[[Sound-off]] Post-Punk: The Big Bang of Modern Music

By Daniel Holstead

After the dust cloud of the Sex Pistol’s implosion had settled, there was no time for Punk’s eulogy as our dear music culture at the time wasn’t particularly into grieving for the era that has just been and gone. And so with that mentality the music scene had decided that an almost page-one-rewrite was needed for the coming era.

 

Gone was the righteous hegemonic masculinity of punk rock where men were Neanderthals in expressing a deep rooted rage at the establishment and everything it stood for. These punk rockers were unprepared for the likes of Joy Division and the kind of earnestness that Ian Curtis would bring to dark dystopian guitar work and tribal drum beats figuratively exploded the heads of those who once engaged in the slamdancing and spit fights of the mid-to-late 1970s. Where punk had been the liberation of a generation, post-punk was the rising of underground music to a mainstream that needed a new direction.

 

The post-punk moment in music was one which ignored the doctrine of the time before it and raided the pre-punk chest of the whole of prog rock, the androgynous sexuality of Roxy Music and perhaps most importantly balls-to-the-wall all out craziness of Captain Beefheart. While this type of music had been viewed as stale when the likes of The Ramones and The Clash set fire to them in the mid 70s, it was the new pioneers of the Talking Heads and The Cure who found in this the key to a new future. Whether it’s David Byrne reciting Captain Beefheart’s ‘Well’ or getting former Roxy Music member Brian Eno to produce the pivotal post-punk album Remain In Light, it is easy to find the fingerprints of pre-punk all over post-punk.

 

While 1977 had been the year that gave us Never Mind The Bollocks which had become the holy scripture that the Sex Pistol’s brought down from the mountain top of counter-culture, David Bowie and Brian Eno were putting out what Bowie described as “new language” what was particular interesting, about these release in hindsight is how the experimentation of Low and Heroes had been unprecedented.  On one hand it was being described as “alienating” by a Dutch journalist and on the other was being regarded by the New York Times as “a strange crossbreed of Roxy Music, Brian Eno’s own solo albums, Talking Heads and an Indonesian gamelan”.

 

With this response to Bowie’s Low, it is easy to identify how post-punk was melting the minds of a music audience whilst feeding them the conventions of the early 1970s rock music which punk had attempted to erase from the archives of popular culture. While we could of course talk at great lengths about the krautrock influence on David Bowie’s work in Berlin and how he appropriated the sounds of Neu, Can and Kraftwerk for his very western and very large cult following, it is important to accept that David Bowie is to this day being cited by contemporary pop artists such as; Lady Gaga, St. Vincent, Calvin Harris and Lorde and it is this period of work that is time and time again referenced as his greatest imprint on music.

There is also a separate discussion to be had on Brian Eno’s influence on the colourful landscape of modern music.

Eno and U2 as part of the Passengers project (1995)

Whilst Brian Eno began his career as a producer by working on the various cornerstone records of post-punk and new wave, it was from this that he became the master of turning big bands into great bands. When it came to U2, he turned them from the biggest cult post-punk band into THE biggest band of the late 1980s and 1990s. This was evident in the various reinventions in U2’s career that begun Eno-produced The Unforgettable Fire and had continued through until the late nineties. U2 of course also being a product of early post-punk influences courtesy of the sounds of CBGBs with Television and Talking Heads having a large influence on the Irish band along with the dystopian experimental sounds of British bands Joy Division and Wire. Then there is the sequel to U2; Coldplay who enlisted Eno as producer on their Viva La Vida and Mylo Xyloto which spawned a variety of anthemic pop songs that topped worldwide charts. None of this could have possibly happened without Eno’s beginnings as a member of glam rock outfit Roxy Music and the subsequent genre fusing that led to post-punk.

Of course there is the highly influential feminist post-punk bands such as; Au Pairs and The Raincoats who can share the acclaim of heavily influencing nineties alternative rock acts such as; Nirvana and Pixies. It is documented that Kurt Cobain had high praise for The Raincoats and went as far as to listing their self-titled debut in his top 50 albums of all time as well as being credited as being a reason for their mid-nineties reformation. The Raincoats’ amateurish punk sound had been the framework for the sound of Nirvana, not only in its bare bones approach to a defiant rock sound, but in its both personal and often self-celebratory spirit which is reminiscent of the few and far between almost joyous moments of Nirvana’s short career, a key example being ‘Silver’  and ‘Been A Son’.

So while it is only quietly, you will find admission of post-punk’s wide ranging influence on the music of today and a lot of what has transpired since it faded into the early 1980s, once David Bowie’s work with Brian Eno is considered as being a sort of genesis for post-punk and those whom took influence from Low and Heroes in this period, it is easier to find how the roots of post-punk led to a portion of the popular music of today. And perhaps the most key example of this can be found here

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