From RHCP to St. Vincent, 16 great bands influenced by Gang of Four
Gang of Four's signature style -- a mix of punk, funk, disco, dub and radical politics -- is so iconic at this point, it's come to define a large portion of what gets referred to as "post-punk." When you hear a guitar sound referred to as "angular," they're talking about the taut, jabby style the late Andy Gill pioneered. The group have proven to be so influential that's it's almost easier to make a list of groups who have not been influenced by Gill and Gang of Four. But with a new posthumous EP out this week and Gang of Four's first four albums back on streaming services -- along with 14 full-show live recordings recorded between 1979 and 1984 -- (all via Matador!) we thought we'd take a look a Gang of Four's long shadow.
Here are 16 bands and artists who have either specifically cited Go4's influence, or wear it on their sleeves.
Michael Stipe has said on many occasions that Gang of Four were one of R.E.M.'s chief influences when they formed. For a band whose most famous songs feature mandolin, you might not think about it now, but listen to Chronic Town and Murmur -- "Laughing" or "Moral Kiosk" for example -- and you can hear how R.E.M. interpolated Gang of Four's jagged rhythms into their own distinctly Southern sound. R.E.M. toured with Gang of Four, too, and bassist Mike Mills wrote in tribute to Andy Gill, "He, and the rest of the Gang, changed how we attacked the live show, gave us a bar to try and rise to." Here's R.E.M. in 1989 working in a cover of 1982 Gang of Four track "We Live as We Dream Alone" (and Michael Stipe paying homage to Jon King's "He'd Send in the Army" percussion style) to the beginning of "World Leader Pretend" (skip to 10:20):
Besides R.E.M., the whole Athens GA scene of the late-'70s and early-'80s feels born out of Gang of Four's sound. The B-52's came up at the exact same time as Gang of Four, with similar guitar styles on different sides of the Atlantic (and Sara Lee would play bass for them both), but Pylon are probably the Georgia college town's most obvious inheritors of the danceable punk style. "[Pylon members] Michael Lachowski and Randy Bewley were given a short list of bands to choose to open for at our very first New York show at Hurrah in August of 1979," singer Vanessa Briscoe Hay tells us. "Gang of Four were first choice on the basis of the Fast Product 'red' single with ‘Damaged Goods’ /‘Armalite Rifle’ / ‘Anthrax.’ They were our heroes." She notes that Pylon were "fortunate to tour with or open for Gang of Four several times over the next few years. It was always fun and they never disappointed."
Red Hot Chili Peppers
According to lore, the Red Hot Chili Peppers' Flea said hearing Gang of Four's "Not Great Men" made him want to form a band. So it seemed like a logical choice to get Andy Gill to produce their 1984 debut album. Unfortunately, it was far from a match made in heaven with Gill and the band clashing the whole time. Infamously, RHCP stole a look at one of Gill's production notebooks and saw that the only note for song "Police Helicopter" was "SHIT." The band, who were not a fan of Gill's synth-and-drum-machine suggestions, retaliated by leaving Gill some actual excrement. Despite their acrimonious working relationship and the not-so-hot Chili Peppers album they made, the band remained fans of Gang of Four's music. Gill told Diffuser in 2014 that he bumped into Flea at an art opening and the bassist said, "Thank you so much for never suing us over Anthony stealing your work.” When RHCP played their first show with John Frusciante back in the lineup, just two weeks after Gill died, they paid tribute by covering "Not Great Men." Full circle.
While Afghan Whigs' grungier rock sound has always been powered by dark machismo, you can still hear the tense, cutting style of Andy Gill in Greg Dulli's guitar style, and he cites Gang of Four's third album, Songs of the Free, as a formative record. "I got turned on to that record by some girls I went to college with, and they not only loved a man in a uniform, they loved the song, 'I Love a Man in a Uniform,' Greg told us earlier this year. "That was the song that got me into that record and subsequently, my roommates had Entertainment!, and I got caught up on Gang of Four. But Songs of the Free was my gateway drug into the Gang of Four universe. I had never heard someone play guitar like that guy, let alone write the type of songs that they were writing."
Kurt Cobain himself said Nirvana started out as "a Gang of Four and Scratch Acid ripoff," he famously included Entertainment! on his list of favorite albums, and when Gill died in February, Nirvana tweeted "Gang of Four are an influence on our music. Sorry to hear about Andy Gill's passing." The Scratch Acid influence on early Nirvana came though a little more clearly than the Gang of Four influence, but Gang of Four's influence had clearly seeped into that band's music (and into Scratch Acid singer David Yow's next band The Jesus Lizard, who eventually worked with Andy Gill), so Gang of Four was undeniably in Nirvana's musical DNA even if it wasn't as obvious to pick out as other bands. Sometimes you could hear it though, like on the funk-punk-inspired "Hairspray Queen."
Nine Inch Nails
"Trent (Reznor) has often told me how much of NIN was influenced by Gang of Four so it’s funny people are saying that,” Andy Gill told Gigwise back in 2016. It's pretty evident, too; Go4's darker, more churning, brooding material like "Anthrax" -- and when they started to incorporate drum machines on Songs of the Free -- feel like seeds for Nine Inch Nails songs like “Hurt” or “Piggy.” Nine Inch Nails have covered "Anthrax," too, like at a 2009 LA show with Gary Numan, Mike Garson, Jane's Addiction's Eric Johnson and members of HEALTH.
