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Friday, 30 March 2012

Oh, you pretty things; or what happened when goths came down from the trees and told patronising 2012-ers that they were know-nothing, do-nothing fools

“The tenant stares and shakes with fear / His stage is set his time is drawing near / Act complete as he hits the floor / The crowd roar and some scream for more / The darkness breaks but still the pull is very strong / Two eyes meet the patients dream runs on and on / The tenant - The tenant / The tenant - he waits…”

The Tenant! Ah, yes. Remember the good old days of goth rock? Moody dancing to Play Dead, Flesh For Lulu or … er, Alien Sex Fiend? Hang on … isn’t that Killing Joke’s Eighties starting up? (Excited ripple amongst the crimped-hair crew at the bar, little squeals of delight out on the dry-ice-fringed dance floor.)

Yes, fabulous stuff. But so easy to mock (even I’m doing it). Actually, I’m here to stand up for the goth and all his/her crimes against music, clothing and make-up. The goth-mocking has been going on for far too long and it’s got to stop! A confession: I like all things gothic. Literature, buildings, people who wear massive built-up boots made out of PVC and steel bolts. Great!  The music? Well, I’m a little equivocal there, but read on ...

Killing Joke's early-80s floor-filler 

Actually, I think it’s a pity that the odd goth couple you might see sashaying down the street in their long leather coats seem to be a slowly dying breed (dead, undead!). Near-uniformity and near-conformity in matters of appearance have long since returned and currently there’s … nowhere near enough make-up being worn by men.

In 1984, for example, it was perfectly possibly for a bunch of straight (well, straight-ish) young men to go out for the night wearing (at least) the following: eye-liner, white face powder and ear rings. Other likely adornments could be dyed, crimped hair, cheap leather trousers and pointed pixie boots. Voila! A pretty androgynous entity. Pretty and androgynous. The provincial would-be Batcavers no doubt fancied themselves as little Pete Murphys or mini-Andi Sex Gangs and (like me) ended up looking like what they were: cheap and cheerful clones out on the town for a night of taken-very-seriously post-punk fun. But the ambition was there. Sort of.

It seems to me that now, in our oh-so-liberated, super-self-satisfied present, this kind of “cross-dressed” gender reworking is pretty rare, at least as part of any large-ish music scene. Gigs, these days, are pretty “straight” affairs in all senses. They could do with camping it up if you ask me …

Lon Chaney wants a piece of the goth action

Anyway, the music. It’s had a thorough trashing for years now. I recall John Peel speaking about The Cult (as they then were, I think), and saying - in one of his characteristically pre-scripted constructions - that he was planning to take all the records he owned by the band, “grind them down and use the ground-down material to re-surface the driveway”. Yeah, OK John, I get it. By the mid-eighties Peel was laying into The Mission and their ilk every week. I think he was excessive and semi-showing off, but I also take (and at the time took) his point. Band’s like The Sisters Of Mercy were quite limited. They made a couple of OK records but that was about it. (In the interests of research whilst writing this excellent new post you’re reading I’ve just given Play Dead’s The First Flower LP a little spin on my stereogram and it’s my duty to tell you … it’s pretty weak stuff. Sorry). No, the whole scene was overblown, semi-commercialised by mags like Zig Zag and the ever-excitable NME, saw zillions of discos in every town centre trying to cash in with “Goth” or “Alternative” nights, and actually produced … not very much memorable music.

For what it’s worth, the music I rate is the not-quite-goth stuff like Bauhaus, The Cure, The Birthday Party, plus - to be fair - one or two things from The Danse Party or Sex Gang Children. (Also “weird” off-shoots like The Very Things work for me, or associated sounds like The Cocteau Twins). Recently, bands like O Children, The Vile Imbeciles, The Eighties Matchbox B-Line Disaster and Neil’s Children have reworked some elements of the goth-rock sound/look quite effectively, and I think it’s good that there’s a kind of sonic carry-through.


But the big influence is surely the look. There might not be as many out-and-out goths on the streets (or are there …?, not sure) but we’ve really got goth now. Piercings, black clothes, studded belts … there are bits of goth all over the place, usually broken down, borrowed, transmuted, reinvented. You don’t see the full package that often, but the handed-down components are ubiquitous.  

Overall, then, I think the goth scene and its achievements need a bit less casual mockery and a bit more proper appreciation. A bit less Goths Up Trees, and a bit more … well, respect.

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