Graded on a Curve:
Adam and the Ants,
Kings of the Wild Frontier

Celebrating Adam and the Ants’ guitarist Marco Pirroni on his 61st birthday.Ed.

Who’s better qualified to talk about New Wave legends Adam and the Ants than a real, live ant? Or better yet, anthropomorphic cartoon superhero Atom Ant? I recently caught up with everybody’s favorite atomic-powered New Frontier insect at a retirement anthill outside Phoenix, Arizona, and took the opportunity to ask him a few questions about the band that invented Antmusic.

Before we start, how’s Secret Squirrel?

Squirrelly. Very squirrelly. All of that International Sneaky Service stuff went to his head. I was always having to remind him it was only TV. I occasionally get coded letters from him with handwritten return addresses from places like Colombia and the Democratic Republic of Congo. But they’re all postmarked Erie, Pennsylvania.

So what do you think about Adam and the Ants’ striking visual image?

It’s a disgrace to Family Formicidae. Real ants don’t wear make-up, although we do have our fair share of Goth Kids. Don’t get me wrong; in one sense their look is a return to the campy outrages of Glam Rock, and I don’t know a single ant who doesn’t love him some Glam. Hell, even their patented two-drummer Burundi beat is a salute of sorts to Gary Glitter.

What was your response to the “Antpeople Phenom”?

I took it as a left-handed complement to our eusociality and this mythical notion that we share some kind of “hive mind.” Hell, if that were true we’d all like straightedge–if that ain’t a terrifying example of programmed hive behavior, I don’t know what is. But speaking for myself, I think Antpeople are good people. You could do worse than imitate us. Let’s face it: acting human certainly hasn’t gotten the human race very far. The shit you people do on a daily basis is appalling. Cooperation and peaceful crisis resolution just aren’t your thing. Remember the episode where arch-enemy Karate Ant and I faced off and ended up having a friendly chat? Donald Trump would have called him “Little Rocket Man” and escalated that little contretemps into WWIII.

Your take on Antmusic in general?

I’m a fan. I liked their first one, 1979’s Dirk Wears White Sox, a whole lot. Kinda reminded me of Wire and Gang of Four, only friendlier. More of a mad lark, and not so joylessly political. I think it’s an underrated slice of post-punk. Too many people wrote it off as a transparent publicity stunt by the Professor Von Gimmick of punk rock, Malcolm McLaren. What they seem to forget is that McLaren wasn’t even managing the band at that point. Bet you were one of them, too.


Get over it, two-legger. You missed the boat. Probably your lack of elbowed antennae.

What about 1980 follow-up Kings of the Wild Frontier?

It’s a completely different anthill to my trained compound eye. Malcolm McLaren swiped Adam’s band to form Bow Wow Wow, Adam hooked up with guitarist Marco Pirroni and developed that big bad Burundi beat, and the rest is history. It wouldn’t have mattered if Ant and Pirroni hadn’t come up with a whole slew of great songs.

Why, there isn’t a bad song on the thing except “Jolly Roger,” which is tripe right down to the whistling–you’ll never catch an ant whistling. But we ants have a saying: “If you really have to put a shit song on your LP, at least have the decency to bury it deep on the B Side.” Which is where you’ll find “Jolly Roger.” Say what you will about Adam; he thinks like an ant.

So you liked the new sound of Wild Frontier.

Loved it. The native drumming on album opener “Dog on Dog” changed my life. I was drinking a lot at the time. Going through a messy divorce. And I couldn’t find work because of the unofficial blacklisting of Hanna-Barbera cartoon characters. A bunch of us got called indecent because we weren’t wearing pants. Seriously: Isn’t that wardrobe’s job? Anyway, when I heard those Burundi drums I said to myself, “Fuck Art. This ant wants to dance.”

And I loved the mad chanting as well. Take LP closer “The Human Beings.” No bothersome lyrical content, just a couple of Native American tribe names followed by the immortal words, “Goklayeh ho.” And it sounds great on peyote.

