Calling It What It Is: The Goth Resurgence

February 9, 2011 § 3 Comments

I’m going to start off by admitting that the title of this article is somewhat of a gimmick. That being said, aren’t most genre names, (particularly the ones being invented in this day and age,) gimmicks in the purest sense of the term?

Attaching the term “goth” to an artist in today’s musical landscape means something entirely different than the original moniker given to Bauhaus, for instance.  When used correctly today, it usually stands as a shorthand way of describing a certain tone, as opposed to a technically and historically accurate descriptor. Bradford Cox described Deerhunter as an “ambient punk” band. Stylistic similarities Deerhunter has to the Sex Pistols or the Ramones, if any truly exist, fall away in the face of a musical tradition.

The Knife. Photo by Elin Berge

That’s what I’m talking about when I characterize contemporary artists as “goth” artists that critics would not normally put a hundred miles near the term. I’m not talking about Zola Jesus, Austra (and Katie Stelmanis in general), Cold Cave, Minks, and Frank (Just Frank). These artists actually sound like Siouxsie and the Banshees and Joy Division. I’m also not talking about “witch house” artists like Balam Acab, oOoOO, and Demdike Stare, who represent a slightly more direct link to goth-pop and dark wave from the 70’s and 80’s with one bizarre differentiation: hip-hop beats.  I’m talking about artists like The Knife and Fever Ray, and albums like Portishead’s Third. All three of the lists interest me, but the first two have been written about in relation to the recent rise of goth pop ad nauseam, while the third has not, but, in my opinion, should be.

The xx’s debut album hit the music scene in a big way. The reserved, haunted instrumentation coupled with Romy Croft and Oliver Sim’s R&B-inflected voices was new and familiar at the same time. Both intensely moving and curiously hollow-sounding, a listen though xx reveals echoes of albums like Joy Division’s Unknown Pleasures and Dalis Car’s The Waking Hour. Despite these stylistic ties, most people would not make these kinds of connections because of musical elements like the aforementioned vocals. But the influence exists, and so do the similarities. Thus, The xx is goth pop band by association. Similar arguments could be made for The Knife as new approach 80’s synth-laden goth pop or These New Puritan’s Hidden (2010) as a sort of literal, experimental fleshing out of the creeping orchestral qualities of And Also The Tree’s Virus Meadow (1986).

The xx. Photo by Sebastian Kim.

The term “crunkcore” is a gimmick in that it tries to seduce fans of both genres that end in “core” and of the word “crunk.” Unfortunately, many people’s perception of goth today is not much different from the way they view Brokencyde or the Hollywood Undead. The way to correct this is to bring them back to the roots of the movement, when it was a new sound rising from the cooling embers of anarcho punk, something vital and new. This will in turn change the general outlook people have on this burgeoning movement. Genres as old as punk or goth may have not been used as money-making ploys at first, but eventually, almost all genres get used and abused, (sometimes in name alone: Avril) cheapening great music for the next generation. It’s important to be able to recognize where the sounds we love come from, however, and sometimes therefore necessary to ignore the bad and look for the good. Goth, like hip-hop, is not dead, it’s just in the process of a thorough makeover, and I wouldn’t miss it for the world.

By Derek Kinzel, Staff Music Writer

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§ 3 Responses to Calling It What It Is: The Goth Resurgence

  • Chris says:

    You know me man, I’m all about rock and metal, so I can definitely give some perspective on this topic.

    Personally, I think many modern bands owe a great debt to the metal bands of the late 80s and 90s. Specifically (and in my humble opinion), I believe Type O Negative were a huge influence on artists in various genres. TON is actually a very good “goth” metal band, they may sound all dreary and depressing, but there’s actually a funny sense of humor in their music.

    The kids starting “goth” groups nowadays are just trying to look the part. I don’t know, I tend to stick with TON when it comes to “goth” stuff… the keyboards, the Halloween vibe, and the tongue-in-cheek humor. It makes for a fun and unique listen. TON showed that you don’t always have to take “goth” music seriously. RIP Peter Steele.

  • Derek Kinzel says:

    I’ve never listened to Type O Negative, but I agree that black humor looks good with goth. And I wish I had more room in the article to talk about about the various specific stylistic avenues that the goth movement took in the 80’s and 90’s.

    I’m not sure what you mean when you say “The kids starting “goth” groups nowadays are just trying to look the part” though. Statements like that are neither here nor there. Talking in a derogatory way about musical artists “dressing the part” or being posers as a way of attempting to disqualify their music only makes what you say less valid, since you’re avoiding actually taking the time to analyze and come to an opinion about the music itself.

  • Federico Cienfuegos says:

    Wait, did I just read These New Puritans compared to And Also The Trees?

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