I’ve seen some crazy things associated with the gothic subculture before, but one term that has recently caught my eye is “Hipster Goth”.
“Hipster Goth” is usually used to today’s more modern or contemporary goths who have found the current, new, and somewhat more popular ‘Goth/Wave Revival’ to their liking. It’s no mystery by now that a revival of Post-Punk, Goth, Synth and all types of waves within it has been in full-blown effect since the early 2010’s. In this author’s opinion, the most interesting part of the revival is that rather than seeing it divided into individual 80’s retro genres (i.e. goth, new wave, post-punk, darkwave, etc.), this ‘revival’ seems to be a hybrid of them all.
Many bands today, in what I will call the current ‘Goth/Wave Revival’ (to put them under the same umbrella and make it easier for everyone), very often incorporates two or three genres into one. This is evident in bands such as She Past Away (Post-Punk, Coldwave), Selofan (Post-Punk, Goth, Minimal Darkwave, Electro, EBM), Jakuzi (Post-Punk, Coldwave, Dream Pop), Winter Severity Index (Post-Punk, Shoegaze), Drab Majesty (Post-Punk/New Wave), Hante. (Darkwave, Synth/Wave), Kaelan Mikla (Synth, Post-Punk, Darkwave) and so on… just to give a few examples.
Goth/Wave Revival has created quite a degree of fuss within the Gothic community itself, because we are either calling this music Goth or (and I agree with the latter) the new step or evolution of Goth, even if it actually is a throwback to the foundation sounds and styles of the genre. The Goth/Wave Revival is beginning to cause a split within the current Goth community itself just like the divide the scene went through back in the 90s when Gothic and Dark Romantic aesthetics began to flood in. This had occurred not only in Goth, but also in Metal and Industrial music. This influence lead people to just include anything which shared these Dark Romantic aesthetics to be called Goth itself. Of course, we would understand the more elitist crowd not approving of this which created the whole Elitist vs. Poseur labeling battle within the subculture. This Elitist vs. Poseur battle is relevant to the “Hipster Goth” argument. But first:
In the 1990s - A History Lesson
Goths began to feel that the dark and morose image that was created in the late 80s and carried into the 90s became a pop culture thing, spreading like wildfire to other mediums like television and film. Meanwhile, Goth music itself fell from grace and lost its somewhat acclaimed radio popularity that bands like The Sisters of Mercy, The Mission, and Fields of the Nephilim helped to establish. The Goth aesthetic began to push beyond genre boundaries into various forms of Metal (Gothic Metal, Death, Doom, Black Metal) in addition to Industrial, EBM/Electro, and even later into that emotional hardcore vibe which led into that dark ‘Emo’ phase that many teenagers went through in the 2000s.
Goths themselves in the 90s who wanted to preserve what Goth was during this time (both literally and figuratively) locked themselves up in the underground. A lot of effort was expended to keep Goth isolated from all of the confusion and drama of these genre changes.
In the clubs, Industrial and EBM managed to come to uneasy terms as cousin genres sharing a common ancestor in Post Punk, and at some point basically needed one another to survive in a decade where the dark music born in the 80s was not marketable in the mainstream anymore. Industrial and EBM provided a more of a club friendly experience than Goth during this time.
This isolation of Goth in the 1990s, is arguably the responsible factor for this sense of ‘elitism’ many goths have today. Of course, we also have to look at the other side of the coin in all of this and that is to acknowledge that Goth is a subculture and throughout its years of existence it is bound to grow, evolve, and expand beyond the boundaries of just Goth music.
But to what extent can the genre expand before it becomes something entirely different or new? Goth itself is a by-product of the 1970’s Punk movement; in particular, it is a product of Punk’s declining state in the late 70’s and early 80’s when artists began to find alternative ways to express themselves. It so happened that Goth’s musical ‘ancestor’ – Post-Punk – is characterized by experimentation with more avant-garde elements and became a primordial soup of alternative genres during the 80’s. Post-Punk spawned not just Goth, but also New Wave, Darkwave, Synthpop, Shoegaze, Indie Pop/Rock, EBM, Industrial and many more 80s alternative genres and styles.
To be a goth in the early days was tough; from getting ridiculed by the other more popular cliques or scenes at the time, or to being called a goth itself, which was actually a derogatory term for people who like that dark, introspective Post-Punk music that eventually became Goth, to having musical taste as rare and as strange as a red moon, to having to scrape every single corner of a record store to find the music you liked, to having to find out where in the hell these people who shared your music taste gathered so you could share ideas with them and ask the DJ for new bands. Goths also had to keep an eye out for rare compilations and mail order obscure labels to find out more about new artists, not to mention all of the counter-culture backlash a goth had to endure in its first 20 years.
