So Why Did Bauhuas the Band Play Goth Music Again?

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Via Arts & Letters Daily I came across this piece about modernist architecture over at the invaluable Tech Central Station. The A&L come-on is what got me to click on the link, and I think it's a good question to ponder:

Bauhaus intended to supply simple, cheap, mass-produced shelter for wretched proletarians stuck in 1920s rat-infested tenements. Is this an architecture we still need?…

Whole thing, which mostly reads like an extended reminder to errant readers that the author, one Catesby Leigh, went to Princeton, here.

Beyond the question posed above, there's no reason to read the piece. Though it did get me to wondering: Given the modernist connotations of its name, why did the band Bauhaus play goth music (and don't give me any guff about the band's own disavowal of that label; when we start accepting musicians' own designations–coff, coff "King of Pop"–the terrorists have won)?

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  1. Because it’s spare, and stark, and fucking depressing, but still wicked cool and freaky.

  2. “Goth” music and culture always seemed like a perfect example of a feedback loop to me. Goth was never more than a bunch of stuff that certain kids liked. Eventually all the stuff these post-punker types liked got lumped under the umbrella term “goth” whether they were related or not. Then, the people who liked some of the things that were suddenly labeled goth started to like the other things that were goth even though the only reason the things were goth in the first place was other goths liked them.
    To reiterate: It’s goth because I like it and I like it because it’s goth. Yep, that made sense to me back in 1985. Most goth bands don’t self-identify as goth because that would limit the scope of the term too much. Bauhaus didn’t and shouldn’t have allowed themselves to be “The Goth Band” (though they could have been imo) because that would have meant that Dead CAn Dance couldn’t be goth since they sounded nothing like each other. Right?

    Anyway, I bet it comes to the name sounding cool ultimately.

  3. Joe’s got it on the nose. It was supposed to be old school B&W film noir, populated by guys with skinny ties.
    However, it is tough to classify Telegram Sam, or the cover of Eno’s Third Uncle as goth…

  4. Go read excerpts from the Rock Snob’s Dictionary:
    http://snobsite.com/excerpts.php
    Some funny stuff.

  5. The art school pretention has something to do with it — you don’t pay homage to Bauhaus (the original name of the band was Bauhaus 1919, the year Walter Gropius founded the school) if you’re a working class bloke.

  6. Telegram Sam: most reviled Bauhaus song ever.

    My take on goth music: It’s goth if it makes you feel bad about yourself.

    And that’s not precisely a slam; I was afflicted with gothhood for many years before I shook off its pallid grip.

    From the Bauhaus site: “With the image and brooding music it was inevitable that Bauhaus would be classified with the vanguard of the “goth” fashion, a totally misleading confinement which ignored their humor, experimentation and uniqueness.”

    The funny thing is, none of the definitive goth bands of the early goth movement liked the label. Bauhaus said they weren’t goth. Andrew Eldritch loathes the label and the fans associated with it. Siouxsie believed she was punk, until later when she believed she was pop. Robert Smith never claimed to be anything but pop. Joy Division only sounded like that because Ian Curtis was a profoundly disturbed man, and once he was out of the picture, they became synth-pop staple New Order. And Trent Reznor wrote the nearly-unlistenable Broken album in response to critics who compared him to Depeche Mode.

    Really, ‘goth’ didn’t become an identifiable genre until after the fact, and honestly, most bands that later self-consciously claimed the genre ‘goth’ were pretty shitty. See ‘Rosetta Stone’, the atrocious ‘Type O Negative’, and so forth.

  7. I do remember reading an interview with Peter Murphy many years ago where he discussed chastising Trent Reznor for not understanding the subtle humour in “goth” music.
    It seems to me that goth may have been a bit of an inside joke whose punchline was forgotten. Anyone who remembers the old Bat Cave stuff like Specimen and Alien Sex Fiend will remember that it was at least partly a silly send-up on Glam rock.

  8. 1. Has anyone ever seen Peter Murphy and Neil Diamond in the same place?

  9. Are we allowed to retroactively decide what a given music is? I thought the reason that Bauhaus disavowed the “goth” appellation is because they were “goth” about a decade or more before “goth” became a regular description of music or sub-culture. Or am I just misremembering this? Oh, and wasn’t “Telegram Sam” a T. Rex song?

  10. 2. Peter Murphy chastised someone for a poor sense of humor? Didn’t Bauhaus break up the first time around essentially because three members of the band had a sense of humor and one didn’t?

