Gang of Four are an English post-punk group from Leeds. Original personnel were singer Jon King, guitarist Andy Gill, bass guitarist Dave Allen and drummer Hugo Burnham. They were fully active from 1977 to 1983, and then re-emerged twice in the 1990s with King and Gill. In 2004, the original line-up reunited but in November 2006 Allen was replaced on bass by Thomas McNeice and Burnham on drums by Mark Heaney. Singer Jon King departed some time during 2012.
They play a stripped-down mix of punk rock, funk music and dub reggae, with an emphasis on the social and political ills of society. Gang of Four are widely considered one of the leading bands of the late 1970s/early 1980s post-punk movement. Their later albums (Songs of the Free and Hard) found them softening some of their more jarring qualities, and drifting towards dance-punk and disco. Their debut album, Entertainment!, ranked at Number 490 in Rolling Stone's The 500 Greatest Albums of All Time, and is listed by Pitchfork Media as the 8th best album of the 1970s. David Fricke of Rolling Stone described Gang of Four as "probably the best politically motivated band in rock & roll."
Gill and King, the primary creative forces in the band, brought together an eclectic array of influences, ranging from the neo-Marxist Frankfurt School of social criticism to the increasingly clear trans-Atlantic punk consensus. Gang of Four was named by a member of the Mekons when while driving around with Gill and King he came upon a newspaper article on the intra-Party coup against China's "Gang of Four".
Gill's guitar sound had a forebear in the playing of Wilko Johnson, the guitarist with Dr. Feelgood. Gill's staccato, aggressive style has proved an enduring influence in turn. Paul Morley described the band's music as "a kind of demented funk, incredibly white but also, because of political commitment and defiant sloganeering, very dark, and ultimately as close to the depraved edge of the blues and Hendrix." Critic Greil Marcus found his first viewing of the group's performance so shattering that he left after their set rather than risk having the impact of the deeply political Gang of Four's songs dampened by the pop-punk of the Buzzcocks.
The Gang's debut single, "Damaged Goods" backed with "(Love Like) Anthrax" and "Armalite Rifle", was recorded in June 1978 and released on 10 December 1978, on Edinburgh's Fast Product label. It was produced by the Gang of Four and Bob Last and Tim Inman. It was a Number 1 indie chart hit and John Peel radio show favourite. This led to two Peel radio sessions, which, with their incendiary live performances, propelled the band to international attention and sold-out shows across Europe and North America. They were then signed by EMI records. The group's debut single with this label, "At Home He's a Tourist", charted in 1979. Invited to appear on top rated BBC music program Top of the Pops, the band walked off the show when the BBC told them to sing "packets" in the place of the original lyric "rubbers", as the original line was considered too risque. The single was then banned by BBC Radio and TV, which lost the band support at EMI, who began to push another band, Duran Duran, instead. A later single, "I Love a Man in a Uniform", was banned by the BBC during the Falklands War in 1982.
Critic Stewart Mason has called "Anthrax" not only the group's "most notorious song" but also "one of the most unique and interesting songs of its time". It's also a good example of Gang of Four's social perspective: after a minute-long, droning, feedback-laced guitar intro, the rhythm section sets up a funky, churning beat, and the guitar drops out entirely. In one stereo channel, King sings a "post-punk anti-love song", comparing himself to a beetle trapped on its back ("and there's no way for me to get up") and equating love with "a case of anthrax, and that's some thing I don't want to catch." Meanwhile, in the other stereo channel (and slightly less prominent in the mix), Gill reads (on the original E.P. version) a detailed account of the technical resources used on the song, which on the re-recorded album version is replaced by a deadpan monograph about public perception of love and the prevalence of love songs in popular music: "Love crops up quite a lot as something to sing about, 'cause most groups make most of their songs about falling in love, or how happy they are to be in love, and you occasionally wonder why these groups do sing about it all the time." The simultaneous vocals are rather disorienting, especially when Gill pauses in his examination of love songs to echo a few of King's sung lines.
According to critic Paul Morley, "The Gang spliced the ferocious precision of Dr. Feelgood's working-class blues with the testing avant-garde intrigue of Henry Cow. Wilfully avoiding structural obviousness, melodic prettiness and harmonic corniness, the Gang's music was studded with awkward holes and sharp corners." At the time, the band was recognised to be doing something very different from other white guitar acts. Ken Tucker, in Rolling Stone, 1980, wrote: "...rarely have the radical edges of black and white music come closer to overlapping... the Gang of Four utilize their bass guitar every bit as prominently and starkly as the curt bass figures that prod the spoken verses in (Kurtis Blow's "culture defining" huge summer hit) “The Breaks.”
