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Gang of Four Guitarist and Cofounder Andy Gill Dies at 64

Andy Gill, guitarist and cofounder of the influential British postpunk band Gang of Four, died today after a brief respiratory illness, according to a statement from the band. He was 64.

“Andy’s final tour in November was the only way he was going to bow out; with a Stratoscaster around his neck, screaming with feedback and deafening the front row.,” the statement reads in part.

Via songs like “Damaged Goods,” “What We All Want,” “I Found That Essence Rare” and “I Love a Man in Uniform,” Gill’s jagged, lurching, innovative guitar work, a mixture of punk noise and ’60s R&B textures, was the band’s trademark and, along with acts like Public Image Ltd. and Joy Division, defined the sound of British post-punk. Gang of Four had a wide influence on many musicians that followed — R.E.M., Nirvana and many others cited the band as an influence. Gill also worked extensively as a producer over the years, producing the debut 1984 album from the Red Hot Chili Peppers — whose fusion of funk and punk-rock showed a distinct Gang of Four influence in the band’s early days — the Jesus Lizard, Futureheads, Killing Joke and others.

Gill cofounded the band with lead singer Jon King in 1977 while both were attending art school in the Northern English city of Leeds, a fertile source of late-period punk acts (the Mekons also hailed from there). With political-leaning lyrics influenced by socialism and anti-commercialism — a stance echoed in the band’s single and album artwork — and a name from the Chinese Cultural Revolution, Gang of Four’s propulsive and confrontational music quickly drove it to underground fame, and after an independently released 1978 single (“Damaged Goods”) and an enthusiastic cosign from the influential BBC DJ John Peel, the band rather ironically signed with Britain’s largest major label, EMI. Picked up for U.S. distribution by Warner Bros. Records, the group’s 1979 debut album, “Entertainment,” became an underground hit in the U.K. and the States, and the band toured extensively in support of it.

However, their following album, the ironically titled “Solid Gold,” was a more dense and daunting outing, and the group splintered after its release, with bassist Dave Allen leaving (he subsequently cofounded Shriekback with ex-XTC keyboardist Barry Andrews and later became a digital-music executive). The group went into a more funk-oriented direction with the addition of bassist Sara Lee (who later joined the B-52s for their late-‘80s second wind) and the “Songs of the Free” album, which featured the alt-radio hit “I Love a Man in Uniform.” The group embraced the soul-funk sound to an even greater degree with its following album, 1983’s “Hard,” on which it worked with R&B producers Ron and Howard Albert and alienated much of its core fan base. The band split up shortly after.

Gang of Four reunited in 1987 and continued to record and tour over the years — including on a surreal 1990 U.S. matchup with Sisters of Mercy and Public Enemy — although most influential work was behind it. A new wave of groups lauding its influence arose in the early 2000s, as bands like Franz Ferdinand, Liars, Bloc Party and particularly Radio 4 purveyed a similar mix of jagged guitars and funk rhythms. King dropped out in 2012 but Gill continued.

According to the band’s statement, a final album is in the works. “His uncompromising artistic vision and commitment to the cause meant that he was still listening to mixes for the upcoming record, whilst planning for the next tour from his hospital bed.”

 

 

 

 

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