The early post-punk vanguard was represented by groups such as Siouxsie and the Banshees, Wire, Public Image Ltd, the Pop Group, Cabaret Voltaire, Magazine, Pere Ubu, Gang of Four, Joy Division, Talking Heads, Throbbing Gristle, the Slits, the Cure, the Fall and Au Pairs. The movement was closely related to the development of ancillary genres such as gothic rock, dark wave, neo-psychedelia, no wave and industrial music. By the mid-1980s, post-punk had dissipated while providing the impetus for the New Pop movement as well much subsequent alternative and independent music.
Post-punk is a diverse genre that emerged from the cultural milieu of punk rock in the late 1970s. Originally called "new musick", the terms were first used by various writers in the late 1970s to describe groups moving beyond punk's garage rock template and into disparate areas. In late 1977 and early 1978, Sounds writers Jon Savage and Jane Suck coined "post-punk". At the time, there was a feeling of renewed excitement regarding what the word would entail, with Sounds publishing numerous preemptive editorials on new musick. Towards the end of the decade, some journalists used "art punk" as a pejorative for garage rock-derived acts deemed too sophisticated and out of step with punk's dogma. Before the early 1980s, many groups now categorized as "post-punk" were subsumed under the broad umbrella of "new wave", with the terms being deployed interchangeably. "Post-punk" became differentiated from "new wave" after their styles perceptibly narrowed.
Nicholas Lezard described the term "post-punk" as "so multifarious that only the broadest use ... is possible". Subsequent discourse has failed to clarify whether contemporary music journals and fanzines conventionally understood "post-punk" the way that it was discussed in later years. Reynolds' 2005 book Rip It Up and Start Again is widely referenced as post-punk doctrine, although he has stated that the book only covers aspects of post-punk that he had a personal inclination toward. Wilkinson characterised Reynolds' readings as "apparent revisionism and 'rebranding'". Author/musician Alex Ogg criticised: "The problem is not with what Reynolds left out of Rip It Up ..., but, paradoxically, that too much was left in". Ogg suggested that post-punk pertains to a set of artistic sensibilities and approaches rather than any unifying style, and disputed the accuracy of the term's chronological prefix "post", as various groups commonly labeled "post-punk" predate the punk rock movement. Reynolds defined the post-punk era as occurring roughly between 1978 and 1984. He advocated that post-punk be conceived as "less a genre of music than a space of possibility", suggesting that "what unites all this activity is a set of open-ended imperatives: innovation; willful oddness; the willful jettisoning of all things precedented or 'rock'n'roll'". AllMusic employs "post-punk" to denote "a more adventurous and arty form of punk".
Many post-punk artists were initially inspired by punk's DIY ethic and energy, but ultimately became disillusioned with the style and movement, feeling that it had fallen into commercial formula, rock convention and self-parody. They repudiated its populist claims to accessibility and raw simplicity, instead seeing an opportunity to break with musical tradition, subvert commonplaces and challenge audiences. Artists moved beyond punk's focus on the concerns of a largely white, male, working class population and abandoned its continued reliance on established rock and roll tropes, such as three-chord progressions and Chuck Berry-based guitar riffs. These artists instead defined punk as "an imperative to constant change", believing that "radical content demands radical form".
Though the music varied widely between regions and artists, the post-punk movement has been characterized by its "conceptual assault" on rock conventions and rejection of aesthetics perceived of as traditionalist, hegemonic or rockist in favor of experimentation with production techniques and non-rock musical styles such as dub, funk, electronic music, disco, noise, free jazz, world music and the avant-garde. Some previous musical styles also served as touchstones for the movement, including particular brands of krautrock, glam, art rock, art pop and other music from the 1960s. Artists once again approached the studio as an instrument, using new recording methods and pursuing novel sonic territories. Author Matthew Bannister wrote that post-punk artists rejected the high cultural references of 1960s rock artists like the Beatles and Bob Dylan as well as paradigms that defined "rock as progressive, as art, as 'sterile' studio perfectionism ... by adopting an avant-garde aesthetic". According to musicologist Pete Dale, while groups wanted to "rip up history and start again", the music was still "inevitably tied to traces they could never fully escape".