Reynolds weighty tome is the definitive work on the era that brought us the Death Disco of Public Image Ltd, The Gang of Four’s Marxist funk, Joy Division’s dour grandeur, Throbbing Gristle’s aural terrorism and the mad post-dub squawk of The Pop Group, whose Mark Stewart was the night’s surprise guest.
In the wake of punk’s perennial year zero there emerged a clutch of disparate bands whose wildly eclectic influences, from the signature choppy funk of Nile Rogers, battered copies of Nausea, Crash and the Naked Lunch, to Situationist tracts, 20th century modernist composers and Jamaican dub-plates, was combined with a willingness to provoke, to embrace change as a constant, to build new hybrids.
If punk was a declaration of war that never made it beyond three chords, post-punk had too many or not enough. Post Punk was the sound of the art school, of permanent revolution. Its Trotskyite credentials further confirmed as it mutated, finally, into the new pop (a phrase coined by Paul Morley) and infiltrated the mainstream in the form of Heaven 17 and others, not least of which were The Pop Group, themselves, whose She Is Beyond Good and Evil and We Are All Prostitutes, both achieved chart success despite lyrics as challenging as these titles imply.
Simon Reynolds outlined the stories of arch provocateurs, Throbbing Gristle and their origins in 60’s performance art strategies, of the early communitarian ambitions of Rough Trade, Factory and a hundred and one self created labels and one off releases inspired by The Desperate Bicycles D.I.Y manifesto. The rules were torn up and hence the title of his book, the Orange Juice lyric, “Rip it up and start again”.
This extraordinary period of creativity fizzled out in the mid eighties under the weight of Thatcherism. Connecting to dance music, dub electronic and industrial tendancies the scene’s protagonists pursued plunderphonic strategies so diverse that a common thread became hard to ascertain Post Punk re-emerged in simplified form in the noughties as the blueprint sound for a number of acts reacting in their turn to Brit Pop.
After the gig I had a chance to ask Reynolds and Stewart, who now resembles a well fed West Country farmer, about their feelings toward the current activities of bands like the Fall, the Wire and Genesis P Orridge. We strayed also into questions about the future.
Having recently spoken to Bruce Gilbert, guitarist with Wire, Simon Reynolds found it extraordinary that an old man who now walks with a stick could produce a sound as angry as the one to be heard on their 2003 release, Send. Some amusement was expressed about The Gang of Four’s transition from Marxists to businessmen. The convoluted story of a variety of Throbbing Gristle offshoots was pondered at length, as was the ‘Dylanisation’ of Mark E Smith, now pursued by the writers of dubious doctoral theses.
At the bar later, still a little miffed at being contradicted by Simon Reynolds over the facts, Mark Stewart chatted about conspiracy theories and I told him that now he was a legend he would have to get used to being lied about. His response (accompanied by a leer) was, “well it’s a position, as the missus was saying to me last night.”
On YouTube (compiled by D.Selden / Dorfdisco.de)