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From Nirvana to IDLES: The lasting influence of Gang of Four

Leeds’ Gang of Four are one of the most influential British bands of all time. Coming out of the original wave of post-punk in the late 1970s, the band blended punk, funk and dub into one pulsating swell of excitement. Think Talking Heads, just more on the nose. Over their long and meandering career, the band has seen numerous lineup changes, including founding bassist Dave Allen departing and Bowie’s bassist extraordinaire, Gail Ann Dorsey, enjoying a tenure. 

Most notably, the band’s iconic guitarist, Andy Gill, passed away during the early months of 2020 owing to pneumonia and multiple organ failure. Usually, this kind of tragedy would inspire a wave of reappraisal for a band’s music, however, with Gang of Four, this was not the case. Much like their post-punk contemporaries The Fall and Siouxsie and the Banshees, Gang of Four have always enjoyed a consistent fanbase due to just how iconoclastic and game-changing their efforts have been.

At the time of Gill’s passing, this third wave of ‘post-punk’, which owes a lot to the works of Gang of Four, was already witnessing the crest of the wave smashing against the rocks. Unsurprisingly, this was just one fleeting chapter in how the band have shaped music. 

It’s a testament to the life and work of Andy Gill, and the rest of the band, that they can name some of the most iconic musicians of all time as disciples. The sounds of their debut, 1979’s Entertainment! and its follow-up 1981’s Solid Gold, have reverberated throughout time, and the influence of their work shows no sign of abating, even as this third wave of ‘post-punk’ fizzles out. 

Some of the bands Gang of Four have influenced are truly mindblowing. R.E.M. frontman, Michael Stipe has mentioned the band as a chief influence on the Georgia group on numerous occasions over the years. Flea, the slap bassist of funk-rock masters, Red Hot Chili Peppers, has also said that in the early days, when the band had a more splintered, metal edge, that Gang of Four were the most crucial influence on their artistic development.

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Showing just how far the band’s influence stretched in the generation that came after them, is that Kurt Cobain of Nirvana constantly showered praise on the Leeds band. In his journal, when listing his 50 favourite albums of all time, Cobain put Entertainment! at number 13. Following the trend of other bands from his generation, Cobain also explained how Gang of Four had a considerable influence on Nirvana in the early days. He said that the band started as “a Gang of Four and Scratch Acid ripoff”. 

In more contemporary times, the band have continued to enjoy being namechecked. During the ‘post-punk revival’ of the ’00s, Franz Ferdinand, Bloc Party, The Rapture, We Are Scientists and even Neils Children discussed their impact. 

It extends much further than the obvious as well, even as many of today’s hottest bands have displayed a love for Gang of Four. IDLES and Warpaint have covered their music recently, and their angular yet funky twist on traditional post-punk can be heard in everyone from Squid to Legss. But it doesn’t end there. Last year, 3D of Bristol trip-hop pioneers, Massive Attack, teamed up with punk duo, Nova Twins, to remix ‘Where The Nightingale Sings’. In short, Gang of Four have had an impact in musical realms different to their own. 

Gang of Four’s music is timeless. There’s no surprise that they’ve managed to remain relevant all these years. Iconoclastic in every sense of the word, they’ll likely keep adding new names to their list of disciples for many years to come. 

Listen to Gang of Four ‘Damaged Goods’ below.