Brooklyn-based writer and DJ Andi Harriman’s lifelong love for all things goth began with two things: Depeche Mode and a used-CD store.
“I grew up in rural Virginia in the middle of nowhere, so I would go to the used-CD stores a lot,” Harriman explains. “I saw this Depeche Mode album and I thought it looked cool, so I listened to it and I fell in love with the sound. I was just some lonely girl looking for something to relate to, and music was the only thing that I felt close to, especially goth.” Harriman’s affinity for Eighties goth grew from there. “I think I started with the basics,” Harriman states. “Depeche Mode led into the darker sort of sound, and then from there was the Cure, and of course Bauhaus, which kind of opened up the doors to postpunk, to Joy Division, to everything else.”
After that, Harriman’s progression from avid fan to goth scholar was a natural one. “I was so in love with the music before I even knew what goth looked like in the Eighties,” Harriman reflects. “I guess it was in the early 2000s when I started looking it up, and it was beautiful, both visually and emotionally.” While pursuing her graduate degree in Georgia, Harriman immersed herself in gothic theory and rhetoric. “I knew that I needed to give back to this music, to this subculture that had given so much to me.”
Research led to collaborating with Marloes Bontje, founder of the Tumblr archive “Now This Is Gothic.” “I wrote her and convinced her to work with me,” Harriman states. “We did a Kickstarter, got a publisher, and I interviewed tons of goths and collected pictures, professional and personal. It was two and a half years of very thorough work, but it paid off.” The end result of Harriman and Bontje’s project was 2014’s Some Wear Leather, Some Wear Lace: The Worldwide Compendium of Postpunk and Goth in the 1980s. Examining what Harriman refers to as gothic dramaticism, Some Wear Leather, Some Wear Lace celebrates the aesthetics of the subculture’s heyday.
“There’s a surface level of goth in terms of sound and aesthetics which includes darkness, wearing black, and sad lyrics, but what I found in my research is that goth is about dramaticism,” Harriman explains. “It’s about committing to something and taking it to the next level. It’s about transforming yourself into a different form of beauty.”
Revisited through the Morbid Anatomy Museum’s second installment of Harriman’s sold-out lecture, “A Desire for Dramaticism: Semiotics of the 1980s Goth Subculture” examines the evolution of goth beginning with punk’s passing in the later Seventies. “There was postpunk, about four years of Bauhaus and Joy Division. It was a backlash against punk, of people trying to be not aggressive but more emotional and more melodic….They were also feeding off of Ziggy Stardust, David Bowie, and glam-rock,” Harriman explains. Postpunk begat batcave, which eventually led to iconic acts like Sisters of Mercy from 1984 to 1987, which Harriman considers to be the “best years of goth.”
“When it hit mainstream there were a lot of copycats,” says Harriman. “Everyone wanted to be Siouxsie Sioux; everyone wanted to be Sisters of Mercy. They were on MTV, they were playing festivals, and I think that it all kind of died in 1992 when everything had been done. There was nothing left to do musically or visually.” But even in its passing, Eighties goth lingered in the cultural ether. From Nineties mall goths to more recent millennial revivals of this quintessential subculture, the appeal of punk’s successor remains.
“I think those of us like myself and younger people really want to find that one thing that they relate to, and I think that with the internet it’s harder to commit to that one thing,” Harriman states. “Subcultures don’t really exist as much, because everybody can choose what they want to be any different day of the week. In the Eighties, goths really said, ‘This is me. I don’t have time for anything else. I’m going to spend two hours on my hair; I’m going to spend two hours on my makeup. This is me.’ Now, with the Tumblr generation, I feel like they change their style every day, and there is no true commitment. But there are still some people who treasure the sort of commitment that people in the Eighties had.”
Still amazed by the enthusiasm garnered from her first lecture at Morbid Anatomy, Harriman anticipates fostering conversation around goth’s past as well as its legacy. “I came from a place where nobody cared about this to this loving group of people who are as obsessed with it as me,” Harriman states. “I’m stuck in the Eighties, so it’s great to hear what people think about goth now.” At least for tonight, thanks to Harriman, goth’s past, as well as its legacy, is alive and well.
Andi Harriman’s lecture, “A Desire for Dramaticism: Semiotics of the 1980s Goth Subculture,” will be held at the Morbid Anatomy Museum on June 23. The event is sold out. Please contact the museum for further detail in regard to tickets.