New wave music is an umbrella term for several late-1970s to mid-1980s pop/rock styles with ties to 1970s punk rock. Initially – as with the later post-punk – new wave was broadly analogous to punk rock before branching as a distinctly identified genre, incorporating electronic/experimental music, mod, disco and pop. It subsequently engendered subgenres and fusions, including New Romantic and gothic rock.
New wave differs from other movements with ties to first-wave punk as it displays characteristics common to pop music, rather than the more "arty" post-punk, though it incorporates much of the original punk rock sound and ethos while arguably exhibiting greater complexity in both music and lyrics. Common characteristics of new wave music, aside from its punk influences, include the use of synthesizers and electronic productions, the importance of styling and the arts, as well as a great amount of diversity.
New wave is seen as one of the definitive genres of the 1980s; the genre became a fixture on MTV, and the popularity of several new wave artists has been partially attributed to the exposure that was given to them by the channel. In the mid-1980s, differences between new wave and other music genres began to blur. New wave has enjoyed resurgences since the 1990s, after a rising "nostalgia" for several new wave-influenced artists. The revivals in the 1990s and early 2000s were small, but became popular by 2004; subsequently, the genre has influenced a variety of other music genres.
- 2 Styles and subgenres
- 3 Reception in the United States
- 4 Post-1980s revivals and influence
- 5 Parallel movements
- 6 See also
- 7 References
- 8 Bibliography
- 9 Further reading
- 10 External links
Blondie, 1976. L-R: Gary Valentine, Clem Burke, Deborah Harry, Chris Stein and Jimmy Destri.
The catch-all nature of new wave music has been a source of much confusion and controversy. The 1985 discography Who's New Wave in Music listed artists in over 130 separate categories. The New Rolling Stone Encyclopedia of Rock uses the term "virtually meaningless" in its definition of new wave, while AllMusic mentions "stylistic diversity".
New wave first circulated as a rock music genre in the early 1970s, used by critics like Nick Kent and Dave Marsh to classify such New York-based groups as the Velvet Underground and New York Dolls. It gained a much wider currency beginning in 1976 when it appeared in UK punk fanzines such as Sniffin' Glue and also in newsagent music weeklies such as Melody Maker andNew Musical Express. In a November 1976 article in Melody Maker, Caroline Coon used Malcolm McLaren's term "new wave" to designate music by bands not exactly punk, but related to, and part of the same musical scene. The term was also used in that sense by music journalist Charles Shaar Murray in his comments about The Boomtown Rats. For a period of time in 1976 and 1977, the terms new wave and punk were somewhat interchangeable. By the end of 1977, "new wave" had replaced "punk" as the definition for new underground music in the UK.
"The New York Dolls arrived and galvanized the entire scene. Real glam trash. Beautiful. They proved it was possible to be trashy and good at the same time. Kicked everyone into action at a desperate moment. They saved us all. At that moment, I was drawing lines into New York and the Velvets, European avant garde and electronic music, previous generation's Brit Psychedelia plus a ragged sort of insulting glam. I guess this was the start of the New Wave. By the way, whoever coined that New Wave byline is my hero. Because a New Wave is precisely what it was – and precisely what was needed at that moment."—John Foxx
In the United States, Sire Records chairman Seymour Stein, believing that the term "punk" would mean poor sales for Sire's acts who had frequently played the club CBGB, launched a "Don't Call It Punk" campaign designed to replace the term with "new wave". As radio consultants in the United States had advised their clients that punk rock was a fad, they settled on the term "new wave". Like the filmmakers of the French New Wave movement (after whom the genre was named), its new artists were anti-corporate and experimental (e.g. Ramones and Talking Heads). At first, most U.S. writers exclusively used the term "new wave" for British punk acts. Starting in December 1976, The New York Rocker, which was suspicious of the term "punk", became the first American journal to enthusiastically use the term starting with British acts, later appropriating it to acts associated with the CBGB scene.Talking Heads performing in Toronto in 1978.
Music historian Vernon Joynson states that new wave emerged in the UK in late 1976, when many bands began disassociating themselves from punk. Music that followed the anarchic garage band ethos of the Sex Pistols was distinguished as "punk", while music that tended toward experimentation, lyrical complexity or more polished production, came to be categorized as "new wave". In the U.S., the first new wavers were the not-so-punk acts associated with the New York club CBGB (e.g.Talking Heads, Mink DeVille and Blondie).
