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When punk began to have a defined sound about 1976, several bands decided to take the basic speed and energy of punk and experiment with more complex structures, more synthesizers, and fusions with other genres. These included, but were not limited to, dub, Krautrock, funk, and even disco, basically the opposite of punk. Some of these bands included Joy Division, Gang of Four, The Fall and Killing Joke. This became known as post-punk. Several other post-punk bands were formed from regular punk bands; such as Magazine, formed by Howard Devoto from the Buzzcocks, and Public Image Ltd, formed by the Sex Pistols' Johnny Rotten. Even The Clash were inspired by its experimental nature at times.

It was mainly a British thing (most non-British bands failed to get much recognition). Some exceptions included the American bands Pere Ubu and Mission of Burma, Australia's The Birthday Party, and of course U2. An American offshoot was No Wave, which was more focused on performance art than musical coherency. This included Sonic Youth, Mars, Lydia Lunch, the Swans, and several other bands, mostly from New York City.

Eventually, post-punk petered out when the original bands turned away from its sound (the Curtis-less Joy Division became the synth-based New Order; Talking Heads became a new-wave pop band; The Cure, Siouxsie and the Banshees and many other bands became goth pioneers, etc.) and went in several musical directions. One of these directions was the more heavily-stylized Goth Rock. Post Punk was a huge inspiration for the Alternative Rock of the 80's.

Recently, post-punk has had a bit of a revival in indie rock as of late, with bands such as Interpol, Modest Mouse, The Libertines and Franz Ferdinand having commercial success. When people talk about more commercial, mainstream indie rock, or so-called "NME bands" (due to the magazine promoting these bands heavily), this is frequently the kind of thing they mean.

A short list of major or influential post-punk bands:

A shorter list of post-punk revival bands: