Saturday 27 January 2018

To The Outside Of Everything – A Story of UK Post Punk 1977 – 1981

"Here's one I made earlier"

Originally published on The Afterword, October 2017

What does it sound like?
Cherry Red’s latest box set takes a tour of the time period after the snot and anarchy had subsided
But … what is “Post Punk”?
Being literal about it, it’s anything that came after the initial burst of Punk.
But nothing is that simple (is it ever?).
Angular, edgy, industrial, dark, experimental – all terms used to try and define what Post-Punk was
The genre “Post-Punk” is a retrospective term applied to bands that flourished to greater critical acclaim than perhaps commercial success, and didn’t fit the neat pigeon holes of known genres
Originally labelled in the music press as “New Musick”, bands took inspiration from the freedom offered by Punk, and expanded the template from the 3 chord thrash and re-cycled Chuck Berry riffs, to include anything and everything they felt inspired by (Berlin-period Bowie, krautrock, electronica, dub reggae, jazz, funk, disco, poetry, literature, political theory – whatever the influence or thought, it probably found it’s way onto record).
Post-Punk wasn’t a “new thing”, a reaction to anything, or a bandwagon to be jumped on – most of the bands were already in existence ploughing their own furrows.  With fortuitous timing, the initial burst of Punk energy had dimmed, and people were looking around for the next evolution.  Primarily led by the indie labels that sprang up as a result of Punk (Rough Trade, Zoo, and Fast Product being prime examples), with some foresighted majors (with indie sensibilities) joining the party (Island and Virgin, mainly), this was music from the “arty” end of punk - more concerned with making a statement, than shifting units.

The beginnings of the genre can be (sort of) pin pointed to 2 events in January 1978:
  1. John Lydon leaving the Sex Pistols
  2. The release of Magazine’s debut single “Shot By Both Sides”

This is a neat and simplistic tag – the Pistols were undoubtedly the most recognised purveyours of Punk, and Howard Devoto (or more correctly, his previous band Buzzcocks) responsible for the release of the first independent Punk single.
The opening track (Ultravox! – "Young Savage") dates from May 1977 – before these 2 events proving that Post Punk co-existed with “actual” Punk (Proto-Post-Punk?).  And Wire (represented here by "I Am The Fly" (released February 1978)) had already released their own Post Punk statement (debut album Pink Flag) in October 1977.

This 5 CD set runs chronologically through the period and includes tracks from the recognised “big bands” of the period - PiL, Magazine, Wire, Gang Of Four, Joy Division, The Fall, Gang Of Four, Throbbing Gristle (plus a host of others).  Space is also given to other (possibly, or actually) lesser known names making a great noise - Big In Japan, The Raincoats, The Au Pairs, Mo-Dettes, down to almost forgotten acts such as Fischer Z, The Past Seven Days The Nightingales and The Homosexuals.
OK, not every track is a winner (and it would be nice if sometimes compilers didn’t go for the bleedin’ obvious - The Slits released many other fine tracks apart from Typical Girls) but it is a pretty high hit rate across 111 tracks (and those few that aren’t 100% winners will not have you reaching for the skip button).
Obvious omissions to me include XTC, Siouxsie & The Banshees, The Cure, Bauhaus, Cabaret Voltaire and UK Decay.  (Talking Heads, Pere Ubu and Devo were probably excluded as this is the story OF UK Post Punk).
The absence of these big hitters just leaves more space for the smaller, forgotten, but no less creative bands to shine again, and there is plenty here to entertain, even challenge and make your ears prick up in a “Bloody Hell, that was good” type way.

What does it all mean?
Unlike it’s forebearer, Post Punk never became the property of a salivating media, copycat bandwagon jumpers and record companies out to make quick profits.
It may have taken it’s lead from Punk, but Post Punk (as it latterly became known) was broad and rich with ideas, invention and experimentation.
If I was allowed to re-christen it, I think I would suggest: Prog-Punk
Post Punk is probably the missing link that explains how Punk begat more than just New Wave, Powerpop, and mohican wearing 55 year olds at Butlins.
80s genres such as Goth, New Pop, New Romanticism, Synthpop and even Indie can all trace their lineage back to John Lydon asking if we’ve ever had the feeling we’ve been cheated, and Howard Devoto was on the run to the outside of everything.
Goes well with...
The sleeve notes include an historical essay charting the rise and fall of Post Punk, and details of each band and track featured.
What’s not to like – discovering new, unheard or forgotten music (note: The Thompson Twins were pretty good once upon a time) and pouring over the sleeve notes
Once the sleeve notes are done, I further recommend Simon Reynolds book Rip It Up And Start Again as a great textual accompaniment

Might suit people who like...
Music with a bit of adventure, variety and pushing the boundaries (a bit).
Artists intent on pursuing a singular vision whether any bugger likes it or not (fortunately there is much to like)
Will definitely appeal to the type of Music Nerd (ie me) that is now building up a nice little genre history with these Box Sets (any chance of a 5CD Pub Rock set next?)

Full Track Listing:

Magazine - Shot By Both Sides

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