I like some bands that get lumped under the “post-punk” banner, including at least three in particular that I object to frequently falling under that banner: Gang of Four, Public Image Ltd, and Joy Division. There’s a good chance that what I’m about to say is a case of me talking out my ass, at least in terms of the chronology of the term post-punk. I honestly don’t remember it being thrown around when I was a teenager getting into punk rock in the late-’70s/early-’80s. Do you? Do you actually remember that term carrying any weight in 1981, or is this a term that was, as I suspect and feel the blood rushing to my temples whenever I think about it, introduced years after the fact?
Maybe it was already in use in the then-legendary and completely annoying British music press at that time, but in the small world of US underground music fans, I don’t recall the term being applied to second-wave and lesser punk bands at the time. There were “No Wave” bands and other subgenres, but I remember them all being considered part of the broader punk (and New Wave) spectrum.
Life was simple then. There were fewer critical ghettos to annoy me.
To be clear, although I many I find many bands categorized these days as post-punk boring, subpar, and even dispicable, what really gets my goat is not the musical genre, if it even exists as anything distinct from the often second-rate danceable punk it often was in its time, is what I feel is the term’s function over the last 15 to 20 years as an excuse for a lot of bands that can’t (and in most cases, I suspect, it’s not a matter of “don’t”) play that well or do anything that original. The term often seems to be pulled out to point to a band’s “experimental” tendencies when it could be argued the band’s poor musicianship and awkward songwriting style makes them a modern-day version of the “charming” Shaggs.
Even more annoying, if you can imagine me getting any more deeply annoyed, is my feeling that the genre term is used as a catch-all for people who want to be different but don’t really know where they’re headed with their allegiance to that genre name. I wonder if people who use this term feel like they missed the boat on punk rock in its time and are trying to draw a new dividing line, so they can feel they were there first.
How does post-punk not fit into the punk rock ethos? Punk was a movement defined by an ethos more than a sound. It was meant to accommodate what would follow 2 years after its appearance, wasn’t it? I don’t recall original punk rock bullies roaming the streets, threatening to kick the shit out of the so-called post-punk bands. I feel what’s called “post-punk” comfortably falls within punk and New Wave, but that would mean an entire generation was a little late to the party. To feel better about themselves, I suspect third-generation punks from the late-’80s, when I remember this term gaining traction, came up with some artificial “new” genre and drove their flag in it. This is what most annoys me about the term. There are too many rinky-dink empires in the world, not just in music.
Can anyone actually define the qualities of “post-punk” versus “punk” rock? Can anyone explain why anyone felt the need to apply this term, possibly retroactively, to bands that flowed directly out of the punk era? Does this “post-punk” genre serve any purposes I haven’t touched on?