Gang of Four “To Hell With Poverty”
The bristling class resentment in English post-punk outfit, Gang of Four‘s 1981 single “To Hell With Poverty” can initially seem a bit bracing. Say what you will about the group, there is something deeply amusing about a punk band composed of highly literate British Marxist art students releasing a single endorsing “get[ting] drunk on cheap wine” as a cure for poverty on major label, EMI. That said, these internal contradictions (which the band was clearly well-aware of) would be far more glaring were the song not so innately dance-able. If the Gang of Four were good for one thing, it was paring an incredible funk groove with the sea of political rhetoric and angular, feedback soaked guitar music that was their stock and trade. The song almost perfectly embodies English journalist Paul Morley‘s famous adage about band:
“The Gang spliced the ferocious precision of Dr. Feelgood‘s working-class blues with the testing avant-garde intrigue of Henry Cow. Wilfully avoiding structural obviousness, melodic prettiness and harmonic corniness, the Gang’s music was studded with awkward holes and sharp corners.”
The Gang of Four were founded in Leeds, England by art students singer Jon King, guitarist Andy Gill, bassist Dave Allen and drummer Hugo Burnham. The group came up with the rest of the storied Leeds post-punk first wave, which also included the band’s close friends, The Mekons (indeed, it was a member of The Mekons who gave the Gang of Four their name after spotting an article in the paper about the infamous Chinese anti-Maoist plotters). The group fused noise, dance grooves and neo-Marxist Frankfurt School critical theory into a heady brew. Early singles such as “(Love Like) Anthrax” were picked up by taste-making BBC Radio 4 radio DJ, John Peel, whose program showcased new and dynamic music from all over the world. Peel helped nurture a number of early punk and post-punk groups, recording the bands in so-called “Peel Sessions” and then broadcasting their music over the airwaves.
The Gang of Four released a number of highly regarded albums, including their debut Entertainment! and follow-up Solid Gold. Despite their music being released through a major label, they did nothing to compromise their sound for commercial considerations, earning them a sterling reputation for integrity despite having committed the ultimate punk sin of “selling out” to a major label from near the beginning of their career. While the first version of the group split in 1995, a new version of the group, led by King and Gill reformed in 2005 and have toured and recorded on and off ever since.