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a discourse on new wave and punk (because I can't let anything go)

[See here and here for previous references to this subject]

New wave grew out of post-punk, rather than punk. Bands like Talking Heads and Blondie came out of the punk scene, but added a layer to their music that was not heard in the raw sound of punk rock.

I think one of the major factors that separated punk, post-punk and new wave is danceability. Sure, you could slamdance to punk, and you could kind of bop your head or do that strange little hopping type dance to post-punk, but you could actually dance to new wave. And by dance, I mean wave your arms about in a spastic sort of fashion while hopping from one leg to the other and moving your head from side to side.

New wave was the hip answer to disco which, at the time, was experiencing a slow, well-deserved death. All the cool kids were still dancing, they were just doing it at dingy clubs (in my case, a Long Island club called Spit) that played music as yet unheard of on the radio.

However, there are many bands that treaded the fine line between punk, post-punk and new wave, giving credence to the theory of James Lileks that punk and new wave were of the same entity; two genres folded together.

However (again), if one wants to be really anal about genres and sub-genres, there are all sorts of labels you could come up with for the punk/post-punk/new wave scene. Some artists can fall into all categories, while some only fit in one.

For instance, you could take a timeline and plot the following bands: Television, New York Dolls, Elvis Costello, XTC, Human League, Duran Duran, OMD, Heaven 17, Depeche Mode, Rockpile, Joy Division, Split Enz, Culture Club, The Jam, Madness and Squeeze. There is no way you could define them all using the three specific labels previously mentioned. The only thing they have in common is that they all sprung from the same movement.

If this were a visual chart, there would be branches leading off in every direction, with little notations stating things like dark new wave, gothic punk, pop punk, mainstream new wave, synth pop, ska-punk, etc. And then you could go from there and make a case for new wave leading to techno leading to industrial (The line would go on until we came upon rap-metal, or rapcore as some people call it, and there really is no explanation for that monstrosity of a genre, so we'll just chalk it up to a genetic mistake, like bad DNA in the bloodline of the industry).

The bottom line here is that music and all its genres are not only incestous, they are pretty arbitrary as well. One person's punk is another person's pop (see, Mest, Thursday), while one person's new wave is another person's radio-driven pop (see, Culture Club).

Actually, the bottom line is that after careful consideration, I probably agree with James more than I don't. Punk and new wave are not much different from each other and, at some point, just met up and blended into one entity.


Listed below are links to weblogs that reference a discourse on new wave and punk (because I can't let anything go):

» Slippery slopes from Inoperable Terran
Michele initially argued with Lileks for suggesting that punk developed into new wave, but then changed her mind. New wave is effectively punk with keyboards, which makes Blondie the "missing link".... [Read More]

» the true meaning of punk from KFX STUDIOS
It's kinda fun watching people who are mostly too young to know anything about it argue about the origins of punk and new wave, and what defines each of the genres......as if it really mattered anyway. So many people pulling... [Read More]

» Punk, New Wave and All that Jazz from Freedom Lives
Michele has some good posts on Punk rock and related stuff. The posts can be found here, here and most recently here. The reason for these posts was the release of a compilation a Punk being released by Rhino. I... [Read More]

» Punk and New Wave from George Junior
Michele at A Small Victory has a number of good posts up about Punk and New Wave music. I was interested enough to get involved in the comments. Lileks was there too. In fact, he started Michelle off on the... [Read More]


I thought New Wave was punks who started learning how to play their instruments.

Allmusic.com is a fantastic place to trace all the comings and goings of bands and band members.

Two questions, though- Gang of Four: Punk or New Wave? Killing Joke, Punk or New Wave? I think both bands managed to weld the two styles together pretty damn well, as well as early TSOL with the keyboards and surfish-gothy-punk stuff. But, you really can't draw the line anymore that divides all these styles up.

These sorts of conversations are interesting. In my band, we have a 21-year-old AND a 38-year-old (with me at 33 and the other at 26), and it's interesting to see the different perspectives on non-commercial music.

And The Human League and Joy Division were very punk rock, in '78 - before punk had really been defined or even had a chance to sink in, most places. Yet both bands are perceived by most to be New Wave.
Sometimes the fanfare blurs the core.
Gawd I'm deep.

I must be an old fuddy-dud. I liked very few bands from the 80's and only recognize from your list: Blondie, Talking Heads, Duran Duran, Elvis Costello, Culture Club, The Jam.

