Book reviews: Steve Wide’s field guides to punk, post-punk and new wave are short and sharp
Music fans will often find that their favorite tracks are bigger than their genre. In fact, some music is so important that it permeates an entire subculture. Australian DJ, wide steve celebrates this with two sharp new books, A field guide to punk and A Field Guide to Post-Punk and New Wave. Both titles are short and connected, designed to give readers a taste and insight into these worlds.
Wide has already published other similar books, including AZ guides to david bowie, Prince, Freddie Mercury, Grace Jones and The Beatles. For his latest shows, he shakes up the format and draws on the music that has influenced his radio show. Wide wanted to capture the origins of music; including culture, fashion and politics, as well as the things that came before and after it.
These guides are factual and can be very informative. The text is simple and at best this means that it is accessible to many readers. But, at worst, it can sometimes look like a series of Wikipedia articles. This is especially the case when there is too much reliance on lists. Take the punk volume; who really needs to read a list of the best haircuts, when most of us would associate the mohawk with it?
Both books feature selected stories about the genre along with a timeline, defining albums, and selected discography. This can lead to repetition, with similar information being covered in each of the different sections and in the previews of some prominent artists. For my money, I would have preferred more information on honorable mentions instead.
The family tree is an interesting inclusion. This should show the cross-pollination in genres, especially in post-punk and new wave book. But, the way it has been laid out leaves a bit to be desired. Rather than showing how things intersect, a grouping like “Electronics” is repeated under both division of joy and The Smiths (and the Pet Shop Boys’ the link is not included at all). It seems unnecessary when it could have been displayed once with arrows to both groups. New order fans will also be disappointed to see their favorite group relegated to “spin-off” status even though the group enjoyed great success after Joy Division.
However, the layout of these books is pleasing to the eye. Both titles use black and white as their main theme. Punk uses bright pink, while post-punk/new wave sports neon orange. You definitely can’t miss them!
Designate, Michelle Mackintosh also used great visual cues in some places. the devo The page features one of the band’s signature hats. The Japan page refers to the country’s flag, and the division of joy the page has white waves on a black background – like the cover of Unknown pleasures. The hard cover and paper quality also means these books would make a great gift.
Steve Wide’s guides are full of common knowledge about the punk and post-punk/new wave genres. Longtime fans probably won’t find anything new here. However, for readers who wish to familiarize themselves with these genres, they may enjoy delving in and out of these beautiful volumes. If nothing else, your curiosity will be piqued and these books will make you want to crack some of the amazing tunes that are described. Thanks for the music!
TWO AND A HALF STARS (OUT OF FIVE)
by Steve Wide A field guide to punk and A Field Guide to Post-Punk and New Wave are available now through Smith Street Books. You can grab your copies of Booktopia HERE (Punk) and HERE (Post-Punk).