Fast forward to the Goth scene today, and it’s apparent that the Goth/Wave Revival seems more publicly accessible and has better exposure and media coverage than Goth probably ever had since possibly the late 1980s.
It may seem that history is also repeating itself as we are seeing some goths begin to reject this new wave of Goth music. But, why? This type of music was what many goths were craving for when the whole Industrial, Dark Electro, and Aggrotech/EBM invasion took over anything dark and underground in the club scene in the 2000s. Remember when goths themselves were saying that not enough goth music was being played in clubs anymore?
40 years after Goth’s beginnings, Goth music is more accessible than ever. And for the goths of old, this has positives and negatives. In certain cases, a goth in the 1990’s who had a hard time finding out about music in underground genres may be creating some type of envy towards some of the new aspiring goths who are growing into the current Goth/Wave revival, in a time where being a goth today seems to be completely the opposite of what being a goth was in the 80’s and 90’s. Today’s goths are (to a certain degree) way more socially acceptable in the public eye and we now have Youtube, Bandcamp, social media, etc. to find and download music. You want to know where your next club night is? Google it or search goth events in your area in Facebook. You don’t have to ask your local goth DJ anymore; hell, you can become your own Goth DJ if you have a laptop (I’m guilty of this one). Goths today don’t have to necessarily go through all the socio-cultural issues that goths had to deal with decades ago.
To some of the goths of old, being a goth today under this Revival has become a type of fad, as the music and aesthetic are popular among the younger alternative crowd, and was made by putting modern ideas into old sounds and musical ideas that old goths were already intimately familiar with.
It’s commonly stated by the more ‘elitist’ crowd within goth, that all you need to be a goth nowadays is to just like Goth music and that everything else in the way you express yourself and define your preferences is secondary. This is an Idea that was established between the 1990’s and 2000’s during that first main division of goth, when there was a divide between music and gothic aesthetics which were invading everything. Goths were trying in a way to reach a happy medium within the subculture and trying to expand past the subculture’s musical boundaries.
We tried to be a little more receptive of everything outside of goth that seemed to get “gothed-up” by media stereotypes and mainstream aesthetics. Obviously, that didn’t work and the clashing of horns would inevitably happen as some would argue or try to make any music genre “Gothic enough” just because it was dark, spooky, mournful or dreary. And in my opinion, that’s fine. Different opinions within a culture (or subculture in this case) are acceptable and will happen between individuals.
But what about the modern Goth/Wave Revival? As I mentioned, some old goths may be a little envious of the sudden rise in popularity and accessibility of the genre, as it’s all based on old musical ideas but with a modern perspective. Some even say that Goth today lacks its original soul because both artists and fans today exist in a different social environment from the ‘so-called Goth’ artists that created the genre.
It’s also been said in some circles that the Gothic subculture has lost all sense of counter-culture as goths today don’t necessarily have to prove anything in a society that is somewhat more open minded about the macabre. For example, back in the 90s you saw a Goth walking down the street and everyone would say: “Oh look a devil worshipper! Please God, bless him so his soul can be brought back into the light”. In today’s world you see a young goth walking down the street and (Though in some cases you can get the same backlash) now many adults would say: “Oh don’t worry, he’s in his goth phase… you know how crazy kids are today maybe he’ll grow out of it at some point.. who knows”.
The New Goth
In my honest opinion, I cannot say this point of view is completely wrong, but not completely right either, because if we take one side of the coin we would be just generalizing and stereotyping all under one scheme. I think about the current Goth/Wave Revival and I don’t see a fad; I see the new step or evolution of Goth both in music and the people who like this music. I wish that when I was finding myself as a goth in the 2000s Dark Electro and Industrial club scenes, that I had music like She Past Away, Selofan, Geometric Vision, or Ash Code to jam to on the dance floor. That it is based on recycled music structures? Maybe… but regardless look at it as you will, this is music way closer in its sound and structure to the true spirit of original Goth than anything Metal, Dark Electro, or Industrial artists have produced; and when it comes to the newer goth crowd enjoying this music, think about it this way… Goth has been a unique, relevant and persistent music genre and a subculture for over 40 years for a reason and that is due to its ability to adapt, evolve, and assimilate to the ever changing socio-cutural and political landscapes of its surroundings. The goth culture as we know it from the 80’s and 90’s will not, and cannot, last forever. Someone will have to carry the flag into the future, and I’m honestly glad that it is the new generation of goths, these so called “Hipster Goths”, who have found these new “avant garde” sounds to their liking. I just hope they don’t let this recent appreciation of goth music become the next fad to be forgotten to the sands of time, and build upon it what will eventually become the Goth and Goths of tomorrow.