Paul Boddy, freelance producer, musician and writer looks back on ten years of The Electricity Club.
I had known Chi Ming Lai previously via another now defunct website which I used to contribute a variety of bootleg remixes of THE HUMAN LEAGUE and DEPECHE MODE. Once we were on each other’s radars and had moved on, I was very flattered when Chi asked me to start contributing to The Electricity Club.
One of the first pieces I did was an interview with ADAMSKI in 2012. Looking back, this was one of the most nerve-wracking things I’d done and completely out of my comfort zone at the time. This was primarily because a) he was a bit of a musical hero of mine as a previous band I was in had covered ‘Killer’ and b) I was faced with the proposition of trying to interview the guy over the phone and then record it using a mobile digital recorder (untried technology for me).
Despite his mobile signal dipping in and out (as he was ambling around London at the time I interviewing him) and the batteries running out on my recorder half-way through, the interview went well and I got a huge sense of achievement once the piece had been transcribed and eventually published.
The main enjoyment I get from occasionally contributing to the site is the ability to interview bands and people within the scene, Chi has kindly put some interviews my way including WANG CHUNG, SHRIEKBACK, KOSHEEN, CHICANE, WRANGLER and CREEP SHOW as well as two of my own personal favourites John Foxx and Ulrich Schnauss. Having the platform to interact with these kind of artists is mind-blowing for me, especially the ones who I have admired and in some places influenced my own musical development. My other approach and contribution to the site is tracking down (some may call this stalking!) artists via social media and approaching them with a view to TEC featuring them in its ‘Missing in Action’ series.
Although a bit hit and miss as some artists don’t always respond when messaged, it has borne fruit with many artists accepting and using the opportunity to reflect and look back on their tenure in the music industry.
In terms of the people I’m most proud of ‘snagging’ in this manner are Scott Simon (OUR DAUGHTER’S WEDDING), Dave ‘Dee’ Harris (FASHIØN), Jerome Froese (TANGERINE DREAM) and Rob Dean (JAPAN). Because of the big interviews already done on the site by Chi, I find that this gives a lot of traction when cold approaching these kind of artists.
However, the icing on the cake was when Chi and myself spent a glorious few hours in a Liverpool Street pub with Stephen Singleton and Mark White from ABC and VICE VERSA. Getting this interview was a long process which started when Stephen contacted me in 2015 with regards to reviewing the VICE VERSA box set; this led to linking up with Mark and after a long period of negotiation and Facebook messenger chats, a face to face interview in 2019 with lots of laughter.
For me this has definitely been my highlight of TEC and although the transcribing of the interview was one of the longest processes I’ve done (the guys LOVED to chat!), the sense of achievement upon completion was huge.
Moving away from the artists themselves and onto electronic synth music itself, Chi and myself have quite differing tastes in music, but with enough crossover that we can still happily work together. The material I favour tends to be male-fronted, often dance-inflected and also with elements of guitars thrown into the mix (see BATTLE TAPES, MAPS, MAN WITHOUT COUNTRY and SPLEEN UNITED).
If you are a reader of the site, you won’t be surprised to hear that along with the other TEC contributors, I continue to be disappointed with the lack of decent UK based synth acts and the exposure that so many second-rate bands continue to get. For a country that has such an amazing heritage of electronic music (like DEPECHE MODE, YAZOO, THE HUMAN LEAGUE, EURYTHMICS, OMD… I can go on), why is it that there are so few acts of quality which are continuing the tradition of these incredible acts?
What grinds my gears the most is the complete lack of emphasis on quality vocals that some UK synth bands have; for many it appears that once a synth backing track has been made, the process of adding vocals is treated as an afterthought. Very little attention is paid to crucial things like tuning / character / lyrics, all traits which have made vocalists such as Alison Moyet and Annie Lennox titans in their field. Whether this will improve and we will get another CHVRCHES or MIRRORS is doubtful, but I live in hope!
Although the original music that I write and produce (J-Pop / K-Pop) isn’t the kind of thing that TEC would champion, it still features a lot of electronics and I have been fortunate to have had success with some major Japanese artists including ARASHI and E-GIRLS (who covered YMO’s ‘Rydeen’).
I continue to write and produce for this market which is great fun. I continue to enjoy performing live as well in various cover bands.
Signing off, TEC has been a wonderful platform for me and has enabled me to interact with many of my musical heroes and also review some of their work too, long may it continue…
Of all the acts from the Synth Britannia-era that were deemed as “most likely to make it” FASHIØN were surely a safe bet to succeed.
With an image that could rival JAPAN, they certainly looked the part and latterly with album/single covers featuring the work of iconic photographer David Bailey, they had the design aesthetic nailed too. With their second incarnation featuring vocalist / guitarist Dave “Dee” Harris, synth player Mulligan, Martin Rechi on bass and Dik Davis on drums, the band evolved from an indie / post-punk sound into a far more electronic and potentially commercial proposition.
Zeus B Held handled production duties on their second album ‘Fabrique’ and helped cultivate a more electronic sheen with the band. Although the album cracked the 1982 UK Top 10, singles from ‘Fabrique’ didn’t fare so well, with the tracks ‘Love Shadow’, ‘Streetplayer (Mechanik)’ and ‘Move On’ all failing to dent the Top 40.
Shortly after the release of the album, Harris left the band and was replaced by Troy Tate, formerly of THE TEARDROPS EXPLODES.
So why didn’t FASHIØN achieve their full potential? With the UK music-buying public now fully embracing more pop-oriented and teen friendly marketed bands such as TALK TALK and fellow Birmingham residents DURAN DURAN, it could be argued that with their sophisticated blend of funk and electronics that the band was just too ahead of their time.
Regardless of the circumstances surrounding their lack of commercial success, FASHIØN left behind some real quality Simmons drums-driven funk electronica and with some of their vocoder usage, even gave KRAFTWERK a run for their money.
