In these most dystopian of times of 2023, even the darkest imaginations of centuries of gothic writers and musicians could never have concocted a story or song to mimic the world’s current gloomy malaise. Birthed in another dystopian time, goth – with its embrace of the dark side – is perhaps the perfect soundtrack and culture that captures the spirit of this age.
In its post-punk birth, it was a culture that unintentionally embraced the gloomy decay of the late Seventies and early Eighties when the dysfunctional UK was in disarray. Not directly political, it somehow captured the claustrophobic groove of the helter-skelter of post-industrial post-punk when things felt febrile, tribal and broken. This was a time when the remnants of empire were boarded up, and the nuclear winter seemed even greyer than the British one. Not that goth was moping – the music and clothes were often black, but it found a beauty in the darkness with a music that came to life on the dance floor. Forty years later, goth still seeks the beauty in that darkness and the hope in the despair and the dark disco in the dystopia.
In 2023 we are trapped in a post-pandemic world, a terror of modern life run by inept leaders and a runaway planet choking on its own fumes. The dark visions of mystics and shamanic creatives would be tested to their outer limits in an attempt to soundtrack contemporary society. Many may ask where the righteous anger of punk has gone, yet melancholia is, equally and ironically, a perfect retreat from the madness of the modern world and its carnage visor news.
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The dark stuff is still oddly attractive and lends its thousand shades of black to all kinds of art and culture, making it even more magnetic in its Cimmerian, cinematic, Sensurround space. Goth in the 21st century is a dark cultural shade, available for anyone who wants to add a veneer of caliginous content to their schtick. In these times, goth is everywhere. It’s in the fashion collections, Batman films, cinema blockbusters, pop culture and even in the endless 24-hour rolling news with its ‘end of times’ headlines, filled with apocalyptic neo-gothic imagery and the nightmarish visions of a JG Ballard novels come to life.
The dark energy is all-pervading, and it enthrals us. What was once a cult is now mainstream. The current manifestation is Wednesday, the American coming-of-age streaming TV series based around the character of Wednesday Addams and full of goth touch points. The supernatural dark comedy, mystery and horror TV series comes with a great soundtrack and trad goth clothes; it has put the mainstream focus back on the culture yet again in a wildly popular box-set series. The lingering dark shadows flicker through music with a raft of new bands playing with goth textures or styles, another fashion collection waters down the black as it steals from the imaginations of the youth, books shiver with a gothic backdrop, cinema is full of spectral themes, soundtracks are brooding and mainstream TV series are full of post-punk gothic music that was once the underground but has somehow become mainstream.