6 days ago
Saturday, November 22, 2008
The Unfinished Revolution
NB--all page references are based on the UK edition
"The Sex Pistols sang… build one"
—Allen Ravenstine. NME, 5/13/78.
punk had become a parody of itself
Although the polemic of Rip It Up entails de-privileging the exalted status of punk in rock history (all those books, documentaries, etc etc) and elevating both the "aftermath" (postpunk/New Wave) and the preceding period (the absurd myth of the early Seventies as wasteland, when it fact it was diverse and fertile right up until about 1975), I really should here acknowledge (more than I do in the book itself!) A/ the absolute necessity of punk as a purgative and galvanizing intervention, and B/ the fact that I really love a lot of punk rock, from proto-punk (Stooges, the Modern Lovers, Sixties garage punk) to the classic UK punk (Buzzcocks, Pistols, X Ray Spex, The Undertones, the Ruts, some Clash, even some of the proto-Oi! like Angelic Upstarts) as well much of the New York stuff (although Television hardly seems to fit the word ‘punk’) right through to the classic early US hardcore (Black Flag, Angry Samoans, Descendents, Negative Approach etc etc). The trouble with punk rock in the narrow UK 1977 or Ramones sense, however, is that its premises were so basic that it couldn’t be turned into a long term music culture without becoming very samey and dulling, a new conformity/orthodoxy.
In an early conception of the book I intended to include Oi! and anarcho-punk, but for reasons of time and space, wasn’t able to. But Oi! a/k/a "real punk" figures as an unseen backdrop to this story—the very definition of getting it wrong, as far as the postpunk vanguardists were concerned.
Either the entirety of Cranked Up Really High or a prototype version of it is available cached here: link Home also puts forth some interesting ideas about Seventies punk as a mere coda to the 1960s freak-rock (Deviants, MC5) and argues for Oi! as the real deal in this interview with Lucy O’Brien: link
various oral histories of US hardcore
American Hardcore: A Tribal History (Paperback)by Steven Blush, link
Banned In DC: Photos And Anecdotes From The DC Punk Underground (79-85)by Cynthia Connolly (Photography), Leslie Clague (Editor), and Sharon Cheslow (Editor) link
We got the Neutron Bomb: The Untold Story of L.A. Punk,by Marc Spitz and Brenden Mullen (Three Rivers),
Who defined punk as an imperative to constant change
"Punk" would be a key example of American critic Frank Kogan’s concept "Superword", his term for names whose contested nature is their very point and essence, a concept first aired publicly in his Why Music Sucks fanzine of the late Eighties. From Kogan’s book Real Punks Don’t Wear Black (University of Georgia Press, 2006), the Superword is defined as "a word that causes controversies, that gets fought over, that sometimes runs on ahead of its embodiments; a word that seems to jettison adherents"
However I can claim to have come up with this idea (well, more or less!), if not the terrific snappy name itself, independently back in 1986 with a piece in the final issue of Monitor (#6) which looked at the punk diaspora and the dozen or so different versions/visons of punk that had spiraled off it, which conceived of punk as "a trick of language". In it I argued that "the movement’s unity only really existed on the printed page--in the music press’s torrid rhetoric, in the panic headlines of newspapers. There never was a consensus over punk’s aims or motives"—and that what held punk together at all was not a positive definition but an identity based in being AGAINST, a vague anger, a bored yearning for some kind of disruption of rock business-as-usual. As I further argued, "In some ways, punk was really the opening up of a conversation whose topic was "what’s punk?"." That question could further be unpacked as "what’s rock for? what power can music have? How best to direct our dreams and our dissatisfactions? Is this area&mdashrock, youth culture—still worthy of our energy and ardour, or should we just close it down?" In effect, post-punk 1978-84 was the grand sum of all the questioning that took place, and of all the answers and provisional conclusions people came up with in response.
Another way of looking at the Superword is to appropriate Lyotard’s idea of the tensor, where a word or name becomes massively charged with energy (libidinized is one way of describing that investment, although that’s too narrow for the range of emotions that could be involved, many of which are not the least bit erotic but more to do with rage, frustration, etc). Although Lyotard’s context is individual pathology (Freud’s analysis of the paranoid delusions of Daniel Paul Schreber) there are obviously cases of collective cathexis—the shared delirium of fans (pop, obviously, but also sports), the process of subcultural mobilization around a genre name (jungle, metal, etc). The tensor term is a trigger for intensity, an instigator of contention (competing definitions, rival attempts to provide the signified for the hallowed signifier). The tensor is also a fracture point, the cutting edge at which schisms occur, the fork (two, three, or X-number pronged) in the road that sets people who were once united by "one vision" vision down different paths and on increasingly divergent quests.
