May 22nd is World Goth Day, an observance that began in Britain in 2009, growing from BBC Radio 6 program that took a look at music subcultures. DJs Martin OldGoth and Cruel Britannia got the first observance of Goth Day up and running, and the celebration of the holiday has grown by leaps and bounds since. This year, there are at least, 52 registered events occurring on five continents. Not too shabby for an eight-year-old tradition!
According to the World Goth Day website, the day “is exactly what it says on the wrapper – a day where the goth scene gets to celebrate its own being, and an opportunity to make its presence known to the rest of the world.”
Though the goth subculture wasn’t really established until the early 1980s, the groundwork for its emergence began to be laid in 1967, when music critic John Stickney described The Doors’ sound as “gothic rock.” That same year, Velvet Underground would release a track that Kurt Loder (yep, that Kurt Loder) would go on to describe as a “gothic-rock masterpiece.” In the late 1970s, “gothic” became a way to describe a new post-punk sound characterized by bands like Siouxsie and the Banshees and Joy Division. Later, Bauhaus would break onto the scene and their single “Bela Lugosi’s Dead” has come to be regarded as the birth of gothic rock as a genre unto itself.
Initially finding its footing in Britain, bands like The Cure, Play Dead (though, the band itself does not identify as goth), Dead Can Dance, and The Sisters of Mercy had early influence in shaping the sound of the gothic genre. It was not long before the sound jumped the pond and began finding homes in clubs in New York and L.A. Moving into the 1990s, though, dance music became the sound of youth culture and goth went underground. It was around the late 1990s and early 2000s that I was introduced to the goth subculture—though, by this point it had substantially morphed from the sound and style of the genre’s progenitors, splintering into any number of subgenres and sub-subcultures.
Music definitely informed the beginning of goth communities, but—as suggested by the word “subculture”—it expanded far beyond bonding over bands. The goth subculture drew—and continues to draw—inspiration from science fiction, Gothic literature, horror and B movies, mythology, among other contemporary and historical cultural elements. Making its way onto the scene around the same time the foundation for the goth genre was being laid, Anne Rice’s The Vampire Chronicles reimagined vampires in a way that appealed to goth readers and echoed themes found in goth music: self-flagellating souls struggling with how to be in the world while also searching for joy and connection, however fleeting. Ultimately, that is, in my experience what the goth scene is about—recognizing the dark and the mysterious and looking for connection—and those things are also embodied in other literary influences stretching back from Anne Rice, Poppy Z. Brite, and Neil Gaiman to H.P. Lovecraft, Edgar Allan Poe, and E. T. A. Hoffman.
So, bust out your best black outfit—though, the goth “black uniform” was largely an issue of being spendthrift—and pull up a fitting playlist and join us in celebrating the sometimes weird, often misunderstood, and always multifaceted goth scene.