With a colourful stage presence and an immediately catchy sound, they were the one of the new modern synthpop hopes with their debut single ‘Jane Falls Down’ making a good first impression.
Comprising of front woman Emma Cooke, with Nathan Cooper and Chi Tudor-Hart on vocals and synths plus Robert Sanderson on guitar and Bob Malkowski on drums, THE MODERN were signed by Mercury Records, home of TEARS FOR FEARS and DEF LEPPARD.
The band began recording an album under the working title ‘Life In A Modern World’ with producer Stephen Hague, best known for his work with OMD, PET SHOP BOYS, THE COMMUNARDS, ERASURE, NEW ORDER and DUBSTAR. However, after their single ‘Industry’ was disqualified from the UK singles charts in early 2006, THE MODERN were dropped by their label and found themselves out on a limb.
Changing their name to MATINEE CLUB, the album finally saw the light of day in late 2007, now retitled ‘Modern Industry’ and issued as a download only by Planet Clique. It also saw a CD release with a revised tracklisting as ‘The Modern LP’ through Ninth Wave Records in the US, while a 2CD special edition by EQ Music Singapore for the South East Asian market in 2009 saw another tracklisting with B-sides and bonus songs added.
Around this time, the founding trio Emma Cooke, Nathan Cooper and Chi Tudor-Hart returned to being called THE MODERN. But in 2010, Cooper bid adieu and became KID KASIO while Cooke and Tudor-Hart continued as THE MODERN, releasing a brand new album ‘Revenge’ in 2018.
In 2013, ‘Modern Industry’ was reissued under the title ‘Life In A Modern World’ as an album by THE MODERN in an expanded tracklisting which largely resembled the South East Asian 2CD edition.
In whatever variant, the debut album by THE MODERN often provokes many “what if” debates among electronic pop enthusiasts.
The Electricity Club was extremely pleased to be able to chat to Emma Cooke, Nathan Cooper and Chi Tudor-Hart about the joys and the setbacks that came with its making and marketing.
When THE MODERN signed to Mercury, did you more or less get despatched to record an album first, or was it very much in steps?
Nathan: We’d never thought of ourselves as an album band. The whole concept was quite alien to us. Every time we wrote a song it was with the intention of it being a single, so when the label started talking to us in terms of an album we just always saw it as a collection of singles with no fillers or anything.
Emma: First thing the label wanted was to find a producer. We were happy with Nick Zart but the label wanted someone known. This took longer than we thought as we were also touring.
Nathan: Mercury had sent us round the houses with various different producers. We tried a different track with each producer that we had shortlisted with the label.
Chi: Remember Jeremy Wheatley? We tried recording ‘Discotheque Français’ with him. He was a total knob. He got really upset because Bob ate some of his Jelly Babies that were next to the mixing desk that turned out to be his. He didn’t get us at all and he sulked for the rest of the day over his sweets!
Nathan: We’d been dispatched to Sweden to work with Tore Johansen whose work with Franz Ferdinand was getting massive airplay at that time. I remember him picking us up from the airport in a battered old Volvo and explaining to us the importance of efficiency, which sounded to me like he just wanted to get us in and out as quickly as he could!
The label was obsessing about adding this “indie edge” to the sound, hence FRANZ FERDINAND’s producer, but I was much more interested in chatting to him about his work with ROXETTE which sadly for me he had no interest in discussing! The label had this idea that they wanted us to sound like BLONDIE who of course we all loved, but it became clear quite quickly the live drum sound just wasn’t working for us.
Emma: The sound just didn’t sound big enough for us. Mind you, I quite like listening to his version of ‘Jane Falls Down’ and the vocals on his version were amazing. We then met Stephen Hague and worked with him at Peter Gabriel’s Real World studio. Beautiful place, the studio overlooked a lake with swans swimming around. The start of the session was a disaster as we couldn’t get the drums sounding right. But by the end of the weekend Stephen had ‘Closing Door’ sounding awesome. That nailed it for us to get him to produce the whole album.
