“Noise is dying. Punk’s been dead. The only rock’n’roll left is in your head.” – Sewn Leather, “No Names”
“Meet the new goths. Same as the old goths.” – The Who, “Won’t Go Goth Again”
Like a rather bedraggled and dusty phoenix, goth has rebirthed itself in a way that echoes its 30+ year history as well as explores new ground. Sometime in the mid-late ’00s, post-punk sounds from groups such as S.C.U.M and Kasms brought a darker edge to indie music that hadn’t been so visible in years. To younger ears with few accessible options for this kind of vibe, it was fascinating; to older ears longing for new takes on beloved ideas, it was a godsend. As the likes of Cold Cave, Light Asylum, and Zola Jesus helped redefine classic goth tropes, minimal wave enthusiasts WIERD and Veronica Vasicka were using their labels, parties, and love of classic sounds to attract new electronic producers with a taste for gloom as well as weekly crowds of cross-genre weirdos and trendsetters alike. Slowly an audience was built, partly from scratch—bringing in those drawn to the style and dark glamor of it all—and partly from those bored with the stale, established goth scene and looking for something familiar yet refreshing.
Around 2010, this New Dark Age went a poppier, reconceptualized route with darkwave-esque witchy sounds (the categorization of which has been articled to death) and parties like New York’s Pendu Disco, FILTH† and S!CK, where you were likely to hear just as much Britney as Salem, and White Ring might open for aarabMUZIK. In many ways, that first season of the witch seemed both a rejection and reclamation of goth: a queer-friendly, ADD blend of underground and trendy aesthetics, where Top 40 could be twisted into something bleak and new, a world with fewer barriers and a lot more fog. An aspect of witch house rarely mentioned is that, unlike the highly sexualized goth scene, it had a more asexual or even desexualized vibe to it as well—something perhaps emphasized by its classification as an “internet subculture”. The visual keys (a blend of high-fashion goth/punk, hip-hop tropes like gold chains and black New Era caps, touches of rave culture) were those of the younger, more technologically-obsessed consumer than the velvet-and-clove crowd—something that also made it feel more more finite and therefore more exciting for those involved (including myself). While a few bright young faces still exist today such as BLVCK CEILING, Crim3s and Bruxa, for the most part the witch scene has burnt itself out amongst a sea of symbols, lazy productions, and forgetting not to take itself seriously.
The wider influence it had (admitted or not) outside its limited sphere is still noticeable. Walk into any youth-catered mainstream store with the slightest veneer of ‘alternative’ on its name and you’re likely to find spike-covered jumpers, creepers, and upside-down cross sweaters sharing rack space with neon hoodies—a trend that peaked in high fashion (as well as the digital world) mid-2011 and continues to be absorbed, diluted and reformatted by mainstream, sub-mainstream and wholly underground brands alike. Both the visual and audio influence has been felt even more in a variety of sub-mainstream musicians, among them Purity Ring, Holy Other, and Grimes.
While bands who wear their goth-rock cards on their sleeves continue to spawn in new ways (I recommend checking out Sweating Tapes for a glimpse at some of the best), within the past few years there has been a shift toward a sort of new-school-via-old-school EBM revival. This is not the blasé cybergoth EBM that you’ll hear in ‘real’ goth clubs; these musicians are influenced more by the vibe of industrial punk, crafting stomping beats that lead as much to the moshpit as the dancefloor. Texas duo //TENSE// were perhaps the most noticeable of this new breed, and through them, a rising wake was left behind—brutal one-man acts like By Any Means Necessary, the rawness of Youth Code, and sleek after-dark soundtrackers like White Car. In terms of classic influence, these groups lie somewhere between the fetish-friendly industrialectro of ’90s-era Die Form, the oddball punk ad-libs of Nervous Gender, and the aggressive adjective of a young Skinny Puppy, and it’s notable that many of them have jettisoned the ideal of overproduced floor-fillers for DIY earkillers. Youth Code’s debut cassette was recorded live in their bedroom a week before their first show, lending it a bleak crunchiness that fits in perfectly with their grimy aesthetic, while By Any Means Necessary makes a point of recording entirely via hardware. Many of the OG witch acts have begun to follow suit as well: White Ring’s newer productions leave behind much of their hip-hop inspirations for more driving terror-beats, Fostercare has upgraded his original sound entirely, and ∆AIMON continue to produce ever-lusher, heavier productions. “I know there are people like us who love goth and industrial, but don’t really want to relate to a relatively stagnant genre,” said ∆AIMON’s Nancy Showers. “I think the aesthetic has always been cool because of its obscure nature, and there have always been people like us lurking in the shadows, waiting for it to re-emerge.”
