Today (May 22) is World Goth Day, a celebration of all things dark, mysterious and culturally vibrant. The genre has evolved enough that to use the g-word casually feels like shorthand for tidy pigeonholes and stereotypes. To some people, goth means reading Wuthering Heights by candlelight. Others think Tim Burton created the word.
The truth is more fluid, swirling all around those constructs. It’s like saying Nickelback sound like the Clash because both bands play guitars. Goth music (like its attendant fashion) is always in a state of flux. There are the old-school eldergoths who would emphatically declare theirs the one true goth. Admittedly, it’s hard to deny that claim given the continued resonance of those early bands by many of today’s musicians. But nature abhors a vacuum. And wasn’t it only last year when an even darker shade of black had been synthesized?
Here’s a list of artists who have made contributions to the goth canon. We have left off many of the familiar progenitors in order to further the discussions of subgenres. Enjoy all these stylistic inversions of an ever-evolving scene. Happy World Goth Day, everyone. We miss you, Sophie Lancaster.
- Siouxsie And The Banshees – “Metal Postcard (Mittageisen)”
The grande dame of the movement, the artist formerly known as Susan Ballion was taking no prisoners and absolutely no one’s shit. The Banshees would be major players in the aesthetic transformation of post-punk and alt-rock until their adjournment in 1999.
2. Alien Sex Fiend – “Dead And Buried”
On 1984’s “Dead And Buried,” the electronic pulsings and madman charisma of frontman Nik Fiend gave the genre a new sonic direction, as well as a sense of humor. Alien Sex Fiend are still confounding everyone: Their most recent album, 2018’s Possessed, reminds you that every night is goth night if you’d just let it. For all of his wicked absurdity, you can be forgiven if you think Fiend may have accidentally invented Tim Burton.
3. Christian Death – “Romeo’s Distress”
From the bright sunshiny climes of California come the first band tagged as “death rock.” Christian Death were a keystone of the American goth scene. The punks loved them thanks to the participation of Adolescents guitarist Rikk Agnew. The charismatic flamboyance of late frontman Rozz Williams has been unknowingly imitated by many. Only Theatre Of Pain is what happens when you give punks chorus pedals and a library of first-edition readings of Charles Baudelaire. The band remain active under the auspices of frontman Valor.
4. Horrorpops – “Miss Take”
From bottle-black hair to religious iconography, a lot of rockabilly/psychobilly/pin-up culture borrows from goth. Back in the ’80s, the Cramps garnered the attention of the goth contingent. The Horrorpops play up those aspects with their punky attitude and unbridled fun. The only thing missing is an animatronic version of the Social Distortion logo to cut a rug alongside Patricia Day, Kim Nekroman and crew.
5. VNV Nation – “Saviour”
The self-proclaimed “future-pop” band VNV Nation began receiving accolades for their pulsing electronic rhythms and stentorian choruses. By the late ’90s, both the industrial-rock rivetheads and the old-school goths were being embraced by the burgeoning rave scene. In response, the music seemingly swapped darkness with chrome-reflective surfaces. On their Empires LP, VNV Nation chose software synthesizers over a wall of guitars. VNV (along with Apoptygma Berzerk) are the sonic narcotic of those identifying as “cybergoth.”
6. The Dresden Dolls – “Girl Anachronism”
At the turn of the century, the duo of Amanda Palmer and Brian Viglione made waves as the “dark punk cabaret” act the Dresden Dolls. Their cult following extended to goths, steampunks and the alt-rockers who saw them open that big Panic! At The Disco tour in 2006. “Girl Anachronism” is arguably their most fiery track with some genuinely manic performances and Palmer’s profile of a mental health patient barely keeping it together.
7. Kreng – “Depression”
Kreng is the moniker of Pepijn Caudron, a Belgian electronic musician known for his soundtrack works and ambient pieces. He pulls from various genres to create dark atmospheres that appeal to music fans who find solace in the dark and melancholy. Because of the double-edged light/dark emotions his works create, his music can be termed as gothic in all of the best ways.
8. She Past Away – “Disko Anksiyete”
Acclaimed Turkish duo She Past Away have been blurring the calendar years between elder-goth worship, early-gen techno pop and modern post-punk. Yes, the vibe feels like Andrew Eldritch (the self-hating leader of keystone goth outfit Sisters Of Mercy) singing over some stolen tracks from the Cure’s 1981 classic Faith. SPA are one of the few goth outfits who are creating new dialects to familiar languages.
9. Pop. 1280 – “Under Duress”
Brooklyn, New York’s Pop. 1280 have been acknowledged by various fan quarters as “nü goth” and post-punk, but that only tells half the story. There’s an electronic vibe to their proceedings that accentuates an atmosphere, as exemplified on “Under Duress.” But there’s also some ragged guitar moments that will have you checking the album cover to confirm the record’s release date.
10. Peter Murphy – “Hang Up”
As frontman of the iconic Bauhaus, Peter Murphy is undeniably one of the genre’s sonic architects. That band’s role in creating and establishing the genre (and the greater history of post-punk) can never be overstated. However, the opening track on his 10th solo album, Lion, is a magnificent display of darkness, menace and power that none of his colleagues and contemporaries can convey. This is a wake-up call for baby bats and eldergoths alike to up their games, accordingly.