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Wire Biography

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Wire In-depth Biography

Wire} emerged out of the British punk} explosion but, from the outset, maintained a distance from that scene and resisted easy categorization. While punk} rapidly became a caricature of itself, Wire}'s musical identity -- focused on experimentation and process -- was constantly metamorphosing. Their first three albums alone attest to a startling evolution as the band repeatedly reinvented itself between 1977 and 1979. That capacity for self-reinvention, coupled with a willingness to stop recording indefinitely when ideas weren't forthcoming, has been crucial to Wire}'s longevity and continued relevance.

By the time of punk}, British art schools had long been a hotbed of musical activity, spawning some of the nation's most innovative rock} acts from the '60s onward. Like many punk} contemporaries, Wire} had roots in the art school tradition. At Watford Art College in 1976, guitarists Colin Newman} and George Gill} formed Overload} with audiovisual technician Bruce Gilbert} (also on guitar). Subsequently, the three recruited bassist Graham Lewis} and drummer Robert Gotobed} (aka Robert Grey}), and the first Wire} lineup was in place.

Wire} began playing dates in London and, having ousted Gill}, started from scratch, writing new material and taking a more pared-down, experimental} approach. A gig at the Roxy} in early 1977 proved auspicious. Wire} met EMI}'s Mike Thorne}, who was recording groups for a live punk} album, The Roxy, London WC2}. Thorne} included two Wire} tracks and was then instrumental in bringing the band to EMI} in September. By then, with Newman} writing most of the music, they were eager to record before they lost interest in material, abandoned it, and moved on; a pattern that would define the group.

Produced by Thorne}, 1977's amphetamine-paced Pink Flag} found Wire} taking punk} to extremes while also keeping an ironic distance from it by introducing elements of tension and abstraction. Pink Flag}'s 21 highly original tracks (each averaging just over a minute and a half) compressed and twisted rock} into often jagged, taut shapes. The album met with critical acclaim and a follow-up was recorded in spring 1978.

Chairs Missing} was a radical departure. Although the phrase "early Pink Floyd}" was uttered dismissively in some quarters, it was well-received. With Thorne} playing keyboards and producing, this was a more complex, multi-dimensional record that supplemented Pink Flag}'s harsh minimalism with dense, occasionally unsettling atmospherics. Wire} albums usually feature one near-perfect pop} song and Chairs Missing}'s "Outdoor Miner"} almost became a hit, until it was scuppered by a payola scandal at EMI}.

This was an enormously creative phase. Songs were being written and jettisoned at a considerable rate and the band was gigging relentlessly. In summer 1978, Wire} played in the U.S. for the first time and, in March 1979, toured Europe with Roxy Music}. Although Chairs Missing} had been released only months before, live sets included a significant amount of material that would appear on 154}. Indeed, Wire} often tended to bewilder live audiences by playing new, unrecorded tracks rather than the numbers people expected to hear.

If Chairs Missing} saw Wire} exploring the possibilities offered by the recording studio, on 154} they took fuller advantage of that environment. With Lewis} emerging as a vocalist alongside Newman}, the result was an expansive, textured album with a more pronounced melodic orientation. 154} was Wire}'s most accomplished statement to date and the group seemed poised for success. The opposite happened. Wire}'s relationship with EMI} unraveled and they were soon label-less. In February 1980 at London's Electric Ballroom}, the band played an infamously chaotic show (captured on Document and Eyewitness}) that was more like performance art than a rock} performance. A five-year hiatus ensued.

Following a period of intense activity away from Wire}, the members regrouped in 1985, referring to their new incarnation as a "beat combo" -- a no-nonsense, stripped-down unit. The 1986 "comeback" EP, Snakedrill}, begat "Drill,"} a track built on a paradigmatic Wire} rhythm, which bridged the gap between the group's past and its present. "Drill"} would stand as an evolving metaphor for the band's shifting identity. It mutated through multiple versions, changing from performance to performance. (In 1991, Wire} would release The Drill}, an album composed entirely of versions of the track.)

The bandmembers' solo endeavors during the early '80s proved crucial to Wire}'s new direction: the avant-pop} sensibility developed by Newman} on his albums and the experimental} inclinations of Lewis} and Gilbert} were channeled into the nascent digital context in which the band was now working. The Ideal Copy} (1987), the first full-length example of Wire}'s new approach to the processes of composition and recording with sequencing technology, found the group's smart, state-of-the-art grooves skirting the dancefloor. While first-generation fans were glad to have Wire} back, their new sound drew a new audience in the U.S. and an American tour followed. They continued in an electronically oriented direction with the more homogeneous A Bell Is a Cup...Until It Is Struck}(1988), whose combination of hypnotic, melodic patterns and impenetrable yet catchy lyrics made for surreal, brainy pop}.

Wire} had already made one of rock}'s more unorthodox live records but they further deconstructed the cliché of the "live album" for 1989's It's Beginning to & Back Again}. Performance recordings were stripped down in the studio, sometimes to a drumbeat or a baseline, which was then used as the starting point for rebuilding the track. Wire} continued to experiment with ways of letting studio technologies affect their creative process on Manscape} (1990), which forayed deeper into computer-based electronics and programming. Drummer Robert Gotobed} was less enthusiastic about changing his role in the developing digital version of Wire} and left the band just before a 1990 tour. Dropping the "e" from the group's name, Gilbert}, Lewis}, and Newman} carried on as Wir}, releasing The First Letter}. In 1991, another hiatus began and the three returned to their diverse solo ventures.

In the '80s, American bands like R.E.M.} and Big Black} had covered Wire} songs. By the mid-'90s, Wire}'s influence started to manifest itself among a younger generation of Britpop} artists, most notoriously Elastica}, whose appropriation of Pink Flag}'s "Three Girl Rhumba"} resulted in a settlement between the groups' respective music publishing companies. Having briefly resurfaced with Robert Gotobed} in 1996 for a performance of "Drill"} to celebrate Bruce Gilbert}'s 50th birthday, Wire} remained silent until 1999, when they began rehearsing again. In 2000, the band played live in the U.K. (including an event at London's Royal Festival Hall}) and completed a U.S. tour; unpredictable as ever, Wire} performed almost exclusively old numbers.

Although reworkings of older tracks taped during 1999 rehearsals appeared on The Third Day} (2000), Wire} soon initiated their next phase. Completely new material appeared in the form of 2002's Read & Burn 01}, the first in a projected series of releases to be developed at Newman}'s Swim} studios. While the fast, loud menace of Read & Burn 01} harked back to Pink Flag}, Wire} sounded more like they were stomping all over their roots than nostalgically returning to them. A second Read & Burn} was out by the end of the year; Send}, a full-length containing brand new songs and Read & Burn} material, was released in May of 2003. ~ Wilson Neate, All Music Guide

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