The Punk Band Gang of Four As Marxist Cultural Theory

Via Crooked Timber, which got it by way of Political Theory Daily Review, an essay by Timothy Sexton on Gang of Four (the punk band, not the uber-Maoist leaders of the Cultural Revolution) as Marxist cultural theory–and now I know where the fascination started, long ago when I was a teenager.

On their second album Solid Gold, the postpunk rock group Gang of Four openly assert their intention to approach pop music as critical theory with a song titled, appropriately enough, “Why Theory?” In answer to their own query of why critical theory should have a place in rock music, the band sings “Each day seems like a natural fact / And what we think changes how we act.” The critical theory that Gang of Four present in their music is a Marxist one centered on the premise that before revolt can take place, one must first penetrate through the consciousness that is determined by capitalistic ideology in order to understand why a revolution is necessary.

Gang of Four locate their Marxist theory in the Althusserian notion of expressing resistance through the contradictions inherent in the Ideological State Apparatuses (ISA) of the corporate-controlled rock music industry, and the way in which Gang of Four express their theory of Marxist thought is by inducing in the listener an alternative consciousness achieved through contradictions and disorientations that serve to mirror the very sense of disorientation and contradiction that capitalistic consciousness creates.