The Beginnings – Europe
The beginnings of the genre can be traced back to Europe in the dawn of the eighties. Let´s get one thing straight from the beginning, the biggest difference between New Wave and Dark Wave is the content of the lyrics and between Gothic Rock and Dark Wave is the instrumentation of the songs. In all of them, there is an atmosphere of darkness that is almost asphyxiating at times but makes for the epic element that is so needed in the genre. Back in the day there are many artists in the same genre like Depeche Mode, Gary Numan, The Sisters of Mercy, The Chameleons and Anne Clark among many others. They were all writing music based on electronic instruments such as synthesizers and drum machines. There were no computers back then being used to make music, but there were many instruments that were quite a novelty and have since become really classics.
Compositions were mainly done in minor keys, just like in Goth Rock, but looking for a steadier rhythm, with less dynamic, more into the hypnotic territory than the rocking one. Also, the tempos and the pitches are dimmed a little to generate a ritual of music around bombastic lyrics. The clear influence of much of the classic literature is very evident and with such a stripped-down instrumentation, the lyrics shine through with ease.
When the genre broke the geographical barriers of the European countries where it had originated, the instrumentation, the approach to songwriting and the themes also got diversified a lot. Some bands took the sound of Dark Wave and made it more exotic and careless giving birth to something called Ethereal Wave. Such bands like Cocteau Twins from Scotland were such a discovery for non-dark wavers that pushed some of the original bands to come from the scene further like did Depeche Mode that was later going to become an international super act giving concerts for hundreds of thousands of fans from all generations. If you were lucky enough (like me!) to be in one of their concerts, you know they can take you from the dark and hypnotic “In my room” or “Barrel of a gun” to the glamorous “Precious” in a heartbeat. In fact, the look on the stage is very reminiscent to their early times and the choice of leather and skin by Dave Gahan is not at all a coincidence, but something that stuck with him from a different time.
Also, bands like Dead Can Dance from Australia are a part of this adding-different-flavors to the dark wave music and are widely known for giving some ethnical flavors to dark ambiences creating a one-of-a-kind atmosphere for listeners. In a more classic Dark Wave vein, Psyche, a Canadian band that later moved to Berlin, the epicenter of the synth movement, really interpreted the sound of the earlier generations and gave their own personality to it. Sound wise the most important element of the mix is the voice that is mixed in a pristine arrangement and very up front. There are some early Depeche Mode elements to their music, but the lyrics are highly poetic and romantic. The band is still up and running after eleven records and plenty more EPs. The last one called “Youth of Tomorrow” came out this year with a video clip that resembles a retro-futuristic gang listening to a Psyche cassette in a Boom Box.