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New Romanticism
Background information
Stylistic origins New wave, glam rock, art rock, post-punk, krautrock, electronic music
Cultural origins Late 1970s-early 1980s, UK
Typical instruments Drums, guitar, bass, synthesizer
Mainstream popularity High in early to mid-1980s in the UK and USA
Derivative forms Alternative rock, Gothic rock, Indie rock, Post-punk revival, Industrial, Synth pop
Fashion and Music Movement

New Romanticism was a youth fashion and music movement in the United Kingdom that began in the late 1970s and continued through to the early 1980s. Originally often associated with the new wave music scene that had become popular at that time, it has seen several revivals since then, and continues to influence popular culture.

Developing in London nightclubs such as Billy's and The Blitz, the movement was associated with bands such as Visage, Culture Club, Adam and the Ants, Ultravox, Duran Duran, Japan and Spandau Ballet. Other artists, such as Brian Eno and Roxy Music, had significant influence on the movement. The term New Romantic was coined by Richard James Burgess in an interview with reference to Spandau Ballet, and by "Careless Memories" music video director Perry Haines.

As a whole, the movement was largely a response to the ethos and style of early punk rock, which had been enjoying widespread popularity around this time. Although punk initially had great appeal as a vehicle of self-expression and entertainment, by the final days of the 1970s, some had felt that it had lost its original excitement and degenerated into an overly political and bland movement instead. The New Romantic image ultimately sought to contrast with the austerity of punk as a whole by celebrating artifice in music and culture as opposed to rejecting it.


Billy's and the Blitz[]

The genesis of the movement took place largely through the nightclub Billy's in Dean Street, London, which ran David Bowie and Roxy Music nights. In 1979, the growing popularity of the club forced organisers Steve Strange and Rusty Egan to relocate to a larger venue in Great Queen Street called the Blitz, which was also a wine bar. Strange worked as the doorman and Egan was the club's DJ. While still at Billy's, the two had joined Billy Currie and Midge Ure of Ultravox to form the band Visage. Before forming Culture Club and having worldwide success, Boy George worked as cloakroom attendant at the Blitz, until he was fired by Strange for allegedly stealing money from a clubgoer's purse. The crossdressing singer Marilyn (later known for his 1983 song, "Calling Your Name") also worked as a cloakroom attendant, doing impersonations of Marilyn Monroe. The club spawned several spin-offs in London and the surrounding area, including Croc's in Rayleigh, Essex, and The Regency in Chadwell Heath, where Depeche Mode and Culture Club had their debut gigs.

The Blitz club was known for the colourful and flamboyant fashions of its patrons (who became known as the Blitz Kids), which greatly contrasted with the more pedestrian and unadorned attire associated with the punk movement of the time. Both sexes often dressed in counter-sexual or androgynous clothing and wore cosmetics such as eyeliner and lipstick. The quiff was a common hairstyle. Many wore frilly fop shirts in the style of the English Romantic period, or exaggerated versions of upscale fashion and grooming which drew influence from sources such as glam rock fashions of the 1970s, science fiction movies and the golden age of Hollywood. Clubgoers frequently made it a point to dress as uniquely as they possibly could in attempt to draw the most attention to themselves.

The club became known for its exclusive door policy and strict dress code. Strange would frequently deny potential patrons admittance because he felt that they were not costumed creatively or subversively enough to blend in well with those inside the club. He was known to chastise the fashion sense of those he denied admittance by presenting them with a handheld mirror and inquiring rhetorically if they would let themselves into the club dressed as they were had they been in his position. In a highly publicised incident, Mick Jagger of the Rolling Stones tried to enter the club while under the influence of alcohol, but was denied entry by Strange. This managed to draw more attention to the club. The club eventually hosted guests such as David Bowie and Pete Townshend of The Who.


New Romantic music is influenced by many genres such as disco, rock, R&B and early electronic pop music. Since the New Romantic movement began in and was largely based in nightclubs, a great amount of the music associated with the movement was meant to be suitable for dancing. Glam rock acts of the 1970s such as David Bowie (whose 1980 single "Ashes to Ashes" was influenced by and considered a New Romantic anthem), Roxy Music and Brian Eno have been cited as major influences on the music and image the bands. Kraftwerk, a German band pioneering electronic music, also heavily impacted many of the artists.

Since each of the bands associated with the movement took a different approach to their music, it is difficult to define what constitutes New Romantic music. Contrasting with the punk rock which was popular at the peak of the movement, New Romantic music tends to be elaborate and highly stylized. The musical structures are usually consistent with those of pop music, as are the lyrics, which are often very emotional, which deal with themes such as love, dancing, history, the future and technology. The lyrics of New Romantic music also tend to be far more apolitical than those of punk rock or other songs written in the late 1970s and early 1980s.

Many of the bands featured synthesizers and electronic drums or drum machines in their music, often alongside bass and lead guitar. While some bands such as Ultravox or Duran Duran consciously synthesized rock and electronic elements, others such as Culture Club or Spandau Ballet drew greater influence from R&B and soul music while still employing electronic instrumentation, albeit to a lesser extent. Some bands, such as Visage, made music that was almost entirely electronic; often many early British electronic bands such as the Human League and Depeche Mode have been connected to the New Romantic movement, although some sources, sometimes including the individual members of such bands, deny the association.

Decline and revival[]

While initially the movement was a fairly underground phenomenon, the mainstream success of the bands of the movement, such as Duran Duran, Spandau Ballet and Culture Club, championed by MTV through promotion of their music videos brought considerable attention to New Romanticism and made the style a marketable commodity. Music journalist Dave Rimmer considered the peak of the movement was the Live Aid concert of July 1985, after which "everyone seemed to take hubristic tumbles".

In the mid-1990s, New Romanticism was the subject of nostalgia-oriented club nights such as the Human League inspired "Don't You Want Me Baby" and Planet Earth, a Duran Duran-themed night club whose promoter told The Sunday Times "It's more of a celebration than a revival".

New Romanticism was also an inspiration for the short-lived musical movement Romo. The movement was based at a small number of club nights in London, including Arcadia and Club Skinny. The movement was championed by Melody Maker, whose free cover tape spotlighted the leading bands, Dex Dexter, Hollywood, Plastic Fantastic, Viva and Orlando. Melody Maker writers Simon Price and Taylor Parkes organised a tour which proved unsuccessful and saw the movement disband.

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