Goth subculture

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This article is about the subculture. For the Germanic tribes, see Goths. For other uses, see Gothic (disambiguation).
Photography with aesthetics close to Gothic (black and white), showing a girl dressed in that style

The goth subculture is a contemporary subculture found in many countries. It began in England during the early 1980s in the gothic rock scene, an offshoot of the post-punk genre. The goth subculture has survived much longer than others of the same era, and has continued to diversify. Its imagery and cultural proclivities indicate influences from the 19th century Gothic literature along with horror films.[1][2][3]

The goth subculture has associated tastes in music, aesthetics, and fashion. The music of the goth subculture encompasses a number of different styles, including gothic rock, deathrock, post-punk, darkwave, ethereal wave, dark ambient, industrial music, and neoclassical. Styles of dress within the subculture range from deathrock, punk, and Victorian styles, or combinations of the above, most often with dark attire, makeup, and hair.


Main article: Gothic rock

Origins and development[edit]

Joy Division in 1979. Left to right: Stephen Morris, Peter Hook, Ian Curtis and Bernard Sumner

The earliest significant usage of the term (as applied to music) was by Joy Division's producer, Tony Wilson on 15 September 1979 in an interview for the BBC TV program's Something Else: Wilson described Joy Division as "gothic" compared to the pop mainstream, right before a live performance of the band.[4] In 1979, the term was later applied to "newer bands such as Bauhaus who had arrived in the wake of Joy Division and Siouxsie and the Banshees".[5] In 1979, Sounds described Joy Division as "gothic" and "theatrical".[6] In February 1980, Melody Maker qualified the same band as "masters of this Gothic gloom".[7] Critic Jon Savage would later say that their singer Ian Curtis wrote "the definitive Northern Gothic statement".[8]

However, it was not until the early 1980s that gothic rock became a coherent music subgenre within post-punk, and that followers of these bands started to come together as a distinctly recognisable movement. They may have taken the "goth" mantle from a 1981 article published in UK rock weekly Sounds: "The face of Punk Gothique",[9] written by Steve Keaton. In a text about the audience of UK Decay, Keaton asked: "Could this be the coming of Punk Gothique? With Bauhaus flying in on similar wings could it be the next big thing?".[9] In July 1982, the opening of the Batcave in London's Soho provided a prominent meeting point for the emerging scene, which would be briefly labelled "positive punk" by the NME in a special issue with a front cover in early 1983.[10] The term "Batcaver" was then used to describe old-school goths.

Independent from the British scene, in the late 1970s and early 1980s in California, deathrock developed as a distinct branch of American punk rock, with acts such as Christian Death and 45 Grave.[11]

Gothic genre[edit]

The bands that defined and embraced the gothic rock genre included Bauhaus, The Cure,[12] early Adam and the Ants,[13] The Birthday Party,[14] Southern Death Cult, Specimen, Sex Gang Children, UK Decay, Virgin Prunes, Killing Joke and the later incarnations of The Damned.[15] Near the peak of the scene in 1983, The Face's Paul Rambali recalled that there were "several strong Gothic characteristics" in the music of Joy Division.[16] In 1984, Joy Division's bassist Peter Hook named Play Dead as one of their heirs:

"If you listen to a band like Play Dead, who I really like, Joy Division played the same stuff that Play Dead are playing. They're similar."[17]

By the mid-1980s, bands began proliferating and became increasingly popular, including The Sisters of Mercy, The Mission (known as The Mission UK in the U.S.), Alien Sex Fiend, The March Violets, Ausgang, Kommunity FK, Xmal Deutschland, Clan of Xymox, Dead Can Dance, This Mortal Coil, The Bolshoi, and Fields of the Nephilim. Record labels Factory, 4AD and Beggars Banquet released much of this music in Europe, while Cleopatra, among others, released the music in the U.S., where the subculture grew, especially in New York and Los Angeles, California, where many nightclubs featured "gothic/industrial" nights. The popularity of 4AD bands resulted in the creation of a similar U.S. label, Projekt, which produces what was colloquially termed ethereal wave, a subgenre of dark wave music. The 1990s saw further growth for some '80s bands and the emergence of many new acts. Styles of music heard in goth venues ranged from gothic rock, deathrock, industrial music, EBM, ambient, experimental pop, new wave, synthpop and punk rock.

Bauhaus—Live in concert, 3 February 2006

The 2000s saw a resurgence in the early positive punk and deathrock sound in reaction to aggrotech, industrial, and synthpop, which had taken over many goth clubs. Nights like Ghoul School and Release the Bats promoted deathrock, and events such as the Drop Dead Festival attracted deathrock fans from around the world. The goth music scene thrives in Western Europe, with large annual festivals in Germany, including Wave-Gotik-Treffen (Leipzig) and M'era Luna (Hildesheim), both annually attracting tens of thousands of attendees.

