In the early days of the budding UK punk scene, British film director, DJ and musician Don Letts pretty much ran the scene at The Roxy in London, spinning primarily reggae and ska music to patrons of all colors. During this time, some of the white boys in the scene were calling themselves skin and suedeheads before racists co-opted the terms. This was showcased in the work of The Beat and The Specials.
Even before that, there were hard rock and proto-punk groups such as Thin Lizzy and Death. In 1977, during D.C.’s blossoming punk hardcore scene the first band most people think of when it comes to black presentation and punk formed: Bad Brains.
One would be gravely mistaken to think that there is no black representation in the fundamental part of punk’s history. To illustrate this fact, all one need do is take a look at photographer Michael Putland’s 1980 portrait ‘Ladies Tea Party’ that features Pauline Black and Poly Styrene, alongside Debbie Harry, Viv Albertine, Siouxsie Sioux, and Chrissie Hynde.
But what about post-punk and goth? Some people assume there is no representation in the scene at all, and that the scene is primarily Caucasian—with the addition of some Latin and Asian representation, as goth and post-punk have been historically popular in countries such as China, Japan, Mexico, and Chile, for example.
Certainly, there were black post-punk fans hanging out at clubs such as Danceteria in NYC, or The Batcave in London, and if you were to head over to those cities now, you would likely find representation across several generations of fans.
20 years in the past, if you were to ask some goth and post-punk fans if they have ever heard a black singer be spun at a club they frequent, they might list the song from the Silence of the Lambs’ soundtrack, “Goodbye Horses” by Q Lazarus, or perhaps the theme to The Neverending Story, where singer Beth Anderson duets with Limahl from Kajagoogoo.
In this past decade, we have been lucky to have had two projects that are extremely popular on dance floors from Berlin to Los Angeles- O Children and Light Asylum. In fact, their songs “Ruins” and “Dark Allies” were so powerful that if you were to go out and dance at your local club, they may have been the only songs to remain in your memory in the party’s aftermath.
On that note—let’s not forget She Wants Revenge’s “Tear You Apart,” which became so popular it was lovingly as overplayed as anything by Bauhaus or Joy Division.
But surely there is more to the picture than just three modern bands and a couple of songs from the soundtracks from a fantasy film and suspense thriller?
To some, it may be easier to look for black representation in the new wave scene, most notably in bands such as Simple Minds, Fun Boy Three, Culture Club, and Thompson Twins. But is it really so difficult to find it in goth and post-punk?
On January 20th, 2018, the first post-punk single “Shot by Both Sides” by Magazine turned 40 years old. The track features Barry Adamson on bass. Since black musicians have always pioneered music, goth and post-punk being no exception, we decided to compose a list of POC artists new and old to encourage more diversity in the scene in the musicians whose music we listen to, and the fans who go to concerts, club nights, and festivals.
Named after a song by Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds, London’s O Children features frontman Tobi’s bellowing baritone, which is as powerful as his towering 6’8”. O Children’s 2010 s/t debut LP is certainly a goth and post-punk essential for any record collection.
She Wants Revenge
Singer Justin Warfield and his musical partner Adam Bravin must be making a killing in television and film licensing fees for their Los Angeles-based gothic/post-punk revival band. Bravin also run’ Hollywood’s Cloak and Dagger party as well.
Light Asylum was a Brooklyn-based electronic music duo consisting of Shannon Funchess and Bruno Coviello, and is now primarily the solo vehicle for Funchess’ place as one of the most powerful voices in the post-punk scene.
The stage name of Matthew Sims, a Berlin-based American DJ, performance artist and producer.
Another great Richmond Post-Punk band featuring singer Aaron Tyree.
Vancouver deathrock and post-punk band.
Contemporary post-punk acts
Post-punk and soulful gospel from singer/guitarist Franklin James Fisher? Yes, please! Atlanta Georgia’s Algiers are doing something new with the sound only touched upon by The Birthday Party and Gun Club.
London post-punk revival act Bloc Party is fronted by Kele Okereke and experiments with post-punk, indie, electronica, and house, while taking influence from acts such as Pixies, Joy Division, Sonic Youth and The Smiths.
TV On The Radio
An art-rock band from Brooklyn that are friends with the Yeah Yeah Yeahs. Their influences range from Bad Brains, Earth, Wind & Fire, Nancy Sinatra, Serge Gainsbourg, Brian Eno, Prince, to Wire and Siouxsie and the Banshees.
During the U.S. tour for their second album Return to Cookie Mountain, the band performed a few covers with Bauhaus singer Peter Murphy and Nine Inch Nails frontman Trent Reznor. David Bowie himself appears on “Province.”
Emerald Sapphire & Gold are a highly influential NYC band that Factory Records head Tony Wilson approached after their performance at Hurrahs Nightclub, and three days later they began recording with engineer Martin Hannett. They recorded “Moody” and “You’re No Good” in the first take. Hannett had three minutes left on the master tape, so he had the band record “UFO.”
A Certain Ratio
“all the energy of Joy Division but better clothes.”
Factory Records’ ACR is one of the most important post-punk bands, with a unique dance-oriented sound, which drew heavily on disco and funk. They are still going strong.