CBGB owner Hilly Kristal, referring to the first show of the band Television at his club in March 1974, said, "I think of that as the beginning of new wave." Furthermore, many artists who would have originally been classified as punk were also termed new wave. A 1977 Phonogram Records compilation album of the same name (New Wave) features US artists including the Dead Boys,Ramones, Talking Heads and The Runaways.
New wave is much more closely tied to punk and came and went more quickly in the United Kingdom than in the United States. At the time punk began, it was a major phenomenon in the United Kingdom and a minor one in the United States. Thus when new wave acts started getting noticed in America, punk meant little to the mainstream audience and it was common for rock clubs and discos to play British dance mixes and videos between live sets by American guitar acts.
Post-punk music developments in the UK became mainstream and were considered unique cultural events. By the early 1980s, British journalists largely had abandoned using the term "new wave" in favor of subgenre terms such as "synthpop". By 1983, the term of choice for the US music industry had become "new music", while to the majority of US fans it was still a "new wave" reacting to "lumbering" album-based rock.
"Bit by bit the last traces of Punk were drained from New Wave, as New Wave went from meaning Talking Heads to meaning the Cars to Squeeze to Duran Duran to, finally, Wham! "—Music critic Bill Flannigan writing in 1989
While a consensus has developed that new wave proper ended in the mid-1980s, knocked out by various guitar-driven rock music reacting against new wave, for most of the remainder of the 1980s the term "new wave" was widely applied to nearly every new pop or pop rock artist that predominantly used synthesizers.Duran Duran in 1981. Top line: Nick Rhodes (keyboards), Simon Le Bon (vocals); Middle: John Taylor (bass); Bottom line: Roger Taylor (drums), Andy Taylor (guitar)
In the United States during the 21st century, "new wave" was still used to describe artists such as Duran Duran, Cyndi Lauper and Devo. Late 1970s new wave acts such as The Pretenders and The Cars were more likely to be found on classic rock playlists than on new wave playlists there. Reflecting its British origins, the 2004 study Popular Music Genres: An Introduction had one paragraph dedicated to 1970s new wave artists in its punk chapter while there was a 20 page chapter on early 1980s synthpop.
The new wave sound of the late 1970s represented a break from the smooth-oriented blues and rock & roll sounds of late 1960s to mid-1970s rock music. According to music journalist Simon Reynolds, the music had a twitchy, agitated feel to it. New wave musicians often played choppy rhythm guitars with fast tempos. Keyboards were common as were stop-and-start song structures and melodies. Reynolds noted that new wave vocalists sounded high-pitched, geeky and suburban. Theo Cateforis, an assistant professor of music history and cultures at Syracuse University, noted that a nervous, nerdy persona was a common characteristic of new wave fans and acts such as Talking Heads, Devo and Elvis Costello. This took the forms of robotic or spastic dancing, jittery high-pitched vocals, and clothing fashions such as suits and big glasses that hid the body.Elvis Costello, in Massey Hall, Toronto, April 1979
This seemed radical to audiences accustomed to post-counterculture forms such as disco dancing and macho "cock rock" which emphasized a "let it hang loose" philosophy, open sexuality and sexual bravado. Cateforis also noted that the majority of American male new wave acts of the late 1970s were from Caucasian middle-class backgrounds, and theorized that these acts intentionally presented these exaggerated nerdy tendencies associated with their "whiteness" either to criticize it or to reflect who they were.
Singer-songwriters who were "angry" and "intelligent" and who "approached pop music with the sardonic attitude and tense, aggressive energy of punk" such as Elvis Costello, Joe Jackson, andGraham Parker were also part of the new wave music scene.
The idea of rock music as a serious art form started in the late 1960s and was the dominant view of the genre at the time of new wave's arrival. New wave looked back or borrowed in various ways from the years just prior to this occurrence. One way this was done was by taking an ironic look at consumer and pop culture of the 1950s and early 1960s. The B-52's became most noted for a kitsch and camp presentation with their bouffant wigs, beach party and sci-fi movie references. Other groups that referenced the pre-progressive rock era were The Go-Go's, Blondie and Devo. The Jam in concert in Newcastle during their Trans-global Unity tour in March 1982.
