|Cultural origins||Mid–late 1970s; United Kingdom, United States, Australia|
Post-punk is a diverse type of rock music that emerged in the wake of the punk movement of the 1970s, in which artists departed from punk's raw, accessible style and instead pursued a varied range of experimental sensibilities. Attempting to break from rock tradition, post-punk artists embraced electronic music, black dance styles and the avant-garde, as well as novel recording technology and production techniques. The movement also saw the frequent intersection of music with art and politics, as artists drew inspiration from sources such as modernist literature, critical theory, cinema, and performance art. Accompanying these musical developments were communities that produced visual art, multimedia performances, independent record labels and fanzines in conjunction with the music.
The early post-punk vanguard included groups such as Siouxsie and the Banshees, Wire, Public Image Ltd, Devo, Joy Division, Talking Heads, the Pop Group, Gang of Four, Throbbing Gristle, and the Contortions. Post-punk was closely related to the development of ancillary genres such as gothic rock, no wave and industrial music. By the mid 1980s, much of the movement had dissipated while providing the impetus for the New Pop movement as well much subsequent alternative and independent music.
Characteristics and philosophy
The term "post-punk" was first used by journalists in the late 1970s to describe groups moving beyond punk's sonic template into disparate areas. Many of these artists, initially inspired by punk's DIY ethic and energy, ultimately became disillusioned with the style and movement, feeling that it had fallen into commercial formula, rock convention and self-parody. They repudiated its populist claims to accessibility and raw simplicity, instead seeing an opportunity to break with musical tradition, subvert commonplaces and challenge audiences. Artists moved beyonds punk's focus on the concerns of a largely white, male, working class population and abandoned its continued reliance on established rock and roll tropes, such as three-chord progressions and Chuck Berry-based guitar riffs. These artists instead defined punk as "an imperative to constant change", believing that "radical content demands radical form".
Though the music varied widely between regions and artists, the post-punk movement has been characterized by its "conceptual assault" on rock conventions and rejection of aesthetics perceived of as traditionalist, hegemonic or rockist in favor of experimentation with production techniques and non-rock musical styles such as dub, funk, electronic music, disco, noise, free jazz, world music and the avant-garde. Some previous musical styles also served as touchstones for the movement, including particular brands of glam, art rock, art pop and "[the] dark undercurrent of '60s music". According to critic Simon Reynolds, artists once again approached the studio as an instrument, using new recording methods and pursuing novel sonic territories. Author Matthew Bannister wrote that post-punk artists rejected the high cultural references of 1960s rock artists like the Beatles and Bob Dylan as well as paradigms that defined "rock as progressive, as art, as 'sterile' studio perfectionism ... by adopting an avant-garde aesthetic". Author Doyle Green sees post-punk as an emergence of a kind of "progressive punk" music.
Nicholas Lezard described post-punk as "a fusion of art and music". The era saw the robust appropriation of ideas from literature, art, cinema, philosophy, politics and critical theory into musical and pop cultural contexts. Artists sought to refuse the common distinction between high and low culture and returned to the art school tradition found in the work of artists such as Captain Beefheart and David Bowie. Among major influences on a variety of post-punk artists were writers such as William S. Burroughs and J.G. Ballard, avant-garde political scenes such as Situationism and Dada, and intellectual movements such as postmodernism. Many artists viewed their work in explicitly political terms. Additionally, in some locations, the creation of post-punk music was closely linked to the development of efficacious subcultures, which played important roles in the production of art, multimedia performances, fanzines and independent labels related to the music. Many post-punk artists maintained an anti-corporatist approach to recording and instead seized on alternate means of producing and releasing music. Journalists also became an important element of the culture, and popular music magazines and critics became immersed in the movement.
Scope of term
The scope of the term "post-punk" has been subject to controversy. While some critics, such as AllMusic's Stephen Thomas Erlewine, have employed the term "post-punk" to denote "a more adventurous and arty form of punk", others have suggested it pertains to a set of artistic sensibilities and approaches rather than any unifying style. Simon Reynolds has advocated that post-punk be conceived as "less a genre of music than a space of possibility", suggesting that "what unites all this activity is a set of open-ended imperatives: innovation; willful oddness; the willful jettisoning of all things precedented or 'rock'n'roll'". Nicholas Lezard described the movement as "so multifarious that only the broadest use of the term is possible".