To use another set of metaphors, derived from astrophysics, you could see punk as a Big Bang. The old rock universe—decrepit, dispersed, depleted of energy—collapsed into a white-hot singularity (summer ‘76 to summer ’77) then re-exploded to form a freshly re-energized and "brand new" cosmos. This was the postpunk universe, whose galaxies and solar systems were the genres and scenes—No Wave, punk-funk, 2-Tone, industrial, Oi!, Goth, and more—that proliferated in the volatile aftermath of 77-as-Year-Zero-Ignition-Point.
Or one last metaphor: Punk as a Reformation. Once the first schism (Catholicism versus Protestantism = Old Wave versus New Wave) took place the way was opened for further disintegration: an endless succession of squabbling Protestant sects (that classic syndrome of Leftist factions fighting most acrimoniously with those closest to themselves). The great dissensions that convulsed postpunk culture all through the 1978-1984 period covered in this book were a struggle over what to do with the demographic spoils of punk: the vast reservoirs of idealism and energy mobilized during 1976/77.
suspicious of art
John Lydon: "I hate art. I can't stand it." (NME 1978 Xmas issue Dec 23)
a Hugo Ball sound-poem into a tribal-disco dance track
"I Zimbra," the opening track on 1979’s Fear of Music
More information at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fluxus
renegade pop label ZTT... a snatch of Italian Futurist prose-poetry
Mountainous abuse heaped on Chuck Berry
Lydon complained to Mikal Gilmore, Rolling Stone, May 1, 1980: "If you really want to know, I think we failed...miserably...All I can say is that Public Image is everything the Sex Pistols were meant to be--a valid threat to rock & roll. In the end, the Pistols weren't any more threatening than retreaded Chuck Berry." Lydon in ZigZag Dec 1978: "I got pissed off listening to Steve [Jones] run through Chuck Berry riffs"
Paul Morley praised the first true product from the arty, Factory-worshipping Belgian label Les Disques du Crepuscule product—the now legendary cassette compilation From Brussels With Love—in NME's as follows: "The arrival of this thin tape from Belgium provides the reminder: rock 'n' roll is 25 years old and on the surface never more horrible. But deep down! My heart jumps the beat. Rock 'n' roll isn't really about staying power, or the ability to fill huge halls, or... Let's pretend that Chuck Berry never existed: that the first rock 'n' roll star was Schoenberg, the second James Brown, and that David Bowie was a properly bad nightmare. From Brussels With Love is the reminder—without really trying, without being obvious—that pop is modern poetry, is the sharpest, shiniest collection of experiences, is always something new." ["Let's pretend that Chuck Berry never existed: that the first rock 'n' roll star was Schoenberg" = the foundational thought that seeds ZTT a couple of years later]
Vic Godard, in Melody Maker 18-3-78: "It all went wrong with Chuck Berry, although he just happened to be a brilliant singer and songwriter as well. After this... disaster."
Frank Kogan, date unknown: "...I'm the guy who once said, "Chuck Berry sang 'Hail hail rock 'n' roll, deliver us from days of old,' and so now that rock 'n' roll is old it becomes rock 'n' roll's task to deliver us from rock 'n' roll."
Lydia Lunch once dismissed punk as "Chuck Berry on speed"
When I interviewed This Heat’s Charles Hayward, he talked about liking punk’s aggression but ultimately being unimpressed by its "Johnny B. Goode-ness". Or, finally, Wire, whose song "Pink Flag" was an attempt to rewrite "Johnny B. Goode" using only one chord. Colin Newman told Uncut in March 2006, "We wanted a form of 'rock'n'roll' minus the 'roll'. I hate rock'n'roll. I hate Elvis Presley. To me, as someone who grew up in the '60s, it’s depressing, black-and-white music."
" Berry riffs"
—unattributed Cabaret Voltaire quote. NME, 11/29/80.
Guitar innovators… brittle spikiness
Traditional effects like fuzztone and wah-wah were generally replaced by more modern-sounding treatments—the glassy textures and glossy "artificial" colors produced by flange, echoplex, delay, sustain...
Innovative things with structure
Other groups bypassed traditional riff structures and verse/chorus/middle eight by favoring a drone-based trance-inducing monotony sourced in Velvet Underground and their Krautrock successors such as Neu! and Can
"geometric jerky quickstep"
—NME, Sept 2 1978. Ultravox feature by Miles.
Wonder if he meant to write "quirkstep"?
