This article discusses Goth music and the subculture surrounding it. For the art and literature that predated it, see Gothic.
Goth is a music-based subculture that was formed in the late 1970s-to-early 1980s in the UK. Gothic rock originally derived from the post-punk movement at the time, which included acts, such as Joy Division, Bauhaus and Siouxsie and the Banshees. "Goth" as a term was originally used by music journalists to describe bands with dark subjects (the first of which was The Doors, with their track "The End").
Goth as a concrete music genre didn't exist until the release of the British band Bauhaus' debut single "Bela Lugosi's Dead” and was aided by the opening of The Batcave, a SoHo club were many early performers originated. Since the release of that track, many bands have formed to create and expand on the genre, intentionally or not (a lot of the original bands that are considered staples of Goth rock actually hate the label, especially musicians such as Andrew Eldritch of Sisters of Mercy).
The 80s Goth/Post-Punk scene reverberated around the world, as far and wide as LA and New York’s Deathrock, Germany’s Grufti, Spain’s Sinestro/Moldova, and Japan’s pre-Visual Kei Goth rock. It only continued and continues to grow in its influence.
Today, Goth still thrives as an underground subculture with many organized events and festivals (most popular is the annual Wave-Gotik-Treffen, or WGT for short, which takes place in Leipzig, Germany).
Goths agree that the most important aspect within the subculture is the music. Goth music started from Post-Punk bands like Joy Division, Siouxsie and the Banshees, and Bauhaus. The UK scene was where the subculture gained the most traction, with locations such as The Batcave enforcing the community's love of the music (the US and the rest of the world also had their own often overlooked Goth scenes).
While it's debated on what genres are classified as goth, there are five main subgenres that are agreed upon as being "Goth." These include:
Gothic rock (alternately called Goth-Rock) is the original genre that kicked off the goth subculture we know today. As mentioned above, the first goth-rock track is agreed upon to be "Bela Lugosi's Dead" by Bauhaus. This genre includes "scything" guitars, melodic basslines and minimal/sparse percussions. Second-wave goth rock is harder sounding, while still maintaining the definitive goth-rock sound (a famous example of second-wave goth-rock would be The Sisters of Mercy's "This Corrosion"). Goth rock bands include Bauhaus, Siouxsie and the Banshees, The Cure, Southern Death Cult, and The Sisters of Mercy. Example.
- Deathrock, the United States rendition of Goth, specifically formed in the West Coast during the 80s. Deathrock was originally formed straight from the Hardcore Punk movement, and this can be heard in it's music. Deathrock music is the loudest and fastest of all the goth genres, utilizing more guitar distortion and faster drums. Lyrical content can either be moody like Christian Death, or more cheesy and whimsical like the British Alien Sex Fiend (hence, its not uncommon for a lot of Deathrock bands to also be classified as Horror Punk too). Essentially, deathrock can easily be described as a blend of Post-Punk and Horror Punk. Deathrock would eventually merge with the UK Goth scene, and therefore be closely connected to the goth scene from there. A few deathrock bands include Alien Sex Fiend, Christian Death, 45 Grave and Specimen. Example.
- Darkwave, a more synth heavy version of Goth-Rock. Being inspired by the different "-wave" scenes at the time, darkwave combined the established genre of Goth Rock with more electronic instruments, such as synths and drum machines, although acoustics were still used alongside. What was then made was a combination of Post-Punk and Synthpop. Darkwave is still a very prominent part of the goth subculture, with many modern goth bands adapting the style of this particular genre, such as Lebanon Hanover, Clan of Xymox, Suspiria, and more. Example.
- Coldwave. Forming from the late-1970s French Post-Punk scene, Coldwave takes Darkwave and electrifies it even more. Like it's name would suggest, Coldwave has a cold and minimal sound with it's music, making use of synths and other electronic machines much like other "-wave" genres. Although it didn't gain significance during its inception, coldwave would later go on to become more prominent on the scene during the late 1990s and early 2000s worldwide. An example of a Coldwave band could be Molchat Doma. Example.