Nathan: Rather than record the whole album in Wiltshire, Stephen booked The Strong Rooms in Shoreditch for us to record the album.
Nathan: Stephen was an obvious choice for us. It had dawned on us and the label by this time we were a full on synth pop band and he was the king of that genre, he had worked with all our favourites PET SHOP BOYS, ERASURE, OMD, NEW ORDER.
Stephen Hague worked on ‘Industry’, ‘Jane Falls Down’, ‘Closing Door’, ‘Questions’ and ‘Sometimes’, rather than the whole album, was this down to budget? So how did you go about shortlisting the songs that he would work on?
Chi: No, Stephen produced the whole album. The only track he didn’t do was ‘Suburban Culture’. Matt Jagger, head of Mercury and our champion, hated that track! We loved it so stuck Nick Zart’s version of it on the album anyway.
Emma: Yeah ‘Suburban Culture’ had to be on the album as before we were signed that track was the first song that got radio play on XFM and was always a favourite to play live as it always set the tone.
Nathan: I think our days mixing the album with him in The Strong Rooms in East London were some of my favourites in the band’s history. It really felt like we had taken control and were working with someone who finally understood what we were trying to do.
I have only happy memories of those sessions. I do remember being a bit put out when trying to extract some exciting tit bits of information about his early work with OMD, only for him to confess he didn’t really like synth pop and he had fallen into the genre completely inadvertently, and he actually preferred rock!! He actually said that!
Emma: I agree, I loved recording at The Strong Rooms and really felt Stephen Hague understood us, and as a band and really captured our group dynamic in the recordings
Nathan: I do remember the vocals being particularly difficult for me. Emma sailed through hers but I remember having to do the chorus of ‘Jane Falls Down’ about 100 times. It didn’t fill me with confidence either when after take 82, he said over the talkback that my voice reminded him of a foghorn!
Did you know ‘Smash Hits’ nickname for Tony Hadley was “Foghorn”? 😆
Nathan: Ok I don’t feel so awful now!
‘Sometimes’ sounded like it could have been one of Stephen Hague’s productions for ERASURE’s album ‘The Innocents’, while ‘Questions’ has this frantic energy, where did this stem from?
Nathan: The majority of the album was songs that had begun life as demos myself, Chi and Emma had written over the previous four years with Nick Zart producing. I think there were four songs on the album which had come about in a totally different way, these were ‘Questions’, ‘Jane Falls Down’, ‘Closing Door’ and ‘Sometimes’.
These came from instrumentals that Robert Sanderson our guitarist had made. Myself, Chi and Emma would go to his tiny bedroom studio and just take turns trying out different vocal top lines and ideas over these backings. Loads of really good stuff came out of those sessions, it was competitive but in a friendly super productive kind of way.
We’d be there sitting on Robert’s bed in this little room and he’d blast the verse out of the speakers and you’d have about 10 minutes to sit there and work out something in your head!! You’d be right in the middle of writing down a killer lyric or humming a melody in your head when someone would obliterate your concentration with a cry of “I’ve got something” and run up to the microphone to record it! It was a really strange way to do things but it really worked!!
I think that’s where the frantic energy on ‘Questions’ comes from. It’s sitting in that room desperately trying to get your idea crystallized onto a piece of paper before someone shouts “I’ve got it!”; the song has two choruses crammed into one song vying for attention!
‘Jane Falls Down’ was mighty, were hopes running on this being THE MODERN’s breakthrough?
Nathan: We all hoped as the first single that it would do well. I remember sitting listening to the chart rundown on Radio1 on a Sunday evening and hearing it was at number 32. None of us in the band had been that happy with the way the video turned out and I think the fact it had charted at all with so little airplay was testament to the song and the people who’d bought the single off the back of the live shows.
‘Industry’ was reminiscent of A FLOCK OF SEAGULLS, did Mike Score’s lawyers come knocking on the door?
