Urgh A Music War is a 1981 British film featuring performances by punk rock, new wave, and post-punk acts, filmed in 1980. For me personally, the movie holds a special place in my heart as it provided me with a gateway to the new music that was sweeping over the UK and the USA, in the wake of punk.
Back in the early 70s, the Singapore government clamped down on the arts, labelling it “yellow culture” and therefore undesirable. Live rock music was banned in 1974 and the Ministry of Culture practiced an active censorship of pop culture. When punk emerged in the mid-70s, the authorities blocked releases by punk bands in Singapore. Suffice to say there was no rock music on TV either.
Thus, when I saw in the newspapers that Urgh A Music War was playing at the Rex Cinema, a relatively small theatre, I did not hesitate. The main attraction to me back then were The Police. Sting and company were one of the first newly styled rock bands that I had latched on too, together with the likes of The Jam and The Knack in 1979/80.
The movie was about two hours long and featured bands that I mostly had no clue about and styles of music that I was unfamiliar with. The Police opened the movie with “Driven to Tears” and it was a treat to finally watch them live, even if it was only on a movie screen.
The bands that followed made little impression until Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark. That performance of “Enola Gay” blew my mind. I had not yet heard of synth-pop yet and it was a mind-ending experience.
This first exposure to electronic pop was cemented by the highlight of the movie – Gary Numan’s performance of “Down in the Park” with him seated in a moving chair! Both OMD and Numan certainly opened my mind (and ears) to brand new musical possibilities.
Strangely enough, I never quite felt any affinity with the out and out punk bands in the movie – they seemed somewhat insubstantial to me. But what did get my attention were the guitar bands that demonstrated more sophistication like Echo and the Bunnymen and XTC.
Naturally, considering my obsession with The Police, I was also drawn to the reggae outfits like Steel Pulse and UB40. It would be a rich vein that I would definitely tap in the coming years.
I realise now almost 4 decades later that there were probably numerous bands that were cut out of the Singapore release – I am sure I would have remember watching Dead Kennedys and Devo. I wonder how my musical habits might have changed if both were never excised. Would I have leant more towards the American punk scene than the British in the 80s? Who knows??
In the final analysis, I owe much to Urgh A Music War – the movie changed my life! 1982 would be a big year for music discovery.
The PoP faithful would be by now, familiar with our love and respect for one-man-band Bittersweet Machines (a.k.a. Matt Mocharnuk) and his ongoing obsession with channelling 80s post-punk into modern rock vignettes.
The Pains of Being Pure At Heart (a.k.a. singer-songwriter Kip Berman) continues to do what he does best – filter a deep affection for 80s indie pop into contemporary rock structures, with some aplomb.
Popular British 90s band Mansun were best known for their eclectic art-rock style that brought them critical acclaim and commercial success. Led by vocalist/rhythm guitarist Paul Draper, Mansun released four albums and split in 2003.
New buzzworthy band Cigarettes After Sex take their visual and sonic cues from 1980s post-punk and the revival that has burned in earnest about a decade or so again. So whilst, their branding is very much Joy Division and Interpol in focus, there is chilled-out vibe about their songwriting and performance on their eponymous debut full-length.
There is something to be said about a band’s ability to take indie-alternative rock clichés and elevate them into something artistically fresh. Well, London group Mt. Wolf may have achieved exactly that with the shimmering Aetherlight.
The torn t-shirts, the spiky coloured short hair, the spitting and most of all the back-to-basics retro-pop caused a seismic shift in musical tastes and styles that was not fully felt till the early 80s. US bands like The Stooges and New York Dolls paved the way ultimately for British punks like The Sex Pistols, The Clash and the Damned. In the wake of punk, a new approach to pop-rock (variously labelled ‘post-punk’ or ‘new wave’) emerged making superstars of the likes of Blondie, The Cars, The Police et al.
But what about the 70s prog rockers? Well, they had to adapt to stay relevant. Here are examples of 80s pop songs made by progressive rockers.