Book Reviews: Steve Wide’s Field Guides to Punk, Post-Punk, and the New Wave are short and to the point
Music fans will often find that their favorite tracks are bigger than their genre. In fact, some music is so powerful that it permeates an entire subculture. Australian DJ, Steve large celebrates this with two new sharp books, A field guide to punk and A field guide to post-punk and the new wave. Both of these titles are short and hardcover designed to give readers a taste and insight into these worlds.
Wide has published other similar books in the past, including A-to-Z guides on David Bowie, Prince, Freddie mercury, Grace Jones and The Beatles. For his latest offers, he shakes up the format and is inspired by the music that 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 that means 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 an overdependence 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 offer selected stories about the genre as well as a timeline, landmark albums and selected discography. This can lead to rehearsals, with similar information covered in each of the different sections and in the previews of some important artists. For my money, I would have preferred more information on honorable mentions instead.
The family tree is an interesting inclusion. It should show cross-pollination across genres, especially in the post-punk and new wave book. But the way it has been laid out leaves a little to be desired. Rather than showing how things intersect, a grouping like “electronic” is repeated under the two Division of joy and The Smiths (and the Pet Shop Boys’ the link is not included at all). It seems unnecessary as 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 the major theme. Punk uses hot pink, while post-punk / new wave features neon orange. You certainly can’t miss them!
Designate, Michelle Mackintosh also used great visual cues in some spots. The Devo page includes one of the group’s iconic 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 the quality of the paper also make these books a nice 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 want a precise introduction to these genres, they may appreciate delving into such beautiful volumes. At the very least, your curiosity will be piqued and these books will make you want to crack some of the amazing tunes described in them. Thanks for the music!
TWO AND A HALF STARS (OUT OF FIVE)
Steve Wide’s A field guide to punk and A field guide to post-punk and the new wave are available now from Smith Street Books. You can pick up your copies from Booktopia HERE (Punk) and HERE (Post-Punk).