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Cover image: South Korean band Drinking Boys and Girls Choir performing at Baybeats 2022.
Within the multi-stemmed family tree of rock music, no other branch seems to have borne as much fruit as punk. From hardcore and Oi!, to pop-punk and riot grrrl (among many others), punk’s influence has bifurcated again and again into a multitude of unique subgenres. But of all its offshoots, few became as fascinatingly diverse as its ambitious art school kid, post-punk.
While punk was an anti-establishment uprising, post-punk rebelled against its dad’s rebellion by abandoning punk’s rawness and stripped-back simplicity for a more avant-garde approach. Post-punk isn’t purist—it found itself by experimenting with a broader musical palette (funk, electronic music, jazz, dub, disco) and sought influence from modernist media (art, cinema and literature). Nevertheless, the apple didn’t fall too far, because the genre did retain punk’s energy and DIY DNA.
Post-punk can trace its origins to the tail end of punk’s first wave explosion in the late-1970s. Younger musicians who grew up on Buzzcocks or the Ramones emerged from the cultural milieu but grew disillusioned with the movement’s sonic tropes (three-chord progressions and guitar riffs) and populist ethos. The genre’s earliest vanguards rejected punk’s rigidity and conventions through conceptual reform. They did so by embracing non-rock musical styles, adventuring with studio production techniques, and appropriating philosophical and pop cultural critical theory (such as situationism, Dadaism and postmodernism) into their foundation. This breakaway confused music journalists at the time—who defined this multifarious sound as “new musick” or “art punk”, seeking to delineate its sophistication as a schism from punk’s core tenets. Eventually, the term post-punk would come to encompass this burgeoning scene.
In 1977, the public debuts of two groundbreaking British bands, Siouxsie and the Banshees and Wire, would lay the foundations of post-punk. Both pioneering outfits were the first to differentiate themselves from their punk contemporaries through daring sonic and rhythmic experimentation: employing the use of space (empty soundscapes), motorik drum patterns and serrated guitars. Within the next couple of years, this sparse style of dark lyricism, angular riffs, minimalist basslines and jagged rhythms would become a heavy influence on other post-punk luminaries like Joy Division, the Fall and Bauhaus.
Even Sex Pistols singer John Lydon (aka Johnny Rotten), who wanted to explore more diverse musical territory, would move onto post-punk in 1978, forming Public Image Ltd with The Clash guitarist Keith Levene and bassist Jah Wobble. Their abrasive, noise-inflected, reggae bass-driven sound was a game-changer. Around the same time, bands such as Gang of Four, the Pop Group and the Slits began incorporating everything from free jazz and funk to dance music and dub into their forward-thinking careen away from punk.
Meanwhile, in America, a parallel development was also taking place. Cutting-edge groups like Pere Ubu and Devo, who heretically expanded punk’s vernacular in the mid-1970s to include conceptual art and musique concrète, would serve as the proto post-punk template on that side of the pond. Subsequently, unconventional bands like Mission of Burma, Television and Talking Heads would pick up the baton. In particular, Talking Heads complemented their punk upbringing with their members’ art school education, while imbuing fusions of funk, Krautrock, African polyrhythms and worldbeat into their intellectual songwriting.
Tangentially, New York City’s no wave movement—a conscious rejection of punk’s cliches and mainstream co-option—mirrored post-punk’s evolution. No wave groups explored disparate stylistic forms which included minimalism, post-object art, funk, jazz, blues, and avant-garde noise music. Notable bands from that scene such as The Contortions, Teenage Jesus and the Jerks, and Theoretical Girls focused on dissonance and atonality. While no wave is sonically distinct from post-punk, the two genres are closely related and spiritually kindred.
