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New Wave is a genre of music that emerged in in the middle 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, and disco and 1960's pop music, as well as much of the original punk rock sound and ethos, such as an emphasis on short and punchy songs. During the 1980s in the United States New Wave became a catch-all term that applied to new music acts in general and synthpop and British acts in particular. The 1990s and 2000s have seen revivals, and a number of acts that have been influenced by a variety of New Wave styles.


The term "New Wave" itself has been a source of much confusion and controversy. Sex Pistols manager Malcolm McLaren used the term to compare punk rock with the 1960s French Situationist movement. It was used in 1976 in the UK by punk fanzines such as Sniffin' Glue and then by the professional music press. In a November 1976 article in Melody Maker, Caroline Coon used McLaren's term "New Wave" to designate music by bands not exactly punk, but related and part of the same musical scene. For a period of time in 1976 and 1977 the two terms were interchangeable. By the end of 1977, "New Wave" had replaced "Punk" as the definition for new underground music in the UK.

In the United States, Sire Records needed a term by which it could market its newly signed bands, who had frequently played the club CBGBmarker. 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 those film makers, 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.

Music historian Vernon Joynson states that new wave emerged in the U.K. in late 1976, when many bands began disassociating themselves from punk. 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; and later on singer-songwriters who were noted for their barbed lyrical wit , such as Elvis Costello, Tom Robinson and Joe Jackson well as. In the U.S., the first New Wavers were the not-so-punk acts associated with the New York club CBGBs, such as Talking Heads, Mink DeVille and Blondie. CBGBmarker 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." 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.

The Talking Heads set the template for the New Wave sound of this era. This sound represented a break from the black smooth oriented blues and rock and roll sounds of late 1960s to mid 1970's rock music. According to music journalist Simon Reynolds the music had a twitchy agitated feel to it. New Wave musicians who often played choppy rhythm guitars with fast tempos. Keyboards were common as was stop and start song structures and melodies. Reynolds noted that New Wave vocalists sounded high pitched, geeky and suburban.

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

Later still, "New Wave" came to imply a less noisy, often synthesizer-based, pop sound. The term post-punk was coined to describe the darker, less pop-influenced groups, such as Gang of Four, Joy Division, the Cure, and Siouxsie & the Banshees. Although distinct, punk, New Wave, and post-punk all shared common ground: an energetic reaction to the supposedly overproduced, uninspired popular music of the 1970s.

The term fell out of favour in the United Kingdom during the early 1980s because its usage had become too general. Conventional wisdom holds that the genre "died" in the middle of the 1980s. Theo Cateforis, Assistant Professor of Music History and Cultures at Syracuse Universitymarker 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.

Reception in The United States

In the summer of 1977 both Time and Newsweek magazines wrote favorable lead stories on the "punk/new wave" movement. Rock critics had mixed opinions. 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 as arena rock and disco dominated the charts.

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, and The Cars would chart during this period. My Sharona a single from the The Knack was top selling single in 1979. The success of "My Sharona" caused record companies to rush out and sign New Wave groups. New Wave music scenes developed in Ohiomarker and Athens, Georgiamarker. 1980 saw brief forays into New Wave styled music by non new wave artists Billy Joel and Linda Ronstadt. 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. Success was short lived as second albums by artists who had successful debut albums and the newly signed artists both failed to sell forcing radio to pull New Wave programming.

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. 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". 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.

14% of teenagers answering a December 1982 Gallup Poll rated New Wave music as their favorite genre, making it the third most popular genre. 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. By this period the definition of New Wave music in the United States 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.

Fans, music journalists, and artists would rebel against this catchall definition by inventing dozens of genre names. Synthpop which filled a void left by disco was a broad subgenre that saw groups such as The Human League, Depeche Mode, a-ha, Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark and the Pet Shop Boys chart.

The period saw a number of one hit wonders, and New Wave soundtracks were used in Brat Pack films such as Valley Girl, Sixteen Candles and The Breakfast Club. Critics would describe the MTV acts as shallow or vapid, but the danceable quality of the music and quirky fashion sense associated with New Wave artists appealed to audiences.

