Sonic City 2017

12.11 2017

Wire

Sonic City SUNDAY

Wire were formed by Colin Newman (guitar & vocals), Graham Lewis (bass & vocals), Bruce Gilbert (guitar) and Robert Grey (drums). They played their debut proper at London’s Roxy club on April 1st 1977.  The band were immediately picked up by the prodigious EMI offshoot label Harvest, and their debut album ‘Pink Flag’ was released in the December of the same year.  The album was a collection of 21 songs, many of them sharp, abrasive and extremely short.  In fact, six of them didn’t even make the one minute mark.  Yet many of the tracks, such as ‘12XU’ and ‘Ex-Lion Tamer’, are now rightly regarded as classics.

‘Pink Flag’ not only received near universal acclaim, it would go on to be cited as a major influence by a panoramic range of artists, including Big Black, My Bloody Valentine, Blur, Henry Rollins, Joy Division and R.E.M. 

Whereas many bands would have considered their sound minted, by Wire’s second album ‘Chairs Missing’ they had already moved on.  Here they included synths and keyboards in the mix and more importantly, they began to explore the possibilities of the studio.  The album also featured the gorgeous single ‘Outdoor Miner’. 

Less than two years after the release of their debut, Wire’s third album ‘154’  broke further new ground, as the NME review of the time so acutely observed “‘154’ makes 99% of the opposition look feeble in comparison.” 

Following the album, the band and EMI parted company.  Wire planned a series of concerts with performance art interventions, some of which had a decidedly confrontational slant.  The shows left audiences divided, and although there was no formal decision to split up, by the end of 1980, Wire had ceased operations.

When Wire returned as a live entity, it found a natural home with Mute Records. The first fruit of this relationship was 1985’s ‘Snakedrill EP’.  Further albums for the label followed. 

When Grey departed, Newman, Gilbert and Lewis truncated their name to Wir and released ‘The First Letter’, a set of songs which developed the compositional approaches of ‘Manscape’.  But after this detour, Wire ceased operations once more.   

When all four members of Wire reconvened in the noughties, it was initially as a purely live entity.  Yet, ever the contrarians, this time they sidestepped expectations by presenting sets which cherry picked from every era of the band’s development. 

However, the first Wire album of the 21st century was a far more forward looking affair.  2003’s ‘Send’ took the urgency and impact of their 1977 debut and retooled it via the production techniques of techno.  Despite the acclaim with which ‘Send’ was received, Wire refused to cover the same ground again.  Following the departure of Bruce Gilbert, the three piece band began to evolve away from the stark monochromatics of ‘Send’.  The resulting ‘Object  47’ was a transitional album, which nonetheless proved Wire were developing a more nuanced soundworld.  In retrospect however, it was with 2011’s ’Red Barked Tree’ that 21st century Wire really hit their stride.  For ‘Change Becomes Us’, the band returned to the material amassed for their projected fourth studio album - songs which had last been heard live in 1980, accompanied by bizarre performance art interventions.

And yet, in typical Wire fashion, the material was seriously reworked and the resulting album proved to be something of a classic.  Another key factor was guitarist Matthew Simms.  Simms had been playing live with Wire since 2010.  But now he became fully integrated into the band, contributing to both recording and composition.

The album was followed by the crackling and vibrant sound of 2015’s ‘Wire’ (“It’s all really well turned, potent and crisp.” - The Guardian) and 2016’s luminous yet punchy mini album ‘Nocturnal Koreans’ (“It's a cracker and sounds defiantly modern.” - The Quietus).  Live meanwhile, Wire gained a reputation for being one of the most psychedelic of post punk bands and certainly the loudest.

Wire’s latest album is ‘Silver/Lead’, a set of songs which encompasses the optimistic dazzle of ‘Diamonds In Cups’, the menacing widescreen grandeur of ‘Playing Harp For The Fishes’ and the breakneck paced guitar pop of ‘Short Elevated Period’. Although their 15th studio album is being released on the 40th anniversary of Wire’s debut, ‘Silver/Lead’ has nothing to do with the past and everything to do with the future. 

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