Also notable was the band’s embracement of the 12” remix format; FASHIØN were certainly one of the pioneers of the extended single format and their alternative versions are definitely worthy of investigation. Anyone searching for a recommendation to check out the band’s back catalogue should look no further than a comment on the Discogs website which says: “Decadent techno-funk just made for cruising the slick, night streets of Berlin at 4:00am in your DeLorean”.
Dave Harris kindly spoke to The Electricity Club about his experiences playing in the band, working with Zeus B Held and also subsequent projects including a link-up as ZEE with the late Richard Wright from PINK FLOYD.
What was your musical background prior to joining FASHIØN and who were your formative influences?
Prior to joining FASHIØN, I had various bands, starting with an acoustic band in the early 70s called INDIAN RUNNER; we won the folk side of the ‘Melody Maker’ Rock / Folk contest in 1974, from there I formed various funk and R&B bands like BUMPERS & FERRARI featuring Jaki Graham on vocals.
After that I joined THE ITALIANS and this happened to be where I met Dik and Mulligan at a Birmingham gig. Musical influences right from the start have always been mainly R&B artists, apart from THE BEATLES (of course), JIMI HENDRIX, STEVIE WONDER, RUFUS & CHAKA KHAN, MARVIN GAYE, BB KING, JONI MITCHELL and many more…
FASHIØN existed in an earlier incarnation before you joined, how did you go about hooking up the band?
As mentioned, Dik and Mulligan, turned up at an ITALIANS gig and after playing we were chatting and they explained that they were starting a punk band, I was the dinosaur at that point! I said good luck and within 6 months they were supporting THE POLICE on an American tour… a few months later there was an ad in the Melody Maker looking for a front man guitarist, I recognised by the wording that it was FASHIØN, so I thought, I would go along.
We got on great! We both had something the other party wanted, I needed something more electronic and out of the norm, and they wanted a singer, writer and player. So it worked, kind of strange at first but we knew we could make something out of it.
Being Birmingham based, how much of a rivalry (if any) was there at the time between you and DURAN DURAN?
None really, the other guys knew them pretty well because DURAN DURAN used to rehearse at The Rum Runner too. I came from across town and until then didn’t hang with those guys. I met them a few times afterwards and it was always cool.
The band’s striking imagery / design played a huge part in how they were perceived, how did working with David Bailey occur and what was it like being photographed by such an icon?
Mulligan was a really good artist so we had control of our marketing in that side of the field, and it was very distinctive. Bailey came about when the Arista marketing department came up with a competition which hooked us up with Olympus cameras (who Bailey was promoting); so a camera shoot arose from that. I was a major fan and it was a fantastic opportunity to work with him, and there was an amazing amount of work that day. He seemed to think I resembled an American Indian and referred to me as “Oi! F***ing Geronimo”… how could you dislike him…
THE HUMAN LEAGUE Mark II and their producer Martin Rushent tend to get all the kudos for the alternative / remix versions of their songs eg the ‘Love & Dancing’ album, yet FASHIØN were at the spearhead of this too. Whose idea was it to embrace the 12” format to such a degree?
I would have to put the initial idea down to Zeus, but it was something that evolved.
From recording the original track, to eventually mixing a single and an album version and then whilst the mix was still up on the desk (full recall was not available then, by any means), we would run through a few times to get a rough idea of what we were going to do and then we would go for an all hands on mix.
Panning, muting, delay and reverb FX etc, all straight to ¼” tape and finally edit the ¼” tape or not if it worked out ok. It sounds like mayhem and it is hard to recollect exactly. Zeus and I have had many a conversation recently about how good some of them turned out, considering the equipment available at the time! It’s hard to pick a favourite, possibly ‘Do You Wanna Make Love (at 4am)’?
You were an early advocate of the Roland guitar synthesizer, how did you integrate this into your sound?
It came about, because of its being. There is only so much you can do with guitar FX so when it was offered to me, it made complete sense. It was pretty limited in what it did, but when combined with the Sennheiser Vocoder (which Zeus introduced me to), the possibilities were opened up, though that was something that had to be on tape when playing live.
The Electricity Club recently interviewed Zeus B Held, how important was he in the overall sound of ‘Fabrique’?
For me, he became a major part of the sound of the band. It was great to have a strong, experienced keyboard player / producer. I found a soul mate as soon as we started work in the studio, which meant that I could expand the compositions and Zeus could cover it.
The band’s production and use of electronics (including vocoder and extensive Simmons drums usage) was hugely technical sounding, how did this translate into your live performances and did it cause any problems?
There were 2 hugely different stages, gigs before the album and after… before we realised the album, the sound was pretty raw, a couple of sequencers and the rest live (no MIDI), but we still managed to create the crossover of funk and the music style of the time. This was quite fitting, coming out of the punk era.
After the album everything changed (still no MIDI), so we did have to rely on a 4 track tape machine, that had the sequences, vocoder etc and in the end some backing vocals, which I had hit heavily on the album. The Simmons was no problem, Dik played to a click track. Hard work but I think worthwhile, so the audience got a good reproduction of the album.
‘Love Shadow’ is a superb lost single of its era, why do you think it underperformed in the charts?
Thank you very much for that. I loved the track and felt it was perfect for the time, especially with Gina X doing the spoken vocal in the Mid 8. There are a lot of factors that might have caused this. I can’t go too deeply into what was going on. We had a small advance but a large recording budget from Arista which is what we requested, because we knew the album was going to take more than the normal time and expense of a band’s first album. Therefore we didn’t have the finance available to do what record companies did at that time, and I think they had lost faith in our management…
In his interview with The Electricity Club, Zeus B Held gave his opinion on why FASHIØN never quite hit the heights that they were feted to reach, what is your personal viewpoint on this?
