Archive for the Music Category

Music For a Monday: Switchblade Symphony

Posted in Culture, Music with tags , , , , on December 19, 2011 by vprime

Now that the world is (finally) safe for 90s nostalgia, I find myself dipping back into the bands I listened to then. Switchblade Symphony seems to embody a certain 90s alt-girl (or should I say grrl) aesthetic that lodged itself in the nexus of all that was cool. There were two girls (and some guys, but, whatever) with dreaded hair making spooky music whilst dressed in tattered thrift-store rejects. They looked vaguely like early Courtney Love only with lots more piercings and they had a comic book that was something like this:

I owned this comic, but now I cannot recall what it was about. An abusive dad or something? It was very of the time when girls wanted to tell the patriarchy to fuck off by wearing shredded wedding gowns. Anyway, that’s neither here nor there, the point is that SS took a goth twist to the riot-grrl look, but lyrically, they were less invested in politics than in potentially spooky things happening to children. One of their albums was titled after the children’s book Bread and Jam for Frances, a reference that really never made sense to me considering how menacing some of their songs could be. By menacing, I don’t mean aggressive and threatening, but frightening or unsettling like “Scary Stories to Tell in The Dark.” Here is an example, a song which uses nursery rhyme and the sounds of a toy-like piano to create dark atmospheric effects:

The ‘Goth’ label stuck to them in part because that’s how their label Cleopatra promoted them. I always thought they were one of those unclassifiable sorts of bands like Rasputina or Medieval Baebes. Their first album, “Serpentine Gallery” had plenty of Goth club crowd pleasers, like these:

Switchblade Symphony moved away from these synth-goth sounds later, experimenting with scratching, different vocal techniques and less club-friendly songs.

Switchblade Symphony split in late 1999, which seems perfectly appropriate somehow, since I have such heavy 90s associations for this band. Tina Root is now performing under the name Tre Lux. Her website has samples of several covers she’s done, including the fully awesome but sadly overlooked Information Society jam “Pure Energy.”

The “Labyrinth” of Desire

Posted in Culture, Movies, Music with tags , , , , , , , , on December 15, 2011 by vprime

Labyrinth is a strange film, combining adolescent fantasy with grotesque puppets; starring one of the only pop stars to attain legendary status in his own lifetime. The plot poses several unanswered questions, like what happened to Sarah’s mother and why goblins would be interested in stealing a baby and turning him into a goblin. I recall being mesmerized by this film as a child, finding the magical world of the labyrinth utterly convincing even down to the moss blooming with human eyeballs. There was something about Bowie as Jareth that was not repellently scary as Gene Wilder was in “Willy Wonka” but certainly wasn’t welcoming and cuddly. Many see this story as one of a child coming to age and learning to put aside the selfishness and fantasies of childhood, but I think that’s not what the film conveys at all. In fact, I think this film is showing us a young woman’s attempts to escape from the stifling constraints of domesticity.

The domestic environment in Labyrinth is every bit as stifling and terrifying as the most forbidding of the goblin landscapes. As in the fairy tales that Sarah consumes, her mother has been replaced by a stepmother. Sarah’s mother is never acknowledged in the film except as images in Sarah’s bedroom. She’s a silent icon, a form without substance. As she exists mainly in photos and newspaper clippings praising her acting roles, she belongs to the glamorous and immortal world of the image—as does David Bowie. The importance of images, appearances and surfaces in this film can’t be emphasized enough. The very word ‘glamour’ originally meant a spell or enchantment, especially one that produced an illusion or transformation in appearance, and was used to denote a specific form of deception practiced by fairies. Michael Jackson was rumored to have been considered for the role of Jareth. Thankfully, this did not come to pass. While Jackson was certainly familiar with illusion and altered appearances, he would not have been able to channel the threatening edge that Bowie displays here. Jackson, for all his performative acumen, was at heart too sentimental and childlike to make a convincing villain.

