Stereotype Technology: Deathrock

This round of Stereotype Technology is about the spooky subgenre of goth that’s closer to crawling out of the grave than to romantically languishing on a fainting couch: Deathrock!

Deathrock started, according to the purists, around 1979 in Southern California. It was a theatrical and macabre mutation of punk and hardcore, and included bands such as 45 Grave, Christian Death, Kommunity FK, and TSOL.  According to Dinah Cancer, the singer of 45 Grave: “The first prowlings of deathrock came in the early ’80s before we were labeled as our other counterparts – the gothic movement. There were no Goths. The Deathrockers were splintered off from the punk/hardcore scene that was going on at the time. We played punk rock but we loved Halloween and we looked like vampires. So the phrase ‘deathrock’ was born.”

45 Grave – Pick Your Poison

Christian Death – Only Theatre of Pain

There was a similar scene creeping around the edges of the East Coast punk world, with bands such as The Cramps and The Misfits taking inspiration from b-movie horror. 

The Cramps – Songs the Lord Taught Us

Misfits – Collection

While some people feel that deathrock is a historical relic, there is a small but strong death rock scene still flourishing today. Especially where the style is concerned! Big teased hair (frequently with one or both sides of the head shaved), heavy eyeshadow and contour in dark colors and layers of ripped fishnets are some of the stylistic signifiers. With that in mind, the Lady of the Manners presents some building blocks of deathrock style!

Back when the Lady of the Manners had Big Hair (while she wasn’t a deathrocker, Big Goth Hair is the same thing), her lacquer poison of choice was AquaNet Unscented Extra Super Hold, in the original pink and white can. In fact, one memorable Christmas, the Lady of the Manners’ parents gave her a case of AquaNet. (It was gone by May of that year.)

Nowadays if the Lady of the Manners wants Big Hair, she uses What a Tease – Backcomb In a Bottle by the brand Sexy Big Hair. 

It’s some sort of strange aerosol fiber; hold a section of hair straight up, spray this around the roots, let it dry for a few seconds, then gently pull apart that section (“like peeling a banana” say a few reviews, which is accurate but weird). Ta-da! Volume! Unnatural volume!

But not quite enough unnatural volume for true Big Hair, so tease those sections with a backcomb brush, and add layers of a super-hold hairspray, such as Sexy Big Hair Spray and Stay until your hair is enormous and immobile.

When you need to flatten your hair again, get yourself a bottle or two of really cheap conditioner and a wide tooth comb; hop in the shower, get your hair wet, pour one of the bottles of conditioner over your head, and start detangling your mop. Be warned, this will take approximately forever; the excuse “I can’t, I have to wash my hair” is undead and well in Big Hair Life

Of course, if you don’t want to spend hours teasing, spraying, and washing out your hair, apparently there’s such a thing as a “deathrock half wig”?! Who knew! We live in an age of stylistic shortcut wonders. Deathrock half wig from Penny Wigs.

Fishnets to rip and layer to your black heart’s content! Cut out the crotch and wear them as a shirt! Wear multiple layers of fishnets as a shirt! On your arms! On your legs! Then weep at the end of the (probably late) night because taking off all those layers of ripped fishnets is an intricate puzzle you can’t solve when you’re too tired! Available in 50+ colors at We Love Colors.

The punk rock DIY aesthetic is also undead in deathrock, so get yourself a basic black blazer and black jeans or miniskirt to shred and decorate with paint or bleach, patches, safety pins, and spikes and studs. If you want to be extra over-the-top, track down an animal print jacket, like this zebra print one, and then customize it.

Accessories for the deathrock look can feature skulls, crosses, bats, rosaries, coffin nails, bondage belts … layers of them. So. Many. Layers. Do you think you’re wearing enough bangle bracelets? You may be wrong. Put on more until you’re not sure you’ll be able to lift your arms, then maybe take two or three off. Maybe.

Black bangle bracelets.

Rubber o-rings to wear as bracelets, but they’re actually plumbing supplies!

Also layer on the necklaces and rosaries. Yes, they will tangle with your Big Hair. Yes, they will get caught in your layers of fishnets. But since you want torn fishnets anyway, just consider this a shortcut. 

Glow in the dark rosary beads.

Long plastic bead necklace.

O-ring belt.

Finally, the best way to get yourself some deathrock fashion is to hit the local thrift stores, buy bags of cheap shiny jewelry and inexpensive black clothes (but probably not flowy, flouncy ones – leave those for the romantigoths), then layer and customize them until your dead heart lurches into (un)life.  

Suggestions about other key deathrock pieces? Deathrock bands more people need to know about? Deathrock-focused club nights in your city? The comments are open!

4 Responses to “Stereotype Technology: Deathrock”

  1. Ms. Bat Says:

    Would you consider any of the bands from the Batcave scene in the UK to be deathrock? Stuff like Specimen + Alien Sex Fiend.

  2. Raven McCormick Says:

    I agree with this article but they left out virgin prunes . Sketal family . Danse society .the birthday party . But well written

  3. Lady of the Manners Says:

    *I* personally would consider those bands deathrock, but all of the reference sources I found were emphatic about deathrock being a U.S -centric thing. But there is no doubt that Nik Fiend is one of the great deathrock visual icons.

  4. Lady of the Manners Says:

    I absolutely agree that all of those bands fall into the deathrock swamp. But the sources I used for reference were all emphatic about deathrock starting in the US, and my searches didn’t turn up any information on any cross-over between the UK batcave folks and the US deathrockers. I’m sure there was some, I just wasn’t close enough (or of the right age group) to have first-hand knowledge. If you have stories or info, please share! I’d love to read them. 🙂

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