Gothic rock is an old genre that’s shared a few different names over the years, and started out with a few different origins as well. What we hear today, was not the same as what we heard then. Any old Goth can tell you, after he’s done claiming he’s Gother than you, that gothic rock has changed. And he wouldn’t be bullshitting you for the sake of condescending. It’s true.
For instance, when the first styles of gothic rock emerged, it was called “positive punk” by plenty of different music oriented press and media. The styles of music that would later develop into the genre, began emerging, and gradually rearing its head in the late 1970’s, and it was associated clearly with the post-punk scene in England. However, it wasn’t just the imminent death of punk rock in the UK and the US that evolved gothic rock into what it is today. Its origins are composed, as previously stated, of a few different genres, such as Deathrock, in the US, glam rock, art rock, psychedelic rock, and possibly more, depending on who you ask.
In the early 1980’s, Goth rock began to really pick up the pace of its gradual development, and finally separated itself as a genre from the rest of 80’s rock. The difference between the two was that Goth rock, although popular more and more, was still a world apart from the New Wave scene in 80’s music, not to mention alternative rock, and all the other genres slowly building themselves up in that era. The defining factor of Goth rock, was that it was more inwardly focused, dealing with darker, or even horrific themes, as well as intellectuality, nihilism, and existential perspectives.
And as Goth rock grew, the Goth subculture was born, and thrived; magazines were published, celebrating and encouraging the new scene. However, Goth rock doesn’t focus simply on new bands, the up and coming; Goth rock tends to remember the past, keep it well-preserved, and frequently associate themselves with it. The bands that started it all, still get their dues. Of course, no one agrees on which bands started Goth rock; if they did, the argument would finally die, and no one would listen to Goth rock classics anymore, looking for telltale signs of origin.
Which bands started it? Well, I’m not trying to kill off any existing arguments, but the majority of Goth rock patrons, insist it was the Doors. Although they might not have been the first Goth band, they were the first to be called Goth rock, in 1967, by the music media. Jim Morrison had the look, the feel, and especially, the gothic touch; later on, he would inspire such post-punk bands as Echo and The Bunnymen, and Joy Division. The 1960’s era of music was just as important to developing the gothic rock genre as the 70’s and 80’s, because inspiration was taken from musicians of that generation, to spawn the new; such as The Velvet Underground, which emerged in 1967 as well, with their album The Velvet Underground and Nico, which carried gloomy themes, dark undertones, and introspective philosophy, which later influenced 80’s bands, like Siouxsie & The Banshees, and Christian Death. And as The Velvet Underground steadily developed, so did other bands with nihilistic, dark sound, such as the Alice Cooper Group, and The Stooges, in Detroit.
In the 1970’s, the other half of Goth rock’s origins began to show more prominently, with the glam rock genre. Marc Bolan and T. Rex were the beginning of glam rock in the 70’s, or at least, were a strong movement in the right direction; the development on Goth rock. Later on when David Bowie, androgynous in appearance, with a sound all his own, produced his albums Low, and Diamond Dogs, he described them himself as being “gothic.” While glam rock was growing in popularity, the London punk rock scene emerged, which directly influenced a great deal of the Goth rock genre, with the Sex Pistols as its leading component. Some of the very first gothic rock artists came with the emergence; some members of Siouxsie and the Banshees were members of Bromley Contingent, with Sid Vicious. Later on, it became confusing, trying to classify who was post-punk, and who was developing Goth rock. Joy Division and The Psychedelic Furs for example, were post-punk, and heavily influenced by the punk scene, however, they influenced later Goth rock bands, and also anticipated the first wave of gothic rock. Members of now popular classic Goth rock bands, such as The Lords of the New Church, played with punk rock bands, before they went on to form more Goth focused, gloom oriented rock groups.
There are so far, three generations of gothic rock, according to our genius friends over at Wikipedia. The first, is the late 70’s to the mid 80’s, then mid 80’s, to mid 90’s, and mid 90’s to the present. However, most members of Goth sub-culture, and fans of Goth rock don’t really think in terms of generations. There’s the classic Goth rock, the 80’s Goth rock, the 90’s Goth rock, and there’s the millennium mix.
Classic Goth rock is a compilation of all the classic dark bands, throughout the 60’s and 70’s, and not just the Doors, or post-punk bands like Joy Division, and The Psychedelic Furs, but Jefferson Airplane, and sometimes even the Beatles as well, for some of their occasional gloomy themes, and the dark references to Alice In Wonderland. This includes the glam scene in the 70’s as well, when David Bowie first opened his perfect mouth, and sang songs to make the pale kids of a generation far far away sit and think, or stand and dance. Eighties variety Goth rock was sometimes hard, and fast, more leaning toward Deathrock, or with a more vintage classical sound, sometimes even daring to touch the New Wave style, and blend in. At times, it was a mixture of all three, such as was brought to the music world by Bauhaus. The beginnings of this first generation of gothic rock came mostly from England, but other countries as well; Christian Death was from L.A., The Virgin Prunes from Ireland, and Xmal Deutschland from Germany.
In the 1990’s, more gothic rock bands and artists began to emerge, showing up the brimming UK Goth rock scene, with Switchblade Symphony, and London After Midnight, even while some of the first generation of 80’s Goth rock groups were still performing to avid audiences, the Goth subculture, the punks who refused to go away, the die-hard 80’s rock fans, amongst the masses of other fans. As the mid to late 90’s went on, more Goth rock came to life, and stretched undead arms up to embrace the youth of many nations. HIM, Marilyn Manson, The CrÃ¼xshadows, The Last Dance, Sunshine Blind, Trance to the Sun, and more recently, Evanescence, among many other groups and Goth rock artists continue to be born. As the Goth sub-culture divides, re-unites, and continues to change, so does the music; there are spin-offs of Goth rock, such as Goth industrial, Goth metal, slower, more gloomy classical Goth sounds. And others as well, have chosen to resurrect early Goth rock, from the 70’s and 80’s, rather than embrace the new, with projects to re-issue early Goth sounds from the UK, websites such as Deathrock.com to promote early Goth rock.