I’ve been fortunate enough to have seen Gang of Four in 2008 for the Download Festival in Los Angeles at Universal Ampitheater and the El Rey in 2015. Their name has always been closely tied with other post-punk bands I’ve learned to appreciate, like highly influential post-punk bands WIRE and Shriekback.
I’ve never been lucky enough to have met Andy Gill or the rest of Gang of Four, so here’s a brief history of the band compiled from MusicHound Rock Essential Album (1999) and Gang of Four’s Apple Music biography.
A brief history of Gang of Four
Gang of Four was among the most important post-punk bands to emerge from England. In 1977, guitarist Andy Gill formed the band at Leeds University with fellow art students Jon King (vocals) and Hugo Burnham (drums), focused by experienced pro Dave Allen (bass, who left after their 2nd album to form Shriekback). Contemporaries from that music scene included the Mekons and Delta 5.
Origin and Debut
Named after a faction of the Chinese Communist party who were cited for abuse of power during the Cultural Revolution. In June 1978, released their first 3 song 7″ single by Independent Fast Project label featuring the songs “Damaged Goods”, “Love Like Anthrax”, and “Armalite Rifle.”
Gill’s minimalist guitar work rebelled against rock’s traditional chordal barrage with dissonant shards. Gang of Four’s 1979 debut Entertainment! has earned classic status among alternative music fans. Their 1982 album Songs of the Free included Sara Lee (who worked with Robert Fripp’s League of Gentlemen) as bassist. “I Love a Man in Uniform” received extensive club and college radio play.
Gang of Four was the first act to take stage at the 1982 Us Festival, a massive music and technology festival financed by Apple Computers co-founder Steve Wozniak. The gang disbanded in 1984 after the processed soul of the album Hard, which had Hugo Burnham replaced by a drum machine.
Reunion (1991-1995, 2005-present)
Gill pursued a career in film scoring and music producing, which included early Red Hot Chili Peppers albums. The group’s contributions to modern rock and stripped back grooves of rap was recognized, which lead to a Gill-King reunion in 1991 and then a Gang of Four reunion until 1995.
The original lineup reformed again in 2005, but in 2006, Burnham left and was replaced by Mark Heaney as drummer. Two years later, Dave Allen left the band as was replaced by Thomas McNeice on bass. They released 2011 album Content, their first album of original material since 1995’s Shrink-wrapped. In 2012, King departed and was replaced by John “Gaoler” Sterry as lead vocalist.
MusicHound Rock Essential Album (1999) guide recommends Gang of Four’s Entertainment! album (Warner Bros, 1979) as a spellbinding collection of politicized, funky post-punk. The lyrics are fragmented and opaque, largely avoiding truisms of preachier songwriters.
To buy next: Gang of Four’s Solid Gold (Warner Bros, 1991) which continues the debut’s uncompromising vein. Songs of the Free (Warner Bros, 1982) moves in a more melodic direction and shows greater stylistic breadth. A Brief History of the Twentieth Century (Warner Bros, 1991) is a compilation that gathers the band’s finest moments.
Under Gang of Four’s influence
Fugazi, Franz Ferdinand, Nirvana, TOOL, Les Savvy Fav, Minutemen, Rage Against The Machine, Red Hot Chili Peppers, The Rapture, Bloc Party, Jane’s Addiction, Liars, Girls Against Boys, Radio 4, Jawbox, Mission of Burma.