Gothic occurrences in naughties Indie

Posted by Matt Foley on May 12, 2009 in Blog tagged with

The Gothic has a subculture of its own and one of the most remarkable aspects of this culture is its music, which has been discussed before on here. Personally, I am interested in how Gothic tropes extend beyond the subculture and into the mainstream in often surprising ways. Below I want to look at how artists of early British indie pop of the naughties (2000s) have sometimes adopted a gothic language for their own particular needs. This requires, though, any baggage about addressing so called “low” culture pop to be left at the door.


Much indie music of the 1990s was a reaction against allowing oneself to feel terror or dismay and thus images of fear were scarcely employed by artists like Oasis and the surrounding Brit Pop posse. Since this post focuses on pop and Oasis were the most popular British band – or even musicians – of the nineties, simply by the fact they sold the most records, it seems apt to begin with them here and to highlight a song that is one of their few to deal with terrifying disillusionment. By this point their album Be Here Now had been a critical failure and songwriter Noel Gallagher was suffering from panic attacks. He relays his feeling about these attacks in the song Gas Panic (2000) which features on the number one album Standing on The Shoulder of Giants.

The lyrics:

What tongueless ghost of sin crept through my curtains,
Sailing on a sea of sweat on a stormy night?
I think he don’t got a name but I can’t be certain,
And in me he starts to confide

That, “my family don’t seem so familiar
And my enemies all know my name
And if you hear me tap on your window
Better get on yer knees and pray panic is on the way.”

My pulse pumps out a beat to the ghost dancer;
My eyes are dead and my throat’s like a black hole;
And if there’s a god would he give another chancer
An hour to sing for his soul?

Cos my family don’t seem so familiar
And my enemies all know my name
And when you hear me tap on your window
You better get on you knees and pray, panic is on the way.

 I have reproduced the lyrics to highlight the Gothic word stock being employed – notably the figure of the “ghost dancer” is invoked in terms of paranoiac persecution.
Noel Gallagher’s lyrics are often considered something of a joke, perhaps unfairly, but the next generation of Pop Indie Artists were led by two frontmen noted for their lyrical ability: Pete Doherty of The Libertines and Alex Turner of The Arctic Monkeys. Again, these artists surprisingly make use of two tropes of the Gothic: the horror show and the vampire. In both the cases below, “Horror Show” (2002) by The Libertines and “Perhaps Vampire is a bit strong but…” (2006) by The Arctic Monkeys, the lyric content is somewhat immature and ill-formed when compared to the writers usual lyrical standard.
This song is once more about persecution and this anger seems to negate Doherty’s usual ability to create poignant imagery through his songs. He addresses someone as if they are murdering him: “I’ve been following your minds instructions, oh how just to slowly, sharply screw myself to death.” And this girl, it turns out, is a fortune teller of sorts, with the uncanny ability to predict the future: “She said’ "I’ll show you a picture of tomorrow’. There’s nothing changing. It’s all sorrow. Oh no please dont show me.” So, common Gothic tropes are employed to articulate Doherty’s anxiety of both the future and of being unfairly persecuted.
Once more persecution is staged by a Gothic trope  in “Perhaps Vampire is a bit strong but…”:

The lyrics are a staging of Turner’s art being compromised by economic vampires who are not only unimaginative but persecute his imagination and infect it with the bite of their economic fetish:
All you people are vampires
All your stories are stale
Though you pretend to stand by us
Though you’re certain we’ll fail

I’ve seen you’re eyes as they fix on me full of confusion

Your snarl is just so condescending
Trying to explain that we’re on to a win
If the fee we get in near recoups what we’re spending

The very fact that Turner doubts the application of Gothic imagery as “too strong” is perhaps symptomatic of this diversion from his usual realist style of writing. In all these cases, though, the Gothic is invoked as an expression of persecution and of paranoia.

Can anyone think of more examples?

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