80s Goth

by lou16

I’m sure you’ve heard of 80s Goth, but exactly what does 80s Goth really mean? Let’s take a look at the 80s subculture of Goth – gothic music and gothic fashion.

What is 80s Goth?

The 80s subculture called Goth is hard to define and no one seems to really agree on any standard definition.   What everyone does seem to agree on is that 80s Goth grew out of the post punk movement, much like the New Romantics (New Wave) did.   When you ask for people’s top Goth bands some of the replies aren’t bands that you would think of as Gothic.

I loved a lot of Gothic music during the 80s and I went through a stage where I dressed as a goth, although I wasn’t as full on as some people I knew.   I was shocked when I saw an article a few years ago that listed a group I enjoyed listening to as a Goth group – I certainly wouldn’t have characterised them as Gothic back them, although now the idea has been planted I can see why they have earned the label.

Music of our youth is often seen this way when we look back and musical historians and writers of pop culture start to put their opinions out there, but let’s have a look at what we can find out about the origins of 80s Goth.

80s Gothic Music – Where it Began

The idea of a gothic band began in 1979 when Joy Division were described as a band who’s music was, “dancing music with Gothic overtones.”   The same year the band were again described as Gothic and we were on the cusp of a new musical genre.

How much of the Goth influence was actually from the band and how much were due to their producer Martin Hannett is hard to know as Martin has been quoted as saying he tried to bring out Joy Division's "eerie spirituality" when working with them.

As punk died there were a lot of different bands trying to create their own brand of music, at the same time there was the use of synthesizers coming into music and bands were also experimenting with drum machines and the like.   These two different factors led to the rise of at least two different types of music genre – the New Romantics and 80s Goth.

With both of these musical genres the music and songs alone was only part of the story as these bands had grown up on television and wanted to create a whole image package to go with their music.

Although Joy Division was the first band that was described as Gothic, the first single that is generally considered to be the first Gothic record was by Bauhaus and was released, not in the 80s but actually in 1979.   We’re talking about their debut single and a classic 80s goth song – Bela Lugosi’s Dead.

To me you can clearly hear the punk influence in this song along with lots of glimpses into what 80s Gothic music will evolve into.   It’s really not one of my favourite songs, but it does have small sections that I really like in amongst the song when I listen to it in it’s entirety.

I can certainly see why (in parts) it’s considered the start of Goth music, but I really think that the 80s Goth music I remember does get a lot better – I’m open to hearing your thoughts in the comments though.

Around the same time as Bauhaus groups such as Siouxsie and the Banshees (who also had a punk background) and The Cure were developing what is thought of as a Goth sound.   Siouxsie and the Banshees fourth album Juju was said to establish them as a Gothic band as it encompassed the classic Gothic qualities both lyrically and sonically.

The Cure is the first band that comes to my mind when you talk 80s Goth even though most people would say Bauhaus or Sisters of Mercy – there’s just something about The Cure that hooked me in as a teenager and still has me hooked today.

Sisters of Mercy are also considered a top 80s Goth band and they took Gothic music and made it into another sub-genre referred to as Gothic Rock.

Traditional Goth V Romantic Goth

At some point in the 80s their did emerge two more definite Gothic subgenres – the Traditional Goth and the Romantic Goth both of whom are often referred to as 80s Goth.

The traditional Goth loved Siouxsie and the Banshees, The Cure and Sisters of Mercy whereas the romantic Goth enjoyed more of a brooding and ethereal brand of music that has it’s roots in folk music such as All About Eve – although they still enjoyed The Sisters of Mercy as well as The Cure they would also play atmospheric classical music from composers such as Bach or Wagner.


The other difference between the Traditional Goth and the Romantic Goth is their fashion.   The Traditional Goth still had a lot of their punk backgrounds with huge black hair and heavy make up combined with black clothes including studs and leather, piercings and the occasional piece of bondage gear worn as fashion.

The Romantic Goth was more into the sensual emotional side of Goth music and loved the use of flowing clothes, lace, velvet and would add touches of red or purple to their black clothes.   The use of graveyard images and roses in the Gothic genre can be attributed to the Romantic Goth.

A number of musical groups that were categorised as New Romantics started to incorporate elements of Goth in their music in particular Depeche Mode who I personally think were an awesome band.   It is often debated as to whether or not they were truly Goth or truly New Romantic – I think they straddled between the two and were mainstream enough to have hit records, but also incorporated just enough of the Gothic influence to capture teens who were rather put off by the ‘dark culture’ of the Goths, but liked the sounds.

Gothic Band Links

You can find out more about different 80s Gothic Bands by clicking on the links below which will take you to either the band’s official site or their Wikipedia page.

Alien Sex Fiend
ASF was born/hatched/evolved in 1982 and was soon a hit at the notorious Batcave club, part of the 80s Goth scene.

All About Eve
Julianne Regan, a former journalist, played bass in an early line-up of the gothic rock group Gene Loves Jezebel. before leaving to join All About Eve.

Bauhaus slid fully formed from punk rock's womb in late 1978. Over the course of four hot years, they unintentionally birthed a new genre - Goth.

Cocteau Twins
Taking their name from an obscure song by fellow countrymen Simple Minds, the then-teenage Cocteau Twins descended upon Britain's independent music scene in 1982 from their home in Grangemouth, Scotland.

Dead Can Dance
Dead Can Dance were formed in Melbourne, Australia in 1981 before relocating to London in 1982.

Flesh for Lulu
Flesh for Lulu was an Alternative rock/Gothic band formed in Brixton, London, UK, and was active between 1982 and 1992. Their music was a mix of the New York Dolls and Rolling Stones with gothic rock's gloomy atmosphere and aesthetics.

