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Cowboys & Indians:
The Dichotomy of Gothic Rock

For a genre almost universally associated with the colour black, the world of gothic rock comprises a surprising myriad of shades. Be it post-punk, trad goth, or deathrock, as the genre was birthed and evolved, splintering into innumerable shards and subsets, a panoramic view of its many strands resembles nothing so much as a tangled octopus (or perhaps a wave lashing kraken). But I’m here to tell you that it’s all basically Cowboys and Indians.

Bear with me. This metaphor has legs.

Subcultures have always been about tribalism, and in the case of gothic rock, I think you can pretty much divide the key players between these two archetypal 19th century tribal sets. On one side, sweeping bombast as rounded as the brim of a Stetson hat, on the other, jittering jagged spires as angular as a Mohawk.

Allow me to elaborate and preface my rant with a handy table:

Cowboys Indians
The Fields of The Nephilim

The Sister of Mercy

The Mission

The Wake

Rosetta Stone

Southern Death Cult

Sex Gang Children


The Birthday Party

Virgin Prunes


And it has far more to it than a cursory glance at their cranial accoutrements. Musically speaking, the template fits like a glove.




Personally, my colours are firmly nailed to the mast in the form of a feathered head dress. The angular idiosyncrasies and jagged rhythms of the Indians work my body and fire my intellect in a way that no amount of cod Zeppelin/dark Meatloaf ever could. Consider for a minute the excessive production and rock star posturing redolent of cowboy town when sat next to the skeletal punk of the Indian lads. It seems overblown and indulgent. It seems conventional. It apes dad rock with its Jim Steinman flourishes and cocaine certainty, in a relentless four/four time.

The Indians, conversely, ride erratic beats like they’re trying to break in a horse lashing wildly. Tribal toms abound, whirling cyclical and trance-like. Edges, angles and elbows are flung with abandon around unconventional shapes and atonal beauty. Untutored, unconventional, unhinged.

Then you have the band that started out as Indians and became Cowboys. You know who I’m talking about. I blame Billy Duffy.




Let’s look a little closer shall we?

The Fields of the Nephilim

√ Cowboys – X Indians

Stetson Hats? Check. Bag of flour draped decoratively over shoulders to give the impression of just having ridden in off a dusty trail? Check. Brooding frontman? Check. Perhaps the quintessential Cowboy band.

Key Track – “Moonchild”

Sex Gang Children

X Cowboys – √ Indians

With their off-kilter time signatures, banshee-like vocals and painted frontman, Sex Gang Children are perhaps the apogee of Indian goth. Debut LP Song & Legend is still one of the most unique records ever pressed and remains an underrated gem to this day. If you reside in the drizzly expanse of the United Kingdom, make sure you catch the reunion tour in October this year.

Key Track – “Sebastianne”

The Sisters of Mercy

√ Cowboys / X Indians

Actually, they’re more like Meatloaf.

Key Track – “Bat out of Hell”

Southern Death Cult

X Cowboys / √ Indians

This goes deeper than a young Ian Astbury’s fascination with Native American culture. Listen to that descending bassline on “Fat Man.”

Key Track –”Moya”

The Mission

√ Cowboys / X Indians

Getting through a full LP of these guys is a fucking Mission. These were the cowboys with the paisley scarf knotted to their belt. Y’know – the ones that got knocked through the saloon doors in western movies.

Key Track – “Wasteland”

The Birthday Party

X Cowboys – √ Indians

The Antipodean Indians. When they arrived from Australia to decimate a stagnant London scene, they were the very epitome of the exotic outsider. POW POW POW!

Key Track – “The Hair Shirt”

Y’see? Solid thesis. I’ve even shown my working.

Please leave your death threats in the comments section.



Written By

Andi Lennon is Sydney based writer, musician and soap dodger. He graduated from Wizbang University with full honours and no teeth. When he isn't feeling conflicted about Morrissey he likes to drink box wine.

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