◼ EVEN AMONG THE UK ROCK PRESS, few of its music historians have conceded that the New Romantics amounted to an ambitious subculture that changed the rules of the game – largely because the rockists completely missed the boat by idolising guitar idols, never went to nightclubs, and what’s more, couldn’t dance.
The most audible consequence of the clubbing underground was to fundamentally change the rhythm of the pop singles charts within a year – from the rock guitar to the bass-and-drum, namely, to dance music. After 1981 scarcely any significant new rock groups made the singles charts, only the old dinosaurs, if at all. Rock was relegated to the album chart and new dance-music stars such as Madonna and Prince transformed the pop music of the new decade.
The other New Romantics keynote was the central role of image with the dawn of MTV as a platform for music videos. A band became the leaders of fashion, while their style-conscious nightlife followers collaborated in promoting them through the clubbing grapevine. As synth-pop pioneers during 1980 Spandau Ballet pushed a button for the fashion-conscious young. They were signalling that the language of pop called for new styles as much as new sounds.
During the first five years of the decade, more than 100 “image bands” and acts entered the UK charts – most of them new, led in the South-East by Ultravox, Linx, Spandau Ballet, Visage, Landscape, Depeche Mode, Kid Creole, Blue Rondo a la Turk. Many more emerged from clubland across the UK: Duran Duran, Soft Cell, Heaven 17, Altered Images, Imagination, Eurythmics, Thomas Dolby, ABC.
During Spandau’s North American tour in November 1983, alongside their hit True among the Billboard Top 40 singles in the USA, there were 17 other British bands – more than the Swinging 60s ever knew. Insolence and narcissism lit a torch that led a generation of school-leavers through what threatened to be Britain’s dark age of unemployment. As clubs became workplaces and nightlife the essential engine of cultural evolution, they liberated music, design and, especially, ambition for the young.