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Goth Rock

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"Some wear leather, some wear lace
Some wear makeup on their face"

Primary Stylistic Influences:
Secondary Stylistic Influences:

"So here it is: the new positive punk, with no empty promises of revolution, either in the rock'n'roll sense or the wider political sphere. Here is only a chance of self-awareness, of personal revolution, of colourful perception and galvanization of the imagination that startles the slumbering mind and body from their sloth."
Music journalist Richard North, on the emerging 80s Goth scene.

The child of Post-Punk and the genre of music that is the center of the Goth Subculture.

Goth Rock or Gothic Rock emerged in the UK in the late 1970s as an evolution of Post-Punk, with its essential features codified by bands such as Siouxsie and the Banshees, Joy Division, Bauhaus and The Cure. What differentiates Goth from Post-Punk is a more theatrical style (and arguably more Glam Rock influence) and (most of the time) more elaborate songs with more frequent use of electronics. The theatrical style, with its connotations of artificiality, resulted in a situation where most of the bands closely identified with Goth vehemently denied being Goth bands, notably The Cure and The Sisters of Mercy. Goth Rock has four subgenres which are Deathrock,note  Dark Wave, Cold Wave, and Ethereal Wave. note 

Common musical features of the genre include melodies carried by the bass guitar, with the electric guitar taking a secondary role, sparse and minimalistic beats,note  effects-laden scything guitar patterns with lots of reverb, and (often) use of synthesizers. The most common vocal styles tend to be creepy monotones, note  deep, droning baritones, note  or a more flamboyant, glam rock-inspired style. note 

Lyrics are usually brooding, thoughtful and introspective, and there may be inspirations in literaturenote  and poetry, allied with themes of religious symbolism, romanticism and supernatural mysticism, as well as existentialism, nihilism, melancholy and tragedy.

Arguably, the Trope Codifier for the genre is one specific song: "Bela Lugosi's Dead" by Bauhaus. All the primary elements of Goth Rock are there: Sparse drumming, guitars used for texture rather than being the dominant instrument, the bass guitar carrying the melody, dark lyrics, monotone vocals, and lots of reverb on everything.

The Trope Namer was Rob Gretton, manager of the band Joy Division, when he described their music as gothic to the music press (much to the band's consternation).

Not related to Gothic Metal or Cyber Goth.

See also: Dark Wave, Dark Cabaret

Notable Artists:

    open/close all folders 
    Pre-Punk Predecessors 
  • David Bowie - His vocal stylings and darkly theatrical music and aesthetics were a massive influence on virtually all aspects of gothic music and fashion.
  • Marc Bolan: Like Bowie, he was a major vocal, musical, and aesthetic influence.
  • Iggy Pop - Especially The Idiot due to that album's sound as well as the vocal style used by Iggy. Furthermore, Iggy's physical appearance at this time resembled that of an emaciated vampire.
    • The Stooges - "We Will Fall" from their first album is an epic, dark and downright disturbing song that definitely contains some early goth elements.
  • Leonard Cohen - A major inspiration for The Sisters of Mercynote  and Nick Cave, he'd always had a dark and cryptic edge to his lyrics and Songs of Love and Hate definitely had the kind of spooky, and downright chilling atmosphere you'd hear in Goth Rock. His image could also be considered somewhat vampiric as he had dark hair and often wore dark suits to go with it.
  • Alice Cooper - His over the top Shock Rock theatrics and dark humor have been cited as influential particularly among deathrock acts. Music journalists have pointed to him as "the true ungodly godfather of goth".
  • The Doors - The term "Gothic Rock" was first used to describe their sound (in 1967!) in a review which wrote that the band met "in the gloomy vaulted wine cellar of the Delmonico hotel, the perfect room to honor the gothic rock of the Doors". Jim Morrison's baritone vocal style influenced many Gothic Rock singers.
  • New York Dolls: Their theatricality, androgyny and gender-bending aesthetics, wry sense of humor, and the overall punkiness of their sound was a huge influence on deathrock and the harder side of gothic rock.
  • Nico - The Marble Index is sometimes referred to as "the first Goth album", and proved to be influential due to its haunting sound as well as Nico's dramatic change in her appearance, which would serve as a visual prototype for the early 1980s goth scene.
  • Roy Orbison - Another aesthetic influence, and his knack for dramatic, theatrical, and often gloomy and melancholic songwriting and lyricism also struck a chord with many goths.
  • Van der Graaf Generator - Known for being Darker and Edgier than other Progressive Rock bands. Peter Hammill's vocal style has been described as a "male Nico".
  • The Velvet Underground: Their dark, theatrical, atmospheric songs about taboo subjects and the downsides of the human condition were a huge influence on many acts, and Lou Reed's vocal style was a particularly major influence on a lot of gothic rock and deathrock singers.
  • Screamin' Jay Hawkins - He used a horror themed gimmick for his entire career and was also probably the main influence for Shock Rock.
  • Scott Walker - Just listen to Scott 3. It's like the soundtrack of a horror movie. His gloomy baritone vocals certainly helped add to the creepiness, too. His later work definitely fits this trope. The Drift basically is a horror movie in audio form.
    • The Walker Brothers - Their last album Nite Flights is very dark and gothic Art Rock bordering on Goth Rock.
  • Arthur Brown - Similarly to Alice Cooper, Brown was known for his theatrics and also wore ghostly white face paint during all his performances. He also added quite a lot of occult themes into his gimmick.
  • The Electric Prunes - Their debut album was very dark and eerie sounding, with "I Had Too Much To Dream (Last Night)" being the standout example.
  • Suicide - Known for minimalistic song arrangements that consisted of electronic droning and a single, repeated drum beat and also Alan Vega's gloomy (and sometimes terrifying) rockabilly-styled vocal delivery. "Frankie Teardrop" is probably the best example of their work. It's also worth noting that they were an influence for Joy Division, and also on Bruce Springsteen for Nebraska.
  • Bruce Springsteen - Nebraska, with its sparse arrangements, extremely dark lyrical content and hopeless and at times apocalyptic feel, and stripped-down, raw production, was a definite influence on a lot of gothic country and neofolk artists.
  • Roxy Music - Their second album For Your Pleasure absolutely counts. The song "In Every Dream Home a Heartache" in particular has a creepy and chilling atmosphere throughout thanks to the repetitive guitars and Brian Eno's synths. Furthermore, Bryan Ferry was a major vocal influence for many singers in the genre.
    • Brian Eno - His early solo work contained goth elements. Notable examples include "Here Come The Warm Jets" and "Third Uncle".
  • Buffy Sainte-Marie - One of the earliest female predecessors to the genre, her album Illuminations is generally considered to be a precursor to the genre with its psychedelic and spectral atmosphere and dreary, spiritual lyricism.
  • Nina Simone - Probably the earliest female predecessor to goth. Any song she covered was virtually guaranteed to be Darker and Edgier than the original (most notably her covers of "I Put A Spell On You" and "Sinnerman") and her vocal delivery gave the songs that darker touch that they wouldn't sound out of place in a horror film.

