Monday, 8 November 2010

Goth 101

Goth: 1) A style of music that often evokes bleak, dark imagery, e.g. The Sisters of Mercy, Fields of the Nephilim.
2) A performer, fan or follower of this style of music.

Subculture: A social group within a national or world culture that shares distinctive patterns of behaviour, tastes (e.g. fashion or music) or beliefs.

Mainstream: 1) The popular or prevailing current of thought, influence or activity.
2) Representing the prevalent attitudes, values and practices of society.
Being a Goth doesn't happen overnight. You don't wake up one morning and go, "Hmm... I think I'll start being Goth today." Aside from developing a taste in music which you may or may not have, and possibly choosing to wear Goth fashions, which are high-maintenance and can take some level of commitment (particularly including body modifications such as tattoos and piercings, and hairstyles which can include shaved sides, hair extensions or dye), Goth has its own very distinct culture which you may not feel at home with if you are not 'drawn' to the scene for any reasons other than wanting to shock your peers or family.

On the other hand, people aren't 'born Goth', although the taste and appreciation for darker things may have been evident from a young age. Becoming part of the subculture is something that develops with time, whether by choice or as a natural progression of personal taste and expression.

The first stage of this development is an interest in certain types of music. After all, Goth as a subculture didn't begin with fashion, literature, mindset, art or anything else. It stems from a genre of music. There are a few particular elements which are considered unique to Gothic music, serving to differentiate it from everything else out there: basically, making Goth what it is.

So what is Goth music?
'Goth' is a catch-all term applied to several different subgenres of music, such as darkwave, deathrock, and post-punk. The main defining factor of Gothic music is that it's avant-garde - not part of the mainstream. So you won't find it on MTV or Radio One, and it isn't Evanescence, Marilyn Manson, My Chemical Romance or whichever eyeliner-smothered clan has made it into the charts this week. It's also not the same thing as emo or metal. So no, Nightwish aren't Goth either.

The bands most easily recognised as Goth would have to be Bauhaus and The Sisters of Mercy. Others which are equally 'definitely Goth' include Alien Sex Fiend, The Cure, Joy Division, and Christian Death. In fact, if I were to be brutally honest, it's likely that if you have no knowledge of or interest in any of these bands, most people in the subculture would not really consider you a Goth. It's not that you must listen to an approved music list to be a Goth, but really, how can you consider yourself part of a music-based subculture if you have no interest in that genre of music?

What is NOT Gothic music?
Anything that focuses on shock value, mass marketing, teen angst, rap music or clown make-up, or gets regular airplay on a mainstream rock station.

Now that we have the basic elements of Goth music down, let's talk about fashion.

"Wearing black: recommended.
Wearing other dark colours: sure, why not?
Wearing any other colours: you are extra cool if you can pull this off and still make it look good.
Skirts: are for men and women.
Spiked collars, or D-ring collars: S&M is an advertisement here, not a fashion statement.
Boots: get some that will hold up to everyone else's boots on the dance floor. Ballet slippers are not going to help you (or your tootsies) when Wumpscut comes on.
Sewing and/or customising your own clothes: good idea.
Thrift-shopping or charity-shop-hunting for lots of alterable cheap clothing: good idea.
Buying overpriced underquality crap from a corporate chain store just because they advertise it as Gothic: bad idea.
Make-up: please don't do it like everyone else. It's an original statement so be original. And make it look good.
Hair: anything goes. And I do mean anything." - from's Gothic Manifesto.

Reading material? (If you don't like to read or learn, the Goth scene is probably not the place for you.) Classics include: Lord Byron; Mary Shelley; Bram Stoker; John Keats; Samuel Taylor Coleridge; Alfred Lord Tennyson; William Wordsworth; William Blake; Edgar Allen Poe. Oh, and I've never yet met a Goth who didn't like Shakespeare, so throw him in there too. And Milton. And Oscar Wilde. And the Brontes. OK, OK, you're getting the picture.