- Etherealwave aims to combine the electronics of Darkwave with the moody atmosphere of regular Goth Rock and Post-Punk. Etherealwave has been described as dreamy and otherworldly by listeners of the genre. A reverbed and echo-y guitar is a staple of the genre, which is what creates the dreaminess of the etherealwave genre. Etherealwave gave birth to other genres such as Shoegaze and Dream Pop, with bands such as Cocteau Twins being listed as originators of these genres. Etherealwave bands include Lycia, Trance to the Sun and Autumn’s Grey Solace. For a related music genre, check out the Shoegaze page. Example.
For more information and examples, please refer to this video.
Some genres are less-prevalent, or goth-aligned. These genres include:
- Minimalwave is the most simplistic sounding of the goth genres. Minimalwave strips down the complexity of the other genres to create an almost artificial sound, hence the "minimal" part. A key aspect of minimalwave is the simplicity of the instrumentation, both electronically and acoustically. This genre could be described as avant-garde by most. Example.
- Post-punk is the genre which goth rock and its sub genres formed from. To note, all goth rock is post-punk, but not all post-punk is goth. Post-punk bands include Joy Division, Wire and Talking Heads. To get an extensive description of post-punk, refer to this page. Example of goth-aligned post-punk.
- Grey rock is what the Portuguese goth scene refers to post-punk and gothic rock as. As such, these bands are exclusively Portuguese only. More information can be found here.
For playlists and beginner albums to goth, look at the Resources tab below.
Gothic fashion is a clothing style marked by conspicuously dark, mysterious, antiquated, and homogeneous features. It is mostly worn by members of the Goth subculture. A dark, sometimes ghastly fashion and style of dress, typical Gothic fashion includes an unhealthy complexion with dyed black hair, dark lipstick, and dark clothing. Both male and female goths can wear dark eyeliner and dark nail polish most especially black. Styles are often borrowed from punk fashion, Victorians, Edwardians, and Elizabethans.
Like punks, gothic fashion is mainly about DIY and thrifting clothes (its highly encouraged, even). Secondhand-black clothes, handmade jewelry, modifications on tights and jeans, and jackets with patches are some of the more common staples of DIY'd gothic fashion. Most expensive of the common accessories are the shoes (usually combat boots or winklepickers, the latter being a joke among goths that it is THE Goth shoe). However, there do exist some Goths who prefer to shop from the vendors below.
It’s important to remember though that not all Goths dress the same or even wear all-black. What pulls them together is their appreciation for Goth Rock, Deathrock, Darkwave, Ethereal Wave, and other key Goth music genres.
Since the second biggest part of Goth is the fashion, a lot of styles were influenced by the subculture's looks. As a result, a plethora of dark fashion styles exist today. They are divided between those with a genuine presence in the musical scene, and those that are just generalizations:
Present in the Scene
- Dark Cabaret also known as Burlesque Goth, this is a type of goth that combines goth with Victorian (or at least, older age) fashions. It is possible that this particular goth fashion takes inspiration of the flapper-girl look, with their black hair and dark, lacy dresses. It’s an aesthetic that has existed in the Goth scene since the 80s.
- Casual Goth is a type of goth that dresses on the more casual sides. Black jeans, shorts, boots and tees are the main clothing of choice. Casual goths may try to incorporate band merch and t-shirts into their wardrobe.
- Darkwavers are a type of goth who listens to mainly darkwave (a subgenre of goth music that fused goth rock and synthpop/new wave). Some darkwave bands include Clan of Xymox, The Frozen Autumn, Corpus Delicti, Lycia and Lebanon Hanover. Some darkwavers dress in a more ethereal fashion style (longer hair, lacy fishnets, and flowing/sleeved clothing or dresses), but many others will dress similarly to trad goths.
- Deathrockers are the more United States version of 80s goth, seen as a crossover between goth and punk. They are fans of deathrock music, as well as post-punk/punk. Some deathrock bands include Alien Sex Fiend, Christian Death, 45 Grave and Specimen. They dress in a much more punk-based fashion style but turned dark. Fashion staples include: shaved deathhawk hairstyle, ripped fishnets, ripped clothing, heavy dark makeup, and large boots. For more information on this particular aesthetic, please check out the Deathrock page.
