THE POSTPUNK MOVEMENT

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Introduction

Postpunk continued the rebellion in style and substance against mainstream rock conventions begun earlier by the 1970s punk movement. Its break from punk/new wave was precipitated by the latter's affinity with progressive rock developments and the pop mainstream in general. In contrast, postpunk was defiantly inconsequential and advanced the romantic ideals of free expression and institutional autonomy. (It continued to parallel the new wave, however, in pioneering the visual potentialities of music as well as undercutting male belligerence as a be-all.)

In actuality, postpunk was not one particular musical style, but rather a main branch of the rock ancestral tree which was further split into many smaller branches. This family would ultimately encompass a disparate array of genres, including the ska/bluebeat revival, dance-oriented rock (DOR), techno-pop, the new romantics, neo-psychedelia, the Manc Sound, neo-rockabilly, goth rock, hardcore, speed metal, grindcore, oi, the riot grrrl movement, DIY, indie rock, no wave, ambient, rave, house, techno, electronica, and trance. All of these offshoots were united by punk’s essence—i.e., driving rhythms generally reinforced by aggressive vocals concerned primarily with themes of alienation and rebellion.

Although less commercially successful than mainstream formats like AOR, adult contemporary, country, rhythm and blues (referred to as "black contemporary" for a time), and the more media-friendly variants of rap/hip hop, postpunk would nevertheless greatly influence the attitude and look of popular music as a whole in the 1980s. Until the rise of grunge and, in a broader sense, alternative rock, combined with the gangsta and progressive rap schools of hip hop in the early 1990s, postpunk provided much of the creative momentum for rock.

A Survey of Postpunk Styles

ELECTRONICA

Electronica refers specifically to computer based or enhanced popular music. The genre’s antecedents include early efforts to integrated the synthesizer within progressive rock, 1980s techno-pop (or, as it is sometimes called, synth-rock), and 1990s techno.

Many keyboard-based progressive rock artists—most notably, Tangerine Dream, Klaus Schulze, and Eno—began moving toward ambience in the 1970s. During the next decade, ex-Be Bop Deluxe guitarist Bill Nelson, Sonic Boom, Spacemen 3, Spiritualized, and others expanded the instrumental palette of electronic ambience, incorporating treated drones, feedback-generated samples, fuzz-tone, tremelo effects, tape-manipulated Minimalism, and multi-tracked orchestration.

The urban club and hip-hop scenes also influenced the development of electronica. New York-based deejay mixers such as Grandmaster Flash and Afrika Bambaataa helped pioneer a dance-based sound built around samples and scratched beats, ultimately known as electro. The seminal recording within this genre was "The Adventures of Grandmaster Flash on the Wheels of Steel" (Sugarhill 557; 1981; #55 R&B), which combined the bass riff from Chic’s Top Ten disco hit, "Good Times" (Atlantic 3584; 1979; #1) in addition to borrowings from Blondie, Queen, and the Sugarhill Gang’s "Rapper’s Delight" (Sugarhill 542; 1979; #36). Afrika Bambaataa created his own brand of electronic funk in twelve-inch singles like the electronic beat collage "Planet Rock" (Tommy Boy 823; 1982; #4 R&B, #48 pop), which used Kraftwerk’s "Trans-Europe Express" (Capitol 4460; 1977; #67) and "Numbers," a track from Computer World (Warner Bros. 3549; 1981; #72).

Although European artists and producers still dominate both the ambient and groove-oriented electronica in the 1990s, the style has retained a substantial audience in America not only in dance venues but among progressive rock followers. Despite the relative absence of radio play and print media coverage, commercial web sites such as Audiogalaxy.com (whose clients included the likes of Frail, Galaxy 7, Kinetic Daydream, LiscCrap, Poison Drinker, Sounds of Om2, and Sprocket Lunatic in 2001) have proven effective in disseminating electronica via the mp3 format.

 

TECHNO

Techno—which originated as instrumental-based electronica in 4/4 time centered around hyperactive keyboard riffing and edgy, explosive drumming—drew upon the synthesizer music of 1970s Euro-rock bands such as Kraftwerk, Faust, and Can and the postpunk industrial dance movement of the 1980s, spearheaded by Cabaret Voltaire, Throbbing Gristle, Ministry, and other largely British artists.

Although first centered in Detroit, the genre was imported by English clubs in the late 1980s. Closely aligned with house music and club raves—i.e., events characterized by lasers, mammoth sound systems, and countless dancers fueled by the designer drug Ecstasy—techno evolved from the neo-psychedelia of the Manchester-based Stone Roses and Scotland’s Primal Scream into a diversity of hyphenated forms in the 1990s, including Ambient Techno and Big Beat.

The ambient school utilized samples of recording music, nature and other extraneous noises to create richly-textured, synthesizer-driven soundscapes; prime exponents included German classical composer Peter Namlook, England’s Aphex Twin, and Australian avant-garde artist Paul Schutze.

Big Beat, sometimes referred to as "Rock Techno," combined pounding rhythms, synthesizer washes, and sampling within a more traditional rock format. This style owed much to the pioneering work of Prodigy, Underworld, and the Chemical Brothers, whose LPs—most notably, Exit Planet Dust (AstralWorks 6157; 1995; #9 UK), Dig Your Own Hole (AstralWorks 6180; 1997; #1 UK, #14 US), and Surrender (AstralWorks 47610; 1999; #1 UK, #32 US)—were instrumental in making it the best-selling recorded dance music in British history.

TRANCE

Trance is a broad designation for various permutations of electronically generated dance music characterized by repeated crescendos featuring Doppler effects, sequencer riffs, and propulsive bass and drum patterns. It is built primarily on three prior traditions: synthesizer-driven postpunk industrial music, Detroit-based techno disco, and early 1970s psychedelia.

Closely related to ambient, techno, and house, the genre originated in Germany during the late 1980s. Its earliest manifestation was marked by the merging of TB 303 synthesizers with mainstream dance material. Augmented by widespread use of the methamphetamine drug Ecstasy, trance spread to Goa and Thailand in the early 1990s, and then to the European club scene; most notably, Great Britain, Holland, and Italy.

From the outset, trance has continued to evolve, providing the impetus for a considerable number of subgenres, including hard trance, acid trance, trancecore (heavily influenced by 1980s hardcore), psychedelic trance, and progressive trance. The artists and deejay producers most instrumental in shaping the style have included Paul Oakenfold, BT, Sash, Robert Miles, DJ Taucher, Paul Van Dyk, Tall Paul, Vincent de Moor, Ferry Corsten, Astral Matrix, Juno Reactor, and William Orbit.