I guess I'm a true child of the '60s-70s and enjoy(ed) groups such as Led Zepplin, Pink Floyd, Alan Parsons, Steve Miller, Nazareth, Journey (Infinity only), Eagles, AC/DC, Judas Priest, CSNY, et al.

"..New wave was the hip answer to disco..." Ahh, that must explain it -- I absolutely detested disco.

To each his/her own...

Human League and Joy Division punk? Well, maybe in '78, kinda. But still I think of Human League as progenitors of synth-dance New Wave and Joy Divison as the grandaddies of Goth. Two bands that were stylistically far apart.

BUT, to show how similar all these trends are, Joy Division's transformation into a similarly dark and dense New Order and New Order's (inadvertent?) discovery of techno-dance with Blue Monday in 1983 created a situation where you could hear them and Human League in succession on the dance floor about that time.

Hmmmm...I love talking alternative music before it was called that. michele, loved your post. We 40ish types who aren't boomers and aren't gen X should have an alt-rock sock hop somewhere--all the Devo, Let's Active, Ultravox, Scritti Politti, X and Motels you can dance to.

I always thought "New Wave" was just a marketing slogan conjured up by the suits at Warner/Elektra/Atlantic.

Albo, sign me up for that sock hop. Our local radion station had an '80's dance here not too long ago, and there was so much Madonna, Huey Lewis and Richard Marx that only copious amounts of beer made the experience tolerable. Gah.

Back in the 1970's, a British fellow named Pete Frame began creating some very well-researched rock band "family trees." (An example of one for the Eagles can be found at this link...sorry, it was the only one I could find on line...and it loads slowly).

Frame did meticulous research on bands and hand drew links between incarnations that featured common members. I thought of this while reading Michele's bit because I have a book of trees he published back in the early 80's (Rock Family Trees) that included some of the bands under discussion. His books are supposedly out of print, but I've seen them available on Amazon.

The detail of these things is remarkable. In one that I have, he shows the ties between many of the seminal New York punk bands working the lower Manhattan clubs in the mid- to late-70's (Ramones, Heartbreakers, New York Dolls, Dead Boys, etc.). Fascinating stuff if you love the history of these things.

I believe you can't have a discussuion of what happened in that era without mixing in some of the really off-the-wall, undefinable bands (Residents, Half Japanese, Pere Ubu, Shockabilly, etc.) and how they actually related to some true power pop in odd ways. For example, you can draw one of Michele's timelines between Pere Ubu, one of the most avant-garde bands of the era, and the Waitresses, whose single big hit was "I Know What Boys Like," based on geography and some work by common musicians and producers.

Those relationships make that era one of the most creative times in rock/pop music history. Too bad much of what's follwed since has been such shit.

Hey, you forgot my fav, Graham Parker & The Rumour.

an age-old arguement. What genre does Band A fit into? Well, if you really look into it, most of the bands you mentioned were labelled as "New Wave" by the press at the time but fitted (loosely) into any one of the categories you mentioned. Hence the "alternative" genre that sprung up later.

If I remember right, "New Wave" really applied to the New Wave of British rockers "invading" the U.S. music scenes... I could be wrong, but I'm fairly certain that's where it came from, not from a particular style.

Punk, to me, refers to the old-school DIY Punkers of the late 70's-early 80's. Black Flag, UK Subs, Minutemen (who could fit into several generes as well...), Agnostic Front, Minor Threat, Flipper, Sex Pistols, The Clash. I could (of course) go on and on and on but the point should be solidified.

New Wave, again to me, represents the high-budget "power pop" that was sent to the U.S. from England (and that the U.S. labels scrambled to reproduce so as not to lose thier share) in the late 70's-early 80's by the major labels in an effort to get a larger market share. Culture Club, Depeche Mode, The Police. With the exception of The Police, I'm not nearly as familiar with that sound, since it's not my preference.

Post-punk would be all the splinters that the above shot off into. Metal, pop, etc.

All this rambling just goes to prove that genre-labeling is pointless since it's just a matter of interpretation and/or marketing.

Don't forget, The Police were considered a punk band up until Ghost In The Machine was released....

You all forgot Joe Jackson.

Yeah, he had the two videos and that album, and then he kind of dived under the waves again in terms of popularity.

But couldn't the same be said for Spandau Ballet?

Analog - Great point, in Atlanta we have a new 80's station. Was excited as could be to hear it, and they made the same mistake. All 80's top 40, and play a combined 30 songs it feels like. It did get me thinking though and now have a juke box on the computer of about 400 good 80's songs to play through the house.

Yehudit - Have you heard the new Joe Jackson album. It sounds very much like some of his earlier great music.