This time around at Gothic Charm School, a Snarkling has a question about one of the foundations of the Goth subculture. Can one call themselves a Goth if they’re not a fan of the bands that helped form the subculture?
Dear Lady of the Manners,
I believe I tried to email you before, and if I did, please ignore my previous inquiry because part of it has been resolved. The other part has not, and though I have asked about it many times on the internet, I have not yet gotten a straight response. Because I appreciate your opinions on many of the things you have covered (I plan to buy your book), I would like to hear your opinion on this.
I consider myself darkly inclined. I like to wear flowing black clothes, I am going to celebrate my birthday at the Jekyll and Hyde Club, and a conversation will immediately capture my attention if the word “spooky” is mentioned (even if I’m wearing earbuds!). I have been drawn to the gothic community because it seems to be made of like-minded people. The thing that seems to bring all these people together is the music. I have no taste for bands traditionally considered “Goth”: Siouxie and the Banshees, The Cure, Bauhaus, Joy Division, etc. I do not particularly like the music style and I have always generally preferred instrumental and orchestral music over songs with lyrics. I love Nox Arcana, and similar music by fantasy artists that produce some spooky pieces (“Ceremonial Spell” by Adrian von Ziegler is a favorite of mine). I would prefer waltzing in a great ballroom lit by iron candelabra and moonlight than dancing in a Goth club.
I understand the opinions of people who agree that I cannot consider myself part of a music-based subculture if I dislike said music, but it is frustrating to be unable to connect with otherwise similar people because of this one small but very important element of the subculture. There are so few “requirements” for being Goth, no Goth Cabal that awards Goth Points as you say, and yet this seems to be the one great unifier. I feel almost alienated because, as usual, my music taste– though still dark and not mainstream– is different from everyone else’s, even in a community like this one. I suppose I am asking if I and my music taste qualify as being “Goth”. It seems like a silly question, because I do not seek to put a label on myself. I want to know if I can consider myself part of this community, despite my lack of taste for traditionally “Goth” music.
Thank you for bothering to listen to the whiny rantings of a babybat and I would be grateful for an answer.
First things first — you absolutely “qualify” as a Goth. Your description of your tastes and your interests mark you as one of our spooky tribe. Please don’t fret over whether or not you’re a Goth, because you are.
With that said, the Lady of the Manners understands why you’d question your spooky status, because there are people who (very loudly) proclaim that you Must Like These Particular Bands In Order To Be Considered Goth. The Lady of the Manners even understands why those people have that opinion. She also thinks those people are wrong.
Goth music, just like the Goth subculture, is a vast, sprawling thing with many offshoots. Yes, what most of us consider to be “Goth” grew out of the postpunk music scene, but that was close to 40 years ago. And even then, the music wasn’t the only thing that the scene drew on. Art, literature, poetry, movies, fashion–all of these things shaped the newborn shadows that would grow into what we know as Goth today.
There is no rulebook or checklist that says you MUST enjoy certain bands to consider yourself a Goth. Really, there isn’t. Is it nice if you know who the bands are that helped nurture the gloom we gleefully pull around ourselves? Of course! But knowing about them is different than enjoying them, and personal taste is, well, personal.
(As the Lady of the Manners has stated before, even she doesn’t enjoy all of the “classic” Goth bands. She respects Joy Division for the influence they had, but would rather not listen to them.)
“Goth music” is a staggeringly huge genre with countless branches, and what one person calls “Goth”, another person will call “industrial”, or “postpunk”, or “dark ambient”, or “shoegaze”, or “dark symphonic”, or “dark folk”, or a million other, increasingly nuanced and tiny, labels. In fact, in the Lady of the Manners experience, the only musical thing that every Goth can agree on is that bands such as Joy Division, Bauhaus, The Cure, Siouxsie and the Banshees, etc. were the ones who were around at the beginning. After that, everyone’s definition of Goth music is intensely personal, which is as it should be.
The music that you described that moves you, the fascination with dark waltzes and spooky orchestral pieces? Those are Goth. Those are incredibly Goth. If someone were to try and tell the Lady of the Manners that Nox Arcana weren’t Goth, she’d raise an eyebrow in polite scepticism.
Finally, the Lady of the Manners wants to remind you (and all the other Snarklings who are reading this) of something very important: you don’t have to like all the Goth things to be a Goth. The Lady of the Manners has had to reassure so many people of this lately! You don’t have to like Goth music, you don’t have to like horror movies, you don’t have to dress head-to-toe in spooky finery, you don’t have to dye your hair or have tattoos, you don’t have to wear makeup, you don’t have to go to goth clubs … THERE IS NO CHECKLIST. If you’re calling yourself a Goth, that means there’s something about the dark and lush subculture that calls to you. It could be that you have an appreciation for Goth fashions. Or perhaps you love Gothic literature and suspenseful movies about things that lurk in the shadowy darkness. Or that one of the eleventy squillion “Goth” musical genres has caught your ears and heart. Or that you find beauty and comfort walking through cemeteries and overgrown forests. Do you see what the Lady of the Manners is getting at? When someone starts talking to you about classic Goth bands, tell them about the darkly romantic musical artists that make your heart swell. Ask them what other subgenres of music they like. Ask them what else draws them to the Goth world. Be secure in yourself and your interests, and don’t fret so much about what other people may think.
(As an aside, the Lady of the Manners would be thrilled to bits if you commented and gave her some musical artist suggestions, because she too is very fond of dark instrumental and orchestral pieces! Do you perchance have an 8tracks collection the Lady of the Manners could peruse?)
For that matter, do the rest of you have musical suggestions of a dark instrumental/orchestral/or ethereal nature? Leave a comment! The Lady of the Manners is always on the hunt for new music. Let her start with a recommendation for all of you: celadon, who composed the Gothic Charm School theme!