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

Ausgang

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.

 

FEAT_CI

 

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.

 

CI2

 

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.

 

 

 

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The Author

Andi

Andi

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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Bub
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Bub

Youre way overthinking this. Which is so goth.

Jorge
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Jorge

I love this article! And I totally agree with you. Never liked the excessive macho feeling that I get from bands like Nephilim or Sisters of Mercy. I always prefered the crazy androgynous feel of Virgin Prunes. And musically I find the “Indians” much more interesting than the “cowboys” for the same reason as you expressed!

Coruskate
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Coruskate

Disagree with you about Sisters
Would you put Lords of the New Church with Cowboys too?

Uncleairyk
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Uncleairyk

Whether you’re a cowboy or indian, goths are sensitive. 😉 The article made me chuckle though.
personally I like them both. Probably because I was both. Indian during my teens. Cowboy during my twenties. Aristocratic dandy during my thirties. But that’s going a different direction. 🙂

H. Reagan
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H. Reagan

pretty sure The Birthday Party are Cowboys lmao who the fuck is Tracey Pew?? She’s Hit, Deep in the Woods them suits c’mon

Margaret Abbott
Guest

Sovannak Ké

Katherine L. Echols Moore
Guest

I really don’t know about this article. You had me with the Cowboy Goth and Dusty Goth Nephilim intro but lost me with the “Indians” on a few levels. I usually really like your articles but some of this is teetering on offensive and not just due to the Meatloaf reference. Also this is clearly not Andi Harriman’s work.

Andi Harriman
Guest

Please put the last name on here – I didn’t write this!!

Andi Harriman
Guest

unless this was written by andi sexgang this is unacceptable!

Meghan
Admin

Unless you are a dude from Australia whom agreed to write for us, you did not write this.

Alex Baker
Guest

The Birthday Party are Cowboys, Jesus Christmas, you kill the thesis by saying otherwise. Tracy Pew is wearing a Cowboy hat for crying out loud, not to mention the entirety of Nick Cave’s career. Ever seen The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford (soundtrack)?

Michael Baffico
Guest

Nick Cave and the bad Seeds are for sure Cowboys. The Birthday Party is all Indian.

Oxcar Maladjusted
Guest

Indians, of course…

Lucas Cardoso
Guest

Bea

Ollie Bombard
Guest

The Sisters may have a certain pomposity to them, but they made some great music.
Bit of a harsh call relating them to Meatloaf…

Smiths Fann
Guest

I love that American west/desert goth vibe that influenced God’s Prey and those old mix tapes, time to revisit all that

Kate Barnett
Guest

So people don’t know gothic music is a very broad brush? This probably isn’t even the most extreme opposite examples.

Daniel Jones
Guest

Just like in real life, the cowboys ruined everything.