Interview: Gang of Four's Andy Gill

The seminal post-punk act's founder talks politics and AV Okubo

As seminal British post-punk band Gang of Four prepare for their China debut as part of JUE Festival, Time Out talks with guitarist Andy Gill about their prolonged absence and working with young Chinese acts such as Wuhan electro-punks AV Okubo.

Having disbanded in 1983 and after two brief spells of activity in the ’90s, Gang of Four reformed in 2004 for some shows and in 2011 released a critically praised new record. What made you want to release another album with Gang of Four after all these years?
That’s right, the so-called original member lineup of the band got together at the end of 2004. We got in the rehearsal room and it was kind of exciting, hearing this stuff again. So we decided to record an album of some of our favourite old tracks. I produced it and it came out on V2. I wanted the older songs to sound more explosive, more like they do on stage.

From around 2007, I was busy writing songs sometimes on my own and sometimes with the involvement of Jon [King, original singer]. I often work with other bands from around the world producing their records, but in 2009 I decided to put all other projects to one side so I could finish the Gang of Four record. It was called Content and it was fantastically well received.

How do you think Gang of Four’s brand of politics has changed over the years?
I think the band’s world view began to coalesce around the album Entertainment! Our ideas about economics, gender politics and personal relations, our idea that all the things we were thinking were human constructions not natural things which just happened to be there; this is what informed the content of the songs themselves. We didn’t write about politics; we were politics. I don’t think that has hugely changed, perhaps it’s more subtle, less caught in a harsh spotlight.

We heard that Jon King won’t be coming to China. Is he still a part of the band?
Shortly after the release of Content, Jon decided he wanted to review how he spent his time, so he is on an open-ended sabbatical at this point. He’ll be replaced by ‘Gaoler’ who has been doing a fair bit of singing with me in the studio, and playing live. He’s injected a new energy into our work which I am really excited about.

What can we expect from your show here?
Rehearsals have been going extremely well. I think fans can expect a very high energy, powerful Gang of Four experience. There will be some new material and also brand-new stuff from our upcoming EP, expected early summer.

You toured Australia with Chinese post-punk act ReTROS in 2010. How was that?
I was very impressed by ReTROS. I have got a new song, written last year, which Hua Dong from ReTROS is singing on. Lu Di from AV Okubo is also singing on this track, called ‘Broken Talk’. We hope the single will be available in China when we arrive.

You’ve also produced the new album from AV Okubo, who are co-headlining with you here. Does it feel strange to you, having chosen the band name that you did, to now find yourself so connected to China?
It does, strangely, have some kind of inevitability about it, this growing connection with China. It’s been great working with AV Okubo and seeing the creative excitement in the clubs in Beijing. I totally understand that and I feel connected with the Chinese musicians.

What was it like for you working on the new AV Okubo record?
The AV Okubo album is extraordinary. I feel the basic backdrop of the conceptual position of the record is to do with the enormous changes that have occurred in Chinese society; the differences between the lives of their parents and their own lives: the way their parents thought and think of the way modern China thinks. Musically the drums and bass are animalistic, powerful, energetic; they are the motor of the band. Lu Di’s keyboards are complex and often beautiful. And Tan Chou’s guitar is unique, complex and absorbing. I feel lucky to have been involved in making such a good record.

Gang of Four and AV Okubo play MAO Livehouse on Thursday 21 March. See full event details

Liz Tung