Art: historical and cultural influences[edit]

18th and 19th centuries[edit]

Gothic literature combines dark elements of both horror and romance: English author Horace Walpole, with his 1764 novel The Castle of Otranto is one of the first writers who explored this genre. The Revolutionary War-era "American Gothic" story of the Headless Horseman, immortalized in Washington Irving's story "The Legend of Sleepy Hollow" (published in 1820), marked the arrival in the New World of dark, romantic storytelling. The tale was composed by Irving while he was living in England, and was based on popular tales told by colonial Dutch settlers of New York's Hudson River valley. The story would be adapted to film in 1922 and 1949 in the animated The Adventures of Ichabod and Mr. Toad. It would be re-adapted in 1980 and again in Tim Burton's 1999 Sleepy Hollow.

Throughout the evolution of goth subculture, classic romantic, Gothic and horror literature has played a significant role. E.T.A. Hoffmann (1776–1822), Poe (1809–1849), Baudelaire (1821–1867), Lovecraft (1890–1937), and other tragic and romantic writers have become as emblematic of the subculture[citation needed] as the use of dark eyeliner or dressing in black. Baudelaire, in fact, in his preface to Les Fleurs du mal (Flowers of Evil) penned lines that could serve as a sort of goth malediction:[citation needed]

C'est l'Ennui! —l'œil chargé d'un pleur involontaire,
Il rêve d'échafauds en fumant son houka.
Tu le connais, lecteur, ce monstre délicat,
—Hypocrite lecteur,—mon semblable,—mon frère!
It is Boredom! — an eye brimming with an involuntary tear,
He dreams of the gallows while smoking his water-pipe.
You know him, reader, this fragile monster,
—Hypocrite reader,—my twin,—my brother!

20th century influences[edit]

By the 1960s, TV series such as The Addams Family and The Munsters used these stereotypes for camp comedy. The Byronic hero, in particular, was a key precursor to the male goth image[citation needed], while Dracula's iconic portrayal by Bela Lugosi appealed powerfully to early goths[citation needed]. They were attracted by Lugosi's aura of camp menace, elegance and mystique. Some people credit the band Bauhaus' first single "Bela Lugosi's Dead", released in August 1979, with the start of the goth subculture,[18] though many prior arthouse movements influenced gothic fashion and style, the illustrations and paintings of Swiss artist H. R. Giger being one of the earliest[citation needed]. Notable examples of later icons include several bandleaders: Siouxsie Sioux of Siouxsie and the Banshees, Robert Smith of The Cure, and Dave Vanian of The Damned. Some members of Bauhaus were, themselves, fine art students or active artists.

Film poster for The Hunger, a key influence in the early days of the goth subculture.[citation needed]

Some of the early gothic rock and deathrock artists adopted traditional horror film images and drew on horror film soundtracks for inspiration. Their audiences responded by adopting appropriate dress and props. Use of standard horror film props like swirling smoke, rubber bats, and cobwebs featured as gothic club décor from the beginning in The Batcave. Such references in bands' music and images were originally tongue-in-cheek, but as time went on, bands and members of the subculture took the connection more seriously. As a result, morbid, supernatural and occult themes became more noticeably serious in the subculture. The interconnection between horror and goth was highlighted in its early days by The Hunger, a 1983 vampire film starring David Bowie, Catherine Deneuve and Susan Sarandon. The film featured gothic rock group Bauhaus performing Bela Lugosi's Dead in a nightclub. Tim Burton created a storybook atmosphere filled with darkness and shadow in some of his films like Beetlejuice (1988), Batman (1989), Edward Scissorhands (1990), and the stop motion films Nightmare Before Christmas (1993), which was produced/co-written by Burton, and Corpse Bride (2005), which he co-produced.

Popular literature[edit]

A literary influence on the gothic scene was Anne Rice's re-imagining of the idea of the vampire.[citation needed] Rice's characters were depicted as struggling with eternity and loneliness. Their ambivalent or tragic sexuality held deep attractions for many goth readers, making her works popular in the 1980s through the 1990s[citation needed].

