New Wave music

New Wave music
New Wave
Stylistic origins Punk rock, art rock,[1][2] garage rock,[3] glam rock, pub rock, ska, funk, electronic music, bubblegum,[4][5] disco[6][7][8]
Cultural origins Mid to late 1970s, United Kingdom and United States
Typical instruments Electric guitar – bass guitar – drums – synthesizers – vocals
Mainstream popularity Late 1970s to mid 1980s;[9] revival in 2000s and 2010s[10][11]
Derivative forms Neue Deutsche Welle – Suomi-rock[12]New RomanticismSynthpopMod revivalChillwave[13]
Fusion genres
Synthpunk2 ToneElectroclash – Nu Rave
Regional scenes
Argentina[14] – Finland – FranceGermany – Italy – Spain – United Kingdom – United States – Yugoslavia
Other topics
Post-punkAlternative rock

New Wave is a subgenre of rock music that emerged in the mid to late 1970s alongside punk rock. The term at first generally was synonymous with punk rock before being considered a genre in its own right that incorporated aspects of electronic and experimental music, mod subculture, disco and 1960s pop music. New Wave, as a term, has been used to describe all post-punk rock music, yet, it distances itself from other post-punk movements as it displays characteristics common to pop music, rather than the more "arty" post-punk.[15]

As a genre, it incorporates much of the original punk rock sound and ethos, such as an emphasis on short and punchy songs,[7][16] yet, it is characterized by greater complexity in both music and lyrics. Common characteristics of New Wave music, aside its punk influences, include the usage of synthesizers and electronic productions, the importance of styling and the arts, as well as a great amount of diversity.[17] As a term, New Wave is often used to describe music which was quirky and eccentric, yet also catchy and pop at heart, incorporating clear melodious hooks. In such a way, its style varies greatly, ranging from 1950s and 60s rock revivalism, ska and reggae-styled music, to synthpop-oriented dance.[18]

New Wave is seen as one of the definitive genres of the 1980s;[19] at the time, it enjoyed commercial success as several of the major arists and groups of the time were labelled New Wave. The genre became a fixture on MTV,[20][21] and the popularity of several New Wave artists has been partially attributed to the exposure that was given to them by the channel.[22] Despite commercial success in the 1980s, it was criticised by some at the time for its particular style and music.[23] The genre started to fade out by c. 1984, yet, it never truly died, and it enjoyed resurgences since the 1990s, after a "nostalgia" for New Wave swept across the music scene, causing several artists to be influenced by the genre.[24] The revivals in the 1990s and early 2000s were small, but became popular by 2004; subsequently, the genre has been influential on the indie rock movement.[10][11][25][26][27][28]



The term "New Wave" itself has been a source of much confusion and controversy. It was used in 1976 in the UK by punk fanzines such as Sniffin' Glue, and then by the professional music press.[29] 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;[30] the term was also used in that sense by music journalist Charles Shaar Murray, while writing about The Boomtown Rats.[31] For a period of time in 1976 and 1977 the two terms were interchangeable.[9][32] By the end of 1977, "New Wave" had replaced "Punk" as the definition for new underground music in the UK.[29]

In the United States, Sire Records needed a term by which it could market its newly signed bands, who had frequently played the club CBGB. Because 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 whom the genre was named after, its new artists, such as the Ramones and Talking Heads, were anti-corporate and experimental. At first most American writers exclusively used the term "New Wave" to describe 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.[29]

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.[33] 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". This came to include musicians who had come to prominence in the British pub rock scene of the mid-1970s, such as Ian Dury, Nick Lowe, Eddie and the Hot Rods and Dr. Feelgood;[34] and according to Allmusic "angry, intelligent" singer-songwriters who "approached pop music with the sardonic attitude and tense, aggressive energy of punk" such as Elvis Costello, Joe Jackson, and Graham Parker.[35] In the U.S., the first New Wavers were the not-so-punk acts associated with the New York club CBGB, such as Talking Heads, Mink DeVille and Blondie.[10] 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."[36] 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.[10][37]

