Cult post-punkers Maximum Joy
Even if you’re not already familiar with the name Maximum Joy, chances are you will have absorbed their essence through the enduring appeal of the experimental post-punk scene they were a short-lived but significant part of.
After a long absence, it’s been announced that the band will play their first gig in over 25 years at Simple Things festival, and their homecoming show will relocate them to where it all began: Bristol’s musical underground, albeit three decades later.
“The feeling is excitement,” says founding member Janine Rainforth. “Incredulous, but excitement mainly. It’s been a really interesting process to revisit music that you’d sort of put away. I’m finding a lot of new meaning in it”.
If the band had put the music away, though, the wider world never quite did. With credible and influential DJs like Andrew Weatherall and Optimo showcasing Maximum Joy material in compilations and mixes, their sound has pricked up the curious ears of younger generations.
Janine Rainforth’s distinctive yelps and spectral vocal melodies are one feature that marks Maximum Joy out from their early 80s peers, but it’s the rhythms that reign supreme. With the ingenious Adrian Sherwood at the controls, their one and only album, Station MXJY, kicked like a mule – a fusion of energetic, dubbed-out disco punk and low- slung funk.
“The influences for Maximum Joy were many and varied,” the band’s saxophonist and songwriter Tony Wrafter tells me over email, “jazz, reggae, funk and punk, soul, hip-hop (The Last Poets, Africa Bambatta & The Sugar Hill Gang) dub and ambient. We weren’t constrained by any single style but felt free to take what we wanted from it… we played all over Europe. In those days we lived in squats and out of each other’s pockets.”
This melting pot of influences was shared among the definitive bands of the late 70s and early 80s – Gang of Four, The Pop Group, The Slits or even US acts like Talking Heads and ESG. You could argue that this intersection between genres has had such a lasting appeal because it fuses the best bits of disco (the irresistible rhythm) with the satisfying depth of dub and the rebellious spirit of punk. So to what extent do they align themselves with the “post-punk” category?
“Post punk – is it a derivative or consequence of punk, or simply a time-based convenient title for what came next?” Wrafter ponders.
“New wave and indie-pop is how it was coined it at the time. Labels are difficult for musicians… I saw the world through punk eyes and there was a lot to kick up and make a fuss about. Not just the establishment status-quo but the complacent hippies who needed an awakening jolt, which is what punk gave them.
“I’m not conscious of too much recognition in the sounds of today’s bands,” he continues. “More in the attitude, and I think they’re
going to need it. Something’s brewing. Complacency has returned. I think another jolt is on the agenda.”
The early 1980s were famously a time of political unrest. Thatcher’s attack on the concept of solidarity ripped through the social fabric, generating structural changes that our current crop of dead-eyed overlords are ruthlessly amplifying and extending. The parallels politically between ‘then and now’ are almost impossible to avoid. “I agree,” says Rainforth. “It is a very similar political climate, in terms of the desperation that a lot of people are feeling. That’s a strong word I know…”
“We weren’t constrained by any single style, we felt free to take what we wanted”
Musically, though, the response to Thatcher’s Britain seemed more robust – with the punk and post-punk movements both trading in an explicitly politicised currency. The Sleaford Mods are currently riding high on a wave of nilhistic anti-capitalist energy, but is wider culture keeping up?
“When we were playing, there was an independent record label revolution happening alongside the political revolution,” explains Rainforth. “Whereas now the internet has revolutionised how people get music, and I think there’s two schools of thought on that. Because it’s so fragmented the way that people access music and culture, there aren’t the groups on the street, because its all virtual, all on social networks. But the other perspective is that this allows much more cultural grouping, because things can be international… The Occupy group – that is a movement that is coming from the internet. But there isn’t a musical movement to go with it. It’s that feeling of belonging, that is the basis of any cultural group. People need that feeling of belonging.”
“It feels to me that in the 1970s we were pushed into a siding, whereas now in 2015 it feels like society’s been derailed,” Wrafter says, when our correspondence takes a similarly socio-political turn. “We need something bigger and more serious than punk rock to get us back on track this time.”
Maximum Joy play their reunion show at Simple Things, Bristol, 24 October