Very hard to answer. I do think that FASHIØN had more of a cult, rather than teenage girl fan base. Also I didn’t and still don’t compose in a pop style à la DURAN DURAN. I think that comes from growing up when bands could survive on selling albums, and so you used to look to the second or third album before you started recouping. That time had gone. Plus you needed confident management to back you.
The Electricity Club remembers hearing a FASHIØN Radio 1 ‘In Concert’ and being really surprised / shocked to hear a new vocalist (Troy Tate), was this the general reaction by the band’s fans?
I had no idea at the time, it’s only in the last few years that I have seen a couple of videos of that line-up, but now having met people on social media, they seemed to be quite surprised at the new members and sound of the band.
What are your best memories of being in FASHIØN?
Well I think signing a worldwide recording deal with Arista was pretty amazing and my publishing deal with EMI, something I had worked for, for many years. The first major gig we did was in the Botanical Gardens in Birmingham, we had set it up so the staff of Arista London could all come and see their latest signing. It was very pleasing. And of course when we played the Birmingham Odeon, a gig I used to go to as a youngster growing up.
Photo by Peter Ashworth
The one-off project you did with the late Rick Wright from PINK FLOYD as ZEE and the album ‘Identity’ is an intriguing one. How did you link up with him?
FASHIØN was doing a small tour of East Coast America. I met up with Raff Ravenscroft (sax player of ‘Baker Street’) in New York and he mentioned that Rick was looking to start a band and record an album.
I knew I was ready to split from FASHIØN and so when I got back to London, Rick and I got together and after a few meetings with other players, we decided to do the album together as a duo.
Being a primarily a synth-based album, this must have been a risk to undertake for Wright?
For both of us! I was amazed to be working with a musical icon, and we both were excited at the prospects of what we might come out with. We started by demoing with piano and acoustic guitar and we were going along ok, when the elephant in the room (that of using synthesizers) was brought up.
In retrospect, although it didn’t achieve commercial success, do you think in places ‘Identity’ sounds ahead of its time with its extensive Fairlight usage?
Yes, the Fairlight was still fairly new to the industry and not used to its full capacity except for Orchestra stabs, pan pipes and some vocal samples. We managed to form a connection with Syco systems, who were the agents in Britain. It was at this time we were given a Beta version of Page R, Fairlight’s sequencing software, which gave us a complete new way of composing.
Yes we did use it extensively, I would have to say a little too much, but I would agree, that the album sounded ahead of its time apart from the Floyd fans who weren’t going to like it, however it turned out!
It seems now though thanks to social media and the world being so much smaller, there are a lot of Floydians who did like it at the time and still do.
Which brought me to thinking about digitising and tweaking the masters of ‘Identity’,to be called ‘Identity 2017’ when it is released in the near future.
What other musical projects did you pursue post-FASHIØN and ZEE?
After ZEE, I started record production along with my good friend Tim Palmer. We had met during the ‘Fabrique’ recordings and had got along great to the point that we would go into studio one in Utopia studios and record sections and even complete tracks to get the album finished. ‘Let’s Play Dirty’ being one. We next produced LIMAHL’s first solo album after him leaving KAJAGOOGOO and various other bits and pieces, before I met up with Paul Fishman who was in RE-FLEX); we formed a working partnership writing recording and producing other artists, which goes on to this day.
Are there any acts that you rate at present?
I rarely listen to the charts right now, but a couple of bands that spring to mind are KING GIZZARD & THE LIZARD WIZARD and KNOWERS.
You are currently working with Zeus B held again and a ‘Fabrique’ re-release has been mooted, what does this entail?
Yes, very excited to be back together and planning a new album and hopefully live work. The FASHIØN album is going to be all the tracks we released and the dub versions, again digitised, so we could get a little more control over the masters.
Zeus and I may do a couple of remixes on that as well; it depends on the legalities, now that Sony owns the catalogue. That aside we have started to work on a project that will be called FABRIQUE, it’s a move way from FASHIØN and we wouldn’t use that name because of the other FASHIØNs that have gone before, but it might be a nod to how FASHIØN 1981 may have sounded in the present. We shall see in 2018!
The Electricity Club gives its warmest thanks to Dave Harris
The compilation ‘The Height Of FASHIØN’ which includes tracks from the ‘Fabrique’ album and various remixes from the Dave Harris era is released by Cherry Red and available on CD via the usual retailers
ZEUS B HELD is the veteran German producer and remixer who has been a key presence in the development of electronic pop music.
Making his name as a keyboard player in the progressive rock band BIRTH CONTROL, he later progressed as a session musician, solo artist and producer. His vocoder layered cover of THE BEATLES’ ‘Fool On The Hill’ became a favourite of Belgian sibling duo SOULWAX.
His production breakthrough came from working with GINA X PERFORMANCE in 1979 when the single ‘No GDM’ became an underground club favourite.
As a result, he worked with the likes of FASHION, JOHN FOXX, DEAD OR ALIVE and DIE KRUPPS while also remixing ALPHAVILLE, SIMPLE MINDS and GARY NUMAN. Other acts who benefited from his musicality and sound design were MEN WITHOUT HATS, SPEAR OF DESTINY, TRANSVISION VAMP and NINA HAGEN.
Later, Held moved into more jazzy grooves and while resident in Australia, he led a World Music collective featuring Aboriginal musicians and released an album called ‘Digital Dreaming’. He returned to electronic music in 2015 with the release of ‘Logic of Coincidence’ via Les Disques du Crépuscule, a largely ambient imaginary film soundtrack.
Almost simultaneously, he teamed up with former TANGERINE DREAM member Steve Schroyder to form the appropriately named DREAM CONTROL. The pair are releasing their first album ‘Zeitgeber’, a largely uptempo electronic record that could potentially satisfy the headspaces of proggers and the feet of clubbers.
