Proto-Post-Punk: The Endless Noise - Articles - Soundblab

Proto-Post-Punk: The Endless Noise

by Rich Morris Rating: Release Date:

By most accounts, the first flash of punk burned intensely and brightly but faded surprisingly quickly. In a way, the first wave of UK punks were almost too good at getting the attention they craved. Once The Sex Pistols had sworn their way to national infamy on the Today show, punk could no longer be an underground youth movement. It became a fashion as much as a musical statement, then a uniform and, for many of the original proponents, a straightjacket.

Yet, as they looked to move beyond the three-chords-and-a-truckload-of-attitude approach of punk, artists and bands such as John Lydon, Siouxsie & the Banshees, The Slits and Howard Devoto turned for inspiration to music they had loved before the white heat of basic garage rock galvanised them. It's almost a cliché now that many punks were actually failed hippies, but there's some truth to it. Punk poster-boy Lydon, for example, had previously shaken his luxurious, long locks to Krautrockers Can and the frankly mental French jazz-prog collective Magma. Nearly all the freaks and outcasts who made up the much-discussed Bromley Contingent, which included Siouxsie Sioux and Billy Idol, had grown up thrilling to the alien glamour of Bowie and Roxy Music. From such acts they inherited their love of dressing up and exhibitionism, of intimations of kinky sex and gnawing alienation which would inform both goth and new romantic.

Then there was the reggae and dub that DJ and Slits manager Don Letts was playing at punk club the Roxy. Many punks felt political solidarity with the outlaw stance of reggae artists (dodgy Rastafarian approach to gender politics not withstanding) and dub was nothing short of an obsession for Lydon, Public Image Ltd bassist Jah Wobble, The Slits and Bristolians The Pop Group. As they began to re-think punk, these artists chucked all these influences and more into a thrilling, heady mix: avant-jazz, world music, even the previously hated slick beat of disco - it all went in.

Away from the centre of the London punk scene, acts in largely ignored places such as Sheffield, Manchester and Leeds were making their first marks on the wider world. Many of them, such as Sheffield's The Human League, felt turned-off and excluded from what they saw as punk's rockist, macho posturing. A few, including proto-industrialists Throbbing Gristle and Cabaret Voltaire, had existed in various permutations long before punk had reared its gobby head. Now they each found a way to use punk's demolition of the established music industry rules to make some headway into the mainstream, bringing with them a passion for electronic, anti-rock experimentation which stretched from Stockhausen and Delia Derbyshire's early proto-synth creations to the tumultuous sound of 60s New York psych duo Silver Apples.

Of course, post-punk wasn't something that just happened in the UK, and it's hard to say exactly where it started and ended. Over in the US, New York's no wave scene took anti-rock, atonal-avant-jazz-skronk about as far as it could possibly go before the sly, sexy funk of mutant disco took over. US bands such as The B-52s took a template largely derived from UK punk and post-punk and pushed it somewhere else again. Hell, even Madonna copped her early look and sass from The Slits when she supported them. Who can say how far the lineage stretches forward?

However, perhaps more interesting is how far it stretches back. For while the original punk sound looked to the blazing garage noise of The Stooges, The New York Dolls, MC5 et al, post-punk revealed in its architects a profound love for myriad fringe oddities and under-the-radar discoveries. It's a surreal, sometimes frightening, always fascinating musical treasure trove that still exists and, thanks to the technological access with have now, never more easily reachable and researchable. Below, we present just a few of the varied influences which shaped a musical diaspora that coalesced in some cases years after they were released. Enjoy and let us know what we've missed.

Can - 'Mushroom'

"What I saw/ Mushroom head/ What I saw/ Mushroom head/ I was born/ and I was dead". Still superbly creepy, here singer Damo Suzuki sounds like he's experiencing the nuclear bomb hitting Hiroshima through the haze of an acid flashback. And is he screaming about keeping his distance or despair? What can it all mean? We don't know, but it's carried through by Jaki Liebezeit's impossibly fierce, improbably funky drum assault.