In 1981 the band released their second LP, Solid Gold. Like Entertainment!, the album was uncompromising, spare, and analytical; such songs as "Cheeseburger," "He'd Send in the Army," and "In the Ditch" exposed the paradoxes of warfare, work, and leisure. Van Gosse, in a Village Voice review said: "Gang of Four embody a new category in pop, which illuminates all the others, because the motor of their aesthetic is not a 'personal creative vision.'"
The band toured extensively as part of , in the USA, Ian Copeland's FBI talent agency roster http://www.policefans.org/Police_wiki/index.php?title=Ian_Copeland]] and were a major draw supported by acts like REM [] , Mission of Burma and Pylon; and were featured on the legendary bill of the 1982 US Festival [] alongside B52's , Talking Heads and THe Police. Allen (who later co-founded Shriekback, King Swamp, Low Pop Suicide and The Elastic Purejoy left mid US tour in 1981 to be replaced briefly by Busta "Cherry" Jones, ex Parliament and Talking Heads, leaving afterward to work with The Rolling Stones and be replaced by Sara Lee, who was Robert Fripp's bassist in League of Gentlemen. Lee was as good a singer as bassist, and she helped give the band's third studio album, Songs of the Free, a more commercially accessible element. Although "I Love a Man in a Uniform" from the album was the band's most radio-friendly song, it was banned in the UK shortly after its release because Britain went to war in the Falklands Islands. While an incendiary live draw, commercial success evaded them and ,in the spring of 1983, Burnham left the band after the release of Songs of the Free . Burnham then formed Illustrated Man. Gill and King continued Gang of Four, releasing Hard in 1983.
1986 saw the release of The Peel Sessions, http://www.allmusic.com/album/peel-sessions-mw0000206481 , a collection of rawly rendered material recorded during the period 1979 to 1981 for British radio BBC. Melody Maker dubbed the album "a perfect and classic nostalgia trip into the world of gaunt cynicism."
After retiring from working together, Gill and King reunited to record Mall in 1991, and finally Shrinkwrapped in 1995. Lee later joined The B-52's to be replaced by Gail Ann Dorsey, later famous for her longtime association with David Bowie.
The original lineup of Jon King, Andy Gill, Dave Allen and Hugo Burnham reformed in November 2004. A UK tour in January 2005, shows in Europe and Japan and tours of the United States in May/June and again in September. In October 2005, Gang of Four released a new disc featuring new recordings of songs from the albums Entertainment!, Solid Gold and Songs of the Free entitled Return the Gift, accompanied by an album's worth of remixes. They continued playing occasionally during 2006, including a tour of Brazil.
Hugo Burnham retired as drummer in December 2006 . Mark Heaney, who had recorded drums for "Return the Gift" and played a couple of European shows in the summer of 2006, replaced him full-time playing alongside Allen until, in May 2008, Allen also announced his departure, to be replaced by Thomas McNeice.
In January 2011, the band released a new album, Content, which was well received. Andrew Perry, writing in Britain's Telegraph newspaper, gave it (21 January 2011) a 5-star rating and said that it was "their best record since the Seventies", Jon Pareles, awarding the album 4 stars in a New York Times review of 25 January 2011, declared that [the band] "have reclaimed, with a vengeance, their old attack", Dan Wilcox of KCRW (17 January 2011) said [of Content]: "Entertaining, scintillating and dangerous, the band has lost none of its explosive edge over the years." In his Pitchfork review of the album, January 26, 2011 Stuart Berman wrote "If Gang of Four's 2005 reformation proved they could more than hold their own against the upstarts, then Content shows that their chief concerns – the financial and psychological toll of keeping up with the Joneses – resonate all the more loudly in an Internet-accelerated era where even those on the vanguard can feel behind the times, and where the lawless, anonymous nature of online exchange threatens to overwhelm our identities. It's thus fitting that the album's most exuberant moment – the muscular Motown stomp "Who Am I?" – is used to soundtrack a modern-day anarchist's existential crisis: "You can't steal when everything is free".
Berman also writes, in the same feature, about the use of the song "Natural's Not In It" in a television commercial for Kinect, a device for Microsoft's Xbox 360 video game platform; "When Jon King sarcastically asked, "What to do for pleasure?" on Gang of Four's epochal 1979 debut, Entertainment!, little did he realize that, 32 years later, he'd be answering his own question with: buy an Xbox 360 Kinect! But rather than undermine Gang of Four's ideological integrity, the recent use of the song quoted above ("Natural's Not in It") in a Microsoft gaming-console commercial marked a logical extension of it. ... Gang of Four were always less interested in smashing storefronts than in exploring the anxiety of consumerism—how a culture obsessed with status and acquisition reduces personal interaction to a transactional experience. And they did so not out of scorn for those who fuel the capitalist machine, but to acknowledge their own complicity in it."
