It is the 21st anniversary of the Whitby Goth Weekend this coming weekend, so let’s go Goth for this post. The argument will rage until the end of time as to what counts as Goth music nowadays, by the way, and I’m sure it could well flare up again as a result of this post! But the way I see it – the Goth scene is a (very) broad church, with sounds and the general aesthetic of the genre snaking it’s tendrils some considerable way into many other realms – metal, industrial, punk, shoegaze, post-rock, to name but a few, and it even encompasses football nowadays (of which I’m a long-standing participant, and we play this coming weekend). And so some of the bands I mention today may only be seen as Goth in a loose sense – but to me, they deserve their place (and a listen).
One thing I was also conscious of doing here was to look to more current bands as much as bands of the past. One of my criticisms of the scene (sometimes, anyway!) is a prediliction to look backwards to some rose-tinted era where Goth was “pure”, or something, but in some respects the Industrial side of things can be just as bad – and I’m guilty too. Anyway, as noted, this is ten bands, in some cases particular albums, that sum up Goth music to me. As always, your input is welcome in the comments.
I turn 37 this summer, which means that the more astute of my readers will have worked out already that I am too young to have been around for much of the “80s” Goth that is so emblematic of the genre. I have grown an appreciation of many bands from that time, mind, and The Sisters are one of them. My route into them, though, was from their (awesomely over-the-top named) Greatest Hits Volume One: A Slight Case of Overbombing, that was so full of their latter period, skyscraping anthems (not to mention the shiny, bombastic production) that the earlier singles rather paled tucked in at the end of the CD. So, perhaps, I’ve never gained the appreciation of that earlier material, and I’m probably a heretic for suggesting that I actually like Under The Gun, and the monstrous reworking of Temple of Love (complete with Ofra Haza’s glorious backing vocals) is, in my opinion, better than the original. There are a few other things about this band that blow my mind, though – like just how big a deal this band were. Each of their albums sold over half a million copies, from what I can tell – many Goth (actually, alternative in general) bands would be lucky to sell a tenth of that in their career. They were able to get Jim Steinman in to produce their biggest singles. And then…nothing. A seemingly never-ending set of tours, but no new music, probably ever.
And whether Andrew Eldritch likes it or not, if you ask a non-Goth to name a Goth band, I’ll bet one of the first names off their lips will be The Sisters. Pretty much every single one of their singles is still a Goth Club floorfiller, and there is a good reason for that. They are still generally awesome.
Actually one of the very first bands I saw live, right at the end of their time (but I honestly can’t recall a great deal about it), I’ve always been intrigued by the wild experimentation of the band – and their rare ability to make just about any style work with their sound. There were synths, there were loops, astonishing drumming (that’ll be Budgie, then), Steve Severin’s instantly recognisable guitars and Siouxsie’s equally striking vocals. One track in particular always leaves my jaw on the floor – the electronics may take a back seat in Spellbound, but everything else is present and correct, the track bursting into life like a coiled spring, Siouxsie delivers her vocals like her life depends on it, and that close-out… The best thing, though, about this band was that they never rested on their laurels. Always trying something new, always willing to do so. And the results speak for themselves.
One band I’ve never seen are The Cure. Perhaps not what they were musically nowadays, but when you’re band that were not far off perfect for some time across their career, you can forgive the odd misstep or three. One of the more intriguing things about The Cure – and particularly Robert Smith – was his ability to write the bleakest, darkest lyrics, sing them like his soul was being wrenched out, then goof around in videos and show a very different side – y’know, like Goths actually have a sense of humour after all. Not, mind, that there is much humour in their meisterwerk, Disintegration. An epic trawl through the dark recesses of the mind, there is little light that shines through, but the music is glorious to wallow in and appreciate the sheer darkness of it. Few other Goth bands ever went as deep as this.
Time for a lesser-known Goth band now. Sunshine Blind were a US-based band from the nineties, who I discovered on the same compilation that I first heard Heavy Water Factory on (whom I interviewed Jesse McClear from last month, of course). I actually heard a cracking remix of Neon first on there, but the original version had a satisfying punch to it, too – much rawer and jagged than the sleek electronic thrills of the remix, while This Longing was a little more, er, trad. Those drums come straight from a Siouxsie track, while those slashing guitars sound naggingly familiar too. But you know what? It’s the kind of Gothic Rock I’ve come back to time and time again over the years. That outro absolutely slays, too.
