30 August 2012

What Does The Term "New Wave" Music And Fashion Mean? Is It A Meaningless "Catch All"?

Charlie writes:

I love 80's Actual and would like to ask you something. What on earth was New Wave? I've read reams about it, and it seems to be applied to so many different forms of music and fashion in the 1980s, especially in America, whilst some people have the view that it means bog-all. What's your view, Andy? I'm confused!

Well, to me, "New Wave" music and fashion spanned from about 1978 to about 1980/81, with other things happening alongside. I always view "New Wave" as being, primarily, the revival of 1960s Mods and Rockers culture in the late 1970s. Throw in a little Blondie, one or two kookie odds and ends, plus the 1979-1981 ska revival, and you're about there as far as I'm concerned. "New Wave" was never an individual music genre in itself. I did not regard the late disco scene, Punk, New Romantics or synth pop as New Wave.

I'm not sure how UK music journalists of the '80s felt about it, but I fail to see how such a nebulous term can be applied to the diverse range of music and fashions which dominated that decade - it certainly could not, in my opinion, be applied to the whole or even half of the 1980s as some on-line sources now claim.

Nowadays, some people do seem a little obsessed with trying to slot things into convenient categories, it seems tremendously important for some reason, but I don't see the point. For me, the 1980s music scene was about disco (very early on), the ska revival, synth pop, gothic rock, New Romantics, indie, soul, the emergence of hip hop, the creation of house and acid house music, the beginnings of modern dance music, and the "rave" culture - amongst other things. It also included music I simply termed "pop".

As for America, I think things were rather different there and how they applied the "New Wave" term is not something I know a great deal about. 

Great to hear from you, Charlie. Glad you like the blog and I hope you keep reading.


Charlie S said...

Yes, some people DO seem obsessed with plonking things into categories. A lot of folk writing on the Net seem to be like accountants - trying to itemize everything and place them in relevant folders and filing cabinets. They try to rewrite pop culture history so it fits their neat and orderly mindsets. Thanks, Andy. I was talking to an older cousin of mine who basically said the same about New Wave as you wrote here. It's good to ask people who were actually THERE!

Drew said...

Well, I can only write about things as I saw them at the time, Charlie. But yes, I WAS there and taking a great deal of interest. Are you studying '80s music for some sort of project, or are you just generally interested?

Jess said...

Geeks and nerds abound nowadays and they're determined that everything should be neatly labelled! And they invent names as well. I'm 57 and OK I've heard of New Wave (pretty much agree with your definition), but 60s/70s "power pop"? I've never, ever heard of that (heard of power ballads in the 1980s, but that was different!). Italo Disco. What?!!! Read something the other day which said "The genre we now refer to as 'boogie'" Says it all - label, label...

Load of cr*p if you ask me. No wonder the modern music scene is so insipid. We've got a generation of geeky filing clerks on our hands!

Drew said...

Ooh, bit harsh, Jess! :)