The New Wave sound of this era 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.[16]

Power pop, a genre that started before punk at the very beginning of the 1970s, became associated with New Wave at the end of the decade because their brief catchy songs fit into the mood of the era. The Romantics, The Records, The Motors,[10] Cheap Trick, and 20/20 were groups that had success playing this style.[38] Helped by the success of power pop groups such as The Knack, skinny ties became fashionable among New Wave musicians.[9]

A revival of ska music led by The Specials, Madness and the The Beat/English Beat added humor and a strong dance beat to New Wave.[3]

Later still, "New Wave" came to imply a less noisy, often synthesizer-based, pop sound. The term post-punk was coined to describe groups such as Gang of Four, Joy Division, The Cure, and Siouxsie and the Banshees that were initially considered part of the New Wave but were more ambitious, serious and challenging, darker, and less pop oriented. Some of these groups would later adopt synths.[39][40] 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.[41]

"The New York Dolls arrived and galvanised 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."

Allmusic explained that New Wave's stylistic diversity occurred because New Wave "retained the fresh vigor and irreverence of punk music, as well as a fascination with electronics, style, and art". This diversity extended to the numerous one hit wonders that came out of the genre.[43][44]

The term fell out of favour in the United Kingdom during the early 1980s because its usage had become too general.[10] Conventional wisdom holds that the genre "died" in the middle of the 1980s. Theo Cateforis, Assistant Professor of Music History and Cultures at Syracuse University, contends New Wave "receded" during this period when advances in synthesizer technology caused New Wave groups and mainstream pop and rock groups to sound more alike.[9]

MTV brought a "image is everything" mantra to New Wave during the 1980s. New Wave men put eyeliners on and New Wave women wore pants. Pants were tucked inside boots. Lingerie was worn on the outside, and sequined gloves were popular. Hair was dyed red, gold and green[45].

Related movements in Europe

In Finland in the wake of Punk and New Wave the Suomi-Rock phenomenon occurred. Eppu Normaali were the seminal act of this phenomenon.[12] During the late 1970s and early 1980s in Amsterdam a movement that mixed the post punk and New Wave early 1980s emerged called Ultra which was an abbreviation for ultra modern. More garage oriented New Wave became popular in Holland during the late 1980s. Clan of Xymox and Minny Pops became successful abroad and contributed to the maturation of Dutch Alternative Pop.[46]

The New Romantic scene had developed in the London nightclubs Billy's and The Blitz and was associated with bands including Duran Duran, Japan, Ultravox, Visage, Adam and the Ants, Bow Wow Wow, Soft Cell, Spandau Ballet, ABC and Culture Club.[47] They adopted their visual and musical style from David Bowie and Roxy Music.[48]

Reception in the United States

In the summer of 1977 both TIME[49] and Newsweek magazines wrote favorable lead stories on the "punk/new wave" movement.[43] 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,[29] as arena rock and disco dominated the charts.[44]

Debbie Harry from the band Blondie, performing at Maple Leaf Gardens, Toronto, in 1977.

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. Blondie, Talking Heads, The Police and The Cars would chart during this period.[9][44] "My Sharona", a single from The Knack, was Billboard magazine's number one single of 1979. The success of "My Sharona" prompted record companies to rush out and sign New Wave groups.[9] New Wave music scenes developed in Ohio[44] and Athens, Georgia.[50] 1980 saw brief forays into New Wave-styled music by non-New Wave artists Billy Joel and Linda Ronstadt.[9] The release during this period of Gary Numan's album The Pleasure Principle would be the pop chart breakthrough for gender-bending synthpop acts with a cool, detached stage presence.[44]