In Sarah’s initial tale, before the goblins take Toby away, she says that the Goblin King has fallen in love with her. So had he? Why does he come when she summons the goblins to take the baby? I believe that the movie conceals Sarah’s frustration and entrapment. From the opening scenes, we know that Sarah often has to care for her brother. In the absence of a social life, she constructs fantasy worlds in her free time, becoming the sort of heroine she could never be in reality. The reality of her life is a screaming baby, a father who barely has two words for her, a stepmother who subtly undermines her (“A girl should have dates at your age.”). In her fantasies, she’s admired and strong. Jareth, upon initially offering her the crystal ball, says that such an item is not “for a girl who watches a screaming baby.”  This suggests that Jareth find this domestic life to be beneath Sarah. As a reflection of her fantasies, Jareth is affirming Sarah’s belief that domesticity diminishes her.

Bowie’s presence infuses the film with queer desire that makes for an unsettling dynamic between Jareth and the barely teenaged Sarah. Much of this sexual subtext is surely due to Bowie’s own mystique as an androgynous, polysexual pop icon. The film makers must surely have known what they were doing when they costumed Jareth in leggings that left very little to the imagination, a frilly blouse, dominatrix gloves, heeled boots and a crop. Bowie’s Jareth is an alien creature. Even without the Spock eyebrows and Stevie Nicks hair, Jareth has a coldness wedded to seductiveness that conceals his motivations. Does he really want to keep Sarah’s brother, or is this a way to lure her into his world? As a goblin, Jareth is not quite a man. I use the term queer above because, while there is sexual tension in some of the scenes between Jareth and Sarah, it’s unclear whether that desire could be described in the terms of a heterosexual romance. In part, Sarah wants to be Jareth—with his power to bend others to her will. The presence of the baby throws a Freudian wrench into the works, as it clearly represents the potential consequences of Sarah’s sexual desires. Yet Jareth’s interest in the baby also suggests that like many an androgynous male pop icon before him, Jareth is a “safe” recipient for Sarah’s lust. He can’t make a baby of his own, so he won’t impregnate Sarah, giving her access to sexual desire without fear of consequence. Throughout the movie, Sarah has to shake herself from Jareth’s enchantments to recall her mission to save Toby. The masquerade ball scene is my favorite example. In this clip, Sarah is obviously captivated by the opulent world Jareth has created for her. In other reviews I’d read in researching this post, Jareth was painted as a bit of a Humbert Humbert for his interest in Sarah. I think this scene clearly shows that Jareth is exactly the sort of object of desire Sarah would conjure from her imagination.

As Jareth and Sarah reach their final confrontation, their exchanges take on a more overt dimension of desire. The M.C. Escher-influenced scene shows us Sarah lost in a physics-defying world that Jareth navigates with ease. The lyrics to the song here “Your eyes can be so cruel, just as I can be so cruel,” foreshadow the language of domination and submission that comprises Jareth and Sarah’s final exchange. Sarah has had to fight not just the illusion of the labyrinth, but her own urges to surrender to this world of surfaces to get to this point. She’s had to consciously reassert her filial duty to get to this confrontation. As Jareth sings, “I can’t live within you,” we see Sarah’s panic at being confronted by a side of herself that is cruel, sterile, asexual, domineering and looks great in a leather vest. In re-watching this, I was struck by how genuinely despairing Jareth looks at times as Sarah comes closer to her goal.

The final scene banishes the baby to the sidelines yet again. In an oft-repeated line, Jareth tells Sarah “Just fear me, love me, do as Isay, and I will be your slave.” This line, while certainly appealing, makes it unclear just what sort of power exchange Sarah would be consenting to. While it sounds unhealthily obsessive, it does accurately describe the sensation of being in lust.

Sarah completes her repudiation of her fantasy world in the line “you have no power over me.” Note, though, that Jareth does not disappear, he simply transforms and lurks outside Sarah’s window as the film ends. Jareth is still there, and, one can imagine, still the center of Sarah’s psychosexual world. Despite herself, Sarah has allowed herself to be reintegrated into the domestic sphere, however, her fantasy life is still very much present and still asserting itself, as the fantastical creatures of the Labyrinth rejoin her in her bedroom.  So while she will maintain the façade of the “girl who cares for a crying baby,” her inner life is safely concealed. It seems less like Sarah gives up her fantasy life than that she learns the necessity of concealing it.