Nathan: We knew nothing about this until half way through promotion for the single. We’d just finished a sound check somewhere and had been ushered into a local radio station to do a promotional interview for the single. We were sat there in the radio studio with headphones on and the presenter plays both songs back to back, and then goes live to air and asks us if we copied them on purpose!!! I just remember being completely dumbfounded.
Truth is that this one must be my fault because very early versions of the song had come from a demo I’d recorded. The song had been through loads of transitions since then but the vocal melody in the verse had remained the same. I’d always been a big fan of A FLOCK OF SEAGULLS and had a VHS with ‘The More You Live, The More You Love’ on it. I think these things happen subconsciously sometimes. We thought about dropping it from the set when we supported A FLOCK OF SEAGULLS a few years later, but we went and had a chat with Mike Score and he was completely lovely about it.
What was the story behind ‘Closing Door’? It seemed to become oddly prophetic when it ended up as the B-side of ‘Industry’?
Nathan: This was another one that started as one of Robert’s instrumental demos; I think it was touted as a single for a short while. I think the lyrics might have been vaguely about some decisions we had had to make as a band regarding management etc. I actually think it’s one of the most positive songs on the album. It always went down well live that one.
The events that led to THE MODERN being dropped by Mercury in 2006 and the band morphing into MATINEE CLUB are well documented, but how complete was the album at this point?
Chi: The album was completely done and dusted. Mercury got a new head of label, Jason Iley, and he did not like us. This guy was all that is wrong with the industry. When asked what bands he liked, he answered with a straight face, “Bands that sell”… total tw*t! His efforts went into promoting his new signing Matt Willis.
Matt Jagger, who signed us, was ousted, so we no longer had our champion. The chart fiasco happened and the label ghosted us!
Emma: So when Matt Jagger left Mercury he started a new label under Universal, Europa. He signed us and paid for us to shoot a video for ‘Discotheque Français’. The idea Matt had with Planet Clique was for them to promote us on the underground dance scene.
Europa’s other band was INFERNAL and just had a big hit with From Paris to Berlin so I think they liked the idea of ‘Discotheque’ coming out of the clubs like INFERNAL ’s track.
Chi: Yeah, then true to our luck Europa went under and Planet Clique then offered to release the album on their label, download only, just to get it out there.
Were there many challenges in acquiring the masters for the album now titled ‘Modern Industry’ for release by Planet Clique?
Chi: Lucian Grange, head of Universal, was very nice about giving over all our masters. He always liked THE MODERN.
‘Discotheque Français’ was solely produced by Nick Zart and was released as the lead single for the album, what was the song inspired by?
Nathan: The original song was written in 2001 under the band name DIRTY BLONDE. We had a studio in Hackney at the time and there was a whole collective of producers and remixers living in this massive old factory called The Sweatshop. A friend in the studio next door to us heard us recording it and asked if they could do a remix.
Once a month there would be these massive parties at The Sweatshop and the remix of the song got played there. Somehow from there Eddie Temple Morris got hold of it and played it on his show on XFM. We released it as a white label, which I had a listen to the other day. It sounds like BUGGLES meets THE TOURISTS!
I think the lyric idea in the chorus had stemmed from the summers me and Chi used to spend at my mum’s place in southern France. The highlight of the holidays would be going to these tiny discos in these French villages and dancing to Eurodance music. The house was in the middle of nowhere in rural south west France and there was one radio station we could pick up called radio NRJ.
I used to religiously sit by the ghettoblaster all day long recording these fantastic Eurodance tracks onto cassette, so I’d have them long before they’d be released in the UK. I remember hearing ‘Rhythm Of The Night’ by CORONA about 6 months before it was released over here.
Emma: Actually Eddie Temple Morris got a hold of Ed Solo’s remix of ‘Suburban Culture’. It’s on the 2015 album release, Arts and Craft mix; The Sweatshop lot remixed ‘Suburban’ after the success of ‘Discotheque’.
Stephen did a version of ‘Discotheque ‘but it never came together. He admitted never feeling it.
