The Art School Dance Goes On: Leeds Post-Punk 1977-84 by compilationRelease date: June 1, 2023
Label: Caroline True Records
In the Intro to Simon Reynolds’ 2005 book Rip It Up and Start Again: Postpunk 1978-1984 he observed ‘There are scores of books on punk rock and the events of 1976-77, but virtually nothing on what happened next’ (1), that was echoed as late as 2014 by Gavin Butt’s comment that ‘there is relatively little scholarship on the period’ (2). Over the last few years that situation has improved with a number of books on post-punk published, for instance Matthew Worley’s 2017 No Future: Punk, Politics and British Youth Culture 1976-84, David Wilkinson’s 2016 Post-Punk, Politics and Pleasure in Britain, Mimi Haddon’s 2020 What is Post-Punk? Genre and Identity in Avant-Garde Popular Music 1977-82 and Post Punk Then and Now published in 2016, a collection of ‘talks, lectures and discussions’ (2) on post-punk edited by Gavin Butt, Kodwo Eshun and Mark Fisher. The fascinating chapter by Gavin Butt, ‘Being in a Band: Art-school Experiment and the Post-Punk Commons’, focuses on the Leeds post-punk scene which included Gang of Four, Delta 5, the Three Johns and the Mekons. The chapter contextualises the Leeds scene both culturally and institutionally recognising the importance of Leeds art schools and drawing attention to the fact that for some being in a band was seen as a prefigurative activity, opening up new possibilities of being and doing. Butt comments ‘People created bands because they wanted to change the world’ (2).
In the chapter Gavin said that he hoped his interviews and research would result in a book on the subject and it did with No Machos or Pop Stars: When the Leeds Art Experiment Went Punk coming out in October 2022 on Duke University Press, who said of the book, ‘After punk’s arrival in 1976, many art students in the northern English city of Leeds traded their paintbrushes for guitars and synthesizers. In bands ranging from Gang of Four, Soft Cell, and Delta 5 to the Mekons, Scritti Politti, and Fad Gadget, these artists-turned-musicians challenged the limits of what was deemed possible in rock and pop music. Taking avant-garde ideas to the record-buying public, they created Situationist antirock and art punk, penned deconstructed pop ditties about Jacques Derrida, and took the aesthetics of collage and shock to dark, brooding electro-dance music’. Mimi Haddon comments that Gavin’s ‘energetic and fluid writing, vivid and entertaining interviews, and focus on fine art’s relationship to the origins of post-punk…brings a new and valuable perspective to music’s history. Exciting and original, No Machos or Pop Stars invites us to hear post-punk in a new way’ (3).
At the time Gavin put together a 10 track playlist to accompany the book (4) and now that idea has been expanded to a twenty track compilation The Art School Dance Goes On: Leeds Post-Punk 1977-84 on Caroline True Records. The (double vinyl or CD) album has been compiled by Gavin and includes a fascinating collection of ‘unreleased, unheard & rare tracks’ by an eclectic mix of lesser and better known Leeds based bands who ‘experimented with art-punk, electro, pop, dada, fluxus and punk-funk’, the album also includes ‘extensive liner notes and reproductions of unseen ephemera and artworks’ (5).
Side 1 of the album kicks off with a demo of ‘Trevira Trousers’ by The Mekons and over the next four sides (of vinyl) we get a couple of previously unreleased tracks by Gang of Four (‘The Things You Do’ and ‘Disco Sound’), both including embryonic elements that become more developed in their later tracks. There are also two tracks by Sheeny and the Goys (‘Pretty Girls and ‘You Let Me Down’), The Three Johns (‘Snitch’ and ‘Bloop’) and Another Colour (‘Wartime Working Woman’ and’ World From A Chair’) which range (for me) from slightly unhinged (‘Snitch’) to excellent (‘Wartime Working Woman’)! There are tracks by bands you may not have heard of; Steve Shill and Graeme Miller, Ron Crowcroft, Smart Cookies, Household Name, MRA, (and the wonderfully named) Cast Iron Fairies alongside better known bands such as Delta 5, Soft Cell, Fad Gadget, Scritti Politti and Shee Hees.
The creativity and range of styles on The Art School Dance Goes On: Leeds Post-Punk 1977-84 is remarkable and pleasingly disorientating as it moves from funk punk to parodic country to early electro to proto industrial. It would work as a stand alone documentation of an extraordinarily experimental and creative time and place but of course works best as an accompanying piece to Gavin’s book, allowing us to hear the bands and music encountered in No Machos or Pop Stars.
If you are interested in a point when people reimagined and practiced music as a radical alternative to the status quo or just interested in post punk then check out The Art School Dance Goes On: Leeds Post-Punk 1977-84 and No Machos or Pop Stars.
The Art School Dance Goes On: Leeds Post-Punk 1977-84 can be ordered at
(1) Reynolds, Simon (2005). Rip It Up and Start Again: Post Punk 1978-1984 (London: Faber and Faber).
(2) Butt, G. (2016) Preface, Introduction and Being in a Band: Art-school Experiment and the Post-Punk Commons – a Lecture by Gavin Butt (16/10/14) in Gavin Butt, Kodwo Eshun and Mark Fisher, eds, Post-Punk: Then and Now, Repeater Books, London.
(3) No Machos or Pop Stars: When the Leeds Art Experiment Went Punk www.dukeupress.edu/no-machos-or-pop-stars
(4) ‘A Playlist to Accompany No Machos or Pop Stars by Gavin Butt’ https://dukeupress.wordpress.com/2022/10/18/a-playlist-to-accompany-no-machos-or-pop-stars-by-gavin-butt/
(5) The Art School Dance Goes On: Leeds Post-Punk 1977-84 https://carolinetruerecords.com