Generally, post-punk music is defined as music that emerged from the cultural milieu of punk rock in the late 1970s, although many groups now categorized as post-punk were initially subsumed under the broad umbrella of punk or new wave music, only becoming differentiated as the terms came to signify more narrow styles. Additionally, the accuracy of the term's chronological prefix "post" has been disputed, as various groups commonly labeled post-punk in fact predate the punk rock movement. Reynolds defined the post-punk era as occurring loosely between 1978 and 1984.
1977–79: Early years
In late 1977, music writers for Sounds first used the terms "New Musick" and "post punk" to describe British acts such as Siouxsie and the Banshees and Wire, who began experimenting with sounds, lyrics and aesthetics that differed significantly from their punk contemporaries. Writer Jon Savage described some of these early developments as exploring "harsh urban scrapings [,] controlled white noise" and "massively accented drumming". In January 1978, singer John Lydon (then known as Johnny Rotten) announced the break-up of his pioneering punk band the Sex Pistols, citing his disillusionment with punk's musical predictability and cooption by commercial interests, as well as his desire to explore more diverse interests. As the initial punk movement dwindled, vibrant new scenes began to coalesce out of a variety of bands pursuing experimental sounds and wider conceptual territory in their work. Many of these artists drew on backgrounds in art and viewed their music as invested in particular political or aesthetic agendas.
During the punk era, a variety of entrepreneurs interested in local punk-influenced music scenes began founding independent record labels, including Rough Trade (founded by record shop owner Geoff Travis) and Factory (founded by Manchester-based television personality Tony Wilson). By 1977, groups began pointedly pursuing methods of releasing music independently, an idea disseminated in particular by the Buzzcocks' release of their Spiral Scratch EP on their own label as well as the self-released 1977 singles of Desperate Bicycles. These DIY imperatives would help form the production and distribution infrastructure of post-punk and the indie music scene that later blossomed in the mid-1980s.
Weeks after ending the Sex Pistols, Lydon formed the "anti-music" group Public Image Ltd with guitarist Keith Levene and bassist Jah Wobble, who that year declared "rock is obsolete." Public Image and other acts such as the Pop Group and the Slits had begun experimenting with dance music, dub production techniques and the avant-garde, while punk-indebted Manchester acts such as Joy Division, The Fall, the Durutti Column and A Certain Ratio developed unique styles which drew on a similarly disparate range of influences across music and modernist art. Bands such as Scritti Politti, Gang of Four, Essential Logic and This Heat incorporated Leftist political philosophy and their own art school studies in their work. The unorthodox studio production techniques devised by producers such as Steve Lillywhite, Martin Hannett and Dennis Bovell during this period would become an important element of the emerging music.
A variety of groups that predated punk, such as Cabaret Voltaire and Throbbing Gristle, experimented with tape machines and electronic instruments in tandem with performance art methods and influence from transgressive literature, ultimately helping to pioneer industrial music. Throbbing Gristle's independent label Industrial Records would become a hub for this scene and provide it with its namesake. In 1978, Sounds celebrated albums such as Siouxsie and the Banshees' The Scream, Wire's Chairs Missing and American band Pere Ubu's Dub Housing. A pioneering punk scene in Australia during the mid-1970s also fostered influential post-punk acts like the Birthday Party, who eventually relocated to the UK to join its burgeoning music scene. Labels such as Rough Trade, Factory and Fast would become important hubs for these groups and help facilitate releases, artwork, performances and promotion.
As these scenes began to develop, British music publications such as NME and Sounds developed an influential part in the nascent post-punk culture, with writers like Jon Savage, Paul Morley and Ian Penman developing a dense (and often playful) style of criticism that drew on philosophy, radical politics and an eclectic variety of other sources. In 1979, NME championed records such as PiL's Metal Box, Joy Division's Unknown Pleasures, Gang of Four's Entertainment!, Wire's 154, the Raincoats' self-titled debut and American group Talking Heads' album Fear of Music. In following years, Bauhaus, Siouxsie and the Banshees, and the Cure, gradually produced a darker music which would help spawn the gothic rock scene. The work of Joy Division would also be an important influence on the developing gothic rock scene.
