Halloween to the extreme: gothic icons who brought scream to the mainstream

Credit: Creative Commons

Fred Bruce
Writer

What is the true definition of “goth”? Is it macabre makeup, blasphemous black magic, satanic screams? Or does it delve deeper?

Depending on your perspective, “goth” can be something of a dirty word; often conjuring images of pasty sad-saps drenched in all black attire, blasting Satanic melodies through their vinyl player and contemplating grandiose Victorian poetry. And while this description may be apt for certain proud members of the subculture, this blanket view of such an incredibly nuanced and deeply important subsection of our popular culture does the genre an incredible disrespect. As Halloween looms ever closer and society begins to temporarily occupy the gothic headspace for a few fleeting hours, the time seems right to retrospectively appreciate the bands who burst through the gothic niche and slipped their way into the mainstream, producing some of the most genre-defining songs of their respective eras.

For centuries, “gothic” has prefixed everything from architecture to literature to typography; however the word “goth” as a musical genre first entered the public lexicon around 50 years ago. Originally used by critic John Stickney to describe legendary sixties rock outlet, The Doors, in his 1967 concert review, goth has since evolved into a massively encompassing umbrella descriptive, with copious sub-genres that, in turn, spawned more sub-genres, and so on. Despite the ever-growing list under the goth heading, whether rooted purely in the musical aspect or submerged entirely within the culture, everything gothic is linked by a shared passion for the darker side of existence.

By its nature, the goth ideology operates within a relatively small niche of society. Like the punk movement it deviated from, it is an alternate perspective on culture and humanity as a whole – almost rebellious at heart. Despite its comparatively minor mass-market appeal, every so often an exceptional goth band or artist finds their way into the public limelight and into the mainstream so many seem to shun. For example, 2019 saw the 30th anniversary of one of the most acclaimed goth rock albums of all time, The Cure’s genre-defining Disintegration. In celebration, Robert Smith and co. launched a mammoth international tour to resounding success, playing top billing at this year’s Glastonbury festival, as well as packing Bellahouston Park to the brim for Glasgow’s 2019 Summer Sessions. With Smith caked in make-up, clad in omnipresent black, and sporting hair meticulously messy, the band took goth-rock to the biggest stages in music. They performed a colossal set, nearing 30 songs in length. Despite looking and sounding as opposite as possible to their Glastonbury co-headliners, Stormzy and The Killers, The Cure’s incredible two-hour display cemented them as the cream of the goth-rock crop, even 30 years after the release of their masterwork.

Decades before The Cure could even dream of gracing the Pyramid Stage, however, they were the support act for the pioneering queen of goth-rock, Siouxsie and the Banshees. Another band who, without compromising their authenticity, found their way into the mainstream. Siouxsie and the Banshees cultivated a sound which would soon become the inspiration for artists such as Garbage and The Smiths. A mix of jangly guitars and Siouxsie Sioux’s powerful lead vocals, many consider the band the core inspiration for the goth-rock movement. Cultivating a following that even spanned into the infamously impenetrable American mainstream, the band stands as one of the most quintessential and crucial figures in the entire goth sphere.

In the spirit of Halloween – just a few days after, in fact – possibly the most prototypically goth band of all time, Bauhaus, is reuniting for their first performance in almost 15 years. In what seems to be a one-off show after frontman Peter Murphy’s full-recovery from a recent heart attack, the goth scene has been rejoicing ever since the shock announcement. And so it is, while the rest of the world will be packing away their skeletal ornaments and sexy Pennywise costumes for another year, the spirit of goth will once more prove that it cannot lie dormant for too long, as fans will don the black yet again to truly celebrate the darkness within us all.