Bela Lugosi’s (still) Dead: 1979 – 2019

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“White on white, translucent, black capes…”

Nine and a half minutes of exploratory, indulgent and spine-tingling music courtesy of the most recognizable post-punks going – the Bauhaus anthem “Bela Lugosi’s Dead” was released this day exactly forty years ago.

It’s an homage to the legendary black-and-white movie actor Bela Lugosi, who codified forever the visual version of Count Dracula in the 1931 film from Universal. The song manages to continue this legacy-defining journey, by becoming an unofficial anthem to the nascent goth subculture of the early eighties, and even if it didn’t trouble the charts overly much, it became a helpful point of reference for baffled music journalists struggling to interpret the baritone vocals, hypnotically rhythmic drumming and jangling, other-worldly guitars of the latest alternative music strand.

So it has remained for four decades, aural shorthand for a complex and contradictory subculture and sound. Even when it was unseated, to the surprise of many, by prolific competitors The Cure on BBC Radio 6, you can still rely on it as a common touchstone for visual as well as audible style for the goth scene.

A talisman, and perhaps an albatross. Certainly for Bauhaus, in the same way that all their peers regard the entire goth scene – a jet-black weighty bird of pompous, verbose origin forever pinned to their necks and forcing them into a box that is the enemy of any creator. And, perhaps, for newer creators – forever striving for recognition of their individual creations, even in the sprawling shadow of this jet-black monolith.

Goth is, for all its intended subversiveness, bad at changing and innovating. Ask any DJ and they’ll despair at the difficulty with which new songs are adopted on dance floors. Even after some hot new outfit has finished playing to a rapturous audience, those same fans will not want to dance to anything except the hits of forty years hence.
Indeed, those seeking the biggest audiences at the leading music festivals for goth might consider it a safe bet to diligently check off the dusty list of tropes that Bela Lugosi’s Dead established in 1979… stifling true innovation and creativity, instead encouraging us to resurrect the Count from his red-lined box time and again and again…

This shouldn’t be taken as approval of every wild burst of new creativity in the alternative genres. Attempts to anoint nu-metal, emo, or even Marilyn Manson as the ‘inheritors’ of goth should be furiously resisted. Equally, we should welcome vibrant new outfits that wear their Peter Murphy influences proudly on their flowing black sleeves. Continuity is critical, especially in this bizarrely long-lived subculture of ours, and it gives new sound a legitimacy that can be fleeting and fickle in a community regularly riven by vicious and petty internecine war.

What I hope for is the goth scene to remember that once upon a time, Bela Lugosi’s Dead was startling and risky in its unusual nature – utterly unshackled by precedence and forging a new path for musicians and fans alike. It is that dare to be different that once upon a time typified goth, and not the slavish adherence to orthodoxy that the surliest gatekeepers insist upon.

So, celebrate this Bauhaus-infused birthday and remember where we came from, but do not forget to think about where we might go, as David Haskins, Kevin Haskins, Peter Murphy and Daniel Ash did before us. We’ll never lose that classic sound after all… it’s undead…

“Oh Bela
Bela’s undead
Oh Bela
Bela’s undead
Bela’s undead
Oh Bela
Bela’s undead
Oh Bela

Undead”

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Forty Years of Unknown Pleasures

Confession time, to begin. I’ve never owned Unknown Pleasures on vinyl. Sacrilege! I know, but I’m late to the entire record party, and I’ve always had Joy Division in my pocket as an MP3 or similar.

IMG_20190615_142437.jpgSo for a few days now, I’ve been planning what to do today. I visited a couple of record shops, of which we have an enjoyable variety in Newcastle, and finally found what I was looking for. The Fortieth Anniversary edition, pressed on ruby red and heavy duty vinyl in a pristine white sleeve that still retains the iconic design by Peter Saville, based on the radio wave signals received from a distant pulsar. Interestingly, this version more closely resembles the version the band themselves wanted – Saville thought black was far sexier, and I can certainly see his point. Nevertheless, the pure white sleeve is beside my turntable now, and I’ve even kept the plastic outer to try and preserve it as long as possible!