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Rage Against the Machine
It's pretty easy to draw the line from Gang of Four's mix of radical politics and danceable rock to the similar, if blunter, approach that Rage Against the Machine made hugely popular a decade later. More specifically, Tom Morello has long cited Gill as a principle influence, saying Gill's "jagged plague disco raptor attack industrial funk deconstructed guitar anti-hero sonics and fierce poetic radical intellect were formative for me," in a tribute post to Gill. "So glad I got to see him and revel in his incendiary art and wry wit several times over the past year. He was really, really fucking great."
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"The sound of Gang of Four was revelatory for me," Carrie Brownstein told Rolling Stone, discussing Gang of Four's "Natural's Not in It." "Even before you hear the lyrics, the acidity of the guitar playing tells you what this band is." Gang of Four's influence on Sleater-Kinney is very evident, and Andy Gill was a fan of theirs too. "Not for the first time I feel Sleater-Kinney and Gang of Four have quite a lot in common," he wrote in a review of No Cities to Love in The Talkhouse. "We obviously share similar agendas." Need more? Here's Corin Tucker talking about Entertainment!:
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Perhaps more than any other major modern indie musician, St. Vincent has kept the "angularity" of '80s post-punk guitar playing alive. She's covered The Pop Group and Big Black (themselves surely influenced by Gang of Four), and she's gone on record saying Andy Gill is her favorite guitarist and that her style was deeply influenced by what he did in Gang of Four. Gill, meanwhile, has similarly effused over St. Vincent. If you need more on their Mutual Appreciation society, Gill and Clark interviewed each other on The Talkhouse Podcast back in 2015 and it's a pleasure hearing these two guitar greats geek out over gear and each other's music.
Yeah Yeah Yeahs
Much like what was going on in the UK at the same time, the early-'00s Williamsburg scene would not have sounded like it did without Gang of Four. While not the most blatant in their thievery, Yeah Yeah Yeahs were the biggest of the bunch and it's hard to listen to songs like "Rich" or "Pin" from their debut album Fever to Tell, and not hear at least a little of Andy Gill in Nick ZInner's equally inventive guitar style. Yeah Yeah Yeahs were one of the bands to pay them back on 2005's remix album Return the Gift, with Karen O adding vocals to slinky classic "I Love a Man in a Uniform."
Before they hooked up with the DFA crew to make their defining 2002 dancepunk single "House of Jealous Lovers," and before they released a 2001 EP on Sub Pop, The Rapture were a struggling Brooklyn band looking for a scene that was still to come. At that time they hadn't quite figured out their sound (which would be heavily indebted to post punk like Gang of Four), but they were heading in that direction. Case in point: touring for their 1999 debut album, here's footage from a show at the SF State Cafeteria where they covered Gang of Four's "Damaged Goods." To quote the video's description, "They opened with this cover, I think the video basically speaks for itself."
While Alex Kapranos maintains Gang of Four were not an influence on Franz Ferdinand's sound, many of the other UK bands that sprung up in the mid-'00s very clearly were. (We're looking at you, Test Icicles, The Rakes, Clor, Tom Vek, Young Knives, and others.) The most obvious might be The Futureheads, who were similarly tightly wound, and songs like "Robot" and "First Day" were cut from a similar cloth as "Damaged Goods." In fact, Andy Gill produced those songs and about half of their debut album. It was a much more fruitful pairing than when he worked with Red Hot Chili Peppers. "Gang of Four were one of the best and working with Andy on our early singles and first album set us on our path," The Futureheads wrote in tribute to Gill. "A true gent."
While most of the bands in the 1980s American Hardcore scene were pushing the raw simplicity of the Ramones in louder, faster directions, others like Boston's The Proletariat and San Pedro's Minutemen were pulling from the brainier sounds of UK post-punk. The Minutemen drew from Wire, The Pop Group, and of course Gang of Four, who clearly influenced their political lyrics, D. Boon's wiry guitar playing, and especially Mike Watt's bass. (He and Flea may be the two most obvious early descendants of Dave Allen's punk-funk style). The Minutemen took that influence and made it their own, though, never sounding like anyone other than themselves.
“When Bloc Party first started, people compared us to Gang of Four," Kele Okereke told UK paper The Independent in 2014. "I’d never heard of them so from the start, we were pegged as something that we weren’t. I feel that our whole career has been us moving away from people’s expectations." Yet when you listen to early singles like "Banquet" and "She's Hearing Voices" -- with their spiky guitars and danceable rhythms -- you may wonder if other members of Bloc Party owned Entertainment.
With unimpeachable bonafides in the DC hardcore scene, Ian MacKaye (Minor Threat, Embrace), Guy Picciotto (Rites of Spring), Joe Lally and Brendan Canty (Rites of Spring) were influencers, but Fugazi brought a groove to punk rock that was clearly informed by things outside the Beltway. MaKaye said he wanted a sound "like The Stooges with reggae" but they ended up with a style that, on their first two EPs especially, was in the same headspace as Gang of Four and just as powerful.
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No one would've lumped Radiohead and Gang of Four together during the former's early years, but somewhere between OK Computer and Kid A -- when the group's fascination with electronic music really began showing itself and Thom Yorke got twitchier -- the parallels between the groups became more apparent. (You can really feel it on songs like "Bangers and Mash" and "Morning Mr. Magpie.") They also share a similar worldview wary of consumerist culture. If Gang of Four hadn't written "At Home He's a Tourist," Radiohead might've.
Listen to Gang of Four live at NYC"s Roseland Ballroom in December 1981:
Rest in Peace, Andy Gill! Read tributes from the above artists and more.