Anarchy Across the Pond -- Post-Punk in 2021
Shame - Photo by Sam Gregg
By Erik Thompson
The global pandemic has silenced a significant portion of the music industry over the past year. Concerts were cancelled, tours were postponed, concert venues were closed down, and album release dates were delayed. But bands in the U.K. and Ireland are still managing to raise a hell of a racket, as a new batch of post-punk groups are providing a raucous soundtrack to these fraught, uncertain times.
Shame, TV Priest, Sports Team, Goat Girl, Dream Wife, and Sorry (all hailing from London), IDLES (Bristol), Sleaford Mods (Nottingham), and Fontaines D.C. (Dublin) are all leading the way in bringing a fresh twist to the untamed urgency of post-punk. Music fans who are desperate for a raw, volatile sound that encapsulates the anxiety and exasperation of modern life have found this new wave of artists that share those same concerns and express them eloquently and intensely within their music.
In the inflammatory era of Brexit and the social justice movement of Black Lives Matter -- with the ominous shadow of Trump casting a dark pall over the entire world -- music was bound to take on a rebellious quality as well as an added cultural significance. And these bands have all delivered a defiant call to arms that the current political and social climate demands, with their bold, brazen anthems serving as unifying musical statements that disillusioned fans can rally around.
Marlon Brando’s character in The Wild One famously responded when asked, “Hey Johnny, what are you rebelling against?” with “Whaddya got?” These days, musicians have plenty of source material to inspire their rebellious creativity. Music can -- and should -- provide an escape from the world, but it can also hold a mirror up to the sinister side of life and reflect the outrage and unease that is coursing through society.
The choppy riffs and insistent rhythms that characterize the post-punk sound are prominent in this new batch of bands, but it’s the heady, perceptive lyrics that catch your ear after the rowdy din fades away. There is incisive poetry within the churning sonic turmoil of these songs, something to get you thinking and start your mind racing while the fitful music stirs your soul. It’s a potent combination, one of many reasons why these bands have caught the rapt attention of the music world and the hearts of their growing legion of fans.
And as I count all my foes
Distinguished and closed
Is how I hope they remain
For this life is too long
And this world has been wronged
By sinners and saints and more
Shame “Human, For A Minute”
Don’t get stuck in the past
Say your favourite things at mass
Tell your mother that you love her
And go out of your way for others
Sit beneath a light that suits ya
And look forward to a brighter future
Life ain’t always empty
Fontaines D.C. “A Hero’s Death”
Of course these songs all hit a lot different as we continue to be stuck at home during quarantine, yearning for human interaction and missing spending time with loved ones. The solitary act of putting on a record and letting that collection of songs take you on the only journey you will go on that particular day is an intimate, powerful connection. While these new songs will all sound massive live once concerts can safely return, for now the only way to hear them has been on your home stereo or headphones. And that has added a personal, vital quality to the music that perhaps wouldn’t be so profound in a non-pandemic world.
If you’re looking for a musical jolt to snap you out of your tired daily routine, or just want something radically different from your standard playlist, give this new generation of post-punk bands a listen and expand your worldview as well as your record collection.