Features | Retconning

VIII :: Post-punk

By Mark Abraham | 3 May 2007

You know what? Metal Box (1979) should probably be here, but it isn’t. So consider that its honorable mention.

Not much more than a year ago the majority of this list was either hard or impossible to purchase. Now only a couple of them are. This speaks as much to the rise of post-punk influence as it does to the fact that several of these bands have reformed more recently. It also speaks to an unusual competence in the record industry to respond to actual audience demand. Reissue Beat Rhythm News!

By way of introduction, I’ll just say that these bands — mostly British, but three American — are all pretty political, either identifying as avant or Marxist or situationist or just sort of falling into those rhythms. Generally, they’re coming out of first-wave punk into a late seventies plagued with resource crises, the arms race, the failure of the SALT pact, Margaret Thatcher and (almost) Ronald Reagan, the rise of the New Right in both countries, and a general sense of malaise born from the failure of the sixties combined with a growing sense of dissatisfaction with the nihilism of punk. A lot of the collage work, tape manipulation, and homemade music can be, I think, attributed to an inchoate post-industrial economy, the initial stages of heavy advances in computer technology, and a general fear of the deconstruction represented in a nuclear holocaust (explicitly with This Heat, but implicitly elsewhere). These are angry bands working to make their music advance those politics; these are bands that are all pretty much creating their own sounds as a result. And maybe that’s the greatest legacy of post-punk: there were so many distinct styles of music created in this period — hell, in 1979 alone — that the tethers of market demand, fashion, and commodity were displaced enough to allow an independent scene to grow more coherently than it had. Punk laid the groundwork, sure, but post-punk broke down the wall.