Common rock lore states that although the Velvet Underground didn't sell many albums when they were around, just about everyone who bought one started their own band.
If Lou Reed's old band has an '80s equivalent, it seems to be Gang of Four. The pioneering Leeds, England, post-punk group never broke sales records, but a whole new generation of bands has unabashedly picked up on the Gang's pioneering mix of dub, funk, rock, punk, social commentary and walls of dissonant noise. And now some of those acts — including No Doubt, Beck, Hot Hot Heat, Bloc Party, Massive Attack, the Dandy Warhols and Futureheads — are expected to return the favor by appearing on an upcoming Gang of Four remix album.
Singer Jon King, guitarist Andy Gill, drummer Hugo Burnham and bassist Dave Allen reunited last year for a series of well-received U.K. gigs that have set the stage for an upcoming American run that marks their first-ever full tour of the U.S. with the original lineup. The tour kicked off Sunday with a gig at the Coachella Valley Music & Arts Festival in Indio, California.
Gill continues to work on the two-disc Gang of Four compilation, due August 30. One disc contains re-recorded Gang of Four songs from the first three records — Entertainment!, Solid Gold and Songs of the Free — by the original band. The other disc is a remix collection slated to feature many of the bands inspired by the group. The first single, the Gang's re-recording of "To Hell With Poverty," is available now on iTunes.
The full lineup of remixers for the compilation — tentatively titled The Embarrassment of Paleface, (a reference to the artwork of Entertainment!) — is still being worked out, according to Gill. "In some cases, the bands have re-recorded the vocals and done a whole new track," he said.
While Gill noted that former Bush singer Gavin Rossdale is an avowed fan of the Gang, it's a member of his wife's band, No Doubt, doing a remix of "Ether" for the set — which originally was saddled with the cheeky title The Best Record Ever Made. "It's quite tough sounding," he said of No Doubt bassist Tony Kanal's interpretation. "I think people will be surprised, 'cause they've done something quite hard with it."
Other artists currently slated to contribute songs are Beck, Massive Attack, the Dandy Warhols and Moby, who hopes to entirely re-record his track with a live backing band. So far, the Futureheads have signed on to do a cover of "Anthrax," Bloc Party has chosen "To Hell With Poverty" and Hot Hot Heat are tackling "Damaged Goods."
One of the band's most recognizable songs, "I Love a Man in a Uniform," is being re-imagined by the Yeah Yeah Yeahs, with Karen O recording new vocals.
"I gave Nick [Zinner] from the Yeah Yeah Yeahs the multitrack that I recorded, and he played around with it and got some wacky sounds out of it and Karen does some singing on it. It's different. I gave them a pretty straightforward version of the song and they definitely played around with it."
"It's an odd project," Gill said. "But when people hear it, they will say 'Wow!' It's odd to hear songs from decades ago re-recorded."
Gill said one of the reasons he was inspired to do the project was his disenchantment with the sound on the group's landmark 1979 album Entertainment!
"I don't think it sounds anything like how we sounded onstage," Gill said. "The drums sounded like Tupperware boxes. There's nothing wrong with the way it sounds, but it would be nice to have something reflecting how we sounded onstage with those powerful drums. The way we're recording it now, it sounds much punchier and explosive. When you hear the live kick drum, it's like being whacked in the stomach. And the snare pops your eyeballs out."
Gang of Four North American tour dates, according to the band's publicist:
- 5/2 - San Francisco, CA @ The Fillmore
- 5/3 - San Francisco, CA @ The Fillmore
- 5/5 - Portland, OR @ Crystal Ballroom
- 5/6 - Seattle, WA @ Showbox
- 5/7 - Vancouver, BC @ Commodore Ballroom
- 5/10 - Minneapolis, MN @ Quest Club
- 5/11 - Chicago, IL @ Metro/ Smart Bar
- 5/12 - Chicago, IL @ Metro/ Smart Bar
- 5/13 - Detroit, MI @ Majestic Theatre
- 5/14 - Toronto, ON @ Phoenix Concert Theatre
- 5/16 - Boston, MA @ Avalon
- 5/17 - New York , NY @ Irving Plaza
- 5/18 - New York, NY @ Irving Plaza
- 5/20 - Washington, DC @ 9:30 Club
- 5/21 - Philadelphia, PA @ Theatre of Living Arts