Not going back quite as far as the fascinating and beautiful music of the middle ages, the term “gothic” was apparently first used in a comparatively modern musical context by critic John Stickney in 1967 to describe the moody sound and performances of The Doors. It could be argued that there were many earlier examples of 20th century gothic to be found in certain blues and folk works, but as the late 60s’ bohemian dream slowly decomposed, this darker than average tone could also be found lurking in many other eclectic works of the time. Leonard Cohen, Screamin’ Jay Hawkins, Nico, Judee Sill, Alice Cooper and Black Sabbath all spring to mind as having some thrillingly morbid material, as do more cult acts like Coven and their startlingly direct 1969 LP “Witchcraft Destroys Minds & Reaps Souls”. There are also songs like “The Witch” by German psych-rockers The Rattles from 1970 (later covered in the 90s by full on gothic rockers Rosetta Stone). I have included the latter below just to set the mood as it is such great fun. The proto-gothic style of the music video is also mesmerising and quite ahead of its time. It is heartening to note that something as genuinely berserk as this was actually a UK Top 10 hit once upon a time.
The Rattles – The Witch
Since that era, “gothic” is a term that has of course been applied to a deeply diverse collection of artists, especially from the post Joy Division era, some of whom have flinched at the perceived confines of the label. Nonetheless, many charismatic and visually striking performers inevitably spring to mind in connection with gothic music, which is perhaps more of an umbrella set of aesthetics and styles than one particular sound. Of course it is a very recognisable subculture too, and one which has always interested me.
As a child in the early 80s I had marvelled at the goths I sometimes saw walking around Liverpool. To me they looked magnificent and injected a beautiful theatricality and otherworldly mystique into the mundane everyday world. The only vaguely “goth” music I was really aware of at the time was by The Cure whose jaunty pop hits I eagerly consumed when I could, especially the one about cats. Robert Smith was to me as the exotic, alienesque David Bowie had doubtlessly been to some of the generation before mine. Actually, my first real introduction to Bowie himself was as a nine year old watching him play the Goblin King in 1986’s Labyrinth, who, in retrospect, also looked like “a bit of a goth”. I recall that I even told my nan that when I grew up I wanted to be a goth. She helpfully informed me that they stuck their hair up with glue, which of course I unfortunately then tried with Pritt Stick.
Anyway, suffice to say I am fond of all things goth. So too is Rose Niland of Manchester’s gothically tinged downtempo band Rose & The Diamond Hand, who has decided to put together “Gothmas”, an alternative festive party at Gullivers in Manchester on Saturday December 17th. The reason for the incongruous “Gothmas” concept is pretty much just for the fun of it. What excuse do you need for a good party, anyway ? The event will feature four mainly local artists who all share elements or influences from the gothic style.
To open, the line-up features the very first gig by Ribcrow, an exciting and enigmatic new duo who released one of the year’s best debut mini albums. The event also features one of Manchester’s most intriguing, eclectic and original artists, Gwen Osmond, a woman with several musical guises who will be performing here with her eerie electronic project Saboteur. Then we have the celebrated Factory Acts who have become one of the most compulsive and charismatic live acts in the city. To headline the bill, Rose herself will be performing with the Diamond Hand, a set of her own magical songs delivered with her powerful and emotive voice. If you come along expect some festive covers and surprises too...
I sent some questions to all of the acts and quizzed them a bit about the gothic sides of their work. The multi-talented polymath that is Gwen Osmond replied first. This upcoming artist has been carving some amazing niches for herself in various genres, from her more ambient Grouper-esque work as Triangle Cuts, through to more dark electronic fare as Gashes and her new live project, Saboteur. Gwen is also an experimental dance artist and also often works with the excellent local producer John Tatlock who is noted for his fine work with the likes of ILL.
Saboteur – Death Dance
Gwen describes the Saboteur project as “Tim Burtonesque pink haired goth pop electronic dark / death pop”. Continuing that the concept behind the creation is of a “character who sits locked in an attic castle space and samples the sounds of ghosts from the graveyards around her. She also makes knife beats…rattles bones etc…”. Despite this entertainingly ghoulish manifesto, Gwen also stresses that the live emphasis is on dance and fun, and onstage she collaborates with another turquoise haired performer called Martyna.
Gwen gave me an interesting list of her gothically flavoured influences, taking in everything from Anne Rice and H.R. Giger to some fine films such as Claire Denis’ French vampire film “Trouble Every Day”, which is a favourite of mine too thanks to a great performance from Béatrice Dalle and superb soundtrack from Tindersticks. She also rates the fine vintage works of John Carpenter and Dario Argento, cheekily referencing Argento’s “Profondo Rosso” when she describes her favourite colour as “Deep Red”.
Saboteur – Not Dead
Musically Gwen likes artists such as Chelsea Wolfe, Darkher, Bats for Lashes and PJ Harvey and when asked about what kind of places influence her work, she says “forests, woods, haunted spaces and the blood and vampire filled club in Blade”. Gwen is a very engaging live artist who also occasionally performs some creative dance routines with Rose & The Diamond Hand. She works with instruments including Korg synths and a Rhythm Wolf drum machine though is looking to expand her live show with a drummer in future. When asked about her forthcoming work, she tells me she is also “shooting a gory new video for (new track) “Killer Couple” and then will also “focus on writing, maybe as Triangle Cuts”. She is also finishing the final song for her album with John Tatlock. Gwen describes her work as Saboteur as “tongue in cheek playful darkness…” and as a live act they come highly recommended.