Power pop continued the guitar-based, singles-oriented British invasion sound of the mid-1960s into the 1970s and the present day. Although the name "power pop" had been around before punk (it is believed to be coined by Pete Townshend in 1967) it became widely associated with new wave when Bomp and Trouser Press magazines (respectively in March and April 1978) wrote cover stories touting power pop as a sound that could continue new wave's directness without the negativity associated with punk. Cheap Trick, The Romantics, The Records, Shoes, The Motors, The Only Ones, The Plimsouls, the dB's, The Beat, The Vapors, 20/20 and Squeeze were groups that found success playing this style. The Jam was the prime example of the mod sensibility of British power pop. By the end of 1979 a backlash had developed against power pop in general, particularly in regards to the Los Angeles scene. The skinny ties worn by a lot of LA power pop groups, epitomized by The Knack, became symbolic of the supposed lack of authenticity of the genre. Power pop's association with the genre has largely been forgotten.
The term "post-punk" was coined to describe groups such as Public Image Ltd, Siouxsie and the Banshees, Joy Division, Gang of Four, Wire, The Fall, Magazine, and The Cure, which were initially considered part of new wave but were more ambitious, serious and challenging, as well as darker and less pop-oriented. Some of these groups would later adopt synths. Although distinct, punk, new wave, and post-punk all shared common ground: an energetic reaction to what they perceived as the overproduced, uninspired popular music of the 1970s.
The New Romantic scene had developed in the London nightclubs Billy's and The Blitz and was associated with bands such as Duran Duran, Japan, Ultravox, Visage, Adam and the Ants, Bow Wow Wow, Soft Cell, Spandau Ballet, ABCand Culture Club. They adopted their visual and musical style from David Bowie and Roxy Music.
Kraftwerk were acclaimed for their groundbreaking use of synthesizers. Their 1975 pop single "Autobahn" reached number 11 in the United Kingdom. In 1978, Gary Numan saw a synthesizer left by another music act and started playing around with it. By 1979 his band Tubeway Army had three albums and two singles in the British Top 20 and a No. 10 U.S. single. Numan's admitted amateurism and deliberate lack of emotion was a sea change from the masculine and professional image that professional synth players had in an era when elaborate, lengthy solos were the norm. His open desire to be a pop star broke from punk orthodoxy. The decreasing price and ease of use of the instrument led acts to follow in Kraftwerk and Numan's footsteps. While Tubeway Army also utilized conventional rock instruments, several acts that followed used only synthesizers. Synthpop (or "technopop" as it was described by the U.S. press,) filled a void left by disco, and grew into a broad genre that included groups such as The Human League, Depeche Mode, Soft Cell, a-ha, New Order, Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark, Yazoo, Ultravox, Kajagoogoo, and theThompson Twins.
In the early 1980s, new wave acts embraced a "crossover" of rock music with African and African-American styles. Adam and The Ants and Bow Wow Wow, both acts with ties to former Sex Pistols manager Malcolm McLaren, usedBurundi-style drumming. The Talking Heads album Remain in Light was marketed and positivity reviewed as a breakthrough melding of new wave and African styles, although drummer Chris Frantz has said that he found out about this supposed African influence after the fact. The 1981 U.S. number 1 single "Rapture" by Blondie was an homage to rap music. The song name-checked rap artists and Fab 5 Freddie appeared in the video for the song. Second British Invasion acts were influenced by funk and disco.
In the summer of 1977 both Time and Newsweek magazines wrote favorable lead stories on the "punk/new wave" movement. Acts associated with the movement received little or no radio airplay or music industry support. Small scenes developed in major cities. Continuing into the next year, public support remained limited to select elements of the artistic, bohemian and intellectual population, as arena rock and disco dominated the charts.
Starting in late 1978 and continuing into 1979, acts associated with punk and acts that mixed punk with other genres began to make chart appearances and receive airplay on rock stations and rock discos. Blondie, Talking Heads,The Police and The Cars would chart during this period. "My Sharona", a single from The Knack, was Billboard magazine's number one single of 1979. The success of "My Sharona" combined with the fact that new wave albums were much cheaper to produce during a time when the music industry was in its worst slump in decades, prompted record companies to rush out and sign new wave groups. New wave music scenes developed in Ohio andAthens, Georgia. 1980 saw brief forays into New wave-styled music by non-new wave artists Billy Joel and Linda Ronstadt.
Early in 1980, influential radio consultant Lee Abrams wrote a memo saying that with a few exceptions, "we're not going to be seeing many of the new wave circuit acts happening very big over here (in America). As a movement, we don't expect it to have much influence." Lee Ferguson, a consultant to KWST, said in an interview that Los Angeles radio stations were banning disc jockeys from using the term and noted, "Most of the people who call music new wave are the ones looking for a way not to play it." Despite the success of Devo's socially critical but widely misperceived song "Whip It", second albums by artists who had successful debut albums, along with newly signed artists, failed to sell, and radio pulled most new wave programming.
