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The MK ULTRA Interview: John Robb Author of “The Art Of Darkness – The History Of Goth”

Interview by John Wisniewski for MK ULTRA Magazine

The Art Of Darkness – The History Of Goth
By John Robb
(Louder Than War Books)
680 pages
Release date : March 20 2023

The first major and only complete comprehensive overview of Goth music and culture and its lasting legacy. The Art Of Darkness explores the context that created Goth in the post-punk period and also spans the fall of Rome, Lord Byron and the romantic poets, European folk tales, Gothic architecture and painters, the occult to the modern Instagram influencers.

The book is built mainly around the post-punk Goth period with interviews from Robert Smith, the Banshees, Bauhaus, Andrew Eldritch, John Cale, The Cult, Danielle Dax, Pam Hogg and many others…it looks at the music, style and the political and social conditions that spawned the culture and is also a first-hand account of being there at the gigs and clubs that made the scene happen…

Social, historical and political backdrop that created the space for the art of darkness to thrive. Every generation has got to deal with the blues – embrace the melancholy! Find a beauty in the darkness, a poetry in sex and death!

Whether it’s the Roman love of ghost stories, middle ages European macabre folk tales, Romantic poets or the original Gothic tribes sacking the eternal city, a walk on the dark side had always had its attractions. In the post-punk period Generation Xerox saw music, clothes and culture come together to create one of the most enduring pop cultures of them all that still resonates to this day.

Goth may have been a retrospective term for a scene that was already thriving but its back story goes back millennia. The book starts with the fall of Rome and ends with Instagram and Tik Tok influencers and takes diversions through Lord Byron, European folk tales, Indian Sadhus, Gothic architecture, Romantic poets, philosophers and idealists before coalescing through the dark end of etc the sixties youthquake and then blooming like Baudelaire’s Les Fleurs Du Mal in the post-punk period.

In the late seventies, the Goth culture emerged around a clutch of bands who found a new form of beauty in the apocalyptic foreboding as a new youth tribe took glam rock from the catwalk to the cobbles and onto their own dance floors that were creating their own art of darkness.

Defying the broken heartland of the post-industrial cities, the semi-forgotten satellite towns and the grim real politic of the Thatcher years this was a post-punk culture full of dark dance and a death disco. The music soundtracked the style and a stygian obsidian soundtrack that coalesced from the many fragments of culture that had been flirted with in the post-war pop narrative. A darker culture that began to coalesce around the holy trinity of the Doors, the Velvets and the Stooges in the late sixties before flirting with glam rock and then being amplified by punk and exploding as Goth and then splintering into electronic dance music, industrial, psychobilly and new Goth and then through dystopian Hollywood blockbusters, modern literature and throughout the modern world.

Emerging from the shadows Goth is now everywhere and the Art Of Darkness is the only reaction to these dystopian times…

John Wisniewski: The Art of Darkness, your new book covers the history of goth in 650 pages. How did this project begin?

John Robb: I grew up through punk and into post punk and was always waiting for a non acemedic pop culture book to cover the scene and none ever arrived so about ten years ago I started on my epic quest. The thing about goth is that it is a much bigger story than just the post punk period. It needed the bigger picture from the fall of Rome, the romantic poets, gothic architecture, dark European folk tales and much more to really set the stage. Every generation deals with its blues with whatever technology is at hand – wether its lord byron in the 1820s or the post punk bands dealing with it with rock music because that was so central to the culture at the time. Its a long yet fascinating story!

JW; Could you tell us the history of the goth club called The Bat Cave? Why was it important to the history of goth?

JR: The Batcave was the best known of the early goth clubs. It was not the first – that was the phono in Leeds which was equally important in the north. the Batcave was where many of the London based bands would hang out and many of the faces would be seen and it helped a southern version of the scene coalesce.

JW: Do you have any favorite goth bands?

JR: all the bands hate being called goth bands which makes things more complex – which is a gooA thing. the book underlines this but also celebrates the dark and brilliant art rock they all created. I think Siouxsie would have to be up there – she was the biggest influence on the scene and icon but had no interest in being part of a scene – she had been there and done that before the scene was even called goth. Bauahus were great as well – the sheer imagination in their music and the way every song is different and like micro-worlds of their own is fascinating.

JW: How did goth begin? Who were some of the legends who started the genre?

JR: The first band to be called ‘gothic’ was the doors in 1967 after they played their first New York gig and their dark baroque music, Jim Morrisons’ love of the romantic poets and his baritone voice and all black leather look set a goth template into place a decade before post-punk did its version. In a sense, in my book, I argue that goth has always been with s and is still here in different forms like on tik tok or gaming so there is no exact beginning point although Bela Lugosis Dead is recognised as being the first goth single although Bauhuas also hate the term…

JW: Who did you speak with in goth, to write the book?

JR: back for years – there are about 50 interviews in the book.

JW: when did you become interested in goth rock? Was this at an early age?

JR: In real-time as I was a young glam kid in the seventies and then I was into punk and was on the journey out of punk. What most people don’t realise is that it was initially called goth. It was alternative music or even called ‘Raincoat’ music! there was no sense of the scene suddenly shifting into something different but a gradual coalescence.

JW: Why has goth had such staying power?

JR: In the book I write about how every generation has to deal with its blues….its an eternal thing from the romantic poets and painters to the music scene – people have always been fascinated by the dark side and use the technology and the culture of their times to express this. Nowadays, it could be TikTok as much as the music in 1820 it could be Lord Byron.

JW: What will your next book be about, John?

My next book is a collection of my journalism – it comes out later this year. I have a novel as well that I’ve been working on and people keep asking me to write my autobiography.