Influence on: PiL, The Fall

David Bowie - 'Sweet Thing - Candidate - Sweet thing (Reprise)'

A brilliant and dark journey into Bowie's fractured, coke-blitzed mind-state, this trilogy is simultaneously soulful and lurching. Just check out that thrash guitar (played by Bowie himself) and draw the links between this track and scores of post-punk groups.

Influence on: Joy Division, Magazine

Brian Eno - 'Third Uncle'

Roxy Music were, of course, a major influence both on punk and post-punk; the band's witty, magpie appropriation of trashy yesteryear ephemera combined with an aching fetishism of future sounds was picked up by many a punker. However, the art-rock sounds of Brian Eno's early solo work also lit the way towards more esoteric noises for many. This surging, endlessly pummelling work-out from his second album, Taking Tiger Mountain (By Strategy), and featuring relentless drums from Robert Wyatt, is like a blueprint for punk, post-punk and post-rock all in one go.

Influence on: Siouxsie & the Banshees, Pere Ubu, Talking Heads

Cluster - 'Hollywood'

Fellow Krautrock act Kraftwerk are an acknowledged influence on so much late 70s/early 80s music, but this slippery, skeletal piece of experimental electronica is closer to the sounds that era's Brit knob-twiddlers were producing in their bedrooms. It also sounds staggeringly fresh even today.

Influence on: Cabaret Voltaire, Throbbing Gristle

Walter Carlos - A Clockwork Orange Soundtrack

A true visionary, Walter (now Wendy) Carlos assisted Dr Robert Moog in the development of his legendary synthesizer. His synthesized versions of famous classic works soundtracked Kubrick's seminal film. A major influence on Bowie (he used this track as his entrance music during the Ziggy Stardust tour), its dystopian doom also chimed with a generation looking to express their urban alienation in a way other than by strapping on a guitar. A Clockwork Orange, of course, has provided many bands with their names, including ex-Human League members Heaven 17.

Influence on: The Human League, just about everyone who picked up or built a synth circa 1971-79

Lee 'Scratch' Perry - 'City Too Hot'

According to various sources, John Lydon's house reverberated day and night with the earthquake basslines of dub in '79, as the singer smoked himself into a reclusive, paranoid weed-fug. But the innovative sounds of dub, as pioneered by Perry among others, we're also a source of joy for those looking for culture beyond the rapidly narrowing punk scene. Members of The Slits loved going to blues parties, which they would find by following the rumbling bass.

Influence on: The Slits, The Pop Group, PiL

Neu! - Negativland

Another big influence on Bowie (just compare with 'Sweet Thing (Reprise)' above), and what was good enough for Bowie...

Influence on: Magazine, Joy Division, Gang of Four

Chic - Everybody Dance

If someone had paired Chic's bassist, Bernard Edwards, with Can drummer Jaki Liebezeit and Neu!'s Michael Rother you would have had the ultimate post-punk band. While disco had been verboten during punk, many post-punkers revealed a new-found (or just long-hidden) love of the boogie once they stretched their musical wings. PiL happily told music mags that they regarded disco's ceaseless rhythm as 'useful'. As was the case in disco, post-punk's bassists stretched out to fill a greater role, carrying the song's melody and, in many cases, just being damn funky!

Influence on: Delta 5, loads of mutant disco

Comments (4)

This comment was minimized by the moderator on the site

A great read, really enjoyed this and all the songs.

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This comment was minimized by the moderator on the site

You do realize that both Pere Ubu and DEVO *far* pre-date ANY kind of "punk" activity that happened in the UK, right? DEVO goes back to 1970, and Pere Ubu's roots were also formed right around that time.. They were MAKING the templates for music...

You do realize that both Pere Ubu and DEVO *far* pre-date ANY kind of "punk" activity that happened in the UK, right? DEVO goes back to 1970, and Pere Ubu's roots were also formed right around that time.. They were MAKING the templates for music that came much later, not working with anything "derived" from UK punk that happened much later..

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JC, thank you for you correct, if snottily expressed, note. I've corrected this now. Sorry for the inaccuracies.

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