The Pop Group may be unknown to many, but rest assured they are absolute legends to some. Formed in Bristol, UK, the band was a pioneer of post-punk, industrial, no wave, mash-up and experimental innovation in the late ’70s and early ’80s.
Its lineage can be clearly traced to groups like Sonic Youth, Nine Inch Nails and The Yeah Yeah Yeahs, as well as the sampling and cut-up ethos that dominates dance music today.
Starting in 1977, they used tape loops, found sound, noise, political fury, funky beats and distorted guitars to carve out a unique sound while pointing the way forward in music. They combined heavy dub, free jazz, vocoders, as well as stripped-down rock and funk to create a synthesis that in many ways would be the blueprint for the avant-rock, industrial dance and electronic music of today. Stir into that an anarcho-activist political perspective, typified by their 1980 single “For How Much Longer Do We Tolerate Mass Murder?” and you have a heady mix.
The group remains fronted by lyricist and vocalist Mark Stewart along with guitarist Gareth Sager, the former penning lightweight ditties like “We Are All Prostitutes” (1979). Stewart has led the radical charge of the band, whose shows could be viewed as consciousness-raising as much as entertainment.
Then, as quickly as they electrified the scene they departed, they broke up in 1981 despite the success of their landmark 1980 album, We Are Time.
In 2010, the Pop Group reformed and immediately played major international festivals like All Tomorrow’s Parties and Japan’s own Summer Sonic. This year, they released Citizen Zombie, their first studio album in 35 years.
Stewart describes the occasion of the band’s reunion to Metropolis.
“We were already discussing reforming when [Simpsons creator] Matt Groening asked if we could play a festival he was curating. We feel we have unfinished business and now’s the time.”
In some ways, it’s unsurprising these pioneers would pick up the baton again. “We are constantly experimenting and taking risks. I think in life it is always important to flip the scripts,” says Stewart.
Stewart, Sager, bassist Dan Catsis and drummer Bruce Smith got together in studio to think, compose and, in their unique style, experiment. “The Pop Group is a living creature with its own volition. The character of the four of us create something out there, which I do not understand. It’s a door to ‘the other’—an index of possibilities.” The result is the album Citizen Zombie, which manages to maintain a continuity with the group’s sound from the past but also push in new, contemporary directions.
“It’s madder and so much more energy than ever before,” explains Stewart. “We feel born again. Now is a different time and the future requires new remedies. The flags of our fathers lie tattered and torn. We must find a new way untethered from the past.”
Check it out for yourself: The Pop Group will play Liquid Room in Ebisu on March 1—and Stewart promises, “We will be playing classics, old and new. Zazen Boys and KK Null play with us. It’s going to be a real event. Can’t wait.”