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Four on the Floor

Riding in on punk's second wave with Joy Division, Talking Heads and the Fall, Gang of Four distinguished itself by wedging militant left-wing politics and atonal riffs into a rubbery dance groove. Now singer Jon King, guitarist Andy Gill, bassist Dave Allen and drummer Hugo Burnham -- who initially met at the University of Leeds in 1977 -- have reunited and are touring in support of Return the Gift, which features new versions of songs from their first three studio albums.

Westword: How does a band of Marxists get signed to Warner Bros.?

Andy Gill: The post-Marxist school of thought was certainly present in our overall makeup, but it was by no means the overriding thing. It also implies that we were political first and musicians second, and that we were using the music to promote an ideology, which is far from the truth. A constant thing in our lyrics is the fact that there are many contradictions in life and in creating art for an audience. So, yeah, we signed to big global corporations, but I think we embraced the contradiction for the above-mentioned reasons.

You never worried that punk fans would sour on a band that spouts anti-capitalist rhetoric but allows a big label to profit from it?

No, and I'd be careful before saying "anti-capitalist." We've all got something to buy and sell. We're all complicit cogs in the wheel, and it's simplistic to say "Well, I'm pure; I'm above this." Entertainment is a commodity like anything else.

How do you think Gang of Four compared to bands from its heyday?

It just seemed sharper. I think we had a more rigorous agenda. We were endlessly refining things, changing drumbeats and finding what seemed to be the perfect voice. Jon and I take vocal parts and sometimes dialogue back and forth, telling a story the way we see it. Certainly, drunken chess games played a role in that. But it was controversial music. It forced people to take a position. And I think that's a good thing.

You've cited Dr. Feelgood as a major influence.

Yeah. What really impressed me was how they abandoned any sense of "Let's act natural on stage." They used to march synchronized back and forth, which is sort of a faintly ludicrous thing. It's shocking because it's so artificial. They're daring the audience to laugh. And also, the abrasiveness of the guitar really got me.

Was there a strict policy in Gang of Four against guitar solos?

We were interested in getting away from the traditional hierarchy and putting all the elements side by side, interlocking in different ways. The idea of the guitar solo is to put the guitar up on a pedestal. I coined the term "anti-solo," so instead of a guitar wailing away, there's a hole, and you focus on the drums and bass again.

How has Gang of Four influenced today's new crop of dance-punk music?

I guess it's been fairly profound. A lot of bands have copped quite a few ideas. Funny enough, I quite like Franz Ferdinand. I think a lot of young bands grew up listening to us. Our songs sound like they could have been written last week. It all feels very relevant to now.