Bauhaus: godfathers of Goth or the ultimate post punk band – an appreciation

Few groups have been as original as Bauhaus.

There they were in parallel with the Public Image of Metal Box or Joy Division creating a whole new sonic space utilising the ideas thrown up by punk to create a new style of music. At the time this seemed natural. Surely all groups were meant to tear up the fabric and start again?

Oddly Bauhaus’s brilliant combination of dub, art school rock, dark glam, psychedelia and a massive dose of their own originality proved to be too much for the surprisingly narrow confines of what was allowed to be experimental at the time and they were at best edited from the narrative or at worst put down by a music media with its own very fixed agenda of what music was going to be allowed in the brave new world of post punk.

Derided as Goths, as if dressing up and making great totally original music was an insult, they have had to settle for being a massive influence in the real world instead of being documentary staples from those rewriters of history.

Because, in all the preposterous re-writes of musical history, there have been few periods as misunderstood and edited as the post punk era. It would be like saying Trad Jazz was more important than rock n roll!

Somehow this fertile and wild place has slowly become narrowed down to a clutch of dressed down, John Peel approved bands who made some great music but are certainly not the whole story.

If you had not lived through this period and were coming to it from a retrospective angle you would certainly believe that the likes of the Raincoats or the Nightingales or even the Fall were huge and massively influential bands and Bauhaus were some sort of minor footnote.

But this was certainly not the case.

I’m not sure how you measure these things but in terms of influence Bauhaus have certainly had the furthest reach, with many corners of the world’s alternative music scenes still echoing to their remarkable and highly original take on the fallout of punk.

This piece is not here to slag down the likes of the Fall and the Nightingales, both are fine bands but with a critical reputation that exceeds their actual place in things and I’m not sure why this is. Maybe the so called Goth writers were not allowed in the mainstream press, maybe Bauhaus were not very good at making friends with journalists!

 

Whilst some bands never get a bad review and get praised for their originality, despite their careful reselling of their mini brand over and over, Bauhaus were termed Goths and treated with disdain.

Of course there was a Goth scene- even the Fall dressed as Goths a few years later, sort of – if you count a dab of eye liner and a triumph belt but it wasn’t a scene that the bands had created. Goth came out of the tail end of punk and was a key part of the post punk scene but it was a scene with no name that arrived naturally. It either came from the punksville squats in London as a reaction to the growing oi scene and was termed ‘positive punk’ by Richard North in a piece he wrote on bands like Brigandage and Blood and Roses in the NME or it came from Leeds and the dark clad clientele of the Faversham pub. Or it could have come from Northampton, a town with virtually no rock n roll history, when Bahuas beat the lot of them by coming together in 1978 and swiftly created a dark and gloomy tinged sound, with a sly humour, that reflected the new seriousness of the times.

Maybe Adam And The Ants had been excavating the same territory as Goth in their early days and you can feel a certain meninblack darkness of the Stranglers or trace it back through glam and Bowie and to the Doors and the Stooges. Rock’s fascination with the dark side has always been misunderstood by the surprisingly conservative commentators who prefer to tidy things back up into college rock and exclude the weird and the wonderful.

Bauhaus were not intending to create a scene. They were crossing a punky reggae that they had heard in the Clash with a whole host of artful influences that came together quickly when local Northampton band The Craze, featuring guitarist Daniel Ash, brought in Peter Murphy to be the singer recognizing his chilled cheekbone intensity as being perfect frontman material.

 

Within weeks of forming as Bauhaus 1919- referencing the German architectural movement so hated by the Nazis, they had recorded their debit single, Bela

Lugosi’s Dead in late 1979. This was no mere local band fumbling about in the studio but a full on nine minute slab of brooding imagination, a song so astonishingly original and challenging in its long trip of dubbed out, tripped out soundscape build up that a terrified music press had to invent a scene around it and then put it down because it challenged their control of the post punk fallout.