The re-imagining of the vampire continued with the release of Poppy Z. Brite's book Lost Souls in October 1992. Despite the fact that Brite's first novel was criticized by some mainstream sources for allegedly "lack[ing] a moral center: neither terrifyingly malevolent supernatural creatures nor (like Anne Rice's protagonists) tortured souls torn between good and evil, these vampires simply add blood-drinking to the amoral panoply of drug abuse, problem drinking and empty sex practiced by their human counterparts",[19] many of these so-called "human counterparts" identified with the teen angst and Goth music references therein, keeping the book in print. Upon release of a special 10th anniversary edition of Lost Souls, Publishers Weekly—the same periodical that criticized the novel's "amorality" a decade prior—deemed it a "modern horror classic" and acknowledged that Brite established a "cult audience".[20]

Later media influences[edit]

As the subculture became well-established, the connection between goth and horror fiction became almost a cliché, with goths quite likely to appear as characters in horror novels and film. For example, The Crow and the Underworld film series drew directly on goth music and style. Neil Gaiman's acclaimed graphic novel series The Sandman influenced goths with characters like the dark, brooding Dream and his sister Death. Mick Mercer's 2002 release 21st Century Goth explored the modern state of the goth scene around the world, including South America, Japan, and mainland Asia. His previous 1997 release, Hex Files: The Goth Bible, similarly took an international look at the subculture.

Visual art influences[edit]

The gothic subculture has influenced different artists—not only musicians—but also painters and photographers. In particular their work is based on mystic, morbid and romantic motifs. In photography and painting the spectrum varies from erotic artwork to romantic images of vampires or ghosts. There is a marked preference for dark colours and sentiments, similar to Gothic fiction, Pre-Raphaelites or Art Nouveau[citation needed]. In the fine art field, Anne Sudworth is a well-known artist with her dark, nocturnal works and strong gothic imagery.

Other contemporary graphic artists with this aesthetic include Gerald Brom, Luis Royo, Dave McKean, Trevor Brown, Victoria Francés as well as the American comic artist James O'Barr. H. R. Giger of Switzerland is one of the first graphic artists to make serious contributions to the gothic/industrial look of much of modern cinema with his work on the 1979 film Alien by Ridley Scott. The artwork of Polish surrealist painter Zdzisław Beksiński is often described as gothic.


Main article: Gothic fashion
Gothic Model Lady Amaranth

Gothic fashion is stereotyped as conspicuously dark, eerie, mysterious, complex and exotic.[21] Typical gothic fashion includes dyed black hair, dark eyeliner, black fingernails and black period-styled clothing; goths may or may not have piercings. Styles are often borrowed from the Elizabethan, Victorian or medieval period and often express pagan, occult or other religious imagery.[22] Gothic fashion may also feature silver jewelry and studs.

The New York Times noted: "The costumes and ornaments are a glamorous cover for the genre's somber themes. In the world of Goth, nature itself lurks as a malign protagonist, causing flesh to rot, rivers to flood, monuments to crumble and women to turn into slatterns, their hair streaming and lipstick askew".[21]

Present-day fashion designers such as John Paul Gaultier,[21] Alexander McQueen, and John Galliano have also been described as practising "haute goth".[3]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ César Fuentes Rodríguez "Mundo Gótico", pages 18 & ss./pages 206 & ss.
  2. ^ Carol Siegel "Go's Dark Emhpire", pages 8-13 and ss.
  3. ^ a b Wilson, Cintra (17 September 2008). "You just can't kill it". The New York Times. Retrieved 18 September 2008. 
  4. ^ Steele & Park 2008, p. 127.
  5. ^ Reynolds 2005, p. 352.
  6. ^ De Moines (26 October 1979). "Live review by Des Moines (Joy Division Leeds)". Sounds. "Curtis may project like an ambidextrous barman puging his physical hang-ups, but the 'Gothic dance music' he orchestrates is well-understood by those who recognise their New Wave frontiersmen and know how to dance the Joy Division! A theatrical sense of timing, controlled improvisation..." 
  7. ^ Bohn, Chris. "Northern gloom: 2 Southern stomp: 1. (Joy Division: University of London Union – Live Review)". Melody Maker (16 February 1980). "Joy Division are masters of this Gothic gloom" 
  8. ^ Savage, Jon (July 1994). "Joy Division: Someone Take These Dreams Away". Mojo via Rock's Backpages (subscription required). Retrieved 2014-07-10. "a definitive Northern Gothic statement: guilt-ridden, romantic, claustrophobic" 
  9. ^ a b Keaton, Steve (21 February 1981). The Face Of Punk Gothique. Sounds. 
  10. ^ North, Richard (19 February 1983). Punk Warriors. NME. 
  11. ^ Ohanesian, Liz (Nov 4, 2009). "The LA Deathrock Starter Guide". L.A. Weekly. Retrieved July 10, 2014. 
  12. ^ Reynolds 2005, p. 429.
  13. ^ Reynolds 2005, p. 421.
  14. ^ Reynolds 2005, p. 431.
  15. ^ Reynolds 2005, p. 435.
  16. ^ Rambali, Paul. "A Rare Glimpse Into A Private World". The Face (July 1983). "Curtis' death wrapped an already mysterious group in legend. From the press eulogies, you would think Curtis had gone to join Chatterton, Rimbaud and Morrison in the hallowed hall of premature harvests. To a group with several strong Gothic characteristics was added a further piece of romance." 
  17. ^ Houghton, Jayne. "Crime Pays!". ZigZag (June 1984): 21. 
  18. ^ Reynolds 2005, p. 432.
  19. ^ "firction reviews: Lost Souls by Poppy Z. Brite". 31 August 1992. Retrieved 2012-03-18. 
  20. ^ "Fiction review: The American Fantasy Tradition by Brian M. Thomsen". 1 September 2002. Retrieved 2012-03-18. 
  21. ^ a b c La Ferla, Ruth (30 October 2005). "Embrace the Darkness". New York Times. Retrieved 2012-01-25. 
  22. ^ Eric Lipton Disturbed Shooters Weren't True Goth from the Chicago Tribune, 27 April 1999


