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Encyclopedia > Goth rock
This article is about notable bands within the goth scene. For the goth scene in general, see Goth.

Gothic rock 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 groups were more introverted and personal, with elements that can be traced to much older literary movements such as Gothic horror, Romanticism, existential philosophy, and the political construct of nihilism.


First generation (c1979-c1985)

Associating the Goth subculture with the first generation of gothic bands can be a bit controversial. This is because "gothic" started out as a label and these groups labeled as such were part of the greater punk /post punk/ new wave scene. The result is that not all of the punks and new wavers who liked these groups were neccessarily a part of the Goth scene. It is almost guaranteed that associating any one of those early bands with Goth may spark angry protests from fans who are not goths and don't want their favorite band associated with them. Sometimes even the band itself does this (the Sisters of Mercy for example). This even happens with some of the bands that came around after Goth started turning into a distinct subculture and the band in question were very much involved in it (for example Alien Sex Fiend, despite being actively a part of the scene will get denied gothic rock status for not bring pretentious enough). However, regardless of this heated issue, these early groups are where gothic rock had its origins despite this controversy.

Each of the early bands had much in common with the punk movement, though any similarity with punk was owed to the fact that that was the scene from which they were emerging, and were attempting (whether consciously or unconsciously) to leave behind. What is most notable about the core early '80s post punk 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] (http://www.gothics.org/subculture/articles/undead.php). In recent years, the tendency has swung almost entirely the other way, with many bands being quick to label themselves as goth.

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

The first post punk/ new wave groups labeled Gothic were Joy Division and Siouxsie and the Banshees in 1979. They seem to have been a part of a wave of bands developing a haunting sound between 1978 and 1979, two other examples of this trend were 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 influencial. Among influential albums by Siouxsie and the Banshees would be everything put out between their debut album The Scream (1978) and Nocturne (1983). Joy Division were short lived and did not leave much of a legacy because their vocalist Ian Curtis commited suicide, but the two albums they put out Unknown Pleasures (1979) and Closer (1980) were both gothic in sound and also influential. The remaining members of Joy Division became New Order and New Order's first album Movement (1981) continued Joy Divisions 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 and 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 Lagosi's Dead 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, 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 1970's and, though they sounded very gothic since their beginning, they became more important in the emerging scene of the early 1980's.

The Cure also started developing their own goth sound. Their contribution to the goth genre is centered around Faith, Seventeen Seconds, Pornography and Disintegration (1989). This sound originated from the song "Three Imaginary Boys" on the first album (Three Imaginary Boys, 1979), which is generally considered closer to being a New Wave album.

The origins of Gothic fashion can be traced to Siouxsie and 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, Siouxsies 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 1980's, 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 synths 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, March Violets, 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 style 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 DJ's 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.

From the late seventies onward, the Death Rock movement in Los Angeles, California was on the rise, with such bands as Christian Death (formed 1979), Gun Club (1981), 45 Grave, and the legendary Kommunity FK (c. 1983) fronted by Death Rock Ikon Patrick Mata; 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. Nivek Ogre's Skinny Puppy (formed c. 1982), were also doing their "thing", quite apart from the Death Rock scene. Whilst all of these groups began as quite distinct from goth, they soon began to be equated with it, and are now recognised as strong early influences. Many fans of early gothic rock are embracing a Death rock revival, as a return to the original music and fashions of the first generation of goth.

Goth was as much a continental European phenomenon as it was British or American. At the same time that Bauhaus and Christian Death were forming in those countries, in Germany (home to the largest modern gothic festival, the yearly Wave Gotik Treffen in Leipzig which started in 1992) were such dark bands as Xmal Deutschland formed 1980, Die Krupps formed 1981, and Der Mussolini. Belgium gave rise to electronic body music (EBM) with influence from bands such as Kraftwerk and the early Industrial band Front 242 formed in 1981. Meanwhile, Amsterdam had Clan of Xymox formed in 1983.

Australia also deserves a mention, the emerging movement there characterised by Nick Cave's first band, The Birthday Party formed c. 1979 and later moving to London.

And who could forget the Virgin Prunes, formed in Dublin, Ireland. Though they had been around since 1977, they didn't start releasing material until the early 1980's but rather seemed to have used that time to build up a very elaborate gothic horror theatrical show for their live performances. Their antics were far more bizzar than those of most of their contemporary first generation goths and by 1979, the Virgin Prunes already had the gothic look down without any help from Bauhaus or the Cure.

Second generation (c1985-c1995)

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 Waltz (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 Waltz 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 1980's 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 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.

Contemporary dance club goth evolved simultaneously with industrial music, and both use the same techniques and types of synthesis equipment. The main difference is that industrial is "harder" sounding, and goth is "softer" sounding. Modern goth has the evolutionary feel of New Wave music or synth pop, while industrial is an evolution of noise music and Musique concrète. The guitar is not used much in contemporary goth, but is often used extensively (with a lot of distortion) in industrial.

Musical predecessors (1960s-1970s)

  • 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 Doors were described as "gothic rock" in 1967 and were a musical influence on some goth bands, most noticeably on Southern Death Cult. Though Joy Division denied any direct influence from the Doors, similarities did not go unnoticed.
  • Genesis, a progressive rock quintet from the late '60s featured mystic and very dark and twisted religious elements during the period that Peter Gabriel was lead singer, had significant medieval gothic elements. Gabriel's pale makeup and extravagant, often twisted costumes also had a profound early influence on Goth culture.
  • Alice Cooper and Black Sabbath are 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.

