How does it feel to be the father of a million goths?
I will ask Richard how it feels to be the father of a million goths.
Back in black
Goth has risen from the dead - and the 1980s pioneers are (naturally) not happy about it. By Dave Simpson
Friday September 29, 2006
The Faversham, a pub close to Leeds University, is a brightly decorated bar, popular with lawyers and office workers. But a couple of decades ago it was the very heart of goth. The Fav, as it was known, was where goth's dark lords, the Sisters of Mercy, would hold court, and where black-clad students who had enrolled at the university or Leeds Polytechnic to be close to their heroes would go in the hope of some goth stardust rubbing off on them. "Heads would turn the minute we walked in," remembers Gary Marx, the guitarist who founded the Sisters with singer Andrew Eldritch. "People wouldn't literally throw themselves at our feet, but it was close."
Goth has returned to cast a long and dark shadow over rock music this summer and autumn. In August, the NME put the Horrors on the cover - a London band influenced by the Cramps who look like five grinning death's-heads. Other new acts such as Betty Curse and Dead Disco have put out CDs, and two compilations have claimed to bring together goth's forefathers. Goth has even reached the mainstream. Victoria Beckham and Colleen McLoughlin have recently dabbled in "goth chic" - faces made up to look pale, black lacy clothes and deathly nail varnish - though it's hard to imagine the Beckham and Rooney households rocking to Betty Curse, let alone the forgotten bands of the first wave of goth. It's a dramatic revival: barely a year ago, London's goth hangout, the Devonshire Arms, was saved from closure after a nationwide appeal to goths to boost its business.
The original goths seem unnerved by the return of their cult. "I read this thing that described Russell Brand as 90% goth," says an appalled Julianne Regan. The singer with All About Eve, she admits to "exploring" graveyards despite being in her 40s and is thus "guilty as charged" of being a goth. "I thought, 'Don't they mean 90% twat?'"
And the Horrors? "Pure NME Camden wankery. As goth as a daffodil in a yellow kitchen."
Oh dear. So what is goth anyway? And how did a dead cult become, well, undead?
Steven Severin of Siouxsie and the Banshees - who always maintained they weren't a "goth band", but were nevertheless a pivotal influence on the black-clad bands of the 80s - insists it's important to distinguish between "goth" and "gothic". "Gothic", Severin says, describes the bleak, dark music being made by Joy Division and also the Banshees around 1978-79. Severin admits his band pored over gothic literature - Edgar Allen Poe and Baudelaire. But "goth", he says, has connotations of "people in purple lipstick running off to Whitby". According to Severin, the prototype goth band may have been the Velvet Underground - "intense, feedback-driven songs and macabre subject matter" - although Bauhaus's 1979 single Bela Lugosi's Dead is now generally credited with starting the genre.
Initially, it wasn't called goth. In February 1983, NME lumped together several mostly forgotten bands (Southern Death Cult, Sex Gang Children, Brigandage, Specimen, Blood and Roses) and tagged them "positive punk". Meanwhile, Marx fondly remembers tabloid hysteria about "suicide pact kids killing themselves listening to Sisters of Mercy", an eerie precursor of a story the Daily Mail ran only last month warning of the "threat to our children" posed by goth and emo (although they're two different cultures).
Most of goth's enduring musical cliches were laid down by the Sisters, who lived together in Village Place, a stone's throw from the Faversham. Marx (formerly Mark Pearman, before a name switch fooled the DHSS, as was) had come to Leeds from Hull, attracted by gigs by the likes of the Fall and Gang of Four. His co-conspirator was a languages student who decided that the name Eldritch (meaning "wizard") carried more mystique than his own Andrew Taylor. Eldritch has often claimed the Sisters/ goth phenomenon was his immaculate conception, but Marx admits at least some of it was fluke.
Yes, Eldritch had the band's logo (a dissected head surrounded by a pentacle, which he had adapted from Gray's Anatomy) before they had even played a note. But according to Marx, the characteristic doomy goth sound only emerged when the Sisters added Craig Adams, a child piano prodigy. Adams was "running from his past", says Marx. "He turned up with a fuzzbox on his bass and wanted something brutal, relentless." A £60 drum machine (nicknamed Doktor Avalanche) replaced Eldritch's early bashes on drums. When the "wizard" concealed his less-than-Sinatraesque vocals with reverb, goth's defining sound was complete. The Sisters namechecked MC5 and Motorhead in interviews and caused a "considerable reaction" within a music press who had been frothing over Haircut 100.
Eldritch became thought of as a poet of doom, fond of dark pronouncements. But Marx admits that there were no black candlesticks at Village Place. In fact, even the goth look was partly happenstance: wearing nothing but black meant the band could put all their washing in one load. In fact, in early photos the Sisters looked "nondescript, like students", but that changed when Marx realised his check shirts looked silly next to the leather jackets worn by Eldritch and Adams in homage to the Ramones. Once Marx also adopted black, a uniform was born.
The enduring image of the Sisters live is of four black stetsons poking out of dry ice: a cross between Once Upon a Time in the West and horror flick The Fog. That, too, was an accident. Guitarist Wayne Hussey, who joined in 1983, recalls that the band had been touring America in a minibus and one night he got so drunk that he fell asleep on Gary Marx's shoulder. Marx then "threw up in his sleep all over my head. The venue wouldn't let me in 'cos I had sick in my hair. So I went across the road and bought a hat - and that's where the look came from."