The band, with Mark Heaney and Thomas McNeice on drums and bass, toured North America, Australia and Europe in 2011, after which Gill & King ceased working together to pursue individual careers.
Gang of Four went on to influence a number of successful alternative rock acts throughout the '80s and '90s, although few of their followers were as arty or political. R.E.M. frontman Michael Stipe cites Gang of Four as one of his band's chief influences; Flea of the Red Hot Chili Peppers has stated that Gang of Four were the single most important influence on his band's early music (Andy Gill even produced the Chili Peppers debut album). Kurt Cobain stated that Nirvana started as "a Gang of Four and Scratch Acid ripoff". Gang of Four's debut album "Entertainment" was ranked 13th in Kurt Cobain's list of his 50 favourite albums in his journal. Andy Kellman, writing in Allmusic, has even argued that Gang of Four's "germs of influence" can be found in many rap metal groups "not in touch with their ancestry enough to realize it".
Sara Lee was also a judge for the 5th annual Independent Music Awards to support independent artists' careers.
In recent years the band has enjoyed a resurgence in popularity, initially due to emergence of new post-punk revival bands such as Clinic, Liars, The Rapture and Radio 4, and then the rise of Franz Ferdinand, We Are Scientists and Bloc Party, which led to the renewed patronage of the NME.
Entertainment! (EMI, 1979) – UK Number 45, Australia Number 39
Solid Gold (Warner Bros., 1981) – UK Number 52, US Pop Number 190
Songs of the Free (Warner Bros., 1982) – UK Number 61, US Pop Number 175
Hard (Warner Bros., 1983) – US Pop Number 168
Mall (Polydor, 1991)
Shrinkwrapped (Castle, 1995)
Return the Gift (2005), V2 – re-recordings of earlier tracks
Content (Yep Roc, 2011)
At the Palace (Mercury, 1984)
The Peel Sessions (1990), Strange Fruit/Dutch East India
You Catch Up With History (1978–1983) (1990), Greenlight-Capitol
A Brief History of the Twentieth Century (1990), Warner Bros
100 Flowers Bloom (1998), Rhino
Yellow (EMI, 1980) – US Pop Number 201
Another Day/Another Dollar (Warner Bros., 1982) – US Pop Number 195
The Peel Sessions (16.1.79) (1986), Strange Fruit
1 ^ Allmusic bio
2^ "Staff Lists: Top 100 Albums of the 1970s | Features". Pitchfork. 2004-06-23. Retrieved 2012-02-19.
3^ S. Reynolds, Rip It Up and Start Again: Postpunk 1978–1984, p. 57, Penguin (2006)
4^ Their influence on RHCP is confirmed by Flea on the liner notes to the re-release of Entertainment. Their influence on REM is confirmed by Michael Stipe on the liner notes to Gyrate Plus.
5 ^ see the notes for A Brief History of the 20th Century
6^ ClashMusic. "Gang Of Four Track By Track". Interview. www.ClashMusic.com. Retrieved 2 June 2010.
7^ a b Mason, Stewart. "Anthrax" (DLL). Song Review. allmusic. Retrieved 26 August 2008.
8^ Perry, Andrew (21 January 2011). "Gang of Four: Content, CD review". The Daily Telegraph (London).
9^ Ratliff, Ben; Chinen, Nate; Pareles, Jon (24 January 2011). "New CDs From Destroyer, Amos Lee and Gang of Four – Review". The New York Times.
10 ^ "Gang of Four: Content – Album Preview on KCRW". Kcrw.com. Retrieved 2012-02-19.
11^ "Gang of Four: Content | Album Reviews". Pitchfork. 2011-01-26. Retrieved 2012-02-19.
12^ Lester, Paul (2008). Gang of Four. Music Sales Group. p. 1.
13^ Entertainment liner notes.
14^ ""Top 50 by Nirvana [MIXTAPE]"". Retrieved 8 May 2013.
15^ "Review of Entertainment!". allmusicguide. Retrieved 28 March 2008.
16^ "Independent Music Awards – Past Judges". Independentmusicawards.com. Retrieved 2012-02-19.
17^ a b Roberts, David (2006). British Hit Singles & Albums (19th ed.). London: Guinness World Records Limited. p. 221. ISBN 1-904994-10-5.
18^ "Gang of Four", Chart Stats, retrieved 2011-04-18
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