THE LATE seventies, a prominent youth culture took flight across the
UK. It was musically and socially a rejection of the current youth
culture that paradoxically also had its roots in that same culture.
There is no ultimate agreement on where or when it started and even
more argument on which band was the progenitor.
Indeed, Goth music had spread its wings and risen from the ashes
of punk's first wave, distinguishing itself through post-punk in
the culture that came along with the music. More than two decades
on, the lasting effects of Goth culture can be seen across London's
near North side.
selling gothic makeup, clothing and other accessories line Camden
Market with the Electric Market and Camden Lock Market providing
even more local alternatives. Within walking distance of the markets,
on Kentish Town Road, the Devonshire Arms successfully bills itself
as "London's alternative/Goth venue." With a strict "alternative
dress code" to go along with an interior decorated by posters
of past Goth heroes such as Bauhaus and Love and Rockets, and DJs
playing Goth music spanning multiple genres over the last two decades,
few would argue its authenticity. Slimelight at the Electrowerkz
in Angel Islington has a similar dress code and has two full dance
floors on Saturday nights (one for Goth and industrial), and although
the legendary Full Tilt at Camden's famous Electric Ballroom is
no more, Sin City on Friday nights prominently features Goth music
amongst its heavier palate of sound. Resident DJs at these venues
have a sense of Goth's past, present, future and diversity playing
classic Goth bands like Sisters of Mercy and Fields of the Nephilim
alongside the industrial crunch of Ministry and the dancier, more
ambient sounds of Razed in Black.
these things are all indicators of a healthy scene, it is more interesting
to look at London's more concrete role in the current and past Goth
music itself: the bands themselves.
with any music scene filled with myth and folklore, it is difficult
to tell Goth's exact starting point; London's most famous daughter
and sons in the scene were Southeast London's Siousxie and the Banshees.
Described crudely by some as a darker sounding punk band wearing
make-up, and never recognized in even liberal definitions as fully
Goth, they nonetheless had the biggest homegrown impact. The inspiration
in the capital tended to come from elsewhere, however. Arguably
the most legendary and influential Goth band of them all, Bauhaus,
were from Northamptonshire. The Sisters of Mercy spearheaded a group
of bands from Leeds that included a splinter group: the Mission
UK as well as Southern Death Cult.
The post-punk genre that produced gloomy indie bands that almost
sounded Goth was centred in Manchester, the city where Joy Division
and the Smiths called home. Ironically, Joy Division, although not
a Goth band, are associated with the origin of the word "Gothic"as
a term to describe music. Their manager Tony Wilson (later founder
of Factory Records, owner of the Hacienda, and the subject of the
movie 24 Hour Party People), described them to the BBC as "Gothic
compared to the pop mainstream" in 1978. Even The Cure, the
post-punk band with heavy elements of Goth that turned into international
superstars, were based out of Crawley, West Sussex, about 25 miles
south of the far reaches of Southwest London.
to long-time music writer Mick Mercer, who has written several books
on UK Goth, it wasn't Joy Division's two memorable shows at the
Electric Ballroom in 1979 or Southeast London's Siouxsie and the
Banshees that galvanised the London scene, but actually another
dark-minded London punk outfit, Adam and the Ants.
common denominator for Goths was Adam and the Ants," Mercer
said, "The people you say turning up at gigs during 77-80,
who were clearly not interested in punk alone. They were there for
Gloria Mundi, Ultravox, then Theatre of Hate and Bauhaus."
He notes it were these diverse bills that turned the post-punks
and punks that made up the Ants' fan base onto more Goth-oriented
early people who made it all happen for such disparate bands were
the audiences, and most of them were Ants fans." Adam and the
Ants also expanded on the punk ideals of D.I.Y. promotion developing
a network of fans through fanzines and word of mouth, something
that would continue to be crucial in the underground-based Goth
scene. Mercer also notes that at that point it was "actually
post-punk bands who then dominated Goth."
In the mid-80s, bands on the fringe of the Goth scene with a Goth
audience such as post-punkers Echo and the Bunnymen, Glasgow shoe-gazer
guitar rockers Jesus and Mary Chain and rockabilly horror punks,
the Cramps headlined the Electric Ballroom. More importantly, Goth
legends the Sisters of Mercy, were touring through London regularly.
The Mission UK, featuring ex-Sisters of Mercy members, debuted at
the Electric Ballroom rather than in their native Leeds.
