I was in two minds about responding to The Guardian’s article of 20 February – “Goth’s undead! The dark return of Britain’s spookiest subculture”. For once, I wasn’t being told a B-list celebrity was ‘goth’ for wearing a darker shade of make-up. But the “dark return?” The question, “did it ever go away”? Time to set the record straight!
Like all true questions asked in newspaper headlines, the article immediately contradicts it. It waxes lyrical over long-running musical stalwarts like The Cure and Siouxsie. The author chats with contemporary musicians and promoters who continue to fly the black flag, forty years after goth started appearing in the music magazines. I might dispute Cassyette’s assertion that “you don’t get bullied for it like you did before” – the world has not become magically more accommodating to goths overnight as I’m sure many will attest.
Still, there’s even mention of the popularity of goth on TikTok, the current social media barometer of relevance. No matter how many times they use the word ‘resurgence’, anyone can see goth has persisted, ebbing and surging perhaps – but never disappearing.
Ah, but then there’s the key to why this article was commissioned at all. Demon Music are publishing “Young Limbs Rise Again: The Story of the Batcave Nightclub 1982-1985” – a huge, glossy compilation of Golden Age Goth classics in March. There are upcoming books on the subculture from John Robb and Cathi Unsworth. Rather than the usual puddle-deep fashion autopsies of goth, this article is a pitch for purchases for the ex-goth in your life. The article only exists, and only believes there is a goth ‘resurgence’, because it’s back on their radar for the first time in years – it’s suddenly relevant to the mainstream again.
Nobody seems to realise that the whole point of a subculture is that it exists outside the glare of mainstream fixations. That’s where the reporting falls flat, for me at least – it’s trying to tell me goth is ‘in’ again. Please! Goth was only in between ’81 and ’89, maybe ’87 at best. After that, it returned to its true heartland – the smaller venues and poky little clubs, the odd festivals and the vinyl collections of veterans.
Which is another laughable oversight. This article, the books it’s selling, are pitched to those in the comments below recalling wistfully their glory days in the Eighties, backcombing their hair, swigging snakebite and following post-punk bands around the country. Let me say to them – don’t believe this broadsheet telling you your adolescent memories are back, packaged up neatly for you to purchase at ludicrous prices. Save your money, buy a ticket to Corrosion Fest or Carpe Noctum or a Flag Promotions gig and get that same feeling all over again with a great mix of classic and new bands.
There’s a critical flaw in all of these articles I keep returning to over and over again. Not only does goth not really ever ‘go away’ – but nobody has to leave it either! Years ago, Professor Paul Hodkinson noted it has the unique value amongst youth subcultures of having a huge, older membership that simply never grew out of it. Hell, The Guardian themselves reported that at the time!
That’s why that facile observation of the ‘dark return’ always rings so hollow with me. Goth never went away, and never will. Even without the legions of veterans who never left, there’s always a new generation of kids coming to the club nights, turning up at the gigs and getting into the music – getting into goth.
They’ll stick around long enough to notice the strange paradox of eternally repeating articles expressing surprise at something ‘coming back’ for sure.
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