The Gothic Aesthetic: Why We're Still Drawn to the Dark Side

The Gothic Aesthetic: Why We're Still Drawn to the Dark Side

Future goth icon Siouxsie Sioux - photo by Pete Hill

Most youth cults have a shelf life and a short one at that. They might reappear, reinvented for a new generation of followers, but even then, there’s a sell-by date for their re-emergence.

One sub-culture appears to have bucked the trend totally. In fact, many of the first generation are of near pensionable age, but they’re still staunch followers in many cases.

We’re talking about goths — a youth cult that should have had a lifespan of weeks rather than decades by the standards of many.

It had all the hallmarks of being a passing fad — low barrier to entry (black hair dye all around and an ability to look extremely moody), easy to access and understand doctrine (a passing knowledge of Victorian horror classic Dracula, and, if that baffled you, there was always Hammer House of Horror and a whole array of Vampish cinematic offerings) and an ability to draw on fashion from the Victorian/Edwardian era (Oxfam did a roaring trade).

The movement fused elements of punk, glam, and metal — all youth cults that have had their ups and downs in terms of popularity. Do you remember when grunge killed metal in the early 1990s, and everyone got their hair cut?

Goth first grew out of left of centre in post-punk bands in the early 1980s. Groups like Alien Sex Fiend, Sex Gang Children, and Sisters of Mercy were the flag bearers for this ‘new’ movement with its roots in Victorian horror.

It also gave a new lease of life to various punk bands that came out of the original 1977 era — Siouxsie and the Banshees and the Damned became the movement’s poster boys (and girl) for a period.

Followers were generally peace-loving, and, despite their appearance, they didn’t rock the status quo. In fact, they couldn’t have been more different from another offshoot of the ’77 punk scene — the anarcho movement that was on the ascendancy around the same time as goth first got a foothold.

Led by bands like Crass — you needed a virtual degree in politics to keep up with the debate, and unlike movements like goth that were built on escapism, the movement was steeped in realism and protest.

It made waves politically, with regular spells in jail a real (and often actual) possibility for anyone involved in animal liberation, sabotaging fox hunting, and other offshoots of the movement.

The goths were a different mantra entirely. They were — probably wisely when compared to the anarcho punks — far more concerned with where their next lager and black was coming from and whether the gents’ toilet had a mirror or not.

The north of England offered a plethora of clubs that became a second home for the movement in the early days — places like Sheffield’s Limit, Planet X in Liverpool, and the Phono in Leeds were hugely popular.

But who’d have thought the genre would have stood the test of time and would still be with us — largely untouched — nearly 45 years later?

You can blame Jim Morrison for another part of the story. The term ‘gothic rock’ was first coined in 1967 by journalist John Stickney as he described the music of the Doors.

Over 55 years on, the movement has its vampish tentacles wrapped around much of the modern world. It is massive in many parts of Europe and is a staple in the States and Canada.

In the UK, the epi-centre is the Whitby Goth Fest. This town couldn’t be a more apt destination — it’s the former home of Dracula writer Bram Stoker and the setting for much of his enduring horror masterpiece.

The event has become a cornerstone of the seaside town’s tourism business. Followers arrive from all over the world.

Many of the first wave of goth rockers are still making live appearances on the circuit — The Mission, Sisters of Mercy, Sex Gang Children, and more. The Cure and its frontman Robert Smith are goth personified, with their distinctive sound and iconic look inspiring countless followers over the years. The band has remained popular throughout the decades and continues to perform to this day, with a loyal fanbase eagerly following their every move.

The goth movement has also made an impact in other areas of popular culture, with its influence felt in fashion, art, and even literature.

In recent years, there has been a resurgence of interest in the goth subculture, with new bands and artists emerging and drawing inspiration from the genre’s rich history. The scene remains vibrant and diverse, with various styles and sub-genres to explore.

Overall, the goth movement has proven to be far more than just a passing fad, enduring for decades and inspiring countless followers along the way. Its legacy is a testament to the enduring appeal of escapism, creativity, and self-expression, and it shows no signs of slowing down anytime soon.

Indeed, World Goth Day, which is celebrated every year on May 22nd, is a testament to the enduring popularity of the subculture. The day serves as a celebration of all things goth, with events and gatherings taking place around the world to mark the occasion.

Whether you’re a lifelong goth or simply curious about the subculture, World Goth Day is the perfect opportunity to embrace your dark side and immerse yourself in this enduring movement's music, fashion, and art. So why not break out the black eyeliner, dust off your old Sisters of Mercy records, and join the celebration?

And ensure you check out our goth collection for ghoulish fashion ideas, reading material and more.

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