Gothic Council Settles "Deathrock Vs. Stompy" Dispute

Recently, we had the chance to review Gothic Council member Carmilla Voiez's debut novel Starblood, a tale of demons, castration and plenty of spooky goodness. In the novel, Voiez brought up the age-old fight in any goth scene; namely, which style of music truly defines goth. Is it deathrock? Is it the stompy-stompy-stompy? Which?

Taking a very big chance that this was going to erupt into a boot-throwing frenzy, we decided to pitch this question to the Gothic Council. Joining us this week is fashion designer Batty; Carmilla Voiez herself, also organizer of the prospective Age of Decay festival; Alethea Carr; and Toby Rider of Ending the Vicious Cycle.

Gothtopia: So what is the true goth? Deathrock or stompy music?

Batty: Actually I think deathrock stems from dark punk and stompy was an offshoot of industrial, which is more of a cousin of goth. I think true goth-rock in its most pure form is the more guitar driven, bassy, swirly (swishy hand dance dramatic hand gesture) bands like the Sisters of Mercy, the Mission, Nosferatu, etc. Although deathrock is much much closer than anything stompy.

I am not at all a fan of the stompy music, especially since it's played so much in clubs now that you get a dirty look if you ask for real goth. Younger folks don't even get a chance to know what goth really was if they don't choose to search on their own, thanks to a lot of clubs being so synth-oriented now. It used to be a much healthier mix, so I have a chip on my shoulder about stompy music.

Carmilla Voiez: I'd agree with Batty, although I would say that I think deathrock is closer to the original Batcave roots of goth: Your Sex Gang Children, Virgin Prunes style of early goth. Goth is a weird one because it wasn't really labeled until the mid-'80s, when a lot of the early stuff had already left the scene. So that's why we more readily identify the label with Sisters of Mercy, The Mission, etc.

Batty: I agree I really think "goth" as we know it was a term invented in the '80s, and the earlier bands that fit under the goth umbrella never really labeled themselves as goth. They are put under that umbrella now because they are sort of the founders of the sound.

Carmilla Voiez: Yes indeed, they were experimenting with adding layers to punk.

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Alethea Carr: Deathrock is the true goth, no question. It's Batcave's American cousin. Out of the punk scene came these more melodramatic, more campy, more artistically flagrant and dark styles. Contrarily, stompy music has its roots in the rave and trance scenes, and though it sometimes incorporates elements of synth-pop and industrial music, it is further from being goth.

Think of it as a bridge or a spectrum: on the one side is post-punk, deathrock, and Batcave - on the other, stompy music. Synth-pop and industrial are in the middle, and gothic rock (like early Southern Death Cult or the Sisters of Mercy) is firmly to the post-punk, deathrock, and Batcave side of the bridge. Personally, I'll go happily to the middle of this bridge and enjoy some Depeche Mode or even the album Pretty Hate Machine; but I'll never cross to the stompy side.

It's too far from goth for my tastes. The new music coming out that builds upon those early sounds - especially in the deathrock genre - is so exciting, inventive, and yet true to goth's roots that I find it much more fitting on the club dance floor!

Batty: Amen to what you said about the new stuff, Alethea. I am really glad to see gothic rock and deathrock-influenced music making a comeback, and I would much rather really dance to that stuff.

Carmilla Voiez: Depending on my mood, I'll drift from one side of the bridge to the other, but your EBM, industrial style is more akin to the rave scene than our gothic roots.

I always say ecstasy was to the EBM scene what amphetamine and heroin was to the goth scene. Not that it's about drugs for the scene so much these days, but I'm convinced that the narcotics had an effect on the musicians at that time.

Toby Rider: Neither deathrock or stompy music is what I consider "gothic rock". Though in mid-'80s Los Angeles - which is when and where I was first got into this music - those of us who like liked our local bands like Kommunity FK, also liked the English bands too, and it wasn't uncommon for us to cover songs from the English bands.

A "gothic" rock song to me has to have several key ingredients: a bass guitar with a lot of flanger or really slinky funk bass lines, lots of guitar, often an arpeggiated clean guitar line layered on top of a dirty guitar rhythm line, sometimes a drum machine, though I personally always prefer a real drummer, and just enough synth to fatten up the mix.

Gothic rock songs also can sometimes be in 3/4 waltz time. So based on those criteria, who played a lot of "gothic" rock songs? The Sisters of Mercy, Siouxsie & the Banshees, sometimes The Cure, Mephisto Walz, Xmal Deutschland, Danse Society, Bauhaus, etc.

Carmilla Voiez: In the UK at the time, The Cure weren't considered goth at all. They were indie. Loads of goths liked them, though.

Toby Rider: They weren't really considered a goth band here either, but a few of their albums were "Gothic Gold." A lot of my friends were really irritated at Robert Smith when he released The Head On the Door because cheerleaders started liking The Cure.

Alethea Carr: Yeah, the Cure are funny that way. They were definitely my "gateway drug" to goth music and they are part of the seminal goth cadre, but so many of their songs - even whole albums - are hardly goth at all. That's the odd thing about goth as a genre and determining what qualifies - and I think that kind of muddled definition is what has allowed previously unrelated genres to invade, as it were.

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