Looking at Movements, part 2: Post-Punk

Siouxsie Sioux

Part 1: The Post-Punk Revival
Part 2: Post-Punk
Part 3: No Wave
Part 4: New Wave (UK)
Part 5: New Wave (US)

We were looking at how five different bands in the Post-Punk Revival of the Naughties drew from fairly different influences:

  • Interpol: Joy Division, The Chameleons; visuals: Minimalism
  • Franz Ferdinand: Orange Juice, Josef K, The Fire Engines; visuals: Russian Constructivism
  • The Killers: The Cars, New Order
  • Bloc Party: Gang of Four
  • The Strokes: The Ramones, The Cars, Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers, The Vibrators (h/t Gerard Stocker)

While some might see little difference here (“all those guitar bands sound the same”), others might consider these differences pretty significant. So is the Post-Punk Revival a real thing? Is it a coherent “movement”? And, if so, what makes it one, when its members are coming to it from different directions?

Let’s take a few steps backward and see what was supposedly being revived. What, precisely, was post-punk?

The term “post-punk” seems to have first appeared in 1977, when

the UK music paper Sounds ran a piece heralding “New Music”—the dub of King Tubby, the “post-punk” of Siouxsie and the Banshees, and the electronics which merged from west (Pere Ubu and Throbbing Gristle) to east (Kraftwerk again) and pointed to a future which wasn’t a million miles from what Rotten would then go on to create with Public Image Ltd. (Thompson 60).

This sentiment is echoed in a 2004 Sunday Times article:

Siouxsie Sioux first came to our attention in 1976 as a Sex Pistols acolyte who was standing behind the band during the notorious interview with Bill Grundy on The Today Programme. Yet with hindsight, her work doesn’t seem to belong to punk at all. Her debut album didn’t appear until 1978, by which time untutored three-chord thrashing was beginning to appear passé. Instead, with the Banshees she helped to invent a form of post-punk discord full of daring rhythmic and sonic experimentation that was as influential as it was underrated.

I wasn’t at any of the shows in 1976–7, but I do know the band’s early hit “Hong Kong Garden” (18 August 1978):

Later that year (13 November), they released their first full-length album, The Scream:

Track 1, “Pure”:

Track 2, “Jigsaw Feeling”:

Track 3, “Overground”:

Another possible origin: Greil Marcus, a few years later, claimed credit for coining the term “postpunk pop avant-garde” (in a 24 July 1980 article in Rolling Stone):

That was a line I’d thought up in California, after listening to the new music coming out of England: some of it willfully obscurantist and contrived, and some of it—most notably the late-1979 debut albums by Essential Logic, the Raincoats (both Rough Trade bands), and the Gang of Four (a leftist group signed to the EMI and Warner Bros. multinationals)—sparked by a tension, humor, and sense of parody plainly unique in present-day pop music. These records—Essential Logic’s Beat Rhythm News, The Raincoats, and the Gang of Four’s Entertainment!—were energized by the desire to communicate versions of shared social facts, and they were bent on testing a form called “rock ‘n’ roll”—as much music, culture, and commerce—while still maintaining a certain wary distance from it. This music wasn’t aimed at a mass audience, and it didn’t seem likely to reach one. It did speak with a disoriented passion and an undisguised critical intelligence strong enough to lead new audiences to identify themselves with it: ideally, audiences sufficiently passionate and critical to keep the musicians questioning their work. (109–10)

Let’s look at those three bands that Marcus singles out, and tracks from those late 1979 debut albums:

Gang of Four: Entertainment! (September 1979)

Track 1, “Ether”:

Track 10, “At Home He’s a Tourist”:

Essential Logic (1978–80): Beat Rhythm News (October 1979)

Track 1, “Quality Crayon Wax O.K.”

The Raincoats: The Raincoats (1979)

Track 1, “No Side to Fall In” (fan video):

Track 2, “Adventures Close to Home”:

(An aside about the Raincoats and their influences: Track 5 is a cover of “Lola” by the Kinks, and a later track, “In Love,” sounds very influenced by the Velvet Underground.)

Other related bands

Here are tracks by other early post-punk bands (arranged as much as possible in order of their release). I’ve also listed the years those bands were first active (ignoring if they later reunited).

X-Ray Specs (1976–9):

“Oh Bondage, Up Yours” (single, October 1977):

(Lora Logic was in this band before quitting it for Essential Logic.)

Wire (1976–80):

Pink Flag (December 1977): Track 17, “Mannequin”:

Magazine (1977–81):

“Shot by Both Sides” (single, January 1978):

Pere Ubu (1975–82):

The Modern Dance (1978): Track 1, “Non-Alignment Pact”:

Kleenex (later LiLiPUT) (1978–83):

Kleenex EP (1978): “Nice”:

Public Image Ltd. (1978–92):

First Issue (December 1978): Track 1, “Theme”:

(This was of course the band John Lydon (aka Johnny Rotten) formed after the Sex Pistols broke up.)

