I read an article a few days ago that said some interesting and odd things about GOTH. I’m an old-school goth fan, from the 80s, and although I don’t look like a goth, I’ve been a HARDCORE fan of the music since that time. Considering my nearly 30-year love of all things dark and dreary, I thought that the article that I read had some very strange things to say: 1) Kids are no longer getting into goth, 2) a. Nine Inch Nails, b. Marilyn Manson, and c. Ministry were goth (NONE of these bands were goth, in my opinion), and 3) that EBM was born in the 90s as a result of goth fusing with industrial (thanks to the bands mentioned above) and that claim is just WRONG. (EBM, or Electronic Body Music, was a post-punk movement that started in the VERY early 80s with bands like The Neon Judgement, A Split Second, DAF, and Front 242. To suggest that EBM is a post mall-goth phenomena would be like saying that TECHNO started with Steve Aoki’s Dim Mak records in ’96. I’ve been a music guy for a LONG TIME, and I remember goth from the mid-80s, EBM from the mid to late 80s, and TECHNO from ’90 and ’91 when it started to spin out of acid-house and progressive dance culture.) Perhaps I’ve digressed…
So let’s take a look at the article’s points. The third point, I think I already covered, and the first point, that kids aren’t getting into goth any more, I think we need to come back to later. That leaves the second point as my primary focus. I think the argument from that article can be rephrased as such: Goth is heavy music by people wearing black clothes and singing about death and stuff… If this were true, then Public Enemy was a goth band. My suggestion is that an essential element of GOTH is horror. Look at the progenitors: Christian Death, Virgin Prunes, Specimen, Bauhaus, Skinny Puppy (I’ll give the article credit—they did name drop Puppy)… The look was vampire / ghost / horror show, and the SOUNDS of these bands, though EXTREMELY different, ALSO carried that horror movie mood. Manson looked creepy, sure, but he never really sounded that goth (except when he covered a synth-pop / new wave song, “Sweet Dreams are Made of This,” originally by the Eurythmics. Most of the rest of the time he screamed over loud guitars. Atmosphere, creepiness, horror…these are the building blocks of GOTH. Goth is subtle and mysterious, suggesting something sinister creeping towards you in the fog and hidden in the shadows—no big booms or crazy special effects. It’s a mental game, played with suggestion, in which listeners creeps themselves out. And like the old, classic horror films, some people just don’t have the patience or the desire to let the scariness build.
But I think that’s what’s stopped the 90’s version of goth, that heavy metal / industrial / goth, in its tracks (get it, as in “tracks” on a record…) It was too overt, too heavy, and relied on jump scares and gore. It lacked the subtly and atmosphere that a truly creepy, truly horrific goth experience can provide. There needs to be SUGGESTION, like Hitchcock used in his noir films. It shouldn’t need to BASH the listener over the head, it should slowly creep them out, make them feel uneasy and unsettled in their skin. And that’s what a truly great song by the likes of Laibach or Bauhaus or Current 93 or Reptilicus can do, just give you the all over heebie-jeebies…
Think of it this way: What was the scariest song by Nine Inch Nails? Which songs by Ministry really creeped you out? (Don’t get me wrong, I love both Ministry and Nine Inch Nails, but if they are what most people think GOTHIC MUSIC is supposed to SOUND like, then we’re all in trouble.) I’m not trying to be a heavy GENRE NAZI here, either, I’m just suggesting that MOOD is more important than POWER (or black clothing and pancake makeup) when it comes to music.