Early in 1980 highly influential radio consultant Lee Abrams wrote a memo saying 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 interviewed at the time, said Los Angeles radio stations were banning disc jockeys from using the term and noted that "Most of the people who call music New Wave are the ones looking for a way not to play it."[51] Second albums by artists who had successful debut albums, along with the newly signed artists, both failed to sell and radio pulled most New Wave programming.[9]

The arrival of MTV in 1981 would usher in New Wave's most successful era. British artists, unlike many of their American counterparts, had learned how to use the music video early on.[44][52] 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".[52][53] 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.[54]

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.[55] 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. [55] 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.[56] By this period the definition of New Wave music in the United States (and the Philippines [45]) had changed from the less rebellious, more commercial version of punk that it had been described as a few years earlier. For most of the remainder of the 1980s the term "New Wave" was used in America to describe nearly every new pop or pop rock artist that largely used synthesizers. New Wave is still used today to describe these acts, as well as late 1970s and 1980s post-punk and alternative acts.[3][57][58]

Fans, music journalists, and artists would rebel against this catch-all definition by inventing dozens of genre names.[9][44] Synthpop or "Technopop" as it was described by the U.S. press[59] which filled a void left by disco,[27] was a broad subgenre that included groups such as The Human League, Depeche Mode, Soft Cell, a-ha, New Order, Orchestral Manoeuvres In The Dark, Yazoo,[60] Ultravox,[44] Kajagoogoo,[61] and the Thompson Twins.[62]

New Wave soundtracks were used in mainstream "Brat Pack" films such as Valley Girl, Sixteen Candles, Pretty In Pink, and The Breakfast Club.[44][63] John Hughes, a director of several of these films, was enthralled with British New Wave Music and put music from acts such as The Psychedelic Furs, Simple Minds, and Echo and The Bunnymen into his films, helping put New Wave into the mainstream. Several of these songs remain standards of the era.[64] Critics would describe the MTV acts as shallow or vapid,[44][52] but the danceable quality of the music and quirky fashion sense associated with New Wave artists appealed to audiences.[44] The use of synthesizers by New Wave acts influenced the development of house music in Chicago and techno in Detroit. 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.[44] New Wave is considered part of alternative rock today.[3]

Post-1980s revivals and influence

Franz Ferdinand performing in 2006.

In 1991 retro futurist acts such as Stereolab and Saint Etienne mixed New Wave and kitschy 1960s pop.[65] 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 and Smash but was eclipsed by Britpop.[10] Other acts of note during the 1990s included No Doubt, Six Finger Satellite, and Brainiac.[11][66] During that decade the synthesizer heavy dance sounds British and European New Wave acts influenced various incarnations of Eurodisco and trance.[27][44] Chris Martin was inspired to start Coldplay by a-ha.[67]

During the 2000s a number of acts emerged that mined from 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".[25] New Wave became revived during the mid 2000s with acts such as The Sounds, The Ting Tings, The Birthday Massacre,[68] Hot Chip,[69] Cut Copy,[70][71] MGMT,[72] Passion Pit,[73] The Presets,[74] La Roux, Ladytron,[75] Shiny Toy Guns,[76] Santigold,[77][78] Hockey,[79] Gwen Stefani, Ladyhawke and Marina and the Diamonds.[11][25][80][81][82][83][84][85][86][87][88] While some journalists and fans regarded this as a revival, others argue that the phenomenon is a continuation of the original movements.[11][89][90][91]

The Drums are an example of the current trend in the United States indie pop scene that mines both the sounds and attitudes of the British New Wave Era. British group La Roux who had a number 8 single on the Billboard's Hot 100 is an example on the influence New Wave is having on indie dance.[26][27][28][92] In addition, in the late 2000s a New Wave influenced genre called Chillwave developed, and notable artists are Neon Indian, Twin Shadow and Washed Out.[93][94]

Many have claimed that daring, spunky and over-the-top fashions of today's stars such as Katy Perry and Lady Gaga channel 1980s New Wave fashion[45].

Parallel movements

See also


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