Two Worlds Apart, Two Together

By on 8 September 2010

(Images: Top – Rhombus, Lower – Ulterior)

It’s not unusual for publications like the NME to announce the “return of Goth” with only the tiniest amount of provocation. It sometimes seems that every Indie Rock band to borrow an idea off Joy Division or The Cure is suddenly the saviour of Goth, while the bands that have willingly taken the title unto themselves are, as a rule, ignored.

Despite this, in recent months it has been becoming increasingly evident that a new Gothic movement is emerging, quite unrelated in terms of its audience and background to the one that’s been around in one form or another since the 1980’s. In addition to this there has in recent years been a surge of musical activity within the scene itself, resulting in a very interesting situation indeed. Traditionally the Goth scene has had a tendency to shut out the rest of the world: “If you want to ignore us, we’ll ignore you” it seemed to be saying.  It now appears that those walls are beginning to crumble, possibly to the artistic enrichment of the entirety of alternative music in the UK.

The “Old” Scene

Goth as a movement is one of the most enduring subcultures ever, with a history that can be traced back to its genesis in the late 70s/early 80s. Throughout this time there have been periods of musical stagnation and resurgence and the new decade has brought with it one such period of resurgence. There are more bands active within the Goth scene today than there has been since the mid 90s. The rise to fame of The Eden House is probably the most dramatic that the genre has seen in many years (partly because of the rich musical legacy of the band’s individual members, but mostly because of the astounding quality their début: Smoke & Mirrors) but it’s by no means an isolated case.

Bands like Rhombus and Luxury Stranger have worked so hard and toured so often that they’ve earned sterling reputations and loyal followings on the strength of their live shows alone (although both also have also received much acclaim for their recorded output as well). This has had the effect of invigorating the live circuit as a whole, recapturing a drifting audience and starting to attract a new one. It can hardly be denied that the Goth scene has some serious kick left in it, but if you turn your gaze sideways for a moment you might see another set of bands creating something which sounds suspiciously familiar…

The “New” Scene

It would be more correct to call this a parallel scene rather than a new one.  It could be argued that the recent mainstream success of bands with an obvious Post-Punk and Goth influence, such as White Lies and The Horrors, has made the wider world of music fans more receptive to a genuine Goth revival.  Whatever the reason, bands are appearing from outside of the Goth scene that have a genuine, even urgent relevance to the genre as it exists in this day and age.

Ulterior might be the most obvious example, because of the exposure they received while touring in support of The Sisters Of Mercy. They have a sound characterised by a booming drum machine, delay drenched guitar, thundering bass and dramatic male vocals which might sound incredibly familiar (not to mention enticing!) to many fans of Gothic music. Add to this a tendency towards wearing sunglasses and a lot of black leather; you could be forgiven for thinking they’d grown up weaned on a diet of pure Goth. Not so: they rose to fame in the thriving East London music scene, more famous for its Indie Rock bands and its hipsters than anything else. But what’s really exciting is that they aren’t the only ones…

Recently earning a lot of air time in Goth clubs up and down the UK are O Children. Their music is a winning combination of brooding darkness and amphetabeat liveliness guaranteed to appeal to anyone used to spinning around the dance floor to Temple Of Love or Moonchild. It doesn’t hurt that singer Tobi O’Khandi sings very naturally in the tombstone baritone which many Goth singers struggle to squeeze out.

It’s not all London either: American artist Zola Jesus is receiving a lot of positive press within the UK at the moment, many people finding that their sweeping soundscapes (sounding not unlike an Industrialised Dead Can Dance) fit neatly as part of this new wave of dark bands.

The Line Begins To Blur…

Many bands emerging from outside of the Goth scene are becoming less and less shy of wearing their overtly dark influences on their sleeves; does this mean that the terminal uncoolness of being associated with all things Gothic is beginning to wear off? Regardless of the label this music is given it is beginning to make waves within a scene long closed off from the wider world.

DV8 Festival, held for the first time this year, played host to the musical cream of the Goth scene. Sneaking onto the bill were odd ones out Romance, another East London act, who admitted on stage that they were nervous because they’d “never played to a cave full of Goths before”. Despite this their show was well received and may well have played a part in the breaking of the barrier that exists between the two scenes.

The question that now arises is whether this musical osmosis will work in the opposite direction. Will established and emerging Goth bands find a receptive audience in the “other scene”? This remains to be seen, but it is certain that this will only be achieved by Goth bands taking some initiative and exploring the new opportunities that will inevitably arise from this collision. The late Screaming Banshee Aircrew certainly attempted to do just that, although they were perhaps slightly ahead of their time in that respect. The previously mentioned Luxury Stranger are defiantly showing an adeptness at straddling the border, but will other artists follow their example?

For reasons best left to another discussion, the Goth scene long ago mingled blood with the Industrial one. It could be argued that a blending of the two scenes of today would not only enrich them both but, because they share a more common ancestry than Goth and Industrial ever did, it would also be a lot more faithful to the musical ideals at the core of each.

About Miranda Yardley

I'm Miranda. Bite me.

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