The Fall (1976–present):

“It’s the New Thing” (single, 1978):

The Cure (1976–present):

“Killing an Arab” (single, December 1978):

Echo & the Bunnymen (1978–93):

“The Pictures on My Wall” (single, May 1979):

Swell Maps (1972–80):

A Trip to Marineville (July 1979): Track 2, “Another Song”:

Bauhaus (1978–83):

“Bela Lugosi’s Dead” (single, August 1979):

The Slits (1976–82):

Cut (September 1979): Track 9, “Typical Girls:”

This Heat (1976–82):

This Heat (September 1979): Track 2, “Horizontal Hold”:

The Pop Group (1978–80):

Y (1979): Track 1, “Thief of Fire”:

Killing Joke (1978–96):

Almost Red EP (November 1979): Track 2, “Nervous System”

The Monochrome Set (1978–85):

Strange Boutique (1980): Track 1, “The Monochrome Set (I Presume)” (fan video):

Young Marble Giants (1978–80):

Colossal Youth (February 1980): Track 1, “Searching for Mister Right”:

…From there, things continued spreading outward, as post-punk developed, fusing with other existing subgenres—New Wave, art rock, No Wave, ska—or becoming other subgenres: Gothic rock, alternative rock, industrial music. (Indeed, we can already see the seeds of those burgeoning subgenres in some of the above tracks.)

But when we’re looking at post-punk proper (inasmuch as anything’s ever proper*), I think we can note a few common features:

  • Lots of women were involved, and all-women bands weren’t uncommon;
  • It was mostly an English phenomenon, 1977–80;
  • Many of the bands were on Rough Trade Records (Essential Logic, The Fall, Kleenex/LiLiPUT, The Monochrome Set, Pere Ubu, The Pop Group, The Raincoats, Swell Maps, This Heat, Young Marble Giants);
  • The sound was fairly raw and jagged, and often very abrasive;
  • Many of the bands mixed genres—indeed, post-punk’s sound can be described as a synthesis of punk (in particular the Sex Pistols), dub (witness the emphasis on drum and bass, alongside heavy uses of echo and reverb), funk (again, strong bass and drum rhythms), and experimental/underground sounds (The Velvet Underground, Can);
  • Many of the bands were overtly political.

Still left for us to do:

  • What was New Wave? Was it something different?
  • What was No Wave? Was it something different?
  • We’ll have to return to today’s Post-Punk Revival and re-view it (re-hear it) through all this research.

…But until next time, happy listening!

Works Cited

  • Marcus, Greil. In the Fascist Bathroom: Punk in Pop Music, 1977–1992. Original title: Ranters & Crowd Pleasers. New York City: Doubleday, 1993.
  • Thompson, David. Alternative Rock. San Francisco, CA: Miller Freeman Books, 2000.
  • Williamson, Nigel. “Siouxsie & The Banshees.” The Sunday Times. London, 27 Nov 2004.

*It’s not as though any of these bands were sitting around, listening to all of these other bands, thinking about post-punk as a coherent sound, and then heading into the recording studio or out to a venue with a checklist of things they had to do in order to fit the scene. Rather, they were reacting to what they heard around them, which may have been all or some of this, as well as any other influences they may have had. But there were definitely some shared interests/influences/techniques—some more than others. …Not to mention the fact that some of these bands shared members!

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14 thoughts on “Looking at Movements, part 2: Post-Punk

  1. I’d also heard that Interpol had heavy influences from The Cure. I hear them in their heavy bass lines for sure, and always thought Interpol was a heady mix of The Cure and Joy Division. Good stuff, either way.

  2. Lots of great stuff here. Am I capable of analyzing the noize? Or do I want to? I don’t know.

    A band from NYC whose sound fits in marvelously (and who had at least one “hit” — “Can’t be Funky (if You Haven’t Got a Soul)” — was the Bush Tetras……..

    [Some might say the Bush Tetras fit in with No Wave but put them on next to Siouxsie & the Banshees and there seems more of a musical relation than to DNA or James Chance. *And when mentioning Siouxsie let's not forget the side-project one-off the Creatures -- which connects them to the Slits.]

    [Isn't Bauhaus essentially a darker Bowie, or Bowie in a different inner film than Ziggy Stardust?]

    [Wire of course sued Elastica for allegedly ripping them off but I think the latter's 1st LP is a classic which still holds up even if it's influences are impure. Everyone's influences are impure. I like Singapore Sling who come rather directly from the Jesus & Mary Chain. I also like the Horrors who arrive via the Cure....minus the campy excess of Robert Smith's voice.]

    But Oh My God you’re examining some bands who had their moments, whether that moment burned out swiftly or not. Burned brightly, brightly as instantly extinguished suns.

    • Thanks for the comment! The Bush Tetras are really interesting—I’m a big fan of James Chance and everyone who revolved around him and his. I guess I consider them a New Wave/No Wave band: funk/art rock hybrid with strong punk influences, but minus the dub elements that really define post-punk. But I’ll have to sequence them next to Siouxsie Sioux and see what’s what. And the differences between post-punk, No Wave, and early New Wave…well, we’ll have to see how clear they really are, especially in hindsight. I’ll be getting to No Wave and (70s) New Wave in the next one, I think.

      As for influences, I remember Brian Eno complaining a while back about how much today’s bands have stolen from him and other 70s acts. And Brian Eno is my god—or one of my gods—but at the time I thought, “Oh, just shut UP!” Because the 70s folks stole plenty. Take away the Beatles, the Velvet Underground, Kraftwerk, and Can (not to mention Karlheinz Stockhausen and John Cage before them) and see what’s left… Not to mention all that awesome funk and jazz that Eno and the other Glamsters like Bowie were channeling…

      Bringing things back to the Bush Tetras, this is really cool:

      Cheers, Adam

  3. It’s great to be able to see Cynthia Sley in all her glory and “Too Many Creeps.” Through that link I was able to also view some early James Chance & the Contortions — and I once saw them live in Portland OR.

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