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Gothic rock (also referred to as goth rock or simply goth) is a musical subgenre of Post-Punk and Alternative Rock that formed during the late 1970s. Gothic rock bands grew from the strong ties they had to the English punk rock and emerging post-punk scenes. The genre itself was defined as a separate movement from punk rock during the early 1980s largely due to the significant stylistic divergences of the movement; gothic rock, as opposed to punk, combines dark, often keyboard-heavy music with introspective and depressing lyrics. Notable gothic rock bands include Bauhaus, Siouxsie & the Banshees, The Sex Gang Children, The Cure, Joy Division, Radio Werewolf, The Sisters of Mercy, and Fields of the Nephilim, among many others. Gothic rock gave rise to a broader goth subculture that includes clubs, various fashion trends and numerous publications that grew in popularity in the 1980s.

Style, roots and influences

Gothic rock takes the guitar and synthesizer sounds of post-punk and uses them to construct "foreboding, sorrowful, often epic soundscapes". According to music journalist Simon Reynolds, standard musical fixtures of the genre include "scything guitar patterns, high-pitched basslines that often usurped the melodic role; [and] beats that were either hypnotically dirgelike or 'tribal'". Reynolds described the vocal style as consisting of "deep, droning alloys of Jim Morrison and Leonard Cohen". Many goth bands use drum machines that do not stress the back beat in the rhythm. Siouxsie and the Banshees and The Cure tended to play the flanging guitar effect, producing a brittle, cold, and harsh sound that contrasted with their psychedelic rock predecessors.

Gothic rock typically deals with dark themes addressed through lyrics and the music atmosphere. The poetic sensibilities of the genre led gothic rock lyrics to exhibit literary romanticism, morbidity, religious symbolism, and/or supernatural mysticism. Musicians who initially shaped the aesthetics and musical conventions of gothic rock include The Velvet Underground, David Bowie, Iggy Pop, and The Sex Pistols. Nico's 1969 album, The Marble Index, was also particularly influential. Gothic rock creates a dark atmosphere by drawing influence from the drones used by protopunk group The Velvet Underground, and many goth singers are influenced by the "deep and dramatic" vocal timbre of David Bowie, albeit singing at even lower pitches. J.G. Ballard was a strong lyrical influence for many of the early Gothic rock groups; The Birthday Party drew on Arthur Rimbaud and Charles Baudelaire.


Origins and early development

The term "gothic" was initially loosely applied to certain post-punk groups. In the late 1970s, the word "gothic" was used to describe the atmosphere of post-punk bands like Joy Division. In 1979, Martin Hannett described Joy Division as "dancing music with Gothic overtones". The same year, Tony Wilson described the band as "gothic" on the television show Something Else. Not long after, the term was used in a derogatory fashion in reference to bands like Bauhaus and Siouxsie & the Banshees. However, the term was not adopted as "positive identity, a tribal rallying cry" until a shift in the scene in 1982. In addition, Simon Reynolds identifies The Birthday Party and Killing Joke as essential proto-goth groups. Despite their legacy as progenitors of gothic rock, these groups disliked the label. Adam Ant's early work was also a major impetus for the gothic rock scene, and much of the fan base came from his milieu.

Siouxsie & The Banshees
Bauhaus's debut single "Bela Lugosi's Dead", released in late 1979, is considered to be the beginning of the gothic rock genre. Around the same time post-punk bands like Siouxsie & the Banshees and The Cure fully embraced the goth sound. With their fourth album, 1981's Juju, the Banshees established many of the classic Gothic qualities, lyrically and sonically. Steve Severin attributes the supernatural lyrical aesthetic of the album to the influence of The Cramps. The Cure were the most commercially successful of these groups, eventually recording two double platinum albums. The Cure's style was atmospheric and withdrawn, contrasting with their contemporaries The Birthday Party, who drew on funk music, blues, and spastic, violent turmoil. Their 1981 single "Release the Bats" was particularly influential in the scene. Killing Joke were originally inspired by Public Image Ltd.. borrowing from funk, disco, and dub music, and later, heavy metal. Calling their style "tension music", Killing Joke distorted these elements to provocative effect, as well as producing a morbid, politically-charged visual style.

Gothic rock thrived in the early 1980s. Clubs such as the Batcavemarker, in London, provided a venue for the goth scene. In 1982, Ian Astbury of the band Southern Death Cult used the term "gothic goblins" to describe Sex Gang Children's fans. Southern Death Cult were themselves icons of the scene, drawing aesthetic inspiration from Native American culture. The group appeared on the cover of NME in October 1982. The emerging scene was described as "positive punk" in a February 1983 article in NME. Journalist Richard North described Bauhaus and Theatre of Hate as "the immediate forerunners of today's flood" and declared, "So here it is: the new positive punk, with no empty promises of revolution, either in the rock'n'roll sense or the wider political sphere. Here is only a chance of self awareness, of personal revolution, of colourful perception and galvanisation of the imagination that startles the slumbering mind and body from their sloth." That year, myriad Goth groups emerged, including Flesh for Lulu, Play Dead, Rubella Ballet, Gene Loves Jezebel, UK Decay, Blood and Roses, The Virgin Prunes, and Ausgang. The 4AD label released music in a lighter, more ethereal style, by groups such as Cocteau Twins, Dead Can Dance, and Xmal Deutschland. The Icelandic group Kukl also appeared in this period, which included Björk and other musicians who later participated in The Sugarcubes.

