The extensive body of music that emerged from the prime flush of the Post-Punk movement remains some of the most powerful, engaging and creative guitar-based work in the history of the electric rock/pop era. Taking cues from Krautrock, Dub Reggae and Art Rock these bands changed the face of guitar music forever. So this year at Fopp we’re offering the seminal bands of the movement alongside some of the lesser known, cult acts. Join us on a journey into Post-Punk.
One of the more unusual bands to rise from the British punk explosion of the 1970s, the Raincoats were post-punk before punk’s first act had fully played out; they had little interest in the speed or velocity of the Clash or the Sex Pistols, instead embracing a more open and dynamic approach which incorporated purposefully chaotic arrangements that made the members’ lack of instrumental experience a virtue rather than a drawback. They also occasionally employed acoustic instruments (particularly violin) as well as percussion that showed influences of reggae and world music, and sang lyrics that dealt with feminism and personal politics in a direct yet non-dogmatic manner.
Essential listening: The Raincoats CD £13 LP £20
Young Marble Giants
The first formation of Welsh trio Young Marble Giants was short-lived, but in just a few years, the band created a sound that presented post-punk’s experimental tendencies in their most minimal rendering without sacrificing any excitement. Stripping most songs down to funky bass lines, steadfast drum machine rhythms, disaffected vocals, and the occasional floating pad of organ or guitar, Young Marble Giants managed to in fact squeeze more excitement and chance out of their economical approach. Though the group would reunite as new generations were influenced by their unique perspectives on pop minimalism, they produced just two EPs and their sole 1980 full-length album, Colossal Youth, before moving on to other projects.
Essential listening: Colossal Youth CD £8
A Certain Ratio
A Certain Ratio were key to their native Manchester, England scene and consequently post-punk. The band debuted in 1979 with “All Night Party,” a single as astringent as anything else out at the time. They further separated themselves by incorporating aspects of other forms, most prominently brass-spiked funk. During ACR’s early years with Factory Records, the Top Ten of the U.K. independent singles chart included seven of their titles, highlighted by “Flight” and “Waterline,” and the band issued five albums including The Graveyard and the Ballroom (1980) and Sextet (1982). Following late-’80s and early-’90s phases with major-label A&M and Rob Gretton’s independent Robs Records, ACR were intermittently active. They returned to the studio for Mind Made Up (2008) and since then have continued to perform, with their catalog recirculated through an arrangement with Mute Records. Their first new music in a decade appeared on the anthology ACR: Set (2018), followed by ACR: Box (2019), which featured rare and previously unreleased material. These releases were followed by another studio album, ACR Loco (2020).
Essential Listening: Sextet CD £15
One of the most important, influential groups in the history of industrial and electronic music, Cabaret Voltaire combined the absurdity of Dada with the D.I.Y. ethos of the punk movement of the 1970s, then gradually evolved their sound and approach throughout the coming decades, mirroring the developments in electronic dance styles such as electro, acid house, and techno. Originally a free-form experimental unit consisting of Richard H. Kirk, Stephen Mallinder, and Chris Watson, the group signed to post-punk institution Rough Trade in 1978, producing razor-edged avant-pop singles such as 1979’s “Nag Nag Nag” and seminal full-lengths like 1981’s Red Mecca. Post-Rough Trade, they adopted a more funk-influenced dance sound for 1984’s Micro-Phonies, embraced house music with 1990’s Groovy, Laidback & Nasty, then explored ambient techno with later efforts like 1993’s International Language. Kirk revived the group’s name for live performances during the 2010s, and began issuing fresh material in 2020, from dance releases like Shadow of Fear to ambient works such as 2021’s BN9Drone.
Essential Listening: Red Mecca CD £10
Inspired after witnessing gigs by the Sex Pistols and Magazine, vocalist Alan Hempsall formed Crispy Ambulance with guitarist Robert Davenport, bassist Keith Darbyshire, and drummer Gary Madeley. After several shows, including a support slot for Joy Division, they recorded their first single and contacted labels such as Rough Trade and Factory, only to be turned down. Upset but resourceful, the band released it on their own Aural Assault imprint. Rob Gretton (Joy Division’s manager) was soon hired by Factory, and his first priority was signing Crispy Ambulance — ironic since the label had earlier rejected the band. After a couple singles were derided in the press for their resemblance to Joy Division, the band was shifted to Factory’s Belgian subsidiary. Their lone proper studio LP, The Plateau Phase, was released in 1982 and received more comparisons to their brethren, as well as ’70s prog rock. The Crispies broke up later that year, but a number of posthumous releases containing studio extras, live material, and radio sessions saw issue. Most significant were the 1999 reissues of The Plateau Phase and live compilation Fin; the band re-formed in November of that year for a reunion show in Manchester to celebrate the fact. A live documentation of the show was issued the following year, and the band opted to continue operating as a fully functioning entity. The Graham Massey-produced Scissorgun, a full-length LP for Darla, was released in 2002.
