On the origins of goth

For most, the genre “goth/industrial” brings diverse musicians and bands like Marilyn Manson or Nine Inch Nails to mind, but the more musically conscious may make a clearer distinction between goth and industrial. To a certain extent, both parties are correct in their classifications, mainly because of the constant molding and remolding of music by a number of key musicians who draw from an extensive palette of inspiration.

Goth and industrial started out as different types of music, but they both have roots in some form of social commentary. Originating in the early to mid-1970s, the term “industrial music” was coined by Industrial Records, a label created specifically for the release of experimental music by bands such as Throbbing Gristle. “Industrial,” at that point, was more of an ironic statement about how streamlined and formulaic music had become during that time, and these experimental musicians were not hesitant to use graphic and politically incorrect imagery alongside their music to make a social point — much akin to their cousin, punk music, which was itself in some ways the predecessor of goth music.

It may be surprising — but shouldn’t be shocking — that punk music preceded goth music. Punk, in all of its stripped-down structure, couldn’t possibly have survived in the long run. It was during this point that punk musicians started experimenting with more complex ways of expression through their music, particularly by developing an artistic sensitivity while still retaining a punk iconoclastic stance. As the moody middle child between punk and pop-electro music that was prevalent at the time, bands such as Joy Division (and subsequently New Order), Siouxsie and the Banshees, and the Sisters of Mercy brought goth music out from punk/post-punk into gothic.

Today, goth and industrial have combined through shared aesthetics, subcultural survival, and even basic back-and-forth borrowing of styles. In this way, goth/industrial can be considered a single genre today. It draws from electronic music the most and, depending on the musician and amount of commercialization that the musician has been exposed to, the roots of goth and industrial can still be heard in the music.

Before you go-go

In all my preparation to study abroad in Switzerland this semester, one thing I did not figure out was how often the soundtrack of my travels would come to the forefront. From the first exhausted step into my temporary home, I began to see American music in a completely different light. I was shocked — nay, disgusted — by the popularity of the breathy voice of Paris Hilton when I first turned on the TV. MTV Europe is one of three channels in English we get in our apartment. I thought I was in serious trouble, musically speaking… but it hasn’t been that bad.

Shortly after I moved in, a town festival blasted 2 Live Crew only a street down from the Beatles, with the Swiss drunkenly milling about and mumbling heavily accented lyrics to “Pop that Pussy” and “Yesterday.” “Aloha Night” at a local club promoted “American surf music,” which turned out to be wedding reception favorites like “The Twist” together with some stranger selections: Johnny Cash’s “Ring of Fire” mixed into Justin Timberlake. Even on the bus, I can usually pick up the faint sounds of Beyoncé or The Killers leaking out of the headphones of at least one fellow rider.

My favorite encounter with American pop music thus far has been in Hamburg, Germany. I had the intriguing opportunity to go to a karaoke bar, where I heard a passionate medley of Elvis tunes sung in a faux-American accent. That same night, I witnessed reasonably sober grown men singing along to the Backstreet Boys without any shame. (I sang along to ABBA, but that hardly counts; they’re Swedish.) A day later, I witnessed an extraordinarily amusing German hip-hop show, which, suffice it to say, deserves its own article.

Fortunately for me, the pervasiveness of American pop music here has been an advantage. My classmates know the perfect pronunciation of promiscuous thanks to Nelly Furtado, and they can drop it like it’s hot with the best of them. Getting away with listening to Justin Timberlake for the past three months has been fun, but it isn’t enough to satisfy my ironic hipster tendencies for much longer. I have to switch to something more disgustingly infectious to amuse myself, and Wham! is climbing up my Most Played list in iTunes.

I’ve got to cleanse my system and return to the too-cool U.S. of A. where this musical sacrilege isn’t tolerated on a regular basis — and listen to some ’80s-inspired indie remixes in somebody’s basement, stat.

On mix CDs

Almost everyone I know has made a mix CD for someone else. What a lot of people aren’t aware of is that the art of the mix CD is held in very high regard by certain musicians and record labels that continue to produce meticulously crafted mixes that are as successful as albums of entirely original material.

Germany’s Kompakt label, for example, has released many mix CDs to complement its selection of minimal techno and house music. Artists such as Superpitcher and Michael Mayer have released seminal mixes that are now regarded as milestones in the mix CD genre. Mayer’s Immer, released in 2002, is known as the album that gave birth to the minimal house genre by compiling a series of innovative tracks by different artists and emphasizing the fact that they all had something in common.

Coldcut, founder of the Ninja Tune label, is also responsible for an excellent release that is part of the Journeys by DJ series of mix CDs. What makes Coldcut’s mix interesting and different from Mayer’s is the way it jumps from genre to genre. It reminds us that mix CDs can often give us a richer experience than any single artist could ever provide within the context of a single album. Coldcut exploits this notion by cutting back and forth from ambient to spoken word, from reggae to drum and bass, layering multiple tracks on top of each other and seamlessly transitioning from track to track, truly living up to the idea of the mix CD as a journey.

Studio !K7 also produces a well-known compilation series called DJ Kicks; Erlend Oye’s interesting compilation stands out. Oye, who calls himself “the singing DJ,” removes vocal tracks from songs and replaces them with himself singing. A haunting composition is created when, on the album’s second half, Oye combines a minimal Royksopp remix with the vocals from “There Is a Light That Never Goes Out” by The Smiths. A wholly new composition is created, one that is at once more personal than a simple mashup and exists powerfully not only on its own but also as part of an album.

Mix CDs provide artists with the power to make more exciting statements than they may otherwise be capable of on their own. They provide a medium for the exchange of ideas through the assimilation of familiar and unfamiliar material together into a new whole.

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