The cover of David Bowie’s ‘Modern Love’ can be considered either very brave or very foolish, what led you to record it? What do you think about it in retrospect? 😆
Chi: God, I foolishly love our cover!
Nathan: There were a couple of covers we’d sometimes do in the live set that always used to go down well. My favourite was ‘Strange Little Girl’ by THE STRANGLERS. We did a really interesting take on that. We also covered ‘Over You’ by ROXY MUSIC and got the chance to record our version with Phil Manzanera playing guitar! Although I’m pretty sure that never saw the light of day.
Another one was ‘Under My Skin’ by Cole Porter, we did this great minimalistic icy electronic version of that. ‘Modern Love’ came about entirely because of the association with the band’s name and a club night we were doing at the time at Filthy McNasty’s in Islington called Modern Love. I’m pretty sure it was Nick Zart’s idea. In hindsight it might have been foolish, I certainly wouldn’t dare take on such a classic now, let alone a Bowie classic but I thought we brought something to it.
Emma: Filthy McNasty’s! Yes, great club night. We did it every fortnight and THE LIBERTINES did the other weeks.
How do you think ‘Modern Industry’ was received when it finally came out in 2007? There was a loss of momentum but how did it affect the band?
Nathan: I think if we’d brought out the album in 2005 it would’ve looked very different. Maybe it would have had ten tracks on it and been a bit more cohesive, but because there was this massive gap by the time it was released, it almost became a kind of retrospective of everything we’d done over the past seven years. It ended a kind of being a “Best Of” in a way.
It was a strange period for physical formats so were you disappointed the album came out as a download only?
Nathan: That was just the way things were going. No-one in their right mind would’ve released a vinyl album in 2007. It was a time of real change and people were still adjusting to it and trying to work it all out. No ‘Smash Hits’, no ‘Top Of The Pops’, we were in a right muddle!
Emma: We changed the name to MATINEE CLUB as Europa were keen to relaunch us, phoenix from the ashes, but we always felt THE MODERN suited us so we just went back to that.
THE MODERN soldiered on for a few years but then the line-up fragmented in 2010?
Chi: Nathan had much more he wanted to do musically and Emma was doing a lot of acting work so KID KASIO was born. Emma and I have carried on and Rees Bridges, our original drummer came back to us after touring with DIRTY VEGAS. We released ‘Revenge’ in 2018, many of the tracks co-written with Nathan.
‘Modern Industry’ was given an expanded reissue as a release by THE MODERN under the new title of ‘Life In A Modern World’ in 2013, what was the thinking behind this?
Chi: Pure laziness. It just took us this long to get the album in its entirety out there.
Looking back, how do you think the album as a whole stands up? Which are your own favourite tracks?
Nathan: I think all of it still stands up well. My favourites on there are ‘Seven Oceans’ and ‘Sometimes’ and I really like ‘Travelogue’ (which is just on the 2013 re-release). It’s a great set of songs and an album that I’m really proud to have been part of.
Emma: I love ‘Sometimes’. The whole album still sounds fresh to me.
Chi: ‘Questions’ and ‘Nothing Special’. I’m so proud of the whole album.
If you had your time in THE MODERN again, how differently would you have done things?
Emma: We should have released singles and album much faster as back then there was a real coming back of synth bands like THE BRAVERY, FISCHERSPOONER and GOLDFRAPP but by the time we released it, THE ARCTIC MONKEYS got out there and it all went the way of indie guitar.
Chi: Nothing I’d change. I loved it.
Nathan: Yeah same, I wouldn’t have changed anything. The touring got stressful sometimes but on the whole when I look back, I just think of the fun we had and the great songs that came out of it.
The Electricity Club gives its warmest thanks to Emma Cooke, Nathan Cooper and Chi Tudor-Hart
‘Life In A Modern World’ is available now via Pie & Mash Recordings from the usual digital outlets
Text and Interview by Chi Ming Lai
6th August 2020