Gang of Four Founder Points to Dark Forces That Surround Us

Andy Gill tackles the current political climate head-on with Gang of Four's new album

Andy Gill has always stuck to three rules when it comes to politics and music:

  1. Stay away from current affairs.
  2. Don't tell people what to think.
  3. Remain observational by describing our own lives and our friends' lives on a personal level but also describing the structures that make up society.
According to the Gang of Four guitarist and founder, that rulebook has kind of flown out the window in the last couple of years.
In April, news of the seminal British post-punk band using Ivanka Trump's photo as the cover of their "Complicit" EP traveled fast, with Gill waking up to a barrage of emails from America. With explicit references to the Trump administration on "Complicit" and on the band's new album, "Happy Now," Gill might not be telling people what to think, but the implications are pretty clear.

"The thing there was, it's a little bit of an exception, and that's why I felt like I could break the rule. Trump goes into the White House and installs his daughter as spokesperson, and this was instantly fascinating.... The one thing you can't say about Trump is that he's not entertaining," Gill told me over the phone last month.

"You think, 'How can I let this go? Ivanka basically wrote this song for me. I owe her royalties,'" he added.

The move toward a more confrontational -- as opposed to observational -- approach to politicization for Gill might also have something to do with the resurgence in popularity of post-punk, especially among younger musicians.

"I think it's a sort of looking for authenticity and imagination.... People just need to push forward with whatever it is they think they believe in," Gill said.

And that's exactly what Gang of Four continue to do with "Happy Now."

"I think the songs are quite poetic and mostly a bit dark -- not always, but a little bit dark," Gill explained.

"'Where are we going here? Has anybody noticed things have gone a bit strange?' It feels like everybody feels like they're a bit anxious. Control has gone somewhere else, and they're not sure where it's gone," he said.

For a lot of people, the rulebook has been thrown out the window, so many of us feel lost -- queued up in a mass search for meaning. 

"It's [the album title 'Happy Now'] not as blatant as straightforward sarcasm. Anybody who knows me would say, 'Andy Gill? Happy? F--- off.' Why isn't there a question mark there? Well, that would be crass. It's more about what happiness actually means, what it is. It operates in a similar way to the title 'Entertainment,' clearly questioning what entertainment is at all. It's not dissimilar with 'Happy Now.' You're sort of questioning: What is the role of music in relation to popular culture and the rest of the world? How do you get there? Does it involve money or children, what does it involve?" Gill said.

"In the context of this record where I'm pointing to the dark forces that surround us, it's like standing in the forest with a ginger bread cottage in front of you and thinking, 'I'm happy now,'" he added.

Gang of Four headline Casbah on Tuesday, Feb. 5. Get tickets here.

Rutger Ansley Rosenborg has been with NBC SoundDiego since 2016. Find out more here.

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