What is Dark Wave?


What is Dark Wave? The Genre:

The love child of new wave and post-punk sounds, the dark wave music genre is typically characterized by its dark, melancholy sounds. If you find yourself wondering what is dark wave and want to learn more about how this genre of music has been influenced, find out more in this blog...

How Our Community Defines Dark Wave

If you would like to share your thoughts, contact us here.

"I generally define darkwave as being either dark post-punk or goth rock that incorporates synthpop elements into the mix. This separates darkwave from new wave, which is usually brighter post-punk combined with synthpop elements or cold wave which is more minimalistic post-punk that doesn’t necessarily require synth work." - Cadaver Kelly

"Got into darkwave in the 1980s cassette-culture scene. Various bands from Europe (and a few from the U.S.) were described as such in the magazines: dark New Wave or dark synth-pop etc. Or they were called "coldwave" at first, but that is really the same thing. On college radio, bands like Xymox, Section 25, Attrition and Minimal Compact epitomized this sound. Later heard it used as a specific genre term by labels like Projekt or C'est La Mort. Also, that is Anja Huwe of Xmal Deutschland, right? Core darkwave!" - Manny Theiner

"Having come of age in the mid-1990s, I defined “darkwave” as any band that had a foundation of electronic rhythms (drum machines) and darker synth-driven atmospheres. It was ‘goth’ but not as organic as bands like Siouxsie, Bauhaus, Christian Death (bands with live drummers), etc. So Die Form, Attrition, Lycia, Soil & Eclipse, Clan of Xymox, SubVersion, Lestat, Malign, Switchblade Symphony were what I considered “darkwave” bands.

I got into it after discovering the major classic 80s gothic rock bands. Also...I was foremost a metalhead in search of darker ‘gothic’ music. Type O Negative’s Peter Steele frequently mentioned Lycia and Projekt records in interviews around 1993/1994. So I bought “A Day in the Stark Corner” and “Idylls” from Love Spirals Downward at a local record store." - Matthew Heilman

What is Dark Wave Music? Major Influences Explained 

You'll find that many bands within the dark wave music genre have a guitar and synth orientated sound. Combine that with somber, melancholy lyrics and this is a basic description of dark wave music. 

Music styles that are often associated with dark wave music of today include gothic rock, synth-wave, cold-wave, neofolk, ethereal, and neoclassical music. Indeed, dark wave has drawn much of its sound influence from these genres. But originally, dark wave emerged in the late 1970s, largely influenced by the sounds of post-punk and new wave music. 

The sound of dark wave music is characterized by minor key tonality and introspective lyrics that border on melancholy and even sadness. Dark wave is often described as romantic and dark, even bleak, with undertones of sorrow. 

The quintessential sound of dark wave is characterized by synths and electric guitars. It also includes violin, piano, and other electronic instruments such as drum machines, and samplers.

The beauty of dark wave music is that it evokes emotion. 

The Birth of Dark Wave Music: The 1980s 

The 1980s saw the popularity of dark wave music really take off. During this time, dark wave took on a broader meaning than some of its counterparts, such as gothic rock. That is, dark wave was connected to a multitude of different sounds and bands who fell into this popular genre. This included artists who produced synthesizer-based, new wave sounds. Just some of these include well-known 80s bands The Cure, Depeche Mode, Joy Division, The Chameleons, and Bauhaus. 

Dark Wave Bands 

Essentially, the term dark wave was coined as an ode to the dark counterpart of new wave music. The first generation of new wave bands that propelled this genre of music into popularity included Soft Cell, Depeche Mode, and Cocteau Twins. In comparison, dark wave music introduced a slower tempo, lower vocal pitches, and minor keys when compared to new wave or post-punk music.

The dark wave movement soon spread across the globe. A subculture then developed, churning out fans and followers sometimes referred to as ''dark wavers''. As the genre of music began to evolve, this gave way to spin-off genres such as ethereal wave and neoclassical. 

Some of Europe's most popular bands that brought dark wave music to the masses include:

  • The Cocteau Twins,
  • In the Nursery
  • Xmal Deutschland
  • Wolfsheim
  • Unlimited Systems
  • Moloko
  • Clan of Xymox, and more

As the 1990s came around, the second generation of dark wave artists began to emerge, primarily based in Germany. These bands were linked to the Neue Deutsche Welle genre as well. Some of these popular bands include the likes of Girls Under Glass, Das Ich, and Deine Lakaien. 

Dark Wave in the United States: The 1990s 

It's no secret that the new wave and post-punk genres of music took a bit of a nose-dive during the mid-1980s. As such, dark wave took their place as a new underground music scene in the United States.

At the end of 1993, the dark wave music genre became closely associated with the Projekt Records label, created by Sam Rosenthal. He drew inspiration from German music magazines, such as Zillo. His intrigued was piqued by the underground, submerged, obscure, and poetic nature of dark wave music. 

In the United States, dark wave soon became a hyrid of the sounds of synth-pop, dream pop, and goth rock. It was characterized by a far more ethereal, somber sound than industrial dance, which was another offshoot of the goth rock genre. Originally, dark wave was made popular in the U.S. by bands such as Clan of Xymox and Psyche. 

As the genre found its feet in America, international bands including Dead Can Dance and In the Nursery grew in popularity. They brought a more classical, medieval sound to dark wave. While bands like Die Form and Lycia introduced an ambient, avant-garde sound.

Towards the end of the 90s, dark wave had a firm footing on U.S. soil. It had a large following thanks to the success of Sam Rosenthal's own band, Black Tape for a Blue Girl and the band Switchblade Symphony. Soon after this, new record labels appeared on the scene, including Metropolis and Cleopatra. However, it was Projekt Label that truly boosted the dark wave genre into the 21st century. 

Dark Wave Music Today 

Yes, dark wave is still relevant. In fact, it still has a huge following, even in today's world where brooding, somber music may not be to everyone's taste. A few of the more recent bands in the genre include Molchat Doma, Lebanon Hanover, Vox Low, Whispering Sons, Keluar, Void Vision, Hante and many more.

Check out other new dark wave bands here.

Get Your Own Music to the Masses 

We hope your questions on ''what is dark wave'' have been answered in this blog. If you're an up-and-coming post-punk artist looking to get your music out to the world, Play Alone Records is the springboard you need. 

Our record label focuses on politics first, promoting a safe and inclusive work environment for everyone. Our record label upholds the beliefs of anti-war, anti-fascism and believes in upholding the rights of all LGBTQ members of the community. 

We're also involved in the production and promotion of art, multimedia, performances, and more. If you'd like to collaborate with us, get in touch for more!

Share this post