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Ethereal Music in 13 Genres

Previously, I did a 13-genre exploration of Industrial Music, the most aggressive and brutal of Gothic music. Ethereal Music is on the opposite end of the Goth spectrum: if Industrial is sonic hell, Ethereal is sonic Heaven. It's dreamy, angelic, spacey and relaxing - almost "easy listening" for Goths. Below are the 13 most important genres that make up Ethereal's history.

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1. New Wave

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Like pretty much all electronic Goth music, Ethereal music has 80s New Wave to thank for its inception. By using synthesisers, musicians could create unusual, alien sounds never heard before. This quality of “otherworldliness” would be a hallmark of later ethereal music. Gary Numan, Depeche Mode and Visage are examples of New Wave acts frequently grouped in with Goth music.

2. Synthpop

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There’s a lot of overlap between synthpop and New Wave, and it can be hard to separate the two. The main difference is probably that Synthpop has fewer ties to the punk movement than new wave, and is just that little bit more commercial in sound. It also had a quality of levity that would emerge in some Ethereal bands later. Ultravox, The Cure and early Ministry have all been labelled as synthpop as well as Goth at some time or other.

3. Ambient

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This is where the music starts resembling real Ethereal, with artists getting very experimental and using electronics to create very dreamy, spacey soundscapes with a certain eerie quality. Mike Oldfield’s Tubular Bells is a good example; other early ambient artists include Jean Michel Jarre and The KLF.

4. New Age

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New Age music is probably the most commercial and recognisable of the ethereal genre, or at least it was in the 90s. Music that deliberately aims to induce feelings of relaxation, euphoria or inspiration – hence its association with the New Age movement. Expect plenty of spiritual overtones, such as the Gregorian chanting in this track by Enigma (one of the more Goth-friendly New Age bands). Other New Age musicians that Goths (particularly those with pagan leanings) may wish to check out include Clannad and Loreena McKennitt.

5. Worldbeat

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Worldbeat is simply a subgenre of New Age music that incorporates traditional folk elements (very often non-European, tribal and/or religious) into their music – think Buddhist chanting or Middle Eastern drums, that sort of thing. A large percentage of New Age musicians have incorporated Worldbeat into their music, including Delerium (who incidentally sound very much like Enigma), Peter Gabriel and the The Future Sound of London.

6. Neoclassical

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Within the world of electronic music, Neoclassical music is simply music that uses classical melodies and compositions and tends towards the ambient/New Age/ethereal genre. Dead Can Dance’s Lisa Gerrard (featured here) often produces music that could be considered neoclassical as well as World Beat (and Gothic). Other examples of Neoclassical artists that fit nicely into the Gothic Ethereal genre are Nox Arcana and Rob Dougan (who did the “Clubbed to Death” piece made famous by The Matrix).

7. Dreampop

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Dreampop is a big part of the Ethereal genre: otherworldly synth music with (frequently feminine and angelic) vocals. Cocteau Twins is perhaps one of the oldest and well-known Dreampop bands among Goths; others are Claire Voyant and Angelzoom.

8. Darkwave

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A large and sprawling genre of Goth bands with sounds varying from loud industrial to dreamy ethereal. You’ll find plenty of bands classed as Dreampop also classed as Darkwave, the main difference being that Darkwave is…well, darker. It’s moodier, colder and more sinister in sound. Notable examples of Darkwave bands often described as Ethereal include Black Tape for a Blue Girl, Collide and This Ascension.

9. Shoegaze

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Although often lumped together with other Ethereal genres, Shoegaze has quite different musical origins, with its artists coming from the alternative rock and psychedelia scenes rather than the new age electronic movement. Expect more guitars and vocals than you would from other Ethereal music. Bands with Goth appeal in this genre include Scarling, Autumn's Grey Solace and early Curve.

10. Dark Ambient

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Where the worlds of Industrial and Ethereal meet! Dark Ambient is very different in temperament to other Ethereal genres – it’s very creepy, sinister and unsettling. Bands in this genre also tend to have a fascination with the darker sides of the occult. Artists include Coph Nia, Robert Rich and Lustmord (often credited with inventing the genre in the first place).

11. Trip Hop

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Despite its name, Trip Hop doesn’t really have much in common with Hip Hop, except for its popularity in the mainstream and its use of breakbeats. Trip Hop is slow, moody and has a somewhat bleak yet catchy sound – no wonder many Goths also like it. Bands include Portishead, Massive Attack and Morcheeba.

12. Ambient D&B/Jungle

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If you find it surprising that something hip hop influenced could find its way into Gothic music, it may be even more of a surprise to find out that even certain Jungle bands have also been termed Ethereal. The complex snare patterns of jungle actually lend themselves very well to dreamy, otherworldly music, hence the creation of a more downtempo version of the usually aggressive music of jungle and drum n bass. Love Spirals Downwards is probably the most well-known band among Goths to incorporate jungle into their sound; others that Ethereal fans may like include Momu and Apollo 440.

13. Dark Cabaret

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Perhaps the only genre within Ethereal that relies less on electronic sound, and more on vocals, to create atmosphere. It’s a bit of a black sheep within Ethereal, sounding quite different from the other genres – the main link is that many Dark Cabaret musicians are signed with Projekt Records, who also represent a lot of Dark Wave, Dark Ambient and Dreampop artists. Dark Cabaret bands artists include Emilie Autumn, The Dresden Dolls and Diamanda Galás.

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