New Romantic

Despite later developments, the early goth scene had nothing to do with the New Romantic scene, at least musically. Goth evolved out of punk and was, at this stage, raw and experimental, whereas New Romantic was stylish, polished and very much chart-orientated (the debut singles by Spandau Ballet and Duran Duran went straight into charts). In many ways goth, like other alternative genres, was reacting against manufactured chart music, which by 1981 certainly included New Romantic.

It should also be remembered that New Romantic was very much a manufactured, club-orientated scene, whereas goth (at this stage) was not a clearly-defined movement and was centred around live bands.

With the advent of the Batcave in July 1982, the goth scene became more club and fashion-orientated, but was still very much an "underground" scene.

It's worth quoting from a couple of interviews to illustrate the differences:

In a Sounds article from December 1980, Nick Rhodes from Duran Duran said of Spandau Ballet: "We're not trying to move away from that scene, the main chunk of our audience in Birmingham is those people, but we're not tied to it as Spandau obviously are. When people come and see us we'd much rather that they dance and have a good time rather than dress up in the clothes and just look, which a lot of them do." Andy Taylor added "It's phenomenal. Friday night down the club (the Rum Runner) there's 600 of them. That's a lot of poseurs for Birmingham." John Taylor says: "One of the best points Spandau made, which we certainly agree with, that's the whole good time thing. The last thing in the world we're ever going to sing about is bad times. There are already too many bands doing that.... I think it (the band's approach to music) can pick up on the teenybop market.. We're definitely aiming towards a mass market...".

And in an interview for Trouser Press in July 1981, Gary Kemp of Spandau Ballet said: "What we wanna do is create a soundtrack for what goes on in our clubs... in fact the music is irrelevant; the people in the club are the most important thing... we're not into that band-playing scene..."

Note: Since I wrote this, I've encountered a lot of confusion with people about what the New Romantic scene actually was. So for further background, here's the article on New Romantic from Ted Polhemus' "Streetstyle":

Punk caught the media off guard. Attentions were focussed elsewhere and the average journalist was too old to spot the anger and frustration which was building among young people throughout the mid-seventies. But once the realisation grew that items about Punks sold newspapers and magazines and pushed up TV ratings, youth culture once again became the media's pet subject.

The only trouble was that after a while the Punks began to lose the ability to shock. And, at least in Britain, as Crazy Colour and spiky hair became a common sight, the media began to feel the need for a new, even more newsworthy, styletribe.

There were in fact several candidates- "cults", in the parlance of the day- already available. For example, there were the Young Soul Rebels ' who looked sharp in their American-style sportswear which they blended with glam/funk elements and who (unlike the Northern Soulies) sought to show that new forms of soul music were evolving with the times. But the fact that these Young Soul Rebels were predominantly black kept the media's interest to a minimum and rendered this interesting subculture almost invisible outside its own immediate environment. Also, in the mid to late seventies a large number of young British Rockabillies -I 'Cats' - were to be seen prowling the streets of London. But (perhaps sensing that American-inspired nostalgia could never step into Punk's chunky footsteps) the media did not give these the space which was appropriate to their numbers.

What did catch the media's attention was the emergence of the half-Skinhead, half-Punk, Oi!s, who always seemed willing to oblige with a provocative (sometimes racist) quote and a menacing snarl to the camera. Here was a styletribe which the media could get its teeth into but, on the other hand, not one whose story was ever going to amuse and entertain. Nor was it one in which the British could take pride. No, what was needed was a predominantly white, zany but politically inoffensive, flamboyant, overdressed styletribe which would provoke wry chuckles of disbelief rather than serious concern. Happily, by late 1978, the blueprint was already off the drawing board.

Since the earliest days of Punk there had always existed within its ranks an energetic little clique of self-proclaimed Posers who took more interest in dressing up and clubbing than in formulating an ideology of anarchic revolution. Invariably showing up in the most inventive creations, the key members of this group - people like Philip Sallon, George O'Dowd, Steve Strange and Chris Sullivan had been well received at Louise's (the lesbian club in Soho which had doubled as a Punk meeting place). But as Punk tended more and more towards a stereotyped uniformity and as the 'Hard Punks' (like the 'Hard Mods' before them) turned their backs on fancy dress, these exquisite Posers were increasingly left out in the cold. When Louise's closed in 1978 and this became literally the case, it was time for them to find both a new home and a new direction.

Or perhaps an old direction - as what was required would clearly have to be pre-Punk in origin. And, given the preoccupations of the Posers, it would need to be glamorous and experimental in terms of gender definition. Accordingly, Rusty Egan, Steve Strange and Chris Sullivan took over a little club in Soho called Gossips for one night a week. They called it 'Bowie Night'.

This event heralded a new development in club culture as well as the launch of a new styletribe. Instead of taking place on a Friday or Saturday when all kinds of nine-to-five types might lower the tone of the proceedings, Bowie Night was held on Tuesdays. Furthermore, the music, ambience and choice of customer was controlled by streetsmart kids rather than an out-of-touch club owner.

In this way, the 'one nighter' revolutionised London club life and set the stage for a 'narrow-casting' of tastes and interests which in its specificity would promote the rise of dozens of small 'cults'.

When Bowie Night grew too big for Gossips, Egan and Strange switched to a larger club called the Blitz, which was decorated with Second World War posters ordering you to grow more vegetables. Despite the decor, the place attracted huge queues of bizarrely attired Posers all desperately hoping that Steve Strange - who guarded the door like St Peter - would let them in. Hot on their heels were the media pundits - pleased as punch that at last a suitable replacement to the Punks had been found but unable to come up with a name for them other than the 'Cult With No Name'.

For a time, the members of London's latest styletribe became known as 'Blitz Kids', after the name of the club. However, the inappropriateness of this was underlined when a string of other one-nighter clubs opened to cater to the same crowd on different nights of the week. Then, suddenly, the media began to favour the label 'New Romantics'. Although some of us might have preferred 'Posers', New Romantics did conjure up vivid images of soft, extravagant fabrics, elegance and finery. And whether they were Ziggy Stardust-inspired futurists in silver lame or 1 930s nostalgia-inspired sophisticates in white tuxedos and evening gowns, what the New Romantics had in common and what separated them from the Punks was an addiction to the glamorous.

Despite the fact that the New Romantics were themselves more often than not kids who had fallen loosely within Punk's broad domain, they now emerged in a sense as antiPunks, substituting the elegant for the slovenly, the precious for the vulgar, Dressing Up for Dressing Down. Such a reversal is hardly unique in the history of streetstyle but what is astonishing is that it should have been accomplished within just a couple of years. This happened in part because the original Posers were the ultimate quick-change artists, but perhaps even more because the emergence of Punk had whetted the media's appetite for identifying and promoting new, rapidly changing streetstyle cults. A club of Blitz Kids having fun dressing up was in fact transformed by the media into a fully fledged, international subculture defined by a philosophy of 'new romanticism' which always seemed a bit of an afterthought.

But is this cynical assessment really accurate? Among the New Romantics were hundreds of talented clothing designers, musicians and club entrepreneurs who never quite fulfilled their promise in the straightjacket of Punk but who now forged a link between streetstyle, club culture and popular music which remains in effect to this day. They also possessed formidable PR skills. Indeed, perhaps the greatest accomplishment of the New Romantics was the extent to which they brought the media within their own control - prompting the launch of a new breed of 'style magazines' such as i-D and The Face which, for the first time, gave club culture and streetstyle the credit they deserve

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