On the eve of the ‘Godmother of Goth’s’ birthday (real name Susan Janet Ballion), we trace the D.I.Y roots of her punk style, and the associated cult club Batcave – home to a generation of macabre loving misfits and Banshees fans. Sexually assaulted as a young girl, she describes her childhood to The Guardian, as “very lonely, actually. The few friends I had were gypsies.”
“When I was eight I tried to commit suicide to get noticed by my parents.”
“I used to do things like fall on the floor upstairs so that they’d think I’d fallen downstairs, and I’d have bottles of pills in my hands.”
“I’ve always felt on the outside, really.”
The band’s (co-founded with Souxsie’s lover Steven Severin) collective sense of lonerism, is something their adolescent outsider fans – drawn to the ‘dark side,’ identify with, and therefore form a fetishist ‘trauma bond’ with… Much like the ‘God of Fuck’ Marilyn Manson, or his old comrade Trent Reznor also. Separate from the style’s beginnings in the post-punk 1980’s, and it’s commercial height in the nineties… the modern goth – can be hard to take seriously. But before the viral labels of health goth, mall goth, and even the term ‘goth’the name described people that dressed in dark clothes, the movement’s beginnings are intriguing and complex. In its bare form, the style was as much about striking individualism as belonging to a sub-culture: something encapsulated by Sioux’s defiant ‘war paint make-up, dominatrix gloves and nipple-baring fetish gear.
In early-80s London, Sioux was a regular at the clique’s hotspot hidden in Soho’s backstreets, once known as the Batcave, at the hub of the evolving gothic rock scene from 1982 to 1986. The club-goers later went onto be in the goth’s hall of fame, including Robert Smith and, of course, Siouxsie and her group watching shows by Specimen. More than the limitations of a club night, The Batcave hosted arthouse gore and cabaret shows. In 1983, it even released a definitive compilation record, Young Limbs and Numb Hymns.
With the dancefloor decked out in all the hallmarks of a Halloween party – spiderwebs, coffins and bin liners – it was the DIY attitude to fashion that would really define The Batcave’s lasting aesthetic influence. Decades before the hot topic fashions preferred by today’s teens, the club’s attendees has no such choice in London’s retail environments. Instead, Batcavers would paint and customise their cheap vintage clothes using whatever they felt like, and the resulting looks defied gender norms: fishnet stockings for sleeves, Oxfam men’s suits and African jewellery were all aspects of the Batcave style that you wouldn’t necessarily associate with your average goth today.
John McGeoch and Siouxsie Sioux
YouTube tutorials, there was an eclecticism also reflected in the beauty looks adopted by the goths. Men and women wore make-up in the most extreme styles, whether inspired by the ghoulish facepaint of Alien Sex Fiend frontman Nik Fiend, or those heavy brows, Egyptian-lined eyes and sharp painted lips of Sioux’s. Others wore sunglasses indoors, as if to plunge their dark vision further into the shadows. In contrast to the battle lines later drawn between teen tribes, it didn’t really matter what you looked like: the club operated with an open-door policy, and welcomed anyone who sought a space to state their difference from the everyday.
In our post viral ‘connected’, “I was a teenage goth” is internet confessionalism at large. Ex-goths mock their adolescent phase, cry about their ‘virtually miserable’ and ‘sartorially defective’ years. But fashion has been central to our vision of the stereotype, adolescent or otherwise. From Rei Kawakubo’s ‘black crows’, to more recent fashion visionaries like S&M loving have re-imagined and archived goth with the anti-formulaic approach of the Batcaver originals. Not forgetting Alexander McQueen’s infamous MA collection, dubbed Jack the Ripper Stalks His Victims, that featured jackets lined with human hair.
For the Batcavers, the club’s location on the streets of Soho gave it a similarly deliciously dark, and ‘authentic’ Victorian flavour; as David Bauhaus told The Quietus, “It was easy to project one’s gothic fantasies on that locale.” Perhaps more true to the unrefined DIY nature of the Batcavers’ style that proved so influential.
The Batcave at Fouberts Club, 1982, Derek Ridgers
Valerie Steele’s comprehensive Gothic: Dark Glamour exhibit in 2008, displayed Specimen band member Jon Klein’s ‘Pigeon Shit’ jacket, alongside Rick Owens garments and Victorian Mourning dresses – proving, that goth fashion will always resist mundane categorisation. Or also the excellent Terror and Wonder exhibition at The British Library in 2015, which featured the modern horrors of Clive Barker’s Hellraiser and the popular Twilight series, highlighting how contemporary fears have been addressed by generation after generation through witchcraft inspired fashion and related arts.