Now the 80s weren’t just the metal years for me, though metal was undoubtedly my first true musical love. I was a mostly closeted Prince fan. (Not metal enough, despite the outrageous guitar skills – I tried to point that out, but my mates weren’t buying it back then.) I went to see the Sign o’ the Times movie multiple times at The Cameo cinema in Edinburgh because it was just so good. The memory of that drum line still gets me every time. I got into electronica and house/dance music, because like metal, you could get lost in the sound and dance until your lungs were burning. Walking home on cold Scottish nights in clammy clothing was not unusual after either a night at a metal or a dance club. Industrial sounds blended both dance and metal and seemed raw and fresh back then – Front 242 and Ministry were a revelation to me when I first stumbled across them courtesy of my much more plugged in friends.
The gothic genre has its own cross-over elements: the rock stylings of The Cult, the industrial and experimental aspects of The Sisters of Mercy, the alternative 80s sound of Siouxsie and the Banshees, who were also unafraid to experiment with their sound from album to album whilst never sacrificing their own unique character, the romanticism of The Smiths, the art house sensibility of Bauhaus. These were what I considered my gothic canon, though of course some readers might disagree with the classification! For me, at that time, these bands felt related in terms of what they were saying and how they said it.
The music and the lyrics were a stark contrast to the pomp and self-indulgence of hairmetal, and did not necessarily promise escape as Dio did in his elaborate fantasies. The viewpoints were different, markedly so, and alive with their own vitality: The Smiths looking at the commonplace with new, outsider’s eyes, Siouxsie opening windows into worlds of experience I had never known before, and barely grasped after having been introduced to them. Sexuality, yearning, the forbidden were discussed in frank new ways, wrapped in dark bows and left for listeners to commune with.
There was a sense of a whole other universe in their music; a different way of interacting with our landscape seemed to exist in this genre. Negative emotions were expressed and explored, rather than repressed and brushed under the carpet. It was okay to not feel okay. Pain and depression could be spoken of at a time when it just wasn’t the done thing in polite company. The Smiths especially were ridiculed for being depressing – I rather think because the lyrics cut too close to home sometimes, and it was easier to laugh at them than it was to admit how common those experiences were.
And it was popular. With the exception of Bauhaus, all the other bands were semi-regular visitors to the charts of 80s UK. Regular appearances on Top of the Pops (so cheesy, but it still ruled the roost as I was growing up) both showcased how different they were from standard 80s pop, and also made them somehow acceptable – a kid growing up in that era would have been exposed to all these bands, and more, like The Mission, New Model Army, The Cure. (Lots of ‘The’ bands!) Getting into gothic music, the gothic style, while strikingly different from the mainstream, wasn’t so outlandish as to be disconcerting to the general public, who had so recently been more horrified by the punk explosion in the late 70s. (Again I wouldn’t really call New Model Army gothic, (more punk, but even that doesn’t cover it…) but they were most definitely not mainstream of that time, and had a look and feel that was not out of place among their truly gothic brethren.)
As it was I ended up a strange hybrid of metal,gothic,glam and industrial, and had a great time with it! Your teens – identity experimentation is go, or it was for me, anyway.
Gothic music gave me another strand of thought, another vocabulary with which to express yearning and desire, different imagery with which to experiment, to incorporate into the realms of fantasy I wanted to create. Most of all I discovered new perspectives that I would never otherwise have been exposed to, expressed by artists of intense creative power. I had always loved the dark, but now it possessed new and alluring textures, that haunted my gothic dreams.