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  • Deathrock

    Goth and punk rock spawned many subgenres when it was in full swing, and even while it was first emerging in the late 1970’s. One of the subgenres that was re-introduced while Goth rock was developing was Deathrock. One of the things that make distinguishing Deathrock from Goth rock so difficult, is because it overlaps with it, naturally, being a spin-off of Goth rock, as well as other sub-genres of Goth rock, that are basically fusions of other styles. Deathrock itself is a fusion of punk, post punk, and horror. So its closest related subgenres are Psychobilly, and horror punk; Psychobilly is a fusion of punk, rockabilly, and horror, while horror punk is a fusion of punk, doo-wop and horror. It sounds the exact same, doesn’t it? I mean, as far as really being able to tell something apart, if you played a Deathrock song, then a Psychobilly song, then a horror punk song, without knowing which was which, there’s a good chance you wouldn’t be able to tell them apart, purely by their sound. Of course, that does depend on how fanatical you are.

    The differences in sound can be subtle, in some artists but not in others; another reason that picking up differences by ear can be difficult. Deathrock has a more introspective, and romantic sound to it, while horror punk is a faster style of playing, as well as sounding louder. Also, keyboards are more often used in Deathrock, to set the gloomy, spooky mood that is carried with that genre of music. Whereas, horror punk, and Psychobilly rarely use keyboards; Psychobilly also uses an upright bass, while Deathrock, and horror punk generally do not.

    I said “re-introduced” earlier on, because death rock was a term used in the 1950’s and 60’s for songs that romanticised teen death. Some examples are songs like Jody Reynold’s “Endless Sleep”, The Shangri-Las’ “Leader of the Pack”, and J. Frank Wilson’s “Last Kiss”, which came out much later, in 1964, after which, the genre would die out for a while (accidental pun). Actually though, the genre went more or less into a coma, until later on, the emergence of post punk, punk, and other spin-offs of Goth rock could breathe life back into it. When the term re-emerged in the 70’s, there were three different explanations for the origin; the band Christian Death, coming from California, and using Deathrock as a descriptive term for their style of music. Another is that the music media re-used the term out of unoriginality to describe the premiering subgenre of punk. Or that it was from a film, called They Eat Scum, which featured a fictitious band called “Suzy Putrid and the Mental Deficients”, creepy and cannibalistic in the film.

    Other examples of 1950’s Deathrock were songs like Monster Mash, by Bobby “Boris” Pickett, and I Put A Spell On You, by Screamin’ Jay Hawkins, because they a partially humorous, and partially spooky theme in the music. For example, in Murder in the Graveyard, by Screaming Lord Sutch & the Savages, and the other death rock acts used creepy sound effects, and taboo horror movie lyrical content, like cannibalism, suicide, and murder. The early Deathrock genre later influenced the sounds and stage presence of Alice Cooper, and Kiss. Rozz Williams, the founding member of Christian Death, himself has stated that he was influenced in childhood by both bands, and 45 Grave even covered Alice Cooper’s ‘School’s Out,’ on their first album. Horror movies, and horror themed television shows also influenced early Deathrock, and continue to influence Deathrock today; movies like Night of the Living Dead had death rock artists in the soundtrack when it first premiered in 1968, and Return of the Living Dead’s soundtrack, when it was released in 1985, had a great deal of punk rock, featured in its soundtrack. Visual influence was provided by shows like The Twilight Zone, Dark Shadows, The Munsters, and The Addams Family, with spooky, sometimes humorous portrayals of gloom and doom.

    When Deathrock re-emerged, it incorporated new sounds, with the retrospective sounds that it first emerged as in the 1950’s and 60’s. In the late 70’s and 80’s, it introduced itself as the primary style of bands in Los Angeles such as, The Flesh Eaters, Kommunity FK, 45 Grave, Christian Death, Gun Club, Voodoo Church, Burning Image, and Super Heroines. These emerged as a darker style than the hardcore, and punk rock scene, that were already out there, being performed in nightclubs, and smoke filled bars. The western US produced other bands as well, that would be considered Deathrock as well, like Arizona, with Mighty Sphincter, and Nevada, with Theatre of Ice.

    While Deathrock was emerging in western United States, other similar subgenres were developing in the UK, developing from post-punk, and punk rock, which were called “positive punk,” to help distinguish their unique, darker style from the other subgenres of punk. Positive punk, as well as the developing Batcave subgenre, all were eventually filed under Gothic rock; however, as Deathrock developed consistently in the US, those developing subgenres in the UK worked their way over to the west coast of the US, and some changes would soon be heard in Deathrock, as well as when Deathrock influences made their way to the UK, to change some of the sounds there also.

    After twenty years, since the original Deathrock and Batcave scene emerged and evolved in LA, and London. then eventually, flowed into Gothic rock, a club in LA decided to revive the Deathrock scene. Release the Bats, in LA, named after a song by an Australian band, The Birthday Party. The Deathrock revival has reached the UK as well, and bands such as Ex-VoTo,Cinema Strange, Bloody Dead And Sexy, Chants of Maldoror, and Tragic Black, are getting it off the ground, not to mention with the help of the Internet. Myspace profiles, for Deathrock bands, blogs, and other personal profile oriented websites are getting the original Deathrock sound back out into the world, and working to take it back from the all consuming major genre of Gothic rock.

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