In the mid 1970s, various American groups (some with ties to Downtown Manhattan's punk scene, including Television and Suicide) had begun expanding on the vocabulary of punk music. Midwestern groups such as Pere Ubu and Devo drew inspiration from the region's derelict industrial environments, employing conceptual art techniques, musique concrète and unconventional verbal styles that would presage the post-punk movement by several years. A variety of subsequent groups, including the Boston-based Mission of Burma and the New York-based Talking Heads, combined elements of punk with art school sensibilities. In 1978, the latter band began a series of collaborations with British ambient pioneer and ex-Roxy Music member Brian Eno, experimenting with Dadaist lyrical techniques, electronic sounds and African polyrhythms. San Francisco's vibrant post-punk scene was centered on such groups as Chrome, the Residents and Tuxedomoon, whose influences extended to multimedia experimentation, cabaret and the dramatic theory of Antonin Artaud's Theater of Cruelty.
Also emerging during this period was downtown New York's no wave movement, a short-lived art and music scene that began in part as a reaction against punk's recycling of traditionalist rock tropes and often reflected an abrasive, confrontational and nihilistic worldview. No wave musicians such as the Contortions, Teenage Jesus and the Jerks, Mars, DNA, Theoretical Girls and Rhys Chatham instead experimented with noise, dissonance and atonality in addition to non-rock styles. The former four groups were included on the Eno-produced No New York compilation (1978), often considered the quintessential testament to the scene. The decadent parties and art installations of venues such as Club 57 and the Mudd Club would become cultural hubs for musicians and visual artists alike, with figures such as Jean-Michel Basquiat, Keith Haring and Michael Holman frequenting the scene.
1980–84: Further developments
UK scene and commercial ambitions
British post-punk entered the 1980s with support from members of the critical community—American critic Greil Marcus characterised "Britain's postpunk pop avant-garde" in a 1980 Rolling Stone article as "sparked by a tension, humour and sense of paradox plainly unique in present day pop music"—as well as media figures such as BBC DJ John Peel, while several groups, such as PiL and Joy Division, achieved some success in the popular charts. The network of supportive record labels that included Industrial, Fast, E.G., Mute, Axis/4AD and Glass continued to facilitate a large output of music. By 1980, many British acts, including Essential Logic, Killing Joke, the Sound, 23 Skidoo, Alternative TV, Magazine, the Teardrop Explodes, the Psychedelic Furs, Echo & the Bunnymen and the Membranes also became part of these fledgling post-punk scenes, which centered on cities such as London and Manchester.
However, during this period, major figures and artists in the scene began leaning away from underground aesthetics. In the music press, the increasingly esoteric writing of post-punk publications soon began to alienate their readerships; it is estimated that within several years, NME suffered the loss of half its circulation. Writers like Paul Morley began advocating "overground brightness" instead of the experimental sensibilities promoted in early years. Morley's own musical collaboration with engineer Gary Langan and programmer J. J. Jeczalik, the Art of Noise, would attempt to bring sampled and electronic sounds to the pop mainstream. Post-punk artists such as Scritti Politti's Green Gartside and Josef K's Paul Haig, previously engaged in avant-garde practices, turned away from these approaches and pursued mainstream styles and commercial success. These new developments, in which post-punk artists attempted to bring subversive ideas into the pop mainstream, began to be categorized under the marketing term New Pop.
A variety of more pop-oriented groups, including ABC, the Associates, Adam and the Ants and Bow Wow Wow (the latter two managed by former Sex Pistols manager Malcolm McLaren) emerged in tandem with the development of the New Romantic subcultural scene. Emphasizing glamour, fashion and escapism in distinction to the experimental seriousness of earlier post-punk groups, the club-oriented scene drew some suspicion from denizens of the movement but also achieved commercial success. Artists such as Gary Numan, the Human League, Soft Cell, John Foxx and Visage helped pioneer a new synthpop style that drew more heavily from electronic and synthesizer music and benefited from the rise of MTV.
