Punk Icon, Music Journalist, Scene Historian, in so many ways John Robb has made a career of lifting up great music and art in equal measure to creating it. Starting in Blackpool in 1978 The Membranes walked the razor line between introspective darkness and fiery blue-collar aggression. In 2010 he started “Louder Than War” an independent website of reviews, interviews, and live shows to shine a light on the fringes of music which might never get attention from mainstream pop coverage. This aspect was personally relevant to me, by proving one person could champion a movement to share and humanize the artist of the underground. When John released his new book “The Art Of Darkness” about the history of my chosen genre “Goth” and I had the opportunity to interview him my cold dead heart fluttered with joy. A giant who paved the way for me like few others.
Things that struck me about the first read through of this book. The historical research is first rate. How could it not be, John lived this time. Loved these bands. When I hear someone talking about something close to my heart, I need to hear that same reverence in their voice. This is the voice of a true believer. The facts aren’t enough. I need a bit of novel to set the backdrop. I was born in 1977 and never had a chance to go to the Batcave, to see Joy Division live. In this book we are taken through those damp streets, smell the clubs, see the fashion. A great history paints a picture in your mind that makes you a part of what happened years later. That was the ultimate magic of this book. Finally, my beloved goth scene always wants to put itself in a box. It’s a scene obsessed with the past, the idea that what came before will always be better than what comes after. This is a book about history, but one that flexes and expands the definition and connects those bands to the future. I’ve read several books and articles about goth history. None of them sparked something in me like this. If you are a lover of dark macabre music, this book is a must have.
This interview was my longest to date. Sometimes as an interviewer you need to navigate the flow of conversation to help the person you are interviewing tell their story. John is a lot better at this than me. So my goal was just to set him up and let him move from story to story. I am proud that although I could have listened to him discuss all the amazing things he has done and people he has known, I did get him talking about how the history of this scene impacts it’s future. The interview clocked in at 1.5 hours but in the end there was so little I wanted to cut. So we have broken it into 3 parts. I really hope you find something to learn and love from this conversation with one of the foremost experts in the modern darkscene.
Learn about the past. This book is a great way to do it. Start a review page. Tell bands you appreciate them. Go to shows. Stand in front. Wear crushed velvet. Smoke cloves. Drink the blood of your enemies from a skull. There is no wrong way to appreciate and be moved by music. Just do it with all your heart and leave space for everyone.