During the early-1980s, post-punk grew from underground obscurity to commercial viability thanks support from esteemed magazines like Rolling Stone and NME, radio airplay from BBC DJ John Peel, and backing from independent record labels such as Y Records, E.G., Mute, 4AD, and Glass. Joy Division and Public Image Ltd achieved chart success, becoming the two most influential post-punk forces of that era (and for all-time). A slew of newer bands like Maximum Joy, Killing Joke, Echo & the Bunnymen and The Psychedelic Furs (just to name a few) came to fore to fly the post-punk banner.
Unfortunately, popularity proved to be a double-edged sword for the genre. Many of post-punk’s most prominent figures like Scritti Politti frontman Green Gartside and Josef K vocalist Paul Haigbegan pursued mainstream, pop-leaning side projects during this boom period. By the mid-1980s, post-punk suffered a precipitous decline—when fans, musicians and critics alike flocked to genre’s more accessible cousin, new wave—a synth-pop meets alternative dance genre that swept the globe. Case in point, new wave’s most seminal band, New Order, was actually made-up of Joy Division’s surviving members, who regrouped with a refreshed creative vision after lead singer Ian Curtis’ tragic passing. Post-punk drowned under new wave’s tide.
While post-punk virtually disappeared from the landscape during the 1990s, the genre’s influence could obviously be seen within the alternative, gothic and industrial rock scenes. Post-punk’s open-minded, intersectional approach was key to unbounding the perceived limits of rock music, helping those aforementioned genres expand in unexpected directions.
Despite its long hibernation, post-punk did awaken in the early-2000s when a slew of millennial indie bands like Interpol, White Lies and Editors reclaimed British post-punk’s early hallmarks - stripped-back instrumentation, cold atmospherics, throbbing bass lines, interlocked drumming and angular guitar work. Other groups like Franz Ferdinand, Yeah Yeah Yeahs, TV on the Radio and LCD Soundsystem combined post-punk elements with strains of garage rock, art punk or dance music to resemble early American post-punk. Many of these 21st century post-punk revivalists became commercial juggernauts, easily eclipsing their forebears in terms of sales and recognition.
The 2010s continued the genre’s worldwide resurgence with acts like Parquet Courts and Protomartyr from America, Preoccupations from Canada, Iceage from Denmark, and Viagra Boys from Sweden garnering acclaim. In the last few years, an even younger crop of British and Irish bands such as Squid, Dry Cleaning, Shame, Sleaford Mods and Yard Act have also emerged from the post-punk blueprint - whose modernised version of genre is noted for their minimalism, sprechgesang vocals (speak-singing) and themes of alienation and pessimism.
Similarly, the genre’s comeback has found its way to Asia as well. These are just five of the very best bands from around the continent currently waving post-punk’s (pink) flag.
Formed in Xi'an in 2010, FAZI’s (or 法兹) propulsive and emotive incorporation of Krautrock rhythms into their driving post-punk sound has found a devoted following in their home country and beyond through five acclaimed studio albums and three EPs.
Made up of members from Constant Insult, Daily Ritual, SIAL, Lubricant, Abrasion and more, this Singaporean / American trio’s haunting hybrid of dark garage and post-punk derives influence from bands like Wipers and Mission of Burma.
Based in Kuantan, this quintet has released two EPs, the first being 3-Way Split (with Orang Planet and Clockwise), and a full-length album since their formation in 2019. Prolific but always consistent, Quarter Life’s post-punk meets darkwave output demands attention.
Veteran Pinoy band The Spirals finally released their long-awaited debut LP in 2019 to raucous praise. The Curse of The Spirals may have been over 20 years in the making, but these post-punk war horses sound as vital as ever.
The Jansen are a garage punk / new wave band hailing from Bogor. With three powerful, spirited and anthemic full-length albums on their repertoire, this fast-rising trio have quietly yet quickly become a force to be reckoned with.
Hidzir Junaini is a freelance journalist in Singapore, currently covering film and television for publications such as NME Asia and Popwire. He has previously served as a writer and editor for various pop culture magazines such as inSing, JUICE Singapore, Bandwagon, MTV Asia, Straatosphere, and VICE, among others.
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