Lol Tolhurst Explains Why Goth Endures

On the heels of a new album with Jacknife Lee and Budgie, the Cure’s co-founder has published a précis that delves into Goth’s past and future—and warns us not to underestimate the movement’s intellectual heft.

Lol Tolhurst. Photography by Louis Rodiger

Goth, in all its crushed velvet-and-cobwebs glory, didn’t start with a handful of genius British bands in the late 1970s and ‘80s. But Lol Tolhurst helped start one of those bands, the shapeshifting U.K. legends The Cure, a story he told in his fantastic 2016 memoir Cured: The Tale of Two Imaginary Boys. Just in time for the year’s spookiest season, Tolhurst has returned with an album, Los Angeles, made in collaboration with Jacknife Lee and Budgie of Siouxsie and the Banshees. 

He also just published Goth: A History, a brief précis on the past and future of the aesthetic, from early literary efforts like Horace Walpole’s 1764 The Castle of Otranto: A Gothic Story to 21st-century torchbearers like Minsk “doomer” band Molchat Doma. Goth kitsch might trick us, he argues, into underestimating the intellectual and emotional heft of the movement. As treats, he hands out gossip and anecdotes about his encounters with legends like Siouxise, Nico, the ineffable Liz Fraser; brilliant early tour and studio stories of the Cure’s darkest moments; and some thoughts on the undead appeal of Goth itself—all of which he unearthed once again while chatting with Surface.

“Goth: A History” by Lol Tolhurst. Image courtesy of Hachette

Why Goth, right now?

As we’re living in a time of crisis, it feels important to write about a way of life that came out of crisis via punk. Also, I’m in my third act. I can’t wait—I need to write and record. Now! 

Your descriptions of the early Cure days, all tours in bombed-out ballrooms and late nights recording in dark, damp studios, were striking. How do you think the architecture and the feeling of those spaces affected the work?

A mixture of things come to mind—the obvious “Gothic cathedrals” of London buildings like Westminster Abbey and Strawberry Hill. It’s also in the Brutalism of places like the Barbican. I was recently in London to promote Goth; I hadn’t been there in several years due to the pandemic. I was amazed at the power the buildings still exert in the gray drizzle of London Town. They speak to both darkness and strength, which is why they always fascinated me. 

How do you think Goth transmits itself today? Social media is a hellscape, but it’s also a way to build communities—do you think Goth ideas, any ideas really, are better suited for these direct encounters?

Generally, I believe it works like it always has: people of a like mind gathering together, whether on the internet or in real life. However, I think [Goth] works like most things: better in person. It’s an emotional philosophy, which means people respond better in person, at a gig or club or somewhere else people gather.

The Cure performing in Bourges, France. Photography by Richard Bellia

In Goth, you write: “Before punk, post-punk, and Goth, there were only a handful of outliers that included a gender fluidity or androgynous aspect to their shows.” What was it like to see the possibility of breaking out of traditional gender norms? Did you experience it that way, and was it dangerous, exciting, sexy?

Back in the day, I recall Goth clubs and shows were a safe place for expressing yourself in whatever way was good for you. You could be guaranteed to find similar people who understood you. Anything that’s free is always a little dangerous and exciting, of course. Especially if you came from a strict and closed kind of background. 

Is your house “Goth”? What does that mean to you in 2023?

I try to be open to all things Goth wherever they come from! I see them in most areas of human experience, which is amazing. I’d say my house is Goth lite! There are a couple of gargoyles and strange chairs in the garden. But no bats or more obvious generic trademarks.

The Cure fans in Brussels, 1981. Photography by Richard Bellia
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