It’s the soundtrack to the deepest, darkest nights of the soul, from Bowie to Bauhaus, Nine Inch Nails to Nick Cave, post-punk and dance-pop to blues and country.
In 2006, Peter Bauhaus’ Murphy sat down next to My Chemical Romance’s Gerard Way for an interview on MTV to promote a new CD collection called Life Less Lived: The Gothic Box. “I’m trying to figure out what sums it all up,” Murphy said when asked how he would define goth. “It can’t just be a bit of makeup and dark lyrics. There must be more than that. Way chimes in shyly, “Well, it’s very hard to categorize who and what is goth.” Thanks for the insight, jeez.
The scene was a sort of torch pass. Murphy’s Bauhaus had helped invent Gothic in the early 1980s; Way had brought it to malls and arenas in the 21st century. And yet neither could answer a question that has haunted people for decades: What is goth?
Let’s go back to 1983. A time when the Batcave club in London was in its infancy. There the goth aesthetic was cultivated – a love for horror films and gothic novels, sickly paleness and a ball of koosh hair, pointy winklepickers and a hodgepodge of fetish material, and above all, a romance with melancholy. ’83 was also the year this vampire thriller Hunger, co-starring David Bowie, hit the big screens. Vampires, Bowie, Bauhaus – it was the perfect trifecta, beautifully tied together in an orgy of tragic eternity.
The first battalion of dark 1970s post-punk bands fed on the energy of Bowie’s character Ziggy Stardust, an androgynous creature who didn’t seem quite human. The allure of Ziggy, mixed with the magnetism of Dracula (namely Christopher Lee, Udo Keir, and of course, Bela Lugosi) helped assemble the subculture’s essential iconography – both awful and overflowing with sex- appeal.
And the sound? It’s atmospheric. Somewhere between a banshee scream or a bellowing, reverberant howl that could part the Red Sea, Gothic began as a transition point between the jagged simplicity of punk’s confrontation into sleek darkness, a shrouded in grief and then a lot of emotions. To achieve gothic status, there must be as much drama as possible: the music, in Hitchockian fashion, must be as spooky as a spiral staircase in a creaky haunted house.
Consider this list a roadmap to this sound — from B-movie horror thrills, to reanimated rock and roll rituals, to utter sacrilege, brimming with profanity, bondage, gore, and plenty of bat- mouse. It’s a story that touches on subgenres like dream pop, hard rock, synthpop and glam, makes pit stops in Spain and Germany, pays homage to the gates of black-clad country heroes and spooky legends of the blues, and delves into seedy rock art caves and punk DIY locations. So pour yourself a glass of red wine and tighten your rosaries. It’s gonna be a long, dark night of the soul.