Succumb to the Darkness

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When Punk arrived at the scene it distinguished itself from other genres in its commitment to anarchy and disruption of the status quo. In Britain, bands like The Buzzocks and The Sex Pistols inspired rebellion against the complacency of popular scenes with defiance. Fans rocked out in anachronistic raw expression, but as economic conditions worsened and the conservative government tightened its grip on society, audiences yearned for more complex forms of catharsis. Critics called this movement Post-punk leaving more simplistic music behind for a more progressive form of nihilism. The Post-punk movement of the late seventies and early eighties had a sound best characterized by the music of the band Joy Division. Their popular song “Love Will Tear Us Apart” with its upbeat rhythm driving it forward, lo-fi, scratchy guitar strums and the subterraneous bass to anchor it all, creates an angsty, dark veneer different from the rawness of classic punk. The synthesizer on top playing the melody set their style apart from traditional punk that famously rejected the influence of technology in music. This synth/punk fusion was later tweaked by two other bands: New Order and their song “Age of Consent” and Bauhaus’ “Bela Lugosi’s Dead”. One more closely associated with pop uses more synth and falsetto vocals the resulting sound less gloomy and more commercially palatable to wider audiences. The other band embraced coarser sounds, experimental song structures, and inharmonious compositions but are still labeled as such.

“Age of Consent” shares many aspects with “Love Will Tear Us Apart”, traditional verse/chorus structures, high pitched synths and danceable rhythms contributed to their commercial successes. The song kept some elements of “LWTUA”; detached, echoing and moody but adds reverb to the guitar section and synth to the environment. The differences, however, illustrate a controversy that runs deeper within the genre that is Post-punk.  After the death of Ian Curtis, frontman for Joy Division, the remaining band members continued making music under the name New Order resulting in similarities between many of the songs. The band formed its own identity, their departure from Curtis, marked a schism in Post-punk; their first album Movement, Chris Kissel of Diffuser Magazine remarks “ultimately represents is a split in the indie rock family tree — one branch leading to Nine Inch Nails, the other leading to LCD Soundsystem.” (Kissel).  The haunting quality of Ian Curtis’ voice is missing, along with his melancholic lyricism but “Age of Consent” offers release in this danceable, stimulating rhythm and its synth inspiring the music of bands like A-ha and Kraftwerk. The section of the fanbase that rejected this direction flocked to more Avante-Garde, experimental bands.

For Post-punk fans less attracted to the mainstream, airy atmospheric pop music of bands like U2 and Talking Heads, Bauhaus’ hit song “Bela Lugosi’s Dead” incorporates droning soundscapes, fractured lyrical structure, and raw instrumentality. The song’s tension, its long instrumental interludes with lurking bassline underneath captures the artistic, experimental side of Post-punk and Goth music. Goth is a subculture characterized by lots of black and androgynous style. Daniel Ash, guitarist/vocalist of Bauhaus personified the image of Goth, spiky unkempt hair, lipstick, and black leather inspired youths of the early eighties to follow suit. Bauhaus satisfies the anti-establishment mentality of the punk movement while incorporating influences like David Bowie and The Doors. The outcast classes of the past became somewhat liberated as part of a widely recognized then growing concept of the subculture, whose purpose is to express the emotions of frustration and freedom carried by the generation of the early eighties. “Bela Lugosi’s Dead”, when it was released, expressed defiance and non-conformity not previously heard, it was highly appreciated by the rebellious branch of the movement while incorporating the spacey atmosphere of Synth-pop to create a brand new flavor of music, Goth.

Music is a pure expression of emotion through organized sound. The range of human emotions is parallel to the variation of music that exists; all music requires freedom to express.

While certain circles recognize the differences between these bands and their influences, to the untrained ear, Post-punk can sound and depressing, repetitive and incoherent. The distinction between Post-punk, Goth, and Synth-pop can seem arbitrary. Each style often involves the elements of other styles. I think that categorizing music into genres can restrict the freedom that any arrangement of instruments can express any emotion. Goth can be atmospheric and synthy, Synth-pop can have biting guitar riffs and noisy, harsh soundscapes. The genres are all connected in the massive web that is music.