Spotify’s “Permanent Wave” Music (Definitions & Origins)

  • What is the Permanent Wave Music category all about?
  • We look at famous songs and artists in this category.
  • New Wave vs. Permanent Wave music

The term “Permanent Wave” started popping up in the list of genres on music streaming platforms in the last decade.

Frankly, most musicians were curious and clueless regarding what it meant, which sparked some interesting and humorous discussions on forums worldwide.

For the curious-minded, here’s the short answer –

Permanent Wave is an umbrella music category that clubs indie, alternative, post-punk, and folk bands from the 1980s onwards.

It could be broadly defined as “a less electronic version and more introspective version of New Wave music released in the last 40 years.”

That’s part conjecture and part simplism, of course. Permanent Wave is not a ‘catch-all’ term, and its sound is not as unique as Disco.

A PW Spotify playlist can include anything from Kate Bush to Iggy Pop and Green Day, mostly because it’s not strictly defined.

Here, I explain ‘what is Permanent Wave Music’ because, well, someone has to.

What Is Permanent Wave?

Permanent Wave is a sub-category of Rock music.

It’s a type of Alt-Rock or Indie-pop music with a thick influence on New Wave music. But PW is generally less chorus-oriented and with little-to-no electronic instrumentation.

Some musicians believe “permanent” is a play on “new wave,” to imply this music category is now well established.

Most discussions on the subject argue it is a category, not a genre of music. For instance, Punk Rock is a music genre, and Punk Rock music from the 80s is a music category. Point noted.

Characteristically, songs in the Permanent Wave category have stripped-down riffs with eerie modulation (loads of tremolo and reverb) and unconventional song structures.

They often (not always) have an undistinguished chorus. The lyrics, too, are wistful and introspective.

Is Permanent Wave the same as New Wave Music?

Permanent Wave is not the same as New Wave music.

For one, you won’t find any artists from the 70s or 80s labeled Permanent Wave.

Many people consider it the evolution of the ‘New Wave’ genre and a successor to the non-conformist sounds of the 1970s and 1980s.

According to my research, music platforms seemingly created this category to distinguish between well-established and emerging New Wave artists.

Simply put, it made sense to call alternative music ‘the new wave’ from 1980-2000.

Now, after four decades, it’s equitably mainstream and worthy of being called a ‘permanent wave.’

Musical Qualities of Permanent Wave Songs

  • Alternative and Indie Pop/Rock with New Wave sounds
  • Stripped back musical arrangements and guitar work
  • Little-to-no electronic instrumentation
  • Unconventional song structures
  • Offhand or understated chorus section
  • Pensive lyrics and experimental music videos

Famous Permanent Wave Bands and Artists

As discussed earlier, the Permanent Wave genre is not as distinctive as Punk or Classic Rock, so it can describe a wide swath of artists ranging from Artic Monkeys to Bjork.

If you’ve heard these permanent wave artists, they have radically different sounds.

Either way, here are ten artists and bands that frequently show in Permanent Wave genre playlists:

  1. Smashing Pumpkins
  2. The Killers
  3. Adam Ant
  4. Radiohead
  5. E.M
  6. Bjork
  7. The Afghan Wigs
  8. Iggy Pop
  9. Dinosaur Jr.
  10. Arcade Fire

6 Famous Permanent Wave Songs

Without a distinctive sound or definition, you can find a variety of bands if you search for Permanent Wave bands or playlists on music streaming platforms.

Generally, the playlists have famous post-New Wave, Alternative, Indie, and Post-Punk (or post-post-punk) artists.

That said, here are six songs that fit the Permanent Wave label to a T:

  1. Conjure Me by the Afghan Wigs
  2. Riot Van by Artic Monkeys
  3. Radio Free Europe by R.E.M
  4. Some Weird Sing by Iggy Pop
  5. King of Birds by Radiohead
  6. Empty Room by Arcade Fire

Permanent Wave – History and Origins

Before we conclude, let’s examine the origins of the “wave” phenomena of naming music genres.

It all started in the 1950s when a group of French blokes felt the filmmaking community had forfeited artistry and ingenuity. Films, they felt, were creatively stagnant and profit-driven.

So, a new wave of filmmakers toppled tradition, rejected all the rules/norms, and made films with a ‘spirit of iconoclasm.’

It gave birth to the French New Wave era (La Nouvella Vague). This era was about creating art driven by experimentation and without any boundaries.

The philosophy spread across the globe, producing a generation of New Wave filmmakers and one of the most influential groups in cinema history.

Their works influenced a generation of musicians in the 1970s and 1980s who prioritized experimentation and iconoclasm.

That’s when New Wave Music became a thing.

It rejected the idea of ‘craft over innovation,’ pushing the boundaries of instrumentation, musical arrangement, and composition in the spirit of experimentation.

Difference between New Wave and Permanent Wave Music

New Wave Music is a genre of Alternative music spanning the 1970s and 80s.

New Wave music was not as rough and rebellious as punk and didn’t engage with social and political themes.

This blanket classification helped distinguish between punk and non-punk alternative music.

Permanent Wave bands are listed from the 80s to the early 2000s. So, the two genres can be easily differentiated by a distinction in time.

Artists in both categories are edgy, but there are marked differences in the instrumentation, composition, and lyrics.

Permanent Wave tracks are generally more fragmented, less electronic, and lyrically ambiguous. The music videos are often bizarre. Case in point – “Fall on Me” music video by R.E.M.

Let’s end with a glance at popular artists in each genre.

New Wave Music was ruled by Duran Duran, Depeche Mode, Billy Idol, Devo, Blondie, and others.

Permanent Wave bands brings to mind Smashing Pumpkins, Bjork, The Smiths, and Arcade Fire.