The Pop Group
The Pop Group in 2014
|Origin||Bristol, England, UK|
|Labels||Rough Trade, Radar Records|
|The Slits, Dennis Bovell, New Age Steppers, Maximum Joy, Rip Rig + Panic, Pigbag, Mark Stewart + the Maffia|
The Pop Group are an English band formed in Bristol in 1977 by vocalist Mark Stewart, guitarist John Waddington, bassist Simon Underwood, guitarist/saxophonist Gareth Sager, and drummer Bruce Smith. Their work in the late 1970s crossed diverse musical influences including dub, funk, and free jazz with radical politics, helping to pioneer post-punk music.
The group released two albums, Y (1979) and For How Much Longer Do We Tolerate Mass Murder? (1980), and the singles "She Is Beyond Good and Evil" (1979) and "We Are All Prostitutes" (1979), then s[lit in 1981. Its members worked on a variety of subsequent projects, including New Age Steppers and Rip Rig + Panic. In 2010, the band reunited, touring and releasing new material.
The Pop Group was formed in 1977 in Bristol when teenager Mark Stewart set out to start a funk group with schoolmates John Waddington and Simon Underwood. Inspired by the energy of punk rock but feeling the style to be too conservative, the group drew influence from the avant-garde, black music styles such as free jazz and dub, and radical political traditions. Guitarist Gareth Sager and drummer Bruce Smith were eventually added to the group. Soon after forming, they began to gain notoriety for their live performances and were signed to Radar Records. They appeared on the cover of the NME. The band donated the proceeds from their first high-profile tour to Amnesty International. They issued their debut single "She Is Beyond Good and Evil" in March 1979 and their debut album Y in April of that year, both to acclaim but relatively low sales figures. Regardless, their moderate success was sufficient to convince Rough Trade to sign the band. During this period, Dan Catsis replaced Underwood on bass.
The band's career with Rough Trade began with the release of the single "We Are All Prostitutes." This was followed by the release of their second album For How Much Longer Do We Tolerate Mass Murder? (1980). Shortly afterwards the Pop Group released a split single, "Where There's a Will...", with the Slits, a band with whom they shared a drummer (Bruce Smith) and manager Dick O'Dell. The band's last live performance was in 1980 to a crowd of 500,000 people at Trafalgar Square as part of the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament protest. They split in 1981 after legal wranglings and internal disagreements. Members of the group collaborated and joined bands such as Pigbag, Maximum Joy, Head, the Slits and Rip Rig + Panic, the latter notable for the involvement of Neneh Cherry. Stewart collaborated with the On-U Sound posse, issuing records backed by the Maffia, then as a solo artist.
In 2010, the Pop Group reunited with three of the original five members: Mark Stewart, Gareth Sager, and Bruce Smith. The 1980 LP We Are Time was reissued worldwide on 20 October 2014, and the band released a compilation of rarities titled Cabinet of Curiosities. In support of the reissues, the band undertook a seven-day tour of the UK, and in February 2015, released Citizen Zombie, their first studio album in 35 years. They went a worldwide tour with dates in the U.S., Japan, and Australia, followed by an extensive European tour culminating in festival appearances including two live sets at Glastonbury.
In February 2016 For How Much Longer Do We Tolerate Mass Murder? was rereleased on CD and released digitally for the first time. This was accompanied by the release of a colour vinyl edition of "We Are All Prostitutes," referred to by The Vinyl Factory. A previously unseen video for "We Are All Prostitutes", shot at the Electric Ballroom in November 1979 but thought to be lost, was recovered from the attic of video artist Chris Reynolds and unveiled. In May, the band released a collection of live recordings titledThe Boys Whose Head Exploded. Throughout 2016, the band worked on new material with producer Dennis Bovell, and in October Honeymoon on Mars was released. On 6 September, "Zipperface", the first single from the album, was released to streaming services, YouTube, and iTunes.
The Pop Group have been called pioneers of the late-1970s post-punk movement.The Guardian wrote that the Pop Group "almost singlehandedly effected the transition from punk to post-punk," noting that they "- ahead of Gang of Four, PiL, A Certain Ratio and the rest - steered punk towards a radical, politicised mash-up of dub, funk, free jazz and the avant-garde."Louder Than War called them "one of the most wildly innovative and barrier-shattering bands to emerge from the late '70s post-punk era."Rolling Stone described the group as "an explosive mutant gene," asserting that "among their rabble-rousing post-punk contemporaries, none boasted as much sheer musical inventiveness and audacity." Theorist Mark Fisher describes their sound as "both cavernous and propulsive, ultra-abstract yet driven by dance music's physical imperatives."
The group was inspired by diverse musical sources as diverse as Ornette Coleman, King Tubby, Debussy, Funkadelic, Jacques Brel, and Steve Reich in addition to non-musical sources such as French romanticism, Antonin Artaud, Beat poetry, the Situationists, and existential philosophy. Addressing the group's shift toward an agitprop sensibility on their second album, released during the rise of Thatcherism, Mark Fisher wrote that the group's goal was "emotional engineering, a jolting out of the ideological trance that accepts injustice as inevitable."