No Machos or Pop Stars
When the Leeds art experiment went punk
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“Beautifully written and meticulously researched, No Machos or Pop Stars will intrigue anyone with interests in politics, education, art, and popular music. Using a focus on Leeds in the 1970s and 1980s, Gavin Butt brings together theoretical acumen with vivid personal testimony to tell an engrossing tale of power, pedagogy, and dissent. This is a fascinating story of how fine art painters and performers became post-punk and pop pioneers.” — Green Gartside, singer-songwriter, Scritti Politti
After punk’s arrival in 1976, many art students in the northern English city of Leeds traded their paintbrushes for guitars and synthesizers. In bands ranging from Gang of Four, Soft Cell, and Delta 5 to the Mekons, Scritti Politti, and Fad Gadget, these artists-turned-musicians challenged the limits of what was deemed possible in rock and pop music. Taking avant-garde ideas to the record-buying public, they created Situationist antirock and art punk, penned deconstructed pop ditties about Jacques Derrida, and took the aesthetics of collage and shock to dark, brooding electro-dance music.
In No Machos or Pop Stars Gavin Butt tells the fascinating story of the post-punk scene in Leeds, showing how England’s state-funded education policy brought together art students from different social classes to create a fertile ground for musical experimentation.
Drawing on extensive interviews with band members, their associates, and teachers, Butt details the groups who wanted to dismantle both art world and music industry hierarchies by making it possible to dance to their art. Their stories reveal the subversive influence of art school in a regional music scene of lasting international significance.
“With his energetic and fluid writing, vivid and entertaining interviews, and focus on fine art’s relationship to the origins of post-punk, Gavin Butt brings a new and valuable perspective to music’s history. Exciting and original, No Machos or Pop Stars invites us to hear post-punk in a new way.” — Mimi Haddon, author of What Is Post-Punk? Genre and Identity in Avant-Garde Popular Music, 1977–82
“No Machos or Pop Stars is an account of the plethora of post-punk bands that emerged out of the ‘Leeds experiment.’ . . . The range and richness of Butt’s research is evident throughout.” — Peter Suchin, Art Monthly
“Butt is conversant in both music criticism and theory, as he cites everyone from Greil Marcus, Simon Frith, and Mary Harron (back when she was a journalist and not a film director) to Lucy Lippard, Stuart Hall, Julia Kristeva, and Antonio Gramsci with Dick Hebdige in between. But more powerful than his scholarship, and his own voluminous interviewing of those in the scene, is his clear passion. He writes as someone moved by the music, weird, wonderful, and varied, that Leeds spawned.” – George Yatchisin, California Review of Books
“No Machos delves into the music scene in the region in terms of how critical theory and art education had an impact on conceptual approaches to music-making of the time. […] One of the most striking aspects of the book’s historical approach is how Butt zooms in and out of the map of post-war European art, locating Leeds’ particular underground music acts that were connected through an educational freedom offered to them.” – Temmuz Süreyya Gürbüz, Cultural Studies