Monday, December 18, 2006

In The Dock: Goth

(If you're wondering what this is all about, click here.)

This week's subject: Goth

The case for the prosecution (Phill)

Let's get straight to the point here - goth music is rubbish.

Now is that a crime? Well when you've heard that terrible introduction of 'Bela Lugosi's Dead' by Bauhaus as many times as I have, the answer is yes.

As a musical genre, goth surely must have less quality songs than any other. I could count them on the fingers of one hand (if I'd lost four fingers in a nasty industrial accident) - Yes that's right - ONE. 'The Temple Of Love' by the Sisters Of Mercy. I'm not counting 'This Corrosion' by the same band, as it is essentially the same song, plus it was produced by Meatloaf collaborator Jim Steinman - so that disqualifies it.

Goth music has no innovation or humour. When a musician such as Marilyn Manson attempts to use elements of goth and mix it with both of these qualities, he is instantly disowned by goths everywhere.

The music is an irrelevance, but that alone is not a case for prosecution. Aside from the problem of goth music itself - let's talk about the other problem with goth music - goths!

They are generally the most miserable bunch of people I've ever met (with a couple of obvious exceptions). Goths are gullible too. Get any band who use minor chords, stick a bit of make-up on and back-comb your hair and goths lap it up. Take a look at Danielle Dax - rubbish. I once went on an evening out with a group of goths and half of them refused to acknowledge me due to the fact I wasn’t wearing eyeliner.

OK let's get into details. I would argue that great bands such as The Birthday Party, Joy Division are not goth - they are post-punk. Yes there are a few crossovers - but is goth about the music anyway? The answer is no and that's the problem.

The whole goth fashion thing is a mystery to me, the colour black, the cider and blackcurrant, changing your name from Kevin to something stupid like Midnight.

And how about the dancing? Gothic dancing is the most anti-social and miserable dancing ever, not that you would be able to see anyone anyway due to the smoke machines used on goth club dancefloors.

For most genres of music the leading bands of the scene are great bands - think reggae (Bob Marley), punk (The Clash), rockney (Chas 'n' Dave). But for goth we've got the Sisters, The Mission and Bauhaus. Two joke bands and a bunch of talentless, miserable idiots from Northampton.

Historically goth's place in the Colosseum of musical genres will be a mere footnote with a mention of novelty clothing, winklepickers and bad make-up.

As such, I recommend a lengthy period behind bars for goth music, as well as the imposition of on the spot fines for anyone either wearing a Bauhaus T-shirt or listening to them on headphones on the bus.

The case for the defence (James)

Let’s start by being clear about what I am NOT defending. I am not defending lank-haired adolescents. I am not defending Marilyn Manson or any of his ilk. I don’t have anything specifically against these, but to my mind, they do not signify goth.

So, here lies the problem: what, exactly, am I defending? We ran into a similar problem a couple of weeks ago with R’n’B, and yet I think we have a bigger problem here. If we are going to be purist about things: goth refers to a small number of bands that played in a couple of small clubs in the early to mid-80s. Yet we all know that goth is far more than that. And here lies my first argument:

Once you start rolling out the boundaries as to what goth is, the boundaries just keep on a-rolling. As an off-shoot of the post-punk scene it quickly lost all sense of fixed definition. There are some bands that we can obviously include: Siouxsie, Cure, Sisters, Bauhaus, Alien Sex Fiend and the Cocteau Twins. Now, let’s be clear about this, less than half of these bands saw themselves as being goth at the time. The Banshees were credited as being the first big goth band, and yet she hated the term. But in the mid-80s, when I was a goth, these were the bands that defined what gothic music was all about. The boundaries roll out further than this, though. Joy Division, Birthday Party and Nick Cave, Swans, Throbbing Gristle, Lydia Lunch and Skinny Puppy all have their places in the goth pantheon, despite not being strictly goth at all – but you weren’t a fully fledged goth in the 80s without having an LP by them. A survey of these artists will not give a cohesive style. Assuming that we are not being purist about this: we are forced to acknowledge that this (non) genre, covers an awful lot of ground – from heavy rock through industrial through indie through pop through world music.

