Tuesday, November 27, 2007

The Annals of Authenticity, Vol. 2: Gang of Four

I probably have a longer essay in me for some future time about my admiration for Gang of Four, but suffice it to say that I can't think of another band that better navigated the Scylla and Charibdis of popular success and political credibility. Even their recent reunion album, Return the Gift, which consisted of the band doing new versions of their greatest hits, should have been a cynical money grab from any other band turned out to be well worth owning even if one had the originals (the bonus remix CD that came with the deluxe edition of that album, however, is another story. The only gem there was Karen O of the Yeah Yeah Yeahs joining the band for "I Love a Man in Uniform." The rest ranged from forgettable to outright disappointing.).

Though the band did implode in the mid-80s, they managed to put out three fantastic albums, including the essential Entertainment! (1979). And while it's safe to describe the band as infusing punk with dance beats, I often find it difficult to compare them to any of their contemporaries. They were experimental in ways similar to the Velvet Underground, and their extreme leftist politics made their lyrics intellectually thrilling for me in ways that no other band has ever achieved.

It may come as no surprise, then, that the reunited Gang of Four is planning to forego traditional distribution methods for their new work. Bassist Dave Allen has a blog, where he muses on the current state of the industry and the progress on the band's latest music. This recent list is particularly instructive, and seems to form a manifesto for the band's future:

01. We need to make a cheap quick recording of no more than 6 songs. The days of spending forever in a studio are over.
02. It can’t be called an album, that format is over - case in point - after downloading the Radiohead In Rainbows album I found various remixes of songs from that album and so I deleted the originals as the new mixes were preferable to me. I then built my own running order. Goodbye to having an album formatted in advance.
03. As we write and record in rehearsal we should post the demos, as rough as they are, to our website and also to Amiestreet so that fans can download them. Comments would be offered and that way we could gauge response. Also word of mouth will get the message far and wide that these demos are available and that we are working on the new recordings - no PR required.
04. Understanding the data which will then help us understand our fans’ behaviour.
05. It’s imperative that we give away MP3s.
06. Enroll our most rabid fans to help us market and promote the band.
07. We must partner only with an indie label for any physical good that we release.
08. We must take meetings with people like Kevin Arnold at IODA and Shane Tobin at iMeem whose companies offer very distinct ways to reach music fans.

You can read more of the entry here (and consider the blog entry you are currently reading to be an attempt to contribute to 06). In general, Allen is joining in the chorus that's touting the death of the album, and I especially like his comments about Radiohead's In Rainbows and the audience's power to create their own "album" out of remixes.

I'm also particularly excited about 03--the idea of posting MP3s of their current demos. You can get access to all three (so far) here. Even as demos, the three songs sound great, and they've really got me excited for new product from this group.

1 comment:

Jason said...

Gang of Four is fantastic. I caught them when they came through Chicago a few years ago and it was probably the most energetic show I've seen in a decade. On top of that, they're just so damn good at what they do. I'm very excited for some new music out of them (and hopefully another tour).

I'll have to spin Entertainment when I get home tonight.