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If you spend time on the internet reading on nearly any subject people are passionate about, you are bound to run into an argument about it. Goth is no exception. While the most common argument on the goth side of the internet seems to be whether or not someone has to listen to goth music or not, it isn’t the only one. While much less publicized, I have also noticed somewhat of a rift between people who like specific elements of the subculture or club scene but not others.
There are differing opinions on what needs to be played or not played at goth clubs and which subgenres are great or terrible. It’s a pretty common topic among music fans and subcultures. But in the case of goth, a narrower style of music than say punk or metal, it’s a larger problem. Punk and metal may divide themselves into different subgenres to distinguish one another, they may also cast out certain subgenres as not being truly in the genre, but oftentimes those subgenres can splinter off to create their own audience. Goth isn’t really as big a genre of music however. Most of the time goth events end up having to share space with other genres like industrial. When the audience is already fairly small, there aren’t enough people to really create splinter scenes.
For example, darkwave fans can’t really splinter off and do their own events separate from goth or industrial, the numbers aren’t there to support their own standalone events nor is there really enough momentum from darkwave fans feeling separate from the goth and industrial scenes. At least that’s the case in the United States where I live, things may be different in other countries which leads to my next point:
While goth may be an international subculture, many things still vary depending on one’s local scene. I oftentimes hear about Germany’s scene as the gold standard for which the subculture should be run, likely because of the large number of bands and prominent music festivals in the country. But not everyone lives in Germany and things that may be true in the German scene may not be so in someone’s local scene. If you don’t live in Germany it’s norms don’t affect you quite as much as what’s going on at your local events.
Just looking at my own neck of the woods, the events in Washington DC vs. Baltimore vs Virginia all have notable differences even with the overlap in attendees to some degree. Even different events in the same city will have differing playlists and attendees. DC’s scene tends to be a bit more industrial music focused than Baltimore or VA. Richmond’s Fallout and Baltimore’s Orpheus are clubs that also host fetish events, while Charlottesville’s weekly Goth Night is all ages. It’s likely much greater when looking at stuff in different countries.
By analyzing bands in goth and related genres you can see some regional differences in the music as well. The U.S. never really had as many big name goth rock bands as the U.K. but it is the birthplace of deathrock and it’s revival movement as well as having quite a few well known darkwave and ethereal wave bands. When you compare German darkwave and U.S. darkwave you will also see some differing trends. On the more extreme end of regional differences French coldwave, like Trisomie 23, and U.S. coldwave, like Chemlab came about completely independently and have nothing to do with each other outside of being played at goth clubs. One is an offshoot of post-punk and the other of industrial rock.
It isn’t just space that demonstrates variance in the music and subculture either, time also plays a big role. Back when I was new to the scene well over a decade ago, Joy Division and Killing Joke were considered a bit more peripheral to goth rock. Nowadays they are seen as important foundational goth bands by many. No one really paid much attention to SheWants Revenge back when they were new and having their music videos played on TV, but now “Tear You A Part” is in regular rotation at quite a few goth clubs. Tastes have changed since I was new, Post Punk has become the in thing, and a lot of buzz has been around 80s post punk bands and modern bands that are primarily influenced by post punk. Similarly I have seen minimal wave, which was a genre of music retroactively coined in 2005 to describe a collection of bands with a similar sound, start to pop up a bit more in relation to the goth scene.
Likewise some styles of music have now fallen out of vogue; deathrock revival has kind of passed on by in the minds of many people in the scene much like a lot of the 90s second wave goth rock bands before it. In industrial land, futurepop and aggrotech, while still played heavily at a lot of clubs, is seen as passé on the internet.
I’ve explained why music and scene expectations may not be universal when separated by time and distance, but what real relevance does this have in the big picture? In acknowledging that things aren’t universal we can see where there might be conflicts in the scene. Part of the reason there are subcultural arguments on the internet could be because things one person holds to be true or the norm may not be so in someone else’s experience. Or some people may go to an event and be unhappy the music choices don’t match their personal preferences, or be unhappy if the culture of the event is different than they expected. The question this raises is can we make everyone happy and reduce such conflicts? Should it even be the scene’s goal to keep everyone happy?
Subcultures aren’t meant to be everything to all people. They are meant to reflect the tastes and norms of a specific audience. Without some sort of guidelines there is the risk of community drifting into meaninglessness. At a certain point, the audience can be too specific to sustain itself. This comes back to the situation of how rare it is to see a purely goth event. A lot of times there needs to be a somewhat wider mix of genres, usually by including industrial, in order for nights to happen. Would it not be better to compromise a bit and pool resources together to make sure multiple groups of people have a space for their music?
To put a little bit of my own experience into this, while I like a lot of the music that gets played at clubs, I also have personal favorite subgenres and ones that I am not particularly crazy about. I particularly like a lot of 2nd wave goth rock and deathrock revival type bands. Neither of these styles seem to be all that popular in my local scene and rarely get played at clubs. On the flipside I am not particularly big into the whole minimal wave and post punk revival styles that have gotten rather popular and where a lot of the new bands are coming from. I would love to hear more of my particular favorites, but at the same time I understand that for some people the newer stuff may be their favorites. I understand that part of sharing a scene is that you sometimes need to compromise however. It certainly doesn’t hurt to be more open minded either. By giving some of the new music a shot I have actually found that some of the stuff in styles I am less crazy about is actually pretty good. At the same time though I would hate to see the music that grabs me the most fall completely by the wayside.
Ultimately I feel like some willingness to compromise is good for the scene as a whole, so long as the compromise is reasonable. I have seen some people talk online about the German Schwarze scene, a collection of goth and other genres of music with a somewhat similar audience. The name translates literally to dark scene, though in English I oftentimes hear the term Dark Alternative, which seems to get used in a similar context. It’s a bit more inclusive than the Goth/Industrial label we oftentimes use in the United States and seems to be used as a compromise term by people who want to keep goth focused on goth music, while still banding together with other styles for a sustainable music scene. It’s certainly an interesting idea, while don’t have a strong opinion on it either way, it certainly is an interesting structure to keep everyone happy.
While I may not have much in the way of a proposed solution I hope I have at least provoked a decent amount of thought on the issue. Maybe if a discussion gets going others may come up with a good solution. If you have any questions, disagreements, personal experiences you want to add, I encourage you to leave a comment below, because I am curious to hear what other people have to say about this.