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Long Live the New Goth Flesh
The armies of the dark returned last year. Really. The goth aesthetic, dark sounds, grabs tastemakers by their smug throats as silhouettes of hipsters can be seen, dancing among the graves as the world heats up and economies wobble on their precarious perches. The Quietus, Pitchfork and Stereogum are directing a surprisingly unironic gaze at artists waving an undeniably gothic banner. Post-punk is invoked in descriptions of more ‘band to watch’ blogotronic hosannas than one could reasonably keep up with. The thing about this return is that it’s news, to those of us who have stayed with the scene, that it ever went away.
A couple years ahead of this spurt of new-found love for dark sounds, Daniel Jones of the Drop Dead media and event empire, was all over the fledgling crop of what is most often classified as rock-noir or neo post-punk bands, singing the praises of Ipso Facto, S.C.U.M, KASMs, Preacher and the Knife to name a few. Many of us discovered Witch House through his mediafire distributed compilations with titles like Fresh Goth Mess, Felch Goths, Yes and Flesh Goth Dress. (did Lady Gaga get her idea for the meat outfit from this last one?) But the central point being made was that the ball was turned over to an entirely different crowd than the one that had been running with it since the early 90’s; Goth is cool again as long as there are no goths involved in the preparation or dissemination of the product,Drop Down by Designer Drugs being the electronic dance case in point.
Even the dreaded NME have warmed to goth again, though selectively. They may write about a band that shows traces of goth damage, but they cannot do it without uttering some interpretation of ‘but they don’t take themselves seriously’. The pitter-patter of the NME’s doddering steps can be heard behind the aforementioned tastemakers to cover the new darlings, but they hedge by invoking sugary 80’s pop artists. Oh, yes, an introductory paragraph calling the reader to crawl into that coffin/don ye now your black apparel/invite the vampire is just the way to hold the foul black lace wrapped package at arms length, while keeping a toe in the door in case that whiff of money and hipster musk should grow stronger.
Are the artists in the existing goth scene trying to take advantage of this potential for wider recognition? (And let’s not deny greater sales and gig attendance.) If goth promoters book these post-punk reanimators alongside scene stalwarts, will the respective audiences come together or stand along opposite walls eyeing each other warily? By looking at the lists of tour dates of Light Asylum and S.C.U.M one might conclude that this question would never occur to them. It’s not like they’re not reaching a fast growing audience.
There’s been a point made in a few corners over these artists that represent a resurgence of Goth, but one that it is completely separate from the goth scene. Jason Pitzl-Waters argues in his blog (aptly named The Sky’s Gone Out) that the existing goth scene is letting a huge opportunity pass by while the rock-noir kids are sprinting ahead on their way to future stardom and goth delousing. But he also declares that the commercial pinnacle of goth was with the release of Peter Murphy’s ‘Deep’ and the Sisters’ ‘Vision Thing’. This would fit into the common wisdom that states that for a goth artist to have mainstream success, it has to be through non-goth material. While vocal lines from the former would be lifted wholesale (minus lyrics) by dozens of Goff vocalists for the following decade, the fact is that ‘Deep’ actually was a perfect pop record, not goth. The latter release was an attempt at grabbing the mainstream rock crowd The Cult had with disastrous results.
The goth scene has become a shrinking social club for which the music is but an excuse to get dressed up. This is a point Michael Johnson (Nemesis To Go) has been making for nigh on three years now. His point is certainly open for debate, and whenever he airs this view debate ensues. Heated, lively and eloquent debate. Of course, as peripatetic and prolific a gig attendee as our man Uncle Nemesis is, his evidence must remain anecdotal.
Noir rock bands on Goth festival rosters do tend to be thin on the ground. The same goes for scene gigs, but this is not universal. And it would take a more intensive bit of research to see if there’s the same disparity in audience for recordings as is claimed for the live arena. My own limited anecdotal observation is that there is plenty of bleeding of fans across the board. Members of ▲WI╪CHBØØK▲ on Facebook post Sleep Chamber, Coil, Christian Death, Diamanda Galas and more alongside the usual suspects, old school hiphop and their own original creations, skrews and mixes. M’colleagues here at Dominion Towers and Nightbreed Radio are as open as any enthusiastic youngster to new dark music no matter from whence it springs. And I’m always encouraged at Nightbreed Radio in my Necrofuturist quest, so forward I charge. I do feel like I should have written this in 2007/2008, but strangely, things seem like they’re still just winding up and questions remain open until this era has played out. One would have thought the fashionable would have moved on already – we are at least six seasons on after all…
Fresh Goth Mess:
Felch Goths, Yes:
Flesh Goth Dress: