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— by Rodrigo Perez, with additional reporting by Sasha Hamrogue

British post-punks Gang of Four weren't a commercial smash during their late '70s/ early '80s heyday, but like a ghost haunting the airwaves, the band's sound is unavoidable these days in seemingly every buzzed-about young rock band.

But there are also other ways in which '05 is shaping up to be the year of the Four: The re-release of their seminal 1979 record, Entertainment!, hits stores Tuesday; the group just kicked off a U.S. tour with a triumphant appearance at Coachella; and a re-recorded "To Hell With Poverty" is now available on iTunes from a forthcoming remix disc that'll feature artists like Beck, No Doubt and the Yeah Yeah Yeahs.

Mostly, though, this revival has reached an apogee thanks to months of "new" music from the surfeit of dance-punk groups making noise right now. Bloc Party, Franz Ferdinand, the Rapture, Hot Hot Heat, the Futureheads, Radio 4 and even the Bravery and the Killers are obvious children of Gang of Four's revolution, which is marked by sharp shards of discordant guitar, turbulent tribal beats and popping, front-and-center bass lines.

As indie-rockers are wont to do, though, some impressionists claim they haven't heard the records or insist that Gang of Four's effect wasn't large. "I hate that [connection]," pouted Bloc Party singer Kele Okereke of having his band's spiky and angular post-punk sound linked to Gang of Four's pioneering spiky and angular post-punk sound. "I think that our records couldn't be further apart in terms of sound and texture."

Others can't help but acknowledge the Gang's obvious impact. "It's definitely an honor," Radio 4 singer/bassist Anthony Roman said of opening up for Gang of Four's current tour — the first with the original lineup in 25 years. "If you would have told us [we'd open for them] when we were writing songs in a cold basement five years ago, we would have laughed at you."

Many of Gang of Four's progeny (including the Futureheads, who went to the source, choosing Gang guitarist Andy Gill to record their debut) are saluting the group by remixing classic Gang of Four songs on an upcoming disc (see "No Doubt, Beck, Yeah Yeah Yeahs Plan Gang Of Four Remixes").

Born in the wake of the Sex Pistols' punk revolution in the summer of 1976, GO4 (along with the Fall, Mekons and Joy Division, to name just a few) generated a noise and a fury that would go on to be dubbed post-punk. Three Leeds art school students — Gill, singer Jon King and drummer Hugo Burnham — would recruit bassist Dave Allen with an ad seeking a musician for a "fast R&B band," and their deconstruction of preconceived musical paradigms and social tenets would quickly cast them as a unique band. Their volcanic live performances would cement the entire structure.

Gang of Four's outlook was shaped by the harsh political and economic climate of the time. "There was a lot of violence between the heavy right-wing groups and the left, which often was university students," Gill recalled recently. "There was a highly charged atmosphere in Leeds; it felt like a place that was in stress. There were palpable tensions. Leeds at the time was dump central, it was in transition mode, they were pulling down the ancient slums, but they hadn't gotten very far and left these gaping holes in the ground. It was like arriving on some alien planet, really."

The angst-ridden music that arose from that environment would make Gang of Four icons in the eyes of some of the biggest acts of the '80s, including U2, INXS, the Red Hot Chili Peppers and R.E.M. In the '90s reissues of Gang of Four's most influential records (Entertainment!, Solid Gold, Songs of the Free), many of these artists gratefully acknowledged GO4's impact. "Hard, angular, bold, [Gang of Four were] a pimple on the arse of pop, a corporation of common sense, a smart bomb of text that had me 'at home feeling like a typist,' " Bono wrote in the reissued Songs of the Free liner notes.

The Red Hot Chili Peppers, who recorded their debut under the aegis of Gill, were perhaps Gang of Four's most vocal proponents, having taken their "punk funk" sound almost wholesale from the band. "Gang of Four is the first rock band I could truly relate to. [Entertainment!] completely changed the way I looked at rock music. I hear their influence everywhere," RHCP bassist Flea wrote in that album's liner notes.

A decade later, rap-rock groups inspired by Zack de la Rocha's passionate proclamations and Tom Morello's dissonant guitars would also appropriate Gang of Four's beat-driven punk, even if many of them were unaware of the musical lineage being passed down.