Third generation (mid-1990s)

The mid nineties would see gothic rock merge with industrial music, with bands such as Nine Inch Nails. The band Project Pitchfork established the German electro-goth phenomenon of Darkwave, now including bands such as Das Ich. Mention must be given to New York band Type O Negative whose metallic style draws heavily on Gothic influences of black magic, fetish and depression.

Glam Rock diverged into Death Glam, assimilating some of the visual elements of goth, whilst retaining the frantic lollypop essence of Glam Rock with a dark theme, with bands like Marilyn Manson (formerly Marilyn Manson and the Spooky Kids).

With the arrival of Manson, the goth movement has became almost mainstream in popularity in the United States and has brought the "goth-not goth" debate to a head. Many people—including a large number of 'traditional' goths—balk at the claim that Manson or Mansonites are goths. Indeed to say as much is to commit heresy in many gothic circles. To them, Spooky Kids (as fans of the band have also been dubbed) are just not goth.

Others say that with many Mansonites consistently identifying themselves as goths, they speak for the movement, however much some may wish to deny them a place. Seeking a middle-ground, others have begun to accept a distinction between goth and goth-friendly, and placing Manson and his ilk in the latter category.

Another genre of music sometimes associated with the Goth subculture is Goth metal, which combines medieval Gothic music with heavy Doom metal. Goth metal is often described as sounding like "Beauty and the Beast" because of the characteristic duets between operatic female vocals and male death metal vocals. Some of the key bands in this area are Paradise Lost, Theatre of Tragedy, Tristania and Lacuna Coil. As with Manson, above, it is hotly debated whether this genre is really part of the Goth subculture; many traditional goths will have nothing to do with it.

In the UK of equal importance was the gradual rise of cybergoth first developing at Slimelight, arguably the most famous and longest running Goth club in the world, currently based in a disused industrial complex in Islington, London.

Cybergoth developed in the late 90s, the term influenced by cyberpunk writers such as William Gibson, as a new breed of gothic fashion/lifestyle. With influences from rave culture, Industrial music and anime, the neon hair extensions, glowsticks, bright make up and clothes, and love of upbeat music sets this somewhat apart from the "mainstream" goth movement. For bands, see Goteki, Action Directe (http://www.actiondirecte.co.uk), Sheep on Drugs and Apoptygma Berzerk.

Goth, as a concept, continues to evolve and develop in the 21st century.

Musical arrangements

Early English Goth rock follows a standard hard rock lineup, but often adds synthesizers, or at least guitar effects that sound like synths. The front person strategy varies, because the music is more introspective than high energy hard rock:

  • Singer/front-person
  • Guitar player
  • Bass player
  • Drummer
  • Synth player

Goth rock is at its most basic level a combination of punk rock and New Wave. Between 1979-1985 it was variously known as post-punk, alternative and new wave.

Contemporary Goth music is generally sequenced, making heavy use of FM & digital synthesizers. It is characterized by a crisp snare drum sample and a heavy bass drum sample. The auto-arpeggiate feature of modern synthesizers is used in often complex sounding multiple simultaneous arpeggiations. Vocals tend to be either spooky or lovelorn.

Lyrics are generally very poetic in nature, and follow melodies in the instrumentation of the song.

Guitar settings are the most notable influence to the overall musical style. Single coil pickups are important to achieve the correct sound, Fender Jazzmasters, Jaguars, & Mustangs fit the bill nicely. The guitar sound before processing ranges from clean, to warm overdrive with gain settings at approx 50%. Dynamics to this can include just turning all amp knobs to the right for chaotic amp-driven sounds found in some Bauhaus & Siouxsie material. For the most part, the combination of the following effects will give you this sound:

  • Chorus
  • Flange
  • Analog Delay, occasional usage of tape delay, as well.
  • Reverb from 0-75%

Bass is very warm and round sounding, and often uses chorus and/or flange effects.

Drums tend to be played by a human with an electronic kit, BPM ranges are from 80-150.

Synths usually have the above listed guitar attributes, and are generally based on a 'Strings' type of synth patch with a 25% attack rate. Invariably the synths are analog.

  • Song composition utilizes the 1-4-5 scalular progressions that typify rock & roll music, but are often augmented or diminished.
  • Minor key themes are prevalent, but major keys are not shunned.
  • Composition is usually guitar oriented, and follows surf music-like vertical scales, rather than blues-like horizontal scales.
  • Focal points are often on the two semitonal increments of the particular scale.
  • Various octave fingerings are often substituted for chords.
  • Playing style is generally all downstrokes, to create the 'sound'.

This type of gothic rock requires a fairly capable musician, as it will often include modal scales in song construction. Additionally, finger picking & up/down arpeggiation of chords will be found in many verse parts.

Overall song construction is similar to Hard rock

  • 1. an intro
  • 2. verse
  • 3. chorus
  • 4. solo
  • 5. chorus
  • 6. verse
  • 7. chorus
  • 8. an ending

There is much room for variation, and repetition of verses & choruses.



Related genres

External links

  • Drop Dead Festival (http://dropdeadfestival.com)
  • NY Decay (http://nydecay.com)
  • Phantom Creep Friday (http://www.phantomcreepfriday.com)
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