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Bauhaus and the alternative gothic subculture

Peter Murphy, David J, Daniel Ash and Kevin Haskins created Bauhaus 1919 in 1978 in Northampton, England. 1919 designed the German art movement of that year and in 1979 they shortened the name to simply Bauhaus in 1979. Bauhaus first single, ‘Bela Lugosi’s Dead,’ became the perennial Gothic song and later became unendingly their legacy. Succeeding releases were ‘In The Flat Field’ (1980), ‘Mask’ (1981), ‘The Sky Has Gone Out’ (1982) and various singles and EPs.

Being heavily inspired by bands and musicians such as Siouxsie and the Banshees, The Velvet Underground and David Bowie, a band like Bauhaus would have ordinarily settled into the underground music scene perfectly. There was something unusual, however, in the band’s lyrics and their sound which moved beyond art rock, beyond punk, and much like Black Sabbath in its day. These lyrics were what, most sources agree, started the Gothic subculture, in fact, some critics do consider Siouxsie and the Banshees, formed in 1976, as the starting point. By 1999, a Gothic subculture existed in just about every country in the world and is especially strong in the United Kingdom, Germany, Australia, Canada and the United States.

The music had a certain dark tone to it: caustic while at the same time melodic. It was fairly minimalist but devised a haunting and somewhat seductive atmosphere for the listener. This, coupled with Peter Murphy’s vocals, which sprang from ghostly and wailing to bouncing and lively, formed the foundation for Gothic music for a good portion of the next decade. Although the band members themselves deny being responsible for creating the Gothic subculture and claim to “…owe more to Elvis Presley’s ‘Heartbreak Hotel’…” than to any other influence, Bauhaus was still the primary force that drove the Gothic subculture and remained a large influence throughout the 1980s and 1990s.

There has always been much controversy over just what is Gothic, or perhaps not, as many comprehend the culture focusing on nineteenth-century Romanticism, while others see influences from both medieval and Renaissance culture, and still others are more Post-Modernist than anything else. These “goths” are popularly known in the scene as Rivetheads, Industrialites, or Gravers. Industrial music is essentially equally a part of the culture as traditional Gothic music, which encompasses Dark Ambient, Guitar Goth, etc. One constant is that Gothic dress typically has a flair for both the dramatic and the macabre. Contrary to popular opinion, goths do not only wear black but adopt sombre tones of all colours. Fashion, accessories, make-up (for both genders) and home décor encompasses everything from the morbid to the languid, morose to demented, but above all: beautiful.

The primary feature that differentiates Goth from other music-related subcultures is that it is almost entirely non-political. The Gothic community as a whole is more concerned with individual growth: achieving an appreciation of the fine arts, architecture, music, etc. Instead of gathering together to change the ills of society, the Goth scene is more or less solely concerned with cultivating the individual.

Today, if one observes the patterns of behaviour in society and, more notably in many schools, in some cases, youth has taken on a different pattern of behaviour than previous generations. Kids no longer seek to rebel simply by growing their hair long, or by supporting a fringe political group. These days the youth “rebel” by wearing makeup, dressing in black, and listening to music that reflects their worldview; thus the Gothic culture has made its imprint on history. Instead of pushing against the glass ceiling of a society that will not (often) listen, they seek to better themselves and dwell amongst those who are likeminded. As youth today mimics what Goths created almost 20 years ago, they have gone from one extreme to another. In this way the Gothic community has survived where others fell by the wayside: It is not founded in any simple paragon or slogan. It is based on the principle that the person must beautify and cultivate him/herself if they want to improve their life.

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