    Punk Predecessors 
  • The Damned - Helped pave the way with a theatrical vampire lead singer and the name of the band itself. Mixed gothic stylings with Hard Rock and then later became a full-on Goth Rock band themselves.
  • Gloria Mundi - A rather obscure Ur-Example. Known for being ahead of their time with their dark stage imagery. Also reportedly inspired Bauhaus to alter their image.
  • The Cramps - Similarly dark and theatrical, but with a distinct '50s kitsch feel.
  • The Gun Club - They bordered on post-punk and were closer to punk blues and cowpunk than gothic rock musically, but their aesthetics were very much in line with the gothic rock scene, while they were also a major musical influence on psychobilly and/or an arguable Ur-Example.
  • Devo - Much more well known as a New Wave Music group, but the early material found on their Hardcore compilations certainly displays gothic elements with the crunchier guitars, droning keyboards and Mark Mothersbaugh's much gloomier vocals.
  • Nina Hagen

    Post Punk Predecessors 

    First Wave Goth Rock 

    Second Wave Goth Rock 

    Third Wave Goth Rock 

    Contemporary Goth Rock 

    Cold Wave 

    Dark Wave 


    Ethereal Wave 

Some definitive gothic post-punk and first-wave goth tracks:

Some second-wave goth rock tracks:

Some third-wave goth rock tracks:

Tropes Common in Goth Rock:

  • Alternative Rock: It's usually considered a subgenre of this, and some Goth Rock artists (The Cure, Siouxsie and the Banshees, Love and Rockets, and The Sisters of Mercy) were pretty popular on College Radio back in The '80s.
  • Darker and Edgier: Goth Rock is a evolution of Post-Punk only more darker in tone.
  • Echoing Acoustics: Common, though by no means universal. It tends to add to the dark atmosphere.
  • The '80s: The genre's heyday.
  • Goth: Trope Namer. Goth Rock and its four subgenres are the center of the Goth Subculture.
  • Lead Bassist: Lots and lots of Type D examples, owing to the inverted roles of guitar and bass (bass is usually a lead instrument, guitar's role is generally textural).
  • Lighter and Softer: Some individual bands and the Ethereal Wave subgenre headed in this direction.
  • Misblamed: The genre (and the Goth scene as a whole) is often blamed for things like school shootings — never mind that most school shooters haven't been known to listen to the genre (the oft blamed so-called "Goth" bands, such as Rammstein or Marilyn Manson, generally are not actual Goth Rock artists), or that which music they listen to is largely irrelevant anyways.
  • Nobody Loves the Bassist: Usually averted — the bass is often quite important to the overall atmosphere of the genre, and bassists like Simon Gallup, Steve Severin, and David J are both well known by fans of the genre and highly regarded.
  • One-Woman Wail: Ethereal Wave is a subgenre that amps up the distortion of Goth Rock for a more soothing type of sound. Many Ethereal Wave songs include airy and hard-to-decipher female vocals.
  • Post-Punk: Originated as a subgenre of this before gaining a life of its own around the time Post-Punk as a whole began to decline during the second half of the '80s.
  • Spin-Off: Goth Rock is a spin-off of Post-Punk.