A Detroit-area shoegaze band featuring Odell Nails of Spahn Ranch (see below). You may have seen him before, as he is in the Cocteau Twins fever newscast!
A legendary San Francisco post-punk band fronted by the amazing Eric Cope, who is such a fan of post-punk music, he even named his son after Ian Curtis. Extremely underrated and essential, this band will become one of your favorites.
Pick up a recent reissue of their album Leading Stolen Horses if you can, it’s essential for any post-punk collection.
A band so soaked in gothic minimalism that perhaps if they were from the UK, it would have qualified them as being positive-punk, the band released their only album Thickly Settled in 1986. Spahn Ranch would go onto to perform with bands such as Killing Joke, Swans, and Psychic TV. Dais has recently reissued a key collection of tracks, titled Back to the Wood.
Colourbox are perhaps best known for their track “Tarantula,” which was later covered by their label 4AD’s project This Mortal Coil. The band was formed by brothers Martyn and Steve Young, Ian Robbins, and vocalist Debbion Curry, who left the band. Singing duties were then taken over by the amazing Lorita Grahame.
A British musical duo formed in 1986 by Alex Ayuli and Rudy Tambala. In the late 1980s, the duo coined the term “dream pop” to describe their sound, which makes this an essential band for any shoegaze fan worth their salt. The band would team up with key members of Colourbox to record the incredibly influential dance track “Pump Up the Volume” under the moniker M/A/R/R/S.
Early 90s shoegaze band from North Carolina that recorded an album in London with Cocteau Twins’ Robin Guthrie.
Barry Adamson (Nick Cave and The Bad Seeds, Visage, Magazine)
Manchester’s Barry Adamson, as mentioned above, first appeared on the first post-punk single “Shot by Both Sides” by Magazine. He would then go to join Visage with Magazine guitarist John McGeoch, and while McGeoch would go on to play with Siouxsie and the Banshees, Adamson was recruited to play bass on the first four Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds albums before releasing a series of cinematic solo records, some of which were mined for David Lynch’s Lost Highway soundtrack.
Too much to write about Barry here! Needless to say, he is one of the most important figures in post-punk history.
Eddie “Twiggy” Branch (Peter Murphy, UK Decay)
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Eddie “Twiggy” Branch from Northampton joined the Luton positive punk band UK Decay as their bass player just in time to record 1981’s For Madmen Only, later going on to join Peter Murphy’s 100 Men solo band. Yes, that is him in the video for “Cuts You Up.”
Ray Mondo (Sex Gang Children, Southern Death Cult)
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Raymond Taylor-Smith aka Ray Mondo, originally from Sierra Leon, was the drummer for Ritual, Death Cult, and Sex Gang Children.
Andy Anderson (The Cure)
Drummer Andy Anderson (may he rest in power) was enlisted to join The Cure in 1983, while original drummer Lawrence Tolhurst switched to synthesizers. Andy appeared on the side project The Glove’s LP Blue Sunshine, as well as the collection of singles Japanese Whispers, and The Top. Andy has also collaborated with Iggy Pop, Peter Gabriel, Sham 69, and more!
Allan Dias (PIL)
Allan Dias was Public Image Limited’s bassist from 1986 to 1992, performing on three albums, Happy?, 9′and That What is Not. Self-taught, and coming from a jazz background, Dias, along with guitarist John McGeoch were the backbone of the “new” PiL.
Kid Congo Powers (The Gun Club, the Cramps and Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds).
Brian Tristan aka Kid Congo Powers is a guitarist and singer that is best known as a member of The Gun Club, The Cramps and Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds.
Despite being of Mexican descent, we thought him an essential POC on this list.
Zeke Manyika (Orange Juice)
Zimbabwe’s Zeke Manyika is a percussionist, vocalist, and songwriter that performed with Glasgow’s Orange Juice from 1982-1984, notably featured on the hit single “Rip it Up. “Zekehas also collaborated with Matt Johnson’s band The The.
Gail Ann Dorsey (David Bowie, Tears for Fears, Gang of Four)
A session musician working with a wide variety of artists, most notably as David Bowie’s bass-backbone, she makes this list because she also has worked with Tears For Fears, The The, and Gang of Four.
Strange Boutique was singer and punk veteran Monica Richards’ band prior to forming Faith and The Muse. Guitarist Fred “Freak” Smith, also a veteran of the D.C. hardcore scene, recently passed away earlier this year.
Any we missed?
There surely are more black artists we have overlooked, especially those who were members of smaller bands throughout the years. In the goth scene we would like to give a shoutout to Steve Williams (Altered States, Nine Day Decline etc), and Geoff Bruce (Sunshine Blind, Faith and the Muse), and more.
There are some other newer bands we would also like to mention that have black representation among their ranks:
Cult of Youth
One more thing…
No, not that Martin Gore is half black (yes, this is true). We just want to thank Prince, and Terrance Trent Darby for being such a gateway drug to post-punk and goth, for everyone of all complexions.
Also, the first cover of a Joy Division track was done by none other than Grace Jones, who also at that time covered The Normal’s “Warm Leatherette.”