Goth subculture started in 1979 with a small group of British revolutionaries seeking alternatives to the phallocentic punk scene. Although punk acted as a subversive movement against authority, it didn’t offer the complexity of creative expression that some musicians desired, namely Robert Smith of The Easy Cure (The Cure), and Siouxsie Sioux (Susan Janet Ballion) of Siouxsie and the Banshees.
Although Smith and Sioux’s lyrical styles juxtaposed aggressive punk anthems, neither planned on becoming the nuclei of goth subculture. Alas, contrary to their intent, fans transformed them into the goth genre’s poster children.
In the 80s and 90s, goth artists focused on recreating the aesthetic of classic horror films, like The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari. They developed androgynous appearances inspired by the cabaret and based their poetics on foreboding Victorian authors like Edgar Allan Poe. Goth lyrics often mingled the terrors of sex and death with angst and non-linear personal narratives. Recent critics have suggested that the Goths’ unsettling appearance is a purposeful affront to the male gaze as well as a feminization of punk.
Both Sioux and Smith adopted what postmodern theorist, Jean Baudrillard, would call the power of seduction: a means by which they could stand in direct opposition with the masculine logic of production progress. According to Baudrillard, in male-dominated society, growth, production, and value are sustained by clarity, transparency, and concrete images but displaced by ambiguity and non-linear mystery.
While punk relied on a bricolage of working class symbols and the phallocentric domination of authority, goth relied on a blending of seduction, death, and the sublime: sensibilities of the original Romantic and Gothic literary genres. This separated the goth artists from the singular, repetitive, and short-lived focus of punk rock and helped them to endure for over 35 years.
For further reading:
Seduction, Jean Baudrillard
The Music of the Goth Subculture, Charles Allen Mueller
Gothic-postmodernism: Voicing the Terrors of Postmodernity, Maria Beville