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The Not-So-Beautiful People : Is Marilyn Manson Goth?
There are a lot of topics guaranteed to fuel controversy within the Goth scene. The most obvious is the tedious ‘What is Goth?’ question, guaranteed to cause arguments and conflict.
I’m not going to tackle that today (although, it’s not a very clear question – ‘What is Gothic Rock?’ is a definitive question with a definitive answer as would be questions like ‘What fashion/literature/movies/etc is/are popular within the Gothic scene?’) and to be honest it’s an age old argument we’re probably all bored of and we’ve all got our own opinions of “What is Goth?” and so that’s all that matters really…
But another controversial topic I will discuss today – Mr Brian Warner. Though I think he answers to his friends and fans as Marilyn Manson.
Let’s be straight here though. Is the music of Marilyn Manson gothic rock? No it’s not.
Is Marilyn Manson a Goth? He has a fashion sense that could be described as Gothic, but then so did Andrew Eldritch and he doesn’t like being called a Goth either.
Even as a teenager he was not a young Goth. It’s no secret he had a Kiss lunchbox (and there’s a Kiss influence in his changing image between albums) and liked heavy metal bands of the time. Whilst you could call his fashion sense ‘Goth’ you’d probably struggle to describe either him or his music as Goth.
However, in saying that – bands like New Model Army and The Damned do not make Gothic Rock either and they’re well liked within the Goth scene.
Over the past 10-15 years, very few true Gothic Rock bands have able to pull a sizeable crowd (even the obvious big named bands have been playing to smaller crowds as the years have gone on) and The Sisters of Mercy’s debut single sold more units (1000) than some Gothic Rock bands shift albums. The genre is not as popular as it was 20 odd years ago.
Scene entry points are very important. In the 90s when Manson shot to fame, the Internet was still in its (commercial) infancy. People were still looking at TV and magazines to find bands and discover music. There was a point in the 80s that bands like Bauhaus were on the cover of magazines like Smash Hits and it wasn’t uncommon to see The Sisters or Echo and the Bunnymen on Top of the Pops. Plus of course the Indie Charts on the ITV Chart Show often featured Gothic Rock or Post-Punk bands.
Come the early 90s Goth “died”.
Of course, there were plenty of people around who still liked the clothing/music/etc. but with mainstream support withdrawn and pushed onto the next trends, plus music/ideas/etc. becoming repetitive, the numbers interested decline and million-selling-festival-headline acts suddenly find both their sales figures and gig attendances somewhat lower.
Marilyn Manson were one of the bands picked up by a third generation of Goths, teenagers (and people in their early 20s) too young to have got into bands like The Sisters and The Mission – whilst Gothic Rock bands of the time weren’t shifting enough units or playing big enough gigs to be noticed outside the underground.
Other bands of this third generation would probably include Type O Negative, Stabbing Westward, Nine Inch Nails and (arguably) Paradise Lost.
When I was 15 I liked some of the aforementioned bands – and if you were a young ‘Goth’ like me chances are Marilyn Manson were the band that most got and kept you interested.
Whilst I’m not going to argue or debate whether the music these bands made was Goth or not – their fans were black-clad, heavily made up, wore big boots and called themselves Goths.
The look was acceptable – even if their music choice wasn’t necessarily accepted.
For many kids Goth was just a phase (just like it will have been for some kids in the early and late 80s, 2000’s etc.) and for some the majority of the bands they’ll have gone on to listen to will have been the next wave of Metal bands – but it depends on which way the kids explored.
The music was of a much darker style than bands like Limp Bizkit, Nirvana or Metallica who all had (or were about to have) their heyday. The fans called themselves Goths and there were lots of arguments with older Goths around the whole “this is not Goth”, in some cases this could be productive in the sense “this is not Goth – Goth is bands like…” and reeling a list for the fan to go check out.
Also, as these young Goths started attending Goth nights, there was a bigger potential for exposure to bands from the scene. Many are quite happy to sit through music they don’t (or didn’t) know to discover new bands in exchange for the odd Manson track here and there.
In the late 90s, Goth bands realised they could get shelf-mag publicity by either selling themselves as part of a Manson-led scene OR as an alternative to a Manson-led scene.
Squid had a Manson-esque image and won ‘Unsigned Band of the Year’ for a few years running in assorted rock music magazines. They also gained features in some of the magazines on the back of this, including tracks on covermount CDs.
