I’m reading this book Talking To Girls About Duran Duran by Rob Sheffield and it got me really thinking about the power of new wave and the long term effects that it has had on the music industry and what we could learn from these artists. There was something incredibly fascinating to me about this book and there has rapidly become something incredibly fascinating about new wave as a genre. It has made me come to terms with the fact that if you want to be a successful band you need to have the all inclusive approach that the new wave bands had. They crossed a broad variety of art forms and methods of expression with their music and that is, I think, extremely important if you want to properly grow your band and have fans who are devoted over the long term to your band and what you bring to the table. By understanding this you might just be able to create a product with longer staying power than anything else you have ever done.
So first let’s talk about the music – the music was set up such that it appealed from first listen. Even some of the weirder elements in the genre, your Haysi Fantayzee’s and Kajagoogoo’s if you will were crafting pop songs that made sense right off the bat. Sure they were broadcast by weird and confused British kids but that was a big part of the fun. There are a ton of people out there who really appreciate new wave on a purely musical level. They have never obsessed over MTV videos, they have never thought about how a lot of these songs were built on an impending western fear of nuclear war, they just want to sing ‘Psycho Killer’ and that’s fine. So the point being, if you’re trying to create cool artsy music the first step is to focus on the music, that’s going to get a lot more people jumping off from the first.
Yet the music was the only entry point, and this is where it got interesting. Perhaps the visual aesthetic was the most enduring part of the new wave movement. The most important part of the visual aesthetic of the new wave movement was probably the hair. I’m not just talking about A Flock Of Seagulls either. There were key hairstyle elements that defined everyone from Duran Duran to Haysi Fantayzee. Of course this was only the jumping off point visually, the other keys of course included some of the images of nuclear war but also the sort of bizarre image pushed forward by Men Without Hits and bands of that ilk. There was a certain ethereal magic, but it all was deeply informed. Many of these bands focused just as much on their look as the music, some of them focused even more on it. I know that sounds silly to some of you but the end result was something that wasn’t only deeply thought out but also had the potential to appeal for literal decades to come.
Then of course there was the ideology. What’s fascinating to me about new wave is that it was all informed about the presumably incoming nuclear war. While heavy metal used this as an excuse to release some truly heavy and depraved music, new wave artists took their time to create perhaps more nuanced viewpoints that not only reflected on the bitter realities of the world but also seemed to realize the inherent silliness of it all. These artists were coming up in a bleak time and they found something to laugh at but never sacrificed the seriousness of what was being done. The point being – even though the music could be taken as an explicitly political experience, especially if you carefully selected the bands you spun it didn’t have to be. So for the fans who chose to dig they had that, for those who just wanted to jam they had that too. And that’s where start to get to the lessons that modern bands can best take from new wave.
The point being – you don’t need to explicitly apply any of this if you want to be successful but it can certainly be helpful if you choose to. If someone as clearly pretentious and art school-esque as Kajagoogoo with their patently bizarre hair and at best average music can be successful then maybe ou can use that to help grow your very good music into something all inclusive. People talk about how things are so hard to run with social media and all that naff but when it comes down to it, these folks were creating just as much content as the most savvy social media star is today. They didn’t have Youtube, they had MTV and AM radio, but they still did their best to build content relevant to the platforms they had. New wave is objectively one of the weirdest things to happen to music in the last fifty years, and it pretty definitively shaped popular music for the rest of time.
This isn’t something you necessarily need to take to heart. It isn’t something that is going to make or break your band, but it’s a great way to do a case study of marketing. What I have found is that anytime I analyze a genre for that made it popular I learn a lot about how music is pushed and what draws people to music. This isn’t always a self evident thing but it’s certainly the type of thing that is going to push then needle for any band. It’s going to help you realize what makes your band special and grow into a scene that is relevant and interesting. I know that’s a struggle sometimes, but if you can’t embrace it why even bother?