Book Reviews: Steve Wide’s Field Guides to Punk and Post-Punk & New Wave are short and sharp

Steve Wide

Music fans will often find their favourite tracks are bigger than their genre. In fact, some music is so big it permeates into an entire subculture. Australian DJ, Steve Wide celebrates this with two sharp new books, A Field Guide to Punk and A Field Guide to Post-Punk and New Wave. Both of these are brief, hardcover titles designed to give readers a taster and glimpse into these worlds.

Wide has previously published other similar books, including A-Z guides on David Bowie, Prince, Freddie Mercury, Grace Jones and The Beatles. For his latest offerings, he has shaken up the format and drawn from the music that has influenced his radio show. Wide wanted to capture the origins of the music; including the culture, fashion and politics, as well as the things that preceded and succeeded it.

These guides are factual and can be quite informative. The text is simple and at its best this means it is accessible to many readers. But, at its worst this can sometimes feel like a series of Wikipedia articles. This is especially the case where there is an over-reliance on lists. Take the punk volume; who really needs to read a list of the best haircuts, when most of us would associate the mohawk with it?

Both books offer selected histories about the genre as well as a timeline, the defining albums and a select discography. This can lead to repetition, with similar information being covered in each of the different sections, and in the overviews of certain important artists. For my money, I would have preferred more information about the honourable mentions instead.

The family tree is an interesting inclusion. It should show the cross-pollination in the genres, especially in the post-punk and new wave book. But, the way it has been laid out does leave a bit to be desired. Rather than showing how things cross-over, a grouping like ‘Electronic’ is repeated under both Joy Division and The Smiths (and the Pet Shop Boys’ link isn’t included at all). This seems unnecessary when it could have been displayed once with arrows to both groups. New Order fans will also be disappointed to see their favourite act relegated to “spin-off” status even though the band enjoyed much success post-Joy Division.

However, the layout of these books are pleasing on the eye. Both titles use black and white as a major theme. The punk one uses bright pink, whilst the post-punk/new wave one features a fluorescent orange. You definitely can’t miss them!

Designer, Michelle Mackintosh has also used some great visual cues in places. The Devo page incudes one of the band’s signature hats. Japan’s page references the country’s flag, and the Joy Division page has white waves on a black background- like the cover of Unknown Pleasures. The hard cover and quality of the paper also mean these books would make a nice gift.

Steve Wide’s guides are full of common knowledge about the punk and post-punk/new wave genres. Long-time fans probably won’t find anything new here. However, for those readers wanting a tight primer on these genres, they may enjoy dipping in and out of such handsome volumes. If nothing else, your curiosity will be piqued and these books will make you want to crack some of the amazing tunes that are described. Thank you for the music!

TWO AND A HALF STARS (OUT OF FIVE)

Steve Wide’s A Field Guide to Punk and A Field Guide to Post-Punk and New Wave are available now through Smith Street Books. You can grab your copies from Booktopia HERE (Punk) and HERE (Post-Punk).

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