- Gothic Lolita takes the popular Lolita look but gives it a Gothic spin. These include elegant dresses with laces, fancy collars, lacy-headbands, and fancy shoes. The Gothic Lolita look attempts to invoke a sense of elegance and nobility similar to Victorian Goths. It has links with the 80s Japanese Goth scene. For more information on this, we recommend checking out the Gothic Lolita page over on the Lolita Fashion Wiki.
- Nu-Goth is a modern take on a Goth subculture that is divided. Some of them are rooted in and influenced by traditional Goth music, aesthetics and philosophy, although with less of the punk DIY. More commonly, they lean more towards Witch-House and EBM. For more information, please check out our Nu-Goth page.
- Romantic Goth is a combination of the Goth look with elements from the Romantic period that makes up the first half of the 19th century. For more information, please visit our Romantic Goth page.
- Trad Goths are the original UK 80s goths; they are fans of post-punk/goth rock music, such as Bauhaus, Siouxsie and the Banshees, The Cure, Southern Death Cult, and The Sisters of Mercy. They dress in traditional goth fashion that is inspired by punk and 1980s fashion but with darker tones. Fashion staples include large/teased hair, layered clothing, fishnets, winklepicker shoes/boots, and heavy dark makeup. For more information, please visit our Trad Goth page.
- Woodland Goth, (sometimes known as Ethereal Goth) mostly comes from 80s ethereal wave music and 4AD. It blends elements of goth culture with elements of nature and woodland survival (something akin to the Brothers Grimm fairy tales). For more information on this aesthetic, please check out the Woodland Goth page.
- Bubble Goth, which is aesthetically designed to combine more pop-ish elements with the Gothic aesthetic. This particular aesthetic is more so related to the pop and techno music scenes than it is actual goth. For more information on this aesthetic, please check out our Bubble Goth page
- Chained Goth is a gothic-based aesthetic centered around chains. Wearing chains around a skirt, or chain bracelets, necklaces, and belts. The classic goth style, edgy and dark, with a few chains thrown in as an attempt to seem threatening, edgy, and tough. Chained Goth, despite its name, is typically most worn by Rivetheads.
- Sometimes known as City Goth or shortened to Corp Goth, Corporate Goth is a subgenre of gothic fashion that blends it with Corporate fashion standards. It was first adopted as a response to dress codes in corporate settings, such as offices, this type of fashion is often worn in non-working situations by those with mature, smart, and gothic taste. Corp Goths wear formal black clothing, maroon or any other dark-shade, as well as a necklace or earrings if the setting allows for it.
- The Cybergoth aesthetic is a mixture of the Cyberpunk, Goth, and Raver aesthetics into one colorful and unique package. While cybergoths are not exactly connected to the overall goth subculture, some cybergoths do listen to gothic rock, but mostly listen to other genres such as EBM, dark-electro and witch house. For more information, please visit out Cybergoth page.
- Fairy Goth is a mix between Romantic goths and Medieval goth. The aesthetic follows the themes of mystical and ethereal creatures (i.e. fairies and spirits of the forests). Fairy Goths may wear long, lacy dresses, fake elf ears and wings to look like a fae. It tends to be mostly cosplay and has only a small presence in the actual Goth scene.
- Goshikku Gyaru is a Gothic take on the Gyaru fashion, combining elements of the Western Goth look with the Japanese Gyaru look. For more information on this, we recommend checking out the Goshikku Gyaru page over on The Gyaru Wikia.
- Health Goth is a slightly-contested variation of gothic fashion, Health Goth is split into two camps: one which is Goth mixed with elements of Cleancore and Medicalcore to produce a uniquely sterile aesthetic, while the other is Goth with more of a nod towards pursuing physical fitness and being in shape, while still maintaining a gothic aesthetic. For more information on these two aesthetics, please visit the Health Goth page.
- Hippie Goths are a mix of Hippie and Goth fashion. It involves nature-loving, possibly following Paganism and/or Wicca and/or misc. It can include candles, crystals, incense, Tarot and other Wiccan items. (Be aware, you don’t have to be pagan or use pagan imagery to be in this aesthetic.)