Secondly, if we look at the long term influences of goth, we find that the same is true. Aside from the obvious nu-metal and darkwave connections, gothic elements can be found in Americana (16 Horsepower), alt folk (Current 93), indie pop (play Franz Ferdinand’s first LP back to back with The Sisters of Mercy’s Adrenochrome and you’ll see what I mean). My argument here is that since goth is not a precisely discernable genre, ripping it from the map would inadvertently tear a considerable hole from the world of alternative and underground music. A hole that few would be happy to welcome – including Phill.

Thirdly, the image. Here I think that we are on steadier ground, since there is more of a discernable something to consider. Now again, I want to qualify my argument: the image that we are talking about is not necessarily the same as what we see wandering our city streets aimlessly on a Saturday afternoon. What I am discussing here is the range of carefully constructed images – especially fashioned in goth’s early days. There are three strands to this argument:

(a) People put time and effort into their hair, make-up and clothes. OK, sometimes the look is bizarre or jarring. But, despite my carefully constructed just-rolled-out-of-bed look, I really appreciate when someone takes that kind of effort. Back when I was a goth, I spent hours on my look. If someone has the inclination to use their image to say something about themselves (even if it says more about the amount of time they have to say it), I think it deserves credit.

(b) Often, especially on women (I have to be honest), the goth image looks pretty damned good. There is a reason that so many women have at least flirted with the goth image and that is precisely because it is striking, and provides elements of mystery and allure. When done properly and intentionally, goths look sexy.

(c) Goth clubs are safe places to experiment with sexual imagery. Goths tend to be accepting of whatever and whoever, and there is a freedom to express oneself in all sorts of ways without risking abuse or ridicule.

To sum up:

1. Goth music is difficult to pin down to a precise, neat genre.
2. Unless we are going after specific bands, we risk doing serious damage to the alternative music scene.
3. Goths can be sexy.
4. R’n’B set a devastating precedent to any future genre prosecution.

* * * * *

Thanks to Phill and James. Now it's over to you. Guilty or innocent - YOU decide. The comments box is open and awaiting your comments - you've got until Friday to make up your mind...


Blogger Damo said...

I'm abstaining. Goth music does nothing for me but that's not cause to damn it by itself.

I've known large groups of goths who WERE insular and used silly fake names that all ended in the letter 'a'. I've lived with the most antisocial, unreasonable person in the known universe when I was at university and he was crazy about the Sisters of Mercy, which made me despise them irrationally.

But these ARE prejudices, and ones that have stopped me investigating it to a sufficient extent to pass reasonable judgment. I think I preferred the defence's argument as an argument in itself, but abstention it is.

9:12 am  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

While having a penchant for the dark clothing I never was a goth but I have lived with a fair number of them and been to more than my fair share of goth clubs over the years. The goth scene is certainly ridiculous and in many ways deserves all the contempt you can throw at it and the music-that-calls-itself-goth does tend to the terrible (I'm amazed nobody mentioned Fields of the Nephilim) but James makes a solid case, specifically the influence the sound has had all all manner of other genres and the style and sexual liberation of the scene.

Plus you've got to love a genre that has Aha's The Sun Always Shines On TV as one of its primary anthems.

Not guilty.

10:00 am  
Blogger Phill said...

I feel like I need to submit this in evidence - Not sure if it will sway you one way or the other, but here is James in his Gothic finery - sometime in the 80s

Also I've been desperately looking online for the time All About Eve appeared on Top Of The Pops and forgot to mime. If you find it - PLEASE POST THE LINK!

11:52 am  
Blogger James MacLaren said...

I sense desparation. This is a crude ad hominem attack. And anyway, I acknowledged fully that I was a goth - I am quite shameless about it. And even more, I would say that I was clearly feeling very lazy on the day that that photo was taken... my hair isn't even back-combed.

And I remember laughing till I cried when All About Eve were on TOTP. I hated All About Eve.

12:14 pm  
Blogger Phill said...

James - I do agree that goth girls can be quite fit! - But can the fact that girls look quite good in a bit of eyeliner to defend the back catalogues of the Sisters, Mission and countless other terrible goth bands?

I think not!

2:27 pm  
Blogger Ben said...

Phill, you cheeky so-and-so. I had decided that that photo was inadmissable as evidence. Getting personal is the last refuge of the scoundrel...

