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Portraits of… 80’s Death Rock // Goth Culture

Growing up in the 80’s gave me the opportunity to see how one subculture could have an impact on another.In L.A., it was totally normal to see someone in the punk scene to cover their face in white pancake make up and then do something interesting with black eyeliner. This was before the terms “Death Rock” or “Gothic” were a part of our reality – this was just the way some kids expressed themselves. While this was happening in my hood, in the UK you had members of the Peace Punk scene start to express themselves in the same way, plus you had the whole Batcave movement. Nowadays, there is a rebirth happening on the Post Punk and Death Rock tip. Today we want to celebrate 80’s Death Rock and Gothic culture with this huge essay of photos from this era. All pictures were taken from the Now This Is Gothic tumblr – and make sure to check out this awesome book ‘Some Wear Leather, Some Wear Lace: The Worldwide Compendium of goth in the 1980s here.

1985 [photo by Brian Parkhurst]

1985 [photo by Brian Parkhurst]

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  1. disqus_mDx1EiahB6

    June 11, 2017 at 9:35 am

    Ever since the extremely popular Gothic Horror Movies, gothic and goth have been used to describe such looks and aesthetic. This article poo-poos that and kowtows to the very separate reality of music journalism. It’s been horrible watching the net try to merge the real things that happened in the underground with the total BS that is the history of music journalism.

  2. Matthew_Bailey

    June 12, 2015 at 8:21 pm

    I keep meaning to do something like this for Texas and London.

    I did not make it to LA until ’85, the first time, and then did not get to return until ’88, when I began making trips between CA and TX every other month or so (and was in LA about three months out of the year collectively). I had meant to move there in ’89, but things fell apart (so many of my friends began dying of drug overdoses at that time).

    I remember hanging out with a guy named Andre, who danced for Death Ride ’69, and was in the newspaper in October for shooting the ex-boyfriend of an ex-girlfriend (she would later go on to marry the Japanese Guitarist for Haunted Garage). Strangely, shooting the ex-boyfriend produced exactly the result I wanted as far as staying in LA, because the police forbade me from leaving LA and/or Ventura County for the next two to three months.

    I recognize a couple of faces above, but cannot recall the names.

    LA was really the center of the Goth world in the 80s (And I spent a LOT of time in London as well. LA had a much better scene than in London it turned out), and I allowed most of it to pass me by.

    • leftylimbo

      June 24, 2015 at 10:17 pm

      Oh yeah, there was a big goth/death rock/batcave/whatever-you-wanna-call-it scene out here in the ’80s, especially ’85 onwards, so you were lucky to be out here at that time to experience it. Even if it did pass you by, it certainly left an impression, just like it did to me.

      If I had been in a slightly different mindset and not stricken with tunnel-vision as part of L.A.’s mod/ska scene, I think I would’ve been able to get along with the goth kids and perhaps understood their scene more. But at 15-16 yrs. old, all of that gloom and shade was way too deep for me to comprehend…so a lot of it passed me by as well. There were also invisible but set “barriers” between scenes, so even if a goth girl piqued my curiosity, it wouldn’t have been a comfortable association.

      • Matthew_Bailey

        June 26, 2015 at 2:01 pm

        I was Deeper into the SF Goth scene, as I had a long-term girlfriend who lived in SF who I would go see.

        And I was the epi-center of the Texas Goth scene (making the covers of several magazines with statewide distribution in 86 and 87). Had I been able to have a higher profile in CA I probably would have wound up doing more in LA than I did (I had an actual agent after I was picked out from a crowd in a movie I was in in 86 – Robocop, I think – but she was always trying to get me to come out to audition for roles, or see somebody for a part. I was terrified of auditions though, and my job was really down on me having any more notoriety than I already did).

        But the 1980s/early-90s were the cultural peak of the century (and this one as well). It will be some time before we see that kind of cultural phenomenon again.

  3. Jwlhyfer de Winter

    June 11, 2015 at 8:23 am

    I forgot to mention that I think the lead photograph is of the two female singers from “Die Schlaflosen,” (a.k.a. “The Sleepless;”) Claudia and Lucretia.