Music for a Monday: The Damned

Posted in Culture, Music with tags , , , , , , on December 5, 2011 by vprime

You may protest that The Damned are a punk band, not a Goth band. For me, there are several artists that are honorary Goths, either due to their subject matter (The Smiths, Morrissey), musical style (Depeche Mode) or overall dark aura (Skinny Puppy). The Damned merges the energy of punk with the dandy Victorian look of goth. Their music combines psychedelia, old-fashioned rock and lyrics glorifying gloom, horror and villainy. Dave Vanian (as in “Transyl-“) appeared on stage in a vampire persona that echoed the look of Bela Lugosi’s Dracula and Max Schrek as the Nosferatu. If there is a singular template from which the look of the modern Gothic-Punk vampire descended, it’s Dave Vanian.

Get your smelling salts ready, ladies and certain gents, here’s Dave Vanian in the shower:

I love this video’s jaunty Dickensian fun times. And check out Rat Scabies in that fancy coat:

Bunnies! Seriously, I love bunnies. A bunny on Dave Vanian’s head? ::dies::


Music for a Monday: Dead Can Dance

Posted in Culture, Music with tags , , , , , , on November 28, 2011 by vprime

At first glance, the connection between Goth and this ethereal, multi-culti folk music is not clear. But there has always been a vein of neo-folk in Goth, from Current 93 to Rome (which I highly recommend, by the way). I would have to dig deeper into my material to trace the exact connection. When you hear the music of Dead Can Dance, there’s no question that there is dark beauty and romanticism in this music that would certainly appeal to a Goth. Dead Can Dance may not subscribe to the trappings of the Gothic Rock look, but the darkness of the music speaks for itself.

This video reminds me of the one for New Order’s “True Faith” with the weird avant-garde costumes. I still remember listening to this song while reading Lost Souls. The music is wistful and perhaps too mournful for the whimsical video, but perhaps my personal associations are intruding.

“The Ubiquitous Mr. Lovegrove”–a surefire dancefloor classic–live.

“Cantara” live.

“Persephone.” Lisa’s voice is otherworldly here. I think this is a fan-made video (sorry, I can’t read Spanish).  The visuals beautifully match this song.

Oh, the Irish know how do gloom. “I Am Stretched on Your Grave.” See also Lisa Gerrard’s rendition of “The Wind that Shakes the Barley.”

“Spirit.” Not much to see, but one of my favorite songs by DCD.

Dead Can Dance’s website is currently allowing free downloads of the “Live Happenings–Part 1” EP. Get it here:

Music for a Monday: Siouxsie and the Banshees

Posted in Culture, Music with tags , , , , , , , on November 21, 2011 by vprime

I’m back, but my writing willpower isn’t. I meant to get back into the routine of writing and posting last week, but that just didn’t happen. I couldn’t let another week begin without posting something, so today I’ve collected some Siouxsie performances. I can’t pretend to do Siouxsie’s work justice in a short blog post. Also, I get the feeling I gush over her enough already. So yes, this is a lazy post. If you want to read an in-depth academic consideration of Siouxsie’s aesthetic, I highly recommend The Music of the Goth Subculture: Postmodernism and Aesthetics by Charles Mueller. The chapter on Siouxsie is insightful and one of the better interpretations of her work that I’ve come across.

Now, the music.

Siouxsie has a particularly striking look and the visual performance is as much a part of her art as the music itself. Here she performs “Metal Postcard” in 1978.

“Melt”, performed in 1982. In this video, she looks like an Edward Gorey illustration come to life.

The silent-film vamp effect of her makeup is clearer in black and white. “Candyman,” 1987.

“Spellbound.” Siouxsie wears a yellow dress, still looks totally fierce.

“Into a Swan” recorded in 2007.

What’s your favorite Siouxsie song?

Music for a Monday: Peter Murphy

Posted in beauty, Culture, Music with tags , , , , on October 24, 2011 by vprime

The Cold One himself has a new release out now. I haven’t listened to it yet, but I was fortunate to see him play live not too long ago. It seems I’ll miss his show this year, even though it falls just about on my birthday. I’ve been thinking about how I’ll have to miss this show, and of course all I’m wanting to hear right now is Peter Murphy.