Now let’s go back to that first point that the article made, that young kids aren’t getting into goth anymore. I’d argue that this is because of a misunderstanding about what goth is. If you grew up in the nineties or oughts, then you heard this aggressive, thrashy, Manson / Rob Zombie style “spooky” metal music in every horror movie or action sequence that happened for the last 20 years, and you probably thought, “God… All that GOTH music sounds the same.” And, you’d be right. That shit’s boring—but it’s also not GOTH! I think the mall-goths and the metal-goths have all gotten bored and moved on, but that doesn’t mean that DARK MUSIC is dead. Goth, as a MOOD, can be found in about a hundred different genres: punk (45 Grave, Vice Squad, Misfits, Crass and others), old school techno (Physical Motion, Smashing Atoms, Ethan Fawkes, Boogie Times Tribe, Earth Leakage Trip, and even The Prodigy—and Drum & Bass is FILLED with horror), industrial (Skinny Puppy, Click Click, My Life with the Thrill Kill Kult, Lords of Acid, Project Pitchfork, Front Line Assembly), dubstep and modern electronic dance (Grimes, Fake Blood, Drop the Lime, Excision, Zomby, Feed Me, deadmau5, TR/ST…), classic rock (Alice Cooper, Crazy World of Arthur Brown, Black Sabbath), dub and reggae (Scientist, Lee “Scratch” Perry), and even hip hop (Deathgrips, Die Antwoord, djedjotronic and Spoek Mathambo, Gravediggaz) all create gothic moods in their music. There are lots of bands that have scary atmospheres in their tunes, and I don’t see any reason to exclude these songs from the GOTH kingdom, just because they come from a strange source. Kids today may also be LISTENING to gothic songs, but not dressing like Rozz Williams or Bela Lugosi.
It should also be noted that even the original goth bands were often mixtures of various genres. Bauhaus: glam / punk / jazz / psychedelic. Skinny Puppy: industrial / dub-reggae / punk / noise. Virgin Prunes: punk / post-punk / cabaret. 45 Grave: punk / thrash / glam / new wave. Controlled Bleeding: industrial / classical / opera / noise. Alien Sex Fiend: punk / glam / rockabilly / electro-synth experimentation… And ALL of these bands also made goth music! (Most of the REALLY INTERESTING bands in the world don’t fit comfortably into ANY category.) Maybe what people need is a WIDER UNDERSTANDING what GOTH can mean—and I think I can help in this respect.
So for those who are interested in exploring the DARKER REGIONS of the human psyche and in hearing some seriously SCARY music from a wide variety of music styles, come and give my SCARY GOTH program a listen. Maybe you’ll hear something that you enjoy… You might even have a heart attack! (You’ll never know for sure until you give it a try!) (People who have a previously diagnosed heart condition should probably skip right on by…)
Here’s what you’ll hear:
SCARY GOTH (approx. 1 hour and 55 mins)
1. Coil – “Heartworms”
2. Reptilicus – “Anal Duke”
3. Einsturzende Neubauten – “Halber Mensch”
4. Crass – “Birth Control ‘n’ Rock ‘n’ Roll”
5. Psychic TV – “Twisted”
6. Bauhaus – “Departure”
7. Skinny Puppy – “Antagonism”
8. Cabaret Voltaire – “Seconds Too Late”
9. Christian Death – “This is Heresy”
10. Liquid Sex Decay – “Everything Dies”
11. My Life with the Thrill Kill Kult – “Resisting the Spirit”
12. Laibach – “Sympathy for the Devil (Time for a Change)”
13. Attrition – “The Redoubt of Light”
14. Chrome – “Armageddon”
15. Lustmord – “The Boning of Men”
16. Controlled Bleeding – “Crack the Body”
17. Butthole Surfers – “Cherub”
18. Hitting Birth – “Happy Just To Be Again”
19. Kode IV – “Possessed”
20. Virgin Prunes – “New Form of Beauty”
21. Current 93 – “Extra Ecclesiam Nulla Salus”
22. Ethan Fawkes – “Go Away”
23. 45 Grave – “Black Cross”
Maybe you don’t agree with my choices for what should be included in a list of “goth” songs. After you LISTEN to these cuts, if you still disagree, you can write me a reasoned reply explaining why I’m wrong. I’m interested in hearing what your opinions might be!
—Richard F. Yates
(Primitive Thoughtician and Supreme Bunny Lord of The P.E.W.)
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