This article is about the contemporary goth subculture. For the Germanic tribes of the same name, see the Goths.

Goth is a modern subculture that first became popular during the early 1980s within the gothic rock scene, a sub-genre of post punk. It is associated with gothic tastes in music and clothing. Styles of dress range from gothic horror, punk, Victorian, fetish, cybergoth, androgyny, and/or lots of black. Since the mid-1990s, styles of music that can be heard in goth venues range from gothic rock, industrial, punk, metal, techno, 1980s dance music, and several others.


Origins and influences

Original subculture

By the late 1970s, there was a small number of post punk bands in Britain labeled "gothic". However, it was not until the early 1980s that gothic rock became its own sub-genre within post punk and that followers of these bands started to come together as a distinctly recognisable group or movement. The opening of the Batcave in London's Soho in July 1982 might be seen as marking the coming out of this scene (which had briefly been labeled positive punk[1] ( by the New Musical Express). As one of the most famous meeting points for early goths, it lent its name to the term Batcaver, used to describe old school goths.

Independent of the British scene, the late 1970s and early 1980s saw death rock branch off from American punk. With similar themes and dress, goths and death rockers were sufficiently compatible to more or less merge.

The word goth, as a label for fans of gothic rock, did not start gaining currency until around 1983.


Goth was originally the name of a Germanic tribe, the Goths, whose traditions said that they had migrated from Scandinavia (Scandza) to Poland (Gothiscandza) and then to the Ukraine (Oium). In southern Europe, they split into the Ostrogoths and Visigoths. The Visigoths sacked Rome and settled in Spain and France while the Ostrogoths settled in the Eastern Roman Empire but later invaded Italy. The term "goth" became pejorative, synonymous with "barbarian." (Another Germanic tribe that caused incredible damage to the Roman Empire were the Vandals, resulting in their name also acquiring a pejorative meaning.) Like most of the Germanic tribes that lived near the borders of the Roman Empire, the Goths were converted from "paganism" to Arian Christianity while the Roman Empire converted to Catholic Christianity. The latter considered the former to be heresy, not helping the barbarian association with the word "goth."

During the Renaissance period in Europe, medieval architecture had been retrospectively labeled "gothic," considered barbaric in contrast to trends in architecture during the Renaissance. Gothic medieval architecture often had dark and intimidating aspects, with depictions of gargoyles and other demon-like forms. By the 1700s, people became fascinated with medieval gothic ruins (even building fake ruins), and they became a perfect setting for horror fiction.

Gothic horror

The gothic novel, of the early nineteenth century, was responsible above all else for the term gothic being associated with a mood of horror, darkness and the supernatural. They established what horror stereotypes became by featuring graveyards, ruined castles or churches, ghosts, vampires, cursed families, being buried alive and melodramatic plots. Gothic novels are often concerned with the fate of a curious young woman, and a great deal of focus is placed on internal locations. A notable element in these novels were the brooding figure of the gothic villain, which developed into the Byronic hero, a key precursor in the male goth image. The most famous gothic villain of this genre would be Dracula. In 1993 Whitby became the location for what became the UK's biggest goth festival as a direct result of featuring in Bram Stoker's Dracula.

The work of Edgar Allan Poe, master of the gothic short story, has also been an inspiration for many goths. The modern figure of the femme fatale, which has its roots in Romantic literature, is a key image for female goths.


An important medium between the goth scene and gothic literature is the modern popular horror genre, in which the horror film is paramount. One of the earliest impersonators of cinematic goth might be the silent movie actress Theda Bara. Imagery from horror films and television, especially the figure of the vampire and even camp horror B films such as Plan 9 From Outer Space have had significant influence on the evolution of Gothic fashion.

Hammer Horror films and 1960s TV series, such as The Addams Family, The Munsters, and Ann Radcliffe, have also inspired goths. The interconnection between horror and goth was highlighted in its early days by The Hunger, a 1983 vampire film, starring David Bowie, which featured gothic rock group Bauhaus performing Bela Lugosi's Dead in a nightclub.

Some of the early gothic rock and death rock artists adopted horror movie images and passed them onto their goth audiences. Such references in both their music and image were originally tongue-in-cheek, but as time went on, bands and members of the subculture took the connection more seriously. As a result, morbid, supernatural, and occult themes became a more noticeably serious element in the subculture.

Goth after post-punk

After the demise of post punk, Goth continued to evolve, both musically and visually. This caused variations in style ("types" of goth). Local "scenes" also contribute to this variation. By the 1990s, Victorian fashion had worked its way into the Goth scene, with the mid-19th century Gothic Revival and the morbid outlook of the Victorians (partly owing to the state of national mourning which developed in response to Prince Albert's death, and partly to the Victorians' general obsession with Christian funeral practices). The 2003 Victoria and Albert Museum Gothic exhibition in London furthered a tenuous connection between modern Goth and the medieval gothic period.

Some contemporary media popular among Goths include Anne Rice's novels (Interview with the Vampire) and notable movies such as The Crow, the Matrix trilogy, and the movies of Tim Burton (Edward Scissorhands, Nightmare Before Christmas, Beetlejuice, and Sleepy Hollow), as well as roleplaying games like Vampire_The_Masquerade. Influences from anime have also crept into the Goth scene, which helped give rise to cybergoth.

Contemporary proliferation of the term Goth

In recent years, the word Goth has often been used to describe a wider social group of youths. These might include people with a tendency to wear black clothes, listen to nu-metal or wear goth-style make up. Often, those labelled as Goths lack many of the characteristics historically associated with the subculture. In these circumstances, the term can often (but not always) be used in a derogatory manner. See: Mallgoth.


  • Kilpatrick, Nancy: The goth Bible : A Compendium for the Darkly Inclined. 2004: St. Martin's Griffin. ISBN 0312306962
  • Hodkinson, Paul: Goth: Identity, Style and Subculture (Dress, Body, Culture Series) 2002: Berg. ISBN 1859736009 (hardcover); ISBN 185973605X (softcover)
  • Voltaire: What is Goth? (WeiserBooks, US, 2004; ISBN 1578633222) - a humoristic and easy to read view at the Goth subculture
  • Baddeley, Gavin: Goth Chic: A Connoisseur's Guide to Dark Culture (Plexus, US, August 2002, ISBN 0859653080)

See also

External links

nl:gothic (subcultuur) de:Gothic (Kultur) fr:Gothique (mouvement)


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