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Bauhaus: Godfathers of Goth Regroup

The original members of the 1980s British goth rock band Bauhaus (including bassist David J and vocalist Peter Murphy) have briefly regrouped to release a new recording, <em>Go Away White</em>.
Jim Dyson/Getty Images
The original members of the 1980s British goth rock band Bauhaus (including bassist David J and vocalist Peter Murphy) have briefly regrouped to release a new recording, Go Away White.

For some people, the word Bauhaus will conjure German modernist art and design. For others, it will bring back memories of the early '80s and gothic rock. Twenty-five years after their last record, Bauhaus the band is releasing a new album, Go Away White.

In the late '70s, a few punks took a page from David Bowie's Ziggy Stardust androgynous glam and started wearing heavy makeup, dressing in all black and singing rock dirges about death and darkness. Seminal English post-punk band Bauhaus was in the vanguard of that movement, which came to be known as gothic rock or just plain goth.

"We used to laugh about it thinking that," says the guitarist, Daniel Ash. "Their hair was too big and they had too much makeup on, and they didn't have any talent. We didn't think so, anyway, and we got lumped in with that lot."

For a band that once wore plenty of makeup, rose out of coffins on stage, and drove around in the Bauhearse, the goth cap fits pretty well. But Ash says that Bauhaus saw themselves as more of an art band: hence the decision to name themselves after that early 20th century German school of art.

"There's a huge contradiction in the band about that, because sonically we're very much like the art movement Bauhaus — in other words, extremely simple and functional," he says. "And yet visually we're very flamboyant. So there's a complete juxtaposition there between the sound and the vision."

The spectacle and culture and community that grew up around this music are part of what made Bauhaus and other post-punk and goth bands so attractive to fans. This culture is still alive and well today, which is one reason why it continues to pay for the members of Bauhaus to overcome their artistic differences and get together for occasional reunions.

In 2005, the band decided to get together due to what Ash calls "irresistible offers from large corporations," in the form of the promoter of the Coachella music festival. The band's drummer, Kevin Haskins, recalls, "I think a band just dropped out, and I think he thought, 'Oh, there's no way they're going to do it.' ... Give it a go ... and, you know, it was a really good offer."

Bauhaus lasted four years together before lead singer Peter Murphy left the band in 1983 to pursue a solo career. Eventually the remaining members formed Love and Rockets, which stayed together for 17 years. But the combination of Murphy's singular weeping wail, the Haskins brothers' chugging rhythm section, and Ash's aggressive guitar drone was somehow greater than the sum of their parts. And on the new album, Go Away White, there are moments when that old chemistry reignites.

The record's opening track is a pretty un-Bauhaus-sounding, almost jaunty rock tune with a Taxman bass line called "Too Much 21st Century." From there, the band settles comfortably and effectively into its familiar, spare, rock-in-a-minor-key gloom grooves. Unfortunately, in the second half, the songs start to dissolve into slow, maudlin, melodramatic self-indulgence.

Ash says the record was written and recorded in only 18 days: "This was us four in one big room, for want of a better word, jamming until the magic started happening."

But the magic didn't last very long. Says Ash, "There were conflicts in the studio, big time, I'm not going to deny that, and it sort of broke the band up. I think the old term is 'musical differences.' "

It's too bad. Fewer musical differences and a few more days in the studio might have resulted in a more complete album. As it is, lead singer Peter Murphy, who converted to Islam in the '90s, has gone back to his solo career in Turkey, where he lives with his wife and kids. And Bauhaus' remaining members are re-forming their other disbanded project, Love and Rockets, to play this year's Coachella music festival. But if you're a Bauhaus fan, this new record, though less than fully realized, may well be your last chance to hear these reluctant proto-goths rediscover a little of their old alchemy — at least until the next irresistible offer from a large corporation.

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Christian Bordal
Christian Bordal is a Norwegian-American (via Australia) musician, radio producer, and freelance music journalist who contributes regularly to Day to Day. He's very good at making faces and making a fool of himself, and he once impressed his NPR editors with a drunken recitation of the gibberish poem "Jabberwocky." He briefly considered launching a career performing at children's parties, but he finds his own children to be trouble enough. In addition to this list of remarkable professional accomplishments, he is a producer at member station KCRW in Los Angeles.