Pioneering post-punk band, the Gang of Four were formed in the bricolage punk rock fallout culture of late seventies Leeds—a place where art was a mirror and guitars were machine guns. Gang of Four tore up the template and made sense of the question marks thrown up by year zero.
They redesigned rock in the punk aftermath, taking the incendiary energy of the form and criss-crossing it with funk, stripping away the baggage of rock excess and creating a new stripped-down music that was full of agit energy, heavy grooves, shrapnel guitars and politically charged lyrics matching the fervor of the times. Swerving trad rock rhythms, the beats were invented from scratch and every instrument played a pivotal role in the sound in a non-hierarchical structure.
In short, they came up with post punk.
The band then bounced around the music business releasing a series of albums that have been a direct inspiration to a diverse selection of bands who wanted to deconstruct rock music without losing its sense of excitement, from the surrounding post-punk generation to the big bands that followed. The Red Hot Chili Peppers, INXS, R.E.M., U2, Rage Against the Machine, Nirvana and Massive Attack have all spoken of their debt to Gang of Four.
More recently, the band’s influence has become almost universal—now everybody talks about Gang of Four. From Franz Ferdinand to St Vincent, from Sleater-Kinney and James Murphy of LCD Soundsystem to Nine Inch Nails: today’s creators of angular rock music have GO4’s influence and imprint all over them. The band is reaching an urban audience with Frank Ocean sampling them on his latest album and Pharrell name-checking the band in his interviews.
Inevitably G04 disbanded in 1984 but reformed later that decade, since then releasing a series of albums that emphatically demonstrate their capacity for invention and twisting energy. The line-up now includes Thomas McNeice—the bass player joined in 2008—and John ‘Gaoler’ Sterry, who has supplied vocals since 2011.
Urgent, dangerous and intense and a bass sound you would kill for, the Gang of Four are, somehow, one of the best young bands in Britain. Full of energy and intensity and zig-zag darting runs across the stage, they explode with the vim and vigor of ideas, like all great bands in their early days.
Except this band is built around a near-60-year-old guitar player, G04 founder Andy Gill, whose pursuit of perfection has left him as the gang of one. Gill is as vital as ever at the heart of the project. This is no smash-and-grab raid on past reputation. Gang of Four are at the top of their game.
Their upcoming album Happy Now is the perfect synthesis between a modern take on the classic sound—a pop touch with those timeless angular guitar lines and fractured rhythms—with a fast forward vision. It’s this combination of electronics and the jagged guitar lines pursuing 21st century grooves that achieves a striking balance between the band’s fundamental sound and its restless embrace of the now and the new. Overlaid with Gaoler’s melodic vocals, the result is a body of anthemic songs of modern confusion, in the band’s best and most consistent work since their post-punk years.
The album also captures the energy of their live show which is seriously good. McNeice’s bass is fierce, sharp, full of post-punk grind. He looks sharp and lean, dangerous as well, with his suicide runs across the stage, all the while locking in tight with the pounding rhythm section. Meanwhile Gaoler is delivering his impassioned vocals, flailing away lost in the dark energy groove provided by Jonny Finnigan and Tobias Humble. All of this complements and highlights Gill’s steel-eyed resolve and six-string invention.
The Gang of Four was always more than ‘just a band’. It’s an idea. A quicksilver place that is there to be grabbed by those that dare. Gill has drilled the band super-tight and infused them with that spartan, post-punk, spare aesthetic that sets them up perfectly for this modern dance.
The 2018 Gang of Four are glorious. They sound enormous. They are exciting and have more than a whiff of danger and revolution about them. Gill radiates intensity and still plays the guitar like it’s sparking with Hendrix electricity or an AK47 Wilko scratch clatter, and his band of young droogs add a youthful exuberance and energy that electrifies the songs and makes Gang of Four a thrilling exercise in reinvention.