Goth, gothic rock, post-punk and new wave are often used interchangeably, yet with with its gloomy themes and dedicated subculture, goth has and continues to be unique. Providing inspiration for musicians, creatives and fashion designers ever since its emergence in the early 1980s, goth’s influence on subculture is profound. Here we take a whistle-stop tour of the top ten most influential bands associated with the genre and subculture which has been labelled as ‘goth’ retrospectively.
Often considered the founding fathers of goth rock, Bauhaus broke the post-punk scene when they released ‘Bela Lugosi’s Dead’, which has arguably become the goth anthem. Pioneering sonic textures of minimalistic, gloomy rock with rough guitars and melancholy synthesizers, Bauhaus fused together elements of glam, funk, metal and electronic to create their cult gothic sound.
The Cure have multi-genre spanning albums, yet frontman Robert Smith has become one of the most iconic goth figures. Despite many of their tracks being incredibly joyful such as ‘Boys Don’t Cry’, their vast and diverse discography also contains some of the foundations of the subgenre’s moody, performative aesthetics. ‘Cold’ on their 4th album Pornography with its sludgy dark synths and moody, yearning vocals clearly had darker infleuences far from UK post-punk culture.
SIOUXSIE & THE BANSHEES
Rising from the ashes of punk in the 1970s, Siouxsie and the Banshee’s stark fusion of punk and glam rock was doused with melancholy. With particular gothic tendencies on the tracks ‘Voodoo Dolly’ and ‘Monitor’, Siouxsie Sioux pioneered the doom and gloom of goth with her spooky aesthetics, uneasy music with dark, tumbling guitars.
ALIEN SEX FIEND
One of goth rock’s most theatrical bands, Alien Sex Fiend’s robotic electronic beats, roaring guitars and ghoulish vocals made them one of the first band’s to be labelled goth rock. The band’s origins lie in the Batcave, a London club regarded as the birthplace of goth culture, where you could find Robert Smith and Siouxsie Sioux embracing the darkest of gothic themes.
SEX GANG CHILDREN
Although only releasing one official studio album, Sex Gang Children’s singles and other track collections of heavy bass, tribal percussion, uneasy mood shifts and a cabaret sound was hugely influential to the goth and later dark cabaret scene. Forming in Brixton in 1982 they were heavily associated with the Batcave club in London, with frontman Andi Sex Gang’s haunting, bat-like aesthetics.
CLAN OF XYMOX
Dutch band Clan of Xymox’s sludgy soundscapes of melancholy with reverb-drenched synths and thumping bass lines, drove them to International stardom in the 1980s. Their sound echoes the likes of Joy Division and the Cure, remaining loyal to the 80s goth rock sound.
FIELDS OF THE NEPHILIM
Fields of Nephilism’s melancholy and spine-chilling soundscapes drenched in vocalist Carl McCoy’s primal roaring vocals made Fields of the Nephilim one of the most haunting acts of the goth rock movements. The band’s name referring to a biblical-race of angel-human hybrids demonstrates some of the chilling themes throughout goth’s dialect.
Although Joy Division are most notable for their associations with post-punk, their album Closer, which was released shortly before the passing of singer Ian Curtis, precedes the darkness that was to come. The album stands out for its minor chords, dark arrangements and dramatic melodies with particularly morbid themes. The chilling-ness of their music set themselves apart from post-punk and has inspired not just the subculture but the whole of guitar music ever since.
SISTERS OF MERCY
One of England’s leading goth bands of the 1980s was Sisters of Mercy. Incorporating metal, psychedelica and dance beats with singer Andrew Eldritch’s booming dark vocals, they crafted a unique jolty gothic sound which serves as the pinnacle of the genre’s aesthetic and sounds.
THE BIRTHDAY PARTY
With Nick Cave’s disturbing, jolted perverse lyricism, noisy jagged guitars and primal drum beats, the Birthday Party were one of the darkest emergers of post-punk and later goth associates. Following the band’s disembandment, Cave recorded a series of successful albums with the Birthday Party’s multi-instrumentalist Mick Harvey, maintaining his status as a cult icon of darker rock.
For more background on check out our gothic book collection here and our brief history of goth rock here
Underground Soundwave presents an ongoing series of reports on emerging and established bands with close-up Q&As, new release reviews and gig reports with a special emphasis on supporting diversity in music, women in music, independent labels and venues and the local music scene.
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