2013: The Year Post-Punk Broke Again
Denmark's Iceage at Mango's Monday night
Photo by Nicholas Zalud
Almost halfway through the year, we've seen a lot of huge music news already. David Bowie came back and put out a new record, Neutral Milk Hotel reunited, and Daft Punk put out their first proper record in eight years. It's definitely been a big year already, and it promises to continue with the upcoming releases of albums from artists like Kanye West, Black Sabbath (with Ozzy singing with the band for the first time on record since 1978), Wu-Tang Clan, Elton John, Franz Ferdinand, Queens of the Stone Age, and the second half of Justin Timberlake's The 20/20 Experience.
In a year where so many huge artists are releasing new music, it might be hard to keep up with the current trends awakening in the underground, or some of the lesser-known breakout artists. Luckily, the online music media keeps a spotlight on that and we can observe these trends as they're happening. For me personally, one of the most exciting trends is that 2013 appears to be the year that post-punk has broken out once again.
When post-punk first evolved in the late '70s, it took the existing groundwork of punk rock to its logical extreme, extracting the essence of punk and breaking down the barriers of tradition to create something wholly original and uninhibited by anyone's conception of what Western music should sound like. From this spawned the No Wave scene in New York, where artists like Lydia Lunch who didn't even know how to play instruments were now creating songs, or some bizarre facsimile.
From there, post-punk evolved as many of the all-time greats of the genre appeared. Into the '80s, bands like the Fall, Public Image Ltd., Wire and Suicide continued to innovate. They paved the way for the explosion of "college rock" bands that came shortly thereafter, like Sonic Youth and Pavement, groups who reinstated some of the song structure but retained the lessons they had learned.
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In 2013, the lessons have not been so much forgotten as left dormant to rot for many years before being unearthed by discoverers and explorers, much like Greek and Roman sculptures were dredged up by Renaissance artists to employ in new ways.
Now the new wave is discovering the art of the original New Wave, and even some of the surviving masters are making returns to resurrect the genre. It's an exciting time for post-punk fans.
Already we've seen the release of a brand-new album from the Fall called Re-Mit. Their most playful and nostalgic release in some time, it looks back to the band's '80s heyday by resurrecting their synth-laden sounds of old.
Before that it was Wire, whose Change Becomes Us was their most vital record in years, also reviving unreleased and previously unrecorded tracks from their earliest days as a band. The songs are no worse for the wear in 2013. In fact, they sound more relevant today than at any other time. That's possible because Wire's early sound is now contemporary again.
Look no further than breakout new group Savages to hear the remnants of the first wave of post-punk carried over into the modern day. On their newest record Silence Yourself, Savages mix the classic elements of the greatest bands to come out of the post-punk movement with a modern aesthetic and a David Lynchian preoccupation with abstraction. Squealing guitars, screaming females, and creepy, pre-gothic theatricality are their stock and trade.
They remind me strongly of another band to revive the artier aesthetic of post-punk over a decade ago: the Yeah Yeah Yeahs. But where the Yeah Yeah Yeahs strayed into pop even on their earliest recordings, Savages seem to have no intention of doing so. Savages are also not alone; there's a whole scene brewing around this.
Another of the most exciting bands going right now, and one directly inspired by the most famous of the post-punk revolutionaries, Joy Division, is the Danish band Iceage. Hitting Texas in June for Austin's annual Chaos in Tejas festival -- a trip that brought them to Mango's Monday night -- Iceage plays a much harder version of the post-punk sound pioneered by Joy Division, blending in easily with the hardcore bands who pervade a festival like Chaos in Tejas through nothing but sheer, raw intensity. They're not at a loss for songwriting or hooks, but they break the mold with their ferocity, especially on their new record You're Nothing.
As someone who practically lives for this kind of music, it could not be a better time to be a fan. 2013 is the first year in recent memory with a proliferation of this kind of music hitting the Internet and getting the attention it deserves.
Unfortunately, it may be outshined by the massive superstars, but this revolution is at work once again in the underground. If they manage to keep their clear volatility under control, it's safe to say bands like Iceage and Savages will have long careers ahead of them, and it's safe to say this sound is here to stay again.
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