The Artistic Origins of Modern Gothicism

Alex de Borba

Alex de Borba

Preceding and throughout the first half of the 1980s, certain frequently British-based compositions and photographs of the paramount post-punk atmosphere became crystallized into an identifiable tendency.

While various factors stayed involved, it is slightly undoubtable that musicology and its performers were most undeviatingly responsible for the evolution of the stylistic characteristics of contemporary gothic culture.

The most notable starting point of gothic culture denoted were probably rendered by the images and sounds of Bauhaus – notably the single, ‘Bela Lugosi’s Dead’, released in 1979. The execution of this song, and indeed much of the act’s assortment, contained most of the distinctive themes that yet pervade the gothic subculture. From darkly grotesque to mournful musical tones and mid-tempos, to poetic references to the undead, deep-voiced eerie vocals, darkened twisted figures of androgyny in the appearance of the ensemble and most of its accompanying atmosphere.

It is said that in the period following these early predictions, a clump of arising musical acts, many of whom played live shows alongside one another from time to time, found themselves placed by the media press into a scene temporarily labelled post or seldom positive punk. Moreover, eventually, gothic music.

In summation to the continual relatively high-profile presence of Siouxsie and the Banshees and their conversance The Cure, the most important acts included Bauhaus, Southern Death Cult (later known as Death Cult and finally as The Cult), Play Dead, The Birthday Party, Alien Sex Fiend, U.K. Decay, Sex Gang Children, Virgin Prunes and Specimen.

In 1982, the last of these were heavily involved in a London-based nightclub known as The Batcave, which ended up acting as an initial liquefying vessel for many of the acts and enthusiasts associated with the fledgling vogue. Most notable, and memorable, was the further growth and substantiation of performers and their following of alternatives of the dark femininity explored by Bauhaus and Siouxsie and the Banshees.

An especially important and lasting appreciation of the fashion was Specimen’s use of ripped fishnet and other see-through fabrics, in the form of tops as well as tights. The club also acted as a magnetite for musical journalists, keen in the wake of punk to find, report and, conclusively, erect any possible successors.

It would appear that the terms “gothic” and “goth” were suggested in passing by a number of those involved, including Tony Wilson, producer of Joy Division and members of both Southern Death Cult and U.K. Decay.

As the music and fashion scattered across and beyond Britain via the written media press, radio and occasional television performances, record distribution and live tours, more and more nightclubs held the numerous youngsters adopting the sounds and styles of what was soon to become widely known as the gothic culture.

Toward the mid-1980s, a Leeds band called The Sisters of Mercy, who had come together in 1981, began to arise as the most high profile and, indeed, influential gathering associated with gothic culture. While their visual imaginary was stylistically less radical and innovative than that of the likes of Specimen or Alien Sex Fiend, it had the outcome of hardening many of the themes of gothic culture in its bloom — notably the dark hair, pointed boots, tight black jeans and shades often worn by musicians of the act.

Radio stations, written press and television coverage graced not only the Sisters of Mercy, but the act’s acrimonious offshoot The Mission, as well as Fields of the Nephilim, All About Eve and The Cult.

An equally high profile was obtained to continually new material from the veritable veterans, Siouxsie and the Banshees and The Cure.

By the mid-1990s however, the gothic culture had seemingly used up its time in the media and commercial spotlight and all but disappeared from public view. The intense attachment of many participants to the style of the gothic subculture, though, ensured its small-scale survival.

From across and beyond Britain there emerged a new generation of bands who were reliant upon small-scale specialist labels, media and clubs. Those who were motivated more by their enthusiasm other than by any realistic lifelike of tearing into public view or making meaningful money.

The gothic subculture revolved around a general emphasis on artefacts; exhibitions and music deemed suitably dark, sombre. Moreover, sometimes, exquisitely ghastly.

Most prominent and influential was an overwhelming and an unwavering emphasis on the darkened colours, whether in terms of clothing, hair, lipstick, household decoration or even mascots.

In terms of personal appearance, the theme was also implicit in a tendency for many goths to wear white foundation on their faces to offset thick, usually extended black eyeliner, cheekbone accentuating blusher and dark lipstick, all of which can be traced right back to a number of the early 1980s musical acts. Gothics also tended to expect their pubs or clubs to be particularly darkened, often with stage smoke for added atmosphere.

While meaningful representations of old elements, were seemingly alive and well, the broad theme of the dreary and the ghastly had also expanded in various directions.

Fashions emerged within the scenery, for items that were relatively tolerable to the style of the original contemporaries but nevertheless consistent with the common themes their concepts and sounds associated with. For instance, once the significant gothic themes had been stabilized for a time, numerous artists embellished on its logical connection with horror by drawing upon various concepts dawning in grotesque fiction such as crucifixes, bats and vampires sometimes in a tongue–in–cheek self-conscious demeanour, sometimes not.

At certain occasions, the above-mentioned progressions were linked to the pure and linear influence of media products.

The profile of vampire and horror fiction, for instance, was raised unusually high in the early 1990s by Hollywood films such as Bram Stoker’s ‘Dracula’ and ‘Interview with the Vampire’ by American author Anne Rice, published in 1976.

The introduction of the vampire protagonists in such films reinforced the alive enthusiasm among gothic males for whitened faces, long dark hair and shades. Meanwhile, for females, the prevailing costmary of details of eighteenth- and nineteenth-century fashion in such fabrication further encouraged the adoption of particular styles of clothing associated with the gothic revival of those times and with the Victorian period which followed it.

As well as substantiating itself in a greater variety of ways compared with practice in the early 1980s, there were also, by the late 1990s, more blatant transgressions of the emphasis on dark metaphors than there had been in the 1980s.

Most distinctly, although black remained dominant, brighter colours had apparently become adequate in terms of hair, clothing and makeup.

What originated as a somewhat witty and voluntary transgression by genuine individuals had resulted in the growing translocate recognition of the previously loathed colour pink, as a complement to the black, among goths in Britain.

Alongside punks, indie enthusiasts, crusties and others, throughout the 1980s and also the early 1990s goths often regarded their grouping to be one of the distinct taste for arrangements under this umbrella. While the use of this expression and the physical relationship of goths with punks, crusties and indie rock fans was rather less frequent, elected music and artefacts correlating with the latter had been grasped by the gothic culture.

A fondness for several musical acts or specific songs associated with indie, punk and crusty scenes was also reasonably common among gothics.

Importantly, in both appearance and music tastes, only certain outer elements were visible, and these tended to take their place alongside more distinctive subcultural leanings. There were also overlaps with rock culture more commonly, in that many goths wore t-shirts of their favourite artists which, while containing subcultural characteristic bands and designs, favoured those worn by rock followers of varying stylistic convictions.

Due to certain stylistic crossovers toward the late 1990s, there was also an enlarging though not unanimous, acceptance in the gothic culture of insufficient patterns of music associated with extreme or death metal.

While far more aggressive, masculine and thrash guitar-based on the whole, these genres had by then taken on some of the features of goth culture — particularly the prominence of black hair and clothes, and the wearing of horror-style makeup.

Nowadays, the gothic movement diversified and evolved into a blend of cyber-styled drift for exceeding contemporary verges. Nonetheless many remained pure and avant-garde in their elderly essence, Victorian in some exquisite cases and faithful to their roots.

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