Three-Hour Mixtape Offers a Sonic Introduction to Underground Goth Music


Image by Pedro Figueire­do, via Wiki­me­dia Com­mons

Why, in my day we called it “post-punk” and we walked miles to find it in cat­a­combs with secret pass­words, far away from any mall appar­el stores or bev­er­age-spon­sored music fes­ti­vals….

Most­ly rub­bish, though I have heard many an old cam­paign­er say as much, decry­ing Goth rock as a recent, devo­lu­tion from more seri­ous, avant-garde trends. Some amal­gam of The Doors, Leonard Cohen, Nico and the Vel­vet Under­ground, The Damned, Screamin’ Jay Hawkins, and Ham­mer hor­ror films, ear­ly goth rock went spare, atmos­pher­ic, and punky, like the ear­ly Cure, or baroque, morose, and cabaret like Bauhaus, or any oth­er num­ber of respectable art-rock direc­tions.

These bands, many of my cohort believe, had integri­ty, and much bet­ter taste than kids today. All that get off my lawn-ness makes an easy tar­get, as does the increas­ing pop­u­lar­i­ty of a genre of music made for and by unpop­u­lar peo­ple.

Mix blog Secret Thir­teen, cura­tor of the goth rock mix above, admits as much. “Goth has nev­er been an easy affair to dis­cuss,” reads the mix intro in idio­syn­crat­ic Eng­lish: “Kitschy atmos­phere of mas­sive con­tem­po­rary goth fes­ti­vals and stereo­typ­ing dis­cours­es usu­al­ly over­whelmed the tex­tur­al and emo­tion­al core of goth.” Con­tem­po­rary per­cep­tions, fair or not, obscure the diversity—stylistically, that is… of the music, with its “diverse ele­ments includ­ing Dada move­ment, sur­re­al­ist aes­thet­ics, post-mod­ernism, French ‘fin-de-siecle’ poet­ry, 19th cen­tu­ry roman­ti­cism, punk, kraut, glam, shoegaze, ambi­ent, folk, etc….”

Indeed, it’s all there, when a band with the abra­sive low-camp, grind­house punk of Nick Cave’s The Birth­day Par­ty shares a musi­cal lin­eage with the ear­ly syn­th­pop of Min­istry (with DJ-scratch­ing!) and the medieval- and world music-obsessed Dead Can Dance. But the key oper­a­tor in these extremes is the­atri­cal­i­ty. Since Siouxsie Sioux’s fish­nets and swastikas, Dave Vanian’s vam­pire cos­tumes and pan­cake make­up, and Robert Smith’s enor­mous weep­ing wil­low hair and onstage mist-shroud­ed cathe­drals of despair, goth has had to make over­wrought spec­ta­cles of itself, at times hor­ri­bly tacky ones.

But the Secret Thir­teen mix, com­piled by founder Justi­nas Mikul­skis, reminds us it’s real­ly about the music, by putting togeth­er “the deep cuts,” writes Elec­tron­ic Beats, “none of this ‘Bela’s Lugosi’s Dead’ stuff” (refer­ring to Bauhaus’ biggest hit).

Here instead we find “the bois­ter­ous deathrock of Mighty Sphinc­ter, Specimen’s Bat­cave thrashi­ness, the art­sy weird­ness of Red Wed­ding and ear­ly 4AD stal­warts Mass.” It’s a very 80s mix, but unless you were dig­ging deep in the crates of alter­na­tive record stores at the time, few names may be famil­iar. The Birth­day Par­ty shows up, and a band called Kom­mu­ni­ty FK that had a very minor hit. For­mer Sex Pis­tol John Lydon’s Pub­lic Image Ltd. appears with their pound­ing rant “Reli­gion II.” The Vir­gin Prunes also make the cut, num­ber 42 in the mix—a very much over­looked, and very dis­turb­ing band, often only known for their child­hood and fam­i­ly asso­ci­a­tion with U2. Find a com­plete list of the tracks at the bot­tom of this page.

It is over­all, I think, an excel­lent way to approach “goth”—or one def­i­n­i­tion of it—free from the wardrobe squab­bles and gen­er­a­tional con­de­scen­sion. The mix, writes Secret Thir­teen, isn’t intend­ed as “ency­clo­pe­dic or antho­log­i­cal” in nature, but is “rather pre­sent­ed as a nar­ra­tive with unex­pect­ed twists and turns show­cas­ing a wide vari­ety of ele­ments, moods.” Sort of like a good sto­ry by Poe, or a good B hor­ror movie.

via Elec­tron­ic Beats

Relat­ed Con­tent:

A Mas­sive 800-Track Playlist of 90s Indie & Alter­na­tive Music, in Chrono­log­i­cal Order

The 120 Min­utes Archive Com­piles Clips & Playlists from 956 Episodes of MTV’s Alter­na­tive Music Show (1986–2013)

Stream 15 Hours of the John Peel Ses­sions: 255 Tracks by Syd Bar­rett, David Bowie, Siouxsie and the Ban­shees & Oth­er Artists

Josh Jones is a writer and musi­cian based in Durham, NC. Fol­low him at @jdmagness

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