5:45 pm  
Blogger Simon said...

Tricky one, this, because as the defence mentions most of those at the credible end of what has been credited as goth standard bearing(Siouxsie, Cure, Cocteaus, Cave) have always claimed they have nothing to do with the genre, which only leaves us the solid ground of sundry Home Counties panstick abusers. I'm going to have to side with the prosecution ultimately, because I have a deep suspicion of any scene which can be directly traced to one London club.

7:14 pm  
Blogger LB said...

I'll go for the defence please.

Not so much for the music (I really didn't like All About Eve) but certainly for the people and the look. Different (if scary) is good. On the whole.

9:48 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'm with the defence, but only just. Whitby wouldn't be the same without the goths, nor the whole of Eastern Europe.
I did enjoy the goth feature on Jimmy Carr and Iain Morris' Xfm show where they aimed to play a different Goth classic each week by way of apology for mocking goths in their youth. It only lasted 4 weeks and they ended up playing the Sisters of Mercy song twice.

And the fact I was briefly in a band where I was made to be part of a Fields of the Nelphalim cover is neither here nor there.

8:25 am  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Guilty as hell.

Due to very little direct contact with the goth scene my prejudices are still firmly in place. The people look silly and the music (which is what we're supposed to be judging here?) bores me.

The goths 'claiming' some great bands (Cure, Joy Division, Nick Cave, etc) doesn't wash with me - I used to frequent a 'metal' club that played PWEI every week. This doesn't mean that The Poppies should be used as defence for the sins of metal.

I'm sure if Ian Curtis was aware that he was being championed by the goth scene he'd hang himself. Again.

Hot goth girls? A very tiny percentage surely, and pretty much every genre has a few attractive fans. The defence appear to be clutching at straws.

Bang 'em up I say.

9:01 am  
Blogger Ian said...

Well damn - my prejudice lies with the prosecution, and I was cheering on Phill all the way - but James' defence has totally convinced me. Excellent job done on both side (no offence to past cases but I think this is the strongest over-all week to date), but James is just so damn reasonable. Kudos to both, but I vote to acquit.

NB. I am very glad to see both sides agree that Joy Division is not Goth!

10:23 pm  
Blogger Paul said...

Got to side with Phill on this one.

1:22 pm  
Blogger Ben said...

A really tough one, this.

I would LOVE to prosecute goth solely on the strength of the fact that nearly all of the goths I've ever met have been disagreeable, and one in particular was a complete cock. But that would be to do the prosecution and defence cases a gross injustice.

As Pete says, there's something utterly preposterous about goths and goth music, and I can't abide those goths who insist on sneering at non-goths and drinking red wine because it looks like blood. But if I'm prepared to defend - and indeed celebrate - the ridiculousness of metal (which I am), then I can't prosecute goth on the same terms. No matter how much I want to.

James fails to convince me on the image front, though. It amuses me that goths dress and act differently and then complain about being looked at - after all, they've deliberately drawn attention to themselves in the first place. And, though James (to his credit) doesn't play it explicitly, the individuality card is equally amusing - they might dress "differently" to other people in the street, but goths are a clique of their own with a fashion code to which members are expected to adhere. An expression of individuality my arse.

Then there's James' dismissal of Marilyn Manson as (in essence) not a "proper" goth. Well, no, but that's because he has a sense of humour and a pop culture savviness that appals most goths. I may not be his biggest fan, but surely that's preferable to the ghettoised po-faced attitude of "proper" goths?

And then to the music. (Nick The Snick: This might be a music site in general, but the topic was left deliberately broad so as to encompass fashion, attitudes etc). And again I'm torn. On the one hand, James is right that a goth influence is perceptible in the music of some of my favourite artists. And yet, on the other hand, this influence is (I would say) more gothic than goth (there is a difference). Plus Phill is spot on when he says the "core" goth bands are in the main rubbish.

On balance, then, a vote for the prosecution, but James definitely had me thinking carefully about turning to the dark side.

5:03 pm  
Blogger swisslet said...

I came to this debate with no real pre-conceptions, I've read and considered both of the debates and now I'm ready to give my verdict.

Not guilty.

