An attempt - "What is Goth?"

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Ok, now this has been hacked together from the original article, its thread, and some new thoughts. I numbered the paragraphs so that any comments can be on the spot. The bits in <> brackets might be read as footnotes.

** I wonder why this information which actually concern the copyright on some of the paragraphs here was deleted. Is BBC/h2g2 breaking its own rules? **


Help! My daughter/son wears black all the time and doesn't listen to MTV but rather to these satanic music which is all about death. I fear her/him to be in the fangs of one of these occult satan-worshipping grave-plundering and cat-slaughtering cults one hears so much of these days. Could it be that she/he is being turned into a "Goth"? What can I do to save her/his soul/mental wellbeing/life?

Well... first of all: Don't panic.
You are being pathetic.
Get a grip.
Read on.


1. Historically, the Goth scene grew out of the post-Punk movement in the late 70's. The separation of the two was brought about by youth from materially secured and culturally educated families. They saw Punk as a way of revolting against the mindboggingly boring and indifferent life of their parents. But soon they found that they couldn't hack Punk's extroverted lifestyle, and they went out to create their own sub-culture. Their kind of rebellion was not a political or social but an aesthetical one; creating a gothic lifestyle.

2. Since the mid-nineties, after a decline at the end of the eighties and perhaps spurred by "pre-millenial tension", the Goth scene has undergone something of a revival - gigs are frequently well-attended, there are a fair number of bands big on the Goth scene, although few have any real commercial success. And it is frequently argued that commercialisation of Goth events destroys what is referred to as the 'family'. In fact Goth events are at times called 'family gatherings' ... a family which does not mind that there are more black than white sheep in it.
<The biggest event world-wide is the Wave-Gotik-Treffen (WGT) which takes place in Leipzig, Germany each year over Whitsun (...or maybe it _was_ the WGT as in 2000 the organiser went bankrupt halfway into the four-day-event and most of the 300+ bands left without money. It remains to be seen what will become of all this in the future.)>
The musical style tends to be more light-hearted, but still with the deep lyrical content associated with more 'traditional' Goth music.

3. Sadly, the mainstream music press that tried to bury the Goth scene in the 80s has cottoned on to its re-emergence, probably through the dark imagery used by mainstream bands like Garbage. It has attached the tag to the black metal and industrial rock scenes, meaning that hordes of Marilyn Manson and Cradle of Filth fans identify themselves with the Goth movement. There is very little recorded history of the Goth scene from the 80s through to the present day, barring perhaps works like Mick Mercer's 'Hex Files', and so there's very little actual evidence to refute the music press' claims other than the Goths themselves, who have always been in the minority.

The (Black) Heart Of Goth - Philosophy

4. As the history of Goth shows, the whole thing is closely linked to music (for more on that see below). But one cannot understand what Goth music is about, if one does not know what the very heart of Goth is about.

5. Those in the Goth scene tend to view the Goth-concept rather as an expression of individuality, something they take part in because it seems comfortable and natural for them to do so, rather than because it's something they want to be.

6. And as such Goth is a state of mind. As with states of mind one either feels happy/warm/hungry/angry or one doesn't; one doesn't wake up and say 'Hey, I'll feel warm this week!'. Either one does or one doesn't.
It is not something you *decide* to be, it's more like a drifting into and realising at some point that you've found what you have been looking for. Goth is not about being cool, ie hip/up to date. Goth might be about being "cool" as in unemotional, detached, unmoved... at least on the surface.

7. There's an inner calmness, tranquillity to it. A need for being given and giving the others space to be one-/themselves. Respect towards the individual (at least as long as it is a Goth).
<When in a Goth club, one can observe a number of things: a) the peculiar style of dancing i.e. two and a half steps to the front (or sideways) and back again b) people don't dance into one another and should they do so by accident they'll ask for forgiveness c) no violence. (The Goth scene is very non-violent. When it became apparent at this years WTG (see above) that about half of the bands were not going to come on stage, there was a minute of yelling and whistling and nothing worth mentioning in the way of violence happened in the last two days; all that with a crowd of over 30,000 people.) >

8. And as the backside of this respect there tends to be a calm but deep disrespect, loathing towards people who do/are/listen to whatever's hip at the moment. This might draw the line and explain the tensions between "Goffs/Goth wannabes" and "real Goths". One of the two groups believes in "Goth" as a (the) concept of living, the other just considers it cool to dress to (attempt to) scare. They have no respect for the messages the bands are trying to convey about individuality, they just want to be part of the "weird, scary group." Goffs don't express their individuality, for they express their belonging to a group. Or rather: They express their individuality by belonging to a group, while Goths belong to a group by expressing their individuality. So a Goth wannabe is someone with the outer appearance of Goth but without the necessary state of mind. Actually their weighting is wrong. While for a Goth there's first the state of mind and then the dress code, for a Goff it's the dress code first and than (if ever!) any state of mind; mainstream. And why does one swim with the mainstream? Because one fears the reactions of "society" if one was to deviate in some way. Goths on the other hand generally don't give a rodent's rear end about what society thinks or does (as long as they are left alone).

