The Cure © Naomi Dryden-Smith

The Cure © Naomi Dryden-SmithTo be or not to be> Goth is the question…

Were The Cure ever a Goth band?

Band leader Robert Smith recently claimed not but without those generations of Goths in the audience would the band be playing the Dog and Duck instead of arenas! (Speaking of arena shows their 2019 Glastonbury show was one of the year’s best – review here)

Of all the subcultures that were around in the post punk era, ‘Goth’ has always been the most problematic. Perhaps because it didn’t really exist for the early days of the so called scene which was normally called ‘Alternative’ Music at the time. Even when the clubs started to coalesce and the clothes got darker it was still not called the Goth scene – with Goth being.a retrospective term that was added on later and mostly sneeringly by the music press.

No wonder many of the bands have never been comfortable with the term. Andrew Eldritch famously hates the word and Siouxsie looks baffled when put into the Goth box. The latest to rebel against the word is The Cure’s Robert Smith whose band are considered one of the core groups of the form (The Cure’s top 10 greats songs here ) despite arriving as an artful art pop Buzzcocks band in the early days of punk before veering of on their darker trip.

It’s an interesting contradiction – the Cure were a huge influence on the scene and certainly adopted some of its darker hues to their style and music but it could well have been a path they were already treading. For many years, though, they were the perhaps unintentional prime drivers of the culture, with their forth album ‘Pornography’ being considered one of the key top ten albums of the form, and their dark influence was felt far away from the fever pitch of UK post punk culture.

Robert Smith himself is conflicted by the term as he explained to Rolling Stone in a recent interview.

“That didn’t come from me. That probably has to do with the film release. There’s always a lazy tendency when people are writing “puff” to release it. Inevitably before I even opened up the attachment from [the film company], I think it’s going to start with “goth,” “goth rock,” “goth godfather,” “gothfather,” “goth this,” and I think, “For fuck’s sake,” and sure enough, there it was. So I wrote a bit of a stinging email back saying, “For fuck’s sake, can you … ” you know?

I don’t think of the Cure as a goth band. I never have. I grew up in a world where goth hadn’t quite been invented in the way that we know and love it. And I was part of this subculture inasmuch as I went to the Batcave with [Steve] Severin. The Banshees were pretty much a goth band for a while. But even they really weren’t. But real goth bands were around — the ones that were part of that initial movement. They were goth bands, and I wasn’t. I was doing “Let’s Go to Bed” when goth started. So we’d done Pornography and “Hanging Garden,” and there’s a look and a kind of a vibe and an atmosphere, yeah. But was I responsible for goth? No. And if I was, I’d be very happy. But I wasn’t.
Did goth have any role in the Cure?
Inevitably, I think it had some kind of influence. “Cold” from Pornography, I think, sounds gothic, inasmuch as you can say it’s got that particular sound. I’m aware we played a part in it, and I think that we’re part of the history of goth, without question, but like a footnote. The Cure just aren’t a goth band. When people say it to me, you’re goth, I say you either have never heard us play or you have no idea what goth is. One of those two has to be true because we’re not a goth band.
I remember just for a while, goths were outraged that people would think we’re a goth band. They hated us because we’d kind of jumped ship, they thought. Because we sounded like we do on Pornography and the next thing we do is “Let’s Go to Bed” and “Love Cats” and “The Walk” and all these sort of stupid pop singles. So they’re missing the point that before we’d done Pornography, we’d also done Three Imaginary Boys and Seventeen Seconds. We weren’t anything to do with goth. It’s like we passed through that phase and I did a few things that sounded like we were a part of it, and then we moved on to something else.
Do you like goth music?
I was never a big fan of goth. I loved the subculture. I love subcultural stuff like that where people have a vision of what the world should be, how they should be. I think it can be really charming. There’s a slightly sinister edge to subculture-ism, but generally speaking, it’s a good thing. It helps people feel they belong to something at the time that they probably feel they need to belong to something. And I’d rather goths than skinheads. And I also like the fact that it represented kind of “other.” It’s a dangerous thing to look like a goth. In certain parts of England, you run the risk of a beating if you look like a goth, which I think is fucking outrageous. So in that sense, I feel a community of spirit with goths and other subcultures who choose to live an alternative lifestyle. But I wouldn’t consider myself to be a part of it.”

All words by John Robb, see his archive here

Photo © Naomi Dryden-Smith. [Please note: Use of this image in any form without permission is illegal. If you wish to use/purchase or license, please contact Naomi Dryden-Smith at naomidrydensmith@gmail.com]

7 COMMENTS

  1. No he isn’t right it’s not the artist that gets to decide if they are “goth” or not. It’s up to the goths to decide! The Cure were well established before Goths came along. There were only one or two bands who actively tried to be goth like Nosferatu (who failed at first because the 80s goths hated them) and claimed the tag in the 90s, when the first crop of second wave goths needed bands to call their own.
    So Smith can’t say he wasn’t a goth band, because goth didn’t really exist then. When it did hit it’s peak his albums were picked up by goths and became goth classics, wether he liked it or not. it’s like saying Bram Stoker never wrote any goth stories.

