Thursday, July 17, 2008

What is goth?

Finishing his make-up the boy turns his attention to his dyed blue hair, carefully back-combing it into disarray. Last week he'd been beaten up by some skinheads because they didn't like the look of him. He remembers their fury but shrugs: he enjoys his appearance and is proud to look different. In a way he's almost glad that his clothes and attitude had provoked the attack - their mindlessness wrapped in a dull, grey, lazy uniform of bitterness gives him a reason to be their opposite.
He feels bright and optimistic about the future, slipping into a pair of leather trousers, noticing he's only got few quid left in his pocket. It doesn't matter though, the dole gives him time to do things, like his group.
A Brigandage number blares out: 'Hope', it seems to sum things up for him. With its message on his lips the boy half-dances across the room, through the door and out.

Ok, I thought about Charmi’s suggestion to write up an essay on what the goth scene is all about but…it’s way too involved for me to put it into words right now and so….
I found someone who has already done it. At least, in my humble opinion, he has nailed it directly to the wall. If you’re at all interested in learning more I would strongly suggest visiting this site because the author, Pete Scathe, knows what he’s talking about.
For years the goth scene has been drawing more and more attention, unfortunately most of that attention has been negative and based on confusion as to what the scene is really about. Here are a few excerpts from Pete’s A History of Goth site – definitely worth the read.
Oh, BTW the picture is of the Bauhaus.
From here you’re on your own:

In the Beginning there was Punk.

Influences on goth stretch far further back, to Bowie, the Doors and the Velvet Underground, but the punk explosion of the mid/late 70s created the essential background for goth, in both music and fashion.
In the aftermath of punk in the late 70s and early 80s a bewildering variety of new and re-invented musical styles began to crop up, and around 1978-9 a style began to appear which the press had by late 1979 started to call "gothic".
The creators of this musical style (who were themselves influenced by the likes of the Velvet Underground and Bowie) were essentially Joy Division, Siouxsie and the Banshees, Bauhaus and UK Decay.
The first Banshees album ("The Scream", November 1978) and the first Joy Division album ("Unknown Pleasures", June 1979) laid much of the template for goth, with a notable absence of loud punk guitars and the emphasis on the rhythm section instead, along with a stark, hollow sound.
However, the first band who cannot be comfortably classified as anything other than goth were Bauhaus, who released their first single, "Bela Lugosi's Dead", in September 1979. The Banshees could be considered punk, The Cure could be considered New Wave, Joy Division could be considered post-punk, but Bauhaus were unmistakably goth in music, looks, lyrics, art and style right from their first single. In many ways they were the archetypal goth band.
Around the same time as Bauhaus were emerging, UK Decay were discarding their punk roots and developing their own independent "gothic" sound. Although never as popular as Bauhaus, Joy Division or the Banshees, UK Decay were far closer to the second wave of goth bands and were an important influence on them.
By 1980/81 a new wave of goth bands were beginning to emerge- Danse Society, Play Dead, The Sisters of Mercy- and the Cure had abandoned their New Wave sound and created a unique "gothic" sound of their own. In February 1981 Abbo from UK Decay tagged the new musical movement "gothic", but it was to be another year or so before the movement really got going.
The crucial period for the development of goth into a fully-fledged subculture is mid 1982 to mid 1983, with particular emphasis on October 1982 as the month the new movemenet suddenly started receiving major media attention.
In July 1982 the Batcave opened up.
This was at first envisaged as a club for people who were fed up with the commercial direction of New Romantic and wanted something new and darker. At first it played glam and electro music, but several early goth bands also played there and the playlist gradually became more goth.
The Batcave thus became a major rallying-point for the emerging London scene and also attracted a lot of media attention, which in turn spread the idea of a new subculture around the country. In the wake of the Batcave, similar clubs opened around the country, and the Batcave itself went "on tour", giving goths outside London somewhere to gather.
Thus, whilst offering little in the way of music (apart from ASF and Specimen), the Batcave had a major impact on goth fashion and popularity. Essentially, it added a huge dose of "glam" and media attention to the emerging subculture.
Then in October 1982 Bauhaus released "Ziggy Stardust", which became a big hit (#15 in the UK charts) and put them on Top Of The Pops and the front cover of Smash Hits (October 1982).
The new wave of goth bands also began receiving serious media attention, with Southern Death Cult getting a front cover on the NME (October 1982) and Sex Gang Children getting a front cover on Noise! (also October 1982).
Following this, two articles in early 1983 focussed on what was by then unmistakably a separate movement.
In February 1983, Richard North of the NME hailed it as Positive Punk
A month later, Mick Mercer wrote a similar article about the new bands in Melody Maker (though his choice of bands, like Danse Society, was a lot more pertinent).
Meanwhile, the movement was getting a name- the term "gothic" had been floating around for a while, and the name was fixed to the emerging scene by two of the most important bands in it: Andi, the lead singer with Sex Gang Children, was tagged "Count Visigoth" and his followers tagged "goths" by Ian Astbury from Southern Death Cult. Dave Dorrell from the NME then overheard them using the term and it passed into journalistic use.
In October 1983 Tom Vague ws referring to "Hordes of Goths" in Zig Zag magazine, by which time both the term and the subculture were firmly established.