While in the UK on a short promotional trip for ‘Zeitgeber’, ZEUS B HELD kindly stopped for coffee to chat to The Electricity Club about DREAM CONTROL and his vast production portfolio.
You took a break into jazz and world music, what has brought you back into working in electronic pop again?
After I left England in 2003, I did a few different things like working around the ZKM Karlsruhe on more theoretical aspects of music and teaching.
Call this lecturing “transfer of knowledge” which is ok and I still do it, but I am more interested in making music.
In 2013, I had four weeks in Japan where I locked myself away with a couple of synthesizers; I really enjoyed that and rediscovered that it was the core of what I do best and what I want to do. This is what became ‘Logic Of Coincidence’.
Did the improvements in digital technology make your return much easier?
Not really, because the actual physical hands-on experience when you work with sequencers, moving sliders and twiddling knobs is a much more sensual action than if you programme it or do it with a mouse. I think there’s a big difference, like between virtual and real action-response.
I started the album with lots of virtual instruments, a master keyboard and a Moog Source. Then I replaced them slowly and as I was doing this, it confirmed my thoughts about the differences between the virtual and real thing.
I remember a time when I was a bit tired of those sounds, not realising that these sounds were the signature of what I’ve been doing! And it took a few years for me to realise those are my tools! And that’s what happened in the solitude of my Japanese hut…
What synths do you have?
I still have a Minimoog, Moog Source, Prophet VS, Oberheim 4 Voice, PPG wave, Korg Prophecy and through Steve, I got access to the Memory Moog which is an amazing machine.
I also have a collection of rack mounted synths including a Nordlead and an Oberheim DBX1.
But there are some instruments which I sold – that I shouldn’t have, but there you go…
Which ones do you regret selling then?
Oh, the Polymoog and the ARP 2600 which I am looking to getting back, or something similar. I went to this year’s Superbooth in Berlin and I could see there is a new wave of old style analogue synths coming up from all over the world; it’s been a really good experience to meet so many other synthesizer freaks.
What is the direction you are taking in DREAM CONTROL, how different is it from ‘Logic Of Coincidence’?
It was amazing that Steve’s and my life were running parallel without us ever meeting each other and incredibly, he also lives in Freiburg, streets away where I am now. So it happened to be another ‘Logic Of Coincidence’ *laughs*
On our first studio session, we played around with some chords and rhythms – I played various synths and piano, added some sequences and experimented with vocoder lines. It all fitted and we both really enjoyed this new form of jamming and improvising on the spot, sometimes being amazed how our individual music and sound became one… you listen, you play and you answer, you throw a ball in, it’s just playing and responding. And that is something me and Steve can do on all kind of electronic instruments. When you create music, it should be playful.
How would you describe the sound of ‘Zeitgeber’, given Steve’s history with TANGERINE DREAM and your own background?
This album has a lot of energy in it, definitely not just a dreamy ambient album. Steve introduced me to the natural law of the “Cosmic Octave”, which is a different approach to frequency and rhythm definition.
After I experienced the difference to the standard concert pitch, I was happy to do the entire ‘Zeitgeber’ album with this method. And yes, you can hear the difference. Overall it is an instrumental album with a good deal of vocoder. There is also assorted overtone singing and some other vocal elements by two female singers.
Because of our name and history, we decided to rework one TANGERINE DREAM song and one BIRTH CONTROL song ‘Gamma Ray’, although later we dropped the TD track from this album.
Is ‘Kant Can Dance’ representative of the album?
I would say yes and no! It is the existing link to my ‘Logic of Coincidence’ album, but it’s in the spirit of us both. ‘Gamma Ray’ and ‘Kant Can Dance’ are the more accessible tracks of the album. The other tracks, like for example ‘Tomaga’ are deeper journeys into sound and unknown spaces.
Although you served your apprenticeship with BIRTH CONTROL, you went solo…
BIRTH CONTROL was a progressive rock band, doing lots of gigs all over Europe, but mainly in Germany. I was always doing my 15 to 20 minute keyboard solo which actually became my first solo album! *laughs*
Slowly I was moving more into electronics, away from the EMERSON, LAKE & PALMER and DEEP PURPLE thing. By pure coincidence, I became neighbours with Conny Plank’s studio and I realised that you can do different sound work in the studio and that’s how I did my solo stuff; I discovered the vocoder which made me develop my own singing approach – and guess, I was glad not to have to deal with a singer’s ego! *laughs*
With electronic pop producers of the era like yourself, Mike Howlett, Trevor Horn, Stephen J Lipson and Steve Hillage, there appears to be this connection with progressive rock?
I am sure there is a theoretical connection, the spirit of the time. But for me, it was my own development from thinking in chords, melodies and the traditional compositional building blocks to learn how to work with sequencers, machines and multi-tracks; I remember very well when I did this 2 minute track ‘M.P.C.’ on BIRTH CONTROL’s ‘Rebirth’ album, by discovering the Mellotron. I spontaneously put strings, flute sounds and choir together and played an impressionistic piano on top, all in an hour, while the other guys were having lunch. I got so inspired by sounds and multi-tracking, I learned to understand the studio as an instrument.
You became more widely known in the UK for producing GINA X PERFORMANCE and ‘No GDM’, what was the creative dynamic between you and her?
I wanted to make an album with vocoder, drums and only synthesizers and I wanted to make it really cold, no bluesy chords or melodies, no guitar and nothing rocky. I had in mind science fiction inspired tracks, also possible songs for the ROCKETS next album. Gina was an art student and was really into cutting edge art and music.
We became a creative unit and I invited her into the studio, maybe to put some spoken words on the recordings – she developed from this, her own way of singing.
