There's a never-ending debate in the Goth scene - you'll find it taking place in Goth clubs, on the street, and in dozens upon dozens of online forums. Sometimes this debate can get very heated, and still there is no clear winner.
If you've been involved in the subculture for a while, or are often on message boards and forums, you've probably already guessed what I'm talking about (or, you just looked at the title of this post. Cheater...). Yes, it's the great Music vs. Fashion debate - or, more specifically - what is it that makes a Goth, Goth: the music, or the fashion?
This is a debate that throws up lots of questions - am I still a Goth if I don't wear the fashions? What if I just plain don't like Goth music? - and so may need revisiting; also, of course, there's no guarantee that I'm right (well, why me, out of hundreds of people who have an opinion on this?) so please read with a pinch of salt and make up your own mind.
But here's my two pence. Ready? Let's begin.
- If it wasn't for the music, Goth would not exist, except perhaps in some vague form lurking in the shadows at hair metal concerts. Sure, the Goth 'mindset' (love and appreciation for the dark and spooky) would probably still exist - it was around centuries ago, after all - but there would be no common thread to bring these people together. The development of the Goth scene from punk was where the whole scene began, whether it was Joy Division, or Bauhaus's release of Bela Lugosi's Dead that was the catalyst.
- It doesn't really take that much effort to amass a basic Goth wardrobe. Anyone can throw on some black clothes and eyeliner and call themselves a Goth - it doesn't mean that they ARE one.
- Goth fashion is arguably the most visible aspect of Goth culture, and therefore the easiest to copy and clone. It takes effort to discover underground bands, to hunt down CDs by bands that never made the mainstream(tangent: I went into HMV last Christmas and asked if they had anything by The Sisters of Mercy. The assistant's reponse? "We don't stock that old metal stuff." Metal?! Excuuuse me?!), to immerse oneself in the shady world of Goth music.
- Imagine Goth clubs without Goth music. All of the dark and decadent fashion is pointless when the atmosphere is ruined by the sweet strains of Kylie Minogue.
- The Goth look was also there in the early days, a monochrome mix of punk and New Romantic - although the musicians took a little longer to develop their visual style than their music, would the scene really have become what it is today without Siouxsie's make-up and Robert Smith's hair?
- The fashon allows us to easily identify other possible members of the Goth 'tribe' - whereas the music can easily be confused with Marilyn Manson, Evanescence, et al, the attention to detail that denotes 'real' Goth fashion cannot be easily faked.
- It takes dedication to create a real Goth look. Not only do you have to be bold enough to ignore the negative opinions of your peers, but it takes more than just throwing on some black jeans and a Batman T-shirt. Anyone can download some songs or throw a playlist together!
- Imagine a Goth club without the fashion. All the minor chords and cavernous voices in the world couldn't give spooky atmosphere to a room full of people in pastels and flip-flops.
Yes, my personal opinion is that music is the backbone of the Goth scene. Appreciation and enjoyment of dark music is what binds us together - what gives tradgoths, romantigoths, cybergoths, dark fairies and deathrockers; all the very visually different incarnations of Goth, something in common. But!
Arguably, another important facet of Goth is its 'mindset', 'worldview' or 'philosophy' - an appreciation of beauty in dark places, an inquiring mind, an innate creativity. This is another part of what holds the Goth scene together - what draws THESE people (us) to THIS particular scene. And Goth fashion seems to be to be a way of expressing outwardly that this is how we are inwardly - a physical representation of the dark and decaying beauty we so admire.
With me so far? Let's recap. The music is what holds the scene together and gives us common ground. The fashion is how we show we are a part of the scene, that we have the innate mindset that attracts us to this music and this culture. So each is an important part of the whole picture. Goth would not be what it is today without either of these components.
If you have an interest in the music, and you feel that you have the unique worldview that, in part, characterises Goth, then yes, I would say that you can still be Goth without wearing the fashions (after all, sometimes dress codes, jobs and families can make it difficult). But visually identifying yourself as part of the scene is a large part of the culture, and if you have the choice I would always encourage you to do so, as otherwise it's difficult to feel fully part of the community.
Dressing as something separate from the mainstream, whether you choose to follow a more 'traditional' route - e.g. wearing all black - or really do your own thing, can be very important. Even if your personal style is so out-there it's perhaps not always recogniseably Goth, you have still made an active choice to become part of the underground, separate from mainstream culture.
The fashion (and mindset) separate us from the mainstream, and the music binds us together as a community. Therefore, in my opinion, the music vs. fashion debate has no winner, as both are important parts of what it means to be a Goth.
Listening to: Intimate - Godyva