So why does post-punk work so well as a brand when its content remains amorphous? [Simon] Reynolds [author of Rip It Up And Start Again] himself defined it as “less a genre of music than a space of possibility”. Yet we can’t lose sight of the fact that the Latin qualifier means after, subsequent or later. Some limitation on duration is also necessary, though application can’t be merely calendar-defined. We have to respond to the term with some reference to musical discipline and its entanglement with punk itself. Is there a compelling argument for digesting the period 78-82 as a single musico-sociological unit? I know not of such a beast. Unless you deconstruct the repeated message broadcast from 1978 onwards that punk was ‘dead’ and that a new dawn was implicit from that point. But punk wasn’t dead. Some of its most critical interventions still lay ahead.
Punk begat vast dissonance and fragmentation. There are no means by which the wealth of music thus engendered in the period 78-84 (to use Reynolds’ own parameters) can be adequately unified. It was all too untidy (and thrilling, as Reynolds conveys well). On the basis of reactions here [at the Leeds ‘post-punk conference’], post-punk has become a little akin to the Human League’s ‘Black Hit Of Space‘, sucking everything into its orbit. Let’s look again at some of the musical subjects this conference tackled: Throbbing Gristle, Orange Juice, Hazel O’Connor, the Fleshtones, Frankie Goes to Hollywood, Mission of Burma. It would make for an interesting mix tape. But you can’t imagine too many fans of each artist ever gathering in the same room.
You probably already know how I feel about ‘post-punk.’ Those bands changed my teenage life a lot more than ‘punk’ did. As for a stylistic definition, you know it when you hear it (or even see it) … that’s pretty much the best we can do though Reynolds does make a valiant stab at it in his aforementioned book. The fact that, as a genre, it’s all over the place is part of the attraction. Those were messy times, and ‘post-punk’ was a correspondingly messy thing. Admittedly, I do try to imagine the excitement of recording music in those uncharted waters every time I flick on the studio gear in this present era.
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