In the summer of 2009, I met up with Gang Of Four’s Andy Gill and Jon King in the former’s smart Camden apartment. Gill’s father had died a couple of weeks previously, and he looked tired and drawn. We talked about the Gang Of Four legacy, but it was only when we began to discuss the new material the band had produced did Gill become animated. Fast forward to January 2011, and the new album Content is about to be released. It is a sparkling return and an album which will sit comfortably alongside their cannon of work. The interview on the sunny summer day was a great insight into why Gang Of Four were – and still are – a major influence.
Gang Of Four rose out of the ashes of punk, welded driving funk and reggae beats to jagged, crunching guitars to create a new musical genre. Eulogised by Flea (who has said the track ‘Not Great Men’ shaped the sound of the Chili Peppers), Kurt Cobain and Michael Stipe as a ‘major influence’, and more latterly pilfered by a new legion of indie big-hitters, Andy surgically dissected the legacy of Gang Of Four. “Lots of bands have borrowed to varying degrees, the sound of Gang Of Four. For us, it was [about] creating a new type of music and starting from first principles. We went into extreme detail with drumbeats and everything to make a new sound. I think people have recognised that was exciting and original.” Jon added his own sound bite; “One thing we always wanted to be was a white rock band that had a groove to it. A lot of people were very inspired by how far out there we were. If you stretch the possibilities in one direction, then people can fill up all sorts of slots up.”
Among their adoring fans were Michael Stipe and Flea. Many bands wanted to tour with Gang Of Four, as Jon recollected, “REM were our support band for a year and a half in America. When we were in America we would partner with up-and-coming US bands. So we had Mission Of Burma, Bush Tetras and, of course, REM. Bands like that became friends of ours.” The Chili Peppers would use Gill to produce their debut album, which proved an onerous chore for Andy. “Flea always shot his mouth off, without thinking very much about anything, but that’s fine. I spoke to him a few weeks ago and it’s now good.”
In 2005 the rock grapevine started to twitch with rumours about a reunion of the original line-up. “A lot of people started saying ‘why don’t you do some shows?’ At the time we were being managed by Jaz Summers, and one day I mentioned it to him and barely had the words come out of my mouth, than he was on the phone booking flights,” Andy said. “It was also at the height of Franz Ferdinand and Bloc Party ripping us off to the millionth degree.” The seed for new material had been sown.
So, Content is finally upon us, and it is an invigorating update of the Gang Of Four sound. Eighteen months ago, Jon boasted that “You’ll see that it’s the same band that made Entertainment and Solid Gold.” He was right to be bullish.
Content is released on January 24th via Gronland Records – http://www.gangoffour.co.uk