Goth: Everything you need to know

Goth

What is goth? How can I look goth? What’s the difference between emo and goth? Which bands are goth? What songs should I listen to? Do you have any funny gifs or videos to illustrate these points? 

You're in the right place, my pale-faced chum. All your darkest questions are answered below…

What is goth?

Goth is a loose musical movement, subculture and fashion style that first appeared in England in the early 80s. In the aftermath of the original punk movement, a new wave of bands – Bauhaus, Siouxsie & The Banshees, The Cure, Joy Division, the Sisters of Mercy and more – mashed together a love of glam rock, Alice Cooper, David Bowie, horror movies, fetish wear and goth literature to create what became known as 'goth', a sort of dark flip-side to the rise of new wave pop.

Where did the name 'goth' come from?

The Visigoths or goths, were an ancient people from what is now Germany and Scandanavia, also known as barbarians, famous for the sacking of Rome in 410 AD. Gothic art and architecture thrived in Europe in the middle ages and the word was first used negatively, to describe the work as barbaric or primitive.  

The word 'goth' became attached to the music of the early 80s by the UK music press – used to mean dark, grandiose and pretentious. But unlike, say, heavy metal, few of the bands associated with the scene ever embraced the name. 

What do goths wear?

One of the reasons goth thrived was its distinctive look and the ease with which anyone could adopt the dress code.

Common elements include black leather and PVC, fishnets, crimped spiky hair, black lace, mohair jumpers, brothel creepers, winklepicker shoes and more. 

Over the years, goth fashion has taken elements from Edwardian and Victorian clothing, steam punk, cyperpunk, rave, fetish wear, cosplay and more. 

This video gives you an idea:

What bands are goth?

Bauhaus, Siouxsie & The Banshees, The Cure, Joy Division, the Sisters of Mercy, the Birthday Party, Cocteau Twins, Southern Death Cult (aka The Cult), Specimen, Flesh For Lulu, Sex Gang Children, UK Decay, Virgin Prunes, Killing Joke, Play Dead, Alien Sex Fiend, the March Violets, Xmal Deutschland, the Mission, Fields of Nephilim, the Claytown Troupe, Gene Loves Jezebel and many more, while The Damned played up their gothic elements with their 1985 album Phantasmagoria.

Listen to our goth playlist:

Was goth just a UK thing?

No. Goth is now international. 

The original 'movement' – ie the look and sound – grew in the US, too. Christian Death and 45 Grave headed up US goth, while the Cramps ghoulish psychobilly was also a natural fit, and UK bands like Love And Rockets, formed by ex-Bauhaus members, had US hits. 

By the late 80s and 90s, the music and look had caught on all over the world: Brazil, Mexico, Japan, Indonesia, Scandanavia. Anywhere there's internet, basically.

Today there's beach goth (goths in sunny places), health goth (cool black athleisure wear), cholo goth (Mexican gansta goth) – by the time you've finished reading this there will be a dozen more types.

What is goth metal?

By the late 80s and 90s, goth had faded as a youth culture, and was the source of some ridicule by the music press. 

But the influence the scene had had on industrial music and metal meant that it lived on in the music of Type-O Negative, Paradise Lost, Nine Inch Nails, Rammstein, Ministry, Marilyn Manson, White Zombie, HIM, Lacuna Coil and more. They took the darkness, doomy vocals, guitar tones, and look of goth and bolted it to grim industrial sounds or massive riffs. 

It helped rescue goth's image: what had been laughed at as sad and pathetic became dangerous, sexy and obscene. By the time of Marilyn Manson's Tainted Love video, the goths were the ones gatecrashing the Jocks' party, turning good girls bad etc:

What is World Goth Day?

May 22 is World Goth Day. It originated in 2009 when BBC6 Music rans a series on music subcultures. There's an 'official' website, Facebook etc but really it's just an excuse to celebrate goth culture every year.

The internet gave goth a second lease of life. As the influence of the music press faded and like-minded people were able to gather online in forums and on social media, goth made a resurgence, with events like the Whitby Goth Weekend rising in popularity. 

World goth day

What's the difference between emo and goth?

Emo's roots were in the post-hardcore movement of the early 90s, rather than the goth scene. Some emo bands, like My Chemical Romance, were influenced by the goth scene and the two scenes continue to cross-pollinate, with the confusion between not made easier by shared fashions and world views. 

Music fans don't mix the two up. Mostly, it's all ill-informed prejudice: people mocked the emo crowd in the same way that they used to mock the goths – as sad misfits. 

goth