  • Andrew C. Zinn: The Truth Behind The Eyes (IUniverse, US, 2005; ISBN 0-595-37103-5)—Dark Poetry
  • Baddeley, Gavin: Goth Chic: A Connoisseur's Guide to Dark Culture (Plexus, US, August 2002, ISBN 0-85965-308 0)
  • Catalyst, Clint: Cottonmouth Kisses. (Manic D Press, 2000 ISBN 978-0-916397-65-4 )- A first-person account of an individual's life within the Goth Subculture (book has Library of Congress listing under "Goth Subculture").
  • Davenport-Hines, Richard: Gothic: Four Hundred Years of Excess, Horror, Evil and Ruin. 1999: North Port Press. ISBN 0-86547-590-3 (trade paperback)—A chronological/aesthetic history of Goth covering the spectrum from Gothic architecture to The Cure.
  • Digitalis, Raven: Goth Craft: The Magickal Side of Dark Culture (2007: Llewellyn Worldwide)—includes a lengthy explanation of Gothic history, music, fashion, and proposes a link between mystic/magical spirituality and dark subcultures.
  • Embracing the Darkness; Understanding Dark Subcultures by Corvis Nocturnum (Dark Moon Press 2005. ISBN 978-0-9766984-0-1)
  • Fuentes Rodríguez, César: Mundo Gótico. (Quarentena Ediciones, 2007, ISBN 84-933891-6-1)—In Spanish. Covering Literature, Music, Cinema, BDSM, Fashion and Subculture topics
  • Furek, Maxim W.: The Death Proclamation of Generation X: A Self-Fulfilling Prophesy of Goth, Grunge and Heroin". (i-Universe, US 2008; ISBN 978-0-595-46319-0)
  • Hodkinson, Paul: Goth: Identity, Style and Subculture (Dress, Body, Culture Series) 2002: Berg. ISBN 1-85973-600-9 (hardcover); ISBN 1-85973-605-X (softcover)
  • Kilpatrick, Nancy: The Goth Bible: A Compendium for the Darkly Inclined. 2004: St. Martin's Griffin. ISBN 0-312-30696-2
  • Mercer, Mick: 21st Century Goth (Reynolds & Hearn, 2002; ISBN 1-903111-28-5)—an exploration of the modern state of the Goth subculture worldwide.
  • Mercer, Mick: Hex Files: The Goth Bible. (9 Overlook Press, 1 Amer ed edition, 1997 ISBN 0-87951-783-2)—an international survey of the Goth scene.
  • Reynolds, Simon (2005). "Dark Things: Goth and the Return of Rock". Rip it up and Start Again: Postpunk 1978–84. London: Faber and Faber. ISBN 0-571-21569-6. 
  • Scharf, Natasha: Worldwide Gothic. (Independent Music Press, 2011 ISBN 978-1-906191-19-1 ) - A global view of the Goth scene from its birth in the late 1970s to the present day.
  • Steele, ValerieSteele, Valerie; Park, Jennifer (2008). Gothic: Dark Glamour (hardcover ed.). New Haven: Yale University Press and the Fashion Institute of Technology New York. ISBN 978-0-300-13694-4. 
  • Vas, Abdul: "For Those About to Power". (T.F. Editores, 2012; ISBN 9788415253525) Hardcover 208 pages
  • Venters, Jillian: Gothic Charm School: An Essential Guide for Goths and Those Who Love Them.(Harper Paperbacks, 2009 ISBN 0-06-166916-4 )- An etiquette guide to "gently persuade others in her chosen subculture that being a polite Goth is much, much more subversive than just wearing T-shirts with "edgy" sayings on them."
  • Voltaire: What is Goth? (WeiserBooks, US, 2004; ISBN 1-57863-322-2)—an illustrated view of the Goth subculture

Further reading[edit]