Next I heard from the mighty Ribcrow, a two piece who have been rocking my musical world this year with their mysterious and evocative work. I hear everything from a darkly melodic Cocteau Twins and early Cure influence in their music, all the way through to heavier Aphex Twin / Mr Bungle style experimentalism.
Ribcrow – Removal
When asked for five words to describe their sound, Ribcrow opine that they represent “Oneness, Destruction, Gardens, Tribal, Colour”.
“Gothmas” marks the pair’s debut live performance and when asked what to expect from their set I get a very intriguing response that incorporates “tragedy, beauty, and a DIY attempt at encouraging a singular vision.”. I also get some pleasingly cryptic and literary answers when I enquire about their favorite gothic places, of which they include “dark, damp corners in shopping centres and on busy streets...in scorching deserts and beneath purple storms. Feathers, trees and red curtains. We always keep the bones.”. They remind me that “humans are simultaneously horrifying and inspirational” and like Gwen, Ribcrow are quite cinephile in their creative influences. Chungking Express, Lone Wolf and Cub: Baby Cart to Hades, Beetlejuice and The Neon Demon are amongst the long list of enjoyable films they pick as favourites. I am also delighted that the band list classic 80s claymation The Trap Door as a favourite TV show alongside the likes of Psychoville, League Of Gentlemen and the ever popular Twin Peaks.
Ribcrow – Cyanide
Musically the band are inspired by such substantial fare as Death Grips, Ministry, The Sisters of Mercy, The Cure, Sabri Brothers, Prince, Mr Bungle and Koji Kondo. Their stage show apparently includes “A Singer, A Drummer, A laptop, Electric 96’s hidden in 47s and 52s and plenty of portals”. When asked what their future plans are, they deadpan, “Spirals and giving up”. So, catch them whilst you can, but let’s hope the latter isn’t true as Ribcrow are something very, very special indeed.
Ribcrow – Knots
Next I heard from Factory Acts, another very fine duo who I have previously written at more length about , the ever charming couple, Matt and Susan. They sent me over some rapid fire words to describe their sound, which are “analogue, digital, beats, bass, bleeps”. The band features Matt on bass, Susan on vocals, “surrounded by an array of keys, knobs, flashing lights, touch screens”. They promise that “At least one world leader will appear on stage as well.”, so there is certainly plenty to look forward to from their live show....
Factory Acts – Flight
The group say their favourite colour is “Blood Purple” and their favourite gothic touchstones are :
“Eraserhead, Twin Peaks, The Cure, Siouxsie and the Banshees “Join Hands” LP (especially “Premature Burial”), “The Scream” painting by Munch, Hieronymus Bosch’s “Garden of Earthly Delights”, Weeping Angels, St.Finbars Cathedral in Cork, Rentaghost.”
Of their “Gothmas” live set, you can expect “quiet / loud, fun / politics, xmas / anti-commercialism, binaries / non-binaries”, and the band are currently recording a new 4 track EP which should surface soon. Always a delight onstage (I still fondly remember their spectacular and unexpected cover of Nick Cave’s “No Pussy Blues” earlier this year), Factory Acts are sure to deliver many more thrills to come.
Finally I spoke to the creator of “Gothmas” herself, Rose Niland of Rose & The Diamond Hand.
Rose & The Diamond Hand – Universe Is Woman
Rose is in possession of one of the most stunning and soulful voices I have ever heard. I first encountered this voice a few years ago when I met her whist she was singing with Una Baines (The Fall / Blue Orchids) band Poppycock. We became friends and I was also fascinated by her own unusual and highly atmospheric songs, so I started playing bass with her in early live outings. We were then joined by Leonie on live drums and Bob from Ten Mouth Electron on keyboards and ambient textures and Gwen on dance moves to form Rose & The Diamond Hand. We put out our debut EP on the local German Shepherd Records this year.
I asked Rose to describe the band in 5 words, and she came back with “spacious, atmospheric, strong, emotional, primal.”.
Rose is very much into her visual aesthetics and she always dresses up in dramatic and creative fashion onstage (she occasionally tries to get Bob and I to wear eyeliner or glitter onstage but hasn’t had much success yet !). She loves her striking gothic make up, and like most of the other acts performing at “Gothmas”, Rose cites The Cure are a big influence along with the classic 80s film “Heathers”. The Diamond Hand’s slow burning sound has also sometimes evoked comparisons to Siouxsie & The Banshees and Portishead and it is safe to say that these are influences shared by the entire group.
Rose & The Diamond Hand – Icicle
Rose’s favourite colour is gold, and she is working on completing her solo album alongside “creating a new sound for the band in the new year. Witchy vibes on the way.”. Consider yourself told !
All four bands are performing live at “Gothmas” at Gullivers in Manchester on Saturday 17th December.