Unlike the political alt-rock groups they would later influence, however, Gang of Four never raged against the machine. They were sometimes cast as unyielding Marxists, but the Gang's politicized agenda was overstated and misunderstood. Their art was not a hammer, it was a mirror they held up to society.

"A political manifesto was never our bag," Gill said. "It was never about grandstanding or presenting left-wing ideas and getting in front of the crowd and waving the red flag like, 'Come on, brothers and sisters, if we work together we can smash the system.' It was never anything remotely like that. It was much more about the personal side of things, about these forces that work on all of us in our daily lives."

Gill is talking about conditioning, in respect to both the pervasive reach of capitalism and the accepted notions of culture. Gang of Four were societal observers and commentators, whose ironic sloganeering about the absurdities and conflicts of modern life were sarcastic, humorous and incisive. Their sardonically titled debut, Entertainment!, was all the manifesto they needed.

Gang of Four raised questions, and they were astute enough to recognize they didn't have all the answers. "The question of leisure is what to do for pleasure," they sang on the Entertainment! track "Natural's Not in It," which spewed a litany of scornful jabs at the pursuit of happiness nowadays, suggesting that which was "natural" was no longer present in an increasingly prepackaged society. Their so-called "perverted disco" climaxed with perhaps the band's most encapsulating statement — a rejection of all the divine products that supposedly made your life easier: "This heaven gives me migraine!"

"The agenda, if there was one, was really about discovering what it is that motivates people in their actions," Gill said. "How they reach the decisions they make and what's behind these apparently private and natural situations and how in fact their rules are invented by society and people."

Sonically they were deconstructing their influences — which ranged from pub rock to dub reggae to punk's antithesis, disco — and spitting out the happy accident of something entirely new. "We were collectively trying to avoid clichés, but at the same time we were trying to connect with lots of people," Gill explained.

As a result, their aggressive music employed then-unfashionable disco fundamentals, but was not muted by it. "Great dance music has got that same thrilling quality that great rock and roll has — that 'rahhhh!' thrilling, exciting, connectivity on a very primitive level," Gill said. "It's the same with disco. The beat, the rhythm, it's connected to you in a very direct rock-and-roll manner. I didn't think the two styles were that different, really."

Exactly the same sort of philosophy that now drives bands like Franz Ferdinand, who last year explained the band's dance-rock amalgam by saying, "The most important thing music can do is move you primally. The whole point of music is for some human beings to provoke a reaction in other human beings."

Ironically, evidence of Gang of Four's modern sway is perhaps most convincingly illustrated in the capitalistic ideas they most reviled. An eBay seller tries to hock a $100 Gang of Four concert poster with the over-enthusiastic claim: "Instant art-punk, post-punk, new-wave, punk-funk credibility with this superb original poster and ticket stub from Gang of Four's 1981 tour!"

But while today's rock bands and eBay sellers are busy cashing in on Gang of Four, the savages are already sharpening their knives, looking for the next musical moment to cannibalize. Pop will eat itself. It's an accepted part of the musical food chain.


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Illustration: Karl Heitmueller

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  Gang of Four
"Natural's Not in It"
Entertainment!
(Rhino)



  Gang of Four
"I Love A Man In Uniform"
Songs of the Free
(EMI)



  Franz Ferdinand
"This Fire"
Franz Ferdinand
(Epic/Domino)



  The Rapture
"House of Jealous Lovers"
Echoes
(Strummer/Universal)




  The Futureheads
"Decent Days and Nights"
The Futureheads
(Sire)




  Bloc Party
"Banquet"
Silent Alarm
(Vice)




  Radio 4
"Absolute Affirmation"
Stealing of a Nation
(Astralwerks)




  Hot Hot Heat
"Goodnight Goodnight"
Elevator
(Warner Bros.)




  Yeah Yeah Yeahs
"Y Control"
Fever To Tell
(Interscope)




  The Killers
"Somebody Told Me"
Hot Fuss
(Island)



  The Bravery
"An Honest Mistake"
The Bravery
(Island)



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