With ‘No GDM’, she wrote the lyrics in the café upstairs of the Cologne Studio Am Dom after she saw the ‘Naked Civil Servant’ film; so when she stepped in front of the microphone she transformed herself as well as the track. She put that particular life into my music, effortless and free of clichés. It was an amazing experience for both of us, but at first, nobody was interested because this was a non pigeon hole-able unheard music.
I’ll never forget when this studio mastering engineer in Cologne put the ‘Nice Mover’ album on the spectrum analyser and said “Look here at the frequencies, this can’t work! Nobody wants to listen to that!”*laughs*
But we found a little label and suddenly people started to like it. It came from three places where we had the best feedback; there was Rusty Egan and The Blitz Club, Austrian main radio where it entered the charts and Canada… this all took about a year to happen.
So this led to you coming to the UK and working with Birmingham band FASHION?
What also led me to FASHION was my vocoder production for a French / Italian band called ROCKETS. I went to the Midem, the annual music event in Cannes, to sell my first solo album and I passed this stand where I saw a video with five silver painted guys playing a slightly futuristic rock song ‘Future Woman’ using a voice box.
I thought “this would be so much better with a vocoder” and I asked to speak to their manager – after he heard my stuff, I was in. A week later, I was in Paris recording a cover of CANNED HEAT’s ‘On The Road Again’ and it became the ROCKETS’ big European hit.
FASHION heard this and also liked GINA X PERFORMANCE – so eventually a guy from Arista Records asked me to listen to their demos and I liked it.
I particularly liked it because Dee Harris, the main songwriter and front man, also played a wicked Roland guitar synth in a slightly jazz-funky way; in those days the only other guitar synth player I knew was Pat Metheny on his group’s ‘Offramp’ album.
The ‘Fabrique’ album was recorded in Cologne, Paris and London, it was nicely developed over six months.
You also worked on the next FASHION album ‘Twilight Of Idols’ which closed with the brilliant instrumental title track…
Well… ‘Twilight Of Idols’ was FASHION Mark 2, it’s OK, but for me it was a compromise. The second version of FASHION with Alan Darby on guitar and vocals and songs like ‘Hurricane’, for me, it was stylistically too close to the overcrowded field of mainstream rock.
FASHION’s first album with Dee Harris was his subtle funk and jazzy chord structures, influenced by American songwriting and this particular mixture of electronics from me applying my Germanic sequencers. Lately, 35 years after its making, I have been asked to overhaul ‘Fabrique’ with Dee Harris, so I can assure that we’ll eventually be working on that.
At one point, FASHION were rated higher than DURAN DURAN on the Birmingham scene but of course, it was DURAN DURAN who broke big, what’s your take on it?
In Birmingham, FASHION and DURAN DURAN were rehearsing in the same building when I got involved. DURAN DURAN were already ahead in the game, having a few singles out with EMI while FASHION were just entering the major pop arena. As much as I like Mr Simon Le Bon, I think Dee Harris was a different calibre as a vocalist – but there you go, the DURAN DURAN guys just went a fair bit faster, were better managed and they administered one hit after another!
Unfortunately after ‘Fabrique’ was finished, some chemical reaction in certain brains caused the ‘Fabrique’ line-up to collapse and the album had to be buried by Arista. Their German and American labels hugely believed in the group and things could have been different, but FASHION didn’t really enter the league they should have been in.
How did working with JOHN FOXX on ‘The Golden Section’ come about?
I was a big fan of John’s ‘Metamatic’ album. He had the same publisher as GINA X who also was his manager. John had been working with Mike Howlett, but it wasn’t working out for various reasons… and he had discovered THE BEATLES! *laughs*
I told John that it should be more about sound and noisy abstract tunes but he wanted melodies with second and third harmonies; we were working in his studio The Garden in Shoreditch and it was his solo album, so I was there to make his vision happen.
I guess our collaboration was not a very successful one as he pulled too far away from his roots, something that he later realised “ooops”! I helped him but I was torn, I had to make the best out of it. I wanted to bin songs and put more sequencers on others as it would have been more suitable and appreciated by his existing fan base, but he galloped into ‘The Golden Section’.
John is a multi-talented, very intelligent artist and we met at an interesting moment in our lives, but we didn’t make the kind of mutual masterpiece which we could have done.
You then went on to producing DEAD OR ALIVE, your work with them had an amazing rhythmic element to it, how did you achieve that?
They loved Patrick Cowley and Sylvester, that uptempo HI-NRG gay disco. I often went to the Heaven club during those days and listened to that music, I really liked this irresistible drive and energy.
They brought many of those elements to the table themselves. We started to work on ‘Sophisticated Boom Boom’ with Wayne Hussey on guitar, thus getting a slightly gothic element which I quite liked.
But Wayne and his guitar were sacked relatively early during the production, you can hear his guitar best on the first single ‘Misty Circles’.
For me, producing DEAD OR ALIVE was a mixture of sound-styling as well as making sure Pete Burns’ mighty vocal performance had the right backing. We got on fine, but there were moments when we argued about what’s best for the arrangement and dynamics. Sometimes I offered ten ideas and they’d take one and a half… I guess that’s part of the producing process…
So in DEAD OR ALVE, had the sequence programming been done by Tim Lever and you were sweetening it for the final recording, or were you redoing it?
It was a bit of both, some tracks came with some basic sequences to start with, others we started from scratch. I brought along my Moog and ARP 2600 to fill up the space.
For drums we used mainly the Oberheim DMX, a Linn Drum and sounds from the Akai S1000. We also had a Korg drum machine but they didn’t like the TR808; it’s funny, when I worked with KILLING JOKE, they hated the 808 as well.
After all these British artists, what was it like to work with a German act like DIE KRUPPS in 1985?