Important to the understanding, the history, present and future
of the London scene is indeed the very loose concept of any sort
of scene. As the capital of the UK and far and away its largest
city, London offers an attractively large, diverse and receptive
audience; hence the bands that come through London are just as important
as the bands from London. Hence, the London scene, per se, is not
as important as the UK Goth scene.
Bruce from Resurrection Records, a Camden Town record shop as well
as record label that focuses on releasing new UK Goth music feels
the concept of a city scene is a bit shortsighted. "A band
from Sheffield or Leeds will play London 3 or 4 times a year, so
in a way they're as big a part of the London scene as some of the
London bands are,"Andy said.
In other ways the idea of a city scene can be deceptive: "Bands
tend to come out of universities,"Andy notes, "so that
doesn't necessarily relate that there was a scene there...Leeds
had loads of bands come from it, but the scene was really in Nottingham
and other large cities."
Bands from other regions have always been just as eager to play
London. "Nobody cared about what was happening in specific
regions, because if people heard about a band that wasn't playing
in London they might travel and see them," Mercer noted, "Or
they would wait for them to play London, which they did."
Former Underworld promoter Michael Johnson believes the internet
has always made it much easier for a band to spread their name across
the UK. "Goth is heavily networked via the internet these days,"Johnson
said, "It's pretty much possible for London-based bands to
play some gigs, plug themselves heavily via the net, and turn themselves
into stars of the Goth scene throughout the UK without ever going
beyond Zone 6 on their Travelcards."
From Goth music's dubious beginnings as both an offshoot of and
rejection of punk, it has always been an inclusive form of music,
and in recent years it has split off into different sub-genres that
sometimes are a hybrid of another completely different style: death
rock (traditional Goth with pronounced punk elements), psychobilly
(rockabilly-Goth-punk), ethereal (ambient electronica-neo-classical),
industrial (techno-metal), among other genres.
"The alternative scene in London, and indeed the UK, is a little
like fashion," Katrina Bruce from Resurrection Records said,
"Styles of music have a tendency to go in and out of fashion...Now
death rock has come back into popularity."
London-based The Ghost of Lemora is one of the leaders of this scene,
but Essex's Scary Bitches and York's Screaming Banshee Aircrew are
seen just as often in the capital. Other London bands such as Undying
Legacy and NFD, featuring former members of Fields of the Nephilim,
have also made their mark.
music scene has shifted back towards the formation of and emphasis
on actual bands ahead of the dance scene, which many view as a refreshing
change. The Ghost of Lemora vocalist Twinkle Lemora is one of those
who have grown jaded with the club scene. "I'm not bracketing
all DJs into this but there isn't that much support for the current
UK Goth scene," Lemora said, "You certainly need to be
friends with dj's/promoters to get exposure in clubland."
he also notes that Ghost of Lemora has gotten a degree of that necessary
support. "Goth has partially seen its crowds siphoned off into
doof dance music and industrial," Mercer said, "but there's
so much identikit music there now that the emphasis is swinging
back to real bands."
likewise, believes that it has been boredom with the dance scene
that has led to a local revival. "The London scene is a lot
healthier than it's been for a long time,"he said, "there
are far more bands around now that I can think of in the last 10
years." He likewise believes it is boredom with clubs that
has inspired this change. "It's mostly disillusionment with
the industrial scene, [and] now there's been a swing back towards
the Goth scene. There are genres like death rock, reemerging."
has indubitably recognized this as they have sporadically added
live acts to their club night. London still isn't necessarily at
the forefront in terms of producing new Goth bands. "All the
best new UK Goth bands are from outside London," Mercer notes.
Still, it is the diverse array of bands and people coming through
London that keeps it both inseparable from the UK scene and simultaneously
its own entity. "It is difficult to quantify the popularity
of any particular alternative scene in London, partly because of
the ever transient alternative population," Katrina notes,
"I would actually say that between 20% and 40% of the alternative
scene in London is made up of foreigners."
these reasons, London remains an important middle ground within
the Goth music scene. "London is still a social hub, and easily
identifiable,"Mercer said, "That's what it always has
been. A holding zone for ideas and to draw people in easier than
any other town."
London is a world-renowned and cosmopolitan city, it is the representative
of the UK Goth music scene to the world, and even a barometer for
Bruce sums it up: "I think the strength of the London scene
is indicative of what's going on elsewhere."