“I was shocked when I started hearing this stuff again.“ Giallo Disco Records owner and producer Antoni Maiovvi says. “For me, it’s all part of a larger community who make weirdo dance records.” Musician and promoter Mike Textbeak, whose ties with the IRL goth scene are still bound closely, has a somewhat different take on the issue: “Once you have connected to something like Coil or Throbbing Gristle, it’s very hard to fill that space with anything else. Music like that is harsh and raw and true. It’s not fake or glamorous, and it’s not pretty by normal standards. It is beautiful, frightening, and real like life—like a car crash, an insect, a flower, the night sky. The point is that fans of classic industrial (similarly fans of old goth/post-punk) tend to hold this music almost religiously, and therefore it retains its importance in the underground. It seems harshly pristine to our irony-saturated modern culture. People want something new and different and real. They are digging for it and finding it. They are no longer forced to watch the same ten videos on MTV. People can now choose to listen to whatever challenging music they please—which is why so many people are.”
While many in the goth scene scorn techno, it’s oftentimes these sort of producers who achieve the most interesting and bleakest sounds while defying strict categorization. Labels like Blackest Ever Black and Downwards continually push new ideas that echo with the old evils while still evoking new wonders. The crisp, metallic post-punk techno of Silent Servant (aka Juan Mendez, of the sadly-departed Sandwell District) works just as well in a massive, high-end club as in some dank fog-shrouded basement. Dominick Fernow’s incorporation of his myriad influences into both Prurient and Vatican Shadow has been fascinating to watch (and listen to), while Powell’s disjointed techno brilliantly incorporates hacked-up No Wave.
With not one but a series of redefined templates and a growing list of interesting new faces, however you wish to define it, the term goth has lost quite a a lot of its social stigmata—not that most goths would care. While some scene-traditional goths have embraced the new class, most seem to remain unaware, bewildered or outright hateful. This has shifted somewhat in recent years with crossover groups like Bestial Mouths and Light Asylum attracting attention from both sides. Scene figureheads such as Douglas McCarthy of Nitzer Ebb has taken part in his wife Hazel’s esoteric Show Cave parties (a continuation of the even more bizarre White Slave Trade) which has brought a variety of new and old musicians and artists together, including Modern Witch, Genesis P-Orridge, and Chelsea Wolfe. Weekly nights like LIL DEATH meld witchy, industrialized sounds with club-friendly bass, while promoters like Pendu continue to combine dark fashion aesthetics with fittingly occult music. ” It’s the beat; that’s why goth finds itself at times in the mainstream,” says Pendu. “It will come to haunt all of our dreams soon. I’m excited to see where it leads us.”
Alongside his duties as an EB writer and editor, Daniel Jones is also the creator of the blog-brand Gucci Goth (now BlackBlackGold).
Photo: Zed Cutsinger
We’re just going to come out and say it: this is the best Radio Session.
Bestial Mouths create some of the most powerful post-punk we’ve heard in years, but their sound goes beyond the simple definitions of labels: here you’ll find pure emotion, sonic chaos given aural form through banshee synths, pounding percussion and Lynette Cerezo’s soul-rending vocals. Their debut LP Hissing Veil is a perfectly arranged medley of the darkest of sounds: heavily tribal without being primitive, gothic with none of the dulled subcultural stigmata, industrial in ways that echo their West Coast synthpunk influences. Their recent live cassette shows just how strong they’ve made themselves since their earliest incarnation as SWFT WNGS.
While on the air with us, they discussed their recent European tour with Animal Bodies (another highly recommended group) as well as the challenges of updating the idealism of goth—while leaving tired cliches in the dust. Listen to the whole radio show tonight on FluxFM, starting at 10pm (CET). Tune in through terrestrial radio or, if you’re outside Germany, head to the stream. If you missed it (and shame on you) then you catch up with the first hour through FluxFM’s on demand feature on Friday. We’ll be posting their Radio Mix in a few days as well, and we can’t wait to hear the sounds they have for us.
Don’t be fooled by the mutant mongolism; BRANES know how to use theirs. Los Angeles-based Ivy Slime and Susan Subtract have been on a slow rise since last year’s 7″ EP Anatomically Correct (a darkened slab of spastic synthpunk that hearkens back to Bay Area acts like The Vanishing and Sixteens) and 2012 finds them making their European debut later this year in August, as well as at the legendary DIY art-music festival Drop Dead. We asked them ten questions. They gave us ten answers.
