Music » Music Feature

Influence peddling

Wire's Colin Newman charts the precursors and knockoffs


As vocalist/guitarist for the angular, art-school Anglos in Wire, Colin Newman helped introduce a tense, dissonant minimalism into the post-punk petri dish. Creative Loafing recently played Newman a series of records that have picked up on the fragmented riff, across four decades, to see if he could identify -- and identify with -- the many strains of the Wire mutation. He proved surprisingly conversant in new music. "It's my job running a label to know what's going on in music," he says, "so I'm an utter fashion victim."

The Modern Lovers, "Roadrunner" (1972)

Colin Newman: Ah, yes, "Roadrunner" by the Modern Lovers. What would become punk rock in [England] can probably be traced as far back as 1975. Really, the first things you could get out of America were Jonathan Richman, Patti Smith, the Ramones. All different, but each of those had a conceptual aspect to them. And they were quite liberating, because around that time everyone was expected to play really well. That fairly rudimentary musical approach was something all those bands had in common. The Modern Lovers was kind of spotty, weedy college music -- and not afraid to be that. At times, it seemed almost a bit rubbish. But that was very refreshing from the mid-Atlantic folk that was around.

The Cure, "A Forest" (1980)

The Cure is responsible for some of the worst bands that wanted to sound like them. There was one thing that happened -- and I'm not saying this as boasting -- but I did a tour in the mid-'80s, and the guy who was tour-managing me had toured with the Cure extensively. And when I came off stage on the first night, he walked up to me and said, "Now I know where Robert Smith got it all from." So that's one of the reasons it makes me queasy -- because if the Cure are responsible for a bunch of dreadful bands trying to emulate them, and Wire are responsible for the Cure, then God help Wire. What was kind of weird is that by 1980, there was that first general wave of post-punk bands. And some of them were influenced by Wire, but we weren't interested in why they did that. More interesting in hindsight are the American hardcore bands influenced by Pink Flag. Bands like Black Flag. And all those D.C. hardcore bands.

R.E.M., "Catapult" (1983)

They sound a bit Joy Division. But then Joy Division were a bit influenced by Wire as well. They moved the angularities from the guitar to the bass. Ah, R.E.M. But I hate what R.E.M. stand for. They're so mainstream and yet they've got this whole pretense about being a little arty and underground. Just be who you are, guys.

Big Black, "The Model" (1987)

Obviously, it's a Kraftwerk song, but I don't know who it is. Oh, Albini's group. I didn't know Big Black in the '80s. But his production now is quite impressive. As for Kraftwerk, I absolutely adored them. They were not important just from the perspective of rhythm, but harmonically as well. They married a very European classical tradition and made it refreshing and pure. Now electro is enjoying its 57th revival, and Kraftwerk is a band whose profile doesn't diminish. I remember in the '70s playing Chairs Missing to some German journalists who, after the record was off, said, 'Ja, very good, but not as original as Kraftwerk.' So there you go, and probably true. Kraftwerk were a very, very original item.

Elastica, "Connection" (1994)

Dear old Elastica. At that point, around 1995, the only music I was interested in was drum 'n' bass. I really didn't like Brit-pop. I didn't want to be anywhere associated with what they were doing. It got a bit weird because Justine had said to the news that she'd spoken to me and I was cool about [their appropriating a Wire melody]. Well, to this day I've never spoken to Justine Frischmann. Anyone has the right to use any reference they want, but if the reference is high profile enough, you have to pay for intellectual property.

Fischerspooner, "The 15th" (2000)

Fischerspooner -- Yes, they're a very, very peculiar thing. One thing that's great is that it's a [Wire] cover, so there's no messing around. There's no half-assed sampling of a bit or any of this. It's a straight-up cover, which any band has the right to do. It's also a good cover. It's not at all embarrassing. What is fascinating is that Fischerspooner is already their own absurd thing. It's like Cats. And they do "The 15th" during a bit where Spooner gets spanked by a fan. I really thought I would hate it, but it's so ridiculous -- there's no reason to hate it, or even judge it. I think that version of "The 15th" is a good cover.

Milemarker, "Shrink to Fit" (2001)

It's a bit in the area of The Rapture. I don't know this group. Milemarker? I think Liars are really the best band in that kind of thing. It's that kind of jerkiness. It's a bit what we'd call arch, which means arty with attitude, but not necessarily snotty attitude. It's nice to have that going on with bands so young. A lot of it sounds too much like '77 to me, but the ones who do it right take the same energy and do something else. It's not only helping rock music, but it's revitalizing dance music. What I'm playing as a DJ has been called pogo-techno. It's an unholy marriage that's utterly fascinating.

Add a comment