Ethereal wave

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Ethereal wave
Stylistic origins dark wave, new wave, post-punk, gothic rock
Cultural origins early 1980s in Europe / later continued in the United States
Typical instruments e-guitar, bass guitar, drums, drum machine, synthesizer, voice, violin, cello, piano, etc.
Other topics
Dream pop, Shoegaze
The Cocteau Twins:
"Elders of the Ethereal genre."[1]
(CMJ New Music Monthly, 1996)

Ethereal wave,[2] also called ethereal darkwave,[3] ethereal goth[4] or simply ethereal,[5] is a subgenre of dark wave music and is variously described as gothic, romantic and otherworldly.[6][7] Developed in the early 1980s as an outgrowth of gothic rock, ethereal was mainly represented by 4AD bands such as Cocteau Twins[8] and early guitar-driven Dead Can Dance.

“Known for its slick, gauzy package design and quasi-Gothic bands invariably described as "Ethereal" (q.v. Cocteau Twins), the label did have an unpredictable streak.”
          – Ben Sisario, The Pixies' Doolittle[9]

Typical of this kind of music is the use of dark, wistful, atmospheric, echo-laden guitar soundscapes, frequently post-punk-oriented bass lines and high register female vocals (sometimes with hard-to-decipher lyrical content[7]), often closely intertwined with the dreaminess of pre-Raphaelite imagery.[10][11][12][13]

“The Ethereal tradition began with singers like […] Siouxsie Sioux. Later came Liz Fraser, shrouding herself in an unworldly aura of child-woman innocence.”
          – Simon Reynolds, SPIN magazine[14]

The website describes the genre as being "most characterized by soprano female vocals combined with […] bass, lead guitar, and drums which creates a surreal, angelic or otherworldly effect, e.g. Love Spirals Downwards, Cocteau Twins. Ethereal music often […] uses the female voice as an instrument. Sometimes, a male vocalist will also be in the group along with the female vocalist. Even more rarely will there be only a male vocalist, but it is still considered ethereal if the mood created is otherworldly and surreal. […] It is currently a small division of music, and people who like this music are often called Goths."[7]

Although post-punk bands, such as The Durutti Column, The Cure, Siouxsie and the Banshees and The Chameleons, are often credited with inspiring later ethereal groups (e.g. This Ascension), the Cocteau Twins are considered the initiators of the genre.[1][8]

“The band began to ditch the spikiness of ‚Garlands‘, as [Robin] Guthrie developed a lush cascading guitar technique, creating a rich texture and an otherworldly feel. […] From this point on, music journalists found it impossible to describe the band's work without resorting to the word ‚Ethereal‘.”
          – Peter Buckley, The Rough Guide to Rock[15]

“The Cocteau Twins remain ground zero for the Ethereal subgenre and […] gave Romantigoths a soundtrack for clubbbing.”
          – Liisa Ladouceur, Encyclopedia Gothica[16]

There are overlaps between ethereal wave, dream pop and shoegazing, with many artists being heavily influenced by 4AD bands, e.g. the aforementioned Cocteau Twins, Dead Can Dance and This Mortal Coil, as well as early All About Eve, The Chameleons, and Siouxsie and the Banshees. The American ethereal group Siddal, for example, described their music as follows: "A product of influences such as the Cocteau Twins, Low, Slowdive, The Cure, and Dead Can Dance, use a blend of ambient music, shoegazer style guitars, synths and sequenced rhythms."[17] Other examples of these overlaps include Hugo Largo,[18] Chimera, An April March, Miranda Sex Garden, and Rose Chronicles[19]

Projekt Records: Classified ad., SPIN magazine, Juli 1990.[20]

Ethereal is strongly associated with the Projekt label, which had already used the term in 1987.[21] The label features some of the most well-known names of the US scene. Other labels that featured some of the leading lights of the movement were Tess Records (This Ascension, Trance to the Sun, Autumn),[22] Bedazzled (Siddal, Mistle Thrush, An April March)[23] and Yvy Records (Faith & Disease, Ninth Circle). Many of these labels and artists ceased activities over the years or changed their musical direction.

More recent bands who represent the genre are Autumn's Grey Solace, Tearwave, Melodyguild and Mercury's Antennae.

Notable artists[edit]


  1. ^ a b Danny Housman: "Elders of the Ethereal genre", Cocteau Twins Review, CMJ New Music Monthly, p.30, May 1996
  2. ^ a b c d e f Glasnost Wave magazine, issue #42, p.32/34, genre classification of the bands Trance to the Sun (album: "Ghost Forest"), This Ascension (album: "Light and Shade"), Soul Whirling Somewhere (album: "Eating the Sea"), Cocteau Twins and Lycia, Germany, April 1994
  3. ^ Encyclopedia Gothica
  4. ^ a b Propaganda, issue #19, p.19, New York, September 1992
  5. ^ Propaganda, issue #19, p.49, New York, September 1992
  6. ^ CMJ New Music: The Scene Is Now: Dark Wave, Issue 68, p. 48, April 1999
  7. ^ a b c Description of Relevant Music
  8. ^ a b c Glasnost Wave magazine, issue #44, p.11, interview with William Faith (Faith & The Muse, Tess Records), November/December 1994
  9. ^ Ben Sisario: The Pixies' Doolittle, Bloomsbury Academic 2006, ISBN 978-0826417749
  10. ^ Andy O'Reilly: Interview with the Cocteau Twins, Lime Lizard Magazine, October 1993
  11. ^ Uncut Music Magazine: Ether Madness, A collection of Cocteau Twins reviews
  12. ^ Cover Artwork of This Ascension's Light and Shade album.
  13. ^ Cover Artwork of Faith & Disease's Jardeu Blue single, photographed by Julia Margaret Cameron, pre-Raphaelite-influenced.
  14. ^ Simon Reynolds, SPIN magazine, p.56, April 1992
  15. ^ Peter Buckley: The Rough Guide to Rock, p.212, Rough Guides 1999, ISBN 1858284570
  16. ^ Liisa Ladouceur: Encyclopedia Gothica, p.45, ECW Press 2011, ISBN 1770410244
  17. ^ Description from the official homepage of Siddal; see also their official MySpace site concerning influences.
  18. ^ Jim DeRogatis: Kaleidoscope Eyes. Psychedelic Rock from the 1960s to the 1990s, p.218, Fourth Estate Ltd. 1996, ISBN 1857025997
  19. ^ Michael Barclay, Ian A. D. Jack, Jason Schneider: Have Not Been the Same. The CanRock Renaissance, 1985-1995, ECW Press 2011, ISBN 1550229923
  20. ^ SPIN magazine: Classifieds, p.97, Juli 1990
  21. ^ Option music magazine, p.113, Sonic Options Network 1987
  22. ^ Kilpatrick, Nancy. The Goth Bible: A Compendium for the Darkly Inclined. New York: St. Martin's Griffin, 2004, ISBN 0-312-30696-2, p. 90.
  23. ^ Ben Greenman: ″Bedazzled Records. Ethereal and Ambient Pop artists.″ in Netmusic. Your Complete Guide to Rock and More on the Internet and Online Services, p.321, Random House Electronic Publishing 1995, ISBN 0679763856
  24. ^ Entry music magazine, issue #5/96, p.46, Germany, October/November 1996
  25. ^ Official Ostia website
  26. ^ Album review on CD Universe
  27. ^ Band page on Carpe Mortem Records
  28. ^ Band page on SoundClick
  29. ^ Tearwave biography & album reviews
  30. ^