New wave musicNew wave is a genre encompassing numerous pop-oriented music styles popular in the late 1970s and the 1980s. It is rooted in mid-1970s punk rock. New wave moved away from traditional blues and rock and roll sounds to create pop and rock music that incorporated disco, mod and electronic music. It engendered subgenres and fusions, including synth-pop.
New wave differs from other movements with ties to first-wave punk, as it displays characteristics common to pop music rather than the more "artsy" post-punk. Although it incorporates much of the original punk rock sound and ethos, new wave exhibits greater complexity in both music and lyrics. Common characteristics of new wave music include the use of synthesizers and electronic productions, and a distinctive visual style featured in music videos and fashion.
New wave was promoted heavily by MTV (the Buggles' "Video Killed the Radio Star" was broadcast as the first music video to promote the channel's launch). The popularity of several new wave artists is often attributed to their exposure on 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. During the 2000s, a number of acts explored new wave and post-punk influences and were sometimes labeled "new wave of new wave".
Etymology, usage and history
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 calls the term "virtually meaningless".
New wave first emerged as a rock genre in the early 1970s, used by critics including Nick Kent and Dave Marsh to classify such New York-based groups as the Velvet Underground and New York Dolls. It gained currency beginning in 1976 when it appeared in U.K. punk fanzines such as Sniffin' Glue and newsagent music weeklies such as Melody Maker and New Musical Express. In November 1976, Caroline Coon used Malcolm McLaren's term "new wave" to designate music by bands not exactly punk, but related to 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 U.K.
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 New York 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 new term. Like the filmmakers of the French new wave movement (after whom the genre was named), new wave artists were anti-corporate and experimental (e.g. Ramones and Talking Heads). At first, most U.S. writers used the term "new wave" exclusively in reference to 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 and later appropriating it to acts associated with the CBGB scene. Part of what attracted Stein and others to new wave was the music's stripped-back style and upbeat tempos, which they viewed as a much-needed return to the energetic rush of rock and roll and 1960s rock that had dwindled in the 1970s with the ascendance of overblown progressive rock and stadium spectacles.
Music historian Vernon Joynson claimed that new wave emerged in the U.K. 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., many of the first New Wave groups were the not-so-punk acts associated with CBGB (e.g. Talking Heads, Mink DeVille and Blondie), as well as the proto-punk scene in Ohio, which included Devo, the electric eels, Rocket from the Tombs and Pere Ubu. Some important bands, such as Suicide and the Modern Lovers, debuted even earlier.
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 American artists including the Dead Boys, Ramones, Talking Heads and the Runaways.
U.S./U.K. differencesNew wave is much more closely tied to punk, and came and went more quickly in the United Kingdom (and in the rest of Western Europe) 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 the term "new wave" in favor of subgenre terms such as "synthpop". By 1983, the term of choice for the U.S. music industry had become "new music", while to the majority of American fans it was still a "new wave" reacting to album-based rock.
Synonym of synth-pop
New wave died out after the mid-1980s, knocked out by guitar-driven rock reacting against new wave.
In the 21st-century United States, "new wave" was used to describe artists such as Morrissey, 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 in contrast to a 20-page chapter on early 1980s synthpop.
Related styles and subgenresNew wave represented a break from the blues and rock & roll sounds of late 1960s to mid-1970s music. According to Simon Reynolds, the music had a twitchy, agitated feel. New wave musicians often played choppy rhythm guitars with fast tempos, and keyboards were common, as were stop-start song structures and melodies. Reynolds noted that new wave vocalists sounded high-pitched, geeky and suburban. A nervous, nerdy persona was a common characteristic of new wave fans as well as acts such as Talking Heads, Devo and Elvis Costello. This took the forms of robotic dancing, jittery high-pitched vocals and clothing fashions such as suits and big glasses that hid the body.This seemed radical to audiences accustomed to post-counterculture forms such as disco dancing and macho "cock rock" that had emphasized a "hang loose" philosophy, open sexuality and sexual bravado. The majority of American male new wave acts of the late 1970s were from Caucasian middle-class backgrounds, and Theo Cateforis of Syracuse University theorized that these acts intentionally presented these exaggerated nerdy tendencies associated with their "whiteness" to criticize it and/or to reflect their identity.
The British pub rock scene of the mid-1970s was the source of new wave acts such as Ian Dury, Nick Lowe, Eddie and the Hot Rods and Dr. Feelgood.
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 and Graham Parker were also part of the new wave music scene. These artists were often referred to as "angry young men" for their aggressive style.
A British revival of ska music on the 2 Tone label, led by the Specials, Madness, the English Beat and the Selecter were more politically oriented than other new wave genres.
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 and beach party and sci-fi movie references. Other groups that referenced the pre-progressive rock era were the Go-Go's, Blondie and Devo.
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, used Burundi-style drumming. The Talking Heads album Remain in Light was marketed and positively reviewed as a breakthrough melding of new wave and African styles, although drummer Chris Frantz said that he found out about this supposed African influence after the fact. The 1981 U.S. number-one single "Rapture" by Blondie was an homage to rap music. The song name-checked rap artists and Fab 5 Freddie appeared in the song's video. Second British Invasion acts were influenced by funk and disco.
