The 10 best darkwave tracks of the 90’s

My first top 10 list focused on goth rock in the 90’s.  They were the kind of songs I liked to feature on my late night college radio show ‘Darkness Before Dawn.’

After a couple years of radio experience I got the opportunity to DJ at a nightclub called ‘Ceremony.’  The kind of music played in the club setting was a bit different, and my favorite tracks to spin there were what I refer to as Darkwave.

There are a few different definitions of Darkwave, but the one I go with is, goth music enhanced with electronics and dance beats.  I see it as a result of goth and industrial dance worlds merging into a combined ‘goth-industrial’ scene around this time, and the music drew from both sides of the scene.

These are my favorite tracks in this style.

For me the Darkwave era was over by the end of the 90’s, with the rise of Futurepop, which replaced what was once a diverse beauty with a sterile, predictable sameness.

#10. Sub Version ‘Will’
John Koviak is famous for posing dramatically in the pages of Propaganda Magazine, which did much to establish the image of the scene for better or worse.  His musical project Sub Version is a solid example of 90’s Darkwave.  It’s goth music as far as mood and aesthetics, but the instrumentation is electronic and it has a dance beat made for club play.

#9. Bel Canto ‘Shoulder to the Wheel’
Bel Canto were kind of a cold, electronic, Norwegian version of Cocteau Twins.  This track takes me back to the middle of a dark dancefloor in the mid 90’s, feeling in awe of the strange comfort of the setting and the sad beauty of the music.  Melancholic and uplifting at the same time.

#8. Das Ich ‘Kain und Abel’
I remember hearing this in one of the most adventurous San Francisco clubs called Roderick’s Chamber.  It sounded so epic and exotic to me.  Where does music such as this even come from?  It turns out the answer is Germany, and the group is Das Ich.  This is my favorite of their early tracks, for its uniqueness.

#7. Malign ‘Skin and Lye’
The only hit from Malign is like nothing else.  The slow ritualistic beat, the shrieking and yelling that builds and builds is once heard never forgotten.  Seeing this performed on tour was particularly memorable.  I recall after the show, a hot topic of debate was the gender of the singer.  The only downside to this track is growing tired of it after a while.

#6. Project Pitchfork ‘Souls’
German group Project Pitchfork started out as one of many bands trying to sound like Skinny Puppy.  For the ‘Souls’ single they took a big step forward and created an epic ballad that is theirs alone.  This is an emotional, moving song with odd but effective male and female vocals singing in duet.  It sounds a bit dated now but it can still pull the heartstrings.

#5. Wumpscut ‘Thorns’
The most beautiful track that electro industrial project Wumpscut ever recorded is one that everybody could agree on, from swirly goths to rivetheads.  ‘Thorns’ glides and floats and bounces along, avoiding the mistake of trampling on its luscious sounds with unnecessary words, except for a dramatic pause followed by an unforgettable sample… “Tonight you sleep in Hell.”  Note there is also a version of this track with vocals, but I feel it lessens it.  It was left out for a reason.

#4. Switchblade Symphony ‘Wallflower’
If there was an anthem for the Bay Area goth scene around 1995, it must’ve been ‘Wallflower.’  I would describe the ingredients of Switchblade Symphony as nursery rhyme poetry, over a gloomy synth musical track, and a doll-like image.  They achieved major buzz in the middle of the decade, until seeming to lose interest and finally fizzling out.  They are rarely heard in clubs anymore, but their first album keeps a place in my heart.

#3. Delerium ‘Flowers Become Screens’
Bill Leeb and Rhys Fulber of Front Line Assembly released approximately ten thousand CD’s in the 1990’s.  I know people who collected all of them.  Of all this output, the most successful project is Delerium.  Starting with this single, Leeb and Fulber set out to make New Age dance music in the style of Enigma, and ended up doing it better than Enigma.  The atmosphere is rich, the beats infectious, and fantastic vocals from Kristy Thirsk take this into upper realms of amazing.

#2. Qntal ‘Ad Mortem Festinamus’
Talented Germans from the groups Deine Lakaien and Estampie join forces to create a diabolic masterpiece.  I’ll always appreciate proper musical talent combined with creativity and style, and these classically-trained musicians bring it here.  The sinister throbbing beat alone is enough to wake people up, then the vocals come in and the frenzy just builds from there.  A total triumph.

#1. Die Form ‘Cantique’
I sometimes wonder why clubs don’t play Die Form all night long.  These French fetish wizards own everything they touch.  I was recently listening through their Best of XXX compilation and couldn’t help notice every single track is a killer.  ‘Cantique’ in particular is a special weapon in my DJ arsenal.  I’ve never seen this track fail to seduce a room.  (I recommend Version II for best results.)  You may not hear it out much anymore, but the magic is there for those who dare.

All 10 tracks have been posted as a Youtube playlist.

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