The Art of Darkness – A History of Goth
(Louder Than War Books)
One could argue that the publication of Denis Wheatley’s 1953 book ‘To The Devil A Daughter’ is a defining moment in the history of Goth, featuring early on in ‘The Art of Darkness – A History of Goth’. The potent and romantic imagery it established, along with that of Hans Erdmann’s 1922 silent film 'Nosferatu The Vampyre’ and of course Bram Stoker's ‘Dracula’ and Anne Rice’s ‘An Interview With The Vampire’, certainly cast a long shadow over all Goth music produced in the 1980s, the period covered by John Robb (a highly respected musician in his own right fronting The Membranes, founder of Louder Than War magazine, author of the book ‘Punk-An Oral History’ and interviewer of just about every punk and post-punk musician of note you could possibly name) in this epic and wide-ranging history of that elusive genre.
For him to have even attempted such a gargantuan task is impressive indeed. There are so many different angles to what was a complex mixture of musical styles and personalities, it would be impossible to capture all of them without making the book unmanageably long. Instead, he has opted to devote the first twelve chapters of the book to setting out the context and background to the development of Goth, exploring the influence of history, film, and musical evolution including (amongst others): Rock and Roll; Iggy and The Stooges; Velvet Underground; The Doors; Bowie, Bolan and Glam Rock; Punk; Post-Punk, and; Industrial. It’s an effective strategy, as it lifts the book from being what could easily just have been a mere beauty parade of the Goth Great and Good, to a thoughtful evaluation of why and how Goth sprang into being in the first place.
Once we get to the meat of the book, the exposition of what Goth entailed, a surprisingly wide range of acts and geographical music scenes (Leeds, in particular, being a vital hub), are featured to help build the picture. These include all those I would certainly credit with ‘inventing’ what we know as 80s Goth music (Bauhaus, Birthday Party, Sisters of Mercy/The Mission, Southern Death Cult, New Model Army, The Cure, The Damned, early Adam Ant, The Cramps, and Siouxsie amongst others), but also some I wouldn’t myself have immediately associated with Goth (such as Throbbing Gristle, Laibach, Killing Joke, Einsturzende Neubauten, Joy Division, even Crass), but in the context of this investigation make perfect sense and go some way to explaining how elements of Goth morphed into the modern version of Industrial pioneered by bands like Front Line Assembly, Front 242, and Skinny Puppy whilst others veered off into Alt Rock or even techno. The interviews, conducted over a 10 year period, stand in their own right as fascinating insights into the stories behind those bands rather than just quizzing them about their relationship with the Goth music scene, which is a relief as that would quickly have become repetitive.
A minor disappointment is that bands some might argue were pivotal to the formation of the UK Goth scene (UK Decay, Ausgang, Sex Gang Children and Specimen for example), are mentioned only briefly or not at all. However, you have to draw the line somewhere. 2023 looks like being the year of the Goth book, with Cathy Unsworth’s book ‘The Season of The Witch – The Book of Goth’ out in May, and founder member of The Cure, Lol Tolhurst’s ‘Goth’, due in September to add to the mix. Both will no doubt complete the picture and fill in any gaps, but if there is one thing that comes across loud and clear in The Art of Darkness, it is that Goth is near impossible to define, quantify, or pin down. This book is as close as we have got so far.
For a genre that was so closely associated with sartorial style and image, as John himself states in the very first chapter, it was also a surprise so few illustrations are included in this book. There are photo books already published that cover that ground effectively though and space must have been a consideration.
In conclusion, 'The Art of Darkness' is a completely engrossing book that is an impressive and comprehensively detailed account of a unique and colourful musical phenomena whose influence continues to resonate to this day across all spheres of music and fashion. In capturing its essence John Robb deserves our praise and respect indeed for what is a significant achievement.
Order The Art of Darkness here⇒