It’s spinning as I write this, and I can easily imagine myself transported back to 1979 and playing this for the first time. From the opening track – ‘Disorder’, eerie and hypnotic, through to the heartbreaking end of side one, ‘New Dawn Fades’, it’s a soul-shredding journey with a superb beat. Turn to side two, and you’re immediately swept up by the unstoppable dancefloor colossus that is ‘She’s Lost Control’, only to be left cold and bereft at the end of ‘I Remember Nothing’, memories shattering like glass as the record crackles to an end. I envy every soul who heard it for the first time when it was a startling, difficult to grasp debut. I appreciate Jon Savage’s contemporary review in Melody Maker, with a sadly prescient view:

“Problems remain; in recording place so accurately, Joy
Division are vulnerable to any success the album may bring –
once the delicate relationship with the environment is altered
or tampered with, they may never produce anything as good again.”

We know all there is to know about Martin ‘Zero’ Hannett’s raw, sparse production, and the frenetic, punk-infused playing of the band, wreathed in an unsettling and alien miasma of nihilism and despair. An artifact of its time, that has resonated with a power incomparable down the generations. Sealed in amber by lead singer Ian Curtis’ untimely and heartbreaking suicide less than a year after the album’s release, it has gone on to define the idiosyncratic goth scene, as well as artists across the spectrum of music. It was even accorded special treatment on the BBC yesterday, with a sprawling show by veteran Mary-Anne Hobbes, playing the album in its entirety. Whatever its failings, the Corporation certainly recognize and venerate our heritage well.

Ultimately, Unknown Pleasures is a self-fulfilling prophecy, best appreciated through the lens of melancholy about a career and sound cut brutally short – an album that continues to resonate so long as it holds up a stark, chilling mirror to a nightmarish world that has progressed no further from 1979 to 2019 except the spread of icy cold technology. Beautiful, artificial, mesmerizing and inducing despair. The Joy Division dichotomy.

“It’s getting faster, moving faster now, it’s getting out of hand,
On the tenth floor, down the back stairs, it’s a no man’s land,
Lights are flashing, cars are crashing, getting frequent now,
I’ve got the spirit, lose the feeling, let it out somehow.”

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Could you be in the Museum of Goth?

Now all the celebrations have ended and our hangovers have receded, it’s time to confront reality. 2019 is the fortieth anniversary of many goth origins, and so we must accept that this odd old scene of ours is a legitimate museum artifact. We enjoyed the British Library’s wonderful Terror and Wonder exhibition of 2015, but there was only a small section on our odd scene. One organisation is looking to change how we remember goth, though!

I’ve been in conversation with Lisa der Weduwe who works at YOUTH CLUB where the history of youth culture is carefully researched and preserved. She’s particularly interested in recovering any photos and memories of the genesis of goth from the very early eighties, so I asked her to give us some more details on what sounds like an awesome idea for an exhibition… and how you can contact YOUTH CLUB to be in their collection!


1. Can you quickly intro the Youth Club for our readers? What motivated the creation of a home for the legacy of youth culture? 

museum of youth culture - 80s gothYOUTH CLUB actually goes back to 1997 when our precursor PYMCA (Photographic Youth Music and Culture Archive) was formed alongside Sleazenation Magazine. This worked as a successful image library for a while and enabled us to grow the collection to over 300 photographers. 

Then in 2015 we had a think about why we were doing what we were doing and the fact that we really see this history of youth culture as incredibly important and often overlooked. When we became YOUTH CLUB our focus shifted to preserving, sharing and celebrating this amazing story, with the end goal of opening a Museum of Youth Culture. 

