Dark cabaret  

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Kunstformen der Natur (1904) by Ernst Haeckel
Kunstformen der Natur (1904) by Ernst Haeckel
German-speaking cabaret

Dark cabaret is a music genre that blends the aesthetics of the decadent, risqué German Weimar-era cabarets and 1920s burlesque and vaudeville shows with the morbid, gloomy stylings of post-1970s-goth culture, gothic rock, punk, deathrock, and darkwave music. Dark cabaret music usually features passionate, deep vocals, in a style influenced by Marlene Dietrich's singing or the singing in a Kurt Weill operetta. The vocals are usually accompanied by a sparse piano accompaniment, along with strings (cello or violin) and other instruments such as the accordion or trumpet. The most influential dark cabaret artists are The Dresden Dolls.


History of dark cabaret

1970s and 1980s

Nico's 1974 album The End is an example of early dark cabaret, especially in songs such as "You Forgot To Answer" and "Secret Side". Other contributors to the 1970s early dark cabaret sound were Klaus Nomi, Marc Almond, Kate Bush and The Virgin Prunes.

Nina Hagen's punk opera style, and Lydia Lunch's 1980 album, Queen of Siam contributed to the dark cabaret sound. In 1985 the Swiss darkwave group The Vyllies released the dark cabaret song The Food Prayer on their album Lilith. The British rock band Siouxsie and the Banshees also made a contribution to dark cabaret's style with the song Peek-a-Boo from the 1988 album Peepshow. Peek-a-Boo's video-clip is a vaudevillian, schizophrenic and scary puzzle.


Seattle-based art rock band Salon Betty contributed to the genre in 1994, with their single "Last Cigarette" and their album, The Big Hair Sex Circus, released on iMusic. In the same year, the German darkwave group Ghosting released the track Let Me Stay on their album "Songs from Fairyland". In 1995, Rozz Williams, the former lead singer of Christian Death, took the style in a darker direction on the Triple X Records release Dream Home Heartache in collaboration with fellow Christian Death alumna Gitane Demone. The first recorded usage of the term "Dark Cabaret" was in a description of this album in a late 1990s mail-order catalog from Projekt: Darkwave.

Several songs by British goth outfit Sex Gang Children, such as "Christian Circus Joe", "Arms of Cicero", and the jazzier "Psychic Sarah" fused the cabaret style with a post-punk art-goth sound. In 1997 Rozz Williams and Eva O, recording as Shadow Project, released the album From the Heart, which included the cabaret-styled songs "Lying Deep" and "Bitter Man".

Danny Elfman's dark cabaret influence can be heard in his collaborations with Oingo Boingo and his scores and character voices in the films The Nightmare Before Christmas, Chicago, and Tim Burton's Corpse Bride.

The burlesque orchestra Apartment helped to pioneer the queer dark cabaret movement in Chicago. Founded in 1997 by arranger/vocalist Christine Heinisch and lyricist/vocalist Caila Lipovsky, the schizoid and absurdist lyrics combined with the off-kilter, circus-like arrangements to create a theatrical and melodramatic performance. The band played in the art-punk and burlesque scenes of Chicago's northside for several years.

Following her 1996 debut solo album Quintessentially Unreal, San Francisco-based singer/pianist Jill Tracy released her second CD, Diabolical Streak, in 1999. Diabolical Streak garnered two California Music Awards nominations as well as the SIBL international Grand Prize for songwriting. Canada's Shift magazine called the album one of the "Top 10 Neo-Cabaret albums of all time."


San Francisco's Rosin Coven created theatrically-styled cabaret with macabre tunes, a goth atmosphere, and bizarre performances with Jill Tracy and other musicians at the annual Edwardian Ball, which was held in memory of Edward Gorey.

Nicki Jaine (album Of Pigeons and Other Curiosities and single "Revue Noir", her collaboration with chief of Projekt label Sam Rosenthal) and Amoree Lovell (especially in demo songs "Dark Town Sally" and "High Maintenance/Low Tolerance") are also examples of the genre.

Bricktop's at the Parlour was a Los Angeles club in the mid 2000s that featured many dark cabaret acts and performance artists including The Ditty Bops, Cabinet of Curiosities, Jill Tracy and Janet Klein. The walls of the Parlour Club were painted by artists Dame Darcy and Anthony Sunseri.

