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. Gothic music encompasses a number of different styles including Gothic rock, Darkwave, Deathrock, Ethereal, Neo-Medieval 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.
Origins and development
By the late 1970s, there were a few post-punk bands labeled "gothic". However, it was not until the early 1980s 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 its name from an article published in UK rock weekly Sounds: "The face of Punk Gothique", written by Steve Keaton and published on February 21, 1981. The opening of the Batcave in London's Soho in July 1982 provided a prominent meeting point for the emerging scene, which had briefly been labeled "positive punk" by the New Musical Express. The term "Batcaver" was later used to describe old-school goths.
Independent from the British scene, the late 1970s and early 1980s saw death rock branch off from American punk. In 1980s and early 1990s, members of an emerging subculture in Germany were called Grufti[e]s (English "vault creatures" or "tomb creatures"); they generally followed a fusion of the gothic and new wave with an influence of new romantic, and formed the early stages of the "dark culture" (formerly called "dark wave culture").
The goth scene
The limited number of bands that began the gothic rock and deathrock scenes included Bauhaus, Specimen, Siouxsie and the Banshees, The Damned, The Cure, The Birthday Party, Southern Death Cult, Ausgang, Sex Gang Children, The March Violets, 45 Grave, UK Decay, Virgin Prunes, Kommunity FK, Alien Sex Fiend, Christian Death, Gloria Mundi, This Mortal Coil, Dead Can Dance, early Adam and the Ants, and Killing Joke.
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), Xmal Deutschland, The Bolshoi, and Fields of the Nephilim. The nineties saw the further growth of eighties bands and emergence of many new bands. 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 and Orange Counties, 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.
By the mid-1990s, styles of music heard in Goth venues ranged from gothic rock, deathrock, industrial music, EBM, ambient, experimental, new wave, synthpop and punk rock.
Bauhaus—Live in concert, February 3, 2006
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 (especially Germany) with large festivals such as Wave-Gotik-Treffen, M'era Luna, and others drawing tens of thousands of fans worldwide.
Historical and cultural influences
Origins of the term
NME and Sounds reputedly took the term Gothic from Siouxsie Sioux (of the Banshees) who used it to describe the new direction for her band. However the earliest significant usage of the term (as applied to music) was by Anthony H. Wilson on a 1978 BBC TV program when he described Joy Division as Gothic compared to the pop mainstream. Bauhaus was labeled as Gothic as early as 1979 when they released Bela Lugosi's Dead.
19th and 20th centuries
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 was adapted to film in 1922, and in 1949, in the animatedThe Adventures of Ichabod and Mr. Toad. It was readapted in 1980 and again in Tim Burton's 1999 Sleepy Hollow. Burton, already famous through his films Edward Scissorhands, Beetlejuice, and Batman, created a storybook atmosphere filled with darkness and shadow.
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:
C'est l'Ennui! —l'œil chargé d'un pleur involontaire,Il rêve d'échafauds en fumant son houka.Tu le connais, lecteur, ce monstre délicat,—Hypocrite lecteur,—mon semblable,—mon frère!It is Boredom! — an eye brimming with an involuntary tear,He dreams of the gallows while smoking his water-pipe.You know him, reader, this fragile monster,—Hypocrite reader,—my twin,—my brother!
20th century influences
The influence of the gothic novel on the goth subculture can be seen in numerous examples of the subculture's poetry and music, though this influence sometimes came second hand, through the popular imagery of horror films and television. The powerful imagery of horror films began in German expressionist cinema after the first world war and then passed onto the Universal Studios films of the twenties and thirties, and then to the horror films of the EnglishHammer Studio.
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. Other notable examples include Siouxsie Sioux of the musical group Siouxsie and the Banshees, Robert Smith of The Cure, and Dave Vanian of the band The Damned. Some members of Bauhaus were, themselves, fine art students or active artists.
Film poster for The Hunger, a key influence in the early days of the goth subculture.
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. In 1993, Whitby became the location for what became the UK's biggest goth festival as a direct result of being featured in Bram Stoker's Dracula.
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"[volume & issue needed], 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."
Later media influences
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 sisterDeath.
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.
Visual art influences
The Belgian photographer Viona Ielegems atWave-Gotik-Treffen in 2005
The Goth 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 toGothic fiction, Pre-Raphaelites or Art Nouveau. In the Fine Art field, Anne Sudworth is a well known goth artist with her dark, nocturnal works and strong Gothic imagery. Often, goth visual art goes hand in hand with goth music, such as artist Nathaniel Milljour whose gothic artwork is predominantly used by bands and nightclubs.
Some of the graphic artists close to Goth are Gerald Brom, Luis Royo, Dave McKean, Jhonen Vasquez, 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.