These days, former vocalist Jane plays bass in Uninvited Guest, whilst keyboardist Jared is the driving force behind Darklands club night in York.
Of course, Squid weren’t the only band to gain publicity this way, Chaos Engine (founders of Wasp Factory Records, former home of bands like Goteki, Earth Loop Recall and Swarf) also gained shelf-mag publicity in their early days – while Ordinary Psycho managed publicity in a “more to Goth than Manson” angle, with a sound reminiscent of The Mission and appealing to older fans.
Unfortunately Ordinary Psycho disappeared as quickly as they came, an impressive album and triumphant WGW before disappearing off the radar.
Of course, Marilyn Manson has a shelf life and the interest in him wore off by the masses due to the disappointment that Mechanical Animals wasn’t Antichrist Superstar Part 2 (personally, I love Mechanical Animals) and a lot of fans swapped their eyeliner and leather pants for key chains and baggy jeans (as nu-metal took off), but there were always enough remaining and he can still sell out sizeable venues.
Since then there’s been another wave of not-Goth-bands-that-fans-that-call-themselves-Goth like, when bands like HIM, 69 Eyes, The Rasmus, etc. suddenly caught on. Plus of course Goth-Metal, which has an almost comical history, Evanescence became overnight sensations with ‘Bring Me to Life’ the lead single for the ‘Daredevil’ soundtrack, which led a load of fans to say “bands like Lacuna Coil have been doing this for years” and the profiles of Lacuna Coil, Nightwish, et al skyrocketed within the UK.
The same logic kind of applies, although some fans of these bands found rock clubs wouldn’t play the bands so they relied on Goth clubs playing them, else nowhere… some Goth clubs would accommodate, some wouldn’t…
Which brings us to the present day…
A lot of clubs in the UK build on an ideology of only playing Gothic Rock, no Metal, EBM, etc. and so Mr Manson and many of his cronies are excluded from the music policy.
This is fair enough, although with a lot of clubs in the UK struggling for numbers, some places have found that by compromising the sets slightly, they can maintain a sustainable number of attendees through the door.
Sustainable numbers help make the night viable and keep the venue happy. It doesn’t matter if the promoter is happy for two-dozen people; if the venue is not happy they can replace with a dance, RnB or out-and-out rock night and almost guarantee a better turnout.
This isn’t about diluting the Goth night with Metal, a balance still needs to be maintained, but there’s no harm in playing a band that keeps some of the fringe fans happy and that a lot of the core Goth attendees can either enjoy or, for the sake of 15-20 minutes a night, ignore, particularly if it keeps the club viable.
Not just at clubs, the printed Dominion Magazine reaches a wider audience base by including industrial and some Gothic Metal than just by focusing on Gothic Rock. There are alarmingly few Gothic Rock bands making a considered impact in the UK at the minute, even the likes of O Children – they have a buzz around them but their tour dates were not massively well attended.
But, why would it be OK to play, say, Marilyn Manson over above, say, Slipknot?
Well, that’s easy enough – like a lot of Metal bands there’s not even a tenuous link between Slipknot and Goth.
Manson fits in musically with other industrial-metal acts and as mentioned had a ‘Gothic’ fan base. Slipknot et al have a sound that was more relevant to the nu-metal scene and had a similar fan base.
Of course, the thing with some of the fringe fans is a lot don’t stick around long term, so it’s always important that clubs/magazines/etc. stick to their core base. Where I DJ, the requests for HIM, Nightwish, Lacuna Coil, The Rasmus, etc. have dried up and playing these bands does not go down as well as it did when these bands were at their peak. However, some of the fans who came along and requested these bands at their peak still come to the clubs and now dance to Gothic Rock tracks…
Although, while HIM et al have dried up, I can still play any Manson “hit” from the past 15 years and there’s a good chance of a full dancefloor… of old and young…
The music of Marilyn Manson is not Gothic Rock.
Whether he is Goth or not is moot. The fact that he is possibly the most talked about non-Goth act within the scene suggests there must be some relevance otherwise the argument would not be so widespread.
With the lack of success for any Gothic Rock bands during Mansons career, the likelihood that more young people got into the scene via Manson than via Gothic Rock.
However, this and other tenuous links has introduced some fans to the core of the Goth scene, without which many clubs would be closed and there arguably wouldn’t be the demand for the (online version of the) Magazine you’re reading now.
So, there is at least for that we can be thankful…