Essential Listening: Fin CD £13
The Durutti Column
The Durutti Column was primarily the vehicle of Vini Reilly, a Mancunian multi-instrumentalist and composer whose instantly recognizable guitar playing has inspired musicians for several decades. One of the first acts signed to Factory Records, the Durutti Column’s music instantly stood out from the more intense post-punk and dance-rock groups of the label’s early roster, with 1980 debut full-length The Return of the Durutti Column consisting of minimal electronics and Reilly’s clean-sounding, fluid guitar melodies. From there, Reilly and his various collaborators continued to experiment, incorporating additional instruments and occasional vocals and drums into a constantly evolving sound influenced by jazz, folk, classical, and numerous other genres. The Durutti Column embraced sampling on 1989’s Vini Reilly and dance beats on subsequent releases like 1996’s Fidelity. Reilly remained highly productive during the first decade of the 21st century, but after 2010’s elegiac A Paean to Wilson, his activity slowed down, primarily due to health issues.
Essential listening: The Return of the Durutti Column CD £13
It wasn’t by design that, with their lean and lively style of funk, South Bronx band ESG affected post-punk, no wave, rap, and house music. They opened for Public Image Ltd. and A Certain Ratio, released records on the same label as Liquid Liquid, and became favorites of DJs who spun at groundbreaking dance clubs like the Paradise Garage and the Music Box. ESG simply aspired to play their music, straightforward in structure and yet utterly unique in character, and sell lots of records. They never approached commercial saturation, but copies of their 1981 debut reached the hands of rap producers who have sampled “UFO” several hundred times over. Even without the samples, ESG would remain a lasting inspiration to bands ranging from Luscious Jackson to the Dirtbombs, and they kept going — performing and recording — into the late 2010s.
Essential listening: ESG CD £10
Out of all the bands who formed during the ’70s punk revolution, none were longer-lived, more prolific, or more innovative than the Fall. Throughout their career, the band underwent myriad lineup changes, but at the center of it all was vocalist Mark E. Smith. The Mancunian artist established an unmistakably unique style which generally avoided conventional song structures, instead preferring free-form prose ranted over raucous, primitive rhythms inspired by garage rock, Krautrock, dub, and other styles, with common ground being hypnotic repetition. Drawing from influences such as dystopian and paranormal literature, he delivered his cryptic, bitterly cynical lyrics in a nearly incomprehensible snarl, and his recordings were graced with collage-like artwork strewn with hand-written scribbles. Smith also employed unusual recording techniques, incorporating passages captured at home on a dictaphone or audio cassettes into professionally mixed studio productions. All of these factors made the Fall stand out, and they’ve remained a lasting influence on generations of alternative rock, indie, post-punk, and lo-fi musicians, with acknowledged disciples including Sonic Youth, Pavement, LCD Soundsystem, and Gorillaz. During the late ’70s and early ’80s, when they released albums like Live at the Witch Trials and Hex Enduction Hour, the Fall were at their most abrasive and atonal. In 1984, Smith’s American wife, Brix, joined the band as a guitarist, bringing a stronger sense of pop melody to the group, resulting in two U.K. Top 40 hits, as well as acclaimed full-lengths like The Wonderful and Frightening World of the Fall and This Nation’s Saving Grace. The band experimented with dance music during ’90s albums such as Extricate and Levitate, while 2000s-era albums like The Real New Fall LP and Fall Heads Roll went in more of a garage rock direction. The Fall continued releasing eclectic, unpredictable albums up until 2017’s New Facts Emerge, and the group came to an end when Smith died at the age of 60 in 2018.
Essential Listening: Grotesque CD £8 Real New Fall LP CD £10 The Wonderful and Frightening World of The Fall CD £10
One of new wave’s most innovative and (for a time) successful bands, Devo was also perhaps one of its most misunderstood. Formed in Akron, Ohio, in 1972 by Kent State art students Gerald Casale and Mark Mothersbaugh, Devo took their name from their concept of “de-evolution” — the idea that instead of evolving, mankind has actually regressed, as evidenced by the dysfunction and herd mentality of American society. Their music echoed this view of society as rigid, repressive, and mechanical, with appropriate touches — jerky, robotic rhythms; an obsession with technology and electronics (the group was among the first non-prog rock bands to make the synthesizer a core element); often atonal melodies and chord progressions — all of which were filtered through the perspectives of geeky misfits. Devo became a cult sensation, helped in part by their concurrent emphasis on highly stylized visuals, and briefly broke through to the mainstream with the smash single “Whip It,” whose accompanying video was made a staple by the fledgling MTV network.
