Only a lucky few can say they were au courant during goth music’s initial spawning from post-punk in the late 1970s. As an 80’s kid, I was only peripherally aware of bands like The Cure and Siouxsie and the Banshees. I wouldn’t “discover” the likes of Joy Division or Suicide until my teen years while playing the CD of The Crow soundtrack on repeat.
The 90’s goth resurgence with bands like Nine Inch Nails, Marilyn Manson, and Type O Negative drew many listeners’ interests to the original goth music legends. But this resurgence also launched goth music dangerously near the mainstream. Then followed a dark time: a time of mall goths. Melancholy was packaged for consumption. Black attire came pre-safety pinned for convenience at the local Hot Topic. This signaled a retreat to the comforts of the coffin for the elder and 90’s goths, clutching immortal albums like Killing Joke’s Night Time, or The Cramps Songs the Lord Taught Us.
But just when middle-aged goths like me and elder goths were convinced that no new music would ever appear again, and that we would have to make do with Pink Turns Blue touring again, goth music experienced a revival, with fresh new takes on the genre. These new bands combine many of the things that drew us to the genre in the first place: haunting reverb, driving rhythms, lyrics that are intelligent, nihilistic, and tragically romantic—all wrapped in high drama and a macabre aesthetic. But these bands are not simply a retro-rehash of goth music’s greatest hits. These goth fledglings are more ethnically and musically diverse than the goth bands of old. They also provide higher quality sounds thanks to increasingly affordable recording options: lo-fi is now a stylistic choice and not simply the best that can be done with the equipment available at indie price-points.
1. Boy Harsher
Boy Harsher exemplifies how strong visual elements can add to the auditory and fan experience. Goth audiences often gravitate towards bands with a certain look or feel. The funerary personal style of many of goth music’s original greats set them apart from other groups at the time and signaled the possibility of kindred spirits. Sometimes a look helps listeners to recognize a band, sometimes it adds to their notoriety, and sometimes it adds to their performance, with Alice Cooper at the far end, reaching cartoonish levels in the stage presence and theatrics department. Later, music videos like “Lucretia My Reflection” by Sisters of Mercy or Bauhaus’s “Mask,” attracted all those with a vampiric air to the goth music fold.
Boy Harsher, the danceable, minimalistic darkwave duo of vocalist Jae Matthews and producer Augustus Muller, who met at film school, use their David Lynch-esque music videos to add story layers to their songs. MTV may have stopped playing music videos long ago, but the music video medium is still an important way for listeners to access and enjoy music. Today’s listeners often experience new music through YouTube, increasing the importance of a shareable, thought-provoking video that begs for repeat viewings.
Boy Harsher’s short movie “The Runner” debuted at Sundance last year. The soundtrack, of course, was their new album.
It has been exciting to watch Boy Harsher’s rise. I had heard the underground hit “Pain” from their likewise-titled 2015 EP shortly before I saw them open at Adult. and Universal Eyes’s 20th anniversary show at the Coleman A. Young Airport in Detroit. It was the closest I’ve ever been to a rave, being too young to witness firsthand Detroit’s birthing of the techno genre in the 80’s. The rave-adjacent crowd welcomed Boy Harsher’s throbbing beats and seductive vocals. When I saw them headline a show at the El Club in Detroit this past summer, the crowd was singing along with all the lyrics. It was nice to know that I wasn’t the only one playing Boy Harsher until I memorized every whispered, moaned, or shrieked lyric.
Matthews was recently diagnosed with multiple sclerosis, but so far has still been able to tour. That’s the one thing about being an older music fan—you learn to seize the opportunities to see a favorite band, because the future is uncertain. You carry a mental list of all the bands you passed on seeing live at some intimate club for $10, thinking that you would catch them next time they came around, only for that band to stop touring, break up, or blow up. Perhaps young music fans have learned this lesson earlier in life than their elders, with so many shows cancelled because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
2. Choir Boy
Morrissey and The Smiths fans will appreciate Choir Boy singer Adam Klopp’s almost operatic crooning on songs like the mournful “Angel Dog” and “Sunday Light’s” rebuke of religion. Klopp’s impressive vocal range pairs well with the poppy guitars and keyboards. Fans of The Cure will particularly enjoy the melodic yet melancholy “Complainer” and “Toxic Eye.”
When I saw them perform at their hometown show in Cleveland in 2019, their handsome young singer was so far into his cups that he fell off the stage not once but twice, like punk rockers of old. Klopp performed most of the set with a trickle of blood down his face. Punks would have cheered Klopp’s self-injurious behavior, but goths are a more empathetic sort. A fan brought him a mug of water from the bar and begged him to hydrate.