London cabaret act the Tiger Lillies have implemented dark themes and imagery, but do not typically convey a "dark sound." Nonetheless, A Gorey End, their 2003 release featuring the Kronos Quartet and posthumous lyrical contributions from Edward Gorey, helped to create of the genre by earning a Grammy nomination.

In 2000 Lexicon Magazine, in a review of Voltaire's Almost Human CD, used the descriptive term "goth cabaret".

In 2006 Italian neoclassic band Ataraxia records new album "Paris Spleen", strongly inspired by french chanson and cabaret influences with their traditional dark sound. Madame Bistouri and CircuZ KumP drama company collaborated to the recording and staging of this project. In 2006, Italians Spiritual Front crossed bounds of their "suicidal pop" on album "Armageddon Gigolo" to cabaret sound mixed with Dark/Apocalyptic folk.

Another Italian martial/dark folk band Ianva records in 2005 mini-cd "la ballata dell' ardito" with cabaretish songs and cover version of Jacques Brel's "Amsterdam". In 2006 Ianva releases the full length "Disobbedisco!", with many other cabaretish songs (see "Tango della Menade"). Italian dark folk band Calle Della Morte used cabaret and chanson elements on "Tardo Autunno" (2003) (especially on tracks "Tardo Autunno" and "Ballerino Di Tango Si Uccide") and on "Gente Di Malaffare" (2005) too.

The Dresden Dolls have garnered mainstream attention. In, September 2005, Projekt Records released a compilation called A Dark Cabaret featuring songs such as "Coin-Operated Boy" by The Dresden Dolls, "Evil Night Together" by Jill Tracy, "Simon's Sleeping" by Pretty Balanced, and "Flowers" by the late Rozz Williams. The Dresden Dolls also appeared in "The Onion Cellar", a dark Cabaret musical production. The show opened and closed in Boston. World/Inferno Friendship Society is also a cabaret band.

Since the genre began attracting mainstream attention, other DIY dark cabaret acts have appeared from across the globe, such as "Doctor Steel", the UK based Mister Joe Black and the Carnival and California underground acts like Oakland based band Vermillion Lies and Los Angeles locals Harlequin Jones.

The Tenth Stage, an Australian band, have been creating Dark Cabaret since 2006. Their main focus is on the darkside of human nature, and the music is representative of the Dark Cabaret genre. It includes many acoustic elements and traditional instrumentation, alongside the more comtemporary synthetic sounds.

Related genres

The term "Dark cabaret" is applied to a wide range of bands who may also fall into genres such as Punk Cabaret, Gothic-Americana, Punk opera, Neo-burlesque, Gothic Ragtime, Vaudeville, Apocalyptic folk, Neo-folk, Psych folk and others. The genre crossovers and blending can make it difficult to define the genre of dark-cabaret-influenced bands.

As the modern Deathrock movement has moved further away from its roots into electronic territory, some bands from the Deathrock movement such as the Deadfly Ensemble (Lucas Lanthier of Cinema Strange’s solo-project) have used the cabaret style. In 1999 Cinema Strange appears on "Goth Oddity: A Tribute To David Bowie" with "Time" - track with the cabaret-style piano lines.

Katzenjammer Kabarett who once referred to themselves as "deathrock cabaret", (which Two Ton Boa also belong), are other examples. Recently Katzenjammer have began to refer to themselves as "post-punk cabaret", in recognition of their widely varying influences.

Deathrock band Deadchovsky on album "Decadence Revolution" (2004) used cabaret elements, especially on track "Le Sandwichier Glauque De Montmartre". Xyra & Verborgen created in 1998 new music genre classificated as "Cabaret Rock Nouveau - Goth Art Rock". Schizowave formed by Russian-born singer and a classically trained piano player Lena Potapova in early 2004 created own dark sound, inspired by cabaret, jazz and theatre.

In 2008 the synthpop-junk projekt shemale ZERO released the song "Paramour", which allegorizes a unique mix of 8bit-punk and dark cabaret.

Blues infused dark cabaret band Harlequin Jones even beg the question if blues cabaret will become yet another amalgamation fitting of the variations of dark cabaret.

Record labels

Unless indicated otherwise, the text in this article is either based on Wikipedia article "Dark cabaret" or another language Wikipedia page thereof used under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License; or on original research by Jahsonic and friends. See Art and Popular Culture's copyright notice.

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