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Are We Not New Wave?

Modern Pop at the Turn of the 1980s

Subjects: Cultural Studies, Music
Series: Tracking Pop
Hardcover : 9780472115556, 304 pages, 17 B&W photographs, 9 musical examples, 6 x 9, June 2011
Paperback : 9780472034703, 304 pages, 17 B&W photographs, 9 musical examples, 6 x 9, June 2011
Ebook : 9780472027590, 304 pages, 17 photographs, 9 musical examples, June 2011
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The definitive musical and cultural history of new wave music

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Copyright © 2011, University of Michigan. All rights reserved.

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“Are We Not New Wave? is destined to become the definitive study of new wave music.”
—Mark Spicer, coeditor of Sounding Out Pop

New wave emerged at the turn of the 1980s as a pop music movement cast in the image of punk rock’s sneering demeanor, yet rendered more accessible and sophisticated. Artists such as the Cars, Devo, the Talking Heads, and the Human League leapt into the Top 40 with a novel sound that broke with the staid rock clichés of the 1970s and pointed the way to a more modern pop style.

In Are We Not New Wave? Theo Cateforis provides the first musical and cultural history of the new wave movement, charting its rise out of mid-1970s punk to its ubiquitous early 1980s MTV presence and downfall in the mid-1980s. The book also explores the meanings behind the music’s distinctive traits—its characteristic whiteness and nervousness; its playful irony, electronic melodies, and crossover experimentations. Cateforis traces new wave’s modern sensibilities back to the space-age consumer culture of the late 1950s/early 1960s.

Three decades after its rise and fall, new wave’s influence looms large over the contemporary pop scene, recycled and celebrated not only in reunion tours,  VH1 nostalgia specials, and “80s night” dance clubs but in the music of artists as diverse as Rihanna, Lady Gaga, Miley Cyrus, and the Killers.

Theo Cateforis is Assistant Professor of Music History and Culture in the Department of Art and Music Histories at Syracuse University.  His research is in the areas of American Music, Popular Music Studies, and Twentieth-Century Art Music. He is editor of the anthology The Rock History Reader.

"In carefully distinguishing the ways in which a genre is historically informed and discursively created, Cateforis has given us an exemplary treatise on an emergent historical phenomenon, a feat that can be appreciated by anyone interested in genre, even if they cannot distinguish their Kajagoogoo from their Spandau Ballet."
—James Paasche, Popular Music and Society


- James Paasche

Music Samples

"Just What I Needed"/The Cars

The Cars's coolly detached anti-romantic love song was the first new wave single to crack the Top 40 U.S. charts in 1978.


Devo's robotic minimalist reworking of the Rolling Stones' classic was a prime example of the new wave's irreverent attitude towards rock's past.

"Once in a Lifetime"/The Talking Heads

David Byrne's wildly influential nervous persona was one of the most visible markers of new wave's modern style.

"My Sharona"/The Knack

The Knack revived the sharp mid-60s mod style and musical big beat of the British Invasion with this power pop classic.

"Cars"/Gary Numan

New wave's first synthesizer star created a futuristic image and sound to match with his breakthrough 1979 hit.

"Antmusic"/Adam and the Ants

Backed by the thunderous "Burundi Beat" and a carnivalesque fashion display, Adam Ant was one of the U.K.'s biggest stars of the early '80s.

"Don't You Want Me"/The Human League

The American debut of MTV in 1981 ushered in a "Second British Invasion" of stylish synth pop groups like the Human League.

Read: Review Rock Star Journalist | 6/27/2011

Read: Q&A with Theo Cateforis | PDF | 4/28/2011

Listen: UMP Author Podcast Series: Theo Cateforis | MP3 | 5/1/2011