Good job John Peel was alert then and his constant play of the single saw it become one of the big songs of the period and dominate the indie charts heralding the so called Goth scene.

The Goth scene has been forever put down for decades by the hipsters but in the early eighties it was the tiny space you lived in in the post punk era. What history doesnt tell you is that there was no such thing as a post punk scene, there were not gangs of post punk kids hanging round town centres looking cool. People into post punk were the hipsters of their time. Many of them were journalists and they certainly had a big say in the media narrative and got to tell their own story, which is fine because there were many great musical moments there but what they failed to do was to acknowledge all the other bigger scenes that ran parallel at the time including the so called Goth scene.

Every town or city would have a goth club or pub. It was a space to dress up and listen to great, strange music- a music far stranger and experimental than the press pets and also far more popular. Bauhaus were at the heart of this and their influence was quickly massive, with many groups copying their highly original sound.

Bauhaus were termed Goths and thrown away by a sneering press who had their own agenda, an agenda that did not include dressed up, dark bands from Northampton with a charismatic, difficult and antagonizing singer who girls wanted to fuck. Perhaps it’s this sex thing that gets on the way of critical favours. It seems fairly true that in the history of rock music the press has tended to side with the more sexless bands, the kind of bands that only blokes like and discard the bands that crossed over into the dread sex territory.

And this is a shame as Bauhaus were highly original. Their combination of dub, funk and the skree of punk rock went far further than many press pets and they were never scared to experiment. Their debut In The Flat Field album was hated by the music press with the NME describing it’s astonishing combination of off kilter rhythms and sense of space copped from dub as ‘meaningless moans and flails bereft of even the most cursory contour of interest, a record which deserves all the damning adjectives usually leveled at grim-faced ‘modernists noise

The album, with its guitar filth from punk and the decadent throb from glam, made it a stand out record and, quite unlike anything ever recorded before, and it it became a staple record for the true post punk scene.

Even years later the countless TV documentaries and books on the period don’t seem to understand the album’s originality because it does not fit in with their narrow idea of what challenging or original is. This has never affected its importance and influence which have gone through the decades and it still has a powerful and profound affect on a vast array of musicians who fall under its spell from the obvious Goth bands to metal groups to great groups like Mogwai who were discussing it’s brilliance recently or the brilliant Savages who have more than a hint of the Bauhaus brilliance in their sound.

Switching labels from 4AD to Beggars Banquet the band recorded their second album and masterpiece Mask- a record that stretched out their aural madness in every direction possible with pure noise and the space of dub clashing against each other. It was an album so diverse and original that it again escaped the attention of the music press. It was also during this period that the band had their biggest hit with a cover of David Bowie’s Ziggy Stardust which they took to number four in the charts.

 

The band were at a a creative and commercial peak and their live gigs and TV appearances underlined their unique creative tension with all four members playing a key role in the band both visually and musically. Typical of the best bands of the time each member was playing a lead role in the band, with the rhythm section of the Haskins brothers unique in its fluidity and originality. Bassist David J was always right up there in the mix and his bass lines crossed dub with funk and dark crescendos and cranked punk grime. His own idiosyncratic take on the instrument saw it cranked to an elastic lead when it was needed or a cyclical spine in other songs. His brother’s drums never did the obvious thing but always remembered to make beats that you could dance to and a generation of cider and black drinkers certainly did that in the endless goth clubs that had sprung up across the country that Bahuas were providing a key part of the soundtrack for.

Daniel Ash is a great guitar player and certainly not in the conventional sense. This was a period when the rule book was thrown out of the window and his endless collection of noises from string scrapes to slashes of feedback sound brilliantly musical and help to create the soundscapes and atmospheres that the band were so good at. This almost anti rock approach to guitar is so punk and Ash is one of the guitar players who took the death to trad rock possibilities thrown up by punk and run with them. He rarely played a normal riff and when he does come close it’s on his own terms – a zig zagging Ziggy playing guitar on his own terms.