Essential listening: Q: Are We Not Men? A: We Are Devo / Devo Live CD £7
Blasting into the post-punk consciousness with a tremendous debut album, the Au Pairs, fronted by lesbian-feminist Lesley Woods, played brittle, dissonant, guitar-based rock that shared political and musical kinship with the Mekons and (especially) the Gang of Four. The music was danceable, imbued with an almost petulant irony, and for a while, very hip and well-liked by critics. Unlike many bands of the day, however, the Au Pairs (at least initially) backed it up with searing, confrontational songs celebrating sexuality from a woman’s perspective. Also, they took swipes at the conservative political climate sweeping England after Margaret Thatcher’s election as Prime Minister. Occasionally, Woods’ commitments to sexual and social politics made her sound inflexible, doctrinaire, and hectoring (especially on their OK second album). But, at first blush, the Au Pairs were a mighty intimidating proposition, able to take on so much and deliver great music in the process. After a desultory live album in 1983 (Live in Berlin), the band split up, and Woods and her bandmates have maintained a low profile.
Essential Listening: Playing With A Different Sex CD £8
A group whose distinctly ethereal and gossamer sound virtually defined the enigmatic image of the record label 4AD, Cocteau Twins were founded in Grangemouth, Scotland, in 1979. Taking their name from an obscure song from fellow Scots Simple Minds, the Cocteau’s were originally formed by guitarist Robin Guthrie and bassist Will Heggie and later rounded out by Guthrie’s girlfriend Elizabeth Fraser, an utterly unique performer whose swooping, operatic vocals relied less on any recognizable language than on the subjective sounds and textures of verbalized emotions. In 1982, the trio signed to 4AD, the arty British label then best known as the home of the Birthday Party, whose members helped the Cocteau’s win a contract. The group debuted with Garlands, which offered an embryonic taste of their rapidly developing, atmospheric sound, crafted around Guthrie’s creative use of distorted guitars, tape loops, and echo boxes and anchored in Heggie’s rhythmic bass as well as an omnipresent Roland 808 drum machine. In late 1983, ex-Drowning Craze bassist Simon Raymonde joined the band to record the EP The Spangle Maker; as time wore on, Raymonde became an increasingly essential component of Cocteau Twins, gradually assuming an active role as a writer, arranger, and producer. With their lineup firmly solidified, they issued The Spangle Maker, followed by the LP Treasure, their most mature and consistent work yet. A burst of creativity followed, as the Twins issued three separate EPs — Aikea-Guinea, Tiny Dynamine, and Echoes in a Shallow Bay — in 1985, trailed a year later by the acoustic Victorialand album, the Love’s Easy Tears EP, and The Moon and the Melodies, a collaborative effort with minimalist composer Harold Budd. With 1988’s sophisticated Blue Bell Knoll, the trio signed an international contract with Capitol Records, which greatly elevated their commercial visibility. After 1990’s Heaven or Las Vegas, the Cocteau’s severed their long-standing relationship with 4AD; notably, the album also found Fraser’s vocals offering the occasional comprehensible turn of phrase, a trend continued on 1993’s Four-Calendar Cafe. The group continued to work on through the nineties until quietly disbanding in 1997.
Essential Listening: Heaven or Las Vegas CD £7 LP £25 Treasure LP £25 CD £7
Echo & the Bunnymen
Echo & the Bunnymen’s dark, swirling fusion of gloomy post-punk and Doors-inspired psychedelia brought the group a handful of British hits in the early ’80s, while attracting a cult following in the United States. Driven by the majestic voice and outsized persona of singer Ian McCulloch and the frequently brilliant guitar work of Will Sergeant, the band started off as an angular post-punk group on their first album, 1980’s Crocodiles, but by the time of 1984’s Ocean Rain they had become cinematically baroque. After stripping their sound down to basics for 1987’s self-titled album, which produced the deathless hit “Lips Like Sugar,” the band ran into problems and experienced tragedy (like the death of drummer Pete de Freitas), but eventually McCulloch and Sergeant cemented a musical bond that cracked but never shattered over the course of two decades of albums — some introspective gems like 1999’s What Are You Going to Do with Your Life?, some like 2014’s Meteorites that recaptured their dramatic spark — and live dates.
