Michael Hann

In praise of goths – the most enduring of pop subcultures

How this grassroots northern scene – laughed at, ignored, dismissed – took over the world

Goth pioneer Peter Murphy performing with his band Bauhaus at the Futurama 3 festival, Stafford, in 1981. Credit: Steve Rapport/Getty Images

More than 40 years on, every town still has them, wandering the streets with pale skin, more make-up than you can find in Superdrug, swathed in acres of black fabric. Goths, rather unexpectedly, have turned out to be the great survivors among pop subcultures. Others have risen and faded, but the goths – laughed at, ignored, dismissed – have endured, seeing their style and their musical tastes slowly incorporated by everyone else (there’s even a goth version of hip-hop, known as ‘horrorcore’).

Goth was a fitting name for the music: overbearing and foreboding; delivering ecstasy through the building and releasing of tension rather than through major chords and primary colours; drawing on punk, Bowie, the Doors and the Stooges. But it wouldn’t have been called goth without the aesthetic, a see-what-sticks mélange of the sexy and dangerous – a bit of Byron, De Sade and Crowley, a dollop of the kitsch 1950s LA celebrity Vampira, and anything else that came to hand.

Others have risen and faded, but the goths – laughed at, ignored, dismissed – have endured

The idea that this music was gothic was there from the beginning – in 1980, NME described the first album by goth heroes Bauhaus as ‘Gothick-Romantic pseudo decadence’ – but it only became a catch-all for every band with back-combed black hair during 1983 and 1984 (the NME had tried naming the nascent scene ‘positive punk’ but it didn’t catch on). Since then, though, only historians have thought of goths as anything other than people with a love of kohl and snakebite and black.

But this year they’ve been dragged from the dark corners into the spotlight. There’s a new box set, Young Limbs Rise Again: The Story of the Batcave 1982–1985, compiled of music played at the Soho club night that was instrumental in spreading the word of the subculture.

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