- Medieval Goth is an aesthetic that's a mix of medieval times and gothic fashion. It involves history, museums, castles, churches and ancient monuments.
- Midwest Gothic/Suburban Gothic/Anglo Gothic, primarily literary traditions combining the tone of gothic literature with various settings. For more information, please check out our Midwest Gothic page.
- Pastel Goth takes more the cutesy and kid-friendly pastel colors often seen and blends it in with the harsh blacks often associated with Goth culture, creating a very interesting and unique look. It is not uncommon to see the colors pink and purple mixed with black with this particular aesthetic. Like Bubble Goth too, it's also not particularly common to see this style in the actual goth scene. For more information, please visit our Pastel Goth page.
- Southern Gothic takes elements of Gothic literature and combines them instead with elements of the American South, often done as a critique on what is often viewed as the backward traditions of the American South. For more information, please check out our Southern Gothic page.
- Tribal Goth is a substyle that uses traits like belly dancing garb, hipskirts and jewelry, bones and wood accessories with the Gothic scene, trying to mix the tribal look in with the Gothic look. It should be noted that it takes inspiration from indigenous cultures, and therefore should be treated respectfully as such
- Victorian Goth, also known simply as Gothic, is a substyle of goth that combines Victorian and Goth. The subgenre involves poetry, tea, plays, formal parties, opera, and classical music in general. This aesthetic is based on imitating the lifestyle of the Victorian era, especially the aristocrats since these were the ones who wore these extravagant clothes. For more information on this aesthetic, please check out the Victorian Goth page.
With a lot of alternative scenes, comes a lot of preconceived notions and assumptions. Goth is no exception to this.
Although the Goth subculture is sometimes perceived as being intrinsically related to Satanism or atheism, religious beliefs in the community vary. As it is only a music and aesthetic form, anyone, from any religion or political belief system can be in the scene.
It’s also important to note that Goth in and of itself is not a kink subculture, and beliefs regarding sexuality vary among members of the community.
While fashion is an important aspect of the goth subculture, music is typically regarded as the the most important aspect of the subculture. Regardless, several genres and subcultures are mistaken for Goth.
These genres include, but not limited to, Nu-metal (Korn, Slipknot, Evanescence), Pop punk (Green Day, My Chemical Romance), Industrial (Nine Inch Nails, Skinny Puppy, Marilyn Manson), Dark pop (Billie Ellish), Emo trap/Emo rap (XXXTentacion, Lil Peep, GothBoiClique, etc.), Grunge (Nirvana), Symphonic metal, Dark caberet, neoclassical darkwave* and Gothic metal (Type O Negative).
(*while it was based off the original darkwave sound, it is a genre that has strayed away from its post-punk roots, and more into folk. Thus, most goths do not count this as a goth genre.)
- Dark & Gothic Official Spotify Playlist
- Goth Essentials Spotify playlist by Derrick Johnson
- Goth/Darkwave Spotify playlist by Beach Fossils
- Gothic Rock Spotify playlist by Timothy Walschaerts
- The Numero Guide to Cold Wave & Minimal Synth by Numero Group
- The Sound of Ethereal Wave by The Sounds of Spotify
Beginner Albums to Goth
- In the Flat Field by Bauhaus
- First and Last and Always by The Sisters of Mercy
- Disintegration by The Cure
- Juju by Siouxsie and the Banshees
- Acid Bath by Alien Sex Fiend
- Ehtazi by Molchat Doma
Goth Youtubers and Podcasts
- Cadaver Kelly/Gothy Roundtable
- Angela Benedict
- Of Herbs and Altars
- Madi Danger
- Cemetery Confessions
- BlackCraft Cult
- Empty Society
- Goth Aesthetic
- Goth Mall
- Lip Service
- Mysticum Luna
- New Rock
- Punk Rave
- Stay Cold Apparel
- Goth subculture | Wikipedia
- Jeremy Gordon, October 17, 2017, 'MGMT’s Comeback Single “Little Dark Age” Is Grim And Playful' - Spin