A Short, Reductive, Timeline of Dark Music
1979 - 1984: Post-Punk’s Dark Romantics
Goth crawls out of the primordial ooze of punk, spawning Siouxsie, Bauhaus, Killing Joke, The Cure, The Birthday Party, the Batcave scene, “positive punk,” and UK Decay (among others). Dark, experimental, angular, and transgressive. Meanwhile, Deathrock was simmering in California, spawning Christian Death, 45 Grave, and other acts that would soon cross-pollinate with the UK Goth acts.
1979 - 1991: The Classic Era of 4AD’s Sound
4AD’s distinctive roster would end up being hugely influential for years to come on dark music: Cocteau Twins, The Mortal Coil, Clan of Xymox, Dead Can Dance, Throwing Muses, Lush, in addition to releasing important singles from first-wave Goth acts like Bauhaus and The Birthday Party. Essentially road-mapped Darkwave, and several other musical currents. Ended in 1991 with the release of the last This Mortal Coil record. Still vital today as a label with bands like Grimes, Ariel Pink, and The Big Pink.
1982 - 1992: At Play in the Post-Industrial Park
As the first iteration of Industrial music seemed to come to a creative impasse, many of the artists involved, and those inspired by them, went on to create strange, bizarre, and beautiful sounds. Most notably from Psychic TV, Coil, and Current 93. From this nexus of creative individuals would emerge Neofolk and Electro-Industrial styles. Heavily influential on the Empire of Dirt that would follow.
1983 - 1993: The Rise and Fall of Gothic Rock
Goth’s second wave begins with the rise of the Gothic Rock bands, most notable being The Sisters of Mercy. They, along with The Mission, Fields of the Nephilim, The Cult, The March Violets, and, All About Eve would spawn several imitators and define the “Goth” sound for many to this day. Unofficially ended with the wrapping up of The Sister’s “Vision Thing” tour in 1993, by which time the other bands were in decline, imploding, or taking long hiatuses. They left dozens of imitators, some good, some not, in their wake.
1983 - 1993: (Dark) Music for the Masses
Goth gets big. Many bands get signed to major labels, Goth bands make the (college) charts, and for a time, just before grunge happened, dark music seemed poised to be dominant alternative style. Siouxsie plays the first Lollapalooza (along with Nine Inch Nails), The Sisters have their biggest albums, Peter Murphy strikes gold solo, while the rest of Bauhaus see big hits as Love & Rockets. The Cure become international superstars, Depeche Mode fills stadiums, and 120 Minutes is full of teased black hair and post-punk echoes. Sadly, this was more swan-song than harbinger.
1993 - 2003: The Darkwave Decade
Goth goes back underground (at least in America and the UK), and Darkwave emerges as the most vital creative force in the scene. Switchblade Symphony, Lycia, Trance to the Sun, The Cruxshadows, Black Tape for A Blue Girl, Faith and the Muse, and many more, all emerge during this era. This period also sees the rise of Convergence, Whitby Gothic Weekend, and Wave Gotik Treffen (in 1992), and sees Goth truly become a lifestyle with its own businesses and media. The era, musically at least, ended around 2003 as many of the top bands break up, or go on extended hiatuses.
1994 - 2004: The Empire of Dirt
While Goth went underground, Industrial-rock took its place in the mainstream. Nine Inch Nails was THE entry point for dark music for millions, and many of the bands who had hits during this era were connected in some way with Trent Reznor (Marilyn Manson, Filter, Stabbing Westward, etc). In addition, bands like Gravity Kills, White Zombie, and Ministry also had hits. Alas, all empires must fall, so too did the popularity of this sound by the mid-2000s.
1998 - 2006: The Deathrock Revival
Feeling that the Goth clubs had lost the plot, playing more dance-oriented EBM and Futurepop than the post-punk sounds they had grown to love, a number of “Deathrock” events and “old school” club nights arose, just as bands like Cinema Strange, Scarlet’s Remains, and The Brides were rising up to reclaim Goth’s punk (and post-punk) roots. This movement founds its purest expression in the Drop Dead Festival, which started in 2003, intermingled with the dark art-damaged West Coast bands (which I’ll get to in a moment), and provided a much-needed shot-in-the-arm. Drop Dead Festival left America after 2006, and became a much broader event in regard to what music it plays.
2002 - 2007: Art Damaged Darkness
Starting the early 2000s bands like Subtonix, The Vanishing, Erase Errata, Sixteens, Black Ice, Swann Danger, and several others, largely based in San Francisco and the West Coast generally, started making dark, experimental, music that took influence from early post-punk, Goth, and Industrial pioneers. Two compilations that came out in 2007, “Nostalgia del Buio,” and “Golden Grouper vol.1,” captured the diversity of this musical current but also served as a capstone as many of the acts changed, broke up, or moved into different sonic territory.
2002 - 2009: Post-Punk: The Revenge
In 2002 an immaculately dressed band named Interpol released “Turn On The Bright Lights” and signaled a renewed shift towards post-punk, specifically, Joy Division and Gang of Four seemed to be major touchstones. Interpol were joined by bands like The Liars, Yeah Yeah Yeahs, Editors, I Love You But I’ve Chosen Darkness, and many, many, many more. But 2009 the momentum had gone out of this particular revival, but it laid the foundations for deeper exploration of post-punk, including the first wave of Goth bands.
2009 - Present: Undead Music
Starting around 2009 acts like Zola Jesus, Chelsea Wolfe, O Children, Esben & The Witch, Austra, Soft Kill, SCUM, and many, many, many more, took the post-punk toolkit into darker territory. The “Goth” word got thrown around a lot by music journalists, and not always in a mocking manner. Most importantly, it seems like first-wave Goth and several of the other currents listed above have become acceptable reference points for new bands starting out. They don’t call themselves Goths, but they don’t need to. The dark sounds that emerged from post-punk have finally been embraced on their own merits and I’m excited about what the future holds.
There’s more that I could add here, but this is a good starting point for how I understand the progression of dark/Goth music. There should probably be an entry for EBM/Futurepop but I haven’t written it yet.
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