This year our focus has been to build an online Museum of Youth Culture, which is going to take the archive as a starting point to tell the story of youth and subculture. As part of this campaign we are looking at gaps in the archive, which is particularly around earlier movements from the 50s and 60s. But we are also asking the public to submit their photographs; whether they have one photograph or a small archive we want their images and stories. We want to know what it was like growing up in Britain?

2. Do you feel like you personally have links to any subculture? 

Growing up me and my friends were massively into Emo and that was such an important part of my life throughout my teenage years. As I got older I slowly got into heavier music and have happily stayed in the metal scene since. 

3. You’re now specifically looking for records of early goth culture in the capital. What are your impressions of the scene so far? How does it compare to other youth cultures from the 80s? 

Well we are actually looking for photos, ephemera and stories from early goth across the UK. The archive is strongest in the 80s and 90s, but for some reason the emergence of goth is a time we don’t have many photographs of. 

I’ve always been drawn to the Goth scene and as a teenager many of my friends were Goths. To me the scene has a lot of amazing strong female figureheads and more generally a strong female presence, especially for the 80s when subcultures could feel quite male-led. I also love the style, its so unique and has a real timelessness to it.

The Gothic has a long history as a cultural movement and ties to the mythology of Britain, and goes beyond the teenager in many ways. Its goes beyond the subcultural movement and into the national psyche. 

I think more generally the rise and fall of subcultures is quite interesting – some are constantly going strong, whilst others experience real revivals. People are really starting to respond to our 00s nu-metal images at the moment and following the fashions and music. 

Part of this could be down to some movements going really big in the media and growing both popular and infamous rapidly, and then seemingly disappearing again, whilst other movements are a bit more underground but have gone along steadily. I think for someone involved in a movement as a teenager, that will always be something they identify with, and movements have become so iconic now that there is always a scene around it, even if it is smaller than in it’s heyday.

6. Will you be looking into the strong presence of goth elsewhere in the UK, like Leeds – and around the world? 

At the moment our focus is very much on the UK and trying to build a timeline from post-war Britain to the present, that goes across the decades and represents the entirety of Britain equally. We are hoping to do a bit of travelling as well and stop by Whitby!

Once we’ve got this down we can start looking further afield, even though at the moment our archive is already international. 

7. Having looked at the history of youth culture, and how it’s changed going into the present – what do you expect from the future, for young people into subcultures like goth, as well as new trends emerging?

One thing we often hear or get told is that subcultures don’t exist anymore, because of factors like social media. I think although the nature of young culture and how it manifests itself has changed, young people are always creating new things for themselves and in a way the web has enabled more young people to discover subculture movements from the past like goth.  

8. Any other comments, or things I haven’t touched on? 

Just to say if anyone has any photographs or would like to submit, head to youthclubarchive.com/submit or get in touch via info@youthclubarchive.com for more information.


Please consider contributing to this awesome project if you can supply memories from the dawn of the dour and the start of something spooky! We’ll be looking forward to what Lisa and YOUTH CLUB produce and sharing updates as they come along – make sure you’re following them on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.

Let’s make an exhibition that truly celebrates our subculture.

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World Goth Day 2019

Welcome to the darkest day! A worldwide celebration of our surprisingly resilient subculture. You can take a quick look at my (somewhat) tongue-in-cheek definition of What Is Goth over here… otherwise, read on for World Goth Day 2019!

By Source, Fair use, https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?curid=40350499

A celebration today, as we mark forty years of milestones. Unknown Pleasures by Joy Division, Three Imaginary Boys by The Cure, and Bela Lugosi’s Dead by Bauhaus were all released in 1979. Siouxsie and the Banshees released their second album, Nick Cave had brought his Birthday Party to London and Andrew Eldritch first thought about picking up the drumsticks (before he decided on a position that required less overall skill).

