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The goth subculture is a contemporary subculture found in many countries. It began in England during the early 1980s in the gothic rock scene, an offshoot of the post-punk genre. The goth subculture has survived much longer than others of the same era, and has continued to diversify. Its imagery and cultural proclivities indicate influences from the 19th century Gothic literature along with horror films and to a lesser extent the BDSM culture.
The goth subculture has associated tastes in music, aesthetics, and fashion. The music of the goth subculture encompasses a number of different styles including gothic rock, deathrock, post-punk, darkwave, Ethereal, Industrial Music and neoclassical. Styles of dress within the subculture range from deathrock, punk and Victorian style attire, or combinations of the above, most often with dark attire, makeup and hair.
The earliest significant usage of the term (as applied to music) was by Joy Division's producer, Tony Wilson on 15 September 1979 in an interview for the BBC TV program's Something Else : Wilson described Joy Division as "Gothic" compared to the pop mainstream, right before a live performance of the band. In 1979, the Gothic term was later applied to "newer bands such as Bauhaus who had arrived in the wake of Joy Division and Siouxsie and the Banshees". In 1979, Sounds described Joy Division as "gothic" and "theatrical". In February 1980, Melody Maker qualified the same band as "masters of this gothic gloom". Critic Jon Savage would later say that their singer Ian Curtis wrote "the definitive Northern Gothic statement".
However, it was not until the early 1981 that gothic rock became its own subgenre within post-punk, and that followers of these bands started to come together as a distinctly recognizable movement. The scene appears to have taken the gothic name from an article published in UK rock weekly Sounds: "The face of Punk Gothique", written by Steve Keaton and published in February 1981. In a text about the audience of UK Decay, journalist Steve Keaton asked this question: "Could this be the coming of Punk Gothique? With Bauhaus flying in on similar wings could it be the next big thing?". In July 1982, the opening of the Batcave in London's Soho provided a prominent meeting point for the emerging scene, which would be briefly labeled "positive punk" by the NME in a special issue with a front cover in early 1983. The term "Batcaver" was then used to describe old-school goths.
The bands that embraced the Gothic rock genre included Bauhaus, The Damned, The Cure, early Adam and the Ants, Depeche Mode, The Birthday Party, Southern Death Cult, Specimen, Sex Gang Children, UK Decay, Virgin Prunes, Christian Death, 45 Grave and Killing Joke.
At the peak of the scene in 1983, The Face 's Paul Rambali recalled that there were "several strong gothic characteristics" in the music of Joy Division. In 1984, Joy Division's bassist Peter Hook named Play Dead, as one of their heirs:
"If you listen to a band like Play Dead, who I really like, Joy Division played the same stuff that Play Dead are playing. They're similar."
By the mid-eighties, bands began proliferating and became increasingly popular, including The Sisters of Mercy, The Mission (known as The Mission UK in the US), Alien Sex Fiend, The March Violets, Ausgang, Kommunity FK, Xmal Deutschland, Clan Of Xymox, Dead Can Dance, This Mortal Coil, The Bolshoi, and Fields of the Nephilim.
Factory Records, 4AD Records, and Beggars Banquet Records released much of this music in Europe, while Cleopatra Records among others released the music in the United States, where the subculture grew especially in New York and Los Angeles, California, where many nightclubs featured "gothic/industrial" nights. The popularity of 4AD bands resulted in the creation of a similar US label called Projekt Records, which produces what is colloquially termed ethereal wave, a subgenre of dark wave music.
The nineties saw the further growth of certain eighties bands and emergence of many new acts. Styles of music heard in goth venues ranged from gothic rock, deathrock, industrial music, EBM, ambient, experimental, New Wave, synthpop and punk rock.
Recent years saw a resurgence in the early positive punk and deathrock sound, in reaction to aggrotech, industrial, and synthpop, which had taken over many goth clubs, bands with an earlier goth sound are becoming popular. Nights like Ghoul School and Release The Bats promote death rock, and the Drop Dead Festival brings in death rock fans from around the world.
Today, the goth music scene thrives in Western Europe, with large annual festivals in Germany such as Wave-Gotik-Treffen in Leipzig and M'era Luna in Hildesheim. Both events draw tens of thousands of people each year.