The arrival of MTV in 1981 would usher in new wave's most successful era in the United States. British artists, unlike many of their American counterparts, had learned how to use the music video early on. Several British acts signed to independent labels were able to outmarket and outsell American artists that were signed with major labels. Journalists labeled this phenomenon a "Second British Invasion". MTV continued its heavy rotation of videos by new wave-oriented acts until 1987, when it changed to a heavy metal and rock dominated format.Martha Davis of The Motels performs at Hollywood Park.
In a December 1982 Gallup poll, 14% of teenagers rated new wave music as their favorite type of music, making it the third most popular. New wave had its greatest popularity on the West Coast. Unlike other genres, race was not a factor in the popularity of new wave music, according to the poll.  Urban Contemporary radio stations were the first to play dance-oriented new wave artists such as the B-52's, Culture Club, Duran Duran and ABC.
New wave soundtracks were used in mainstream "Brat Pack" films such as Valley Girl, Sixteen Candles, Pretty In Pink, and The Breakfast Club. John Hughes, the director of several of these films, was enthralled with British new wave music and placed songs from acts such as The Psychedelic Furs, Simple Minds, and Echo and The Bunnymen in his films, helping to keep new wave in the mainstream. Several of these songs remain standards of the era. Critics described the MTV acts of the period as shallow or vapid. The homophobic slurs "faggot" and "art fag" were openly used to describe new wave musicians Despite the criticism, the danceable quality of the music and the quirky fashion sense associated with new wave artists appealed to audiences.
The use of synthesizers by new wave acts influenced the development of house music in Chicago and techno in Detroit. In September 1988 Billboard launched their Modern Rock chart. While the acts on the chart reflected a wide variety of stylistic influences, new wave's legacy remained in the large influx of acts from Great Britain and acts that were popular in rock discos, as well as the charts name itself which reflected how new wave had been marketed as "modern". New wave’s indie spirit would be crucial to the development of college rock and grunge/alternative rock in the latter half of the 1980s and beyond.Post-punk revivalFranz Ferdinand performing in 2006.
In 1991, retro futurist acts such as Stereolab and Saint Etienne mixed new wave and 1960s pop. In the aftermath of grunge, the British music press launched a campaign to promote the New Wave of New Wave. This campaign involved overtly punk and new wave-influenced acts such as Elastica but was eclipsed by Britpop. Other acts of note during the 1990s included No Doubt,Metric, Six Finger Satellite, and Brainiac. During that decade, the synthesizer-heavy dance sounds of British and European new wave acts influenced various incarnations of Eurodiscoand trance. Chris Martin was inspired to start Coldplay by a-ha.
During the 2000s, a number of acts emerged that mined a diversity of new wave and post-punk influences. Among these were The Strokes, Interpol, Yeah Yeah Yeahs, Franz Ferdinand, The Epoxies, She Wants Revenge, Bloc Party, Foals, Kaiser Chiefs, and The Killers. These acts were sometimes labeled "New New Wave". By 2004, these acts were described as "hot". The new wave revival reached its apex during the mid-2000s with acts such as The Sounds, The Ting Tings, Hot Chip, Passion Pit, The Presets, La Roux, Ladytron, Shiny Toy Guns, Hockey, Gwen Stefani and Ladyhawke. While some journalists and fans regarded this as a revival, others argued that the phenomenon was a continuation of the original movements.
The Drums are an example of the trend in the U.S. indie pop scene that employs both the sounds and attitudes of the British new wave era. A new wave-influenced genre calledchillwave also developed in the late 2000s, exemplified by artists like Toro Y Moi, Neon Indian, Twin Shadow and Washed Out.
Disney Channel stars such as Jonas Brothers and Hannah Montana have been described as embracing new wave sounds, as have acts like Marina and the Diamonds. Hip-hop artists commonly sample 1980s synthpop, andR&B artists such as Rihanna have also embraced that subgenre.
Since the late 1990s, nostalgia for the original 1980s incarnations of new wave became popular. This has taken the form of Hollywood movies with soundtracks using new wave music, 1980s nights at dance clubs, reunion tours featuring several 1980s acts and the classic alternative radio format.