When punk hit a recession-ridden U.K. in 1975-’76, using a rudimentary version of rock ‘n’ roll as a platform to scream obscenities and threaten to smash the state, it was enough to ignite outrage across the land. And then, before your grandfather could curse “They should bring back military service,” the movement had largely imploded. But its repercussions were far-reaching, inspiring another wave of music and the rise of independent labels such as Mute, Beggars Banquet and Factory.
Foremost among these was Rough Trade, who have put together this compilation, “Rough Trade Shops: Post Punk 01.” They opened a shop in 1977, followed by a label and a distribution service specializing in the music of this nebulous movement, which was later labeled “post-punk,” a term impossible to define. Although certain patterns can be detected (e.g. greater musical proficiency and a wider sweep of subject matter, more articulately expressed), musically it was wide open.
Even bands as politicized and engaging as The Au-Pairs or The Fall were basically refining the rock ‘n’ roll blueprint, whereas 23 Skidoo, P.I.L., The Slits, etc. were eagerly taking inspiration from reggae, funk and other black musical forms — an approach that more accurately reflected the reality of multiracial Britain.
On “We Are All Prostitutes,” The Pop Group’s critique of “consumer fascism,” the guitar struggles to keep the groove tight but is drowned out by tortured sax squeals, random cello screeches (hardly the standard instrument of punk) and Mark Stewart’s screams of indignation (“Everyone has their price!”). It’s punk in stance, but stylistically, a funk/punk/noise mutant. It is also an excellent track, and a damning indictment, in three minutes, of Western capitalist society. By the time remnants of the defunct Pop Group, minus Stewart, had formed Pigbag they had completely dropped the punk for the funk; “Sunny Day,” featured here, is less angst than ants-in-your-pants dance groove.
Also included on the compilation are current punk-inspired bands — the commitment and economic delivery of “Delayed Reaction” by The Rogers Sisters works so perfectly in this collection it’s hard to believe it was recorded just last year.
In compiling this CD, which also features a handful of American post-punk bands, Rough Trade doesn’t try to create an illusion of cohesion that didn’t exist. The compilers admit it is not comprehensive: Joy Division, Cabaret Voltaire and other pioneers are overlooked in favor of quirky marginal figures, even though their inclusion could have helped illustrate, for example, how the European electronic tradition was another influence at work in this fascinating period. But at least we can look forward to the promised “Post Punk 02.”
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