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Dark cabaret may be a simple description of the theme and mood of a Cabaret performance, but more recently has come to define a particular musical genre which draws on the aesthetics of the decadent, risqué German Weimar-eramarker cabarets, burlesque and Vaudeville shows with the stylings of post-1970s goth and punk music.


Cabaret proper had long had associations with counter-culture and dealt with disturbing themes, as exemplified by The Threepenny Opera by Bertolt Brecht and Kurt Weill, with one of its best known songs "Mack the Knife" ("Moritat von Mackie Messer") which tells the story of a murderous anti-hero, or the 1933 song "Gloomy Sunday" ("Szomorú Vasárnap") by Hungarian composer Rezső Seress with the more recent urban legends which have grown up around it. It was therefore natural that later artists drew upon it for inspiration: Nico's 1974 album The End is an early example of such influence, especially in songs such as "You Forgot To Answer" and "Secret Side", while influenced artists associated with goth and punk music specifically include Nina Hagen, Sex Gang Children and The Virgin Prunes. Cabaret influenced individual songs, such as "Peek-a-Boo" by Siouxsie & the Banshees (1988) which draws on circus, burlesque and masquerade imagery and features accordion samples, and "The Food Prayer" (1985) by Swiss darkwave group The Vyllies.

Dark cabaret as a style

One of the earliest bands to play mainly or exclusively in a style which might be described as dark cabaret were the Tiger Lillies, formed in London in 1989. In the 1980s satirical cabaret had been revived and popularised by London-based bands such as Fascinating Aida and Kit and The Widow but the Tiger Lillies incorporated themes of blasphemy, prostitution and bestiality in their songs, sung by Martyn Jacques in a menacing style with a falsetto voice. A collaboration between Rozz Williams and Gitane Demone - both former members of Christian Death - entitled Dream Home Heartache after a song by Roxy Music, was recorded in the Netherlands and released in the United States in 1995 and was described by reviewers as "cabaret noir" or "glam cabaret". Following her 1996 debut solo album Quintessentially Unreal, San Francisco-based singer/pianist Jill Tracy released her second CD, Diabolical Streak, in 1999. Canada's Shift magazine called the album one of the "Top 10 Neo-Cabaret albums of all time."

Emergence of the genre

The Dresden Dolls' Amanda Palmer
The term dark cabaret appears to have only become popular following the release of a 2005 compilation album entitled Projekt Presents: A Dark Cabaret by Projekt Records, a label chiefly associated with the goth genre. The album included "Flowers" from Dream Home Heartache sung by Rozz Williams together with, among others, "Evil Night Together" by Jill Tracy and "Coin-Operated Boy" by The Dresden Dolls. Formed by Amanda Palmer and Brian Viglione in 2000, The Dresden Dolls described their music as "Brechtian punk cabaret", a term coined by Amanda Palmer in early 2003 in part to preclude being labelled by the media as goths. Nevertheless, with their musical style and appearance in white face makeup and reduced period clothing, The Dresden Dolls and their fans quickly became the most readily identified with the newly evident dark cabaret genre, garnering the most mainstream attention. Subsequently, bands began categorising themselves and their performance as dark cabaret, such as San Diego'smarker Tragic Tantrum Cabaret in the US or Brightonmarker-based BirdEatsBaby in England.

The appearance of an identifiable dark cabaret scene coincided with the rise of neo-burlesque starting in the 1990s. The two have become linked following the appearance of performers such as the Chicago burlesque orchestra Apartment (1997-2005) and the emergence of gothic bellydance, while in interview, collaboration with burlesque performers was given by Brian Viglione as the inspiration for The Dresden Dolls' look.

Record labels


  1. Kenneth Goldsmith Criminal Castrati New York Press, 13th May 1998, quoted at, retrieved 4 Jun 09
  2. Gitane Demone interviewed by Matthew Moyer, 1998/1999,
  3. Rozz Williams interviewed by Johnny Walker, Vibe, 1997, at
  4. Speer, Deborah "The Dresden Dolls" Pollstar, April 3rd 2006
  5. The Guardian Culture, review of Yes Virginia by Betty Clarke, 14 April 2006:
  6. retrieved 8 Jun 2009
  7. retrieved 8 Jun 2009
  8. Michael Pope (Director) (2004) The Rise and Times of The Dresden Dolls [DVD] 8-ft Records

See also

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