  4. Jwlhyfer de Winter

    June 11, 2015 at 8:15 am

    I remember this era so well, and I recognize about a third of these people! We used to
    call it “Doom and Gloom. ” The term “Gothic,” (not “Goth,”) was used to describe those people across the pond, where the music was quite different. The first regularly held club was called “Theatre des Vampires, ” and was at the Grandia Room. The scene didn’t really take off until Henry and Joseph, (of the Melrose store “Vinyl Fetish,”) started a club called “Fetish, ” at the Berwin Entertainment Center. Funny thing, at the time we mostly went to see bands, and dancing was considered to be really lame! I remember standing around, feeling awkward, and people watching a lot. We did, indeed, hang out mostly on Melrose, and you would see a lot of people at Okie Dog’s in Hollywood at odd hours of the morning. There was also a lot of people going to the Brave Dog and Al’s Bar in Downtown Los Angeles. The look seemed to grow out of another of Henry and Joseph’s clubs, a wonderful New Romantic club called “The Veil,” a magical place I will never forget. It was a sister club to the Blitz Club in London; run by Steve Strange of Visage. All of this is documented in great detail in the forthcoming book “Phantoms, the Rise of Death Rock from the L.A. Punk Scene,” by my good friend Mikey Bean. I recognized Dave Grave of “Voodoo Church,” and Stephanie from, “The Flesheaters,” for sure in the above pictures and almost everyone else looks incredibly familiar. One of the interiors looks a lot like the Brave Dog, run by Claire Glydden. I’m definitely getting some names wrong. We also all mostly belonged to a rather unusual casting agency run by Janet Cunningham, (who also ran a club,) and you can see me in “Ghostbusters” and many of us in an episode of “Night Court” and the John Travolta/Olivia Newton-John film; “Perfect,” which we were all extras in at the time. In “Perfect,” we were paid more if we were dressed like Boy George fans, so most of us put on kimonos, make up and dreads to get paid. One of those people was Patrick Mata of “Kommunity FK.” I tell a funny story about this in Mike’s book. Some of the early, L.A. based bands were “Kommunity FK,” “Aphoticulture,” “Die Schlaflosen,” “Christian Death,” “The Superheroines,” “Radio Werewolf,” “Voodoo Church” and “45 Grave.” They mostly played at “The Brave Dog,” “Al’s Bar” and “The Vex.” The first magazine/fanzine devoted to the aesthetic was “Night Voices,” published by Paul Perner, long before “Propaganda,” which was a bit of a joke, actually. I remember those days fondly, and I talk about the early days of the scene and what it was like in some of my videos on my channel on You Tube, “The Gothic Bohemian Salon.” It’s easy for us to forget nowadays, with the Gothic Aesthetic such a part of mainstream culture, that there was a time when it was all very new, and magical, and mysterious. I miss those days and that feeling of discovery so much sometimes. Thanks for the trip down memory lane.

    • Matthew_Bailey

      June 12, 2015 at 8:31 pm

      No kidding (thanks for the trip). As I pointed out above, I was only peripheral to the LA Scene (due to having a job in the 80s that kept me moving around a lot), but I kept gravitating back to it (mostly because of an ex-girlfriend who lived there. She married a guitarist in Haunted Garage). But I wound up in the same casting agency you mentioned, in several episodes of Mancuso FBI, in the Andrew Dice Clay “The Adventures of Ford Fairlane” movie (where I mostly wound up on the cutting room floor – I learned about bitchy screen-hog extras who try to fuck their way into a larger part from that movie), and Lekili (the ex girlfriend) was in an episode of Married with Children (that I could have been in if I wasn’t so fucked up at the time).

      You guys had created a world that will never have an equal (and there are academics who will back that up).

      Today’s “Goths” are a pale imitation for the most part. They are like hollow shells, which copied the exteriors of the older goths they saw, but failed to understand the substance, the stuff inside of us that drove us to look the way we did.

      One last point… I was at the Joy Division Show in London where the term “Goth” was supposedly first used. It confused us. We had a long argument over whether they mean “Goth” as in “Ostrogoth” or “Visigoth” (barbarians) or if they meant “Goth” as in “Gothic Architecture” (we would later discover it meant the latter). That was where I was “turned” (to use the phrase my younger sister applied to my appearance changing from a suburban US punk to what would later be called “Goth” (which was a severe change, U.S. suburban punk in 1983 wasn’t really that extreme, yet 1983/84 London “Goth” WAS severe as it would be until the 00’s).

  5. Bishop Johnson

    June 10, 2015 at 10:32 pm

    why are people so proud of being desparate fo attention

    • Matthew_Bailey

      June 12, 2015 at 8:34 pm

      Wrong question.

      But obviously one that is pertinent in hindsight.

      About nine years ago I wrote a paper about that, and several of my professors at school (I returned to college when I was in my late-40s at UCLA) have suggested that I explore the question further, as they too are very intrigued by the Goth Subculture. It is a very unique phenomenon as subcultures go, only rivaled by the 1960’s hippy culture in terms of the fear it engendered in the mainstream culture.

  6. leftylimbo

    June 10, 2015 at 1:04 am

    Ah yes, I remember those days well…the mid- to late ’80s at least, in L.A. …it was one thing for me as a mod to bust out with my parka in 90-degree weather, but I had to hand it to the death rockers (glad you mentioned that term, btw) for their passion and commitment to make every L.A. day fade to grey in their leather and lace get-ups. Heh, how they managed to remain as pallid and pale on L.A.’s sun-kissed Westside is beyond me, but that was the beauty of L.A.’s youth subcultures in the ’80s…we made it work, no matter what. Thanks for sharing…I’ve really been missing those days lately.

  7. Katya Elizabeth Woods

    June 9, 2015 at 5:21 pm

    I used to shop at Retail Slut!

  8. Amanda DiBlasi Avramidis

    June 9, 2015 at 4:56 pm

    Nicky Olivio this so reminded me of you!