The bass… hitherto inconspicuous supportive role
Obviously there were a number of exceptions to this, star bassists—Jack Bruce, Paul McCartney, Geezer Butler, John Paul Jones, John McVie. But in most hard rock (glam, metal, punk) the bass just unites with the rhythm guitar in the riff, or does a kind of subliminal bolstering thing adding heft and momentum to the rhythm-drive. This was especially the case with punk rock—how many punk rock basslines can you remember? The bass is designed not to be consciously heard but felt. If you actually listen to what the bass is doing in punk songs, with a sort of after-the-historical-fact added-on postpunk bass-consciousness, the B-lines are often quite pleasing in a droning modal repetitive way, but for the most part you don't listen to it with any kind of focus, and you’re not meant to. You might say the definition of postpunk is the bassline as promiment hook or lead melodic voice: a line running from Pere Ubu to Joy Division to Goth on one axis, and the Czukay-meets-reggae line of PiL etc on the other. Before postpunk, rock bass was also generally really low in the mix, and that changed.
playing catch-up with the innovations of Sly Stone and James Brown
Or more precisely their bassists: Larry Graham, inventor of slap bass, with Sly and the Family Stone; and Charles Sherrell and Bootsy Collins with JB
perverted disco…. avant-funk
One little mystery that occurred to me only after finishing the book: postpunk bands embracing funk and disco was considered a big deal, a radical move. Yet before and during punk many Old Wave bands from the "rock establishment" had dabbled in funk and disco: Led Zeppelin copping James Brown on "The Crunge", The Rolling Stones going disco with "Miss You" in 1978 (pipping Gang of Four, PiL and Pop Group to the post!) and later in 1980 with "Emotional Rescue"; Robert Palmer's 1974 album Sneakin' Sally Through Alley was recorded with The Meters in New Orleans, John Martyn's music often veered into thickly-textured funk (Solid Air’s "I’d Rather Be The Devil" from 1972, much of 1977's One World) . There was also a funk feel in songs by groups like Free ("All Right Now"), Little Feat ("Rock and Roll Doctor") and James Gang ("Funk #49"), while Foghat, of all people, featured slap-bass on their boogie hit "Slowride". Even things like Rod Stewart’s "D’Ya Think It’s Sexy" figure, its walking disco bassline very similar to the one that got Orange Juice plaudits on "Falling and Laughing" a few years later.
The same actually applies to reggae: from The Eagles' "Hotel California" to Eric Clapton’s cover of "I Shot The Sheriff" to Robert Palmer's 1975 Pressure Drop to countless other examples, reggae rhythms were widely adopted by the rock superstar aristocracy, and roots reggae was hailed by Sixties-generation rock critics like Greil Marcus as the hot new rebel music of the 1970s, with Bob Marley figuring as the new Bob Dylan. The Rolling Stones, especially Keith Richards and Mick Jagger, became infatuated with Jamaican music. 1976's Black and Blue was steeped in reggae feel. The group took ex-Wailer Peter Tosh under their wing. Tosh toured with them, his 1978 album Bush Doctor was released on the Stones’ own label and it featured a duet with Mick Jagger. Somehow punk erased the (very recent) memory of all this pre-punk white-on-black action, and regarded its own borrowings of Jamaican and black American rhythms as a brand-new phenomenon, an innovative move. Perhaps the difference was that the pre-punk establishment groups had embraced these new styles in a muso way, as an extension of showing off their versatility and virtuosity. And through their musical skill they were able to replicate the styles fairly immaculately, whereas the less adept postpunkers had to struggle with the styles and in the process created something new—more jagged and aggressive and rough-hewn. So instead of the Old Waver's jammy-groovy, muso's hanging out and copping a "feel" vibe, postpunk's appropriations felt tense, neurotic, striving. Or perhaps the postpunk edge lay in the way that bands used funk as a musical signifier for militancy and struggle—ie. it wasn’t just funk, it was punk-funk, or agit-funk.
The more acute end of prog
There were also, intriguingly, certain pre-punk "progressive" figures who remained credible reference points or found a new role in the postpunk period: Brian Eno, Bill Nelson, Robert Wyatt, Peter Hammill, Robert Fripp (who slyly shed his hippie locks and loon pants and rematerialised in 1978 with short hair, a skinny tie, and a technology-boosted, highly conceptual sound called Frippertronics).
Others, like Peter Gabriel cunningly adapted to the new sonic codes: 1979's Peter Gabriel III is faux-postpunk from its lyrical vibes of paranoia and nervous tension right through to the singer’s banning of cymbals and hi-hats from the sessions in order to achieve that stark, "modern" drum sound as heard on records by Joy Division, The Comsat Angels, and Random Hold.
