GANG OF FOUR: GOD KNOWS WHAT ‘ANGULAR’ MEANS
Gang Of Four walked off “Top Of The Pops” but they must have known that twenty-five years later, a band called Franz Ferdinand would vindicate their every idea, except the one about politics. Or maybe especially the one about politics. Drummer Hugo Burnham speaks from a hotel room in Atlanta on a rare day off.
What do you think about the word ‘angular’?
It’s used a lot with us–God knows what it means. I presume it’s the opposite of soft and rounded.
Was there ever a time, maybe in the earliest days, when Gang Of Four were just another Sex Pistols rip-off band?
Our first few songs we played faster, simpler songs on the whole-we’d do a cover version of the Beatles’ ‘Day Tripper’ at like 200 miles-per-hour. ‘Let’s all count 1-2-3-4 and race to the end and see who gets there first!’ Were we a punk band? I certainly don’t think so. From day one, we always had ideas that went beyond three-chord thrash. There’s nothing wrong with three-chord thrash–but it’s not where we were headed.
Dave Allen said you looked like a punk rock Elton John then.
I guess I look like Elton John. I wish I could think of who the hell he looked like so I can embarrass him back.
What do you think of all the angular bands today?
Quite a lot of them are spending a little too much time denying it–Kaiser Chiefs, if they don’t like the comparisons, they should shut up about it! And the first time I heard ‘Take Me Out,’ I didn’t know who it was: ‘What the hell?’ Sonically, there’s absolutely reference points–but content-and-lyrics-wise, none of them are in the same ballpark. I’d like to go on stage with any of these acts and show them how to do it properly. We’d blow them off the stage.
I don’t want this to start a feud with Franz Ferdinand.
It’s not a feud–I defy anyone to say we’re less than spectacular when we’re firing on all cylinders. That doesn’t mean they’re no good–they were great. But we’re better. And the buggers are selling millions of records and we never did.
What was it like stepping back into the same room with the rest of the band after twenty-five years?
‘Strange’ is the word-and ‘tension’ and ‘awkwardness,’ to a degree. It did end badly as it inevitably does, but once we got certain business elements talked out and put to one side, what very quickly came to be was a creative, pulsing fun dynamic between the four of us. We left the room with an agreement: ‘Let’s try and do this!’ It was sort of hard work for some of us, maybe some of us who hadn’t played drums since 1985–just getting fit enough to do it! I was not going to keel over with a heartattack! But when we first started playing and writing together, we were sort of deconstructing ideas in things we liked, and here we are deconstructing our own music to put back together again. Like: ‘How the fuck did I do that? My god, that was fast!’ I personally went through a lot of physical pain–but when we started rehearsing, it came together quite quickly. It’s obvious what we had 25 years ago, we still have–which is why we kept going.
Is it depressing or encouraging that your songs are still so topical?
It’s very frustrating that more people are not as aware or active or concerned or angry about their lives–I’m disappointed with the general malaise among the youth of college age toward their social and political lives. They’re too busy enjoying the fruits of their consumerism–which is all-enveloping–and focusing on getting into the corporate structure and climbing up other people’s backs to get there. I teach at a college and it’s wrong to say it infuriates me, but it depresses me that there aren’t more students involved in activism. It’s their futures that are being manipulated and fucked with and destroyed.
Should contemporary musicians be talking about these kinds of things?
I’m not the best person to ask about contemporary musical communities-most music I listen to now–other than old Gang Of Four–is the Wiggles because I have a five-year-old daughter. Who now loves Gang Of Four: ‘Daddy, I want to hear ‘Return To The Gift!’ And in the morning I listen to Howard Stern–
Why not? His demographic includes a very significant number of professional educated middle-aged men. It’s not all yahoos–he’s so much more than the sum of his parts. So much more than T and A. A good number of my fellow faculty members listen to it–he’s funny as hell and challenging. Or I listen to NPR. I learn a lot from listening to ‘Fresh Air’–Terry Gross talking to Iggy Pop or the asshole from KISS. I learn something from all these things.
Has Gang Of Four been on NPR yet?
I’d give my left nut to be on ‘Fresh Air,’ really.
Do you get credit for being as funny as you are?
No. No. People assume, ‘They’re political, which must mean serious, which must mean dull.’ The refrain from the early days was, ‘I never realized how much you guys rock!’ Well, we’re a rock a band–we’re not evangelists for one cause or the other. Other than our own cause. And we are funny people–there was a lot of humor about us that was absolutely missed.
Will you say ‘bababooie’?