Four decades on, and we’re blessed with the continuing presence of many of these performers. The Cure bestride the world like a colossus whilst they headline and curate and promise a new album, truly the mightiest goth band there ever was (enhanced as it were by denial of the g-word tag). Nick Cave is touring a unique experience of free-form piano interpretations of his songs, plus an unfiltered Q&A session with the audience. Peter Hook and Peter Murphy both continue to perform their previous band’s songs around the world. Even Eldritch has resurrected himself and The Sisters of Mercy for scattered European dates. The music that formed the goth scene four long decades ago, continues to be performed today, an epic endurance act for all concerned.

Not that we rest on those dusty black laurels of trad goth. At Whitby in April I was delighted by the performances of the opening bands, hungry new international acts taking their first steps into the wider goth community. I’m anticipating seeing Turkish legends She Past Away in November, as well. There were standout performances from brilliant new bands at Infest in September last year, searing innovations in a genre crammed full of creativity. All of this is notwithstanding the regular messages to my inbox about new bands looking for coverage – apologies to you all, but I’ve never felt expert enough or possessed of sufficient time to dedicate the blog to music reviews!

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I even spoke with Stylist in France, who wanted to know if Billie Eilish could really get away with the goth tag. The often-parodied pouting pop star certainly flirts with the fringes of what we’d recognise as pastel-goth, but she counts amongst her influences Avril Lavigne, Green Day and Lana del Rey. Fine artists in their own right, but I feel a goth artist must at least trace some lineage back to the recognizable first and second waves of OG post-punk and goth. Plus there’s no way you’d get actual goths to accept her – remember, I’ve always said goth is ‘mob-rule democracy’.

The desire to slap the word goth on anything a little spooky and strange continues to be an easy shortcut for journalists – I’m forever knee-deep in articles about what star is wearing black nail varnish on the red carpet. What used to be the “dark wash cycle” – goth as a fall-winter fashion trend every year – is becoming far more ubiquitous. That said, it exists beyond a a paper-wall in the media from horror stories and scapegoating for the crimes of the mentally harassed. A headline dropped into my inbox four days ago with a chilling echo of 1999’s massacre in Columbine, and the subculture’s first major skirmish with lazy journalism. I’m already planning a separate article addressing that particular tragedy, twenty years ago this year. It’s almost like goth is an easy shorthand for reporters unwilling to engage with the complexities of a situation…

Whilst we’ve got the rose-tinted aviators off, let’s acknowledge some more harsh realities we faced this year. As populist, ignorant rhetoric takes hold in contemporary politics and society, we’re confronted with the fact that right-wing tentacles have snaked into even our easygoing, left(ish) subculture. There were bizarre statements on social media from deluded fools who declared no black person could be goth, leading to categorical denials from leading voices in the subculture like podcasters Cemetery Confessions, Post-Punk.com, and Dining With Dana. Now more than other the goth scene must rally, shout down the hatemongers, and welcome like-minded souls to the dark party.

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On the brighter side (ironically!), goth has been an early adopter of technology, and none more vital than the internet. From the earliest days of Netscape and IRC, through message boards to the latest social media platforms, the amorphous subculture has been sustained by the ability of the web to hold together a worldwide community of often isolated individuals. The advent of the YouTube star has given everyone a goth best friend (even better than a goth gf you effin poseurs), and the rise in number and quality of goth meme pages is the latest creativity from a brand new generation. It’s safe to say goth is as undead as ever in 2019.

So how will you be celebrating today? Gig, club, mates down the pub? Let us know in the comments below!

 

 

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Review: Tomorrow’s Ghosts April 2019

This blog has mused on the divisions in Whitby before, which is home to a long history of UK goth festival action. Never has it been more pronounced than this year when long-standing veterans Whitby Goth Weekend and ambitious newcomers Tomorrow’s Ghosts elected for separate weekends.

The precise details of ‘who shot first’ on the new dates have been dissected across social media with all the passion of moon-landing conspiracy theorists (including the value of the outcome) so we’ll waste no more time on that here. You’re here for reviews, yeah?

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