Last year, to a packed audience at Sanctuary in Detroit, Choir Boy performed just as passionately, though fortunately for longevity’s sake, more soberly.
3. The Soft Moon
The Soft Moon’s shredded guitars, frenetic drums, distorted vocals, and angsty lyrics are reminiscent of Suicide or Killing Joke. But perhaps The Soft Moon is most comparable to Nine Inch Nails, in sound as well as the fact that Trent Reznor is Nine Inch Nails and Luis Vasquez is The Soft Moon: both are the singer/songwriter/musician/producer/creative control behind the music. Vasquez, born to a Cuban immigrant mother and absentee Mexican father, represents the too-often overlooked Latinx side of the goth scene that has contributed much more to the culture than Día de los Muertos candy skull paraphernalia.
4. Drab Majesty
Drab Majesty conjures the feel of an alien’s commentary on humanity. The communication method: tragic-wave music. Andrew Clinco plays drums for Marriages and releases albums under VR Sex, but for Drab Majesty, Clinco dons the androgynous neo-goth glam character of Deb Demure. Unexpected melodies, clever arrangements, post-punk guitars—Clinco is perhaps the best guitarist out of this bunch—and electronic drumbeats over atmospheric build-ups characterize Drab Majesty’s sound. Their first album Careless (2015) wasrecorded in Clinco’s L.A. bedroom. Clinco reported feeling surprised by the creation, like it had been channeled from another plane, leading to the development of his Deb Demure character. 2019’s Modern Mirror reverberates with 80’s retro synth soundscapes on songs like the catchy “Oxytocin,” and ethereal “Out of Sequence” that starts out like something from the Cocteau Twins. From the hopefulness of “Too Soon to Tell,” the pleading of “Dot in the Sky,” to the crushing devastation of “39 by Design,” anything from 2017’s The Demonstration is hard to top. This concept album explores mass suicide and the Heaven’s Gate cult, all viewed through that removed, outsider lens.
5. She Past Away
As Rammstein’s German lyrics lent a guttural harshness to their industrial sound, She Past Away has introduced the sophisticated goth’s ear to the bite of the Turkish language when it delivers bitter poetry, with a post-punk darkwave sound close to Joy Division or Asylum Party. Their minimalistic sound features vocalist and guitarist Volkan Caner, and İdris Akbulut on bass, the latter replaced by producer Doruk Öztürkcan on synths in 2015. This is no novelty act, with spacey synths and pounding beats on songs like “Ruh” and “Ritüel” from 2012’s Belirdi Gece equaled with energy and disdain on 2015’s Narin Yalnızlık’s “Soluk,” whose lyrics when translated to English say: “Join us/ This is the last call/ Your god is mistaken/ See the light.” 2019’s Disko Anksiyete uses energetic disco sounds in ways more like early Depeche Mode than Donna Summer, exploring new directions for the band on danceable tracks like the brokenhearted “Durdu Dünya” or “Girdap’s” lamentations on becoming a prisoner of love.
When I saw She Past Away perform in Chicago during a July heatwave in 2019, the band showed up two hours late to a restless and overly intoxicated audience. The band explained that they had driven 14 hours non-stop from the previous night’s gig in New York, then proceeded to pummel the audience with a relentless and sweaty set.
I hadn’t seen moshing like that since the 90’s. Until that show, I had become convinced that younger people these days were incapable. Indeed, some crowds still are on the soft side—not that I am complaining! A fan stopped the Boy Harsher show I saw in 2022 because they “got pushed.” My husband and I just looked at each other and laughed. At my very first concert, Marilyn Manson in 1997, the crowd rushed the stage, and my feet didn’t touch the floor and I could barely breathe for the entire first song of the set. “Getting pushed” was an expectation at rock shows during the 90s, but especially as an older fan, I like going home from a show without bruises.
While I appreciated the energy and dedication of She Past Away’s crowd, it was the first time I have ever had a beer thrown in my face by a fellow audience member, an experience I could have done without, though it certainly did drive home the point that music fans can be just as… passionate as they were when I was a teen.
I have made peace with becoming the token “old person” in the audience at shows. That’s the nice thing about being a fan of the counterculture: you are already used to standing out from the crowd. It is such a privilege to be able to travel to see live music, to watch firsthand as new acts grow and develop.
I hope this short list will give elder goths something fresh to sink their teeth into, that spark of excitement when you find a new band that speaks to your soul. For those new to goth music, you are in for a treat as you explore the bands that birthed the genre, for they have held up well and continue to inspire.
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