With JOHN FOXX and DEAD OR ALIVE, we had more open ended concepts. DIE KRUPPS were more German, much more “korrekt” and “…it’s all been worked out!”*laughs*
They pretty much had worked out how their tracks should be structured but by playing around with the Fairlight, we found space for new ideas and sounds. In the end, a lot of the ‘Entering The Arena’ album was Fairlight based.
Listening back to it now, I feel we were close to a real classic. And somehow we wanted to hold our own against PROPAGANDA, but this was tricky because PROPAGANDA’s production budget was in a different range
We had a limited budget and the LP was released by the Virgin sub-label Statik, whose claim to fame was MEN WITHOUT HATS who I later worked with.
How did you find the move into the world of the Fairlight and digital in general?
I wanted to master the Fairlight and luckily enough, Octave Hire, a London rental company based in the Docklands, left one with me at my basement flat in Earls Court when it wasn’t being used. I spent days and nights on end to dive into this new world of sampling and sequencing.
I’ll never forget how I once got stuck and someone suggested to phone this guy Hans Zimmer who was also working with one and had a studio in Fulham called The Snake Ranch. He came to my house and showed me a few tricks. When he spoke in his Bavarian accent, I realised there was another “Deutsch Musik Mann” in my London hood! *laughs*
I used the Fairlight on the last GINA X album ‘Yinglish’ and it was here when I met JJ Jeczalik, a real expert on the CMI. We made a deal: I’ll get him a few studio gigs, teach some musical basics and give him sounds and samples which went into his library – some of them ended up on the first record by THE ART OF NOISE.
But at one point, Pete Burns walked into Olympia Studios and shouted “ZEUS! YOU BASTARD, I HEARD MY VOICE ON THE ART OF NOISE, I KNOW IT’S ME!”… I replied “it’s impossible”, but thought to myself “oh sh*t, it could well be!”
You had a bit of a remix period, one was ‘Big In Japan’ by ALPHAVILLE…
ALPHAVILLE used an edit of my 12 inch remix for the normal 7 inch… I mixed it at a studio in Queensway with the engineer Femi Jiya, who later worked with PRINCE. This music wasn’t exactly funky and so we worked with repeat echoes and dropped in a fretless bass sound from a Roland D50. Next door was ASWAD, the reggae band – you could smell it… so I asked them to come in and played the mix to them, they gave it the thumbs down! *laughs*
On your remix of ‘Ghostdancing’ for SIMPLE MINDS, you gave space to the rhythm section…
SIMPLE MINDS then had a drummer I did some studio work with before, Mel Gaynor… he also played on an unreleased track I produced with Ian Burden from THE HUMAN LEAGUE, called ‘She’s Always On The Dancefloor’. I studied the parts and played around with the drums because I really enjoyed what Mel Gaynor did. He was a timing and groove master who beat every drum machine.
How did you feel when you were asked to do the ‘E Reg remix’ of GARY NUMAN’s ‘Cars’ in 1987?
I was a big GARY NUMAN fan, I saw him in 1980 in Düsseldorf at the Philipshalle… guess who was the support act? SIMPLE MINDS and they played on about four square feet of stage because GARY NUMAN had such a huge stage set up!
Beggars Banquet asked me to remix ‘Cars’ and I was already booked and had to squeeze it in. So I worked 20 hours non-stop on it. This was when the Roland D50 came out and if you listen to my remix, it’s full of those sounds! I enjoyed doing it because it’s a great song, I love his voice, the dynamics of the sounds work brilliantly with Gary’s melodies. I saw my job to get more excitement and shape into the track as well as doing an extended version. ARMAND VAN HELDEN actually sampled parts of my remix for ‘Koochy’!
Four weeks later it was out, doing really well and I was invited to a GARY NUMAN concert, I sat next to his dad… I looked on stage and there were five D50s! *laughs*
Your work with TRANSVISION VAMP was fascinating in that you used technology to make an album sound punk…
I worked closely with their label and they wanted a record, like you could have a cup of tea to… well, they didn’t actually say that but it was how I translated it, “pop punk”.
The first album ‘Pop Art’ took nearly two years and the band grew during its making; they had started to work on demos with Duncan Bridgeman who also did most of the pre-production; after a few tracks into the actual recording sessions, I was asked to revisit the production and arrangements.
I got a chance to enrich the sounds and take care of the mixing. A few tracks I did from scratch and started with an electronic song frame. Especially ‘Tell That Girl To Shut Up’, I’ll never forget when I was doing the arrangement, Wendy James walked in and screamed at me “THAT SOUNDS LIKE F*CKING HOWARD JONES, I HATE IT!” and she stormed out of the studio. I yelled “wait, we’re going to stick the guitars on and it will work!” which is exactly what happened. So yes, in the end most of the album sounded a good mixture between electronic versus rough and punk.
Of course, this was in the days before Melodyne and Autotune… when Wendy sang the soul out of her guts and it wasn’t quite right, we would have to record up to thirty tracks of vocals and do compilations of the takes – and in the end it sounded like one convincingly performed take, which would have to grab the listener. She sold that band!
Before that, there was the aborted CLARE GROGAN album that you did, what happened there?
With Clare, we were forced for too much in a little amount of time. I couldn’t really open her up musically, it was like being whacked in with the record company watching… before I could sit back and analyse, it was all finished. It was done in a rush, that was a pity. With her voice, we should have done something a bit more whacky, something more off the wall.
I had the same experience when I was paired with Annabella Lwin from BOW WOW WOW. It could have been brilliant but it was squeezed into three weeks trying to record ok songs. I couldn’t find her best musical language, you need time when you develop something new. With TRANSVISION VAMP, we had eighteen months and it grew. It all started when Nick met Wendy and said “do you want to be a rock star?”, she said “yes” and they worked on it.
This record company pressure would drive any normal person crazy?
Yes, there’s a danger, you’d better have strong nerves and a good sense of humour… and you have to avoid ending up doing paid crap!
