Canadian filmmaker and heavy metal guru Liisa Ladouceur literally wrote the book on goth (The Encyclopedia Gothica) back in 2011. While she's been busy since them working as a writer, poet, speaker, and producer at Banger Films, her latest project shows that the poisoned apple doesn't fall far from the old oak tree. "40 Years of Goth Fashion" is a playful riff on those beauty history videos you've seen all over Youtube (with a much darker edge) that takes the viewer on a frightful ride through goth's many shades of black.
We're premiering the video—which cycles through 40 years of spooky looks in under four minutes—below, and caught up with
adouceur to find out more about goth music, goth fashion, and what goth even means anymore in the age of Etsy witches.
Noisey: What made you want to make this video in the first place?
Liisa Ladouceur: The inspiration was two-fold. I’m a fan of the original “100 Years of Fashion" Youtube video, and fascinated [by] how others from around the world have taken the concept to spotlight their own beauty histories. But they’ve all been pretty conventional. As someone who grew up more punk and goth, I hadn’t seen one I could actually relate to. I was also looking for an art project to do with some of my talented friends here in Toronto, who just also happen to be goths (or more accurately, what I like to call Recovering Goths), and so this seemed like a way to bring together a group of creatives and produce something to celebrate a more alternative history of fashion. Also important: I was really quite sick of seeing the headline “Celebrity X Goes Goth” every time a model or actor showed up on a red carpet wearing black lipstick. There’s so much more to it, which I attempted to show.
Goth beauty has changed a lot over the years, but the core darkness has remained. What's your favorite era of goth fashion?
We spotlight 10 different goth looks in the video, and I find something beautiful and wonderfully weird about all of them, even the pastel era, which is contentious with some Trad Goths. Personally, it was the early 80s Batcave look that first drew me in—big backcombed crimped hair, torn fishnets, bondage shop accessories. There was a lot of playing with androgyny, making your own outfits because nobody was yet mass-producing this stuff. But I think the peak time for goth fashion was the mid-90s, when it became much more sumptuous—velvet gowns, brocade corsets, cloaks and the like, tapping into the romantic Victoriana and vampire aesthetics of gothic literature and film, and really dressing up outside of nightclubbing. All that said, I'm excited by today's occult and boho-inspired Nu-Goth styles too!
Have you seen a similar progression in what you'd consider to be goth music, or does it all still lead back to Bauhaus?
Ah, well a lot of gothic tock bands are still trying to be the new Bauhaus, bless them. But goth music has always been much more than that one style, and it has certainly evolved over the decades. A few years back, I attempted to trace it with a Goth Band Family Tree (which you can still see here)) to show how there’s goth metal and synthpop and darkwave and psychobilly, and while much of it circles back to those 80s UK groups, there’s so much more to it.
What do you think is the biggest misconception about the subculture?
It’s a tie: goths are depressed and suicidal, and goth is a phase for teenagers. There are many well-adjusted humans well into their adult and even senior years who still enjoy listening to their music by candlelight and wearing all black.
Can you tell me about the music you used, and why you decided to include those particular songs?
All the music tracks in "40 Years of Goth" are from Toronto-area independent artists, and all have female singers and musicians, two things that were personally important for me to support. I wanted the music to mirror the video, to move sonically from the late 70s to today, but using contemporary, active groups. Amy’s Arms is a young goth rock band and their new record My Dear Violet had the 80s post-punk guitar sound I wanted to kick things off, something with lots of raw energy but without scaring away the casual non-goth viewer; we used two tracks from them, “Breathless Heart” and “Kisses.” As we get to the late 90s, I wanted to show the influence of rave culture and electronic dance music, which changed goth clubs, and clothing, quite a bit. The song “Devil’s Night” by Johnny Hollow had several great remixes to choose from, which helped us make that transition, and we also used their song “Bloodsuckers,” which is bouncier with a cabaret-piano vibe that suited the evolution into more fun, girlie looks like Lolita and steampunk. Finally, I wanted to end with something modern, and For Esme’s dark dreampop track “Be a Light’ seemed a great way to play us out. There are several lyrical references that also match up with the models, if you pay attention.
What makes music "goth"? What are a few current goth bands that you think are really flying the flag for the subculture?
Goth music in my view should be sexy, dramatic, and a little bit scary. I’m not a musicologist, but I also think the best stuff is really heavy on the bass, and has lots of space. Honestly, the band still flying the flag is still The Cure, despite their age. My favorite goth band in the world right now isn’t really considered goth by most goths and that’s a shame. Because Savages is not only the second coming of Siouxsie and the Banshees, they are the best live rock band going, they are dark and angry and poetic and artful and everything goths should be flocking towards like vampires on a virgin’s neck. Bands like Grave Pleasures and Eagulls are doing the classic post-punk stuff well, the self-described “cholo goth” of Prayers is very interesting, and I’m down with all the nu goth witches like Chelsea Wolfe, Zola Jesus, Bat for Lashes, Austra and the like.
How important is the fashion aspect to being goth? Conversely, how crucial is the music part—must you be a fan of goth music to be a true goth? Are the boundaries that rigid?
Goth is a subculture that has a soundtrack. Yes, it’s about an appreciation for literature and history and art too, but at the core, it sprang from a music scene, and the main definition of a goth for a long time was someone who listens to goth music. Today, goth is more about the fashion—there are hardcore Lolita and steampunk goths who’ve never heard Joy Division or Marilyn Manson. And that’s OK, culture is meant to mutate.
What is the current state of goth? It seems like it's cooler than ever to be into capes and post-punk and skulls; do you think that the renewed interest in spooky things is a positive sign for the culture's survival?
There’s an old joke: Goth’s not dead, it just looks that way. It honestly has never gone away since the 1970s. But every few years it pops up out of the shadows and you can find more of it on the runway and in the malls, and yes, right now, Nu-Goth is cool and all over Instagram and Etsy and the like. It’s exciting to see where this next generation of fashion designers and models and artists are going to take it before it slinks back underground again.
Kim Kelly is neither goth nor fashionable, but she is on Twitter.