An Early History of Goth

This site is an attempt to give an outline of the beginnings of the goth movement, between 1979 and 1984. It's also an attempt to shed some light on generally unanswerable questions such as When did goth start?, Why did it get called goth? etc.

(and for those of you who are wondering, I've written a brief introductory guide to what is goth?)

This site has now become a historical document in itself, as it's been around since 1998 and as far as I am aware was the first serious in-depth attempt at an online history of the early 80s goth scene. As such, it's been used by a lot of people as a basis for their own work on the scene, and has been extensively quoted online and in print. So much so that people sometimes quote people who've quoted me (and so on) without realising where the original quote came from.

Despite that, this site is still Work In Progress, and comments, suggestions, information and corrections are still welcome, especially if you've got information or insight into the early scene. So please feel free to mail me.

Most of the chronological information on this site is gleaned from George Gimarc's invaluable Punk and Post-Punk diaries, with additional information from Mick Mercer (and his Gothic Rock books), old copies of NME/Sounds/Melody Maker, my record collection, my very fallible memory and various people on the net. Huge thanks to all of them, and especial thanks to Bob for doing the Cascading Style Sheets version, Hatty for the Zig Zag article, and to Greylock for the Positive Punk article.

Incidentally, the British Library currently have an exhibition on The Gothic and I helped with the 80s gothic part of it. One of my T-shirts and some of my badges are in the exhibition and I wrote a blog post for it.

The Post-Punk Landscape

The years in which the goth movement originated (79-83) were extremely interesting and diverse musically. As well as the punk splinter groups (the Oi! and Anarcho movements), there was the Ska revival, the Mod revival, the New Wave of British Heavy Metal, the fledgling Industrial sound, the so-called "Futurist" movement, New Romantic, Psychobilly and a bewildering array of "post-punk" bands. Out of this peculiar mixture, the early goth bands gradually emerged. Of course, at first they weren't termed "goth" bands, though some of them were referred to as "gothic" in musical style as early as 1979.

A long and rather inconclusive discussion on how they came to be referred to as goth can be found on the name page.

The Early Scene

For anyone who considers the Sisters of Mercy, Fields of the Nephilim and the Mission to be the archetypal goth bands, the early scene is a rather strange place. The early goth bands were, for the most part, much punkier and livelier, and at one stage were referred to as "Positive Punk". A brief discussion on goth's relation to punk can be found on the punk page. In the early years the dominant goth bands were not the Sisters, but UK Decay, the Banshees and Bauhaus, and a discussion on their relative importance in the early scene can be found on the bands page.

Another common misconception about the early goth scene is that it was closely tied to New Romantic. Whilst it had very loose ties with the (nebulous) Futurist scene, the early goth scene had very little to do with New Romantic.