Is that why there has been such a big gap in your production work after NINA HAGEN in 1991 ?
It coincided with a breakdown of my private life. Whether it was too much time spent in the studio or a typical mid-life crisis, whatever! It happened!
So I had a desire to be free, travel the world – I ended up in Australia, doing music there with Aborigines and playing concerts in the middle of nature. That’s when I recorded my “audio postcard of down under” called ‘Digital Dreaming’.
All in all I took ten years off and then I didn’t come back easily. I did film and ad music and that didn’t really satisfy me. So I had a rethink, did workshops and coaching, gave lectures – call it “knowledge transfer” – but again, this was not what I wanted to do.
I realised I feel most comfortable doing music in the studio or on stage. And by now, as much as I’m an optimist, I have given up on the idea of immortality *laughs*
I would love to do more DREAM CONTROL concerts, events and festivals. I still want to play and entertain people – their ears, their eyes and their imagination. In the studio I would like to do more songwriting and remixes; in an ideal world I’d always work with new inspiring equipment and learn how to master it.
I always enjoy listening to music but I am a difficult consumer. For pleasure I’m often listening to more jazz based music, but occasionally, a mega exciting track by the likes of JUSTIN TIMBERLAKE or JUSTIN BIEBER will knock me out and I applaud. Apart from a song’s composition, I always want to know how it is done the way it sounds – from the musical & frequency arrangement to the immaculate mastering.
Music doesn’t stop… music keeps me alive
The Electricity Club give its grateful thanks to ZEUS B HELD
Zeus B Held may be not as well-known as Giorgio Moroder, Conny Plank, Martin Rushent, Mike Howlett and Colin Thurston, but the German producer has been a key presence in the development of electronic pop music.
Making his name as a keyboard player in the German rock band BIRTH CONTROL, the experience allowed Zeus B Held to progress as a session musician and producer who the NME later described as being able to combine “electronic Teutonic sounds with a soulful sensibility for melodic expression”.
Often considered an artier counterpart to Giorgio Moroder, Held too embarked on a solo career.
His production breakthrough came from working with GINA X PERFORMANCE in 1979 when the single ‘No GDM’ became a club favourite within the New Romantic movement. This led to a move to London to further his career.
At the height of the synth assisted pop boom in Europe, Held was producing the likes of FASHION, JOHN FOXX, DEAD OR ALIVE and DIE KRUPPS while also remixing ALPHAVILLE, SIMPLE MINDS and GARY NUMAN.
In 1995, Held wrote and recorded the music for a worldwide advertising campaign for Swatch while in more recent times, he has tended to work in more jazz inclined fields involving big band orchestras and a World Music collective who released an album entitled ‘Digital Dreaming’.
But then in 2014, he teamed up with former TANGERINE DREAM member Steve Schroyder in a new electronic project appropriately named DREAM CONTROL.
Without doubt deserving greater recognition for his adventures in modern recording, The Electricity Club looks back at eighteen of his works in chronological order, with a restriction of one track per artist moniker…
ZEUS Fool On The Hill (1978)
Having spent six years as a keyboard player BIRTH CONTROL, Zeus B Held ventured solo and delivered this spacey vocodered cover of THE BEATLES favourite for his debut solo album ‘Zeus’ Amusement’ on Brain Records, home to kosmische acts like CLUSTER, NEU! and KLAUS SCHULZE. Released as a single, ‘Fool On The Hill’ showcased his interest in new technologies while maintaining a traditional and widely recognisable musical aesthetic.
Teaming up with the androgynous art history student Gina Kikoine, ‘No GDM’ was written in honour of the “great dark man” Quentin Crisp and featured an array of ARP and Moog synths to signal the birth of a new European Underground. Unsurprisingly, the song became a regular staple of Rusty Egan’s DJ sets at The Blitz Club. The nonchalant, detached vocal influence of GINA X PERFORMANCE went on to be heard in the music of LADYTRON, CLIENT and MISS KITTIN.
When Lord Foxx of Chorley briefly went pop, he teamed up with Zeus B Held for one of the most accessible albums of his career in ‘The Golden Section’. With its emphasis on a band feel and Foxx playing more electric guitar, some critics accused him of starting to sound like ULTRAVOX again. ‘My Wild Love’ was the powerful, in-yer-face opening to the long player. Foxx himself later remarked the album was a mistake as he tried to “fit too many favourite things together”.
At the height of his fame, Pete Burns came over looking like a later period Gina Kikoine, so it was not entirely surprising that when DEAD OR ALIVE decided to pursue a more electronic dance direction, Zeus B Held would come on board as a willing conspirator. This cover version of KC & THE SUNSHINE BAND’s classic disco tune was the breakthrough, combining precise programming and a brass section with live bass and percussion, plus the vocal colossus that was Burns.
A beautiful long instrumental reminiscent of VANGELIS, there were some Spanish and progressive guitar inflections thrown into Held’s electronic mix. FASHION were at one time in their home city of Birmingham considered more likely to break than DURAN DURAN. But despite early promise with moody funk laden songs such as ‘Love Shadow’, the departure of ‘Frabrique’ era frontman Dee Harris and line-up changes ensured momentum would be lost trying to regain the dynamic chemistry of the group.
Available on the album ‘Twilight Of Idols’ via Cherry Red
A HI-NRG disco take on the provocative tune penned by Serge Gainsbourg and made famous by Brigitte Bardot, Gina Kikoine returned in 1984 with a less ambiguous image for her solo album debut ‘Yinglish’, although Held was still holding the production reins. While Held and Kikoine wrote most of the album together, it was also noted for featuring another cover in THE BEATLES ‘Drive My Car’.