In literature, Gothic novel combines dark elements of both horror and romance: English author Horace Walpole, with his 1764 novel The Castle of Otranto is one of the first writers who explored this genre. The Revolutionary War-era "American Gothic" story of the Headless Horseman, immortalized in Washington Irving's story "The Legend of Sleepy Hollow" (published in 1820), marked the arrival in the New World of dark, romantic story-telling. The tale was composed by Irving while he was living in England, and was based on popular tales told by colonial Dutch settlers of New York's Hudson River valley. The story would be adapted to film in 1922, and in 1949, in the animated The Adventures of Ichabod and Mr. Toad. It would be readapted in 1980 and again in Tim Burton's 1999 Sleepy Hollow.
Throughout the evolution of goth subculture, classic romantic, gothic and horror literature has played a significant role. Poe, Lovecraft, E.T.A. Hoffmann, Baudelaire and other tragic and romantic writers have become as emblematic of the subculture as has using dark eyeliner or dressing in black. Baudelaire, in fact, in his preface to Les Fleurs du mal (Flowers of Evil) penned lines that as much as anything can serve as a sort of goth malediction:
By the 1960s, TV series, such as The Addams Family and The Munsters, used these stereotypes for camp comedy. The Byronic hero, in particular, was a key precursor to the male goth image, while Dracula's iconic portrayal by Bela Lugosi appealed powerfully to early goths. They were attracted by Lugosi's aura of camp menace, elegance and mystique. Some people credit the band Bauhaus' first single "Bela Lugosi's Dead", released August 1979, with the start of the goth subculture, though many prior art house movements influenced gothic fashion and style, the illustrations and paintings of Swiss artist, H. R. Giger being one of the earliest. Notable examples of icons would later include several leaders of bands: Siouxsie Sioux of Siouxsie and the Banshees, Robert Smith of The Cure, and Dave Vanian of The Damned. Some members of Bauhaus were, themselves, fine art students or active artists.
Some of the early gothic rock and deathrock artists adopted traditional horror film images and drew on horror film soundtracks for inspiration. Their audiences responded by adopting appropriate dress and props. Use of standard horror film props like swirling smoke, rubber bats, and cobwebs featured as gothic club décor from the beginning in The Batcave. Such references in their music and image were originally tongue-in-cheek, but as time went on, bands and members of the subculture took the connection more seriously. As a result, morbid, supernatural, and occult themes became more noticeably serious in the subculture. The interconnection between horror and goth was highlighted in its early days by The Hunger, a 1983 vampire film, which starred David Bowie, Catherine Deneuve, and Susan Sarandon. The film featured gothic rock group Bauhaus performing Bela Lugosi's Dead in a nightclub. Tim Burton created a storybook atmosphere filled with darkness and shadow in some of his films like Edward Scissorhands, Beetlejuice, and Batman.
A literary influence on the gothic scene was Anne Rice's re-imagining of the idea of the vampire. Rice's characters were depicted as struggling with eternity and loneliness. Their ambivalent or tragic sexuality held deep attractions for many goth readers, making her works popular in the eighties through the nineties.
The re-imagining of the vampire continued with the release of Poppy Z. Brite's book Lost Souls in October 1992. Despite the fact that Brite's first novel was criticized by some mainstream sources for allegedly "lack[ing] a moral center: neither terrifyingly malevolent supernatural creatures nor (like Anne Rice's protagonists) tortured souls torn between good and evil, these vampires simply add blood-drinking to the amoral panoply of drug abuse, problem drinking and empty sex practiced by their human counterparts", many of these so-called "human counterparts" identified with the teen angst and goth music references therein, keeping the book in print. Upon release of a special 10th Anniversary edition of Lost Souls, Publishers Weekly— the same periodical that criticized the novel's "amorality" a decade prior— deemed it a "modern horror classic" and acknowledged that Brite established a "cult audience."
As the subculture became well-established, the connection between goth and horror fiction became almost a cliché, with goths quite likely to appear as characters in horror novels and film. For example, The Crow drew directly on goth music and style. Neil Gaiman's acclaimed graphic novel series The Sandman influenced goths with characters like the dark, brooding Dream and his sister Death.
Mick Mercer's 2002 release 21st Century Goth explores the modern state of the goth scene around the world, including South America, Japan, and mainland Asia. His previous 1997 release, Hex Files: The Goth Bible similarly took an international look at the subculture.
The gothic subculture has influenced different artists—not only musicians—but also painters and photographers. In particular their work is based on mystic, morbid and romantic motifs. In photography and painting the spectrum varies from erotic artwork to romantic images of vampires or ghosts. To be present is a marked preference for dark colours and sentiments, similar to gothic fiction, Pre-Raphaelites or Art Nouveau. In the Fine Art field, Anne Sudworth is a well-known artist with her dark, nocturnal works and strong gothic imagery.