From Pete’s Positive Punk:

"I don't like the word movement, but there's now a large collection of bands and people with the same positive feeling."- Andi, singer with Sex Gang Children, speaking on the opening night of Son of Batcave.

HAIL ERIS, Goddess of Discord, and pass the ammunition: as the heavy drumbeat rolls and the harsh chords crash and sometimes even tingle, it's then that the boys and girls come out to play. Play power!

With wild-coloured spiked hair freezing the eye, and even more vivid clothes to spice the imagination -faces, thoughts and actions - the atmosphere's infused with a charge of excitement, an air of abandon underlined with a sense of purpose.

Something stirs again in this land of fetid, directionless sludgery, this land of pretend optimism and grim reality. Theory and practice are being synthesised under the golden umbrella of a two-hour long ideal.

Welcome to the new positive punk.

Although it's not the purpose of this article to create any kind of movement or cult, any easy or accessible bandwagon to be tumbled onto, it is indisputable that a large number of bands and people involved in the culture called rock, have sprung up at approximately the same time, facing their lifestyles in the same direction. Maybe unconsciously so, It's a huge collective force that we can call the new positive punk- a re-evaluation and rejuvenation of the ideals that made the original outburst so great, an intensification of and expansion of that ethos of individuality, creativity and rebellion. The same buzz that burned our streets in '76/'77 is happening again.
The Industrial Revolution is over, a new movement has begun, and the current mood is an affirmation of that point. The natural energy that for over 200 years has been poured into the physical, the rational and the materialistic, has now all grown crooked.
The mental/magical power has been lost: It was simply not needed - steam engines, radios, electricity were so much easier and they worked. But now the glamour is wearing off. We can see the string and wires, the clockwork squeaks ... the radiation is beginning to corrode the pretty box.
All the darkness and light, all the forces are still there deep underneath, bubbling, steaming, fermenting. The instinct, ritual and ceremony are rising again in everyday life; many people are starting to use the tarot and I-ching. And the new punk groups are a reflection of this feeling; their use of mystical /metaphysical imagery and symbolism is a striking common denominator. Not in the way of dumb-dabbling and superficial posturing of, say, a Black Sabbath with their (gasp) black magic kick.
Nor is it a silly hippy Tolkien fantasy joyride, or even a Killing Joke stench-of-death gloomier-than-thou slice of fanaticism. It is, instead, an intelligent and natural interest in mystery, rather than history, that is a sign of an open mind.
These groups are aware: UK Decay (positive punk forefathers), using the dark to contrast and finally emphasise the light; Sex Gang Children taking us into the sub-world of the Crowleyan abyss; while Blood And Roses are pushing the symbols a whole lot further, their guitarist Bob being a serious student of the Art. The mystical tide we are talking about here refers, if nothing else, to the inner warmth and vital energy that human beings regard as the most favourable state to live in. The new positive punk has tapped into this current.
And if all this sounds a touch heavy, let's consider the humour, style and inherent fun that are essential parts of the movement. Let's look at groups like Specimen, who are more Rocky Horror than Aleister Crowley, preening themselves in glam-soaked traipse among the ruins. Or The Virgin Prunes' cheeky on-stage oral sex send-up. The real humour is intermixed with the sheer sense of joy de vivre present at such gatherings.
Here is a glow of energy and life that overcomes the need for artificial stimulation. Unlike the heroin or barbituate sodden club scene or the glue swamped Oi/punk arena, the emphasis here is not on drugs. Although illicit substances are not unknown, the desperate desire to nullify boredom is not present, and therefore there is no narcotic edge to the scene. Members of several groups (such as Southern Death Cult, Sex Gang Children and UK Decay) do not even drink.
For perhaps the first time, an active and flourishing disenting body will not go down with its hind legs kicking as the drug takes over.
Money and time are tight: so both of them are being spent on something far from enjoyable and important: style. There's a veritable explosion of multi-coloured aestheticism. So different from the blend, stereotyped Oi/boothby/punk fare of jeans, leather jacket and studs, this is an individualist stance even if it tends towards a common identity. A green-haired spike-topped girl wearing a long black pleated skirt, white parachute top and bootlace tie passes a tasselled, black-haired mohawk in creepers, white socks, red pegs and self-made, neatly printed T-shirt. Something clicks. They smile in acknowledgement.

We are fireworks.


Bigby P. Wolf said...

I was listening to Bauhaus' first album earlier this week. Great music to grade to, if you can believe it.

maeve63 said...

I can believe's also great when writing. At least it is in my opinion.

Busstogate said...

One of my favorite albums is Siouxsie's Hyena . I also liked Switchblade Symphony quite a bit.
out b4 "poser goth" band!!! :p

Bigby P. Wolf said...

It's also great for eliciting strange looks from tenured faculty with offices near one's own. Especially if they happen to be walking by when Murphy's doing that barking thing near the end of "Double Dare."

maeve63 said...

Hyena is a good album; there's something about the song "Israel" (not on Hyena, though) that I really like. I also like Switchblade Symphony, too. Actually, there's a pretty wide range of music that I enjoy. I'm not as up on many of the newer bands as I probably should be,but...I guess I really have no excuse * shrug *

maeve63 said...

The Bauhaus are awesome. I can imagine some of the looks you might receive from some of the faculty while listening to them, but heh, it's a university, right? They should be expanding their minds anyway ;-)