Considering the original Gang of Four parted ways more than 20 years ago, it’s remarkable their bracing brand of angular punk-funk can be heard everywhere today. Just listen to Franz Ferdinand, Radio 4, and a host of other indie darlings taking their cues from the U.K. legends.
”We discovered through the media that these new bands are borrowing from us, but they’re all rather conservative,” says Gang of Four bassist Dave Allen. So he and singer Jon King, guitarist Andy Gill, and drummer Hugo Burnham reunited for a short U.K. tour last month, and an upcoming U.S. stint that includes a set at Coachella on May 1 — in part to put the upstarts in their place. ”None of the bands that name-check us can do anything like this,” says Allen, backstage, referring to a frenetic Jan. 28 gig they had just finished in London. ”They can open for us, and if they do a better job we’ll throw in the towel.”
That’s unlikely. Even now, in their late 40s, they perform with the same ferocity that’s earned them fans like Flea and Michael Stipe. In their late-’70s, early-’80s hey-day, as punk rock and Thatcherism took hold in England, they spat out concise salvos against capitalism’s corruption of culture and personal relationships. Their lyrics borrowed from Marxist theory, but they were cheeky enough to call their 1979 debut album Entertainment! (it’s being reissued on May 17 by Warner Music).
How does revisiting their radical past square with their more capitalist day jobs? King currently runs a video production company, Allen is a marketing consultant who counts intel as a client, Burnham is an art professor, and Gill is a music producer (Red Hot Chill Peppers, the Futureheads, the Jesus Lizard). ”Everything I’ve done I’m very proud of,” says Allen, unapologetically. ”The world loves us. I don’t see any collision.”
Essential Albums: Entertainment! (1979, EMI International); Solid Gold (1981, EMI International); Songs of the Free (1982, EMI International)