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Johnny Marr


Johnny Marr on the legacy of post-punk


Johnny Marr is a bonafide guitar god; the Mancunian has played a crucial role in shaping the sound of alternative music since The Smiths captured hearts all over the world in 1982. His unique, infectious guitar playing style was like nothing else that came before. Despite this, the post-punk tag was handed to Marr early on by critics, and he reluctantly agrees with it, despite the term’s broadness. Still, without the punk movement breaking the shackles of music, mercurial talents like Marr wouldn’t exist.

Everything about the former Smiths man is exquisite. His guitar playing is up there with the best of them. Marr has played with some of the most incredible talents of the last 40 years and doesn’t have questionable politics like a certain former bandmate of his. His love for music has never waned as the years progressed, embarking on a stellar solo career which has finally seen him get the love that he well and truly deserves.

While many people from Marr’s generation stayed transfixed sonically on the period from when they gained success, he has been quite the opposite. The guitarist always kept moving by working with Electronic, The Cribs and Modest Mouse. He remains an impossible artist to tie down to one sound or movement, which can be traced to him never seeing music as confined to just four walls and Marr partly puts this down to the post-punk movement.

“My generation were the wave after post-punk,” Marr explained to Noisey in 2013. “I’ve called myself a post-punk musician because unusually there’s been no tag put on the wave that I came out of. One of the legacies of post-punk was no rock, no rockism, no rockism at all. No rockism in your guitar playing, no rockism in your clothes, no rockism in your behaviour or your lyrics or your politics.

“It was a really good thing, it was very good,” continued the guitarist, “But it leaves you with a very narrow set of influences, also very good I think for creativity. Now you can sit in front of a computer for an example if you’re doing a track and you can pull down a ’60s organ Farfisa, I can have a Moog synth, or I can have a loop. So you’ve got hip-hop, electronic or something that sounds like 13th-floor elevators, John Barry’s strings. I mean, what? It’s kind of like a stylistic nightmare unless you are really focussed and that’s if you just want to write a song on Garage Band.” Of course, it’s something that today’s generation has seemingly found a way around. But for The Smiths, Marr enjoyed the limitations of technology.

“So in our case, it was useful to have a super-narrow aesthetic, and if you reject rock ‘n’ roll including punk chord changes and distortion, then there weren’t many influences left and funk was one of them. That’s why the Talking Heads started turning towards funk, and that’s why Chic were probably the greatest group around at that time,” Marr concluded.

Post-punk changed the musical landscape; operators like Johnny Marr had no choice but to look in places that the generation before them ignored. It was no longer acceptable to be lazy when it came to style, and originality was the key. Working within these confinements meant that Marr brought together eclectic tastes under one roof, curated and cultivated to create a delectable sound that gave The Smiths the razor-sharp edge that made them stand out from the crowd.