A slightly earlier moment than the Berlin triology in Bowie's style trajectory was also hugely influential slightly later in postpunk's evolution, with the shift to New Pop, whose groups drew on Bowie's "plastic soul"/"plastic funk" phase: Young Americans and Station to Station, in particular the art-funk and art-disco of "Fame" and "Golden Years". Equally influential was Bowie's look of this era, his famous wedge haircut, which would lodge in the image-repertoire of soul-boys and resurface with Spandau Ballet, Japan et al.
Bowie himself would re-emerge to claim his rightful place at the head of New Pop, abandoning his wasted, sickly Berlin-era image and adopting a new blonde-haired, tanned, healthy persona to go with the upful, shiny-sounding pop-funk like "Let's Dance" and "Modern Love." He cleaned up big time, in both senses of the word.
“Some bands… Brian Eno.”
—Bono. Quoted in New Statesman, 2/14/97 (Philip Glass piece)
The personal is political
"Politics" as a category expanded to cover the entire surface of reality, from love to leisure to language itself. This was in some senses a totalitarian, even tyrannical vision—and also a route to despair c.f. Gang of Four's "no escape from society", or the utterly bleak worldview of Guy Debord. The corollary of seeing everything as micro-political—in Debord’s case, teenagers kicking over a dustbin as a proto-political act of resistance—is to see everything as enwebbed in oppression and false consciousness. Debord ultimately killed himself, because he could see no way out. Postpunk would eventually breed its own nemesis in the form of a renewed romanticism and mysticism, a desire for some kind of Outside that transcended the political/social.
plain-speaking demagogeury... Tom Robinson Band and Crass... soapbox sermonising
Rock Against Racism and its sister organization the Anti-Nazi League had emerged to combat the growing street presence of the National Front—the far right political party whose anti-immigration, pro-repatriation stance had become disturbingly popular during the mid-1970s. A key task for RAR was straightening out the perilous ambiguity at punk’s heart—its nihilistic flirtation with Nazi imagery, from the swastika to songs like the Pistols’s "Belsen Was A Gas"—and establish unequivocally that its sympathies were right-on rather than right-wing. RAR’s polemic was that rock could never be anything but anti-racist, given its profound debts to black music. The initial spur for RAR’s forming was some drunken onstage comments by Eric Clapton about renegade Conservative politician Enoch Powell, who in an infamous speech had predicted that if black and brown immigration from Commonwealth countries continued at its present rate, there would be "rivers of blood" in the streets of Britain. Clapton’s endorsement of Powell’s anti-multiculturalist, anti-immigration opinions seemed both hypocritical and bizarre given the guitarist’s debts to the blues and his recent cover of Marley’s "I shot the sheriff". The fledgling movement announced itself with a letter in the NME on September 11th 1976:
"When we read about Eric Clapton’s Birmingham concert when he urged support for Enoch Powell we nearly puked. What’s going on, Eric? You’ve got a touch of brain damage? So you are going to stand for MP and you think we are being colonized by black people. Come on... you've been taking too much of that Daily Express stuff, you know you can't handle it. Own up, half your music is black. You are rock music's biggest colonist. You're a good musician but where would you be without the blues and R&B? You’ve got to fight the racist poison, otherwise you degenerate into the sewer with the rats and all the money men who ripped off rock culture with their cheque books and plastic crap. Rock was and still can be a real progressive culture not a package mail order stick-on nightmare of mediocre garbage. Keep the faith, black and white unite and fight. We want to organize a rank and file movement against the racist poison in rock music—we urge support—all those interested please write to ROCK AGAINST RACISM, Box M, 8 Cottons Gardens, London E2 8DN. P.S. "Who shot the Sheriff?". Eric? It sure as hell wasn’t you!"
RAR’s contention about the inherent blackness of rock'n'roll immediately ran into a problem, though, for one of punk's most striking characteristics was that it was the whitest form of rock yet. Monolithic-sounding and sexlessly aggressive, this was a post-blues hard rock, physically compelling but anti-dance. This sonic whiteness had exacerbated the cloudy ambiguity of punk's political allegiance, causing The Clash's "White Riot"—actually a song of admiring identification, tinged with envy, towards the black rioters at 1976’s over-policed 1976 Notting Hill Carnival—to be misconstrued as a rabble-rousing racist call-to-arms. In this environment, with punk widenly misconstrued as fascist or nihilistically lumpen, RAR moved quickly to create a climate in which bands felt obliged to declare their political allegiances. It soon became nigh-on compulsory for New Wave bands to perform at RAR carnivals and Anti-Nazi League benefits, sharing the bill with Black British reggae groups like Matumbi and Misty In Roots.
More information on the formation of Rock Against Racism — link Anti-Nazi League — link essay on Rock Against Racism — link
Postpunk's wariness about RAR and ANL and belief they regarded music as a vehicle.
