New wave was a diverse and vibrant genre of rock music that evolved in the late 1970s and came to prominence in the mid-1980s.
The new wave movement marked a distinct shift from the art-driven, emotionally driven sounds of previous generations to more pop-oriented singles marketed towards mass audiences.
Artists such as Modern English and Dexys Midnight Runners would pave the way for some of the biggest bands that emerged from the new wave.
What Is New Wave?
New wave is a genre of rock that became popular in the late 1970s and early 1980s. It’s a continuation of punk music and was originally used to describe the bands that emerged from that scene.
New wave is characterized by synthesizers and electronic sounds, as well as other production techniques, such as sampling.
New wave music history
- New wave music is a subgenre of rock music that began in the late 70s and early 80s;
- It is used to describe a particular style of music that was popular at the time, which often included synthesizers;
- New wave developed from punk rock, pop, jazz, and reggae influences among other genres. Some people also consider ska to be an influence for new wave music, since it shares many similarities with reggae in terms of rhythm and tempo changes;
- The term “new wave” was originally used by journalists who wanted to describe a whole new generation of musicians emerging during this time but didn’t have much experience writing about them yet; hence why they called them “new”.
Characteristics of New Wave Music
In addition to the synthetic instruments, we can make some generalizations about New Wave music by looking at a few of its characteristics. That’s because if you listen to enough New Wave music, you’ll notice that most of the songs share some features in common.
- For example, a New Wave song often uses an electronic sound and employs drum machines that create rhythms with a clicking sound;
- It may use synthesizers and other electronics to make sounds that are distorted or repetitive. There are usually many layers in the song’s composition and only limited use of bass and rhythm instruments like drums or bass guitar;
- The emphasis is on vocals (and typically on lyrics) as well as melody; songs are short and catchy rather than long-form free improvisations like in jazz or the long ballads popular during the 1970s.
What makes a song new wave?
The most traditional instruments in a band are guitar, bass, and drums. But at the time, electronic instruments were new and gaining popularity. Bands were experimenting with synthesizers, drum machines, samplers, sequencers—anything that made a different sound than your typical rock band setup.
And finally, vocals! Often times, you’d hear vocals go from lower pitches (like Barry Gibb from The Bee Gees)… to higher pitches (like Phil Oakey from The Human League).
Groucho Marx famously said he would rather not belong to any club that would have him as a member; similarly, I would rather not be part of any genre that doesn’t include Freddie Mercury as one of its own.
After all, he did say: “All my life I’ve had this deep desire to be someone else”. Clearly, he had been bitten by the musical theatre bug early on!
New wave music is still going strong, so don’t worry — this article isn’t stale. It’s a subtle mix of punk rock and reggae, with an aggro-dance beat that’s both upbeat and infectious. The result is a fun subgenre of rock ‘n’ roll that has stood the test of time.