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A Trip Down Gothic Lane: ‘Silhouettes & Statues’

For those who think Goth signifies a group of emo music fans in black lipstick who swan around in velvet capes and fantasize about vampires, the Silhouettes & Statues: A Gothic Revolution 1978-86 box set  is here to set the record straight. It includes an excellent essay from music journalist Natasha Scharf in which she discusses just what it is that makes Goth music “Goth” in the first place, while giving the post-punk subgenre the respect it deserves. Scharf even explains from where the term arose.

“Just one month after Bauhaus’ debut single was released, broadcaster and Factory Records boss Tony Wilson slipped the word ‘gothic’ into an interview about Joy Division for the youth programme Something Else, having borrowed the descriptor from [Joy Division’s] Unknown Pleasures producer Martin Hannett, who’d referred to the album as ‘dancing music with gothic overtones’.”(1)

The discs themselves include an outstanding collection of Goth’s most well-loved bands along with a lot of others whom listeners may have missed out on or simply never heard before.

The box set opens with Joy Division’s “Shadowplay” before immediately moving into The Birthday Party’s “Release The Bats,” thus establishing its Goth credibility. Bands like Alien Sex Fiend, The Cure, Dead Can Dance, Fields of the Nephilim, The Mission, Sisters of Mercy, and of course, Bauhaus, are all included. People may wonder at the absence of favorites like Christian Death or Siouxsie and the Banshees, but it could be a case of licensing rights. Siouxsie Sioux, who was originally part of the “Bromley Contingent” (2) of Sex Pistols fans in 1976, has often vocalized her disdain for the “limiting” nature of the term “Goth.” (3)

Still, there were a lot of other women in Goth music, and Silhouettes & Statues does not omit them. Danielle Dax’s South Asian-flavored “Bed Caves” is included along with Rubella Ballet, Schleimer K, Skeletal Family, and Brigandage, whose “Angel of Vengeance” boasts the confrontational lyric “I’m gonna blow your fucking brains out.” Nico’s “Saeta” might seem to be a strange choice, but it’s hard to argue against the idea that her vocal style influenced a lot of Goth singers.

Danielle Dax.

Penetration’s “Stone Heroes” is an astonishing track made even more so by the fact that it sounds like 1990s alternative rock, but is actually from 1978. Attrition’s singer Chryss is represented twice here: once on that band’s “Birthrite” and again on the dramatic cabaret antics of Bushido’s “Among the Ruins.” Blood and Roses’ “Spit Upon Your Grave” is a indictment of witch hunts told through piano, drum machines, galloping guitar riffs, and singer Lisa Kirby’s powerful vocals.

Scotland’s Cocteau Twins were possibly more influential upon dream pop or shoegaze bands, but their inclusion on this compilation is well-deserved. Singer Liz Fraser’s voice is unparalleled in any genre, whether it be Goth or not. Rather than putting a track from the band’s super Gothy debut Garlands, Disc Four includes “In Our Angelhood” from their second full-length, Head Over Heels, which indicates the wide variety of styles that can fall within this subgenre.

What about the so-called “Godfathers of Goth,” Bauhaus? Although they only have one song on Silhouettes & Statues – the gloriously over-the-top “Stigmata Martyr” – technically the band’s members appear on three other tracks, via Tones on Tail, Love and Rockets, and Dali’s Car. The short-lived band’s influence can be felt most strongly on 13th Chime’s “Cuts of Love,” Salvation’s “Girlsoul,” and Artery’s “Into The Garden,” all of which manage to be quite original, while still capturing the essence of that Bauhaus sound.

Bauhaus.

Another musician that appears multiple times on the compilation is Ian Astbury, via Southern Death Cult’s “Moya” and Death Cult’s “Ghost Dance” (the latter also included The Cult’s Billy Duffy). It’s intriguing to note just how much Death Cult’s music feels like the spiritual sibling of Adam and the Ants’ tribal sound.

No doubt purists will turn up their noses at the inclusion of Public Image Ltd.’s “Flowers of Romance” or Adam and the Ants’ “Tabletalk,” especially since Adam Ant eventually transformed into a fully-fledged international pop star in the early 1980s. Yet as Mark Tinley (of Tabatha’s Nightmare) mentions in the liner notes, “The Goth influence lives secretly in a cave beneath the works of acts like Duran Duran and The Dandy Warhols if you listen hard enough.” (4)

Despite the appearance of what might be called “classic Goth” (if such a thing even exists), Silhouettes & Statues is at its best when it offers selections from those musicians who truly pushed the borders of what Goth can sound like (and if you’ve ever spent time discussing Goth you’ll understand how didactic fans of the subculture can be at times).
Balaam and the Angel’s “Darklands” is exquisite, with sleigh bells, echoing drums, a heartbreaking guitar melody, and singer Mark Morris’s stunning voice. The Wake’s “Patrol” (a band which included Bobby Gillespie at one point) feels more like Visage or Gary Numan than Goth, while the guitar and drum assault found in both The Chameleons’ “In Shreds” and Red Lorry Yellow Lorry’s “Take It All” reveal that Goth wasn’t that far removed from bands like Midnight Oil or The Stranglers. And where on earth does one put The Legendary Pink Dots? As it turns out, on Disc Three, with the strangely compelling “Love Puppets.”

