“We're the most famous band you've never heard of,” Wire’s Colin Newman told Rolling Stone earlier this year.
Wire have been cited as huge influences on the likes of REM, Sonic Youth, The Cure, Spoon, Blur, My Bloody Valentine, Elastica (who ripped ‘Three Girl Rhumba’s’ riff for their song ‘Connection’) and many more.
As their debut record Pink Flag clocks up its 40th anniversary this year, Newman acknowledges with humour the peculiarity of the situation.
“There are lots of people who know groups who are more successful than Wire who've been influenced by Wire, yet they've never heard of Wire. It's a very strange kind of fame.”
Newman and his bandmates, Graham Lewis, Bruce Gilbert and Robert ‘Gotobed’ Grey, from the outset, had gotten used to being treated and perceived as outsiders.
“There’s always been a streak within us of doing things which is not entirely what you’re supposed to do. A lot of people thought when we started that we were just way too weird,” he told Double J’s Karen Leng in 2015.
“Punks didn’t like us because our songs were too short or too slow. And there was already the orthodoxy that existed in 1976, we were a ‘77 band, and UK punk is ’76. They [the songs] had to go fast, they had to be long enough to have a decent pogo. Being fast and being 20 seconds long doesn’t really count.
“But, in hindsight, Pink Flag is the most conventional of Wire records. The thing that makes it unconventional is the brevity.”
Pink Flag’s 21 tracks run just over 35 minutes. Stripping things back and getting to the point was what struck a young Henry Rollins hardest.
“I can't remember exactly what record it was that I heard first, but I suspect it was two of the early singles – one that featured '12XU' and another that featured 'Ex-Lion Tamer,'" Rollins told Rolling Stone.
“The things that struck me about them were the precision, the lack of solos, the almost mocking tone of Colin Newman's voice, the intensity of the guitar tone. They were completely full-on without being macho. It was quite a lesson to me.”
With its chugging guitars, driving, tight drums and the sneering repeated lyric ‘Saw you in a mag, kissing a man’, ‘12XU’ was an important creative step for the band, as Newman told The Guardian this year.
“In those repressive times, it was a song about ambiguous sexuality that isn’t delivered like one. Someone in a dressing room asked me what the X stood for and I said, ‘What do you think?’
“We censored ourselves, but if it had been ‘1, 2, Fuck You’, it would have cheapened it. It would have become Oi! [the controversial punk subgenre]. So, it’s actually very smart.
“There’s an arrogance when you’re young. Sitting in my bedroom in Watford, I definitely felt we were changing musical history.”
Daniel Spencer from Brisbane’s Blank Realm recalls, as a teen, sitting in his bedroom obsessively reading about Wire’s minimalist, repetitive sounds in his favourite music publications in the late-‘90s.
When he finally got the chance to hear their record, understanding it took some time. Wire’s stripped back sound was a stark contrast to the intense drama and atmosphere of his favourite bands like The Birthday Party.
“It took me a while to get my head around it,” he says. “But something kept drawing me back to it, until finally it clicked.
“All the lyrics on Pink Flag, they’re almost anti poetry. There’s all these slogans that don’t make a lot of sense but stick in your head.”
Aside from the pointed lyrical shots fired on this record, sonically it drew Spencer’s ears further inwards and has influenced what his band aim for.
“I think the idea of the sound of the music being as important as the song writing, the tones and the way it makes you feel…I think that’s what we go for. And what appeals to us about Wire…[is] it creates a certain feel from the repetitive atmosphere, it’s almost got an electronic feel and we think a lot about the texture and atmosphere of our sound as well.”
Wire’s origins and formation was also inspiring to Spencer.
“[They] definitely influenced the formation of my own band and just our ideas about the music. Because Wire had only been around for about a year when they recorded Pink Flag. They were in a sense, amateurs, they hadn’t played their instruments that long.
“But they had developed, in that year, a really interesting way of playing together as a group. I can tell their songs are them, and I think it’s the case with all my favourite groups. They may not be the most virtuosic musicians, but they find a way of playing together that’s totally unique.”
The Brisbane quartet has been steadily building upon their critically praised back catalogue and are widely acknowledged for their impressive live chops both locally and internationally. At one festival in the Netherlands, they came close to meeting their heroes.
“We were playing a festival where they were in Tilburg and they were staying at the same hotel, but we were too scared to say hello. Someone [from the band’s UK record label] told me that their new member [guitarist Matthew Simms} is actually a fan of Blank Realm!”
Wire continue to push their music in new directions with their most recent release being this year’s Silver/Lead. But it’s their ageless debut which continues to reveal more to the Blank Realm drummer.
“More than any of their other albums, it always sounds fresh to me,” Spencer says. “I don’t get tired of the songs, they have strange half melodies that you remember when you listen to the songs but almost forget when you’re not listening to it…it’s a strange thing. But it’s definitely an album I put on every three or four months and I’m always just like, ‘I forgot how good this is…!’”