Murphy was always very influenced by Bowie. He was like Bowie’s starveling shadow in the film The Hunger, singing Bela Lugosi’s Dead from behind a chainlink fence. Not quite as controlled and refined as Bowie, there was always an added element of theatricality and punk savagery in Peter Murphy. Listen to “Stigmata Martyr” for an example of what I mean. It’s difficult to imagine Bowie wailing in this possessed way:

Murphy’s androgynous Apollonian appeal even earned him a spot as the silent spokesmodel for Maxell audio tapes:

I understand Murphy has come full circle now to play a vampire himself in one of the Twilight movies. That might–almost–move me to watch one. Almost. Bauhaus in The Hunger:

But why wade through sullen teens when you can have a pure shot of ol’ Indigo Eyes? Let us bask in the voice, the cheekbones, the pick-the-cabbage-kick-the-cabbage dance:

Official Peter Murphy site.


Music For a Monday: Christian Death

Posted in Culture, Music with tags , , , , , , on October 17, 2011 by vprime

Christian Death is a band that evades simple description. Partly, this may be due to their history of lineup shifts, legal battles over the right to the band’s name and the horde of associated side projects. For most people, Christian Death is Rozz Williams. Williams formed the band in California in the late 70s. Punk’s influence is strong in the band’s early work. There’s something I can’t quite put my finger on about CD that makes them sound so . . .  American. Williams’ vocal style is histrionic, emotional and dramatic. His voice is not the cold, controlled Bowie-eqsue Goth style used by Andrew Eldritch or Carl McCoy. If anything, it reminds me of the punchy voice of Johnny Rotten. The entire enterprise of Williams’ cult of personality is the morbid drama of Goth cranked up to 11. Williams was rumored to have had several bisexual affairs. He was, for a time, romantic and creative partners with Eva Ortiz–a woman who had previously been involved with serial killer Richard Ramirez.  There’s something in Christian Death’s work that that strikes me as so very American. The preoccupation with a certain vision of religion seems to come in response to the particularly American strain of Protestant religion. Christian Death shares much of the 80s hair metal (another product of California) obsession with Satan, demons and sacrilege. In that sense, it seems much more American in that America still takes it Puritanism seriously, and anything that directly challenges that is still seen as subversive here.  The name Christian Death was picked up by remaining band member Valor Kand after Williams left the band in 1985. There are conflicting stories on why the band split. Some say Williams abandoned the rest of the band while on tour in Italy. An alternate story posits that Williams took a break from the band and Kand entered contract negotiations for a new album in Williams’ absence. Frankly, I don’t find this sort of inside baseball very interesting. Just know that there are basically two Christian Deaths, one with Rozz Williams and one with Valor Kand. I don’t really have an investment in the Valor vs. Rozz hate. I have come to prefer the music they worked on together to either’s solo work.

Ok, Valor anecdote here. As a baby bat, I’d heard plenty of Christian Death but never really investigated why some of their albums sounded so radically different. Honestly, they were never one of my favorite acts. I thought they were okay, but not interesting enough to go all geek on. I had the opportunity to see Christian Death with Switchblade Symphony sometime in the early 90s. At the show, I was somewhat underwhelmed when Valor and crew took the stage (“stage” here being a spot on the floor of this dive bar that had been taped off so people wouldn’t stand there) in bizarre leopard print workout gear. I think Valor himself was in a teddy sort of thing? He looked like a transvestite wearing a costume out of a Boris Vallejo drawing. His hair was super permed 80s style and was doing a sort of Donna Summers sexy disco thing. As the band started playing, the lights went out in the bar. At this point Valor whipped out two flashlights and began swinging them around as he sang. People in the crowd booed and shouted. I felt terribly embarrassed for everyone.

Williams hung himself in 1998. He had substance abuse issues, which likely contributed to his choice to commit suicide. There is an extensive bio of Williams available at Kand is still working under the name Christian Death. If you’re interested in his work, it can be found here:

Valor sings on this one:


Rozz live: