Sunday, 7 November 2010

What is Goth?

So what is Goth anyway, you may be asking? Isn't it just a bunch of moody teenage gits who hang about the town centre with greasy hair and black clothes? Marilyn Manson is the epitome of Goth, right?


There have always been people in society who don't really fit in; who feel alienated or let down by society. Those who are attracted to things of a dark or melancholy nature, be it art, music or literature. Those who may be afraid of mediocrity; they may strive to stand out and be different. Those who... well, wear a lot of black.

By 1980 these outcast individuals had a group identity; a shared culture and community (I'm still shocked at the amount of people who express surprise at the existence of Goth clubs). Oh yes, and a name. (Call it a label, if you must. I'm calling it a name for a subculture, a shorthand social tag for people who feel that they are part of a certain tribe.)

In jolly old England, punk music provided the soundtrack to the 1970s, as rebellious and defiant as its fans. And then, just when the 70s were giving way to the 80s and the Fawcett Flick was making way for the poodle perm, four new bands emerged in the music scene. They gave punk a darker edge, and post-punk, or positive punk, was born. These bands - Siouxsie and the Banshees (spearheaded by the beautiful and bizarre Siouxsie Sioux - that's pronounced Suzie Sue, by the way), Bauhaus, Joy Division and The Cure - were unlike anything England had ever seen - or heard - before.

There is uncertainty over which of the two following incidents caused this new music genre to be renamed Goth, or Gothic Rock. The first possibility is that of a journalist referring to one of the four bands as 'Gothic' in reference to their spooky, theatrical stage make-up, reminiscent of the black-and-white Gothic horror movies of past decades. The second is that of Joy Division's manager, quoted in interview as describing the band as 'Gothic dance music'. And so, 'Goth' was created.

However, the state of mind that plays a part in personifying Goth has been around for centuries. It consists of a strong appreciation for beauty, a love of creating things (e.g. stories, art or poems), a tendency towards deep thought and daydreams, an inquiring, philosophical mind, and an interest in the unknown. (Tangent: some people have debated the fact that Goth can be partly defined by a state of mind, and I don't necessarily argue. But I do believe that hardly anyone who considers themself affiliated with Goth will look at the above list of traits and feel that none of them apply.)

Most people fear that which they don't understand. Goths will go out of their way to find and explore it, even if it is something that non-Goths would consider morbid, scary or shocking. Most adore the idea of courtly love and the concept of romanticised death (although, despite the media 'Goth = suicide' hype, those who are sane among us do our best to avoid the real thing).

Nowadays, there are many 'types' of Goth within the scene. Not all wear black. Some wear all white. Some even love bright, fluorescent colours. What kind of Goth a person becomes depends solely on the individual. Many, however, mix and match between styles, resulting in hundreds of Goth looks, all tailored to the likes and dislikes of the wearer.

Goth music, too, has changed with the passing of the decades. The original post-punk is still popular, and new styles associated with Goth include new wave, darkwave, ambient gothic, neoclassical, industrial, deathrock, gothic electro, EBM, synthpop and futurepop. Goths today are in two minds about the current scene. Some hold that these changes are good for the subculture, whilst others feel that it is 'diluting' the scene and allowing it to start becoming part of the mainstream as opposed to remaining underground.

Small note: a few people 'in the know' have stated that Goth actually developed from the New Romantic scene, when basically a bunch of people got bored of the 'New Romantic' tag and re-named themselves Goth, en masse. This seems less likely and is certainly a less well-circulated version, but never say I don't give you ALL the facts at my disposal.

Listening to: Dust to Dust - Misfits


Obsidian said...

I read your blogs and feel sucky. I always thought I was a babybat. Truth is, I was led astray- and not goth. The main thing is I've never heard any goth music. I spent years as a wannabe and nobody told me. Now I'm lost. In fashion, I can't find many things in my size. I live in BC, Canada- an antigoth place. I love your blogs and could really use some advice. If you can find it in your kind, dark heart- email me at

Anonymous said...

This is so helpful! Thank you ever so much for posting this!

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