1977 is often seen as Year Zero for synthpop, thanks to hit singles by DONNA SUMMER, SPACE and JEAN-MICHEL JARRE.
But it was not until 1979 with TUBEWAY ARMY reaching No1 with ‘Are Friends Electric?’ that the sound of synth truly hit the mainstream. Although ‘No1 Song In Heaven’ by SPARKS had actually been a hit a few months earlier, ‘Are Friends Electric?’ was the beginning of the synth being accepted as a worthy mode of expression, rather than as a novelty. But as synths became more affordable, they became the perfect tool of youthful expression.
The set starts appropriately with OMD and ‘Messages’, one of the first tunes showcasing the warmer side of electronics following the colder wave led by Messrs Numan and Foxx. But as if to counter this next generation of youngsters, ‘Messages’ is immediately followed by the collection’s vocoder laden title song ‘Musik Music Musique’ from Zeus B Held and the superb proto-industrial ode to loveless sex ‘Coitus Interruptus’ by the much missed FAD GADGET.
Zeus B Held was later to make his impression on popular culture remixing ALPHAVILLE and SIMPLE MINDS as well producing the likes of FASHION, DEAD OR ALIVE, SPEAR OF DESTINY and TRANSVISION VAMP, but his wider breakthrough came as part of GINA X PERFORMANCE in 1979 with The Blitz Club favourite ‘No GDM’; on this compendium, the lesser-known but just as worthy ‘Vendor’s Box’ from their second album ‘X-Traordinaire’ is deservedly provided a platform.
The best producers often earn their spurs as artists and realising their limitations, use their accumulated studio nous to subvert the mainstream via pop. ‘Astroboy’ by BUGGLES sees Trevor Horn develop his sonic architecture to prove that he had another song that wasn’t ‘Video Killed The Radio Star’. Meanwhile the welcome inclusion of NEW MUSIK’s other hit ‘This World Of Water’ allows Tony Mansfield to showcase the crafted sparkle that would later go on to adorn records by CAPTAIN SENSIBLE, VICIOUS PINK, A-HA and NAKED EYES.
It may seem strange to see SPANDAU BALLET as part of this package but when they first appeared, they were considered a synthesizer band; ‘Glow’ was a UK double A side single with ‘Musclebound’ in 1981 and while it was the last synth-led track they did, their funk soul aspirations were there for all to hear. In fact, songwriter Gary Kemp had conceived ‘Glow’ with a brass section in mind, so it is now something of a curio that could be seen as a precursor to ‘Chant No1’.
SPANDAU BALLET were produced by Richard James Burgess who co-designed the Simmons SDSV; his electro-jazz combo LANDSCAPE figure with the Colin Thurston helmed ‘European Man’ which was actually designated “electronic dance music” on its single artwork some three decades before it was appropriated and abbreviated to become EDM…
Many of the usual suspects from the period like VISAGE, JAPAN, JOHN FOXX, THE HUMAN LEAGUE and OUR DAUGHTER’S WEDDING are all present and correct with familiar recordings, but interestingly (although not for the better), it’s the original version of PHIL LYNOTT’s ‘Yellow Pearl’ without the Rusty Egan drums or the Midge Ure remix that gets the nod!
One of the main beauties of these thoughtfully curated collections is to be able sway away from the obvious and feature a known-name with a lesser-known work; in the case of ULTRAVOX, it’s the occasionally Eno-inspired and Conny Plank produced ‘Waiting’ which was the B-side to their first Midge Ure fronted single ‘Sleepwalk’. Meanwhile, SUICIDE are represented by the excellent Ric Ocasek produced ‘Diamonds, Fur Coat, Champagne’ and YELLO with ‘Bimbo’, the oddball opener of the Swiss trailblazers’ debut long player ‘Solid Pleasure’.
SILICON TEENS get to feature with something other than ‘Memphis Tennessee’ and it’s the Daniel Miller‘s self-penned instrumental ‘Chip N Roll’ that has the honour, while the Mute Records founder gets another track in with ‘Brushing Your Hair’, a gloriously vibrant instrumental production and co-write for Alex Fergusson of ALTERNATIVE TV.
There’s additionally tracks by lesser known international acts or those bands that faded from view after effectively being one hit wonders. The entire career of M may have been overshadowed by the ubiquitous ‘Pop Muzik’ but Robin Scott did go on to release three albums and work with Ryuichi Sakamoto; the sombre ‘Official Secrets’ may not really have much of a hook but it contains some percolating bleepy sections that pre-date KRAFTWERK’s ‘Home Computer’ by one year.
‘A Circuit Like Me’ from Australian combo, THE METRONOMES actually sounds very 21st century with its detached female vocal and charming monosynths, while the gallop of ‘Drawn & Quartered’ by THE KORGIS is a worthy find. Now while ROCKETS found fame with a catchy robotic flavoured cover of ‘On The Road Again’ with the help of Zeus B Held, the silver faced Italians found that the vocoder suited their performance art poise and reapplied it for the self-penned space rocker ‘Galactica’.
Also possessing a bit of a gallop is LORI & THE CHAMELEONS’ wispy Morricone-influenced single ‘The Lonely Spy’ although with its acoustic strum, it is quite different from the understated electronic disco of their best known track ‘Touch’. Cut from a similar melodic post-punk cloth, the Martin Hannett produced ‘Sympathy’ from PAULINE MURRAY & THE INVISIBLE GIRLS is a reminder of how women were coming to the fore after punk in synth-assisted new wave, a fact borne out on ‘Musik Music Musique’ by the inclusion of more obscure works from TOYAH, KIM WILDE and HAZEL O’CONNOR.
