The Batcave Club, London: A venue that kickstarted the 1980s goth movement
The Batcave was a club-night that circulated around London’s Soho from 1982-86, paying homage to all things goth and hosting a range of arthouse films, cabaret extravaganzas and live music nights. Cobwebs lined the ceilings, black bin-liners decorated the walls and to enter, you had to walk through a (real) coffin with the bottom taken out; its interior could only be described as spooky.
A range of elements made up goth culture; fashion, literature, film, music…The Batcave became iconic because it aided the progression of this movement, rather than copying a mainstream trend that already existed. Maybe it was incidental and merely in the right place at the right time and it remains difficult to pinpoint exactly where or when a sub-culture begins, but many accounts suggest that Batcave really was the start of a movement. It forged identities; it provided a sense of belonging and community for those that associated themselves with the sub-culture. It did this because it originated as a space before anything else, a space that left room for goth to breed and influenced how it’s developed into the vast umbrella it is today.
Throughout all of my research, there were two names that repeatedly came up, whether it was directly looking for info on The Batcave, or about goth culture in general. The top hit was Siouxsie Sioux with Bauhaus coming in at a close second. Surprisingly Olli Wisdom and Jon Klein, co-founders of The Batcave, are barely discussed at all; proving it was the organic nature of The Batcave that bred its popularity and status as opposed to any pre-meditated organising. So why are these two names so prominent to ’80s culture, specifically that surrounding the genre of goth? And why can’t anyone talk about the Batcave without mentioning either one?
Nick Cave, Robert Smith, Nik Fiend, Foetus… The Batcave was a popular destination for many recognisable icons, but the reason why Siouxsie Sioux is one of the most discussed is that she is known as ‘The Godmother of Goth’. All writings of sub-cultures are penned in retrospect so it’s difficult to find exact dates or names of those that first triggered a goth fashion movement, but I can give an educated guess that Siouxie was in close runnings for first place. It’s Siouxsie’s iconic fashion statements that are still gothic signifiers around the world today; fishnets (commonly worn head-to-toe), theatrical eye make-up, massive black hair, fetish-gear… fashion is one of the largest contributors to the sub-culture.
Fashion at The Batcave championed a do-it-yourself attitude, embracing self-expression and individuality; in the ’80s goth fashion hadn’t reached mainstream yet so couldn’t easily be found on the high-street — and what could be found in shops was expensive. The fact that you could make your own outfit at home for barely any money at all, and be as authentically goth as someone that had paid above-and-beyond for a similar outfit, is a really forward-thinking concept. To be a part of any sub-culture you need a uniform, and that can lead to class becoming a relative factor in who can be in the clique. Eradicating financial standing or class opened up an inclusive community where you could be an individual too; it’s no wonder Batcave has been left on a pedestal.
As for Bauhaus; they were one of the first bands that were completely disassociated with punk and started the new genre of goth-rock and were doing so in the years The Batcave was thriving. Music was on par with fashion in the hierarchy of things that made up The Batcave. Olli Wisdom and the rest of The Specimen were the house band and many other groups like Alien Sex Fiend played the club-night regularly; even when the venue didn’t have any planned gigs the only music that would be heard at The Batcave would have the same goth-rock flare as the founder’s band. The Batcave became its own genre of music by the time it closed and is still referred to as a genre today and, in recognition, a Batcave compilation album in 1983 titled Young Limbs and Numb Hymns was released. The album encouraged the vast growth of the sub-culture and transported it to the US and Canada, and can be found in many vintage collections and vinyl shops around the globe still, 36 years later.
The insert of their 1983 compilation states: “…for some the Batcave has become an icon, but for those that know it is an iconoclast, it is the avenging spirit of nightlife’s badlands — its shadow looms large over London’s demi-Monde: It is a challenge to the false Idol. It Will Endure.”
I believe it’s safe to say the legacy of The Batcave has definitely endured, and will forever be an iconic part of British culture as well as goth culture. I didn’t find a single truly negative article, report or piece of information about the venue or those that visited, or created it. This, of course, could be down to the lack of reports made at the time amid its underground status, but most certainly a true reflection of its legacy.
The Batcave’s last estimated year of life was 1985-1986, the same year that the first wave of goth culture came to a close and a new one was beginning to form, proving how entwined both the sub-culture and the venue really are. The Batcave was undoubtedly a special place that brought people together and encouraged creativity, freedom and individualism. With independent venues fighting with all their might to stay open in modern climate, The Batcave should act as a poignant example that without them crucial sub-cultures will continue dissipating from UK foundations.