Gene Loves Jezebel
Gene Loves Jezebel are a gothic rock band from the early 1980s, now two separate bands of the same name, founded by identical twin brothers, Michael and Jay Aston.

Joy Division
Joy Division were an English rock band formed in 1976 in Salford, Greater Manchester. They rapidly evolved from their initial punk rock influences to develop a sound and style that pioneered the post-punk movement of the late 1970s.

Killing Joke
Killing Joke are an English post-punk band formed in October 1978 in Notting Hill, London, England. They have been described as "quasi-metal ... dancing to a tune of doom and gloom".

Love and Rockets
Love and Rockets were an English alternative rock band formed in 1985 by former Bauhaus members Daniel Ash (guitars, saxophone, and vocals), David J (bass and vocals), and Kevin Haskins (drums and synthesizers).

Play Dead
Play Dead were an English Goth rock group from Oxford that grew out of the fading English punk scene in 1980.

Rosetta Stone
Rosetta Stone were a British goth band formed in the mid 1980s by Porl King (guitar/vocals/keyboards) and Karl North (bass), plus their drum machine and synthesizer rack nicknamed "Madame Razor"

Siouxsie and the Banshees
Siouxsie and the Banshees were a British rock band formed in 1976 by vocalist Siouxsie Sioux and bassist Steven Severin. Initially associated with the English punk rock scene, the band became inspirational in the creation and development of the gothic rock genre.

The Birthday Party
The Birthday Party were an Australian Rock band who's early music was sometimes classified as gothic rock, something the band didn't like to hear.

The Cure
The Cure is an English Gothic rock band formed in Crawley, West Sussex in 1976. During the early 1980s, The Cure used dark and bleak imagery to popularize the gothic rock genre.

The Damned
The Damned are an English gothic punk band formed in London in 1976 who evolved into one of the forerunners of the gothic genre.

The Mission
The Mission (briefly known as The Sisterhood in 1986, not to be confused with The Sisterhood, and known as The Mission UK in the United States) are a gothic rock band formed in 1986 from the splinters of the freshly dissolved rock band The Sisters of Mercy.

The Sisters of Mercy
The Sisters of Mercy are an English rock band that formed in 1980, they were highly influential to the second wave of Gothic rock bands.

During the 80s I never thought of All About Eve as being a Gothic band, but after it was brought to my attention I realized that yes they were a Romantic Goth style of band.   I was too busy enjoying the 80s to put labels on it!

I fell in love with All About Eve's self titled debut album and played it constantly, when I moved to New Zealand at the end of the 80s and met my hubby to be in the beginning of the 90s I introduced him to All About Eve.

I loved all of the songs, but especially Martha's Harbour and Flowers in Our Hair.   When hubby and I first started dating he took a trip to the 'big city' a four hour drive away to get me a surprise - he'd tracked down an imported copy of All About Eve's second album Scarlet and Other Letters.

80s Gothic Hair & Make Up

Getting The 80s Gothic Look

Once you've got your clothes sorted you need to think about important things like hair and make up.   As far as hair is concerned you can go black or bleached blonde and as you're talking the 80s - big is good!

I used to blow dry my hair hanging upside down over the bed and scrunching it in a downward manner with hair mousse.   Once my hair was dry and 'big' I would then proceed to backcomb it in various places and then - to add a little touch of personality - I would put a few streaks of blue mascara strategically through it.   Next came the hairspray - rock hard was the only way to go!

Make up - you need to have a pale complexion and some of my friends would actually use a pancake style of make up, but to be honest most of us didn't worry about making our skin whiter although we didn't go out and sunbathe either!!

The eye liner was very important and to get the best effect you should use a liquid eye liner - my cousin was the absolute best at putting on liquid eye liner perfectly.  I had to use kohl as everytime I tried the liquid liner my hand would shake and I'd mess up (!)   Basically apply your eye liner Cleopatra style.   My liquid eye liner wearing cousin wouldn't add any eye shadow to her eye lids, whereas I always added black to my lid and dark grey to the area under my eye brows.

Now for the lips and you really only have two choices here - black or blood red.


I hope I've helped to explain 80s Goth to you a little, unfortunately like so many different genres of 80s music there are lots of overlapping occuring which does get confusing.   Just do what I do and lose yourself in the music and memories and don't worry about what type of Goth you're listening to or if it's really rock, pop or new romantic!


A Few Gothic Links To Tempt You Before You Go!

Gothic Birthday Cards
This collection of Gothic birthday cards covers just about every sub-genre of Goth there is and is an awesome place to get a card for a Gothic friend.

Unique Gothic Necklaces
This silver Gothic pendants make a great gift idea for any Goth you know. There are so many different ones to choose from the only problem is sticking to just one!

Gothic iPhone Cases
Even a Goth needs an iphone these days and these iphone cases add just the right amount of darkness to the phone so that no matter where you are you can still stay in touch!

Gothic iPad Cases
Stay connected with all the latest in Goth news with an ipad that's dressed to impress with one of these fabulous Gothic designed ipad cases.

Gothic Speakers
If you're looking for some portable speakers then you can't go past OrigAudio speakers for quality and if it's Goth music you're listening to then these Gothic designs are perfect for you.

Updated: 11/11/2011, lou16
Thank you! Would you like to post a comment now?


TerriRexson on 11/11/2011

I had a lot of full-on goth friends in the late 80s, I spent a lot of time listening to Siouxsie in the park. And I did tend towards the black and purple myself. I now have songs by The Cure playing in my head. Thanks for a nice bit of nostalgia.

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