Eight hours of progwave with Jono El Grande

Progwave was an elusive subgenre, an unusual hybrid of progressive rock and New Wave that is little more than a sidebar in the popular music lexicon. Very little has ever been documented about this strange concoction of a genre, and I couldn’t tell you which bands were active during  what era and what exactly constitutes the genre, so we had to call in an expert.

Jono El Grande (Jon Andreas Håtun) lives and breathes all things music and when it comes to Prog Rock he is an authority. He is an artist, musician and conductor, and has released six LPs between 1999 and the present with his group Jono El Grande and his luxury band.

Born in the era of peak Prog Rock, a conceptual theme follows Jono El Grande in every thing he approaches and when he and Eirik Usterud (Beatie Joyce) came together to conceive a night for Den Gyldne Sprekk in April, true to history a theme followed. They fell on progwave (or progveiv) and while Beastie Joyce gave us some insight into the genre last week on the blog, there is still much left to be uncovered of this very niche genre.

While Eirik was a little unsure if he’d have enough music in that category for the entire, Jono told us “till now, I have collected about 8 hours of music,” encouraging us to ask the Norwegian artist more questions. What is progwave, who made it and where did it go? We pose these questions to Jono El Grande ahead of Progveiv this Tuesday at Den Gyldne Sprekk.

How would you describe progwave?

Prog-wave makes a fine line with different approaches, all around late 70’s to early 80’s; you have progressive bands toying with new wave on one side, and new-wave bands touching progressive/experimental structures and sounds on the other. A third path, the most unclear, is rock / semi-progressive artists in free artistic flow who happened to create something within the same style, all on purpose or accidentally, I don’t know.

Typical of the first batch, I say, is the around-1980-stuff by bands like Camel, Alan Parsons Project, Yes, Gentle Giant, King Crimson, Rush, CAN and Jethro Tull.

The second, is represented by some songs – not entire albums – by bands like DEVO, Yello, Art Of Noise, Godley & Creme, Kraftwerk, The Stranglers, Pere Ubu, Talking Heads and Wall Of Voodoo.

In the third understanding, you also find just a few songs, from artists such as ELO, 10cc, Roxy Music, Jefferson Starship, Toto, Peter Gabriel, Manfred Manns’s Earth Band, David Bowie and Violent Femmes.

And in between all these, I may squeeze in some Arthur Brown, Captain Beefheart and Frank Zappa. And even some of my own, brand new unheard compositions.

What do you think encouraged artists to explore this field  of music, was just the advent of affordable synthesizers?

In my opinion, music genres evolve somewhat like species according to Darwin; they’re born as a result of a movement in society – small or big – and tend to survive if the culture around it is alive and growing. First it is revolutionary, then it becomes tradition. In this movement Sub genres are often dependent on the main genre’s growth, unless they creates their own (fan) culture and evolve further on as a separate genre.

New technology meeting culture is always a factor for growth, and synthesizers became essential for the rise progwave, I think, yes. But it was also important that the bands were forced by their record companies to be more accessible towards a larger audience, which also evolved the genre.

Why was it so short-lived?

Prog wave was merely just a sub genre, probably more a bastard – a hybrid of prog and new wave – like a mule. And as we know, mules can’t reproduce. Later, a few bands evolved into pop, like Genesis, but those bands didn’t survive artistically for long either.

At the same time, the main prog genre was evolving into the ugly, yet vital, Neo prog, eating prog wave out of existence.

Also, it seemed that krautrock was more naturally evolving into quite the same sound as prog wave, yet it was surviving more or less by being krautrock.

You say brand new unheard compositions of your own earlier And I’ve noticed artists like Shackleton making progressive music from electronic club elements today. Is it having a revival?

Maybe, but music and artists making music in every genre or subgenre has become overflowing and swarming like a goddamn huge colony of bees. Who can tell if there is a new movement going on in there or just a flicker?

Anyway – I will personally break a sweat to conjure up a revival, and play some new compositions of my own. One of them is so fresh it is still warm.

Can you tell me something of your history with the music, and what were some of the records or artists that first got you into progwave?

First of all, progressive rock and avantgarde has interested me since I discovered it when I was 13 (1986); Zappa & early eras of Pink Floyd, Jethro Tull, Genesis – some years later King Crimson, Gentle Giant, Beefheart.

I realized soon that the whole catalogue of these artists and others in the same genre was not accepted at parties, so I always tried to make mix tapes with the stuff that in a way unified the progressive heads and the more mainstream rock and pop listeners in the late 80’s and early 90’s.

Over the years, I see that ‘prog wave’ as a term that pigeonholed this kind of music well, even though some of the songs that I put in that box is not part of the particular prog wave «movement» in the late 70s/early 80s.

I still enjoy sneaking my own playlists into bars or restaurants (St Lars has one of them).

As you see, there wasn’t any album that got me into progwave, it has just evolved from my natural way of socializing with music.

On the other hand, I believe that the first record to be released that may fit best into the progwave classification, is Alan Parsons Project’s «I Robot» from 1977.

When I spoke Eirik about what he’ll be playing it, he suggested that you might not be able to make a whole evening out of progwave alone. Are you of the same opinion and where do you think your set will modulate to on the evening?

For this evening, I have collected about 8 hours of music – some pure progwave, some no wave, some newwave-ish prog, some prog-ish new wave and some songs that are just damn good.

A lot of prog music artists actually had a lot of success with pop music after prog rock became something of a dirty word especially after the rise of Punk. Is that as a direct result of progwave?

A result of selling out, and dying a slow death afterwards. Progwave may have functioned as an accidental stepping stone for that process, for some of the bands.

And do you see any other strands of the genre exists today because of that fleeting existence?

If so, it has changed so much over the years you may not be able to recognize it. Bands today are influenced by so many sources, so it is hard to specify.

And some artists sound like they are influenced without knowing it. A contemporary group like Superorganism, may sound like a millennial version of prog wave, but I doubt they have ever thought about that.

(I remember music journalists around the world wrote about my Magma influences on my album Neo Dada (which celebrates 10 years these days), and actually – that was how I discovered them. Haha.)


*You can find out more about Jono El Grande on his website, jonoelgrande.com.