and Love like Blood. A problem was though that many later groups had difficulties to create their own sound, they tended to copy their idols too much. In England this type of gothic still is very popular, at dance parties a lot of old-style gothic is still being played and can be heard for example at the annual Whitby festival. Lots of contemporary English goth groups (e.g. Midnight Configuration, Inkubus Sukkubus, Rosetta Stone), can be found on ‘The Hex Files’ samplers, compiled by the aforementioned Mick Mercer.

But there were bands that were popular in the 80´s goth scene that followed other musical lines. Best example is Dead can Dance, whose self-titled debut is a typical goth album, but later releases have a more ethereal sound, with influences ranging from the medieval to the oriental. They have reached a broader audience in later years, but have split up recently. The Cocteau Twins, also of the 4AD label were even more ethereal. And the Dutch formation (Clan of) Xymox, who recently made a successful comeback, made people dance on tunes like Stranger and A Day, with a melancholy electronic sound.