A Brief History of Goth
Goth vs Gothic
If you’ve ever been called a goth, then you’ve been called gothic. But historically speaking, these things aren’t one and the same. A quick Google of the word ‘gothic’ will tell you it’s a style of architecture, sculpture or painting dated between the 12th and 16th centuries, but that’s not what we mean by it when we use the word today.
Though the flying buttresses, stained glass and pointed arches are all impressive, we’re not talking about Westminster and Notre Dame here - we’re talking about a dark and brooding subculture that’s more complex than a black outfit and eyeliner, despite what modern mainstream culture would suggest.
Though not quite 12th century, goth has a history all of its own that dates back further than you’d think, and explores even further than that. As the scene to spawn all alternative scenes, it’s good to know your roots - so settle in with your mug of witch’s brew (or coffee, if you prefer), and let’s have a look back at how it all came about.
Many alternative cultures can trace their roots back to music and the goth movement is no exception to the rule. A dark phoenix that rose from the ashes of the punk movement, goth can be traced back to the late 70s and early 80s.
It's fair to say, goth wouldn’t be what it is today without the likes of punk bands such as Siouxie and the Banshees (the hair!), The Damned, the pounding bass and deep vocals of Sisters of Mercy (though they vehemently deny being goth), and of course goth bands like Bauhaus (who can forget the legendary tune that is Bela Lugosi’s Dead?) and Alien Sex Fiend (regulars at London’s famous goth club, The Batcave).
Angst-ridden and thorny, their music reflected the troubles of the time. And though the goth movement wasn’t the first to display dark vibes and a fascination with all things morbid and morose, this was the first time such things became part of the cultural landscape of the UK, helped along by popular artists like David Bowie, who added to the scene with his 1983 vampire flick, The Hunger.
The Evolution of Goth
Enticingly dark and moody, the goth scene continued to evolve beyond its origins in punk and post-punk music well beyond the 80s. As the 90s rolled around, the uniform of black clothes, heavy eyeliner and big, backcombed hair evolved to include the grunge scene (combat boots and military gear) and even looked further back into history for inspiration.
Edgar Allan Poe, Byron and any Victorian Penny Dreadful you’ve ever come across began to be associated with the gothic subculture. And the culture spread, encompassing not just the UK but the US as it developed into a movement still defined by music but now also defined by mood.
With a new, albeit dark, lease on life, goths experimented with new styles and trends, and the associated music scene grew to include bands such as The Dresden Dolls, Nine Inch Nails and Marilyn Manson. Artists which, if you’ve ever had the pleasure of sampling, you’ll find sound entirely different from one another.
Each addition to the subgenres of goth grew its reach further, and the word became an umbrella term to cover various other gothic flavours, including Victoriana, cybergoth, nu-metal, vampire goth, romantic goth and even pastel goth.
Goth Culture in the 21st Century
A unique culture that looks to the future as much as it looks to the past, the modern iteration of goth includes all that came before and is so varied in nature that it’s easy to get confused by different types. Ask someone who lived through the 80s about goth today, and they’ll tell you it’s been and gone - that no modern bands class as goth, but whether or not you agree, it’s safe to say that the culture is still very much alive.
Classic goth has evolved much like the music it originated in (Sisters of Mercy went on to become The Mission, Southern Death Cult became The Cult and so on...). But what was once confined to a look and a sound has gone on to spawn other subcultures and lifestyle choices, ranging from emo and scene to rocker, rockabilly and the resurgence (if it ever left) of punk.
It’s even spread beyond music, and grown into a popular film trope, notably utilised by the like of Tim Burton, David Lynch and Guillermo del Toro to great success.
Thanks to the rise of the internet and social media such as Instagram, you’ll spot Victoriana goths, Pagan or witchy goths, and even health goths well beyond the UK and across the world.
Give In to your Gothic Side
Expressing yourself and your beliefs via your taste in music and appearance is simpler than ever before with The Rock Collection’s range of darkwear, for every possible subgenre of the term.
Yes, goth culture has been given the space to flourish, with brands such as Poizen Industries, Alchemy Gothic, Banned and Hell Bunny exclusively creating alternative pieces and looks, and we’re absolutely here for it.
So for anyone who’s ever been asked by a well-meaning parental figure if their goth look is ‘just a phase’, maybe now you can tell them about the complex and convoluted origins of the look. Or point them in the direction of the politics that led to the creation of punk and goth music in the first place. Or maybe you quietly roll your eyes and put your headphones in. Either way, goth is going nowhere.
What do you think? Were The Damned really goth? Is Bela Lugosi really dead?
We want to hear your thoughts on how you define goth, and whether it’s a look or a lifestyle.