History of Gothic III

Meanwhile in the US and the European continent…

But England wasn’t the only place where `dark’ music was being made. The Swans for example, originating from the New York avant-garde scene, made some great albums, like Children of God, White Light from The Mouth of Infinity and The Burning World. Only recently their career ended, but Michael Gira and Jarboe continue to make fascinating music. Another legendary band is Christian Death, perhaps the best known US goth band. They are still active, making numerous, often controversial albums, with a lot of B-movie and sexual themes. Most recommended are Only Theatre of Pain and Catastrophe Ballet. Contemporary American goth bands are for instance Faith & the Muse and London after Midnight.

Now that we have left Great Britain it is time to look at gothic in a broader sense. Because the music that is appreciated nowadays does not all lead back to the British goths. Take for instance more electronic based styles. Belgium was the founding father of Electronic Body Music (EBM), with cold, dark, rather minimal electronic sounds. Influences are electronic bands that started in the 70´s like Kraftwerk and Cabaret Voltaire. In the early 80´s a Neue Deutsche Welle brought DAF (Der Mussolini) and Die Krupps.

But the real founders of EBM are Front 242 from Belgium, who became really succesful with their minimalistic beats, cold sounds, and militaristic commando outfit. Hits like No Shuffle, Headhunter and Tyranny for you still bring people to the dancefloor. The Klinik, Insekt, Dive, Click Click, A Split Second and later Suicide Commando are other big names here. Dive, the band of Dirk Ivens, formally in the Klinik and also active with the noise project Sonar, still knows how to create a cold atmosphere, and Johan van Roy’s Suicide Commando has had some dancefloor smashers like See you in hell and Desire.

In the U.S. and Canada they spoke of Industrial. The electronic heroes here were/are Front Line Assembly (with side-projects like Delerium and Synaesthesia) and the Canadian Skinny Puppy (also with various other projects). Both bands make pretty complex music, with many layers of sound, which is very suitable to hear with headphones on. FLA is easier to listen to, and easier to dance to. Classic albums are Caustic Grip (1990) and Tactical Neural Implant (1992), which should be in everyone´s EBM collection. Live concerts of FLA are very energetic. Skinny Puppy is less accesible, but made some dancefloor classics though, like Assimilate and Smothered Hope, compiled on the 12″ Anthology. Most albums of Cevin Key and friends though, like Last Rights, are pretty hard to digest. Apart from these two giants some industrial bands rose to fame which used more guitar sounds in their music, like Ministry or NIN. Some less commercial varieties of these crossover style, like Godflesh, can be found on the Earache label. There are many contemporary American electro bands, like the popular Velvet Acid Christ, and for some reason their sound differs from European electro, most of the times American electro for instance has more (sampled) guitar sounds. A good introduction to U.S. electro is the 4 cd-box There is no Time (Ras DVA label).

So far we haven’t spoken about Germany, where perhaps the biggest gothic scene can be found nowadays, as you can see at the yearly Wave Gotik Treffen in Leipzig. In the 80’s Germany got its own succesful acts. For many German bands the term Dark Wave can be used. One of the first German acts in the gothic scene was Project Pitchfork, still a popular formation, although their style has changed a bit. A classic album is their debut Dhyani, which contains the typical dark vocals and critical lyrics of frontman Peter Spilles, combined with the dark technoid sounds which make Pitchfork suitable for the dancefloors. Another top act is Deine Lakaien, who nowadays even achieve chart succes in Germany. These skilled musicians make beautiful romantic songs like ‘Love me to the end’. Alexander Veljanov is responsible fot the emotional vocals, musical masterminds Ernst Horn and Michael Popp also have succes with the medieval ensemble Qntal. Oh, and not to forget Sopor Aeternus (with the tragic he/she figure of Varney), whose first album was very dark but later work is a bit lighter, with some medieval influences. Song titles like Tanz der Grausamkeit and Im Garten des Nichts say it all, it is not such a happy view of life that is proclaimed here, not to speak of the album title Todeswunsch, a beautiful album though.

There also emerged a whole bunch of German groups who began to sing in their own language. A good example is Goethes Erben, the band name says it all. Especially their first three albums, a trilogy, are recommended. During live shows they are at their best, with the theatrical entertainer Oswald Henke. Both Lacrimosa, with the romantic spirit Tilo Wolf, and Umbra et Imago, with the anthem Gothic Erotic from their debut Infantile Spiele are nowadays taking the metal path. Of course we have to mention Das Ich, their classic album is `Die Propheten‘. They make long, complicated tracks, like Kain und Abel, to which Stefan Ackermann adds his intellectual lyrics. The dark electro band Calva y Nada have texts in both German and Spanish (!), sung with the instant recognizable low voice of Brenal. Der Prager Handgriff sound a bit similar, but their texts are mostly about political and social issues, an exception in the gothic world.

Many German bands have a somewhat Romantic mood in their music. Some good examples are Wolfsheim, Silke Bisschoff, Illuminate and Diary of Dreams. A label based in Liechtenstein which has obtained a lot of succes lately is M.O.S., with some great romantic bands like Weltenbrand and Die Verbannten Kinder Evas. They also release the work of L’Ame Immortelle, who combine romantic poppy songs with dark electro tracks.

From the end of the 80’s on many good electro (a modern name for EBM) bands emerged, like Mentallo & the Fixer, X Marks the Pedwalk, the dark Leatherstrip (from Sweden), the even darker Yelworc, the list could go on and on. The big acts at the moment are :wumpscut:, who has made some powerful classics (like Black Death and Soylent Green) in a short time, and Terminal Choice (with side projects Seelenkrank and Tumor) with a very dark sound and image and the master song `Totes Fleisch‘. This type of danceable electronic music is also sometimes called ‘dark techno’. Other recent popular (and very danceable) electro bands are Covenant, Apoptygma Bezerk and Evils Toy. Intelligent Electro with techno/trance influences is made by the likes of Haujobb and Abscess. Typical electro/EBM labels are Zoth Ommog and Offbeat.

A lighter form of electro, both in musical style as in image, is synthpop. It originates from the New Romantics of the early 80´s, the decadent scene influenced by glamrock, with synthesizers as their main instrument. Some hits of that time are ‘Tainted Love’ by Soft Cell, ‘Vienna’ from Ultravox, Gary Numans ‘Are Friends Electric’, ‘Fade to Grey’ from Visage and ‘Eisbaer’ by Grauzone. Hits like these can be found on the New Wave Club Classix compilation series. Examples of more commercial Romantics were Spandau Ballet, Duran Duran and the Human League. The last few years various new bands emerged which seem to take over this heritage. The biggest influence on these newcomers must be Depeche Mode. Some labels specialized in Synthpop are October Records, Visage Records and Energy Records. Some bands are And One, Infam, Elegant Machinery, S.P.O.C.K., Mesh and De/Vision, who all make catchy tunes with smooth synths and soft melodies. Perhaps Wolfsheim belongs to this list as well, but this popular German formation stands out for making intelligent and emotional music.