Power popPower pop continued the guitar-based, singles-oriented British invasion sound of the mid-1960s into the 1970s and the present day. Although the term "power pop" had been around before punk (it is believed to have been coined by Pete Townshend in 1967), it became widely associated with new wave when Bomp and Trouser Press magazines (in March and April 1978, respectively) 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, XTC, 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 regard to the Los Angeles scene. The skinny ties worn by L.A. 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 was later forgotten.
Punk and post-punk
The term "post-punk" was coined to describe groups such as Siouxsie and the Banshees, Wire, Magazine, Public Image Ltd, Joy Division, Gang of Four, the Fall, The Cure, the Psychedelic Furs and Echo and the Bunnymen, acts who were initially considered part of new wave but were more ambitious, serious and challenging, as well as being darker and less pop-oriented. Some of these groups would later adopt synths. While punk rock wielded a major influence on the popular music scene in the U.K., in the U.S. it remained a fixture of the underground.
New Romantic and synth-pop
The New Romantic scene developed in the London nightclubs Billy's and the Blitz in the late 1970s. Clubgoers wore flamboyant, eccentric costumes and makeup derived from the historical Romantic era. Beginning with David Bowie/Roxy Music-themed nights at these clubs, the scene was spearheaded by Steve Strange of Visage, with other soon-to-be pop acts also as regular fixtures, such as Boy George of Culture Club, and Spandau Ballet. Around the same time, Duran Duran emerged from a similar scene in Birmingham. Many of the acts that arose from the New Romantic club scene adopted synthpop in their own music, though all would credit Bowie and Roxy Music as primary influences, both musically and visually.
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. In 1979, he released two number-one albums and two number-one singles (one of each under his band name, Tubeway Army). 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. Numan's open desire to be a pop star broke from punk orthodoxy. The decreasing price and increasing ease of use of the synthesizer led acts to follow in Kraftwerk's and Numan's footsteps. While Numan 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, Eurythmics, Dead or Alive, Depeche Mode, Soft Cell, a-ha, Alphaville, New Order, Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark, Japan, Yazoo, Talk Talk Ultravox, Kajagoogoo, Tears for Fears, China Crisis, Simple Minds, Duran Duran, A Flock of Seagulls and Thompson Twins.
An African-American "new wave" of sorts also arose in the United States in the late 1970s and early 1980s, driven, as AllMusic points out, by "drum machines, synthesizers and programming [becoming] common studio tools." Following the musically stripped-down approach of Stevie Wonder and Parliament-Funkadelic, post-disco explored a more electronic and experimental side of African-American music by incorporating an eclectic range of styles, e.g. Jamaican music, electronic art music, jazz, blues and, in the latter years, European and Japanese synthesizer music.
Stretching the boundaries of disco music, post-disco took many forms, some entirely R&B-based (NYC boogie), some post-punk–based (alternative dance), underground club culture-centered (Chicago house with its own style of dance called jacking) and futurism–leaning (Detroit techno). Embracing new wave music (synth-pop) proper was proven to be influential, as Afrika Bambaataa ("Renegades of Funk") and Arthur Baker point out, on both underground and mainstream black dance music (electro, dance-rock, Minneapolis sound).
United StatesIn the summer of 1977 both Time and Newsweek 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 charted 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 sign new wave groups. New wave music scenes developed in Ohio and the college town of Athens, Georgia, with legendary bands such as the B-52s and R.E.M.. 1980 saw brief forays into new wave-styled music by non-new wave artists Billy Joel, Donna Summer 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 (referring to 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 on independent labels were able to outmarket and outsell American artists on 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.In a December 1982 Gallup poll, 14% of teenagers rated new wave 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, Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark 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.
In September 1988, Billboard launched its 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 chart's name, 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-1980s revivals and influenceIn 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 it 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 Euro disco and 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, the Bravery, Interpol, Yeah Yeah Yeahs, Franz Ferdinand, the Epoxies, VHS or Beta, the Rapture, She Wants Revenge, Bloc Party, Foals, Kaiser Chiefs and the Killers. These acts were sometimes labeled "New New Wave". The new wave revival reached its apex during the mid-2000s with acts such as the Sounds, the Ting Tings, Melody Club, 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 called chillwave also developed in the late 2000s, exemplified by artists like Toro Y Moi, Neon Indian, Twin Shadow and Washed Out.
In electronic musicNew wave had a seminal role in the development and popularity of contemporary electronic music.
During the late 1990s, new wave received a sudden surge of attention when it was fused with electro and techno during the short-lived electroclash movement. It received popular attention from musical acts such as I-F, Peaches, Fischerspooner and Vitalic, but largely faded when it combined with tech house to form the electro house genre.
During the mid 2000s, new rave combined new wave with elements from several other genres, such as indie rock and electro house, and added aesthetic elements archetypal of a rave, such as light shows and glow sticks. Despite the term itself stimulating controversy to the point where many affiliated artists rejected it, new rave as a musical genre was adopted by artists such as the Klaxons, NYPC, Shitdisco and Hadouken!
In the 2010s, nostalgia for 1980s new wave saw a resurgence in the form of synthwave, which is primarily characterized by new wave, soundtrack influences and a retrofuturistic, cyberpunk-like visual aesthetic. This term is applied to the music of artists such as Kavinsky, College, Power Glove, Mitch Murder and Her, as well as to soundtracks of films and video games such as Drive, Tron: Legacy, Hotline Miami, Kung Fury, Turbo Kid and Far Cry 3: Blood Dragon.