THE DARK REIGN OF GOTHIC ROCK
(In The Reptile House with The Sisters Of Mercy, Bauhaus and The Cure)
By Dave Thompson
Helter Skelter Publishing
288pp 16pp photos
~reviewed by Mick Mercer
Given that the only real resource anyone has for the early days of Goth is Pete Scathe’s site, which he admits has big holes in the information displayed, this book will be a Godsend for anyone wishing to research the development of Goth, remind themselves of great times, or just to discover new bands, all in a sensible linear way. Dave Thompson has created a book which fills a void in the Goth history from the publishing perspective, even if it seems workmanlike. Given that he has no reason to know of many of the smaller bands, or to understand their relevance, it is understandable that he concentrates on the bands he has heard of, although he is relying on dated interview material for his quotes - or so it seems - and uses the American perspective (where he lives) to give Love & Rockets attention, but he oversees his narrative with a fair and balanced view.
"Gothic Rock’s connotations are pejorative; its confines are restrictive; its very existence, at least among the artists who spawned it, is pedomorphic. But, used in its full and fullest (Dark Rock) context, it is neither insulting, narrow nor childish."
Essentially, Dave observes that Goth already existed before, and a musical movement was to pull together strains of shared interest that so many had, which is ground already covered elsewhere, but he adds his own interpretation in a forthright and engaging manner. Initially it appears he wants more than that, separating Goth and Gothic, and attempting to define something more all-encompassing, which he dubs Dark Rock, but this grand scheme falls apart early.
The book is weighty, and text-heavy, with only a small selection of photos dotted throughout. It is aimed at those who want to devour the information, which I would imagine means anyone sensible who is, or has ever been, into Goth, but its structure is somewhat odd. At first we are introduced to a shadowy protagonist Dave, as a hapless metaphor for musical dedication, giving a brief and accurate picture of what it was like to be a music fan and how hard you had to search, and also mentioning just how little activity there actually was going on during 1977. Then Dave is simply forgotten, and the book takes on orthodox form.
He begins with a strange examination of the early days, giving special emphasis to Iggy’s ‘The Idiot and further clouding the pre-punk era by suggesting King Crimson gets a look in, as do the bleak visions of Doctors Of Madness, or the cartoonish drama-punk outfit, Rikki & The Last Days Of Earth.
This early section covers from Punk to the early 80’s, and Dave is knowledgeable enough not to regard Joy Div, Banshees, Damned, or Cure as Goth bands themselves, but artists who influenced some, and shared Gothic elements with others. He includes Ultravox and Magazine and the names of the main interesting bands of the era flicker past your eyes, but he concentrates on establishing a loose thread that connects the activities of The Banshees (who he eventually loses track of), Joy Division (but not New Order), The Cure, Bauhaus (thankfully confirming my claim of how Gloria Mundi influenced their visual style) and Birthday Party.
Smaller bands get slotted neatly into the historical flow, which helps to make this book so useful to so many, as we get the UK Decay, Killing Joke and Virgin Prunes, before blending the Birthday Party, Ants and Bauhaus eras, leading up to Futurama, and in the post-Blitz serenity showing how The Cure, Bauhaus, Birthday Party, Sisters, Theatre Of Hate and Bauhaus reputations became established. Section 2 starts neatly be accepting the Gothic term and tag was firmly in place, introducing Southern Death Cult and Gene Loves Jezebel, as well as dragging Nico in for some praise. Then it’s the Batcave, with Specimen, Almond Sex Gang, Sex Fiend (largely ignored) and the Sisters.
From that point in, other than Flesh For Lulu, he sticks with the big names. Part 3 brings in the Nephilim, trawls thorough the whole Sisters/Sisterhood/Mission period, and trots grandly on, until signing off with the reunions of the 90’s and a frankly disappointing epilogue which washes its hands of achieving any real dissection or determination of what Dark Rock might mean, and trivial recognition that America had/has some bands too! I would have expected much more about the development of the American scene, which he must know is much more widespread and artistically adventurous than our own (having done an Industrial book through Cleopatra). This could easily have taken up some of the 35 pages given to the chronology of important events which could have been vastly reduced, given a smaller font size.
So it starts in a way designed to get you interested, provides a fact-filled timeline and ends like a wet fart, but in between is where you get to grips with the whole period. He hasn’t a clue what happened during the 90’ because he’s still following the main suspects like an undercover cop who hasn’t realised the war is over. But, this doesn’t matter, because he has pulled together the main period he obviously wanted to cover and does so superbly, creating a highly detailed, easy read full of incident, and the biggest slap on the back for Dave, who never once knowingly reveals any love for this music whatsoever, is how he affords Goth real respect.
"Maybe Gothic Rock did get a little silly, a little cliched, and awfully distorted somewhere down the line. But what do you think happened to Glam, Punk and Rock ’n’ Roll itself? They hardly remained pure and pristine, either. But they survived, not simply to continue resonating within the world of modern rock, but to form the physical building blocks of everything that passes for rock music today. Gothic Rock is as vital a part of that construct as any of those others."
I fail to see how anybody could want to ignore this?