Essential Listening: Ocean Rain LP £32 CD £7 Porcupine LP £32 CD £9
Of the countless bands to emerge from the New York City underground during the post-punk era, few if any were as unique and influential as the Feelies; nerdy, nervous, and noisy, even decades later their droning, skittering avant-garde pop remains a key touchstone of the American indie music scene. Named in reference to Aldous Huxley’s paranoid classic Brave New World, the Feelies formed in 1976 in suburban Haledon, New Jersey, where singers/guitarists Bill Million and Glenn Mercer first met while in high school; bassist John J. and drummer Dave Weckerman rounded out the original lineup, although they were replaced in 1977 by bassist Keith Clayton and drummer Vinny Denunzio. The revamped group soon made its N.Y.C. debut, quickly creating a buzz throughout the city’s new wave circuit — a Village Voice headline even dubbed them “The Best Underground Band in New York.Their refusal to work with outside producers jeopardized their immediate hopes for a major-label deal, however, and so their brilliant 1980 LP, Crazy Rhythms, instead appeared on another U.K. indie, Stiff; the record’s manic melodies, jittery rhythms, and opaque lyrics made it a huge critical favorite, and although it made little impact outside of underground circles, many latter-day acts — R.E.M. chief among them — cited the album as a major influence.
Essential Listening: Crazy Rhythms CD £13 LP £25
Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds
After goth pioneers the Birthday Party called it quits in 1983, singer/songwriter Nick Cave assembled the Bad Seeds, a post-punk supergroup featuring former Birthday Party guitarist Mick Harvey on drums, ex-Magazine bassist Barry Adamson, and Einstürzende Neubauten guitarist Blixa Bargeld. With the Bad Seeds, Cave continued to explore his obsessions with religion, death, love, America, and violence with a bizarre, sometimes self-consciously eclectic hybrid of blues, gospel, rock, and arty post-punk, although in a more subdued fashion than his work with the Birthday Party. Cave also allowed his literary aspirations to come to the forefront; the lyrics are narrative prose, heavy on literary allusions and myth-making, and take some inspiration from Leonard Cohen. Cave’s gloomy lyrics, dark musical arrangements, and deep baritone voice recall the albums of Scott Walker, which also obsess over death and love with a frightening passion. However, Cave brings a hefty amount of post-punk experimentalism to Walker’s epic dark pop.
Essential Listening: From Her To Eternity CD £10 LP £22
The Flying Lizards
The Flying Lizards are remembered by most listeners as new wave one-hit wonders thanks to their deliberately eccentric cover of Barrett Strong’s “Money,” which became a surprise chart success in 1979. But the Flying Lizards were in fact the brainchild of David Cunningham, a well-respected avant-garde composer, producer, and visual artist, and it became one of the first salvos in a long and fascinating career. In 1975, Cunningham self-released an album of minimalist music, Grey Scale, and using borrowed gear he recorded a deliberately harsh and minimal version of the old Eddie Cochran hit “Summertime Blues,” with art school chum Deborah Evans contributing flat, tuneless vocals. Cunningham claims the low-tech single cost just 20 pounds to make, and after it was turned down by a number of labels, Virgin Records picked it up for release in 1978, under the assumption that it was inexpensive enough to recoup its costs quickly. Released under the name the Flying Lizards, “Summertime Blues” attracted enough press attention to sell a few thousand copies, putting the project solidly in the black, and Cunningham decided to take another stab at reconfigured pop. With its clanking prepared piano, crashing percussion sounds (a combination of tambourine and snare drum), and another monotonic vocal by Evans, “Money” was considerably more manic than “Summertime Blues,” through the recording budget was similarly cheap, and the single became an unexpected chart hit both in Europe and the United States.
Essential Listening: The Flying Lizards/Fourth Wall CD £18
Gang of Four
One of the most influential and groundbreaking bands to rise from the British punk scene in the late ’70s, Gang of Four took the freedoms and possibilities presented by punk and brought them to wild and unexpected places, both musically and philosophically. Gang of Four’s music fused tough funk rhythms, jagged shards of metallic guitar, and lyrics that filtered Marxist theory through the realities of daily life into a sound that bore little resemblance to any other group when they released their debut album, Entertainment!, in 1979. The LP received triumphant reviews from critics and was a surprise hit in the U.K., while their third album, 1982’s Songs of the Free, gave them a commercial breakthrough in the United States as the single “I Love a Man in a Uniform” gained airplay on college radio and open-minded R&B stations. Gang of Four folded after 1983’s Hard, but founders Andy Gill and Jon King periodically re-formed the band in the ’80s, ’90s, and 2000s for touring and recording projects that kept their singular sound alive. Gang of Four’s music was a key influence on a diverse variety of musicians, including Fugazi, Franz Ferdinand, and Nirvana, while the ferocious but intelligent tone of their lyrics and their rejection of empty sloganeering would inform the outlook of any number of thoughtful post-punk groups.
