Welcome to Left Speaker/Right Speaker, where the smartest music heads we know debate the biggest trends in guitar music. If you can even call it that. In our inaugural edition, we’re questioning everyone’s boner for all those Sprechgesang new-wave post-punk fish-and-chip-poppers coming out of the U.K. and Ireland right now. You know the type: Black Midi, Yard Act, Shame, Dry Cleaning, Wet Leg, Fontaines D.C., Idles, Squid, Black Country, New Road—and we didn’t even make any of those up.
So, is the post-punk revival…revival cause for celebration? Or is the average person simply horny for guitars again? Haven’t they heard of Turnstile? Let’s meet our judges.
Today’s pro: Ashley Reese, professional Shame fan and self-described Anglophile who may or may not have made Skins (U.K., the show, not the ’heads) her entire personality at one point in time. Part-time music journalist who is better than every full-time one.
And con: Ahmad Zaghal, who thinks everyone should shut the fuck up and listen to the Fall. The DMV’s favorite music fan. He’s not a curmudgeon, he just plays one on TV (the Twitterverse.)
CREEM: Thanks for joining us, Ashley and Ahmad. What’s your relationship with post-punk like? Does it sound like horseshit to you? Or is getting you to listen to a new post-punk band like shooting fish in a barrel?
AHMAD ZAGHAL: I’m well-versed and have been for over 10 years. I’m into all the old classic post-punk stuff like Wire, Joy Division, the Fall, the Buzzcocks, to a degree.
ASHLEY REESE: I became a fan when [Joy Division] became a T-shirt design. I got into post-punk in the late 2000s, maybe 2010, when I was a sophomore in college. I started with Joy Division, a lot of late-’70s and ’80s bands. I was already into punk and, like, the Smiths. Then I got into Television, Gang of Four, those bands that cross over into new wave. I think the newer bands we’re talking about today could be described as, like, a “Post-Punk Revival Revival.” In the early ’00s, everything was labeled “alternative.” Then we called everything “indie.” Now the bright, shiny new thing in rock is “post-punk.”
New, but it’s...mad old.
AZ: These subgenres come into and out of fashion, cyclically, every once in a while. I think we're just at one of those peaks where it is getting more attention.
AR: We can quibble about the post-punk revival in the early 2000s and 2010s if we want—like Interpol—but that was formative for me to get into classic post-punk. So if we’re talking about these new bands from the U.K. and Ireland, this post-punk revival revival, we should mention that they actually sound closer to the original post-punk shit.
I hear, like, Magazine in Dry Cleaning.
AZ: But a lot of this new crop of bands are hit or miss. Squid and Yard Act, for instance, just sound like a very polished version of the Fall. And I could just listen to the Fall. They have, like, 30, 40 albums. There’s so much of their material, I'll never run out of stuff by the Fall that I haven't heard. But then there’s a band like Black Midi, who I think is really cool and doing something really new and interesting—bringing in elements of prog to post-punk—or a band like Black Country, New Road, I hear some Soft Machine.
AR: I can’t get into that band.
AZ: Really? They were so immediate for me. Fontaines D.C. wasn’t clicking for me. Or Shame.
AR: Shame is the band I have the most affinity for out of this new crop. And that’s because I saw them live back in 2018. I thought their songs were okay, but they’re an incredible live band. [In rock music] over the last 10 years, all of our buzz bands have been really chill, mellow, low-key. Like Beach Fossils. They’re great, but they’re vibe-y. It’s shit like Mac DeMarco. Tame Impala. What does rock music mean right now? What is mainstream rock? Seeing Shame—these charismatic, young, scrappy, shirtless, sweating British boys jumping in the crowd and screaming—it was fun. It was energetic. That got me excited.
When someone says “Tame Impala,” I just visualize colorful vapor—nothing that exists. Outside of hardcore and punk, there isn’t a lot of that shit going on. It’s nice to have that conversation again, the “you need to see these kids live” discussion.
AR: I liked Dry Cleaning’s EPs, but their debut was so sleepy. Then I saw them live and thought, “Okay, this hits.”
AZ: With that argument, a similar thing happened to me with Black Midi. After seeing them live, it clicked. I don’t get Dry Cleaning. I get bored. It’s like, why am I not listening to Life Without Buildings right now?
I get bored. It’s like, why am I not listening to Life Without Buildings right now?
AR: That’s really funny. Who can we blame for this wave? I’m listening to these bands and it’s like, okay, everyone definitely had Gang of Four, Parquet Courts, David Byrne [in rotation.]
AR: Oh, lord, Iceage. Who is responsible? It’s Iceage to a degree, but I hear a lot of Parquet Courts in these motherfuckers. I’m telling you, I really do. And are these new bands...good? I like songs by Squid and Yard Act, but on a playlist, I’m going to get them confused.
AZ: There isn’t much variation there between the two, I agree with you completely. My issue is: Why are all these bands getting all of the attention when there are other bands doing similar stuff that are doing it better? Like [British post-punk band] Shopping! That band has been around forever. Why aren’t they huge?
