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New Wave Music
aka: New Wave

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The Lighter and Softer counterpart to Punk Rock and Post-Punk.

The line between Punk and New Wave is blurry; many New Wave bands started out as Punk bands. But New Wave expanded on Punk's primitivism, embracing experimentation and variety, to the point that New Wave is literally Genre Salad Music. Because of this, New Wave is an umbrella term for a wide variety of subgenres, though it is often used to refer to one particular subgenre, as will be discussed later. Along with its sister movement Post-Punk, it is a major influence on Alternative Rock, and several New Wave bands such as The The, Midnight Oil, and New Order became Alternative Rock bands later in their careers.

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New Wave came from several scenes in the early to mid '70s, including the original New York and UK Punk scenes; copycat Punk scenes all over America, Ireland, Australia, and New Zealand; Pub Rock, a laid-back cousin of the UK Punk scene; Power Pop, a revival of mid-'60s three-minute rock, similar to Punk; Rockabilly Revival, inspired by American Graffiti; 2 Tone; and early Synth-Pop. New Wave came together as these bands listened to and toured with each other. In Germany, there was a sub-scene known as the "Neue Deutsche Welle" (New German Wave).

Everyone was inspired by the simple, direct rock of the '50s and '60s, and the Glam of the '70s. But New Wave went outside of rock, and at times consciously avoided sounding like it. Some of the synth players had classical training. Some bands had saxophone players steeped in jazz. Andy Summers of The Police and James Honeyman-Scott of The Pretenders popularized a clean guitar tone with the then-new chorus effect, and New Wave guitarists in general tried to avoid sounding like Eric Clapton or Jimi Hendrix even as some acts like The Teardrop Explodes and Echo & the Bunnymen were influenced by Psychedelic Rock. New Wave bands used elaborate studio technology like flanging, delay, synthesizers, drum machines and early digital samplers like the Synclavier, the E-mu Emulator and the Fairlight CMI. The sense of futurism extended to the lyrics, which often drew from science fiction themes, particularly the works of J.G. Ballard. The offbeat nature of new wave even caught the attention of older acts like King Crimson and David Bowie, both of whom spent a fair amount of time dabbling in the genre and continued to take influence from it afterward (with Bowie additionally taking influence from post-punk).

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New Wave started making a dent on the charts in 1978, and record companies took notice. 1979-83 were the peak years, starting with "My Sharona" by The Knack. Pretty much all of the pioneers were rocketed to stardom in the first two years; some of those stars stayed up, others fell. The whole genre was fading back into obscurity by the summer of '81; a lot of the early bands turned out to be too eclectic for mainstream audiences, which instead went for the similar New Romantic movement.

MTV re-launched New Wave with the first video they aired, "Video Killed the Radio Star" by The Buggles. Ever the experimentalists, New Wavers embraced the new medium, and pretty soon New Wave was a visual style too. The popularity of crazy hair and loud costumes in The '80s starts here. MTV bought New Wave enough time for the best bands to hit their stride and establish themselves as mainstream rock bands. Bands like The Police, Talking Heads, and U2 started to cross over onto album-oriented rock stations.

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MTV brought New Wave into the mainstream, but with success came Flanderization and Executive Meddling. An avalanche of new bands, inspired by the earlier bands and signed up by eager record companies, flooded MTV and the radio, putting Sturgeon's Law into full effect. Most of these turned out to be One-Hit Wonders, but the new bands established a stereotypical New Wave look and sound: A five-man band (voice, guitar, synth, bass, and drums; not to mix with the not-about-the-music trope), good-looking, with '80s Hair and David Bowie-inspired outfits, playing an updated version of '60s pop and rock. It's this stereotype that people think of today.

New Wave burned out in the mid-'80s. Live Aid was both its crowning achievement and its swan song. Record companies lost interest after the industry-changing success of Thriller. Many bands ran out of ideas, or grew weary of touring, and broke up. Some faded back into obscurity, while others kept up their popularity by moving out of the genre and into different, related styles like Goth Rock, Sophisti-Pop, or Alternative Rock. A new generation of digital synthesizers appeared in 1983, making the old analog synths sound dated; any band that wanted to stay relevant had to embrace the new sound. The newer bands began to establish themselves, and they had a much more radio-friendly sound. The Synth-Pop era had begun. Other bands like New Order and Depeche Mode shifted toward Alternative Dance.

At the same time, some veteran new wave bands like Tears for Fears and Talk Talk shied away from synthesizers toward more "organic" sounds in the late '80s as they moved toward Alternative Rock.

One aspect of New Wave that's difficult to adequately determine is the dividing line between it and Post-Punk, largely due to the fact that the latter wasn't defined as a distinct entity until the 2000's; before then, what is now called post-punk was previously regarded as New Wave and Alternative Rock, the effects of which are still visible today in certain corners of the music community. The distinction is especially muddy with American acts, due to New Wave and post-punk having a much greater amount of overlap there; general consensus is that American post-punk bands like Devo, Talking Heads, and Mission of Burma are also believably classifiable as New Wave, while most American New Wave acts can't be classified as post-punk in turn (try to call Blondie or The Cars post-punk and you'll probably be met with puzzled looks at best). As post-punk is generally regarded in hindsight to be more of a musical aesthetic than a concrete genre, the classification of post-punk bands is based more around the atmosphere, aesthetic, and ethos of the bands and music involved, as opposed to the black-and-white list of conventions and lines in the sand that can more easily identify New Wave acts.

Not to be confused with the New Wave of British Heavy Metal.


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Alternative Title(s): New Wave

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