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The New Sounds of Goth Music

Blog > The New Sounds of Goth Music

Written by Eric Shorey

Posted January 7th, 2021

In the year 2020, an epoch of history that will in retrospect surely be defined by disease and hopelessness, goth culture is simultaneously everywhere and nowhere. Goth style had permeated the mainstream long before fashion museums in New York City began showcasing the style as high art, and goth has more recently become popular amongst rappers looking towards the early 00’s for retro inspiration. The stereotypical nihilistic goth attitude, with its fixation on depression and despair, is the lingua franca of Gen Z — propagated through a meme culture that makes light of a serious pan-global mental health crisis. Yet self-proclaimed goth musicians have slinked into the shadows, holding on to an iconic canon of outdated artists while reality around them devolves.

What will goth music look like in this new decade? How will goth music adapt to a world where despondency and dystopia is the new normal?

Goth music and the goth subculture blossomed during a time of economic upturn as a rebuke of the pervasive culture of yuppie positivity of the 1980’s. Bands like Sixious and The Banshees, New Order, Depeche Mode, and The Cure used the sounds of rock music to emphasize the dreariness of their experiences and the cruelty inherent in love. In the 90’s, nu-metal and industrial artists pushed the boundaries of the goth aesthetic by adding in more electronic instrumentation and appearing on MTV in extreme, transgressive, gender bending looks. In the early 00’s, the popular imaginary began conflating the whiny sentimentality of emo with goth’s downtrodden worldview; but in 2010 and beyond, artists of all genres began taking an interest in the dark sonic and emotional landscapes of goth and applying them to other genres like trap and club music for a new hybrid sound.

Through these various permutations, the definition of goth music has gotten increasingly muddled, sparking furious debates around whether things like so-called “soundcloud rap” — which certainly borrowed the visual aesthetic of goth culture — was actually goth at all. Goth elders and gatekeepers asserted the boundaries of goth so as to protect their beloved culture from vultures, but some of their defenses of goth were just a thinly disguised manifestation of racism, misogyny, and homo/transphobia.

In recent years, artists from a plethora of other genres have begun combining traditional gothic themes, motifs, and tropes with entirely new sounds. If one were to expand the definition of goth only slightly, one could easily find elements of goth in all kinds of music released in the past half-decade, from intensely personal singer/songwriter projects to mainstream rap. With this more open-minded view of goth in mind, we’re asking: what are the new sounds of goth and who are this next generation’s goth pioneers? Here’s our (unranked!) list of 10 artists whose dark stars are on the rise:

1. Mathilde Fernandez

A classically trained operatic singer with international sensibilities and club kid inflected sartorial style, Mathilde Fernandez takes inspiration from Klaus Nomi for her moving, mournful pop songs. Fernandez uses sweeping, melodramatic electronic instrumentation with complex melodies and raw emotional power. Her latest project, a team up with artist Paul Seul under the moniker Ascendent Vierge, is much more rave-influenced but still darkly glamorous.

2. Big Momma

Openly queer rapper Big Momma uses horror movies and serial killers as inspirations for hard hitting club tracks about personal trauma and sexual violence. Citing The Undertaker as a huge inspiration, Momma’s tongue-twisting verses are as rhythmically complex as they are deeply disturbing.

3. MayMay Graves

This Dallas-based drag performer is a throwback to classic goth synthpop but with a newer, queerer, veneer. Unafraid of camp, Graves’ menacing tracks and over-the-top, runway ready looks are a perfect throwback to infamous gothic parties like Xmortis or the back room of Bar Sinister.

4. Lu$tSickPuppy

Lu$tSickPuppy is a New York-based artist and an emerging fashion icon whose popularity was exploding just as the pandemic sweeped the globe. Their unique sound, which combines nu-metal, rap, noise, hardcore techno, and deconstructed club music and emphasized both inner turmoil and being a boss bitch, is a pessimistic answer to hyperpop. Their Instagram is a veritable museum of gorgeous grotesquery.

5. Dani Shivers

This ghostly Mexican persona, an alter-ego for the artist You Schaffner, made a big impression on the Latinx indie scene with her spooky DIY music videos and lo-fi presentation. Her early works were creepy-cute songs made with what sounded like a Casiotone keyboard, but her later albums have been more lushly produced. Shivers uses the motifs of witches, vampires, and ghosts to tell existential stories about heartbreak and loneliness. Schaffner hinted that she was planning on retiring the Dani Shivers character, but do the dead ever really rest peacefully?

6. Reagan Holiday

Queer Trash Presents: Reagan Holiday - April 12th, 2019 from ISSUE Project Room on Vimeo.

Holiday could be seen haunting Brooklyn’s underground nightlife scene before relocating to Philadelphia shortly before 2020. A true avant-garde pioneer on the scene, their unique party, “Harsh Noise, Beat Face,” combined gothic drag and experimental music for a series of compelling and clashing performances. Their music, which switches between distorted samples of beloved gay pop songs and walls of hideous screeching sounds, can be understood as a sonic expression of utter pain.

7. Boy Harsher

This duo combines darkwave, coldwave, new wave, and synthpop for a throwback sound reminiscent of goth classics. The band formed in 2013 and has since become the de facto leader of a younger goth movement. The lyrical content is what you’d expect: tracks about isolation, suffering, and unrequited desire match the icy and emotionally detached instrumentation.

8. The Uhuruverse

Suicidal thoughts are ever-present in the stunningly ghastly and race-critical music of The Uhuruverse. With experimental tracks that rail against the prevalence of anti-Blackness in America alongside personal songs about fantasies of self-harm, The Uhuruverse puts goth themes into a more socially conscious context.

9. Glüme

Johnny Jewel’s ever-expanding synthwave music label, Italians Do It Better, seems to be a neverending procession of gorgeous blondes deadpanning over dreamy beats. Glüme is one of Jewel’s newest signees: juxtaposing her platinum hair and pouty red lips, Glüme’s tracks are darkly poignant explorations about deep longing and the fragility of the body. Her electroclash-adjacent pseudo-superficiality hides a palpable emotional vulnerability, as displayed on her haunting cover of Britney Spears’ “...Baby One More Time.”

10. Poppy

Poppy began as a mysterious YouTube personality whose Lynchian channel caused fans to wonder if they were being recruited for some kind of cult. After the unnervingly cheery personality had an out-of-kayfabe public breakup from her creative partner amidst accusations of abuse, her work suddenly took a very different direction: now totally in control of her artistic output, Poppy’s been putting out nu-metal banger after nu-metal banger. (She’s also put out 2 very strange, Akira Yamaoka-influenced ambient EPs.) In her more accessible releases, the singer’s cutesy vocals clash against thrashing guitars, reminiscent of lovably gimmicky acts like Babymetal. She’s transformed from a post-modern pop star into a corpse-painted queen.