piece from last year on the Rip It Up comp
Never mind the bleakness
The Guardian, Saturday May 13, 2006
When I embarked on Rip It Up And Start Again, four years ago, a big impetus was my impatience to shove punk rock out of the limelight. I was fed up with the relentless focus on 1976-and-all-that by rock chroniclers and documentary-makers. As much as Never Mind The Bollocks changed my life, it seemed clear that the most adventurous music emerged during the so-called aftermath years, 1978-84. The groups who made it, while sparked into existence by the Pistols/Clash, rapidly moved into far more expansive terrain than the back-to-basics rock'n'roll offered by most punk bands. Yet the post-punk period had never received its fair share of attention. Even John Lydon spent only a few pages on PiL in his 1994 autobiography, seemingly capitulating to the fact that the Pistols' over-told story was where his immortality resided.
Post-punk's stock has risen enormously in the last few years. 2006 will see the inevitable rash of 30th anniversary of punk retrospection, but the land is overrun by young groups who've been frenziedly looting the archives of post-punk. With the original battle won, a different impetus took hold when selecting tracks for the Rip It Up compilation: the desire to expand the conception of what post-punk was. Today's remake/remodel squad - Bloc Party, Franz Ferdinand, Futureheads, etc - operate from a rather narrow notion of post-punk, based around a handful of key bands (Wire, Gang of Four, the Cure, Joy Division...).
Post-punk tends to get equated with fractured guitars, agitated punk-funk basslines, and angst-racked vocals. In reality, post-punk was less a defined genre than a space of possibility, out of which a vast range of styles emerged, shaped by open-ended imperatives to innovation, wilful oddness, the jettisoning of all things obvious and rock'n'roll. With this compilation, I wanted to go beyond the cliches of "angular" and "bleak" and showcase post-punk's other facets: the ethereal, the quirky, the downright daft. There's frenetic high-energy tunes from Devo, the Fall, Josef K and others, but overall the compilation is slanted towards dream-drifty atmospherics and eerie bliss from the likes of Young Marble Giants, the Raincoats, Fatal Microbes and Thomas Leer.
Most pleasing to me personally is the tribute paid to Ivor Cutler (inadvertent - we had no idea he was going to die), through the inclusion of Robert Wyatt's wonderful cover version of Grass. A perennial presence on John Peel's show, Cutler was a post-punk fixture, his Scottish surrealist storytelling slotting perfectly alongside DIY weirdos like Native Hipsters and Family Fodder. Yet Cutler actually loathed rock, along with all amplified music, and was a dedicated member of the Noise Abatement Society. Somehow that seems to capture the eccentric spirit of post-punk.