Gothic movement; origins, influences and foundations
Well established for decades, gothism remains for the common mortals a mysterious current, dark or even satanic, which mixes clothing style and musical tastes. For the neophyte, gothics are inevitably fans of Marilyn Manson, clothe themselves in black, are obsessed with death and occult rituals and are somewhat strange and dismal beings. But gothism is much more than that and summarizing the tendency to these only characteristics would be very reductive since the trend stands on a vast range of musical choices, ideologies and on more than a hundred fashion styles. In this article, we will go through the history of the movement, its origins and influences and we will see some data relating to its religious and aesthetic aspects.
History, origins and influences
Before the arrival of gothicism in the 1960s and early '70s, some influential groups from various musical backgrounds prepared the ground for the trend to emerge as a mainstream. Among others, we're talking about Velvet Underground, which added a dark side to their hippie-style music, David Bowie, a peculiar pre-punk and Alice Cooper, which brought a very theatrical and dark side to his rock style.
The societal framework of the time, with the sexual revolution, the hippie movement and the emergence of anti-capitalist and anti-bourgeois protest movements, paved the way to the arrival of refractory and counter-cultural currents. The table was set to see appearing movements such as punk, metal and gothic.
Following closely the emergence of the punk movement, the gothic current appeared in the mid 70s in the United Kingdom. This movement, essentially counter-cultural, first referred to the musical style of its followers: the new black and theatrical punk combined with psychedelia brought by groups such as Bauhaus, Virgin Prunes, Joy Division and Siouxsie. The latter, in addition to incorporating a dark and melancholic connotation to their punk music, add psychedelic elements inspired by the works of The Doors and Velvet Underground. Combined, these two factors gave rise to what the music press will call "monochrome punk" or "cold wave", since the term gothic was not yet adopted, although some journalists have already used this adjective.
It is really with the opening of the London nightclub "Batcave" that the movement took all its magnitude. Indeed, since then, the movement is permanently anchored in the list of musical currents and now allows itself to sub-categorize by the sartorial and musical choices of the groups that are part of it. Too soon, probably, because this rapid sub-categorization will cause a dilution of the movement before it is strong enough to bear the consequences. The group The Cure, for example, will bring a pop connotation to the movement, which will make them forget their gothic trends.
The return of the gothic movement will arrive in Germany, a few years later, in the 80s, with the arrival of groups bringing a religious and philosophical connotation to the trend. Gothism will then resume their natural subcategorization, now better supported, incorporating metal, industrial, medieval and fantastic styles. In the 2000s, for example, the groups Nine Inch Nails and Rammstein brought their industrial touch while Marilyn Manson integrates the gothic scene firmly, becoming in a way the icon of the movement for this decade and bringing out the gothic movement not only as a musical style but as a well-defined fashion category. Gothic does not only refer to a musical style, it is now an adjective used to designate the followers of these groups, who display a style of clothing and an ideology of their own.
This sub-categorization is now taking on an important dimension, becoming a full-fledged urban culture, including more than a hundred different clothing styles such as cyber goth, glam goth, traditional goth and victorian goth, to name only a few.
Religion, political impact and criticism
As can be seen, despite popular belief, gothicism did not arise from any particular affiliation with anti-religion or satanism. It is only with the evolution of the movement that this aspect integrated the culture, as black metal did in the metal current. Many styles of gothics are characterized by agnosticism and atheism, while others preach satanism, anti-Christ and occultism. It is therefore reductive to believe that gothic refers only to Satan's diabolism and idolization. In short, some gothics preach the devil, others criticize the established religions and others advocate atheism. Religion or anti-religion is therefore not an inclusive or exclusive criterion of the movement.
Since its emergence, the gothic movement has often made the news. Inevitably, this atypical dark ternd has been assigned responsibilities for acts of extreme violence. For example, the 1999 killing at Colombine, perpetrated by two young followers of gothic music, soon put the movement into the spotlight, blaming it for its evil and satanic tendencies that influenced the two murderers to act like they did that day.
Aesthetics and gothic fashion
Much more than a musical trend, gothic, as we know, is now a style of clothing in its own right. This current refers to both belonging to the musical stream, to a marked counter-culture and to a demand for refinement and elegance while challenging the so-called ''conventional'' aestheticism advocated by the media and the popular trend.
The media image of aestheticism caricatures the body, disfigures it and reduces it to the idea of the perfect body, thin, sexy and typical. For gothic, the body is accepted as it is and becomes the subject of an artistic research of its own. It creates a divide with what society projects in mass and places the body and the image as a work of art, by make-up, hairstyle, clothes and jewels highlighting it.
Among the aesthetic constants of the movement, we observe a very marked use of black color, silver metal and leather. There is a lot of fishnet, torn or hole-type textiles, where the skin is unveiled and enhanced. Tattoos, piercings, chains and nails are often part of the style. All these predominant characteristics tend to mark a melancholy and romantic image, where the body is highlighted and where the elements tend towards the anti-conformism, the rejection of the image of the perfect body, the strong personality and the unique aspect of the ideology.
Over time, the gothic movement broadens its horizons and expands its aesthetic codes by tapping into the various cultural contributions that emerge.
It remains difficult to clearly establish the beacons and constraints of the trend without falling into caricature and reduction since each gothic displays his own musical tastes and advocates individual creativity to establish his image. Even some clearly gothic artists reject the label, finding it narrow and reductive, because of the criticism and description that the music press made of it over the years.
The global movement, however, can be described as a desire for uniqueness, a rejection of established social conventions, and an interest in a counter-cultural and unconventional ideology, romantic and theatrical, though dismal. Gothic seeks to peacefully provoke by their look in order to advocate freedom to be and to think, far from stereotypes and social pressures deemed too conformist.
In a future article, we will see in detail the different gothic styles that emerged during the last decades. Stay tuned to learn more about this dark and interesting movement. See you soon!