AR: I don’t know. I’m talking out of my ass here [but a band like the Yeah Yeah Yeahs] coming out now would not have anywhere near the same cultural relevance as they did in the 2000s; same with Interpol. Rock had a mainstream resonance it just hasn’t in the last few decades. So with these post-punk revival revival bands, I’m giving them leeway. Because this is the first time in a minute where I’ve seen [legitimate] bands get mainstream buzz in a rock subgenre. I’m happy for them. If they came out seven years ago, we’d be like, “Too loud; this isn’t Mac DeMarco, so who cares?”
AZ: They wouldn’t have made the impact they’re making now, maybe. Another band is Idles. They’re the anthemic, almost, like, arena rock band of this scene. I haven’t seen many bands do that in recent years. The last one I can think of is Japandroids.
AR: Woof. Idles’ lyrics are a little bit too heavy-handed for me, politically. Which gets into the speculation of “Why is this music happening now?” You know, post-punk was thriving during Thatcherism in the U.K. Is this happening now because of Brexit Europe and the U.K.? I don’t know. Things were rougher in the Thatcher era. There’s raw anger, disillusionment, just like there was then. Some of these bands have political slants, but Idles whack you over the head with it. There’s no mystery.
AZ: In every way, they’re too maximalist for my taste. My preferred post-punk is weirder, more experimental, much more minimalist. Like that band Snapped Ankles.
Every time someone in the world mentions Yard Art, there’s the sound of a million music-industry employees telling them to listen to Snapped Ankles instead. And Ashley, Idles are a pop-punk fan’s post-punk band, they have to be indelicate. Let’s talk about Wet Leg. People seem to like that they’re horny, and post-punk is cold, industrial, cavernous noise. Not sexy! And the media is always talking about how young people aren’t fucking anymore.
AR: Post-punk is not lovey-dovey; it's not sexy. Post-punk is for puriteens! Kids overcorrected from hypersexualization to becoming sex-negative! But look, not to stan Shame, but to stan Shame, “Gold Hole” is a horny song.
AZ: The rest of these bands are totally sterile. [Ashley,] do you think that is partially what’s causing Wet Leg to stick out a little bit?
AR: I appreciate what they’re doing. But also, this is catnip for me: When they’re album dropped, people were fighting over it, trying to decide if it was good or bad. There is definitely something to it being inherently sexual. They’re great at that: It’s “I’m being nasty and that’s fun.”
For so long, the hype around them was “this band has millions of streams and only two songs.”
AZ: I was very much in the “What’s the big deal?” camp, especially when it was just the first single. Everyone was losing their shit.
AR: They’re such low-hanging fruit for me. I love watching people bitch back and forth about a buzz band that’s, like, a bunch of chicks who are best friends playing post-punk and talking about sex. Like, let’s talk about it!
What happens when these bands get on late-night television shows in America? Is it validating that this post-punk shit is going mainstream? Even though a band like Dry Cleaning is markedly more monotonous and weirder than a poppier act like Interpol, they’re getting to play The Tonight Show With Jimmy Fallon.
AZ: Yeah. Do you think it’s different now from how it was 10, 15 years ago when Interpol, the Editors, and White Lies were doing the same thing? White Lies, remember that band?
AR: They had one song, and that song is great.
AZ: Is this cyclical? Each generation will get the post-punk band they deserve? It comes into fashion and then it leaves, but there are still post-punk bands, and they’ll continue to do the post-punk thing—even if most people aren’t paying attention.
AR: I’m ready to fight. This new wave isn’t as poppy, that’s true, but it’s still very bass-y, very dance-y, unlike fucking Mac DeMarco or Tame Impala. How old is post-punk?
AZ: At least 40 years now.
AR: And it still feels like a breath of fresh air right now. And [a spot on] late-night TV is aggressively mainstream. My parents watch that shit. They won’t remember the band name, but they’ll watch it. But really, let’s do a thought exercise: Who are the biggest rock bands in America? Imagine Dragons? Twenty One Pilots?
AZ: I couldn't tell you a song by either of them.
AR: A shift is coming. Fontaines D.C. played . I liked their old shit; the new shit, the energy fell off. That happens with a lot of bands: They tend to get mellow. Just give me the old shit about being Irish and Catholic and how shitty the weather is and how hard it is or whatever. Period.
If they came out seven years ago, we’d be like, Too loud; this isn’t Mac DeMarco, so who cares?
They probably sound a lot weirder to your mom and whoever else watching expecting to see Ed Sheeran on Saturday Night Live or whatever. It’s anxious-sounding, the sick riffs are sharp, the synth is pronounced. What does it say, that that kind of music works in mainstream spaces now?
AR: We’re all fucked up. It’s not user-friendly [music,] and that’s what I like about it. Is a lot of it repetitive? Will I confuse it on a post-punk Spotify playlist because half these bitches sound the same? Do I support it? [Yes.] I want there to be a generation of kids staying up late to see this. And get your bag, bands.
Ahmad, you came into this conversation thinking this post-punk revival revival stuff was boring. Ashley is arguing that it could be even more boring; we could have vibe-y, sleepy indie rock forever. That’s nightmarish. Is there any part of you that worries that post-punk exhaustion is the next chapter, that before these bands can become a dominant force, people will grow bored?
AZ: I honestly don’t care. I’ll take each band that I hear on a case-by-case basis. If it’s something I'm into, then great, and if not, you know, I’ll talk shit about them on a call like this.