The use of synthesizers by New Wave acts influenced the development of the 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. New Wave is considered part of Alternative Rock today.

Post-1980s influence

During the 1990s, 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. Other acts of note during the 1990s included No Doubt, Six Finger Satellite, and Brainiac. During that decade the synthesizer heavy dance sounds English and European New Wave acts influenced various incarnations of Eurodisco and trance.

During the early 2000s a number of acts emerged that mined from a diversity of New Wave and post-punk influences. Among these were The Strokes, Interpol, Franz Ferdinand, The Epoxies, Bloc Party and The Killers. These acts were sometimes labeled "New New Wave". New Wave continued to be influential through the rest of the decade with acts such as Gwen Stefani, The Sounds, The Ting Tings, Santogold and Ladyhawke. While some journalists and fans regarded this as a revival, others argue that the phenomenon is a continuation of the original movements.

In 2009 Indie music acts were regularly citing various 1980's New Wave Acts as their influences.

Parallel movements

See also


  1. Disco inferno The Independent December 11, 2004
  2. Reynolds, Simon "Rip It Up and Start Again PostPunk 1978-1984" p160
  3. Grove Music Online New Wave Music Article Reprinted by Oxford Music Online
  4. Gendron, Bernard (2002). Between Montmartre and the Mudd Club: Popular Music and the Avant-Garde (Chicago and London: University of Chicago Press), pp. 269–270.
  5. Clinton Heylin, Babylon's Burning (Conongate, 2007), pp. 140, 172.
  6. Adams, Bobby. "Nick Lowe: A Candid Interview", Bomp magazine, January 1979, reproduced at [1]. Accessed January 21, 2007.
  7. Clinton Heylin, Babylon's Burning (Conongate, 2007), p. 17.
  8. Savage, Jon. (1991) England's Dreaming, Faber & Faber
  9. Power Pop genre Allmusic
  10. The Death of New Wave Theo Cateforis Assistant Professor of Music History and Cultures in the Department of Art and Music Histories at Syracuse University 2009
  11. Post-Punk Allmusic
  12. Greil Marcus, Ranters and Crowd Pleasers, p. 109.
  13. Punk Rock Brings out a New Wave Associated Press October 29, 1977
  14. Encyclopedia of Contemporary British Culture Page 365
  15. Anthems of the Blank Generation Time Magazine July 11, 1977 issue
  16. American Punk Rock Allmusic
  17. St. James encyclopedia of Pop Culture
  18. Rip It Up and Start Again Postpunk 1978-1984 by Simon Reynolds Pages 340,342-343
  19. 1986 Knight Ridder news article
  20. The Pop Life The New York Times June 15, 1988
  21. Rock Still Favorite Teen-Age music Gainesville Sun April 13, 1983
  22. Where Are They Now: '80s New Wave Musicians ABC News 29 November 2007
  23. Essay about New Wave's definition and list of essential New Wave Records from allmusic
  24. Goth styles and new wave tunes at weekly '80s night Newsday September 9, 2009
  25. The decade that never dies Still ’80s Fetishizing in ’09 Yale Daily News October 23, 2009
  26. New Wave/Post Punk Revival Allmusic
  27. POP REVIEW; "Knowing Just How Hard It Is to Be a Teen-Ager," New York Times, April 18, 1996
  28. "New wave is back — in hot new bands," MSNBC September 17, 2004
  29. Gwen Stefani MTV biography
  30. "Gwen Stefani's New Video Hits YouTube," People, November 15, 2007
  31. Indie-rock band The Bravery records all the time and everywhere Schnectady Daily Gazette July 23, 2009
  32. "Daily Disc: The Ting Tings, We Started Nothing," CanWest New Service June 17, 2008
  33. "Download this: Ting Tings," Minneapolis Star Tribune, June 7, 2008
  34. "Critics’ Choice New CDs," New York Times April 28, 2008
  35. Feathers fly over Ladyhawke's origins Sydney Morning Herald November 6, 2009
  36. Reynolds, Simon. Rip It Up and Start Again: Postpunk 1978-1984 p. 398
  37. MTV Artist biography The Sounds

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