Downtown Manhattan and elsewhere
In the early 1980s, Downtown Manhattan's no wave scene transitioned from its abrasive origins into a more dance-oriented sound, with compilations such as ZE Records' Mutant Disco (1981) highlighting a newly playful sensibility borne out of the city's clash of hip hop, disco and punk styles, as well as dub reggae and world music influences. Artists such as ESG, Liquid Liquid, the B-52s, Cristina, Arthur Russell, James White and the Blacks and Lizzy Mercier Descloux pursued a formula described by Luc Sante as "anything at all + disco bottom". Other no wave-indebted artists such as Swans, Glenn Branca, the Lounge Lizards, Bush Tetras and Sonic Youth instead continued exploring the early scene's forays into noise and more abrasive territory.
In Germany, groups such as Einstürzende Neubauten developed a unique style of industrial music, utilizing avant-garde noise, homemade instruments and found objects. Members of that group would later go on to collaborate with members of the Birthday Party. In Brazil, the post-punk scene grew after the generation of Brasilia rock with bands such as Legião Urbana, Capital Inicial and Plebe Rude and then the opening of the music club Madame Satã in São Paulo, with acts like Cabine C, Titãs, Patife Band, Fellini and Mercenárias, as documented on compilations like The Sexual Life of the Savages and the Não Wave/Não São Paulo series, released in the UK, Germany and Brazil, respectively.
In Australia, other influential acts to emerge included Primitive Calculators (founders of the Little Band scene in Melbourne), Tactics, the Triffids, Laughing Clowns, the Moodists, Severed Heads, Whirlywirld and Crime & the City Solution.
Mid 1980s: Decline
The original post-punk movement ended as the bands associated with the movement turned away from its aesthetics, often in favor of more commercial sounds. Many of these groups would continue recording as part of the new pop movement, with entryism becoming a popular concept. In the United States, driven by MTV and modern rock radio stations, a number of post-punk acts had an influence on or became part of the Second British Invasion of "New Music" there. Some shifted to a more commercial new wave sound (such as Gang of Four), while others were fixtures on American college radio and became early examples of alternative rock. Perhaps the most successful band to emerge from post-punk was U2, who combined elements of religious imagery together with political commentary into their often anthemic music.
Until recently, in most critical writing the post-punk era was "often dismissed as an awkward period in which punk's gleeful ructions petered out into the vacuity of the Eighties". Contemporary scholars have argued to the contrary, asserting that the period produced significant innovations and music on its own. Reynolds described the period as "a fair match for the sixties in terms of the sheer amount of great music created, the spirit of adventure and idealism that infused it, and the way that the music seemed inextricably connected to the political and social turbulence of its era". Nicholas Lezard wrote that the music of the period "was avant-garde, open to any musical possibilities that suggested themselves, united only in the sense that it was very often cerebral, concocted by brainy young men and women interested as much in disturbing the audience, or making them think, as in making a pop song".
Post-punk was an eclectic genre which resulted in a wide variety of musical innovations and helped merge white and black musical styles. Out of the post-punk milieu came the beginnings of various subsequent genres, including new wave, dance-rock, New Pop, industrial music, synthpop, post-hardcore, neo-psychedelia alternative rock and house music. Bands such as Joy Division, Siouxsie and the Banshees, Bauhaus and the Cure played in a darker, more morose style of post-punk that lead to the development of the gothic rock genre.
At the turn of the 21st century, a post-punk revival developed in British and American alternative and indie rock, which soon started appearing in other countries, as well. The earliest sign of a revival was the emergence of various underground bands in the mid-'90s. However, the first commercially successful bands – the Strokes, Franz Ferdinand, Interpol, Neils Children and Editors – surfaced in the late 1990s to early 2000s, as did several dance-oriented bands such as the Rapture, Radio 4 and LCD Soundsystem. Additionally, some darker post-punk bands began to appear in the indie music scene in the 2010s, including Cold Cave, She Wants Revenge, Eagulls, the Soft Moon, She Past Away and Light Asylum, who were also affiliated with the darkwave revival, as well as A Place to Bury Strangers, who combined early post-punk and shoegaze. These bands tend to draw a fanbase who are a combination of the indie music subculture, older post-punk fans and the current goth subculture. In the 2010s, Savages played a music reminiscent of early British post-punk bands of the late 1970s.
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