Now, Faith and the Muse are a band that I like basically one album of. I’ve tried others, but none grabbed me, with the exception of The Burning Season. This album ripples with a furious energy from the off, a super-charged (and impeccably produced) hard rock sheen twists around the gothic melodies and Monica Richards pledge to “show some sharper teeth” rings true throughout the album. But as well as the harder edge, the softer songs are exceptional, too. The sultry historical sweep of Boudiccea really is quite something, but pick of the whole album is the blazing fires of rhythm on the title track – showcasing a sense of the dramatic that is just frankly brilliant in it’s execution.
The chances of me omitting a Projekt artist from this were fairly low, really. And anyway, Elin would kill me – or at the very least disapprove – if I did. I wasn’t always a fan of this kind of ethereal goth, a number of friends were when I was younger and it took some years before I appreciated it fully. These and Lycia are the two I still listen to, though. This band in particular changed their style a bit over time, but the core remains – blissed out, clear vocals, chiming guitars, shuffling beats, and a sound that frankly comes across as elegaic despair. (I was really never sure about their move into “trip-hop-goth” on last album Flux, mind – the sound of a band chasing popular trends of the time, and it doesn’t fit them well at all).
One of the best “new” Goth bands of late has been this band, formed by Tim Chandler (also of Manuskript) – although the project has been around for a lot longer than they first appear. Sonically, of course, this is classic Gothic Rock, but with better production and in some cases better tunes, too, than some of their influences. Here’s hoping for another album sometime, Tim…
Are these Canadians Goth? Well, they are headlining Thursday night at Whitby this year, and this is far from the only Goth festival they’ve played at. They are also wildly popular, it seems, and are perhaps one of those bands drawing in a younger audience to a scene, if we’re honest, that could do with some new blood. Their sound takes in European darkwave synths, the more metal end of goth’s guitars, and a poppy edge that makes their best songs catchy as all hell. Just try the glorious, soaring heights of Play Dead, Looking Glass or Shallow Grave for starters. I’m kinda sad I didn’t go for a Thursday night ticket after all, now I think about it – but I have seen them a few times before…
Sadly on indefinite hiatus nowadays – the “indefinite” suggesting perhaps that they may not return – this is possibly the most contentious entry here. Something of a revivalist band, harking back to eighties synthpop and post-punk, but on their first two albums at least they did it with such style that it was hard not to be swept into the arms of their cinematic sounds. The other surprising part was that lead singer Justin Warfield makes an unlikely goth singer – his previous work includes the hip-hop/rock of One Inch Punch, among other bands, not to mention his guest vocals on the astonishing Bomb The Bass single Bug Powder Dust. But work it does – Warfield’s oh-so-disinterested vocals and his tales of loveless sex, lust and death, not to mention the taut, sparing backing created by his bandmate Adam Bravin that makes for a dancefloor-bound cocktail and one that at times certainly shows it’s knowledge of Goth songs past. Pick of their songs, though, remains the darkly sexy, dirty Written in Blood, where all the lust implied elsewhere is unleashed in one five minute rush.
Finally, another outlier in the new(er) wave of Goth-influenced artists. Chelsea Wolfe is a Californian singer who has eschewed any of the sunnier influences from her home state, instead forming a sound that is equal parts gothic folk, blues and even some extreme metal. Her thin, dry voice is a perfect fit for the scratchy sounds, too, particularly on her breakthrough album Ἀποκάλυψις [Apokalypsis], where her voice is mixed to become howls in the pitch-darkness of the music. Her last album, Pain is Beauty, added some electronic elements without affecting the power of her sound, indeed enhancing it spectacularly on opener Feral Love. Maybe not music for the Gothic dancefloor, but in feel and sound this, to me, is most certainly part of the lineage of Goth.
Where does it go from here? Will we, in ten years time, still have bands playing “trad” Goth Rock? Or will we have moved the scene and evolved it further? Or will it splinter entirely?