It was left to vocalist Petr Murphy to make sense of this and his surprisingly commercial voice intones its velvet tones on the top turning the disparate into songs. He was not adverse to experimenting either and the songs are quite often flavoured by strange growls or heavily distorted ad libs.

1982’s third album, Sky’s Gone Out, saw the band stretch the template further with some breath taking switches in style whilst the following year’s Burning From The Inside was a troubled release scarred by the lack of input from Peter Murphy who was laid low by pneumonia. This meant several of the vocals on the album were not even his. Despite this the album still has several stand up moments on it but it had lost some of the intense focus of previous releases and the perfect symmetry of the band that was all about the equal creative tension between all four members had been lost.

It was no surprise that the band fell apart and embarked on solo careers with the Daniel Ash led Tones On Tail, which had initially been a Bauhaus side project, with drummer Kevin Haskins and Bauhaus roadie Glen Campling making a slightly more pop version of their old band on their one great album which resulted in one track Go, ding sampled for the Moby track of the same name. They then morphed into Love and Rockets, adding David J back to the mix, scoring big success in the USA with their pop psych whilst Pete Murphy, first worked with Japan’s late bass player Mick Karn on Dalis Car, before embarking on his own cult solo career.

When the band reformed a couple of years ago and played Manchester on their world tour they were astonishing. It was like time had not touched them and their music was still pointing to the future and throwing up many possibilities. Their strength had always been the four strong characters in the band meaning no musical passengers but this had also been their undoing and the band could not maintain a full on comeback even if they did mange to record one final album, Go Away White, a sparse, recorded live in the studio affair that still contained all the hallmarks of what made the band great and is far better than is given credit for.

Bauhaus the band, were like Bauhaus the architects- they tried to create a future on their own terms, with a powerful design ethic but fell foul of the Nazi critics instead of the far nastier jack booted versions. They remain a powerful enigma and their music remains powerfully influential especially outside the UK where they have not been blighted by a tainted media.

 

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19 comments on “Bauhaus: godfathers of Goth or the ultimate post punk band – an appreciation”

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  1. Very timely with David J gigging for the first time in ages in the UK over the next few nights – GO SEE

  2. Bauhaus were very much of their time. I saw them a couple of times and while some of the music was searing, razor-sharp and downright sexy, half the set was pants. Pete Murphy diving about with his strobe light and side-stage mirror singing “We love our audience” in that sub-Bowie accent was just laughable. There’s a couple of good early singles and half of the debut album is excellent, but it was all downhill from there.
    Saw him at Rebellion in 2011 where he insisted the backstage area was cleared COMPLETELY apart from his “people” for two hours before and during his set. GTF as we say in Glasgow.

  3. Excellent article and about time the post-punk (whatever it was) myth was nailed. Bauhaus were an excellent band and pioneers of a genre that, as you say,can still challenge and sound contemporary. No surprise they were ignored in the ‘Gang of Four Obsessed’ BBC ‘Partial History of Punk’. A good chance to mention some other great bands from that time and area; Sex Gang Children, Play Dead and the superb UK Decay (who headline Dropdead in Berlin tomorrow).

  4. Bauhaus – definitely a great group. Part of the reason their legacy isn’t so well remembered is perhaps the attitude of the UK music press of the time. The NME had very particular ideas about what was allowed, and Bauhaus’s expansive rock music wasn’t it.

  5. Gloria Mundi were a big influence on shaping their early sound. I never had much time for them, personally. I preferred The Jazz Butcher. The Godfathers of Goth? Gloria Mundi were well ahead of them by about two years.

  6. Bauhaus were/are the greatest band ever to plug into electricity….it’s that simple!

  7. Fantastic article.
    Bauhaus were, and still are, a huge influence on me. My band was fortunate to get the chance to support David J. in London in November.. a fantastic moment for me.

