Believe it or not, Goth wasn't originally about sensitive art students posing drearily with their clove cigarettes- it was pretty fierce back in the day. Originally a subgenre of Punk, Goth was for fans who thought the Pistols and the Clash were too conservative. The godmother of it all is Susan Ballion, aka Siouxsie Sioux, the long-limbed, omnisexual ice queen who formed the Banshees with then-boyfriend Steve Severin. Siouxsie had a very clear vision in her mind, combining the Velvet Underground's more extreme musical adventures and Grace Slick's twisted sensuality with Hammer horror movies and a heaping helping of witchery. The guitar sound of John's McKay and McGeoch was explicitly influenced by the shrieking string sections in horror flicks like Psycho.
This is a Goth two-for: Cure guitarist Robert Smith during one of his stints as a Banshee. This song, "Painted Bird," is off A Kiss in the Dreamhouse, which also features "Slowdive," one of Rock's greatest paeans to oral sex.
Then there was the mighty Bauhaus, one of the greatest singles bands of all time. Essentially a Bowie tribute band at heart, as evidenced by this awesome clip. Bauhaus added the requisite dose of Hammer horror and post-punk yowling and then broke up way too soon. They have since reformed a couple times to remind young pretenders how it's done.
Then there's this band, who longtime Secret Sun readers are well-acquainted with. Killing Joke brought a serious interest in occultism to Goth, as well as heavy doses of metal guitar, dub bass and tribal drums. Probably one of the most influential bands of their time. As with Bauhaus, their early concerts were not for the faint of heart.
Goth waxed and waned throughout the 80s. The second wave came with the Batcave scene, which peaked in 1983. Note that alien themes started to blend in with the usual vampire imagery.
As with this band, Alien Sex Fiend. As with Goth in general, the Fiends were heavily influenced by Alice Cooper and similarly made up for their lack of chops with their extreme exuberance. In many ways, the Fiends were the definitive Batcave band. For some completely inexplicable reason, some journalist tagged the new Goth scene "positive Punk," which sort of stuck even though it made no sense to anyone.
And speaking of aliens, the Cocteau Twins caucused with the Batcavers before their camomile-and-patchouli makeover in the late 80s. Liz is almost unrecognizable here in her Goth gear and Siouxsie-esque warble. But it just goes to show that the Banshees seemed to strike a particularly strong chord in Scotland (see Altered Images, Shirley Manson, etc.) Bonus factoid: The Twins were opening for Killing Joke at this gig.
Goth made a big impact in Europe as well, eventually having a major influence on the Black Metal scene of the 90s. This is Germany's X-Mal Deutschland, who were signed to 4AD, along with the Cocteaux and Bauhaus. Listening to their early records you'd have no idea their lead singer was so ridiculously hot.
Australia's Dead Can Dance were signed to 4AD as well, and brought a heavy dose of Medieval mysticism to their Banshees/Cocteaux knockoffs. They dropped the postpunk in pretty short order, but ultimately morphed into another tedious world music outfit before their initial brekup. Singer Lisa Gerrard co-wrote the soundtrack to Gladiator, among other films.
Cock-rock journeymen The Cult began their career as Southern Death Cult, eventually dropping the "Southern" and the "Death" along with every band member save Ian Astbury. For me the entire enterprise peaked with Love, which I still count as one of the greatest albums of the 80s.
With bands like the Cult, All About Eve and the Mission, Goth went mainstream in the UK and Europe. One of the bands keeping the old faith was Red Lorry Yellow Lorry, who were heavily influenced by proto-Goth post-punks Joy Division. A good thing too, since JD survivors New Order were warbling monotone disco songs at the time.
Then there were the Sisters of Mercy, who started out as a parody band, got serious, went through several reformations, then ended up as an unintentional parody, working with Sigue Sigue poseur Tony James and Meatloaf maestro Jim Steinman in 1990. Here's their greatest song, one of the crucial cuts from Goth's Golden Age.
As with Punk, Goth took hold in the ostensibly hostile soil of LA, and pretty early on at that. Punk bands like TSOL, 45 Grave and Christian Death all traded in leather and guyliner, but for my money this Kommunity FK track was the definitive LA Goth anthem. FK singer Patrick Mata had an amazing voice, and they get extra authenticity brownie points for naming their debut LP after Crowley's memoirs of his fiddling with Enochian magic.
What do get when you cross Siouxsie Sioux with Eddie Van Halen? Why, you get Jane's Addiction, whose best numbers were all built around Eric Avery's Banshee-esque basslines. Jane's paid their debt to their forebears when they brought the Banshees along on the first Lollapalooza.
Brooklyn's mighty Type O Negative took one part Black Sabbath, one part Sisters of Mercy and one part old-school 4AD and have put out a lot of killer music with that recipe. This video is interesting because it shows how Goth left the Punk/Art sphere and moved into the RenFaire/Fantasy/D&D realm and never looked back. Not necessarily Type O themselves, but certainly the movement.
Since the mid-90s Goth has itself splintered into a number of different permutations, and even launched a retail chain. In the interim we saw Marilyn Manson and the expected hysteria and rumor panic in the wake of Columbine. And as mentioned before we now have all of this vampire stuff out there, a lot of which is inspired by The Hunger, which featured not only Bauhaus in the opening credits, but proto-Goth godfather David Bowie. But it's the underpinnings of that archetype that fascinate me, as well as its antithesis- the zombie archetype. Both have their roots in deep sociopolitical mass psychology, as I'll rant and rave about sometime.