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Worldwide Gothic by Natasha ScharfWorldwide Gothic, by Natasha Scharf (IMP, 2011)

Modern Goth emerged first in Britain, and of course long before that Britain was the land of ruins and Horace Walpole. Almost everything written about the Goth movement is UK-focused and English-language; and yet the biggest festivals are European (I gather there were about 25,000 souls at Leipzig this year as opposed to the fifth-to-a-quarter of that who find their way to Whitby). In Worldwide Gothic Natasha Scharf sets out to tell a broader story than anyone has attempted hitherto. The real triumph of her book is to assemble accounts of the emergence of Goth scenes in Europe and beyond, and how, in Germany and Japan particularly, Goth shook free of British influence and generated something different. The list of international interviewees shows how Ms Scharf has worked hard to build up a convincing picture of the global spread and generic sprawl of Goth by speaking to people who might actually know what they're talking about, and I don't believe anyone has put this all down on paper before - at least not in one place. The sections on the tiny and courageous Goth scenes of the Middle East (pp.86-9) are particularly revealing and there are some insightful passages on the role of the Internet spreading Gothic style in the 1990s (p.63), and on the way Goths (at least in the UK) now interact in more socially complex ways than merely thinking of themselves as adherents of sorts of music (pp.95-6).

That leads into my one main criticism, which is that with its kaleidoscopic cataloguing of bands and musical genres, Worldwide Gothic depicts Goth musicians as subultural 'producers' with everyone else appearing only as consumers; I don't think this is what actually happens. As the Appendix points out, once the G-word made its appearance at some point in the early '80s it immediately bolted the nascent musical genre onto something bigger and older, meaning that the music would be continually contaminated by the 'Gothic' culture beyond as people discovered that for themselves; bands and their fans don't just come out of nowhere, after all. The most historically interesting bit of the book is the account of the pagan scene's role in the revival of British Goth (pp.51-2), which neatly shows the complex interaction of bands, promoters, and essentially non-Goth events (there isn't any necessary connection between Goth and paganism). The growing elision between Goth, Steampunk and Vintage scenes is similar: it certainly isn't bands leading that. Worldwide Gothic is very sumptuous visually with lots of good photographs; it would have benefited from closer editing, and if any book ever cried out for an index, it's this, but sadly indexing is a distant luxury these days.

This is a very worthwhile and creditable addition to writing about Gothic, and gathering all this abstruse material together is a huge achievement. Hopefully it will mark a starting-point rather than a full stop.


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