Styles & Forms | New Romantics & Futurism | Pop

Born out of a reaction to both punk and 2-Tone’s politics and anti-star stance, the British synth-pop wave of the early 1980s brought almost instant change to the UK pop scene. Moreover, the US success of the principal protagonists signalled the biggest ‘British Invasion’ since The Beatles and The Rolling Stones transformed American pop in the 1960s.

Mixing a heavily styled, fashion-conscious image, machine-dominated and danceable tunes and a return to narcissistic and aspirational lyrics with a little theatrical, existentialist misery, UK synth-pop essentially blended the three major phases of David Bowie’s 1970s trailblazing – peacock glam, smooth, white funk and arty, electronic alienation. Roxy Music and Germany’s Kraftwerk were the other major influences on the two complementary strands of the new romantics and futurism.

Pirates And Posers

When Londoner Stuart Goddard saw The Sex Pistols, he changed his name to Adam Ant and, after several punkish false starts, delivered a vibrant pop fusion that brought colour back to the cheeks of British pop. Adam And The Ants Kings Of The Wild Frontier album heralded a new decade in 1980, mixing pirate and Native American costume, glam-rock guitars and chants with African tribal drumming and pure pop fun with original, even surreal noise. Adam’s matinée-idol looks, yelping pop croon, joyfully silly pantomime imagery and theatrical promo videos enabled what would become the new romantic scene to blossom, opening the door for a number of former punks who wanted to dress up and embrace pop stardom.

The most cultish and influential of these were Japan, a London quintet led by David Sylvian, who was often referred to as ‘The World’s Most Beautiful Man’. Originally a rather limp copy of US glam-punks The New York Dolls, Japan reinvented themselves in 1979 with the electro-disco of Quiet Life, produced by electronic pioneer Giorgio Moroder. They went on to produce ever more subtle, atmospheric, Eastern-influenced art pop until their split in 1982, just as the shy, intellectual Sylvian was on the verge of a superstardom he did not want.

The quintessential new romantic group emerged from the trendiest end of London’s club scene in 1980. Spandau Ballet mixed basic synth-disco, hilariously pretentious lyrics and the operatic vocals of Tony Hadley, before diminishing returns saw them become a showcase for Gary Kemp’s increasingly smooth adult-pop songcraft, typified by the huge transatlantic hits ‘True’ and ‘Gold’. Gary and his bass-playing brother, Martin, went on to star in the film The Krays, before Martin, after narrowly avoiding death by brain tumour, found more success in the 1990s as a star of the UK soap opera EastEnders.

Spandau’s even more successful rivals were Duran Duran, who came out of the Birmingham club scene to purvey an aggressively rockish take on synthetic dance-pop that saw them become the embodiment of the big-in-America, model-dating, hedonistic pop group. Regional variants on the synth-dance-and-cheekbones formula sprang from every corner of the UK: the...

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Source: The Illustrated Encyclopedia of Music, general editor Paul Du Noyer


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