  11. Bela Lugosi is Dead was easily the most requested song when I did 2-6am college radio in the late 80s.

  12. Bauhaus was considered “goth” at least by the time I became aware of them as high school freshperson circa 1983. Unless the band was doing its thing in 1973, erm, no.

    I’m pretty sure the term was in wide use to denote Bauhaus, Joy Division, Ms. Sioux and Her Banshees et al by 1980.

  13. Bonus Essay Round:

    Which of the following bands would have done a better cover version of “MacArthur Park”: Joy Division circa 1980 or New Order circa late 1981?

  14. Definitely Joy Division. Ian had that especially baleful voice that could have done justice to Macarthur Park in all it’s awful glory.

  15. sm koppelman – RE: Peter Murphy’s lack of humour, yes. Matter of fact, I saw 2 of their reunion tour shows (one in LA, one here in Phx), and in the Phx show, Mr Murphy almost walked off the stage…Daniel Ash had to physically restrain him, and after he’d calmed down and the crowd was going absolutely nuts, pleading with him to keep rocking, they did.

  16. It’s goth because I like it and I like it because it’s goth. Yep, that made sense to me back in 1985.

    Are we allowed to retroactively decide what a given music is?

    Maybe this is my interest in dramatic tropes and Bayesian classification talking, but…

    Without any actual, formal rules for what constitutes pop musical styles and genres, how do you decide whether a song belongs in a genre besides “something about this song kinda resembles something about these songs, and some people call these songs goth/punk/new jack swing/country/krunk, so I’ll call it that”?

    </geek>

  17. Of course, the fun of debating over whether a song or a band should be called “punk” or “goth” or whatever comes from the fact that people tend to work up their own personal rules for what constitutes a classification – and they never completely match anyone else’s. 🙂

  18. Actually it’s an OK article, Nick you Ignorant Slut, though it could be better. 2blowhards.com has covered the general issue of vapid modernism and starchitects much better though, check their archives.

  19. I spent some of my youth living in Germany and I couldn’t help but notice that a lot of the buildings were really, really stark and ugly. This was before I had any notion of what Bauhaus architecture was. It was especially noticable given that these buidlings were often situated within line-of-sight of ancient ruins, and yes some of them were even “Gothic” ruins. Of course, I didn’t know what Gothic meant either.

    Now I’m wishing that I had never traded in my copy of the Virgin Prunes’ If I die, I Die

  20. I like “shoegazer”, used as a synonym for Goth music, or for a subset of it, or for some of it and some other stuff, etc.

  21. Wikipedia says it’s a different kind of music, so if anybody needs me, I’ll be staring in shame at my boots for a little while.

  22. “Anyone who remembers the old Bat Cave stuff like Specimen and Alien Sex Fiend will remember that it was at least partly a silly send-up on Glam rock.”

    …and how.

    I remember when it was “Death Rock”.

    I was talking to this chick in a club a couple of years ago. She swore up and down that she wasn’t “goth”, but the red wedding dress was a dead giveaway.

  23. Bauhaus, goth? Could that be an artifact of writing songs about vampire actors and appearing in The Hunger?

    Shoegazing is vaguely reminiscent of the economics of Brontitall, isn’t it?

    Kevin

  24. When artists publicly disavow genre labels it’s because they’ve been hit with one that sticks.
    Bauhaus, Sisters of Mercy, Joy Division, The Cure, Siouxsie and the Banshees: no one cares what THEY thought they were doing (the Sisters, laughably, claimed to be playing ‘Heavy Metal,’) but everyone who still cares about those bands knows they count as the Original Goth Bands.
    The Velvet Underground and The Doors were the 60’s fore-runners of Goth.
    Bowie, Lou Reed, and, to some degree, Pink Floyd were the early-to-mid-70’s forerunners of Goth.
    But the term “Goth” only caught on (in America, at least) in the mid-80’s, in the wake of “Punk-slash-New Wave,” at the same time as “Hardcore” and BEFORE “Alternative” or “Indie.”
    Bauhaus was ‘Bauhaus’ because they weren’t, for example, ‘the aging baby-boomer hippie blues travesty.’ The name evoked cold, modern, white European intellectualism. Kind of a ‘fuck you’ to all the white rockers trying to ape Delta blues artists (hello, Robert Plant: were you a little overplayed in the late 70s/early 80s, hmmmn? Just a little, yes….)
    The original 1980s goth aesthetic, depressive and eclectic as it was, drew on post-WWII existentialism and early 20th century modernism as well as the Victorian romanticism which, along with S&M/bondage/fetish crossover, has come to dominate the “goth scene.”
    Dead Can Dance mark the transition point between earlier, ‘existential-despair-overwhelms-pop/rock-band’ Goths and latter-day ‘quasi-victorian-latex-fetish-plus-clove-cigarettes’ 90’s mall-Goths.
    That’s where I washed my hands of it: adolescent angst and pretension isn’t a good look for most aging hipsters, so I’ve moved on.
    Ask somebody else where ‘Goth, per se’ is headed these days.
    But – word up: “where have they been?”
    That’s where we’ve been.
    Church!
    😉