Defining an explicit ideology for the gothic subculture is difficult for several reasons. First is the overwhelming importance of mood and aesthetic for those involved. This is, in part, inspired byromanticism and neoromanticism. The allure for goths of dark, mysterious, and morbid imagery and mood lies in the same tradition of Romanticism's gothic novel. During the late 18th and 19th century, feelings of horror and supernatural dread were widespread motifs in popular literature; the process continues in the modern horror film. Balancing this emphasis on mood andaesthetics, another central element of the gothic is a deliberate sense of camp theatricality and self-dramatization, present both in gothic literature as well as in the gothic subculture itself.
Goths, in terms of their membership in the subculture, are usually not supportive of violence, but are tolerant of alternative lifestyles that incorporate themes such as BDSM—always involving consent. Violence and hate do not form elements of goth ideology; rather, the ideology is formed in part by recognition, identification, and grief over societal and personal evils that the mainstream culture wishes to ignore or forget. These are the prevalent themes in goth music.
The second impediment to explicitly defining a gothic ideology is goth's generally apolitical nature. While individual defiance of social norms was socially risky in the 19th century, today it is far less socially radical. Thus, the significance of goth's subcultural rebellion is limited, and it draws on imagery at the heart of Western culture. Unlike the hippie or punk movements, the goth subculture has no pronounced political messages or cries for social activism. The subculture is marked by its emphasis on individualism, tolerance for diversity, and mild tendencies towards intellectualism and cynicism, but even these ideas are not universal to all goths. Goth ideology is based far more on aesthetics and simplified ethics than politics.
Unlike punk, there are few clashes between political affiliation and being "goth". Similarly, there is no common religious tie that binds together the goth movement, though spiritual, supernatural, and religious imagery has played a part in gothic fashion, song lyrics and visual art. In particular, aesthetic elements from Catholicism often appear in goth culture. Reasons for donning such imagery range from expression of religious affiliation to satire or simply decorative effect. Regardless, there is a general tolerance for religious beliefs, and everyone including strict Catholics, atheists, and polytheists are accepted.
While involvement with the subculture can be fulfilling, it also can be risky depending on where the goth lives, especially for the young, because of the negative attention it can attract due to public misconceptions of goth subculture. The value that young people find in the movement is evinced by its continuing existence after other subcultures of the eighties (such as the New Romantics) have died out.
Goth 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 such aspentacles or ankhs. The extent to which goths hold to this style varies amongst individuals as well as geographical locality, though virtually all Goths wear some of these elements. Fashion designers, such as Alexander McQueen and John Galliano, have also been described as practicing "Haute Goth". Goth fashion is often confused with heavy metal 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 raised public concerns regarding 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; however this is disputed and the Goth subculture is often described as non-violent. That being said, academic studies have shown a higher propensity towards violence and self-harm within the subculture. Some individuals who have either identified themselves or been identified by others as goth, whether correctly or incorrectly, 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.
Violence attributed to Goths
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 there was no involvement between the goth subculture and the killers, who held goth music in contempt.
The Dawson College shooting, in Canada, also raised public concern with the goth scene. Kimveer Gill, who killed one and injured nineteen, maintained an online journal at a web site,VampireFreaks, in which he "portrayed himself as a gun-loving Goth." The day after the shooting it was reported that "it are rough times for industrial / goth music fans these days as a result of yet another trench coat killing", implying that Gill was involved in the goth subculture. During a search of Gill's home, police found a letter praising the actions of Columbine shooters Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold and a CD titled "Shooting sprees ain't no fun without Ozzy and friends LOL". Although the shooter claimed an obsession for "Goth", his favorite music list was described, by the media, as a "who's who of heavy metal.
Mick Mercer, author, noted music journalist, and world's leading historian of Goth music stated, of Kimveer Gill, that he was "not a Goth. Never a Goth. The bands he listed as his chosen form of ear-bashing were relentlessly metal and standard grunge, rock and Goth metal, with some industrial presence.", "Kimveer Gill listened to metal." "He had nothing whatsoever to do with Goth," and further commented "I realise that like many Neos this idiot may even have believed he somehow was a Goth, because they're only really noted for spectacularly missing the point." Mercer emphasized that he was not blaming heavy metal music for Gill's actions and added "It doesn't matter actually what music he liked."
Another school shooting that was wrongly attributed to the goth subculture is the Red Lake High School massacre. Jeff Weise killed 7 people, and was believed by a fellow student to be into the goth culture: wearing "a big old black trench coat," and listening to heavy metal music (as opposed to Gothic rock). Weise was also found to participate in neo-nazi online forums.
Other murders which are attributed to people suspected of being part of the goth culture include the Scott Dyleski killing, and the Richardson family murders, although neither of these cases raised the same amount of media attention as the school shootings.
Violence against Goths
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 controversial subcultures andalternative 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.
In 2006, a Navy sailor, James Eric Benham, and his brother attacked four goths in San Diego California. One goth, Jim Howard, had to be rushed to the hospital. The perpetrators of this attack were found guilty in August 2007 on four related accounts, two of which were felonies, though Benham only spent 37 days in jail. During the trial, it was made clear that the goths were assaulted due to their subculture affiliation. This can be otherwise known as a "hate crime" though the San Diego courts did not recognize this attack as such at the time.
