The 1970’s spawned punk. Thrusting, jagged guitars, with angry vocals defined the sound. But the egalitarian ideal defined the music’s soul. Music was no longer to be the reserve of the virtuosos and the middle-class. A new egalitarian ethos had taken hold. Everyone not only had the right to play, but anyone could play. The music critic would just have to get over it.
Those were the ideals of punk, but by the late 1970’s the movement had run out of ideas and was in decline. Stepping into the breach was post-punk. The movement retained the ethos of punk, but changed the music. The essential feature of this new genre was the melodic role of the bass guitar. In punk, the bass guitarist had generally been confined to playing root notes. In post-punk, the bass was up front and centre driving the songs along. The guitar was still important, but as time went on the playing became increasingly minimalist. ‘Disorder’ by Joy Division (1979) is a classic example of the genre.
The movement was more progressive than punk. Some of the top bands, such as Siouxsie & The Banshees were led by women. The band Southern Death Cult had a Muslim drummer, Killing Joke had a half Indian singer. This openness extended to the music. More literary influences can be observed than in punk. Robert Smith attempted to condense his key impressions of the events in Albert Camus’s famous novel L’Etranger, in The Cure’s controversially named ‘Killing an Arab’ (1979). Ian Curtis of Joy Division devoured literature from Nietzsche to Dostoevsky.
As a musical genre, post-punk has influenced many, from bands such as U2 and The Smiths, to more recent bands such as The Killers and Wolf Alice. At its best post-punk produced some of the most atmospheric, engrossing and powerful songs of all time. For that alone it is worth a listen.