A lot of people like to think that Gothic Rock is only a type of music genre, but in this article we will prove that it’s actually a cultural movement with its own fashion style called Gothic Clothing and its own universe.
But first, we must define what we understand by « Gothic ». The most common and probably most accurate definition would be « relating to horror fiction », for example: the book Dracula written by Bram Stoker (an Irish author) is considered one of the cornerstones of Gothic literature, and any literary work or cinematographic production related with vampires may be associated with gothicness. We can also add Christian eschatology -divided in 3 periods: the first, or ancient period- when death was seen as a transition rather than an end; the second, or medievalperiod- when death was seen as a total mystery and the human condition was understood as alienation from God; and finally, the modern period which would be defined by the concept of progress: science helps to ease pain and suffering and therefore helps prolong life, this is why it’s common for people to live up to 100 years of age nowadays.
However just saying that Gothic is related with horror doesn’t seem very helpful since almost all cultures have developed some kind of horror literature or cinema, so what exactly makes gothicness unique? Simply put, unlike many other literary genres « Gothic » started off mostly normal but moved towards darkness rather than light. A classical example would be Mary Shelley ‘s Frankenstein , at first sight it seems like anormal adventure novel but it slowly degrades into something dark and misanthropic.
Another important element that makes Gothic unique is its use of melancholy, the literary concept which describes « a quality of sadness or gloom » . It’s not just about being sad because someone died or you lost your job, it’s more than that: there must be a profound feeling of loss , something essential has been taken away from you but you can’t get it back. Furthermore this loss may not be physical at all; somebody could feel utterly miserable even though they are still alive and well. This kind of melancholy can sometimes become so overwhelming that suicide seems like the only way out. Melancholy arises when people realize the ephemeral nature of life : in theiryouth people expect to live forever but when they get older they startle realize that their lives are limited and precious .
« Gothic » literature always includes one or more of the following elements: death, mystery, melancholy, darkness, isolation -the feeling of being cut off from normal life- , madness -which is often associated with evil since it makes you act in ways you normally wouldn’t-.
Now that we’ve established what Gothic means let’s talk about its evolution. According to many scholars this movement starts on June 6th 1965 when The Warlocks (later called « The Grateful Dead ») performed at Magoo’s Pizza Parlor in Menlo Park. This is considered by some as the first ever gothic rock concert… Othersclaim that the first gothic rock band was The Velvet Underground whose music described sinful and decadent topics such as sadomasochism, transvestites, prostitution and drug addiction.
Another crucial early gothic rock group is Siouxsie and the Banshees : their songs often describe a gloomy post-apocalyptic world where everyone has gone mad. This particular dystopia can be seen as a critique on what they saw as a corrupt society . In fact this view of a tormented civilization may have been influenced by two events that happened during those years: the Vietnam war which ended in 1975 after causing countless casualties among young soldiers who had been sent to fight against an invisible enemy; and second, Watergate scandal -the most embarrassing moment for U.S politics- which happened in 1972, these are just examples of what was happening around the time Siouxsie and the Banshees released their first album.
Famous gothic rock band The Cure , has enjoyed an enormous amount of sustained popularity ever since their debut record Three Imaginary Boys released in May 1979. Lead singer and guitarist Robert Smith described their first sessions as « very much a new art-school-exercise obsession » , they started playing more shows and eventually recorded another album called Seventeen Seconds ; it included two singles: A Forest and Play for Today . Their desire to make music with a deeper meaning had lead them to consider themselves as some kind of artistic movement « dedicated to permitting feeling to prevail over fashion ».In the early 80’s a new wave of gothic rock bands started to make music: The Damned were one of the first ones ; they were formed in 1976 and their 1979 album The Black Album has been described as « goth-before-it-was-cool » . In 1981 Dead Can Dance also released an album called Spleenthing which is considered by many as one of the greatest goth albums ever recorded.
Another important group from that era was UK Decay , originally from Manchester, who said they wanted to be a band with a really dark sound influenced by Joy Division , Bauhaus and Siouxsie and the Banshees . By 1984 four out of five members have gone on to form The March Violets who released their first album The botanic verses in 1985.
After the release of their second studio album The Head on the Door (1985) , The Cure rose to mainstream popularity with songs like In Between Days . Once established as a worldwide commercial force, they created music that was much less introverted and more suitable for pop masses. However, despite this huge success Robert Smith kept experimenting with different sounds throughout his career : he produced an album by Siouxsie and the Banshees ; collaborated with other artists such as Perry Farrell(U2’s Pornography inspired Jane’s addiction) or Asia Argento ; wrote two concept albums about Gothic novelist Joseph Sheridan Le Fanu called »The Queen of Hell »and »Shadowplay », made soundtracksformovies like « The Crow » and used his dark music to express how distressed he was when his long-time friend and bassist Simon Gallup left the band after contracting a drug addiction.