Around the country, others realised black could have benefits above and beyond its ability to conceal stains. Alien Sex Fiend's Mrs Fiend (she is literally Mrs Fiend, having been married to the band's Nik Fiend for 28 years) remembers a disastrous photoshoot when a green light wiped out all her make-up.
"I looked like a fucking corpse, but not in a good way," she remembers. After that it was "black, the blackest you could find". Home-dyed clothes and hair horrors proved equally striking: "People said, 'Excuse me, dear. Have you been electrocuted?'"
Early goth was largely a provincial movement: the Sisters in Leeds, Bauhaus in Northampton, the Cure in Crawley. The London scene congealed around the Batcave club, associated with bands such as Alien Sex Fiend and Specimen; there, boys and ghouls rubbed shoulders with the likes of Siouxsie Sioux and Nick Cave. Mrs Fiend remembers "fetish gear, Victorian clothing, girls with their tits out. One night the DJ played the Sex Pistols and for the first time, everyone sat down. It was obvious that no one was interested in continuing what had gone before."
Goth spread rapidly - fans visited the Batcave or Leeds Phonographique and then set up their own clubs - and a sense of community developed. Goths formed bands with each other, slept with each other, copied each other and recorded with each other: Severin collaborated with the Cure's Robert Smith as the Glove. The Sisters' Merciful Release label helped soundalike bands such as the March Violets and Salvation, which Marx suggests was a hangover from the self-help culture established by Leeds bands the Mekons and Gang of Four. The "suburban Siouxsie" clone became a peculiar feature of 80s Britain, and whenever the Banshees toured in Latin American or Mediterranean countries, Severin notes, they noticed Siouxsie had become "a role model for dark-haired women".
Goth could be silly, but many bonded through genuine alienation. Regan admits she was "introspective and depressed" and sought solace in darker music. "Mentally ill?" she considers. "Some of us."
Another glue binding the scene together was drug use. Goth is virtually the only youth movement not identifiable with a single substance, but Regan admits that it was "very wild. It started with snakebite and a laugh and ended in psychosis for some. Luckily, I was a sissy."
"All my friends took drugs," admits Hussey. "I used to put speed in my coffee." Initially, drugs enabled the guitarist to mask a natural shyness, but eventually his character transformed. He began the 80s quietly reading Rimbaud and ended them fronting the Mission, whose wine-spilling, cartoon image was almost Carry On Goth. "We made buffoons of ourselves in public," he says, "but it was endearing for a lot of people."
It didn't last. Hussey vividly remembers standing on a railway station platform and seeing two girls in Stone Roses T-shirts. "I knew something else was coming."
In the 90s, goths all but disappeared as dance music became the dominant youth cult. The movement went underground and fractured into cyber goth, Christian goth, industrial goth, medieval goth and the latest sub-genre, zombie goth. Around the world, however, goth hit the mainstream. Goth crossbred with electronica and heavy metal in the form of Nine Inch Nails and Marilyn Manson. While the music of Nine Inch Nails owed more to the industrial-influenced music of Throbbing Gristle and Ministry, their subect matter (murder and trauma) and style (head-to-toe black leather) were unmistakably goth. Marilyn Manson, meanwhile, fused Alien Sex Fiend's electro-goth with Alice Cooper's theatrics and went to the arena circuit. In Germany, the industrial-techno-metal sextet Rammstein took much from gothic horror, and Hussey says his mother often tells him how much the cult Finnish band HIM sound like the Mission.
And now it's hip again here.
Goth will exist in one form or another as long as young people are alienated and fascinated by death. Mrs Fiend expresses anxiety that goth could turn into an off-the-peg fashion style. However, Severin is darkly optimistic.
"They read French novelists. They've gone into it with a complete passion and I don't blame them," he says of the new goths. "I've always thought there's room in pop for different languages, one of them being an exploration of the blacker side of human nature. There's nothing to be afraid of in the dark."
Five goth classics
Bauhaus: Bela Lugosi's Dead
The 1979 single that invented the genre overnight. In an atmosphere of unease, Peter Murphy eulogises Lugosi's portrayal of Dracula with a cry of "Undead! Undead! Undead!"
Available on Crackle - Best of Bauhaus (4AD)
The Sisters Of Mercy: Amphetamine Logic
This stark, driving track defines the Sisters' oeuvre and sums up Andrew Eldritch's cod-vampiric lifestyle: "Nothing but the knife to live for."
Available on First and Last and Always (Merciful Release)
The Cure - A Strange Day
The Cure were always more of an alternative pop band than 100% goth, but A Strange Day's melancholy sees them fitting into the genre.
Available on Pornography (Fiction)
Red Lorry Yellow Lorry - Walking on Your Hands
The Leeds-based Lorries, originally a typical if moody indie band, adopted goth cliches such as flanged guitars for this thrilling 80s nightclub staple.
Available on The Gothic Box (Rhino)
Siouxsie and the Banshees - Night Shift
One of the darkest cuts from the album Juju: a harrowing groove that explores street prostitution.
Available on JuJu (Polydor)
· The Gothic Box 3CD/DVD set of early goth is out now on Rhino. Blue Sunshine by the Glove has been reissued by Universal
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