1. Your most memorable show?
Ivy: We recently played Burger Records Punk Festival in Santa Ana, CA. There were a bunch of local, Southern California punk bands on the bill….and then us. We really didn’t fit in and were confused about playing the festival in the first place but we were all like “Whatever, it’s chill”. It was especially awkward when we tried to do a cover of the Devo song ‘Strange Pursuit’ because everyone was just standing there really confused while I was flailing around having a mosh with myself after having jumped off the stage into the crowd. Then my dear friend Kevin Rhea from this really sick punk band Nasa Space Universe‘s mom showed up (a local OC punk show favorite) and she was screaming at me during the whole song about how she was more punk than me and I was like “Look I’m not going to argue with you, lady. You are way more punk than I could ever aspire to be”. But it was cool because she was the only one who got the Devo reference and when I was writhing around on the floor she, like, dance-tackled me and stuff. So anyways, the show was in this fancy schmancy theater type place in Orange County and, in an effort to conspire against The OC, I decided to throw 10 bags of In-N-Out french fries at the audience during our last song and create a huge punk boy combat boot grease mush mess. I got passive aggressively yelled at by the venue owner after our set and he told me that we would never get a show in Orange County ever again.
Susan: For me, our most memorable show was at The Swamp House in Olympia, WA. That was pretty much the first show after our national tour we had just finished with Primary Colors. We had driven that tour in a roomy van loaded with a full sound system, but this time we were in a tiny hatch back car and hoping to borrow a PA. So we arrived in Olympia, cramped up and a little exhausted from the drive, and pulled up to this amazing, painted black house in the woods. Awesome. Slowly but surely, more and more mutants started showing up and people began to get really ancy for a show. At the same time, we realized that there was no PA at the house. The first band played; a bass, drums, vocals trio. The singer hooked a mic up to a bass amp. Excellent. We decided that we would take the same approach to sound. We got all set up, everything sounded surprisingly great, and then my ESQ-1 crashed. The story of how a very negative nancy in Baltimore cursed this synth can be saved for another time. The synth crashing seemed to play to our advantage because it built some suspense. There were definitely more people in this living room than there should have been. I got the synth functioning well enough, started my sequencer, the heavy drums of ‘Ramsey in the Dark’ came in, someone turned off the lights, and a weird mutant freak-out in the middle of the woods at a black house owned by a satanic dentist ensued. There have been other memorable shows, but that one stands out.
2. If you were still in high school, which clique would you belong to?
Ivy: When I was in high school I was a goth, and then I was a raver, and then I was a graver, and then I was a cyber-goth, and then I was just a goth again.
Susan: I was a queer punk that really liked irking all the macho types. I’m sure nothing would change if I were to do it all again.
3. An album that changed the way you thought?
Ivy: There are a few, but there’s one that’s sticking out to me and it’s not super cool. When I was in high school I worked next door to Lou’s Records in Encinitas, CA and I would always go in there hunting for new music. I came across The Birthday Party on one of the shelves, and had heard that they were something I should listen to, but the only album they had was Live 1981-82 so I bought it. I remember immediately despising it, but then upon a few more listens wondering what it was about the music that I found so detestable…and that really intrigued me. I became so fascinated with Nick Cave‘s approach to music and looking back now it seems like it was an acquired taste or something. After getting into other Birthday Party records and The Boys Next Door it really opened a lot of doors for me to the kind of music genres that I’m so enraptured by today. I’m sure I get some of my vocal inspiration from Nick Cave’s crazy inflections. I also feel like the first time I listened to the album Q: Are We Not Men? A: We Are Devo. was a similar experience to what some people refer to as “FINDING GOD!”.
Susan: DEVO – Duty Now for the Future. I heard this album consistently starting at a very young age. I would say it was pivotal to the development of my current outlook on absolutely everything.
4. Name three essential artists.
Ivy: 1) Danny Elfman 2) Gary Numan 3) I think I have to say Mikey Ray-Von because we have a song called his name.
Susan: Devo, Rudimentary Peni, Front 242.
5. A film or book that greatly influenced your music?
Ivy: Gordon’s Blender Tutorials by Michael Ray-Von.
Susan: Neuromancer by William Gibson.
6. Do you believe in the paranormal?
Susan: I myself am strange and unusual.
7. Your current favorite song?
Ivy: My Last.fm account is telling me that it is ‘After The Fall’ by Klaus Nomi, but I’m not sure if I believe that. Susan and I just watched the Klaus Nomi documentary The Nomi Song. It was literally the saddest movie in the world. If you haven’t seen it, don’t ever watch it.
Susan: I’ve been really into listening to the new //TENSE// tracks on Soundcloud. ‘Static Grey II’ has a lot of plays.
8. What goes in your coffee?
Ivy: Unsweetened Vanilla Almond Breeze.
Susan: More coffee.
9. What defines your music-making process?
Ivy: Generation Spaghettification.
Susan: Searching for the songs already written in our mind to evoke that voidal sensation – so familiar, yet so strange.
10. Together, or alone?
Ivy: I am alone, I am utterly alone. By the time you read this I will be gone, having jumped….having plummeted… off the Winter River Bridge.