  8. Great band, the music says it all. Terror couple kill Colonel, crowds, in thd flat field, mask, hollow hills, all he ever wanted was everything, she’s in parties. All classic, hair up on the back if the neck tracks. Brilliant.

  9. Also, Love and Rockets, the amount of peeps over the years who love this band is scary. Thats Goid scary!

  10. Wolfgang Riechmann

    Good stuff – though the term Goth didn’t really arrive until 83-84 – 4 years or so into Bauhaus’s career …

  11. Great article! Thanks so much for this :-)

  12. Bauhaus were only labelled as Goth band later on. A lot of people seem to forget that goth as a true musical genre did not actually exist back when the band began. The music press at the time dismissed them as “Bowie clones” but of course Bowie was a huge influence to the majority of musicians back in the day. The critics can say whatever they like , but the fact we are still discussing this band, 30 years after they first broke up says something, doesn’t it. Long live Bauhaus…forever undead.

  13. DJ Jason of Alchemy/Absolution, etc

    Nicely written article. I was pleased to see that the author acknowledges that “there was no post punk scene” at the time, but there was a Goth Scene. It’s refreshing to see some truth written, as since the web went mainstream in ’06 there has been an onslaught of revisionist history articles/books that have been terrible to witness. Thank you for your honestly and taking the time to research rather than accepting the BS.

  14. It is a shame that John Robb completely omits to mention a precursor without whom Bauhaus would have never sounded the same in 1979; Siouxsie and the Banshees. The music of “Double Dare”, the first track of ‘In The Flat Field’, is a blatant interpolation of the angularity of “Metal Postcard” from ‘The Scream’, it has the same clockwork rhythm of drums, the same sharp guitars bass except that it is is vice versa here. The spacious production on “Bela” has also been present on the b-side “Voices” and on “Pure”, the opening track of ‘The Scream”, where voices come from a distance and spaces that say as much as the notes being played”. Robb seems to be a fan of Bauhaus who lacks a bit of objectivity. Bauhaus were musically very good but the voice of Peter Murphy is a copy of Diamonds Dogs-era David Bowie, Bauhaus didn’t invent anything, they just cleverly stuck behind the road opened by Siouxsie and the Banshees. Siouxsie has invented the style with a unique way of singing, a Banshee wail that hits high frequencies in 1979 and a way of making abstract sounds next to the words that no one had done before. The fact that Robb doesn’t mention the work of John McKay that was one of the main influences of Daniel Ash says it all. Rewrite music history. By the way, there were gothic accents in Siouxsie and the Banshees, Joy Division and Bauhaus but none if these bands can be tagged as “goth”; goth is a pastiche that was played by their followers.

    • I think you managed to misread the whole of John Robb’s piece on Bauhaus. Not only that but I’m not even that sure if the Banshees were a direct influence on them and Daniel Ash plays guitar in a totally different way to John McKay. Thirty plus years of listening to these records and you know so little!

      • Manky, you said yourself “you’re not even sure” of anything. You obviously have never heard the production, space and huge reverb on the song ‘Pure’, released one year before Bela. Ok. You have obviously refused to see a parallel between the music on ‘Metal Postcard’ and ‘Double Dare’ ‘s. Ok. You obviously refuse to hear that Peter Murphy’s voice is a pastiche with all the gimeckery of Aladdin Sane-era Bowie. Ok. Bauhaus is good band but they are not in the same league as true innovators like Siouxsie and the Banshees and Joy Division. This is why this Robb’s text is a panegyric.

    • I think it’s great to see the Banshees mentioned here and alsways wonder what Sioux thought of them (I hear she was an Xmal fan for eg, so she presumably didn’t look down on similar stuff)… I would say that Bauhaus came from the same wickedly angular take on the template as the Banshees (the ‘Blackhead’ influence is there, partic in drums, in part, but only part) but Bauhaus are 100% unique and wonderful and the albums get wonderfully better with age plus must say: The Sky’s Gone Out is simply one of the best rock albums – artrock or whatever – ever.

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