Essential Listening: Entertainment! LP £28 CD £8
Inspired by the artsy side of the ’70s New York scene and the anti-careerist stance of punk, Edinburgh natives Paul Haig (vocals, guitar), Malcolm Ross (guitar), and Ronnie Torrance (drums) formed a band with an apparently unmentionable name. Future Exploited member Gary McCormack came and went as the bassist, with the trio eventually renaming itself TV Art. David Weddell eventually filled the gap, with the band frequently playing in and around their town. By the end of 1979’s summer, they had recorded a demo and changed their name to Josef K. November of that year saw the release of the nervy Chance Meeting single on the one-off Absolute label. Alan Horne and Orange Juice member Edwyn Collins struck a verbal deal with the band for their Postcard imprint, which released a series of the band’s singles. The first was a double pack with the funk-/soul-influenced Orange Juice gracing one half, which helped break ground on the press-derived “Scottish Sound.” In late 1980 the band recorded an LP’s worth of material in less than two weeks. The somewhat slickly produced Sorry for Laughing was canned by Horne and the band for tilting the sound toward the rhythm section, rather than highlighting the guitars and sounding live. A few months later, the band recorded another album, entitled The Only Fun in Town. Committed in less than a week, this one was released officially, hitting the top position of the U.K. indie chart. Notably, it was the only full-length released by the band, as well as the Postcard label. Having released a record and playing a number of successful shows, Haig determined that the band needn’t accomplish anything more and disbanded his group.
Essential Listening: The Only Fun In Town CD £13
Formed in the wake of the punk explosion in England, Joy Division became the first band in the post-punk movement by later emphasizing not anger and energy but mood and expression, pointing ahead to the rise of melancholy alternative music in the ’80s. Though the group’s raw initial sides fit the bill for any punk band, Joy Division later incorporated synthesizers (taboo in the low-tech world of ’70s punk) and more haunting melodies, emphasized by the isolated, tortured lyrics of its lead vocalist, Ian Curtis. While the British punk movement shocked the world during the late ’70s, Joy Division’s quiet storm of musical restraint and emotive power proved to be just as important to independent music in the 1980s.
Essential Listening: Unknown Pleasures CD £9 LP £28
Rising from the ashes of the legendary British post-punk unit Joy Division, New Order triumphed over tragedy to emerge as one of the most acclaimed bands of the 1980s; embracing the electronic textures and disco rhythms of the underground club culture many years in advance of its contemporaries, the group’s pioneering fusion of new wave aesthetics and dance music successfully bridged the gap between the two worlds, creating a distinctively thoughtful and oblique brand of synth pop appealing equally to the mind, body, and soul. The band’s first releases were cold and sometimes abrasive as they struggled to come to grips with Ian Curtis’ death. As their confidence and willingness to explore new sounds grew, their records became poppier and more accessible. Singles like 1983’s “Blue Monday” and 1985’s “The Perfect Kiss” established them as hitmakers, while albums like 1985’s Low-Life often showed off a more melancholy, song-based sound. 1989’s Technique was the band’s high point commercially, and many would say artistically, as they seamlessly fused club culture and songcraft. After this, the band’s attention began to split as members pursued other projects and only occasionally reconvened for New Order recordings, including for 1993’s Republic. As the group continued to work sporadically, they were set on a different course when founding bassist Peter Hook quit in 2006. After shuffling the lineup a little the band continued to perform as a live act that occasionally released albums like 2015’s Music Complete and singles such as 2020’s “Be a Rebel.” Through it all, their influence never waned, and bands as diverse as Galaxie 500, the Chemical Brothers, and the Killers looked to their sound and songs for inspiration.
Essential Listening: Substance CD £13
Led by hulking frontman David Thomas — whose absurdist warble and rapturously demented lyrics remained the band’s creative focus throughout their career — Pere Ubu emerged from the urban wastelands of mid-’70s Cleveland to become one of the American underground’s most influential bands. Ubu’s 1975 debut single, “30 Seconds Over Tokyo,” and their 1978 debut album, The Modern Dance, introduced the self-destructing melodies, scattershot rhythms, and industrial-strength dissonance that they used to capture the angst and chaos of their times with both apocalyptic fervor and surprising humanity for decades. The group’s protean art punk became more melodic and accessible on later efforts from the ’80s and ’90s, including 1989’s Cloudland and 1993’s Story of My Life, but Pere Ubu’s idiosyncratic vision remained undiluted even by their frequent hiatuses and lineup changes. The band welcomed the 21st century with ambitious, uncompromising albums, such as 2002’s St. Arkansas, that honored their roots without rehashing them. Their momentum continued into the 2010s, with 2013’s Lady from Shanghai and 2019’s The Long Goodbye combining sources as diverse as film noir and dance music into a sound and viewpoint that was unmistakably Pere Ubu.
