Remembering the 1980’s…
‘New Romanticism’ emerged in the UK music scene in the early 1980s as a direct backlash against the austerity of the punk movement. The movement was a manufactured scene concentrated around a clutch of London nightclubs most notable of which was ‘The Blitz’ which was run by Visage’s Steve Strange and St Moritz, both of which became the recognized venues where the romantic movement started. Where punk railed against life on England's council estates, the new romantics celebrated glamour; ostentatious clothes and hedonism. The movement developed out of the glam rock era of the early 1970’s, particularly that of David Bowie and Roxy Music where theme nights were run in the nightclub ‘Billy’s’ in Dean Street, London in 1979. The growing popularity of the club forced organisers Steve Strange and Rusty Egan to relocate to a larger venue in the Blitz, a wine bar in Great Queen Street, Covent Garden where they ran a Tuesday night ‘Club for Heroes’. The club’s patrons dressed as uniquely as possible in an attempt to draw the most attention. Strange worked as the doorman, Egan was the club’s DJ and Boy George was employed as the cloakroom attendant. The Blitz club became known for its exclusive door policy and strict dress code. Strange would frequently deny potential patrons admittance because he felt that they were not costumed creatively or subversively enough to blend in well with those already inside the club. In contrast to issues of unemployment and urban decay, New Romantics adopted an escapist and aspirational stance. With its interest in design, marketing and image it was argued that it portrayed an acceptance of Thatcherism and was aligned with the New Right.
The new romantic look was intended to be individual in contrast to punk which tended to advocate uniformity. New romantics developed styles which incorporated the fantasy of the 1930s and the glamour of 1950s Hollywood. One of the early designers of the new romantic look was Vivienne Westwood who adapted dandified Regency designs which she later developed in to a Pirate look. She designed specifically for Adam and the Ants. The look involved the more creative people who had always been more interested in the sartorial aspects of dressing up than the anarchic statement of punk anti fashion, they looked for new ideas to draw attention to themselves. The look was flamboyant, colourful, dramatic and beautiful, it used frills and luscious fabrics associated with historical periods. These theatrical ensembles of typical romantic themed glamour had the swashbuckling style of pirates and buccaneers with full sleeved frilled pirate shirts and brocade jackets of velvet or silk complete with braiding associated with the English Romantic period, Russian constructivism, Bonny Prince Charlie, 1930s Cabaret, Hollywood starlets and clowns. Both sexes often dressed in androgynous clothing and wore cosmetics such as lipstick and eyeliner partly derived from earlier punk fashions.
Styles of Music
Bands that emerged from the New Romantic movement became closely associated with the use of synthesizers to create their music. Following the breakthrough of Gary Newman and Tubeway Army in the British singles chart other emerging artists began to enjoy success with a synthesizer based sound and came to dominate the pop music of the early 1980s. Key New Romantic bands that adopted synthpop were Duran Duran, Soft Cell, Spandau Ballet, The Human League, Visage, Ultravox, Japan and ABC. Duran Duran who emerged from the Birmingham scene have been credited with incorporating ‘a disco derived rhythm section’ into synthpop to create a catchier and warmer sound which provided them with a series of three minute pop songs providing hit singles such as Planet Earth and Hungry Like The Wolf. Culture Club and Adam and the Ants, although associated with the New Romantic movement avoided a complete reliance on synthesizers with Culture Club combining elements of Motown and Adam and the Ants utilising the African influenced rhythms of the ‘Burundi Beat’.
New Romanticism in Decline
Music Journalist Dave Rimmer and music critique Simon Reyolds suggest that the Band Aid single ‘Do They Know Its Christmas’ and the Live Aid concert in July 1985 to be turning points culminating in the New Romantic movements peak and subsequent decline with both the songs and their accompanying videos becoming increasingly extravagant and decadent such as Duran Duran’s ‘Wild Boys’ and Culture Club’s ‘War Song’. Artists such as Spandau Ballet led an anti-synth backlash and started to incorporate more conventional instruments into their music.
Larkin, C. (1998) The Virgin Encyclopedia of Eighties Music. London: Virgin Publishing
Rimmer, D. (2003) New Romantics. London: Omnibus Press
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