Most people, if they think of punk music, generally focus on the sound associated with bands such as the Sex Pistols, the Clash, the Ramones, and so on, i.e., fast, loud, minimalistic, and short guitar-based songs. But in many ways, the real revolution was not punk, but post-punk, which loosely defined the bands that came in the wake of original punk. Although there’s a visceral frisson to that original music, it was also somewhat conservative and doctrinaire in its musical sensibilities: guitar, bass, drum, fast, loud, yelling, etc. So when bands like Joy Division, Gang of Four, the Pop Group, Talking Heads, the Slits, etc. began to literally dismantle the building blocks of modern pop music and rebuild entirely new idioms, it seemed like a a brave new world. This period, in the late 1970s and early 1980s, was arguably the most innovative period in the history of modern pop music. Simon Reynolds has written an entire book about this time, Rip it Up and Start Again: Postpunk 1978-1984.
Among the many bands he covers is a long-forgotten feminist band known as The Au Pairs who sang about gender and sexual politics. Much of their music — choppy, catchy, tense — was a critique of what they considered bourgeois sexual relations: conventional ‘boring’ romance between men and women trapped in their prescribed roles played out through entire lifetimes. There’s courtship, then sex, then marriage, the missionary position, children, separate spheres for men and women, etc. On their debut album, Playing with a Different Sex, Au Pairs lead frontwoman, Lesley Woods, an outspoken feminist (and lesbian, for what it’s worth) articulated a stark world where men and women are trapped and sapped of life by modern capitalism/bourgeois life.
My favorite Au Pairs song is “Come Again” in which she expertly problematizes rote sex between a man and a woman in which they ask each other to “come again” like robots having sex. The footage above is from the famous Urgh! A Music War, a massive multi-day concert in 1980 that brought together many post-punk bands. [See also Feminist Music Geek and The Sex Revolts: Gender, Rebellion, and Rock’n’Roll (1995) by Simon Reynolds and Joy Press.]