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Wire innovates within its own musical context

| Wednesday, June 3, 2015, 9:00 p.m.
Owen Richards
Marylene May

There's a price to be paid for longevity in the music world.

The people who typically consume the most music are always in their 20s. Those in their 30s consume less, and those in their 40s, less than that — and so on. For most bands that got started in 1977, that's a problem.

Wire isn't most bands from the class of '77.

Although they rode the wave of English punk rock that briefly seemed to sweep away all that had preceded it, they always defiantly did their own thing. There's no sentimentality, no sticking to formula, no looking back.

“We just don't do the nostalgia thing,” explains frontman Colin Newman, 60. “We've always regarded ourselves as a contemporary band. The fact that we have fans of all ages is a great thing. We would hate to see ourselves classified as ‘old.'”

They still sound hungry, hunting for something, musically speaking — yet, as always, precise and measured, controlled.

Although not without a certain dry sense of humor, they were always dead-serious about what they wanted to accomplish. As art-school kids steeped in Dada and Situationist experimentation, Wire stood apart from the punk rockers they were initially lumped in with.

“Wire isn't a punk band and never has been,” Newman says. “This is a technical point. People who were punks hated Wire. Our songs were too short or too slow. We didn't pretend. We didn't fit the mold. We didn't play any of that game. We were more seriously interested in the idea that you had to look at the history of popular music, and come up with something new.”

“There was a lot about punk rock in '77 that was, frankly, pretty retro. To be brutal, you could reduce British punk rock to singles, really. There was no lasting legacy. It was all about the moment. Nobody had any vision.”

If anything, Wire had the opposite problem. They would repeatedly get bored, throw everything out, and start over. Many fans attracted to the sharp, atonal shards of songs of their first album “Pink Flag” (1977) were initially thrown off by the atmospheric, layered complexity of “Chairs Missing” (1978), and so on.

“You innovate within your own context,' Newman says. “Do things you haven't done before. For Wire to attempt to create an entirely new genre of music would be difficult. Everybody works with the same platform. There's nothing happening where you can produce a sound that hasn't been heard before.”

Live, you're going to hear “the new stuff,” whether you want to or not.

“We're not in the entertainment game,” Newman says. “‘(We're not thinking) what are the most popular songs that we could play?' Ask Wire fans for their favorite songs, and you'd get 800 answers.”

The decision to eschew short-term rewards in search of a lasting legacy seems to have paid off. One could make a case for entire genres of music having been built atop the foundations Wire first laid.

A recent album, “Change Becomes Us” (2013) boils down their ethos in typically minimalist fashion.

“‘Change' is a very important word for Wire,” Newman says. There's a boredom threshold that has always existed for the band. We like to do new things, as opposed to old things. If you're going to do old things, do them in a new way.”

Michael Machosky is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at or 412-320-7901.

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