    • Nicky Olivio

      June 9, 2015 at 4:58 pm

      omg yes <3 this post kind of made my whole day

  9. Jerome Alexandre

    June 9, 2015 at 3:13 pm

    Spotted a young Al Jourgensen

  10. Mitch Ashpaugh

    June 9, 2015 at 1:47 pm

    Benjamin Carlson

  11. Criado

    June 9, 2015 at 1:07 pm

    Al Jourgensen of Ministry is sprinkled in there haha

  12. Mackenzie Guillory

    June 9, 2015 at 12:36 pm

    Kia Alice Groom all day

  13. Kayla Blackey

    June 9, 2015 at 12:14 pm


  14. David Leeson

    June 9, 2015 at 11:46 am

    Hair like the Hindenburg. Good times.

  15. Viny Rodrigues

    June 9, 2015 at 11:43 am

    Luiza Cravo

  16. Scott Evans

    June 9, 2015 at 10:38 am

    I recognize some of those faces…

  17. TractorTom ShaunWhite Desjardins

    June 9, 2015 at 10:13 am

    Esther Duguay

  18. Nay Josephine

    June 9, 2015 at 9:29 am


  19. Ariadna Poupee Bla

    June 9, 2015 at 9:13 am

    Fabián Salazar

  20. Emerson Penerari

    June 9, 2015 at 8:59 am

    About the author of the post: “He terrorized the streets of the West Side as a young Suicidal Boy”.. well, if he was a Suicidal Boy and stay alive today, maybe somethig go wrong… suicidal boys are dead now. or it’s just to claim their parent’s atention. Loser.

  21. Raven Sparks

    June 9, 2015 at 8:55 am

    So much awesome style back then…I love looking at these!

  22. Sean M Void

    June 9, 2015 at 8:38 am

    One of the pics is actually a Ministry promo pic of Al Jourgensen.

  23. Shawn Růžek

    June 9, 2015 at 8:07 am

    Ari Ferrari

  24. Shawn Růžek

    June 9, 2015 at 8:06 am

    Alejandra Reuhel

  25. Benjamin Oliver Gleason

    June 9, 2015 at 7:42 am

    Kevin LoBiondo

  26. Spencer Robert Snitil

    June 9, 2015 at 7:34 am

    Kelly Walsh

  27. Diego Carvalho

    June 9, 2015 at 7:12 am

    Fabiola mazoia

  28. Damian Saiz

    June 9, 2015 at 7:06 am

    i miss the creativity that went into these looks back then. and the big hair. some real hotties in these pics.:)

  29. Alfredo Garcia Rizo

    June 9, 2015 at 6:50 am

    Vana Vaninha

  30. Jerry Wayne Woolbright

    June 9, 2015 at 6:42 am

    These are the kids who used to hang out at Knotts after dark.

  31. Michael Baffico

    June 9, 2015 at 6:36 am

    Pre Hot Topic!

    • Matthew_Bailey

      June 12, 2015 at 8:35 pm

      The hair dye or the store? Definitely pre-store.

  32. Tenika Campbell

    June 9, 2015 at 6:23 am

    Marcin Cycoń

  33. Justin Moore

    June 9, 2015 at 6:17 am

    Soha Sioux

  34. Alixx Grace

    June 9, 2015 at 5:58 am

    Michael A. Simms

  35. Thiago Getto Sharks Loredo

    June 9, 2015 at 5:49 am

    Dayvison Possessor

  36. Colleen Isawesome

    June 9, 2015 at 5:40 am

    I love this! The hair is over the top!

  37. Matra Muschietti

    June 9, 2015 at 5:05 am

    Giovanna Agrimi

  38. Zoi Simone Cameron

    June 9, 2015 at 1:39 am

    Jack Strang

  39. Francisco Larubia

    June 9, 2015 at 1:19 am

    Alicia Sanchez

  40. Sage Battle

    June 9, 2015 at 1:15 am

    Ricky Washuk!

  41. Gnolius Nungesser

    June 9, 2015 at 1:02 am

    When it was cool, before the word.

    • Kevin Jackson

      June 9, 2015 at 1:30 am

      Young dudes with high tops and the toung sticking out….

  42. Derek Jelsma

    June 9, 2015 at 12:50 am

    Stephanie Parks

  43. Jim Frederick

    June 9, 2015 at 12:50 am

    Lhûg Dae

  44. Madeleine Spencer

    June 9, 2015 at 12:43 am

    Nick Benson 🙂

  45. Vilma Larissa Herrera Julian

    June 9, 2015 at 12:26 am

    Ixchel Selvas Dorian Culebro

  46. John Bultena

    June 9, 2015 at 12:23 am

    J.c. Robinson get in here.

  47. Tracy Wilson

    June 9, 2015 at 12:14 am


  48. Leo Polanco

    June 9, 2015 at 12:12 am

  49. Daniel Godoy Vargas

    June 9, 2015 at 12:08 am

    Fotos chingonas de los 80’s :3

  50. Anders Manga

    June 9, 2015 at 12:08 am

    Thanks for somewhat covering or at least mentioning this genre… nobody else does.

  51. Daniel Novet

    June 9, 2015 at 12:03 am

    Tracy Wilson

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