Post-Punk, frequently associated with ‘gloomy’ late 70’s/early 80’s acts, can often actually be split into two varieties there’s the jangly, guitar-oriented kind (Television, the Feelies), and the dark, bass-driven kind (Joy Division, Bauhaus). After coming to the realization that an enormous portion of my music library contained artists considered post-punk and, more recently, through my crazed work on the 6-disc RYM Ultimate Box Set for Post-Punk, I thought that now would be the prime time to give overview and insight to this complex music movement that has provided such a large portion of my music listening enjoyment over the years.
Influences on Post-Punk:
- Punk: Many artists later appearing under the umbrella of post-punk formed and recorded when the original wave of punk had not yet dissolved: Television’s 1977 album Marquee Moon could be said to bridge the gap between the two genres, injecting an arty sophistication into the punk model and turning it into something altogether new. The Birthday Party’s output and early Pere Ubu and Wire, Killing Joke, and even the mighty Fall and Gang of Four also stood on the edge of punk-meets-post-punk.
- The Lou Reed-David Bowie-Iggy Pop Triangle: There seem to be just a few patches of music that have been left untouched by the sweeping arm of the Velvet Underground’s influence, with post-punk being affected by this and Lou Reed’s solo work as well. David Bowie’s ‘Berlin Trilogy’, Low (1977), “Heroes” (1977), and Lodger (1979) and Iggy Pop’s The Idiot (1977; this would sadly later end up as being the last record Ian Curtis listened to) served as important blue-prints for the post-punk sound.
- 1960’s Psychedelia: Echoes of the Doors and/or Syd Barrett-era Pink Floyd can be heard in the work of bands like the Teardrop Explodes, Echo & the Bunnymen, Siouxsie and the Banshees.
- Krautrock: This 60s/70s German music movement, characterized by much experimentation and delving into prog (Can, Faust) or synths (Cluster, Kraftwerk). Julian Cope’s Krautrocksampler serves as an excellent guide.
- Funk and Disco: Best described in Greg Wilson’s article “When Punk Meets Funk” at Jahsonic– listening to nearly any given Talking Heads track provides a ready example!
First Wave of Post-Punk:
- Joy Division: The premiere post-punk band, they released two (perfect, in this author’s humble opinion…) albums while they were together: Unknown Pleasures (1979, pictured at the start of this article) and Closer (1980). As much as Ian Curtis’ talent has been (rightly) heralded after his 1980 suicide, Joy Division were a band in which all the members were crucial: Peter Hook’s signature bass sound, elevated above Bernard Sumner’s guitar stylings, and Stephen Morris’ adept, machine-like percussion all heavily shaped the dark atmosphere that surrounded Curtis’ distant, distinctly cold vocals and lyrics. The rest of the lads went on to form New Order, with 1981 release Movement still clinging to their post-punk past, with Sumner now at vocals (apart from Hook’s lead vocals on tracks “Dreams Never End” and “Doubts Even Here”, where his voice bears an eerie similarity to Curtis’). Power, Corruption & Lies (1983) began the transition to the dancier, new wave elements that would characterize the rest of New Order’s career.
- Public Image Ltd.: Post-punk in the literal sense, it wasn’t too long before John Lydon set to work on something completely different than what was accomplished in his former group, punk barrier-breakers the Sex Pistols. Influenced by krautrock like his frequent point of comparison Mark E. Smith (the Fall). Recommended albums: Public Image (1978), Metal Box (1979; also available as Second Edition), the massively underrated Album (1986), and The Flowers of Romance (1981).
- Original Gothic Rock: Though the modern conception of what constitutes ‘gothic rock’ is typically, according to NME Originals – Goth and doing a bit of research into genres, Siouxsie and the Banshees, Bauhaus, and the Cure are all considered original Gothic rock, a branch of post-punk, with darker themes expanded upon and no small amount of camp about it all! Recommended albums: Bauhaus – In the Flat Field (1980) and Mask (1981), Siouxsie and the Banshees – The Scream (1978), Kaleidoscope (1980), Juju (1981), The Cure – 17 Seconds (1980), Faith (1981)
- Neo-Psychedelia: Not every post-punk group leaned towards psychedelia (despite the 60’s version being a prime influence), though Echo & the Bunnymen and the Teardrop Explodes were chief among those that did. Echo & the Bunnymen’s output from 1980-1987 is highly recommended, though Heaven Up Here (1981) provides the most post-punkiness. Kilimanjaro (1980) is the Teardrop Explodes album to hear, while Julian Cope’s solo material delves further into the neo-psych side.
- The American Scene: Frequently new-wave-tinged and fabulous: Pere Ubu, Devo Pylon, Chrome, Tuxedomoon. (Thanks to reader Princess Sparkle Pony for the reminder!)
- The Scotland Scene: The Scottish brand of post-punk was typically closer to the jangly, art-rock side of things, including Fire Engines, Josef K, and Orange Juice. See eMusic feature ‘Great Scots! The Post-Punk Underground in Scotland’.
- Ladies of Post-Punk: Aside from Siouxsie, post-punk gals are all-too-often cast to the wayside! Recommended: Essential Logic – Beat Rhythm News (1979), The Seduction – Ludus (1981), The Raincoats – Odyshape (1981), The Slits – Cut (1979) and the compilation from the band Kleenex (later known as Liliput) Kleenex / LiLiPUT not released until 1993.
- The Chameleons: Recently included in our 15 Brilliant Out-of-Print Albums piece (along with the following band, the Sound), the Chameleons were forerunners of shoegaze , putting an atmospheric spin on post-punk in their first album Script of the Bridge (1983), with What Does Anything Mean? Basically (1985) and Strange Times (1986) moving farther afield into an even more unique, distinctly Chameleons sound.
- More Recommended Albums: Nick Cave – From Her to Eternity (1984), The Fall – This Nation’s Saving Grace (1985), The Sound – Jeopardy
- Associated Genres: Shoegaze (The Jesus and Mary Chain, My Bloody Valentine), New Wave (Devo), Coldwave (see So Young But So Cold compilation), Dance-Punk (Liquid Liquid), No Wave (James Chance and the Contortions, Lydia Lunch; see also No New York)
Post-Punk Revival in the 2000s:
Some of those who have made the big splashes…
Bloc Party – Silent Alarm (2005)
Editors – The Back Room (2005)
Franz Ferdinand – Franz Ferdinand (2004)
The Horrors – Primary Colours (2009)
Interpol – Turn on the Bright Lights (2002)