Available on the album ‘Yinglish’ via LTM Recordings
Named after a 1952 sci-fi novel by Raymond Jones, THIS ISLAND EARTH were led by songwriter John Hawkins and secured a deal with Magnet Records. They were teamed with Zeus B Held to record two singles, the first of which ‘See That Glow’ was catchy enough to secure BBC radio airplay. Alas the single stalled in the UK chart at No47 in late 1984 and after another Held produced song ‘Take Me To The Fire’ failed to chart, that was it from the band…
Originally released by Magnet Records, currently unavailable
Zeus B Held was becoming a master of the 12 inch extended remix and his treatment of ALPHAVILLE’s breakthrough tune put the mighty Linn Drum programming centre stage while working round the song’s catchy verse and chorus. Reversed tape elements, random blips and what was to become Held’s trademark breakdown were added to the seven minute extension, along with a fretless bass not heard on the original, no doubt in a cheeky reference to the band JAPAN.
Despite the dramatic intro, ‘Risk’ was a comparatively pop-oriented offering from the Düsseldorf industrialists with brassy synth tones and orchestral samples coming over like DAF fronting DEAD OR ALIVE. In a bizarre twist, it even featured Mel Gaynor from SIMPLE MINDS on drums! The parent album ‘Entering The Arena’, also produced by Held, offered much of the same with ‘Gladiators’ another of the album’s highlights.
Available on the album ‘Entering The Arena’ via Energy Rekords
SIMPLE MINDS Ghostdancing – Special Extended 12″ Remix (1986)
As was usual with Zeus B Held’s remixes, he often cleaned up the sound and made the percussive elements sharper. On the extended version of ‘Ghostdancing’, the song’s roots in the more Eurocentric ‘I Travel’ were highlighted as sequencers and reverb were added, along with a building middle eight breakdown. This release in support of Amnesty International also happened to be the first ever CD single issued on Virgin Records.
In his WAH! days, Wylie proved he could spring an anthemic chorus as on songs like ‘The Story Of The Blues’ and ‘Come Back’. His debut solo single ‘Sinful!’ was an epic widescreen cacophony of grand throbbing electronics, massed synthetic chorals and Wylie’s own urgent vocal delivery. While it was produced by Ian Ritchie, Zeus B Held gave the track a vital remix and ended up producing three further songs on the eventual ‘Sinful!’ album.
Available on the album ‘Sinful!’ via Siren Records
The synth propelled new wave of ‘Love Bomb’ was the former ALTERED IMAGES singer’s debut single. Unfortunately, as the title suggested, it indeed did bomb and the album ‘Trash Mad’ recorded with Held was never released. While Miss Grogan did not have the feisty aggression to pull off a tune that was aimed squarely at the American market, Zeus B Held’s production on ‘Love Bomb’ now sounds like a blueprint for TRANSVISION VAMP.
Originally released by London Records, currently unavailable
A commentary from the Doroschuk brothers on the ups and downs of fame, while more organic than ‘The Safety Dance’, ‘Pop Goes the World’ produced by Zeus B Held featured a fair smattering of synths and reached No1 in Austria. The parent album of the same name went platinum in the band’s homeland of Canada. The song itself achieved an enhancement to its longevity when it later appeared in a TV advert for Tide laundry detergent pods in 2012.
Coinciding with the new E registration car number plates of that year, Zeus B Held added some digital clangs, pitched swirls and guitars to Numan’s signature synth classic which undoubtedly boosted its longevity. Meanwhile the extended version maximised Ced Sharpley’s drums by isolating them at the start of an impressively arranged mid-song breakdown. Amazingly, the radio edit of Held’s remix has actually been a UK Top 20 hit single twice in its own right, although it was retitled ‘The Premier Mix’ in 1996.
Radio edit available on the GARY NUMAN album ‘Premier Hits’ via Beggars Banquet
Kirk Brandon was never the happiest fellow in the world and ‘Never Take Me Alive’ produced by Held was possibly SPEAR OF DESTINY’s angry zenith. A mix of acoustic guitar, fretless bass, programmed percussion, synthetic goth choir and modern production values gave SPEAR OF DESTINY their biggest hit in a period when THE CURE, SIOUXSIE & THE BANSHEES, THE SISTERS OF MERCY, THE CULT and THE MISSION ensured that sombre spectre of goth shone brightly in the UK singles chart for a time.
Available on the SPEAR OF DESTINY album ‘Outland’ via 10 Records
Just as Mutt Lange had been very clever in using state-of-the-art technology to make DEF LEPPARD’s ‘Hysteria’ sound heavy metal, Zeus B Held achieved the same in making his heavily synthesized productions for TRANSVISION VAMP sound punk. A catchy tune arranged by Duncan Bridgeman who had worked with JOHN FOXX on ‘The Garden’ and been a member of jazz funkers I-LEVEL, ‘I Want Your Love’ thrust singer Wendy James into the limelight for her 15 minutes of fame.
Available on the album ‘Pop Art’ via Universal Music
The East Berlin born singer and actress started her musical life in the band AUTOMOBIL, but released her first album with the NINA HAGEN BAND in 1978. Maintaining her cult popularity as a punk icon, ‘Hold Me’ was from her solo 1989 album debut proper, produced by Held. An outlandish cover of a traditional gospel song, the arrangement will no doubt have upset purists with its synthetic backing, rock guitars and Hagen’s own theatrical vocal histrionics.
Available on the NINA HAGEN album ‘Nina Hagen’ via Mercury Records
ZEUS B HELD Kant Can Dance – Dream Control Mix (2015)
‘Logic Of Coincidence’ was Held’s most recent solo record and largely a cinematic, almost ambient imaginary film soundtrack. While the album was perhaps not wholly representative of Held’s past pop exploits, his artier Moroder template notably appeared on ‘Kant Can’t Dance’. While seeming a bit out of place on the album, its electronic disco friendly template delighted fans of his remix work during his production heyday, especially in its bonus DREAM CONTROL incarnation.