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Thursday is a red-letter day for a curious, long-lived musical subculture that, the rest of the year, generally favors black. Bauhaus founder and frontman Peter Murphy is playing Meridian, his first Houston performance in several years. In certain circles, it's like Elvis or the Dalai Lama dropping by. Seriously.
Houston, TX 77003
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Region: East End
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"There is no one like him right now," says Jill McKee, Meridian promotions manager and a Murphy/Bauhaus fan for some 20 years. "Icon is the only word I can think of. He's a consummate performer."
Bauhaus formed in Northampton, England, in 1978, in the immediate wake of the UK's punk-rock explosion. Their music fused elements of punk, David Bowie-style glam-rock, Hammer horror-film imagery and the audience-provoking aesthetic of "Theater of Cruelty" founder Antonin Artaud, in whose honor Bauhaus named a song on their 1983 album Burning from the Inside.
Especially after the band appeared performing nine-minute opus "Bela Lugosi's Dead" in The Hunger — Tony Scott's 1983 vampire film starring Bowie, Catherine Deneuve and Susan Sarandon — Murphy and Bauhaus have come to represent the macabre strain of post-punk known as Goth in many, even most, people's minds. And ever since, both musically and visually, Goth has been one of the easiest styles to identify and also one of the trickiest to define.
Goth likely first trickled into Houston on the airwaves of KTRU's "S&M" program, the famous three-hour punk and New Wave show that ran Friday nights from 1979 to 1990. David Sadof, who would later spin several of the bands he heard on "S&M" on shows for Houston stations such as KLOL and The Buzz, remembers tuning in while still in high school, around 1980 or '81.
"It was not a Gothic show at all, by any means, but it was where you might hear XTC, and you might hear Siouxsie & the Banshees and some of these groups," he says. "It's quite possible the bands who were in existence at that time may have been played on that show."
From 1982 to 1986, Sadof was a DJ on KSHU, the student-run radio station (90.5 FM) at Sam Houston State University in Huntsville. Again on Friday nights, he played what was then known as "alternative" music for an audience comprised of both college students and guests of the Texas Department of Criminal Justice. Some prisoners would write letters saying how much they enjoyed the show, he recalls, "but we weren't allowed to answer, for obvious reasons."
Sadof played mostly what he calls the "neo-psychedelic" music of R.E.M., Echo & the Bunnymen and Robyn Hitchcock, for example, but also groups like Bauhaus, Joy Division, the Cure and Mission UK, bands who took the remnants of punk rock in a decidedly darker direction and began being labeled "Goth" or "goth-rock." He left heavier, less radio-friendly bands like Christian Death and the Virgin Prunes alone, but continued incorporating Goth's more accessible strains into his "Exposure" program on KLOL upon graduating and moving back to Houston.
"I would definitely include that music in my show," he says. "I would play Sisters of Mercy, songs like 'Lucretia My Reflection' and 'This Corrosion,' Mission UK and several other groups of that ilk. I found that because that music was included, I definitely had a segment of my audience that was the Goth crowd."
This crowd rapidly began making itself at home at Numbers, which hosted Siouxsie & the Banshees as early as 1980 and brought in a wealth of other Gothic acts — Killing Joke, Mission UK, Shriekback, Love & Rockets, Clan of Xymox, even some of the Cure's first Texas shows — over the ensuing decade. It was the club's weekly DJ nights, though, where Sisters of Mercy, the Cure and Bauhaus were in heavy rotation, attracting dark-minded youth from across the area.
"There were always these 15-year-old goth-rockers," Sadof says. "It didn't matter what year it was, you'd go to Numbers and there'd always be these 15-year-old Goth girls. They were ubiquitous."
One such "Goth girl" was a young Clear Creek High School student who, once upon a time, found a Sisters of Mercy cassette at Sound Warehouse's Baybrook Mall store. Today, as DJ Mina, she oversees Numbers' Underworld nights, one of the local Goth community's main gathering spots. Underworld began about nine years ago, and although the crowds ultimately proved too sparse to sustain it as a weekly event, Mina says it's found better success every third Saturday (unless preempted by a special event), averaging between 200 and 300 people.
However, when it comes to how many of her Underworld flock actively identify themselves as Goth versus people who just show up because they like the music, Mina isn't sure. This "Who's more Goth?" debate began almost at the moment the genre was coined and intensified when many Gothic artists' natural affinity for synthesizers, drum machines and dance music led to the rise of subgenres such as industrial (Ministry, KMFDM) and Electronic Body Music, or EBM (And One, Front 242, Nitzer Ebb) in the late '80s and early '90s. A few years after that, the mainstream popularity of artists like Nine Inch Nails and Marilyn Manson, who used heavy Goth imagery in many songs and videos, muddied the waters even further.
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