History of gothic IV

Gothic variety

But this isn’t by far everything. So many different styles are being associated with gothic nowadays. Take dark folk for instance. The best examples are Current 93, Death in June, Sol Invictus and Fire + Ice. The first releases of Current are very experimental and hard to digest, but in later years they switched to an acoustic folky style, with the characteristic vocals of David Tibet. My favourite album is Of ruine and some blazing starre, compilations which form a good introduction to their oeuvre are Emblems and the ’99 release ‘Calling for vanished Faces‘. Death in June´s first albums like Nada offer a rather classic gothic sound. The group is a bit controversial, because they are being accused of extreme right-wing tendencies. Later work, like Rose Clouds of Holocaust is folkier. Their latest album Take Care and Control is recommended, with a very dark ritual sound. Sol Invictus is the band around Tony Wakeford, who also has side-projects like the neo-classical L’Orchestre Noir. A good introduction to Sol Invictus is In Europa, which contains most of their best songs. The most prominent label in this genre is World Serpent, who release all the aforementioned bands. Another nice folky band is the Italian group Ordo Equitum Solis.

Yet another style is dark ritual/martial music, of which The Moon lay Hidden Beneath a Cloud and Rosa Crux are examples. More militant representants are Blood Axis and Der Blutharsch.

Yet another popular musical form is the medieval genre, maybe not very surprising, because gothic is often connected with the Middle Ages. Many musicians in this genre have a classical education. German examples are Qntal (with the hit Ad Mortem Festinamus, with a danceable beat), Estampie, Freiburger Spielleyt, the Sarband, early Merlons, and many others. Some try to make ‘authentic’ medieval music, others combine it with modern influences and electronics. The music of Corvus Corax and Tanzwut can be better described as energetic party music. Italy also has some influence, with Ataraxia and Camerata Mediolanense. Most of these groups don’t only play for `gothic’ audiences, but also in classical environments. A good medieval compilation is the `Miroque‘ series.

Of course there are always bands that are hard to put a label on. Take Kirlian Camera from Italy, active for amost twenty years now and whose electronic music seems to change every year. Or the very sensual dark electro from the French Die Form (often with S/M themes), which surprises with every release. Another French band I like a lot is Collection d’Arnell Andrea, sounding very romantic with piano and strings. And where to place In the Nursery, who make bombastic orchestral music but also film soundtracks. And I won´t even begin about Laibach.

A story apart are the releases from the Swedish Cold Meat Industry label, which have a unique own sound, always very dark and mysterious, from brutal experimental music like Brighter Death Now or Deutsch Nepal to atmospheric ambient from Raison d’Etre, neo-classical from The Protagonist, the ritual Ordo Equilibrio or the heavenly Arcana. More heavenly music can be found on the ‘Heavenly Voices‘ compilations, which became the label for a genre with ethereal music and beautiful (female) vocals, like Love is Colder than Death, Black Tape for a Blue Girl or Stoa.

Another rather popular genre in the gothic scene the last years is industrial noise. Industrial music perhaps started in the mid 70´s, with the formation of Throbbing Gristle and the label they set up, Industrial Records, which tried to show the potential of noise as music. On this label experimental groups were released like Cabaret Voltaire, ClockDVA, Monte Cazazza and SPK. Other groups like Test Department, Whitehouse and Einsturzende Neubauten seemed to share the same interests. To make things complicated, (American) bands like Ministry are also called industrial, but their music can´t be compared to the aforementioned more experimental and noisier groups. Recently harsh industrial music gets a lot of attention. Esplendor Geometrico from Spain are active now for many years, more recent bands are Sonar (with Dirk Ivens from Dive), Imminent Starvation, Winterkalte, Noisex and Pal. Their rhythmic industrial music attacks the dancefloors of many clubs nowadays. A good label for this kind of music is Ant-Zen. And if you want to hear the real experimental noise, I advise a trip to Japan.

Of course this is only a very broad outline. I haven’t mentioned numerous artists and styles and of course I have followed my own taste (and record collection) a bit. I also didn´t want to make the story too long. And the fact that I live in Holland also has its influence on the story. I hope to enlarge and also to update this outline regularly. That is necessary, not only to correct mistakes and omissions, but also because there are luckily still many new developments and artists in the scene, so gothic is not a relic from the 80’s, as some critics say.

I don´t think that gothic will ever be a mass phenomenon. Some of the more superficial visual characteristics may be used by popular culture, but I think that gothic will remain an underground scene, although festivals seem to attract more visitors and some bands achieve chart succes, like Wolfsheim and Deine Lakaien in Germany. In Holland though, even so-called alternative magazines don´t write about gothic music.

Lots of gothic bands are experimenting nowadays with other styles like techno or metal and maybe so can bridge the gap. There are some bands that are popular both in the gothic scene and in more popular circles, like Nine Inch Nails, Marilyn Manson and Rammstein. Of course there are also connections with related music like gothic/black metal.