The Bolshoi, although latecomers to the scene and being a staple of MTV’s 120 Minutes during the mid-to-late 1980s, are one of the more underrated bands on this set as “By The River” proves. Gene Loves Jezebel would go on to move quite far from their Goth origins into honest-to-goodness hair metal, but “Screaming (For Emmaline)” is enough proof that they belong here. Similarly, Flesh For Lulu, although they were eventually mainstream enough to be included on the soundtrack to the 1986 John Hughes film Some Kind of Wonderful, are another band who doesn’t get nearly enough credibility or praise, at least on this side of the pond. “Vaguely Human” is a fantastic track, which shares much in common with bands like the “Southern Gothic by way of California” Wall of Voodoo.

There’s a fine line between punk, post-punk, and Goth at times, and some of the bands on Silhouettes & Statues show just how arbitrary that line can be. Schleimer K’s Dominique Brethes sums it up well in the liner notes: “The punk movement was a big liberation in the sense that people were using music to express themselves with basic musical skills, and it was more about the content than the technique, which appealed to me after my frustrating years at having to conform to the traditional music teaching experience.” (5)

In terms of bands who sound like they have dipped their toes in all three genres, the most obvious would probably be The Damned; their “Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde” is a perfect example of blurring the edges between genres. Ritual’s “Mind Disease” and Theatre of Hate’s “Original Sin” (featuring a pre-Spear of Destiny Kirk Brandon and his peerless vocals) could easily be included on a post-punk compilation and no one would bat an eyelash.

It is difficult not to hear the roots of Danish post-punk upstarts Iceage in UK Decay’s “The Black Cat” or 1919’s “Caged,” but perhaps the most “punk” of all the bands included would be the politically charged Rubella Ballet. “Twister” is one of the more boundary-pushing tracks on Silhouettes & Statues. Perhaps even more daring are Goth cabaret acts like The Associates, Bushido, or Bone Orchard, who feel like they might have more in common with performance art than post-punk.

Rubella Ballet.

As far as blurring boundaries, the relationship between Goth and glam is one that deserves attention. Actified’s “Creation,” Alien Sex Fiend’s “Dead and Buried,” and Specimen’s “Returning From a Journey” might be the most obvious of the included songs, but Dance Chapter’s “Anonymity” and Gloria Mundi’s utterly bizarre “The Hill” are also intriguing. Anyone who doubts the Goth/glam connection needs only to read Daniel Ash’s comments in the liner notes about Love and Rockets’ “Seventh Dream of Teenage Heaven.”

This song is all about how it felt to be a teenager when the whole glam rock thing came out in the UK in 1972. It was a total departure from the terrible prog rock of the time. ‘Pass me that electric blue eye shadow, darling.’ A truly magical time.” (6)

There are plenty of hidden gems on Silhouettes & Statues that deserve immense popularity: the male/female vocals in The March Violets’ “Crow Baby” are stunning, while Folk Devils’ “Beautiful Monster” is one of the most incendiary tracks on this entire set. In Camera’s “Fragments of Fear” is genuinely creepy and catchy at the same time while “Out of The Moving Life of Circles” by And Also The Trees feels like it could be a missing song by jangle/dream pop band The Lucy Show. It’s unbelievable that Zero La Creche weren’t as massive as Modern English; their “Last Year’s Wife” is the stone cold hit that never was.

Of course, in addition to the music, the liner notes on each track are illuminating, revealing that Rema-Rema included Marco Pirroni of Adam and the Ants, and Tones on Tail’s Glenn Campling was originally a Bauhaus roadie. It also shows the sheer breadth and depth of the cross-pollination between the bands featured. It’s startling that some of them only released one or two albums at most before disbanding and being relegated to the dustbin of musical history.

Ultimately, this is a vital compilation for anyone even vaguely interested in Goth music. It also seems that we might need this kind of music now more than ever. The press release states that the collection “seeks to reposition and redefine this music, these feelings and the spirit of perverse honesty and joyful detachment that prevailed whilst the country mutated into something few of us recognised or cared for.” (7)

 There are many of us around the world who can relate to this sentiment.

Silhouettes & Statues: A Gothic Revolution 1978-86 was released by Cherry Red Records on 30 June 2017.

 

Bibliography:

Scharf, Natasha. “Stepping Out of the Shadows,” Silhouettes & Statues: A Gothic Revolution 1978-86, Cherry Red Records, 30 June 2017.

Goddard, Simon. “Interview: Siouxsie Sioux,” Uncut, Features & Interviews, 29 November 2004. http://www.uncut.co.uk/features/interview-siouxsie-sioux-44419. Accessed 18 August 2017.

Wikipedia. “Bromley Contingent,” https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bromley_Contingent. Accessed 18 August 2017.

Liner Notes, Silhouettes & Statues: A Gothic Revolution 1978-86, Cherry Red Records, 30 June 2017.

Press Release, Silhouettes & Statues: A Gothic Revolution 1978-86, Cherry Red Records. http://us9.campaign-archive2.com/?e=adcefba310&u=5682b23bf8a44b80b578397c0&id=ea5f6d773d. Accessed 18 August 2017.

About Less Lee Moore

Less Lee Moore fell in love with weird music and movies during countless hours spent watching Night Flight and listening to college radio as an impressionable teenager. She is the founder of Popshifter, and also writes for Rue Morgue, Everything Is Scary, Biff Bam Pop, Modern Horrors & more. She has a degree in Film Studies from UCSB and a Hannibal tattoo.

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