I'm not damning a whole genre of music. No way. There are shit bits, and there are brilliant bits - just like every other genre of music.

besides, Nottingham city centre fills up with teenage goths every saturday afternoon, and I think they are adorable. I look at those awkward teenagers standing around the lions in Market Square with their long leather trench coats and their makeup and, although I've never been a goth, I recognise the desire to want to be something other, and I applaud it. More power to them, I say.


10:58 pm  
Blogger James MacLaren said...

Feel a need to chip in a little here.

Maybe my experience was unique (I guess it probably was), but there were never a po-faced homogeneity in the scene I was in. Sure, there were idiots who took it all very seriously, but few that I spent time with had such an attitude. I wore whatever I want, and whilst I was unquestionably a goth for a time, and I took my image more seriously than most, I counted very few goths amongst my closest friends. The scene I was in was varied (Liverpool '85-'88) and I spent my time with punks (who were very funny to hang out with when bunking off school), indie-kids, rockabillies, goths, metal-kids, glam-rockers, even a couple of skinheads. We did not differentiate.

As for Ben's rationale for goth's rejection of Marilyn Manson, "he has a sense of humour and a pop culture savviness that appals most goths". I have more of a sympathy with the second point, but I feel that the first has been over-stretched throughout this debate. Anyone that has paid any attention to some of the more genuine goth bands (by genuine I mean, part of the original scene), will detect a clear tongue placed in the cheek. Alien Sex Fiend's name is funny to begin with, and certainly a survey of their track titles will show a sense of humour - 'E.S.T. - Trip to the Moon', 'The Beaver Destroys Forests'. Similarly, the Specimen are quite funny with their song 'Holes', and Bauhaus are quite funny too. 'Scopes' a song devoted to words that end in 'scope'. Arch-goth Andrew Eldritch displays a sense of humour also, although admittedly of the blacker variety.

I think it also worthwhile pointing out that other genres have generally held similarly apparently po-faced positions. Jazz, for instance, is notorious for it's chin-stroking seriousness - especially in more recent years. Are we going to condemn all schools of music that generally takes itself too seriously? I doubt it - but I suppose that goth is an easy target.

I also feel that drawing a distinction between goth and gothic is tenuous. Either the influence is there, or it isn't - changing the label is simply shifting the goal posts towards a position that is more comfortable to you.

I am not going to be drawn on whether or not the core goth bands are rubbish or not. I made a decision from the start on this debate that there was simply no point in allowing any subjective argument in. People either like the music or they don't. Consequently, I have sought to keep the argument on entirely objective footing. I think the argument holds firm on this basis.

1:20 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Would type a long message but one arm in sling ...

I'm with the defence on this one, it's not a genre of music more a social grouping ... lot of goths I have known have very diverse musical tastes ... they just like to dress weird and try and scare the world ... the fact that the world got over being shocked by the goth look sometime in 1983 doesn't stop them ... but hey it's all harmless fun. And yes very true the thing abt gender play ... but they can be very cliquey .. .just pard of their 'us against the world' attitude ... notwithstanding that they are very accepting of sexuality and gender differences; more so than many other subcultures ... :)

-Malcolm (aka Velouia but not for Goth reasons ;))

2:29 pm  
Blogger Ben said...

James: Points taken.

I must confess that my view of goths as humourless is perhaps jaundiced, predominantly because the vast majority of those I've met have been humourless.

"We did not differentiate" - good to know (and if knowing you might well have changed my view!), but in my personal experience goths have a tendency to preach about being "different" and yet sneer at those who dress and act differently to themselves. Just another form of snobbery and cliquishness. That I find more difficult to excuse - not least because there's a failure to practise what is preached.

Seriousness - well, goth may be an easy target but it's the target under consideration, so...

As for the "goth" / "gothic" point, I don't think they're synonyms - I wasn't just engaging in pointless quibbling over semantics. When I say "gothic" I'm alluding to the Southern Gothic found particularly in literature (I should have made myself more clear). That there is an element of that in the music of Nick Cave (for example) is I think undeniable. But it's rather different to the fairly narrow goth aesthetics of those original "core" goth bands.

6:41 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Never mind what their music is like, when it comes to shooting up a high school they are without peer!

2:37 pm  

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