9. Goths have given up on mainstream society as a failed experiment in cultural evolution. They frequently sound discouraged about things when talking to mundanes, but that's because mundanes are depressing people to talk to. Goths have been said to 'suffer the world'; ie to suffer the pain, stupidity, hectic and mindlessness which the mundane don't seem to notice. Some Goths have aspirations to undermine the mainstream somehow (perhaps by recruiting from its ranks, or perhaps by campaigning to render fringe ideas acceptable). Others simply don't care, and figure that when it collapses under its own weight, they'll be waiting in the wings.

10. A major uniting factor among the wide variety of Goths is the anti-mainstream "Black Aesthetic". Goths take things that society claims are evil, sinful, painful, or wrong, and make them beautiful. (This explains, among other things, the crossover between the Goth and BDSM communities.) There's a sense that anything, no matter how gruesome or horrible, can be artistic when viewed from the right perspective. Many Goths would argue that the things which frighten or disturb people are precisely those things that are most beautiful.

11. It's not just that pain and death are accepted as a legitimate part of life; pain and death are revelled in, and revered as some of the most exciting and interesting parts of life. Death is being de-daemonised and seen as a legitimate part and consequence of life. This does not lead to a desire to die but rather to an acceptance of death. Goths are people who revel in their Inner Darkness, rather than suppressing it. They frequently think of themselves as far better adjusted than the typical mundane, who's going around hiding a lot of emotions because they're "unacceptable".


12. A Goth state of mind commonly (not neccessarily) also entails a certain taste in music and dressing; all part of the aesthetic rebellion.
Goth music ranges from rock with a heavy heart-like drumbeat, through synthesized tunes with ethereal and mystical overtones, into classical styles (often drawing on liturgical works) and Gregorian chant. It is very difficult to draw a clear line designating what is Goth and what is not. One may find one Goth band that relies heavily on mixing of synthesized tracks, and another that works entirely with acoustic instruments and no amplifiers.
As with many things about Goths, one can only say what is common, not what is necessary.

13. The lyrics of Goth music focus on much the same material as Gothic literature, including, but not limited to, symbols and concepts (death, sex, wine, blood, black or red roses, beginnings and endings) and supernatural forces (demons, witches, vampires, and even a few angels). There is a tendency for the songs to tell some sort of story. One might start feeling like one is at a particularly melodramatic opera which is being performed as a Halloween special.

14. The term 'Goth' was first applied to bands like Siouxsie and the Banshees and Joy Division. Later, in the early- to mid-eighties, a strong rock element invaded Goth with the coming of age of bands like the Sisters of Mercy and the March Violets. However, the more spiritual, ethereal side of music was also present, though less obvious.

15. During the late eighties and early nineties, due to quite serious oppression by the music press, the Goth scene underwent a fairly major decline. The scene then consisted mostly of same-style, droning vampire-obsessed bands, and all was not well.

16. If one was to define Goth by music one would have to tell between four main categories:
- Medieval
- Dark Wave / 80's (sort of kinda)
- Dark Techno/Industrial/EBM
- Dark Metal
Usually these kinds are not pure, but intermixed. To put some names to it (not a general consensus) so that the ones who want to know more can go for a bit of a sound-check in their local record shop (make that a big one and have a look in the 'Indie' section. It's very difficult to name the ones one is likely to get 'round the corner as the whole Goth scene is rather "underground" and thus there are only very few internationally known bands) . Listen to the music, it'll tell more than words!:

17. Medieval would include Subway to Sally (using re-build medieval instruments and chants, at times combined with e-guitars), Ataraxia, Corvus Corax, Hedningarna, Asgard... For these the name hints to the medieval influx. And maybe Dead Can Dance. (BTW: In this case the name gives a slightly wrong connotation. It stems from the idea that they use things that used to live to make music and make others (humans) dance. These things are trees and animals turned into, say, a guitar.) DCD did not see themselves as Goth, but anyway. If one can't lay hands on DCD, one should try Lisa Gerrard's solo CDs "Mirror Pool" and "Duality"; for both carry and convey the idea of inner tranquility.

18. What could be called Dark Wave / 80's is very loosely termed. It forms the main part, the heart of Goth music. The group to listen to would be Fields of the Nephilim, maybe Sisters of Mercy, Cure, London after Midnight, Inkubus Sukkubus (maybe on the fringe of Pop), The House of Usher, Diary of Dreams, Christian Death, Nekromantik, Lacrimosa, Black Tape for a Blue Girl.

19. Techo/Industrial/EBM is obviously the newest style. Examples could include In Strict Confi-dence, Dance or Die, Funker Vogt, VNV Nation, And One, Swamp Terrorists, Front 242. EBM stand for Electric Body Music.

20. Metal: Therion, Theatre of Tragedy, Bathory [], Calva Y Nada, Dimmu Borgir, Nefilim (not to be confused with Fields of the Nephilim) and maybe Black Sabbath could be named here.