Essential Listening: Art of Walking CD £9 Dub Housing CD £7 LP £23
The Psychedelic Furs
New wave icons the Psychedelic Furs built a career on mysterious pop songs guided by the world-weary and unmistakable vocals of Richard Butler plus an always-evolving sound that started off as stark post-punk then took detours into synth pop, dance rock, and mainstream alternative. Along the way, they released a classic album that fused the energy of punk with the brightness of new wave (1981’s Talk Talk Talk) and a string of singles highlighted by “Love My Way,” “Heaven,” and “Heartbreak Beat” that proved popular and influential. Their classic song “Pretty in Pink” became the inspiration for the film of the same name and others showed up regularly in movies and TV shows. Though the band ran aground in the early ’90s, they returned a decade later to launch a successful career as a live act, and with their 2020 album Made of Rain, proved they could still deliver epic and meaningful records.
Essential Listening: Talk Talk Talk CD £11 LP £23
The Pop Group
However one might describe their music, the Pop Group most certainly were not a pop group, and while they rose to popularity as the first wave of British punk had yet to break, they weren’t really punk, either. Despite that, their aggressive fusion of funk, noise, dub, free jazz, proto-punk, post-beat poetics, and untold volumes of forbidden knowledge could probably only have coalesced in 1977, a time when the rules of rock and its subgenres seemed to have been temporarily suspended in the U.K. Their searing debut album, 1979’s Y, was a bold, cathartic work whose unique sound would be wildly influential in the post-punk era. After breaking up in 1980, the Pop Group reunited in 2010 for a reunion tour, and the 2015 album Citizen Zombie found them as uncompromised and confrontational as ever.
Essential Listening: Y CD £11
Public Image Ltd
Formed by John Lydon (aka Johnny Rotten) in the wake of the collapse of the Sex Pistols, Public Image Ltd. was a shape-shifting musical project in which the bilious singer and lyricist explored his ideas in thoroughly uncompromised form. Depending on what period of the band’s career you choose, Public Image Ltd. (officially abbreviated PiL) could sound like bass-heavy post-punk thunder (1978’s Public Image: First Issue), an inspired fusion of Krautrock and dub (1979’s Metal Box), muscular and expertly executed alternative rock (1986’s Album), or polished but angular dance-friendly pop (1989’s 9), with many other stops along the way. Despite a constantly shifting lineup and musical approach, Lydon’s bitter howl — full of anger, pain, and sometimes sardonic wit — gave PiL’s many guises a musical and thematic through line, and at their best, his collaborators created music as powerful and absorbing as Lydon’s intense (if often negative) charisma.
Essential Listening: Album CD £7
Section 25 progressed from a brooding post-punk group to an early indie-dance crossover act during the 1980s, then reconvened for a productive second run during the 21st century. Signed to the legendary Factory Records and debuting with a 1980 single produced by Ian Curtis of Joy Division, early Section 25 albums like 1981’s Always Now followed in the iconic group’s shadow. With 1984’s From the Hip, containing the club hit “Looking from a Hilltop,” the band embraced synth pop and electro, influencing subsequent alternative dance groups such as the Shamen, as well as the Madchester scene. The group disbanded following the delayed release of fourth album Love & Hate in 1988, but they re-formed in 2001 and made their proper return with the muscular post-punk of 2007’s Part-Primitiv. Several albums followed, with 2013’s Dark Light exploring bright techno-pop, and 2018’s Elektra bringing guitars back to the forefront.