Mark E. Smith is one example of this attitude, but John Lydon’s disdain was also quite common, as seen in an interview in the NME, Xmas issue Dec 23, 1978. Claiming to be apolitical, or anti-political, or to know nothing about politics, Lydon specifically targets the Socialist Workers Party: "those hard line lefties have always hated rock music... they're just using it, and using it very successfully too." Lydon went further still and argued that the SWP and the NF were "both as evil as each other. Both a serious threat. God, can you imagine if this was a total Socialist country? How awful that would be: classical music being piped in the streets day and night, all wearing grey uniforms and cloth caps."
The tower blocks of punk’s imaginary--from the Clash’s neck of the woods, Trellick Tower, which to my mind actually has some period charm now — link And I’m not alone judging by I Heart Carbuncles — link
Such as Alison and Peter Smithson, well intentioned sorts, idealists.
More here — linkAnd here — link
Julian House tells me the term Brutalist comes from the french expression for rough concrete (béton brut), but of course in the British mind the word has come to connote aesthetic savagery and inhumane architectural hubris.
Essay (with lots of cool pix) by Owen Hatherley in defence of the brutalists — link
Excerpt from my interview at Ballardian on J.G. Ballard and science fiction, dealing with Ballard's influence on postpunk (and left out of the interview as it appeared)
SIMON SELLARS:In Rip It Up, you hint at the influence Ballard had on postpunk musicians. For those who haven't read the book, could you sum that appeal up here? Is postpunk where the lineage ends?
SR: There’s two main things. One is the way that Concrete Island and High Rise and Crash offered a picture of the changed urban landscape of the UK in the Seventies, what was left after all the post-war regeneration and the 1960s Brutalist movement in architecture--deck-access low-rise housing estates and tower blocks, flyovers and underpasses Another key thing for that was both the novel and the movie A Clockwork Orange. This really fed into punk and postpunk’s imagery, it’s there in Joy Division’s music especially, where there’s an explicit nod to Ballard with the song “Atrocity Exhibition” and more obliquely with titles like “Interzone.”
They were drawing from their direct experience of Manchester, the way that redevelopment there almost repeated the trauma of WW2 bombing, creating this new bleak psychogeography of council estates, shopping schemes, high-rise apartment blocks. But it was filtered through Ballard.
The other thing that was influential was the whole avant-porn side of Ballard, which was often ingested in tandem with Burroughs, the other big postpunk author. All those proto-Cronenburg ideas in Crash to do with perverse sexuality, sex without flesh, and also McLuhan-goes-kinky ideas to do with perverse fixations on celebrities. All that was a big influence on Cabaret Voltaire and other industrial groups. You can see that connection with the way Re/Search--which started out as part of the San Francisco postpunk/industrial culture--has become the literary custodian of Ballard, doing all the interview books and Ballard quotation books.
Another band of Ballard-lovers was Ultravox, who early on, when they were fronted by John Foxx, were a very arty and interesting outfit, kinda Roxy Music meets Ballard, and did songs like “MySex” that are totally Crash-damaged.
Here’s the lyrics:
Waits for me
Like a mongrel waits
Downwind on a tight rope leash
Is a fragile acrobat
Sometimes I'm a novocaine shot
Sometimes I'm an automat
Is often solo
Sometimes it short circuits then
Sometimes it's a golden glow
Is invested in
Skyscraper shadows on a carcrash overpass
Is savage, tender
It wears no future faces
Owns just random gender
Has a wanting wardrobe
I still explore
Of all the bodies I knew and those I want to know
Is a spark of electro flesh
Leased from the tick of time
And geared for synchromesh
Is an image lost in faded films
A neon outline
On a high-rise overspill
John Foxx should really give J.G. royalties don’t you think? There’s another early Ultravox tune which has an image about masturbating on a fashion magazine lying on a pile of rubble under a motorway flyover, or something!
Then solo, Foxx did songs like “Underpass” and “Burning Car” and “No One’s Driving”. Apart from those and “MySex” the most blatant example of Ballard-worship is The Normal’s “Warm Leatherette” from 1978, this pioneering lo-fi do-it-yourself synth-punk tune. The lyric is totally based on Crash--“the handbrake penetrates your thigh/quick let’s make love before we die”-- while its flipside “T.V.O.D.” is this proto-Videodrome ditty about a guy who injects television into his arm. The Normal was Daniel Miller who founded Mute and later with the Grey Area of Mute reissued all the stuff by Cabaret Voltaire and Throbbing Gristle.
