When they first emerged in the late ’70s, the Pop Group seemed at once the most ruthless and violent of their post-punk contemporaries. The Slits were raw and primal and the Swell Maps gleefully shambling, but the Pop Group had a meanness and fury that was bracing in its immediacy. Delivering a howling, curdled take on funk the band, fronted by Mark Stewart, lunged violently at corrupt governments and rickety capitalism, creating a bleak, shadowy world that separated cleanly into sheep and wolves. They released only two proper studio records during their brief lifespan, 1979′s stunning Y and 1980′s noisy, uncompromising For How Much Longer Will We Tolerate Mass Murder? before collapsing. Fortunately, they left behind a host of rarities, which have been compiled into a pair of compilations. We Are Time, which was originally released in 1980, collects roaring live and studio tracks from the group’s earliest days; the all-new collection Cabinet of Curiosities gathers a host of material that had been previously unreleased. The result is a deeper glimpse at a band whose impact far outlived their lifespan.
We emailed frontman Mark Stewart to ask about the group’s past and future. You can read his typically elliptical responses — in which he hints at a Pop Group reunion — below this exclusive stream of “Thief of Fire,” from We Are Time
Looking back on the music you made as the Pop Group, what qualities stand out to you the most?
The absolute power of noise, no fear, smashing every taboo, exploding myths, imploding realities.
The group was part of a fertile movement in the UK in the late ’70s — how important was community to what you were doing?
Community is and was crucial to the struggle. An alternative universe was necessary in order to be able to live parallel lives.
The music groups like the Pop Group and the Slits made seemed to be driven by a desire to buck the status quo. To what degree — if at all — do you see that same spirit in the music being made today?
Tomorrow’s sound as a committed futurologist is a hypersonic dystopia. The hacienda must be built, Guy De Bord.
You sang a lot about how the public was allowing themselves to be manipulated by corrupt government powers. To what degree do you think things have gotten better or worse since you first recorded these songs, and why?
We are now in a digital cage rage which has been co-opted and sold back to us as advertorial revolt.
From the cradle to the groove, the world is enslaved, Help!
What role does social media and the internet play in the above? Has it helped or hurt us?
The mutants will inherit the earth.
Are there any plans for the Pop Group in the near future?
The Phoenix is rising. I’ve just returned from an amazing first studio session on new stuff, you ain’t seen nothing yet!