  25. BTW: If anybody else, like me, (1) Thought the music during the opening credits of the TV series Angel (not Dark Angel, but the Buffy the Vampire Slayer spinoff) was one of the coolest little bits of music ever and (2) did some research and found out it was performed by a gothy group called Darling Violetta, but then (3) discovered that the Angel opening theme was not commercially available on any CD — you now have cause to rejoice! Because just today I learned it will be available in May on this CD from Amazon.

  26. Testing. 123. Bow wow wow house.

  27. Of course, now, with groups like Rasputina and the Dresden Dolls, Goth music has evolved into chamber music — with a beat.

  28. I absolutely love Rasputina’s cover of “Bad Moon Rising”.

  29. I always hated the goth label just because it was a label. I never associated myself with a clique or a movement, and I don’t think any of my friends did either. What I wanted was to be treated as an individual, and to express my contempt for a society that assumes if you’re on the high school football team or in the cheerleading squad then you must be a good kid. THOSE kids were often total screw ups, but they got away with anything. It’s funny how when you’re a teenager there’s a part of you that believes you really can get the relevant authority figures to see the point you’re trying to make by wearing a leather jacket with the sleeve torn off. Ah, to be young and naieve again… Well, anyway, to be young again….

    So I went to a club in L.A. last night to see Evil Beaver play. Not as polished as, say, Jack Off Jill, nor as pissed off as My Ruin, (actually they’re sort of like L7 on speed) and oh my freakin’ god can that girl play a bass guitar! I’m not sure how she hits all those notes with just ten fingers.

  30. Wikipedia says it’s a different kind of music, so if anybody needs me, I’ll be staring in shame at my boots for a little while.

    Actually Larry, The ubergods of Shoegazing, My Bloody Valentine, got their start as a unsuccessful goth band in Ireland. Notice the distinctly gothy moniker.
    So you can kind of stop hanging your head in shame a bit.

  31. M.C. Clain:

    The dividing line isn’t so simple. I seem to remember clove cigarettes being popular with the Joy Division and Bauhaus-identifying goths in my college dorm in 1987 and 1988.

    I could be wrong but I think some of the AV-club Cure/Siouxsie goths in my high school circa 1986 pointedly smoked import cigs (don’t remember if they were cloves) and had at least some of that lace-and-gloves English Romantic Poets thing going on wardrobe-wise.

  32. “…’existential-despair-overwhelms-pop/rock-band’ Goths and latter-day ‘quasi-victorian-latex-fetish-plus-clove-cigarettes’ 90’s mall-Goths….”

    The labels get so hard to keep track of now that I just lump all of them together as PIBs: People in Black. Includes all the goth, old industrial, fetish crowd.

  33. The clove thing was big among new wave/death rock types in Southern California circa ’84 and ’85.

  34. I stand corrected on the clove cigarettes.
    I should’ve recalled their earlier provenance, having smoked a few myself back in 85/86 while listening to “First & Last & Always,” “17 Seconds,” etc, in darkened dorm rooms.
    While wearing black nail polish and eyeliner, no less.
    What’s that Ben Folds Five line?
    “Well this should cheer you up for sure: see, I found your old ID and you’re all dressed up like The Cure….”

  35. First & Last & Always can’t hold a candle to any of the singles — great cheesy ‘suicide’-esque electronic drum loops, flanged jangles and eldritch’s over the top howling, pre-mission. “anaconda” eg — one of the best goth tracks written. most of “some girls wander” cd collection — those rare 12″s are just outstanding. any old sisters fan should pick up that cd asap.

  36. None of these poseurs could hold a candle to The Cramps.

    Kevin
    (I was a poseur before you were a poseur)

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