Ballard allusions had become a bit of a cliché by the time I started writing about music professionally in the mid-Eighties--I did a piece on this post-Cabaret Voltaire, Sheffield outfit called Chakk and gave the singer a slightly hard time for overdoing the Ballardisms. Since then I’m hard pressed to think of Ballardisms coming through in music, although this very year this “nu-rave” outfit The Klaxons put out an album called Myths of the Near Future. But the Ballard homage seems fairly cosmetic in this case.
"magic and poetry... disused harbor"
Quoted in Vale V’s Re/Search #8/9: J.G. Ballard (see bibliography). P. 47
More info here — link
Kate Bush "Breathing"
OutsideGets insideThrough her skin.I've been out beforeBut this time it's much safer in.Last night in the sky,Such a bright light.My radar send me dangerBut my instincts tell me to keepBreathing,(Out, in, out, in, out, in...)Breathing,Breathing my mother in,Breathing my beloved in,Breathing,Breathing her nicotine,Breathing,Breathing the fall-out in,Out in, out in, out in, out in.We've lost our chance.We're the first and the last, ooh,After the blast.Chips of PlutoniumAre twinkling in every lung.I love myBeloved, ooh,All and everywhere,Only the fools blew it.You and meKnew life itself isBreathing,(Out, in, out, in, out...)Breathing, Breathing my mother in, Breathing my beloved in, Breathing, Breathing her nicotine, Breathing, Breathing the fall-out in, Out in, out in, out in, out in, Out in, out in, out in, out...
Apparently it's from the viewpoint of a fetus in a mother's womb, the unborn child is absorbing the radioactivity via the placenta, but I have to say that's quite hard to deduce from the lyrics, and that interpretation is thrown somewhat by the couplet: "I've been out before/but this this time it's much safer in."
UB40's "The Earth Dies Screaming"
I have a vivid memory of this being performed on the Xmas edition of Top of the Pops, the jolly Yuletide vibe brought to an absolute zero of bleakness, party balloons bobbing desolately on the floor!
UB40, The Earth Dies Screaming
Note cover artwork reproducing the UB40 form for claiming unemployment benefit
Lust/Unlust [US edition only]
Charles Ball’s indie label in New York, which documented most of the No Wave bands
As used first by Pete Wylie in Wah Heat! Feature in NME, 1/17/81. Paul du Noyer’s piece addresses Wah! Heat’s "race against rockism" (geddit?). Wylie says words like "album" are rockist and declares that Wah! are against all the deadening rituals of the gig, the encores, etc. "If rock is dead then we're not a rock band. If rock has the potential to be an exciting, inspirational thing, then we are... It's rock as a ritual that's the bad thing, when it's not done out of love or passion, when it’s done because that's what you’re used to doing". Yet Wylie's favourite band was The Clash and Wah!'s sound and stance was totally epic-guitar rocky!
More, vast amounts more, at http://www.televisionpersonalities.co.uk/
"in which the discourse around the work was as important as the art objects themselves"/ "active criticism"
See Tom Wolfe's 1975 book on the thrall of conceptualism and art as statement/discourse, The Painted Word — link
As 1977 whimpered to an anti-climactic end, journalist Jon Savage and a gaggle of his Sounds colleagues heralded the coming of "New Musick" with a special feature package that ran over two weeks in November/December 1977 (November 26 and December 3) and showcased emergent groups like Devo, Throbbing Gristle, Pere Ubu and Siouxsie & the Banshees. Recalling these special issues in an interview with me, Savage said: "Punk had become a cliche and we wanted to continue that sense of newness, of discovery and total science fiction alienation." Savage's intro for New Musick set the scene in a deliberately depersonalised, cybernetics-styled manifesto:
"Program: present data suggest punk saturation/obsolescence in its present form... "Stagnation. Shock tactics used to gain space/attention now redundant. Projex: post-punk projections, contrails. Print-out as follows."
Colleague Jane Suck picked up the thread, identifying Bowie’s Low album of early 1977 as "the watershed", its Brian Eno-informed second side "a soundtrack without a film and not for the nervous". After punk’s fire and frenzy would come "The Cold Wave": music that didn’t flail with rage but was burned-out and numb, superceding insurrection with "somnambulism and acceptance." Voiced by musicians and journalists alike, the new buzz-lingo--"industrial", "harsh urban scrapings", "catatonic bleakness"--captured this sense of alienation, of negation that no longer exploded into the world but turned inwards, corrosively. Ice queen Siouxsie of the Banshees caught the mood, describing herself as "a very cold person" who rejected "anything communal... I could never be a nurse, helping old people with bedpans... I’ve just got a low tolerance of people that can’t help themselves." (All this seeming to chime with the ant-Welfare, anti-Nanny State rhetoric of Thatcher’s resurgent Conservativism). Siouxsie continued: "Even when my dad died, I just laughed. That was my reaction. I felt completely unmoved.. I suppose I’m a very cold person as well. The fact that I reject anything communal... I’ve had my own door key since I was about seven, just let myself in from day nursery or school or whatever. It may seem like a cosy atmosphere, but we’re all separate people with quite separate lives, not like a family at all." Later she speculated, "Maybe it’s because there’s a new Ice Age coming on." ("The Ice Age" was novelist Margaret Drabble’s trope, in the novel of the same title, for the malaise that engulfed Britain in the mid-Seventies).