  2. ‘goth’ as a term, is a diss. Specimen, Alien Sex Fiend, Sisters etc were goth, as were joke, disposable, cliche, ‘fun’ bands to have a laugh at/too.

    Goth is reserved for lazy comedy writers to depict the bloke in black at school or workplace on TV or film. A joke, a diss.

    The Banshees, Cure, Bauhaus, Xmal, JD were great, imaginative rock bands first and foremost, that’s all.

  3. “And I was touched by the hand of goth, never knew it but of course I was”.

    “Raped me like a child christened in blood”
    “it doesn’t matter if we all die”
    “scrape my skin with razor blades”

  4. The problem is that the word “goth” started to live a life of its own. In many ways, it is now associated with posers, dressing up in black, dying their hair black, etcetera. All looking the part but having no clue about the origins of Goth music or its initial characteristics. They think that ‘Bauhaus’ is a city in Germany, and ‘Siouxsie And The Banshees’ is a Rob Zombie movie.

    The Cure is to Goth what Aphex Twin is to IDM. Both hate the terminology and don’t want to be associated with it but they are among the (if not the) biggest representatives of said genres. The Cure’s “Pornography” is widely considered to be a Goth masterpiece. If tracks like “Cold” or “Pornography” aren’t goth, then nothing is.

    It is not surprising that The Cure doesn’t want to be labeled and locked up in a box (especially the Goth box). Andrew from The Sisters of Mercy loathes to be associated with Goth and more artists do.

    The term Goth to describe music simply doesn’t have a positive ring to it anymore. I bet all us old folks hate the term but it doesn’t take away the fact that The Cure definitely was part of the Goth scene.

  5. I’ve always wondered why cornerstone goth bands like The Cure were so adamantly against being called goth. But in reading these comments, I’ve gotten a little appreciation for the attitudes of the era. Goths were not liked, it seems; they were the outsiders in a decade of neon and superficial happiness, all to counter the shadow of the threat of nuclear war. Goth imagery was used for effect, e.g. Siouxsie, Smith, Eldritch and his adding Patricia Morrison to the Sisters, but fully embracing the subculture meant embracing the outsiders that many despised. These musicians wanted to enjoy their fame, not become poster children for a disliked subculture.

    Nowadays, goth is more widely accepted (with exceptions – the murder of Sophie Lancaster comes to mind), but Smith et. al. are products of their generation, and the term “goth” still tastes bad in their mouths.

    I don’t think goths nowadays are posers, as one comment here implies. The music of Bauhaus, Joy Division, Siouxsie and etc. are over or close to 40 years at this point; it may not be easy for younger/newer goths to relate to their sound. However, everyone has some kind of music streaming service and the internet and can look things up for themselves. Plus, there are plenty of so-called goth gatekeepers who routinely bellyache about newbies not listening to the original goth bands, so I think it’s a stretch to say that goths nowadays think Bauhaus is a city in Germany, unless a qualifier is added (e.g. “some goths think…”).

    Goth itself has persevered as a subculture due to its iconic look, its penchant for darkness, and its appeal to outsiders. This is a thing apart from bands whose heydays were the late ’70s and ’80s. I do think all goths should investigate the musical origins of their subculture, but by the same token, time moves forward, and it doesn’t make modern goths “posers” if they don’t have musical tastes that stretch back to a time before they were born – in fact, I suspect that the ones who claim this to be true and are under 30 are the real posers.

    Ironically, the bands today that are accepting the goth label are symphonic metal bands, something that never would have been considered goth 30-40 years ago. Times change, but the mindsets of older people sadly do not. Smith is one such.

    People arguing with Smith – and with Eldritch and Siouxsie – about whether or not their bands are goth are fighting over opinions. Meanwhile, there are newer bands happy to take up the goth label. Seems to me that, like Smith and other goth (to me) bands of the past, people who debate this are all stuck in a time warp, while the world outside moves forward.

    Some of The Cure’s discography is goth to me. They had goth phases and pop phases. They were a goth band when it suited them to be, and left some defining goth albums in their wake.

    • Brilliant comment. I think one of the problems is that ‘Goth’ was a retrospective term applied to a scene that was already there and applied as a piss take term. There was definitely a shared aesthetic going on and the bands were happy to play with parts of it and no one complained that most of their audience came from that world!

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