Simon Reynolds speaks of a shift from early Goth to Gothic rock proper, advanced by The Sisters of Mercy. As journalist Jennifer Park puts it, "the original blueprint for gothic rock had mutated significantly. Doom and gloom was no longer confined to its characteristic atmospherics, but as the Sisters demonstrated, it could really rock." The Sisters of Mercy, influenced by Leonard Cohen, Gary Glitter, Motörhead, The Stooges, The Velvet Underground, The Birthday Party, Suicide, and The Fall, created a new, harder form of Gothic rock. In addition, they incorporated a drum machine. Reynolds identifies their 1983 single "Temple of Love" as the quintessential Goth anthem of the year, along with Southern Death Cult's "Fatman". The group created their own record label, Merciful Release, which also signed The March Violets, who performed in a similar style. The Violets toured with The Danse Society, a group inspired by The Cure in their Pornography period.

Subsequent developments

Southern Death Cult reformed as The Cult, a more conventional hard rock group. In their wake, The Mission UK, which included two former members of The Sisters of Mercy, achieved commercial success in the mid-1980s, as did Fields of the Nephilim and All About Eve. Bands who continue to be associated with gothic rock include Alien Sex Fiend, All Living Fear, And Also the Trees, Balaam and the Angel, Claytown Troupe,Dream Disciples, Inkubus Sukkubus, Libitina, Fields of the Nephilim, Rosetta Stone, and Suspiria.

American gothic rock began with 45 Grave and Christian Death, both of whom were strongly influenced by The Cramps. This style is often described as deathrock. European groups inspired by the style have also proliferated, including Xmal Deutschland and Clan of Xymox. These groups are associated with dark wave, which draws on Gothic rock in addition to synthpop and industrial music.

See also


  1. Goth rock. Retrieved on 15 January 2009.
  2. Reynolds, p. 423
  3. Charlton, p. 353
  4. Reynolds, p. 426.
  5. Park, p. 118-125.
  6. Richie Unterberger, The Marble Index review, Allmusic. [1] Access date: March 8, 2009.
  7. Reynolds, p. 428-429.
  8. Reynolds, p. 420.
  9. Park, p. 127
  10. Reynolds, p. 420
  11. Reynolds, p. 420.
  12. Reynolds, p. 433
  13. James Hannaham, p. 114.
  14. Reynolds, p. 421.
  15. Reynolds, p. 359
  16. Reynolds, p. 428.
  17. RIAA Gold and Platinum searchable database. [2] Access date: March 24, 2009.
  18. Reynolds, p. 429-431.
  19. Reynolds, p. 431.
  20. Reynolds, p. 433-435.
  21. Park, p. 151.
  22. Park, p. 150.
  23. Reynolds, p. 422.
  24. North, Richard. "Punk Warriors." NME. 19 February 1983.
  25. Reynolds, p. 423, 431, 436.
  26. Reynolds, p. 437.
  27. Park, p. 144.
  28. Park, p. 145.
  29. Reynolds, p. 438.
  30. Park, p. 147.
  31. Reynolds, p. 438.
  32. Chris True, God's Own Medicine review, Allmusic. [3] Access date: January 14, 2009.
  33. Mercer 1994, p. 63.
  34. Mercer 1996, p. 78-95.
  35. Mercer 1988, p. 60.
  36. Kilpatrick, Nancy. The Goth Bible: A Compendium for the Darkly Inclined. New York: St. Martin's Griffin, 2004, ISBN 0-312-3069602, p. 89.
  37. Mercer 1998, p. 56-57.
  38. Michael Sutton, Clan of Xymox bio, Allmusic. [4] Access date: January 14, 2009.


  • Collins, Andrew. "Bluffer's Guide to Goth." NME. 30 November 1991.
  • Charlton, Katherine. Rock Music Styles. Fourth edition. McGraw-Hill, 2003. ISBN 0-07-249555-3
  • Furek, Maxim W. "The Death Proclamation of Generation X: A Self-Fulfilling Prophesy of Goth, Grunge and Heroin." i-Universe, 2008. ISBN 978-0-595-46319-0
  • Hannaham, James. "Bela Lugosi's Dead and I Don't Feel So Good Either". Gothic. Boston: MIT Press, 1997.
  • Kilpatrick, Nancy. The Goth Bible: A Compendium for the Darkly Inclined. Chapter 5, "Music of the Macabre: In the Beginning ..." New York: St. Martin's Griffin, 2004.
  • Mercer, Mick. Gothic Rock. Los Angeles: Cleopatra Records, 1994.
  • Mercer, Mick. Gothic Rock Black Book. London: Omnibus Press, 1988.
  • Mercer, Mick. The Hex Files: The Goth Bible. Woodstock: Overlook Press, 1996. ISBN 0-87951-783-2
  • Park, Jennifer. "Melancholy and the Macabre: Gothic Rock and Fashion". Gothic: Dark Glamour by Valerie Steele and Jennifer Park. Yale University Press, 2008.
  • Reynolds, Simon. Rip It Up and Start Again: Postpunk 1978-1984. Chapter 22: "Dark Things: Goth and the Return of Rock." London: Faber and Faber, 2005. ISBN 0-571-21569-6

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