You never knew you loved... Dark cabaret offers a unique listening experience
In its modern form, dark cabaret, also sometimes known as punk cabaret, has not strayed far from its roots. In fact, vintage-style clothing and dramatic face paint are still common visual elements, complimenting the dark humour and counter-cultural themes heard in its lyrics.
Rising in the 1980s, dark cabaret started in the punk and goth scenes, with artists such as Siouxsie & The Banshees drawing on 1920s imagery for their Peek-a-Boo video. By the end of the decade bands were forming that were devoted entirely to the style, both visually and instrumentally.
Songs were, and often still are, gloomy and morbid, and range from deeply depressing to obtusely humourous, making them a perfect fit for post-1970s gothic culture, albeit in a style quite distinct from conventional heavy rock and punk.
Sparse, staccato piano often drives dark cabaret songs, with guitars being rare as a lead instrument. The bass is more likely to be upright than electric, and accordions are common as lead instruments, with a distinctive timbre that is unique in modern music and characteristic of the genre's early influences.
Stage shows are often vibrant and dramatic, with all the energy of a circus act and all the dark appeal of a burlesque show. In fact, the recent resurgence in the popularity of burlesque has only increased the visibility of dark cabaret.
This unique genre is heavy enough to bring you down when you're up, and whimsical enough to bring you up when you're down, making it oddly perfect for any mood. There are plenty of bands through which to experience this unique emotional confusion:
The Dresden Dolls: Perhaps the most mainstream of dark cabaret bands, singer Amanda Palmer once identified their style as Brechtian punk cabaret to the specific end of evading the gothic label. They manage to achieve punk intensity with an unusual piano-and-drums instrumentation under call and answer vocals in Girl Anachronism off their 2001 self-titled EP.
The Tiger Lillies: One of the original dark cabaret bands, this three-piece has been active for 20 years, and use the accordion as a feature instrument, backed by such unique choices as ukelele and musical saw. Their trademark falsetto can be heard on such tracks as Crack of Doom from Bad Blood and Blasphemy, released in 1999.
Voltaire: Originally hailing from Cuba, Voltaire's music is influenced heavily by European folk songs, and has been classified as everything from darkwave to folk. His diversity is exemplified in Almost Human off of the 2000 album of the same name.