Friday, March 12, 2010

The New Romantics

New Romanticism was a music and fashion movement in the early 1980s. Grown out of a reaction to the hardness and anger of punk, the New Romantics, male and female, were eager to wear make-up, dress up in exotic clothing, look glamorous, and dance. The movement expressed itself in many ways. The look was inspired by many different eras and cultures such as the Victorians, the Goths, the “Noble Savage” (which is how Native Americans were thought of in England in the early 1800s, when engravings and accounts of Native cultures were making their way back to the UK), Pirates, the Edwardians, 1920s-30s glamour, film noir of the 1940s, and a touch of space-agey science fiction. Musically, the sound was the opposite of punk: taking the opulent sound of electronic/ synth-pop as a base, some bands added elements such as horn or string sections. The music was richer than punk, more ornate…and certainly dance oriented. Some groups chose to emulate a somewhat tribal sound to accompany the “Noble Savage” look.

Adam and the Ants had two drummers to recreate a sonorous, thrumming African percussion sound. Here, in “Stand and Deliver,” Adam is seen in his Levantine Pirate/ Highwayman/ Fierce Indian Warrior incarnation, hence the tri-corner hat, braided vest, cape and adorned braids in his hair. The white stripe under his eyes is a mark used by Apache warriors going into battle.

“Prince Charming” featured a dandified version of Adam’s previous incarnation, only this time with brocade, satin, velvet and gold lamé. The Native American war paint is still there, but is now “prettified” with the more feminine eye make-up. The sound is still inspired by tribal music and the legendary British bombshell Diana Dors makes a cameo appearance as his Fairy Godmother.

Ultravox, fronted by the amazing tenor Midge Ure, featured a cold, rich, mysterious dance sound. In this highly cinematic video for their nearly-operatic song “The Thin Wall,” the New Romantic interest in the 1930s and 40s can clearly be seen.

The puppet master and creator of Bow Wow Wow was Malcolm McLaren, the musicality came from Leigh Gorman the bass player, and the charm came from lead singer Anabella Lwin (born Mayant-Mayant Aye in Burma) who was only 14 when the band started. The look was conceived by fashion genius and McLaren’s partner, Vivienne Westwood, who exclusively used pieces from her tribal, swashbuckling, heroic collection “Pirate.” Musically, they share a lot with Adam and the Ants (Bow Wow Wow was once Adam’s band) in terms of a percussion-heavy sound based in Native/ African cultures.

Duran Duran were merely one of the biggest musical acts of the 1980s but their roots are firmly in New Romance. Donned in pirate shirts, ruffles and sashes, they were the house band for the Rum Runner nightclub in Birmingham. With a slick and sleek synthesizer sound and Nick Rhodes’ heavily mascara-ed eyes, they were an exciting phenomenon. First up is the original video for “Planet Earth” which has a great example of a couple performing a particular New Romantic dance style that was immensely popular. Next is an alternate video for "Planet Earth" featuring footage of Duran playing their first gig at the Rum Runner back in 1980!

Visage and its clothes-horse front man Steve Strange, with his penchant for drawing hieroglyphs and unusual symbols on his heavily made up face, were at the epicenter of it all. He ran Blitz, a London nightclub—seen here in this video for the eponymous song “Visage”—where all the fashionable New Romantics gathered, and were therefore known as Blitz Kids. A sweeping, Romantically lush dance sound, bolero hats and white gloves… ah, glamorous...

No comments: