By Jennifer Elizabeth Rose (Social/Cultural Writer and Music/Arts Historian)
The often misunderstood (or mystified) Goth genre has roots in the darker and/or unexplored Glam Rock and of the course early modern European historical definition. While many rock journalists have cited Jim Morrison the first Gothic Rock singer with his low, intriguing baritone vocals and previously unexplored lyrical themes which were often disturbing both psychologically and artistically in the 60’s, The Velvet Underground achieved the complete backdrop instrumentally and via arrangement including stylistic contributions.
Lou Reed, singer/songwriter, along with Sterling Morrison, the explorative guitarist and velvet-voiced songstress, Nico probably had more in common with darker art rock of their day but this is in fact why they were astounding as an ensemble to the genre’s infancy.
Into the 70’s, Nick Cave and The Birthday Party continued to travel the uncharted territories with his own brand of improv and perceived madness. And while Ian Curtis of Joy Division did much of the same, he examined personal and rugged emotion, no matter the sort. The depressed Goth myth can begin here unfortunately.
Obvious Jim Morrison influences in lower vocal register were apparent, staggered lyric-focused melodies (like Reed’s) were also highlighted. But instrumentally, The Birthday Party and Joy Division embodied not only the “sound” but also arrangement which as again revamped but with a focus on bottom register as a whole (i.e. bass guitar and other instruments which include a lasher/velvety bottom end or even guitars with deeper timbre). These elements were explored and solidified. The style and name of the genre was being defined.
In September of 1979, Tony Wilson, journalist and host of the British show, So It Goes, used the term Gothic to define Joy Division’s stark and eerie style.
“Dancing music with Gothic overtones.” he explained.
By the time contemporaries such as the longstanding Sisters of Mercy which spanned, and spawned many other subgenres such as Goth-Industrial and Goth Metal. Eventually, contemporaries such as Souxsie and the Banshees and The Cure added their elements and developed their more otherworldly, ethereal take on the genre lyrically and instrumentally. Often sporting an odd mash up of the darker corners of the Glam Rock movement and a sort of Post-Punk irony, the aforementioned acts delivered and stamped Goth Rock into the psyches of any sub or sub sub-genre.
While some sub-genres are often thought of when many people nowadays think of “Goth,” there is no substitute for the root and its purposes; examining universal dark themes (not evil, but dark).
Dark is defined in the Free Dictionary as “Lacking or having very little light: a dark corner. b. Lacking brightness: a dark day. 2. Reflecting only a small fraction of incident light.” Such is the very definition of Goth in ANY medium dating back to Medieval and Renaissance visual art and architecture.
While acts such as Bauhaus are often praised and many worthy modern Goth acts (especially Industrial acts) such as ThouShaltNot are overlooked, modern dark ambient and ethereal examples especially from the Projekt Records label are strongest overall “GOTHS.” Acts such as Black Tape for a Blue Girl, This Ascension and Unto Ashes, as well as the solo projects from Mortiis from the Black Metal band, Emperor, own this era of the genre and have kept it strong and genuine since the 90’s via label owner and musician, Sam Rosenthal.
In addition to my “Picks of the Week” which spanned a proto- Goth to 80’s Goth timeline, I also offer for your consideration the aforementioned classic acts and the following modern often overlooked examples of the best of the genre. Enjoy! And do try and pick up or legally download these independent artists’ records.
Black Tape for a Blue Girl – Across a Thousand Blades
This Ascension – Mysterium
ThouShaltNot – Without Faith