I’m not ashamed to admit I have a difficult relationship with Goth. I saw the Sisters for the first time at their infamous worst-show-ever (Astoria 2006) and still loved it. I discovered half of my favourite bands as a late teen off Mick Mercer’s Gothic Rock compilations. I’ve crimped, I’ve backcombed, I’ve worn a cowboy hat. I still go and watch The Mission every single year without fail.
Some of the artists and characters that inhabited the goth scene when I first started to become involved were the most supportive, encouraging and comradely figures I had in my life throughout that period. The herculean effort put in by the goth scene’s champions is an example to all of counter-culture, and the longevity of the scene is a testament to it’s self belief and authenticity.
This being the case, why do I insist on denigrating all things goth? Why the crisis of faith? Why refuse to accept kinship with the culture that raised me, when the music I make and the articles I write are so clearly grounded in it?
The answer is simply that despite all of its merits, the goth audience became a vehicle for conservatism. The inhibiting influence and circular logic it imposed upon the artists it claimed for its own prevented ambition and evolution. Like the way a corporate monopoly stifles an industry, the goth scene’s grip on goth music was slowly killing it.
Post Y2K, goth bands have been increasingly been out-competed in their own field by artists from outside the genre, starting again from first principles.
People often say that the “I’m not goth while being plainly gothic as fuck” affectation is a simple pastiche of Andrew Eldritch and The Sisters Of Mercy. This rather misses the point, as there are literally hundreds of bands from the last 20 years that have managed to out goth the goths. Here are is a little selection of the albums that lead me on the journey that ended up with me believing that the best way to be goth was to avoid goth at all costs:
A.R.E. Weapons – A.R.E. Weapons (2000)
With their mean, druggy, biker-come-street-gang exterior, wry humour and minimal synth/drum machine/guitar sound palette, by the turn of the millennium A.R.E. Weapons were busy pushing themselves as the coolest band on the planet via Rough Trade Records, while bands with literally the same set of influences and instruments weren’t even cool in their local wednesday night goth club.
Primal Scream – XTRMTR (2000)
How was a band who literally made their name as a second-summer-of-love euphoric dance music act suddenly able to make an album of pure gonzoid amphetamine filth while the rest of us were still working out the chords for This Corrosion?
She Wants Revenge – She Wants Revenge (2006)
For the more progressive elements of the goth scene, this was one of the albums that convinced them the outside world existed. This hit goth club dance floors in a big way, despite being from an “indie” band. Cue existential crisis.
Bat For Lashes – Two Suns (2009)
This wonderful slab of New Wave grandiosity put the self -appointed torch bearers of post-punk to shame.
White Lies – To Lose My Life (2009)
This album still gives me the shivers. Both bleak yet epic, towering yet fragile. This record defined the post-punk revival that finally brought goth back into the light.
A Place To Bury Strangers – Exploding Head (2009)
I literally challenge you to a better name a drum-machine/guitar goth rock album made that decade. And it didn’t come from Leeds, it came from the heart of the newly hipsterised New York noise scene.
Cold In Berlin – Give Me The Walls (2010)
Emerging from their formative period as “Death Cigarettes”, Cold In Berlin were one of the first bands from the East London post-punk underground that forward looking goth promoters started take seriously (credit to nights like Dead And Buried). This caused a long and pointless loathing in the goth scene of “East London Hipster Bands”, which ultimately hastened its demise, while giving loads of publicity to a new generation of bands that thought Camden had outlived its usefulness as a hub of counter-culture.
Because they were willing to engage with the goth scene on some level (unlike most of their contemporaries) these guys had a big influence on me. In some ways they did for London goths what She Wants Revenge started doing to the scene as whole a few years before.
Ulterior – Wild In Wildlife (2011)
A band that inspired an almost quasi-religious devotion in me for a time (I even have a home made Ulterior tattoo on my right leg).
Factory Floor – Factory Floor (2013)
An act that literally needed nothing but a drum machine and a massive reverb unit to take everyone else to school. This record is like a one sentence put-down that ends the entire argument.
Chvrches – The Bones Of What You Believe (2013)
Move over Depeche Mode, here come Chvrches. This industrial synthpop trio literally filled stadiums while others struggled to fill Slimelight.
Vuvultures -Push/Pull (2014)
This relatively short lived act did a great job of presenting themselves as the centre of their own underground scene, forging an effective link in the chain between the ultra-cool East London DIY music scene and the ultra-influential fashion world. The music? Pure goth.
Ritual Howls – Into The Water (2016)
One of my favourite ‘definitely not a goth band’ records from last year.
It’s a damn tragedy that so many great bands will be more or less be forgotten by history because they stood on the wrong side of the line in the cultural sand. So many of the bands listed above created great goth albums by going back to post punk and drawing the same musical conclusions as goth scene bands from the late 1980s onwards. Ulterior could have had a turf war with James Rays Gangwar, that A Place To Bury Strangers single isn’t a world away from Transition era Vendemmian and Ritual Howls unknowingly made an improved version of Rosetta Stone’s Tyranny Of Inaction last year. Even White Lies in their early days wouldn’t be out of place on a bill with Altered States. The Dream Disciples’ final album Asphyxia (2001) was as good as, if not better than anything on this list, but no one but me and a few goths own it.
I’ll always love the great bands of the goth scene, and I’ll always carry the torch for them, but there comes a time when its ok to put the albatross down.