21. If one was to ask for a song to sum up Goth one might be pointed to Fields of the Nephilim's "Celebrate (second seal)" to be found on the Psychonaut album and/or the Relevations double CD.

Dress Code?

22. Another result of Goths' preoccupation with aesthetics is that most, if not all, Goths are quite vain. But neither black, nor anything else visible to the eye, is an absolute necessity. Many stereotypical Goth items are "dress code" in certain situations, just as a tuxedo is at a formal party. But a Goth might only wear his blacks to parties, and wear regular stuff most of the time.
As said, Goth is first of all a state of mind.

23. Goths generally are into jewellery in the form of symbols e.g. runes, pentagrams, ankhs and crosses to complement their dress. The last three can also be worn 'upside down', which would also imply a reversal of meaning. Thus the reverse pentagramm would no longer mean protection and the ankh would stand for eternal death rather than eternal life. The upside down symbol of Christianity would connote Satan (or the like), though it does not neccessarily mean that the wearer is a Satanist (for the "real" meaning of "Satanism" see Another common Goth thing is the use of makeup for both genders. Suprisingly enough the preferred colour is black and is applied to lips, eyes and eyebrows. The effect is sometimes highlighted by giving the rest of the face a coating of white. Males wear their hair commonly black and the sides of the head shaven. Females either go for black or blonde (a nice effect with all the black gear) in colour and whatever they fancy in style.

24. And according to the style of music the style of clothing varies. Now, this is an even shakier construction than classifying the music. The fans of Medieval can usually be relied upon to wear lace and frills, silk and velvet. Black. Females can be seen in very elegant robes looking like they were taken straight out of the last five centuries. Maybe a little more black in colour than back then... The Dark Wave / 80's people are generally rather plainly dressed. Black. Techo/Industrial tends to latex, leather and Metal towards spikes and leather. All Black.

25. Typical Goth dress items include capes, Pikes (ie the kind of shoes with a long pointed tip, a zip and buckles (they are classified by the umber of buckles ie 'a pair of seven-buckle pikes')), long coats, laced up trousers (ie with a (shoe-) lace (-like ribbon) running like a shoelace from ankles to hip. It has also been said that (female) Goths wear in public what most non-Goth (females) wouldn't even wear in their bedroom with the curtains pulled shut; which mainly goes for the BDSM branches of the Goth family tree.

26. To a Goth black is not a colour; it's a statement.

Anything else?

27. Perhaps unusually for a social subculture, there's no real fixed ideal of being a Goth, no checklist that you can use to measure your Gothness. Every Goth has a different opinion of what being a Goth is. Common elements though include a sense of individuality and freedom, and a fine sense of the ridiculous. As for things being gothic or not: There's no list. But there are limits. Mickey Mouse isn't. Comics may. Physical exercise: no. Sitting in front of the telly probably ain't. Backstreet Boys ain't. Beethoven might. Goth is *not* gold jewellery. Silver (or like) jewellery is Goth. One that is most definitely *NOT* Goth: Wearing gear _because_ it's a certain brand (Gap, Benneton, Addidas... whatever). In the US there seems to be an ongoing discussion about whether Marilyn Manson is 'Goth' or not. In Germany this discussion never started for real as he's just not taken as a Goth. Driving an undertaker's car could be described as the epitome of being Goth.

28. Closely realated to the way that Goth dress (up) like is the myth that all Goths sleep in coffins. There are some, though and some consider a child's casket a perfectly acceptable couch table. The preferred colour of interior design would commonly be black with a tendency towards drapes, candles, torches, incense (usually patchouli which smells of rotting/burning leaves), dried roses and maybe the occasional (fake) cobweb or skull.

29. Goths often additionally have a taste for things that are actually Gothic. The art and architecture of medieval Europe, especially cathedrals, illuminated manuscripts, and other products of medieval Christianity, are widely studied and appreciated. (This may seem surprising in light of the common Goth disdain for Christianity's current puritanical attitudes.) Also, ruins and graveyards, especially when old and overgrown with ivy, are widely favoured. However, this doesn't mean that any of the above traits apply to all Goths, or that they have to apply to all Goths. Neither are they necessarily taken to extremes; there's a difference between enjoying Anne Rice novels and drinking blood for sexual pleasure.

30. There are some specifically Goth problems, too. No, not the fools who shout 'Hail Satan' after you. But rather things like Pikes which you can't wear when driving a car, extra-long and pointed joint-rings (ie rings that cover the whole finger and are felxible at the joints of the finger) which make it difficult to eat or reach into you pocket, sun/heat which makes you suffer when you're wearing five square-meters of black velvet cape, the colour black which makes life difficult when you're supposed to meet someone at a 35,000 people festival where all are wearing black or when you want a specific item (black) from your travel bag (black) in the middle of the night (black as night) but you can't turn on the light and all the stuff in the bag is ... black.

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