Sure is that nowadays gothic has become a truely international phenomenon. There are well-known bands from all possible continents, like from Australia (Ikon) to South America (Aghast View from Brazil, Hocico from Mexico). If you surf a bit on the Internet, you can come across gothic pages from people in South-Africa, Russia or Asia.

As you can conclude from the musical survey above, there is no such thing anymore like the standard form of gothic music, a wide range of styles is being played at gothic parties. There also is not such a thing as the avarage gothic person, there is room enough for individual tastes.Gothic is more than a type of music, it’s a lifestyle, it’s an attitude. Most people in the gothic scene want to distinguish themselves from the average, everyday world, where there is not much room for fantasy and deviation from the norm. Gothic can be a fantasy world to escape into, a dark romantic world. You can express a gothic feel in music, but also in clothing, art, literature, film. Some have a nostalgia for the past, others embrace modern technology. For some people music is the most important, for others it’s more about the look. But it’s all interconnected. And there is a variety of styles, not only in music. Take fashion for instance. Some goths wear romantic clothes, like dresses with lots of lace and velvet. Others prefer a fetish look, with leather and latex. And others don´t care at all if their clothing is gothic enough.

Some symbols and icons have become usual in the gothic world, when you look at record covers, flyers, etc. Graves and things to do with death, vampires and witches, ruins and gothic architecture, romantic symbols like roses, Celtic symbols, fetish themes, but also modern `cyber’ images and many more.

There have always been gothic fanzines and magazines. By the popular media however, gothic has always been ignored or ridiculed. Gothic is something for depressed people who all drink blood and are only concerned about their image, the music is pathetic or bombastic and hasn’t changed since 1985.

Take for instance the Dutch Pop Encyclopedia: “Meer dan bij welk genre dan ook ligt de nadruk bij het gothic-idioom op het imago (al zijn er natuurlijk uitzonderingen): zwarte kleding, make-up, hoop opgetoupeerde kapsels en een grotendeels passieve houding zijn de meest in het oog lopende kenmerken, reden waarom groepen uit het `gothic’-genre vaak nauwelijks serieus worden genomen en de bijbehorende muziek al gauw negatieve predikanten (sic) meekrijgt. Bovendien moeten liefhebbers van het genre die hun uiterlijk eraan aanpassen zich geringschattende kwalificaties als `zwarte raven’ en `vleermuizen’ laten welgevallen. Het is daarom niet verwonderlijk dat er vrijwel geen bands te vinden zijn die zich afficheren als `gothic’, waardoor het genre iets kunstmatigs blijft houden. (..) Al met al is de bloeiperiode van het gothic-genre maar kort (begin jaren tachtig), maar er bestaan tot in de jaren negentig groepen en vooral fans die de gothic-ballon in de lucht houden”
(in short: gothic is all about image, it is a superficial genre and a relic from the 80´s).

The last time, it’s hard to believe, there has been some media coverage of the Dutch gothic scene. In the reasonable serious magazine Elsevier (3 October ’98) a Millennium’s Crypt party in Amsterdam was described, full of cliches and lack of knowledge. Bot o.k., at least they paid some attention. The more sensational magazine Nieuwe Revu featured tasteful photos of some of the more conspicous people from the Dutch gothic scene posing at graveyards, and commentary that gothic is a lifestyle full of horror and kinky sex. The prestigious Dutch magazine Oor, which pretends to be progressive, had a report from a goth festival in Nijmegen, early ’99. It was their first piece on gothic in years if I´m not mistaken, and of course they wrote nothing about the music, they only placed some pictures of extreme-looking visitors. A popular Dutch Oprah Winfrey-like talkshow brought a whole show about goths, who were interviewed about their lifestyle. Most prominent questions were if they drank blood and if people are scared of them. But I have to be fair, at the end of the show there was some more understanding about the goth lifestyle. I just found it a pity that there wasn´t hardly any talk about the music…

Books & Articles:

* Blackbook: “De dag dat het zonlicht niet meer scheen; Wave in Belgie”. (Brugge, 1998).
* Volkmar Kuhnle, “Gothic-Lexikon” (Berlin, 1999)
* Klaus Farin, “Die Gothics” (Berlin, 1999)
* “Heartland: The Sisters of Mercy.” Anthology of Issues I, II and III. (Trowbridge, 1990)
* Mark Johnson, “An Ideal for Living; An history of Joy Division”. (London, 1984)
* Mick Mercer, “Gothic Rock” (1994).
* Mick Mercer, “Hex Files: the Goth Bible” (London, 1996).
* Mick Mercer, various articles in “Zillo Magazine”.
* Dave Thompson, “Industrial Revolution” (1994)