Elsewhere in "New Musick" Vivien Goldman wrote about Dub, mentioning Generation X's "Wild Dub", the flip of their new single "Wild Youth", while, bless her, also bigging up John Martyn’s totally unpunky 1977 masterpiece One World as authentic white dub (she must mean the track "Big Muff", said to have Lee Perry’s hand in it, although he’s not credited). She also interviewed "Dennis Matumbi" (ie. Dennis Bovell of later Slits/Pop Group fame) and he did a step by step guide to making a dub records. Davitt Sigerson wrote about disco, hailing Giorgio Moroder as the true master of New Musick, while Sandy Robertson wrote one of the very first pieces on Throbbing Gristle — link In 1978, New Musick and Cold Wave competed with rival terms like "after-punk", but by 1979 "postpunk" had won out as the name.
More on David Thomas’ career as local rock journalist at http://clevescene.com/Issues/2005-06-29/news/feature3.html
Wrote for (among other places) ZigZag where he did some crucial pieces on key postpunk bands such as Subway Sect and The Pop Group. Manicured Noise accordingly were precocious adopters of funk as the righteous non-rock path.
An interview with Steve Walsh about Manicured Noise at Pennyblackmusic website
After an avant-garde start Manicured Noise quickly moved to a sound that was rather close to early Talking Heads, viz this, their most famous, single:
Changes in the style and methods of rock writing
With the reference to the jammed-out chattiness and veiled references to drugs and chicks, I'm thinking of Charles Shaar Murray here more than the more literary (at times verging on florid) Nick Kent. Kent was a totally lost figure during the postpunk period, his whole sensibility and vision was completely against the grain of the time, whereas the more street-cred oriented and politically-minded CSM gamely went along with the postpunk programme, writing good stuff on Gang of Four, Mekons and few others. But he ultimately remained an early Seventies chap. People like CSM could cope reasonably well with postpunk and then 2-Tone because of its right-on politics, but the "irresponsibility" of New Pop totally flummoxed these guys.
Puritanism and playfulness
The ludic labyrinths of the Morley/Penman style got up the noses of many NME readers by managing to somehow be both too serious/theoretical/abstract and too frivolous/frolicsome at once. Fusing the intensely cerebral and the tantalisingly sensuous, Morley and Penman walked a tightrope between lucid and opaque, rubbing abstract nouns up against each other in a way that seemed to simultaneously caress the music’s sensational surface while penetrating to its absolute core of truth and essence. In the process, they bypassed the middle ground of concrete “substance” that encumbers most rockwriting. They also played mischievous games with form and structure. In one interview, with the Monochrome Set, Morley attributed quotes not to names but to numbers that he’d assigned each member of the band. In a famous piece on Peter Gabriel, he plays a psychiatrist visiting the singer in the latter's padded cell. Except he’s not a singer at all, but someone suffering from the delusion he’s a famous rock star; Morley has to humor him.
A precursor for this kind of formal malarkey took place during the "New Musick" era of Sounds, which Morley admired and even envied its freedoms somewhat. Writing about the industrial groups, for instance, Savage adopted a depersonalized, fractured style. Sometimes he appeared in the pieces as the Journalist: a distancing device that drew attention to standard roleplay and the constructed, fictional nature of supposedly objective journalism, while conjuring a Ballardian, science fiction remoteness. Sometimes his writing would take on the terse, compressed style of a computer read-out, verbs or nouns missing, as if he was just a filter for incoming data ("industrial" culture have something of a fetish for the concept of information).