More modern Gothy authors include: Neil Gaiman; Anne Rice; Poppy Z Brite; Storm Constantine; Tanith Lee; William Gibson; Clint Catalyst; Jhonen Vasquez. Notice that a certain Ms. Meyer is not on this list.

And, lastly, a few pointers on subcultural etiquette:
1) Being Goth to scare people or shock your parents is kind of dumb and gives genuine followers of the subculture a bad rap. Kindly, don't.
2) Telling everyone you meet that you're a Goth is somewhat pointless, and a little annoying. Don't be surprised should you spot eldergoths facepalming when you declare your Gothiness to a bemused stranger.
3) Denying that you're Goth when you obviously are does not make you 'cool' or 'elite'. If you're not a Goth, politely explain that, whilst you may have similar tastes and interests, you don't choose to be part of the scene. But denying that you're Goth because 'you're so Goth you don't want to be labelled' is, maybe, just a little daft.
4) Being rude to people is stupid anyway, but remember that if you're wearing Goth gear, some may assume that you're weird, morbid and possibly evil, so being polite and friendly will a) confuse them and b) disprove any snap judgements they may have made about you.
5) Acting oh-so-depressed or self-harming 'because you're Goth' is stupid. People who self-harm or are depressed don't do it to look cool, they are people with problems who need help. Self-harming has nothing to do with Goth, and Goths don't have to be miserable.


Anonymous said...

There have shocking goth bands. Christian Death anyone? Christian Death makes Marilyn Manson look like a little girl singing Christmas carols! The Birthday Party, 45 Grave, and Alien Sex Fiend were all notorious for shocking stage antics and raunchy subject matter. So to say that goth music doesn't focus on shock value isn't entirely true.

And, a lot of goth bands were known by the mainstream. The Cure, Siouxsie and the Banshees, and etc were all VERY popular in the 80's. They are even more so now. So to say Goth isn't mainstream isn't entirely true either.

Why not just let kids choose how they want to look and act? All these guides make for one boring person. Let them figure it out themselves. That way it'll be more genuine. Instead of them just fulfilling a checklist in order to be accepted.

ultimategothguide said...

@ Anonymous - I'm not trying to tell people how to behave, just offering up some information on the culture.

Good point about the 'shocking' bands; however I've always felt that bands like Christian Death were outrageous because they enjoyed it, not because they were trying to piss off people's parents and get more airplay on MTV.

Also good point about mainstream Goth, I've actually got a page in the pipeline about Goth music and culture 'meeting' the mainstream.

Anonymous said...

The list of bands is useful but where can i get a list of singles-or a list of their best songs from.I spent a while looking at a goth chart site but it was mostly symphonic,doom metal and 'art house'alternative or whatever it's called.I've used up my limited energy and attention span.I'm sick of following dead end links on other sites,can't be bothered now.

Gothik Crusader said...

Hello there Amy..Ive been reading lots of your blogs for days now...and you done it very well...I agree on most of it..its the first tym to comment on you..And like you I have this thoughts also about Goths..and
most of your blog are almost the same as what I was thinking about also..And Im learning new things about Goths also which what I liked!!
thumbs up to you..I dont smoke cigarettes also and dont drink that much alcoholic drinks..pretty much I can relate to you..So keep it up:D

MistressOfTheDecay said...

Thank you for your advice on the Gothic Subculture! Though I already had well knowledge, your posts are so very interesting to read! I have made my own blog,, and have suggested people take a look at your site if they would like. I hope that is alright!

Anonymous said...

I'm a proud goth who loves Joy Division, The Cure, and Bauhaus. I also happen to be a "Mansonite", and have been since I was 13. A common misconception of Marilyn Manson is that his only goal in his music is to shock. However, while that is obviously an influential part of his career, it is most certainly NOT the focal point of any of his albums. If attention is paid to his lyrics, I think you will agree with this. And on the subject of a band being too "mainstream" to be gothic, I believe The Cure was a pretty popular band at some point.

I'm a big fan of your blog, and it's helped me quite a bit over the past few months! Although I, as a "Mansonite", don't like being grouped in with mallgoths.

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