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 Robert Maltby. In delivering the sentence Judge Anthony Russell stated "This was a hate crime against these completely harmless people targeted because their appearance was different to yours." He went on to defend the goth community, calling goths "perfectly peaceful, law-abiding people who pose no threat to anybody." Judge Russell add 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." Despite this ruling, a bill to add discrimination based on subculture affiliation to the definition of hate crime in British law was not presented to parliament.
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. Quinn Colley had previously appeared in a homemade clip rapping on his love of violence. 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 2½ years of prison while Hall at least 4½ 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.
A study published on the British Medical Journal concluded that "identification as belonging to the Goth subculture [at some point on their lives] was the best predictor of self harm and attempted suicide [among young teens]", and that it was most possibly due to a selection mechanism (persons that wanted to harm themselves later identified as goths, thus raising the percentage of those persons who identify as goths). The study was based on a sample of 15 teenagers who identified as goths, of which 8 had self-harmed by any method, 7 had self-harmed by cutting, scratching or scoring, and 7 had attempted suicide.
The authors held that most self-harm by teens was done before joining the subculture, and that joining the subculture would actually protect them and help them deal with distress in their lives. The authors insisted on the study being based on small numbers and on the need of replication to confirm the results. The study was criticized for using a small sample of goth teens and not taking into account other influences and differences between different types of goth.
- Baddeley, Gavin: Goth Chic: A Connoisseur's Guide to Dark Culture (Plexus, US, August 2002, ISBN 0-85965-308-0)
- Davenport-Hines, Richard: Gothic: Four Hundred Years of Excess, Horror, Evil and Ruin. 1999: North Port Press. ISBN 0-86547-590-3 (trade paperback)—A voluminous, if somewhat patchy, chronological/aesthetic history of Gothic covering the spectrum from Gothic architecture to The Cure.
- Embracing the Darkness; Understanding Dark Subcultures by Corvis Nocturnum (Dark Moon Press 2005. ISBN 978-0-9766984-0-1) Features interviews with Michelle Belanger, "The Vampire" Don Henrie of Sci-Fi Channel's Mad Mad House, current Church of Satan High Priest Magus Peter H. Gilmore, Playboy and Fetish model Bianca Beauchamp, gothic clothing designer Kambriel, Geoff Kayson (founder of the occult jewelry retailer Alchemy Gothic), members of the dark metal band URN, and others.
- Digitalis, Raven: Goth Craft: The Magickal Side of Dark Culture (2007: Llewellyn Worldwide)—includes a lengthy explanation of Gothic history, music, fashion, and proposes a link between mystic/magical spirituality and dark subcultures.
- Fuentes Rodríguez, César: Mundo Gótico. (Quarentena Ediciones, 2007, ISBN 84-933891-6-1)—In Spanish. Covering Literature, Music, Cinema, BDSM, Fashion and Subculture topics
- Furek, Maxim W.: The Death Proclamation of Generation X: A Self-Fulfilling Prophesy of Goth, Grunge and Heroin". (i-Universe, US 2008; ISBN 978-0-595-46319-0)
- Hodkinson, Paul: Goth: Identity, Style and Subculture (Dress, Body, Culture Series) 2002: Berg. ISBN 1-85973-600-9 (hardcover); ISBN 1-85973-605-X (softcover)
- Kilpatrick, Nancy: The Goth Bible: A Compendium for the Darkly Inclined. 2004: St. Martin's Griffin. ISBN 0-312-30696-2
- Steele, Valerie and Jennifer Park: Gothic: Dark Glamour. 2008: Yale University Press and the Fashion Institute of Technology New York. ISBN 978-0-300-13694-4 (hardcover)
- Voltaire: What is Goth? (WeiserBooks, US, 2004; ISBN 1-57863-322-2)—a view of the goth subculture
- Andrew C. Zinn: The Truth Behind The Eyes (IUniverse, US, 2005; ISBN 0-595-37103-5)—Dark Poetry
- Mercer, Mick: 21st Century Goth (Reynolds & Hearn, 2002; ISBN 1-903111-28-5)-an exploration of the modern state of the goth subculture worldwide.
- Mercer, Mick: Hex Files: The Goth Bible. (9 Overlook Press, 1 Amer ed edition, 1997 ISBN 0-87951-783-2)-an international survey of the goth scene.
- Catalyst, Clint: Cottonmouth Kisses. (Manic D Press, 2000 ISBN 978-0-916397-65-4 )- A first-person account of an individual's life within the Goth Subculture (book has Library of Congress listing under "Goth Subculture").
- Venters, Jillian: Gothic Charm School: An Essential Guide for Goths and Those Who Love Them.(Harper Paperbacks, 2009 ISBN 0-06-166916-4 )- An etiquette guide to "gently persuade others in her chosen subculture that being a polite Goth is much, much more subversive than just wearing T-shirts with "edgy" sayings on them."