I expect some stick for having put Bushell in the same group as the other guys but in Sounds in the late Seventies, Gazza did come up with a whole political-aesthetic-cultural sensibility/vision that encompassed a range of contemporary stuff (Oi!, the New Mod, 2-Tone--especially Madness) as well as sketching in a kind of canon too (Slade, Kilburn and the High Roads, Judge Dredd). The antithesis of postpunk, it was based in a sort of anti-artwank, anti-trendy-lefty, proudly philistine, prolier-than-thou stance that in Bushell's mind linked up with a workerist politics (he was a member of the SWP and did his journalistic training under Paul Foot on the Socialist Worker!). Of course it also carried with it some sexism, homophobia, and a nasty streak of English chauvinism. This would all flower in the ugliness of his Oi! compilation sleevenotes and culminate in his revolting career at the Sun as "telly critic" and later as the presenter of the "Bushell on the Box" TV show. [Full Bushell biography at http://www.garry-bushell.co.uk/BIOGRAPHY/INDEX.ASP]. Early on, though, Bushell was an entertaining writer (especially in attack mode) and a perceptive critic. Dave McCullough's harder to tag: Sounds’ own Morley, to an extent, but with his own playful, flamboyantly impressionistic style and pantheon of favourite bands that overlapped with PM’s sometimes but others not (McCullough detested the Cure, for instance). The two of them did make the shift from postpunk to New Pop in perfect synchrony however. An appreciation of Dave McCullough by Kevin Pearce aka John Carney at Tangents — link
Other figures from this period who invented a unified Style/Content Thang include Melody Maker/then NME's Chris Bohn with his noise/sickness worldview and NME's Barney Hoskyns, something like a drastically rebooted and turbocharged Nick Kent—ie. the revenge of rock romanticism against Postpunk's demystified and dessicated schematics—except this incarnation of Dionysus came fully armored against the pretensions of Penmania thanks to Hoskyns' own deep infusions of Nietzche, Bataille, Barthes et al. Great work in terms of insight and reportage was done in more stylistically "normal" and legible mode by such as Andy Gill, Vivien Goldman, Simon Frith, Paul Rambali, Lynn Hanna, Mary Harron, Angus MacKinnon, Paul Tickell, John Gill, Ian Birch, Dave Hill, Sandy Robertson, and many others. Twas verily a golden age for UK music journalism!
There was of course a lot of good stuff being written about postpunk/New Wave in America at the same time: in Village Voice, New York Rocker, East Village Eye, Interview, and many other small magazines/large fanzines; legends like Lester Bangs and Greil Marcus did some great writing on postpunk groups (Bangs on Fear of Music in Village Voice; Marcus scattered writings of the time gathered in Ranters and Crowdpleasers aka In the Fascist Bathroom); there were also figures like Glenn O’Brien and Roy Trakin who championed No Wave or other specific postpunk zones. But generally, c.f. the UK, in America there was less of a sense of a postpunk "climate" of writing—of the approach to and style of writing being changed in response to the new music.
"Bold bracing geometry" —postpunk record design.
For insanely much more, check this fantastic article by Philip Brophy on the record design aesthetics of the postpunk era — link
laundry list of influences... absolute break with tradition
A salutary illusion, perhaps?
some of the politically committed bands felt it was self-indulgent or trivial to talk about music
One example being Ludus, whose Linder opined in one interview that it was "obscene" to talk just about music. The Pop Group also shifted into this mode later on when they became more agit-prop oriented.
But when the question shifted to 'What are we for?'
Other definitions of postpunk that are less positivistic and constructive:
Greil Marcus in "Crimes Against Nature" (p.183 of Ranters and Crowdpleasers, see bibliography) has this idea—"if punk says, 'Life stinks', postpunk says 'Why does life stink?'"— ie. he ties postpunk to the idea of critique, c.f. punk-as-rage.
Tony Wilson's definition, typically, is more existensialist, pinpointing postpunk as a shift towards more interior emotions: "I hate Barney Sumner cos he's always right! What Bernard said once on Radio One was 'Punk was wonderful, it got rid of all the shite'. See, you can't really remember how bad music was in the early 70s. It was diabolical, a total wasteland. So Bernie says, 'punk was an explosion that blew it all away, but it was simple and simplistic. All it could say was, 'I'm bored'. Sooner or later, someone was going to use the simplicity of punk to express more complex emotions'. My reworking of Bernie's comment is, 'Punk was wonderful but all it could say was this one simple emotion: Fuck you. Sooner or later someone was going to have to use that music to say, I’m fucked. And that was Joy Division'".
my article for Monitor issue 6, 1986, on the tenth anniversary of punk -- in some ways the distant seed for Rip It Up and Start Again
my review of Simon Frith and Alan Horne's book Art Into Pop about the artschool influence in British rock and pop, here (and then: 1988) espousing an anti-postpunk/New Pop stance rejecting conceptualism, hyper-selfconsciousness, knowingness, pop-as-intertext/reference-game etc etc.
SIMON FRITH AND HOWARD HORNE
Art Into Pop
Melody Maker, January 16th 1988
by Simon Reynolds
All non-pictorial contents copyright Simon Reynolds unless otherwise indicated