Within music circles, the prefix “post” is often attached to an ever-growing array of genres including post-rock, post-metal and post-harcore.
The increasing number of “post” genres raises questions regarding the legitimacy of genre as a concept for organising music. Music journalists have begun to question if artist’s experimental leaps, blending of styles or the death of the record store catalogue have moved music past the need for genre.
In this light, the constant use of “post” comes off as an attempt by music nerds to revive dead denominations.
Post-punk music, classically characterised by bands Joy Division, Gang of Four or Public Image Ltd., is probably the most pervasive of the “post” genres.
All three of these bands support markedly different sounds, from the gothic droning of Joy Division to the herky-jerky satire of Gang of Four and the avant-garde snottiness of PiL. Each of these bands take a palpably distinct approach to their sound but for some reason get lumped together within the post-punk world.
The suggested narrative behind postpunk’s inception is that punk’s early primitivism, based around musicians with little skill but lots to say, had run its course, and a new wave of artists had taken its place. These artists were concerned with technical ability, weaving complex rhythms and actual melodies into the punk ethos.
This thesis has a rocky foundation, as the genesis of punk and post-punk was almost simultaneous. Punk releases, such as Ramones and Never Mind the Bollocks, Here’s the Sex Pistols, which defined the genre, came out in 1976 and ’77, respectively, while classic post-punk records like Wire’s Pink Flag and the seminal compilation A Factory Sample hit shelves in ‘77 and ‘78.
Potentially, punk was a tired genre straight out the gates, or, more likely, these artists were unaware of the musical genres they would be later placed within. Rather, they shared the same response to the over-production and glamour of rock through a deconstruction of established musical sensibilities.
While punk maintained a central sound, fast, brash and uncontrolled, post-punk artists expressed it in diverse ways that kept it distinct from the genre.
What keeps punk and post-punk artists within the same orbit is their shared conceptual tool kit – namely, the punk anti-establishment, DIY aesthetic.
Aesthetic categories like genres are arbitrary designations, but they serve a critical purpose.
Genres give listeners some clue to what an artist might sound like, such as the chords and riffs of rock or the blanketing distortion of hardcore. More importantly, genres also denote what experiences a listener should expect from an artist, like the anti-establishment of punk or the darkness and brutality of metal.
The contemporary resurgence of postpunk in the form of bands such as Canada’s Preoccupations, the United State’s Parquet Courts and Britain’s black midi demonstrates a departure from what defined the genre previously.
These bands all share a distinct, disjointed, distorted sound that make them separate from The Cure, Siouxsie and the Banshees or Gang of Four. They are even distinct from 2000s post-punk in the form of Arctic Monkeys or Franz Ferdinand.
But, they share a gravitational pull in the form of anti-establishment, socially critical approaches to music.
Patrick Harney is the comments editor at The Uniter. He has heard of bands.
Published in Volume 78, Number 06 of The Uniter (October 19, 2023)