On goth music’s infinite possibilities
Upon googling “gothic rock and the supernatural” I was utterly shocked — disgusted even — to find very little on the topic save a “The 20 Best Goth Songs of the Last 20 Years” listicle. I’m sorry, but you’ll have to excuse me while I rant about the intrinsic reliance with which goth has laid its roots in the fertile soil of the supernatural.
It’s 1979, and the founding fathers of goth rock, better known as Bauhaus, have just released their first single, a 10-minute crawler titled “Bela Lugosi’s Dead.” Ten minutes, only 11 lines of verse and a chorus repeating “Bela Lugosi’s dead / Bela Lugosi’s dead / Undead undead undead.” I’m assuming at this point you’re either a film major or you’re wondering “Who the hell is Bela Lugosi?” Bela Lugosi is the Hungarian-American actor who portrayed Dracula in the 1931 film by the same name. So here we have what is widely considered the first goth rock song inspired by one of the first films to be based on one of the most widely beloved gothic horror novels. This is literally an art movement that has spanned hundreds of years and crossed mediums, maintaining its momentum, and not a single article has mentioned the importance of the supernatural in all things gothic. Bauhaus sparked a movement, one that brought bleak melodies into a union with the spooky, romantic imagery of gothic horror: “The virginal brides file past his tomb / Strewn with time’s dead flowers / Bereft in deathly bloom / Alone in a darkened room / The count.”
Goth is the marriage of the supernatural and the romantic, and Bauhaus found a way to reflect that sonically. The supernatural is critical to the development of gothic art and essential to its use as a descriptor. The Cure is too catchy to be goth you say? Oh, I’m sorry, apparently you haven’t listened to “The Figurehead” off the underappreciated Pornography: “A scream tears my clothes as the figurines tighten / With spiders inside them / And dust on the lips of a vision of hell / I laughed in the mirror for the first time in a year.” Oddly sensual for such harrowing images … kind of like goth.
The fact that rock began to borrow these emotions from literature isn’t all that surprising. Most lyricists with any semblance of fame can list off a host of writers who have influenced their own work, and fans have clung to the words from the likes of Ian Curtis, Robert Smith and Siouxsie Sioux for decades. But these artists are decades old and mostly defunct (albeit, we do have a new The Cure record to look forward to!). So what happens when one of pop’s biggest breakouts decides to drop a goth EP? TURN OFF THE LIGHT, VOL. 1 by Kim Petras sent everyone head-over-heels for its combination of pop’s glamour and goth’s supernatural horror.
“Goth pop” is a phrase that is far too often tossed around. Alice Glass/Crystal Castles is not goth — aesthetically, perhaps, but thematically, no. But with the release of her newest EP, Kim’s soaring, catchy vocals mix with moody trance beats, all layered with some incredibly goth lyrics. The first lyrical track on the record, “Close Your Eyes,” doesn’t waste time in proving the work’s goth nature: “Sometimes the best things kinda hurt / ’Cause this is real, it’s unrehearsed / My fatal touch, you’ll feel cursed.” This is followed by the instrumental dance banger “TRANSylvania,” whose pulsing bass parallels the downtrodden rhythms of some of goth rock’s greatest hits.
What I am getting at here is that goth is a genre of many forms, unconfined to any one medium or sound, but it is firmly, indelibly rooted in the supernatural, the horror of the unknown. Could Petras’s small collection be an indication of goth’s revival in the pop sphere for the 21st century? Only time will tell, but historically speaking, gothic art has been around for about 300 years to date, and I’ll be shocked if it doesn’t continue to innovate the way we look at horror and romance for years to come. Goth is an artistic microcosm born from human fascination with the supernatural, and it should be revered as the pioneering, essential movement that it is.