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The New Originals!

You’ve got to feel for Gang of Four. You can’t turn on rock radio today without hearing some damn hipster band copping their shit as if they’d invented disco-punk two weeks ago. (No surprise, GoF guitarist Andy Gill, who once produced the Chili Peppers, is a popular producer right now — notably working with the Futureheads.) Most annoying, few of their imitators do anything original with the GoF sound — I mean, at least the Chili Peppers put their own L.A.-style spin on it, yo! For this reason, and because a few of these baby-Gangs are actually playing the festival, GoF’s Coachella date (Sunday, May 1) gets my vote for 2005’s Most Pointed Reunion. It’s not their first attempt at a revival, either. But it would seem that, at long last, it’s time for GoF to claim their reward. I talked to Gill over the phone at his home in London about life as one Hugely Influential Dude. L.A. WEEKLY: I read a recent quote that sometimes you turn on the radio these days and think, “Did I write that song?” ANDY GILL: Yeah! (Laughs.) It can get a bit like that. Are you sick of it? It’s slightly odd — I’ve got mixed feelings. There are lots of bands where you can tell they’ve heard Gang of Four, but at the same time, if they’ve done something different, then fair enough. At the end of the day, when people start bands, there’s stuff that’s influenced them and gets them excited. For myself, the things that I was into when we started Gang of Four — it’s not that obvious that I was into the Band, for example. Or Jimi Hendrix, or Bob Dylan. One of the things that was different about our music was that it was funky — not in the sense of copying American funk, but because we wanted to take apart the rhythm ideas and rebuild something from scratch. It was kind of funky by default. Many new bands mimic you without any awareness of Gang of Four’s social consciousness. They’ve gone for the sound of it more than the — yeah, I agree with you. More often than not, new-wave bands had some social commentary — but usually in a fun, non-preachy way. Yeah, we never wanted to preach. We weren’t standing on the monitors, fists held high, “If we all work together we can kill the rich.” It’s more looking at what you do in private, with your friends or your girlfriend. You realize that within the mass culture there are voices which come from certain vested interests — it’s the old axiom that no man is an island. Like the feminist phrase “the personal is political”? Yeah. I read the other day someone said second-wave feminism was an influence on Gang of Four. The idea that certain aspects of human behavior are natural — well, a lot of them aren’t natural. For example, the idea that it’s natural for a woman to stay home — it’s changed since we wrote that stuff, but people did say those things 20 years ago. Why are you doing this reunion? Is it just for the money? No. It’s absolutely not about the money — I get quite a kick out of producing bands. It’s a question of what you want to do for fun, really. The idea that we’d do something with the original four has been kicking around for a few years. But my feeling was, okay, I’m prepared to give this a go, but God, it has to be really, really good. If it wasn’t as good as Gang of Four was at their best, then there’s no point in doing it at all. But I felt in January, when we did a few dates in the U.K., that we were as good as we ever have been. And nobody quite knew who would be turning up, but it was like 60 percent people under 25. Do you feel like it’s time to claim your historical prize? There’s a little bit of that, yeah. I don’t know how to articulate it exactly, but perhaps it’s something like, well, if other people are getting up onstage and doing things that are very Gang of Four–referential, then why don’t we do it?