Oh, and one last thing. There’s a lot of great guitar on the record. People think of Adam and the Ants and the first thing that comes to mind are the drums. Or Ant’s vocals. But Pirroni plays like a motherfucker all over the damn thing. Just listen to the nasty guitar riff on “Feed Me to the Lions.” It’s totally badass. Ditto for the riff that runs through “The Magnificent Five.” He’s underrated, Marco Pirroni, probably because he’s goddamn Italian. [Editor’s Note: Pirroni was born in Archway, London. His parents were Italian.]

Any thoughts on the title track?

I’m not wild about the vocal doo wop diddle that starts it, but once the Burundi drums kick in I like it just fine. The call and response is pure Antarchy, and Pirroni makes like Mick Ronson on the ax. Most people don’t know this, but a crushed ant emits an alarm pheromone that sends nearby ants into a savage killing frenzy. That’s what his guitar sounds like to us: crushed ant pheromone.

What about “Antmusic”?

My mother always warned me against what she called “hippity hop music.” I suspect this one would have qualified. It’s genius from start to finish, despite the fucking whistling. Peter Gabriel got away with whistling in “Games Without Frontiers,” but to my knowledge nobody else has ever pulled it off. But back to “Antmusic.” Best bouncy chorus ever in my opinion: “So unplug the jukebox/And do us all a favor/That music’s lost its taste/So try another flavor.” If that isn’t a wake-up call to pure dumb fun, what is?

“Press Darlings”?

It’s got Pirroni’s hard rock guitar going for it, to say nothing of those big drums and a great herky-jerky rhythm. And those lyrics! “We are guilty/We are beyond hope/We beg to differ/We are a terminal case.” And those are just the opening lines. Adam goes on to name drop Nick Kent, then drops this bomb on ya: “Are we different? No/We are exactly the same.” It’s a crackerjack declaration of Antunity and a sly dig at the silly notion of punk rock individuality–You know, “I’m so unique I look like everybody I know!”–at the same time.

Are you frightened by “Ants Invasion”?

No, but you should be. We’re making plans. We already constitute some 15 to 25 percent of the terrestrial animal biomass and our numbers are growing. Take it from me: Learn ant and learn it fast, because you’ll soon be taking orders from your new Six-Legged Overlords.

As for the song, I love the big riff and the mad reverb on Pirroni’s guitar. And I love the lines, “I hope that insect doesn’t see me/He’s not renowned for his courtesy.” Because Adam’s right. Like my close personal friend Jeff Goldblum says in The Fly: “Insects don’t have politics.” Put differently, ants don’t vote. We swarm and destroy.

I hate to digress, but I have to ask: Do you think you speak for all ants? I don’t mean to call you out, but you’re the only ant I’ve ever seen flying around in an orange turtleneck sweater and a white football helmet.

I’m not your average ant, I’ll grant you that. I’m well aware that most ants don’t operate out of a secret anthill equipped with a mainframe computer and exercise equipment. And most ants didn’t put their name on a nuclear-powered home deep fryer that has since been banned in 34 countries due to a manufacturing defect that makes it a severe radiation risk. It gave a whole new meaning to the phrase “Just nuke it!” Have you ever seen an onion ring glow? Biggest mistake I ever made, endorsing that damned deep fryer. I’m still getting hit with lawsuits from places like Moldavia, and they’re a pain in the old petiole.

Is this fucking interview about over? I’m getting antsy.


A bit of Anthumor. Look. I just I want to say this before we close. There is no such thing as “Antmusic” per se; we ants are an impossibly diverse lot. Ants can be found everywhere but Antarctica–which is rather ironic, seeing as how they named the damn place after us–and a few remote islands, so we hear a whole lot of music. I’m a Northern Soul man myself. But Adam and the Ants did their best to reach a disgracefully underserved ant demographic and we appreciate that, even if Adam got a lot of his facts wrong.

That said, Mr. Ant got one thing right with all his “sex music for ant people” jabber; ants love sex. And sex is the main theme of all of Adam Ant’s work, including the rather embarrassing “Goody Two Shoes,” which I take as a personal slight because I do drink and I do smoke. But he’s spot on about the fornicating. Your average ant is always up for a quick knee-trembler.

Would you call Kings of the Wild Frontier one small step for man, one giant step for mandibles?

(Long silence)

Is that your idea of Anthumor? And have you been waiting all this time to ask me that?

I suppose.

Well congratulations. You have just become Ant Enemy No. 1.

A (as in Ant) Minus

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