Nerd + punk = postpunk

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So I’m about a third of the way through Simon Reynolds’ history of postpunk, Rip it Up and Start Again, and it’s great. It is shot through with questions about the troubled relationship between bohemia, modernism and radical politics, and eventually I want to write a much bigger post about it. But for now, a few fun facts I never knew:

• That in 1978 John[ny Rotten] Lydon from the Sex Pistols was accompanying Richard Branson to Jamaica as an adviser on reggae. Branson flew the members of Devo over from Michigan, fed them lots of pot, and presented the proposition that Lydon front Devo. It never happened.

• That the last track on Talking Heads’ Remain in Light – ‘The Overload’ – was written by David Byrne as an attempt at a Joy Division impression. Byrne had never actually heard Joy Division but was intrigued by what he’d read and only had reviews to go on to recreate their sound. It does indeed sound impressively like one of Joy Division’s dirgier tracks.

• That Brian Eno was omnipresent and approaching omniscience. (I already knew he was pretty cool.)

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Published in: on 30 July, 2007 at 9:45 pm  Comments (4)  

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  1. I find this use of ‘postpunk’ surprising – what followed punk in the eighties would, I would have thought, be New Wave, with postpunk following the later punk of the eighties and nineties. I would have probably placed ‘postpunk’ as starting with Hüsker Dü, maybe.

  2. Yeah, I remember the Pixies being described as ‘postpunk’ too. But wikipedia seems to concur with Reynolds’ use. He starts with John Lydon from the SPs and Howard Devoto from the Buzzcocks leaving their punk bands because they were bored with the music and forming more adventurous bands (Public Image Ltd and Magazine respectively).

    The first half of the book deals with postpunk proper, i.e. bands that emerged from punk scenes but with very different sounds. I get the impression it was much more cohesive as its own scene in the UK than the US, where it included stuff like Pere Ubu and Devo from the midwest, Talking Heads and the No Wave bands in New York, etc. In the UK we’re talking about a wide range of music, from the Fall, Joy Division, the Slits and the Pop Group to Cabaret Voltaire and Throbbing Gristle. Musically the only thing linking them loosely together (besides experimentation) was the elevation of bass, from influences in funk, reggae, dub and krautrock.

    The second half of the book (which I haven’t read yet) traces the splintering of different strands into lots of different genres in the early 1980s, from the ska revival to stuff like New Order, Gary Numan, etc. I notice even Grace Jones in the discography.

    Reynolds specifically excludes hardcore and oi punk from the scope of the book, but I notice some references to Black Flag. Indeed Husker Du is in there, but at the tail end. I think by that stage you are into the mid-1980s rise of college rock/’alternative nation’, with Husker Du’s contemporaries in the US being Sonic Youth, the Pixies, Jane’s Addiction, etc.

  3. Oh, also, Reynolds argues that the postpunkers were heavily influenced by earlier 1970s non-punk stuff like Roxy Music, David Bowie, mid-decade Iggy Pop etc.

  4. Well, the the issue of Wikipedia’s concurrence with Reynolds has been solved, at least for now. Some might call me a vandal, but I say I’m just enforcing Jimbo Wales’ dictats selectively for personal reasons.


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