Other contemporary graphic artists with this esthetics are Gerald Brom, Luis Royo, Dave McKean, Trevor Brown, Victoria Francés as well as the American comic artist James O'Barr. H. R. Giger of Switzerland is one of the first graphic artists to make serious contributions to the gothic/industrial look of much of modern cinema with his work on the film "Alien" by Ridley Scott. The artwork of Polish surrealist painter Zdzisław Beksiński is often described as 'Gothic'.
Gothic fashion is stereotyped as a dark, sometimes morbid, eroticized fashion and style of dress. Typical gothic fashion includes dyed black hair, dark eyeliner, black fingernails, black period-styled clothing; goths may or may not have piercings. Styles are often borrowed from the Elizabethan, Victorian or medieval period and often express pagan, occult or other religious imagery.
New York Times noted: "The costumes and ornaments are a glamorous cover for the genre's somber themes. In the world of Goth, nature itself lurks as a malign protagonist, causing flesh to rot, rivers to flood, monuments to crumble and women to turn into slatterns, their hair streaming and lipstick askew".
Present-day Fashion designers, such as John Paul Gaultier, Alexander McQueen and John Galliano, have also been described as practicing "Haute Goth". Gothic fashion is often confused with Heavy Metal fashion and Emo fashion: outsiders often mistake fans of heavy metal for goth, particularly those who wear black trench coats or wear "corpse paint" (a term associated with the black metal music scene).
The gothic fascination with the macabre has led uninformed people to question the psychological well-being of goths. The mass media has made reports that have influenced the public view that goths, or people associated with the subculture, are malicious or Satan-worshippers. There is no evidence that members of the goth subculture are any more or less violent, suicidal or otherwise malajusted. Some individuals who have either identified themselves or been identified by others as goth have committed high profile violent crimes, including several school shootings. These incidents and their attribution to the goth scene have helped to propagate a wary perception of goth in the public eye.
Public concern with the goth subculture reached a high point in the fallout of the Columbine High School massacre that was carried out by two students, incorrectly associated with the goth subculture. This misreporting of the roots of the massacre caused a widespread public backlash against the North American goth scene. Investigators of the incident, five months later, stated that the killers, who held goth music in contempt, were not involved with the goth subculture.
Other murders which are attributed to people suspected of being part of the goth culture include the Richardson family murders, although such cases did not raise the same amount of media attention as the school shootings.
In part because of public misunderstanding and ignorance surrounding gothic aesthetics, goths sometimes suffer prejudice, discrimination, and intolerance. As is the case with members of various other subcultures and alternative lifestyles, outsiders sometimes marginalize goths, either by intention or by accident. Goths, like any other alternative sub-culture sometimes suffer intimidation, humiliation, and, in many cases, physical violence for their involvement with the subculture.
On 11 August 2007, a couple walking through Stubbylee Park in Bacup, Lancashire, England were attacked by a group of teenagers because they were goths. Sophie Lancaster subsequently died from her injuries. On 29 April 2008, two teens Ryan Herbert and Brendan Harris were convicted for the murder of Lancaster and given life sentences, three others were given lesser sentences for the assault on her boyfriend. In delivering the sentence the judge stated, "this was a hate crime against these completely harmless people targeted because their appearance was different to yours." Judge Russell added that he "recognised it as a hate crime without Parliament having to tell him to do so and had included that view in his sentencing."
In 2008, Paul Gibbs, a Briton from Leeds, UK was attacked by three men. He and his group of about 20 young goths were on a camping trip in the vicinity of Rothwell when two 18-year-olds (Quinn Colley, Ryan Woodhead) and one 22-year-old (Andrew Hall) raided, stabbed four of the men and robbed two women. Gibbs was offered a motorbike ride by the attackers who at first insidiously befriended the group. On their way, they knocked Gibbs from the bike, rendered him unconscious with a helmet, and sliced off his ear. Afterwards, the attackers returned to the camp. Colley and Woodhead were sentenced to at least 2.5 years of prison while Hall at least 4.5 years. Gibbs' ear was found 17 hours later, thus doctors could not immediately reattach it. Instead, they stitched it inside his abdomen with the hope that some of the tissue will re-grow. The ear could be reconstructed by using cartilage removed from Gibbs' ribs.
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