Essential Listening: Always Now CD £14 From The Hip CD £13
There’s little denying the crucial nature of the Slits’ first record. Along with more recognized post-punk records like Public Image Limited’s Metal Box, the Pop Group’s Y, and less-recognized fare like the Ruts DC and Mad Professor’s Rhythm Collision Dub, Cut displayed a love affair with the style of reggae that honed in on deep throbs, pulses, and disorienting effects, providing little focus on anything other than that and periodic scrapes from guitarist Viv Albertine. But more importantly, Cut placed the Slits along with the Raincoats and Lydia Lunch as major figureheads of unbridled female expression in the post-punk era. Sure, Hole, Sleater-Kinney, and Bikini Kill would have still happened without this record (there were still the Pretenders and Patti Smith, just to mention a few of the less-subversive groundbreakers), but Cut placed a rather indelible notch of its own in the “influential” category, providing a spirited level rarely seen since. Heck, the Slits themselves couldn’t match it again. You could call some of these songs a reaction to the Nuggets bands, or the ’60s garage acts that would find as many ways as possible to say “women are evil.” Songs like “Instant Hit” (about PiL guitarist Keith Levene), “So Tough” (about Sid Vicious and Johnny Rotten), “Ping Pong Affair,” and “Love Und Romance” point out the shortcomings of the opposite sex and romantic involvements with more precision and sass than the boys were ever able to. “Spend Spend Spend” and “Shoplifting” target consumerism with an equal sense of humor (“We pay f*ck all!”). Despite the less-than-polished nature and street-tough ruggedness, Cut is entirely fun and catchy; it’s filled with memorable hooks, whether they’re courtesy of the piano lick that carries “Typical Girls” or Ari Up’s exuberant vocals. (One listen to Up will demonstrate that Björk might not be as original as you’ve been led to believe.) Island’s 2000 reissue blows away the 1990 CD version in sound and presentation. A mammoth improvement is made with the sound, and extensive liner notes and photos are included. Movie fans should also check out High Fidelity, in which a copy of Cut makes more appearances than many of its co-stars.
Essential Listening: Cut CD £7 LP £23
Noisy and experimental, Britain’s Swell Maps experienced little commercial success during the course of their chaotic career, but in hindsight they stand as one of the pivotal acts of the new wave: not only was the group an acknowledged inspiration to the likes of Sonic Youth and Pavement, but their alumni — most notably brothers Nikki Sudden and Epic Soundtracks — continued on as key players in the underground music community.In mid-1979, the band released its full-length debut, A Trip to Marineville, a crazy quilt of punk energy and Krautrock-influenced clatter. After the release of the speaker-shredding single “Let’s Build a Car,” the group recorded one final studio LP, Jane from Occupied Europe, before breaking up. A series of outtakes and singles collections — 1981’s Whatever Happens Next, 1982’s Collision Time, and 1987’s Train Out of It — followed, while the members followed their own career paths: Sudden formed the Jacobites, Soundtracks joined Crime and the City Solution, and Head played with the Television Personalities. All later enjoyed solo careers as well.
Essential Listening: Jane From Occupied Europe CD £8
Although they barely received credit, Suicide (singer Alan Vega and keyboardist Martin Rev) were the source point for virtually every synth pop duo that glutted the pop marketplace (especially in England) in the early ’80s. Without the trailblazing Rev and Vega, there would have been no Soft Cell, Erasure, Bronski Beat, Yaz, you name ’em, and while many would tell you that that’s nothing to crow about, the aforementioned synth poppers merely appropriated Suicide’s keyboards/singer look and none of Rev and Vega’s extremely confrontational performance style and love of dissonance. The few who did (Throbbing Gristle, Cabaret Voltaire) were considered too extreme for most tastes. Suicide had been a part of the performing arts scene in New York City’s Lower East Side in the early/mid-’70s New York Dolls era. Their approach to music was simple: Rev would create minimalistic, spooky, hypnotic washes of dissonant keyboards and synthesizers, while Vega sang, ranted, and spat neo-Beat lyrics in a jumpy, disjointed fashion. On-stage, Vega became confrontational, often baiting the crowd into a riotous frenzy that occasionally led to full-blown violence, usually with the crowd attacking Vega. With their reputation as controversial performers solidified, what was lost was that Suicide recorded some amazingly seductive and terrifying music. A relationship with Cars mastermind Ric Ocasek proved successful, bringing their music to a wider audience and developing unlikely fans (Bruce Springsteen went on record as loving Suicide’s Vietnam-vet saga “Frankie Teardrop”), but after numerous breakups and reconciliations, Rev and Vega settled for being more influential than commercially successful
Essential Listening: Suicide CD £13 LP £22
At the start of their career, Talking Heads were all nervous energy, detached emotion, and subdued minimalism. When they released their last album about 12 years later, the band had recorded everything from art-funk to polyrhythmic worldbeat explorations and simple, melodic guitar pop. Between their first album in 1977 and their last in 1988, Talking Heads became one of the most critically acclaimed bands of the ’80s, while managing to earn several pop hits.
Essential Listening: More Songs About Buildings and Food CD £7 LP £28 Fear of Music CD £7 LP £35 Remain in Light CD £5 LP £28 Speaking In Tongues CD £7 LP £30
One of the pivotal groups to emerge from the Liverpool neo-psychedelia community during the late ’70s, the Teardrop Explodes was a showcase for Julian Cope, a notoriously eccentric figure whose unfashionable love of Krautrock and hallucinogenic drugs set him distinctly apart from the prevailing punk mentality of the era. Cope formed the band in 1978 after a tenure in the Crucial Three (also comprised of Echo and the Bunnymen’s Ian McCulloch and Wah!’s Pete Wylie); taking their name from a panel in a Marvel comic book, the premiere lineup of the Teardrop Explodes also featured guitarist Mick Finkler and drummer Gary Dwyer, as well as keyboardist Paul Simpson, with whom Cope previously played in the short-lived A Shallow Madness.
Essential Listening: Kilimanjaro CD £7
The The is the guise of Matt Johnson, a mercurial singer/songwriter whose music has run the gamut from new wave and post-punk to dance-pop and country. Emerging in 1979, The The found commercial success in the 1980s with the albums Soul Mining, Infected, and Mind Bomb, which skillfully fused melodic synth pop with heady, socio-political alternative rock — 1993’s more guitar-forward Dusk also drew accolades. The reclusive Johnson spent the next 14 years concentrating on soundtrack work for documentaries, films, and art installations before returning to The The in 2017 for a series of live performances. In 2021, the group issued the concert LP The Comeback Special on Johnson’s own Cinéola label.
Essential Listening: Infected CD £11 Soul Mining CD £11
Despite their extremely short-lived tenure, U.K. experimentalist trio This Heat left behind a legacy that would open the doors for the formation of forward-thinking genres like post-rock, industrial, and post-punk. The group came together in January of 1976 in Brixton, London, made up of Charles Bullen, Charles Hayward, and Gareth Williams. All three members contributed vocals and played a variety of instruments including guitar, keyboards, clarinet, viola, and prerecorded tapes. Bullen and Hayward had played together previously under the name Radar Favourites and Hayward been a member of the Amazing Band and Gong as well as playing alongside Phil Manzanera in Quiet Sun. Between 1976 and 1977 the band rehearsed, cultivating its wild and uncompromising sound through live performance and homemade recording experiments. The trio experimented heavily with tape manipulation and early makeshift tape looping, creating sounds that ranged from as ambient soundscapes to percussive squalls of noise.
Essential Listening: Deceit CD £14 This Heat CD £14
Abrasive, aggressive, and antagonistic, Britain’s Throbbing Gristle pioneered industrial music. Exploring death, mutilation, fascism, and degradation amid a thunderous cacophony of mechanical noise, tape loops, extremist anti-melodies, and bludgeoning beats, the group’s cultural terrorism — the “wreckers of civilization,” one tabloid called them — raised the stakes of artistic confrontation to new heights, combating all notions of commercialism and good taste with a maniacal fervor. While much of their material was harsh, challenging, and deliberately anti-musical, they occasionally produced lighter, more accessible tracks such as 1977 single “United” and much of 1979’s 20 Jazz Funk Greats, influencing techno and synth pop as well as noise and experimental music. TG became inactive in 1981, and its members moved on to highly productive offshoots such as Psychic TV, Coil, and Chris & Cosey. The band re-formed in 2004, performing several concerts and releasing albums such as Part Two: The Endless Not (2007) before disbanding for good in 2010.
Essential Listening: 20 Jazz Funk Greats CD £14
Emerging from the British punk explosion, Wire resisted easy categorization from the start, and would for decades to come. Focused on experimentation and process, Wire’s musical identity constantly changes. Their first three albums alone attest to a startling evolution as the band repeatedly — and rapidly — reinvented themselves. Pink Flag (1977) found them twisting punk’s simplicity and rawness to their own arty designs; on Chairs Missing (1978), they added frosty atmospheres and more melodic songwriting, both of which they heightened on 154 (1979). This capacity for self-reinvention, and their willingness to stop recording when ideas aren’t forthcoming, is crucial to Wire’s longevity and continued relevance. The group returned from hiatuses in the ’80s and ’90s with renewed creativity on the electronic leanings of The Ideal Copy (1987) or the ferocious noise of Send (2003). Later works such as Silver/Lead (2017) reflected the moody guitar pop they purveyed in the 2010s. Through it all, Wire have never sounded exactly the same twice. Their restlessness paved the way for hardcore punk, post-punk, and goth, and influenced artists as diverse as Minor Threat, Guided by Voices, Helmet, and Lush, as well as the many post-punk revivalists of the 2000s and 2010s.
Essential Listening: Pink Flag CD £10 LP £18 Chairs Missing CD £10 LP £18 154 CD £10 LP £18