‘Musik Music Musique’ is also an opportunity to become reacquainted with lost tunes of yore and ‘The Eyes Have It’ by KAREL FIALKA will be remembered by those who owned the 1980 Virgin Records compilation ‘Machines’, as will the octave driven ‘Destiny’ by DALEK I LOVE YOU. Some enjoyably avant pop adventures come courtesy of XYNN’s ‘Computed Man’ and SCIENCE’s ‘Tokyo’, while one of the more bizarre but successful experiments included is ‘I’m A Computer’ by THE GOO-Q.
One of the lesser known acts featuring with the eccentric ‘Money’ is MOEBIUS, not the member of German duo CLUSTER but an American art rock band with a penchant for DEVO. ‘Doctor …?’ by BLOOD DONOR is another wonderful discovery while of the more experimental art pieces included, NINI RAVIOLETTE’s ‘Suis-Je Normale’ delightfully comes over like a collaboration between Jane Birkin and Laurie Anderson.
Düsseldorf is often seen as the spiritual home of electronic music and there is worthy representation from DER PLAN and ‘Da Vorne Steht Ne Ampel’ illustrating how there were other dimensions to German electronic music other than that engineered by KRAFTWERK. But closing the set is the band named after the Electri_City itself, LA DÜSSELDORF with the light-hearted ‘Dampfriemen’; a quirky slice of synth “Oompah” with comedic chants and a kazoo section, it sums up the manic oddball nature of the former NEU! drummer Klaus Dinger.
There are many other tracks that have merit, but textures which reoccur on ‘Musik Music Musique’ to date stamp the period are the icy chill of the affordable ARP Quartet string machine and squawky sax, although not in an overblown jazz funk way.
Despite ‘Musik Music Musique’ comprising of a carefully researched tracklisting, a few errors do slip through; as well as the SPANDAU BALLET track being released in 1981 as already mentioned (although it was available on a very scarce Japanese-only promo sampler in late 1980), the version of ‘Kebabträume’ by DAF is the 1982 Conny Plank version from the Virgin album ‘Für Immer’ and not the Bob Giddens produced Mute Records five piece band recording which actually came out in 1980.
Then in the booklet, the Foxx fronted 1977 line-up of ULTRAVOX! gets illustrated as opposed to the New Romantic suited Midge Ure one, while LA DÜSSELDORF’s Hans Lampe is referred to as a “Keyboard Whizz” when he is actually a drummer and now performs with Michael Rother who was Klaus Dinger’s partner in NEU!; in fact Dinger handled keyboards himself under the pseudonym of Nikolaus Van Rhein.
Those are minor quibbles though, because this set is very good value and acts as a great music history lesson as well as offering the chance to hear some new vintage synth. While many may have heard of BERLIN BLONDES, THE PASSAGE, THE FALLOUT CLUB and EYELESS IN GAZA, only a few will have heard their music.
‘Musik Music Musique’ offers something of a low risk opportunity to make some new friends while becoming reacquainted with a few old and lost ones. Here’s to the 1981 follow-up set…
The soundtrack of The Blitz Club was provided by its resident DJ Rusty Egan and its story is more than well documented.
This vibrant post-punk scene, whose flamboyant clientele were dubbed ‘Blitz Kids’ and ‘New Romantics’, became the catalyst for several bands including VISAGE, SPANDAU BALLET and CULTURE CLUB, as well as assorted fashion designers, visual artists and writers.
Rusty Egan told The Electricity Club: “I just played as much as I could fit in, it was not all disco. It was a bar and opened after work. I’d arrive 8.30–9.00pm and played all my faves till it was packed, then I got them dancing and at the end, I slowed down”.
The dancing style at The Blitz Club often involved the swaying of arms at a distance from the face like slow motion maraca shaking so as not to spoil any carefully hairsprayed styles. Meanwhile, feet movements were often impossible as the small dancefloor was often overcrowded!
With Steve Strange as doorman and fashion gatekeeper, the concept for what was initially a “Bowie Night” came together at Billy’s nightclub in Soho in Autumn 1978 in an effort to find something new and colourful to escape the oncoming drabness in the Winter Of Discontent. After a disagreement with the owners of Billy’s, the pair moved their venture to The Blitz Club.
Although Rusty Egan had been a soul boy and an active participant in punk through a stint rehearsing with THE CLASH and then as a member of THE RICH KIDS with Midge Ure, the two friends became fascinated with electronic dance music though the Giorgio Moroder produced ‘I Feel Love’ by Donna Summer and KRAFTWERK’s ‘Trans Europe Express’ album which had been a surprise favourite in New York discos and whose title track referenced David Bowie.
“There was a couple of years of punk which Midge Ure and myself weren’t too impressed with in terms of the clubs and the environment in Thatcherite Britain, it was horrible in Manchester, Birmingham and Liverpool!” recalled Egan, “So we were just trying basically to grasp the good in life, trying to be positive in a very negative time.”
Although Egan curated an eclectic playlist of available synth works supplemented with soundtracks and relatable art rock tunes, tracks were comparatively scarce in this new innovative electronic form.
So with studio time available following the split of THE RICH KIDS, Ure and Egan hit upon the idea of making their own electronic dance music for The Blitz Club, fronted by Steve Strange.
Ure came up with the name VISAGE for the project and presented the demo to his then employers at EMI Records, but it was rejected! Undeterred, the pair recruited Billy Currie from a then-in hiatus ULTRAVOX plus MAGAZINE’s Dave Formula, John McGeoch and Barry Adamson to record the first VISAGE album at the-then newly constructed Genetic Studios of Martin Rushent.
When Billy Currie toured with Gary Numan in 1979, he and fellow keyboardist Chris Payne composed what was to become ‘Fade To Grey’; it was included on the eventual ‘Visage’ album released by Polydor Records in 1980 and the rest is history, reaching No1 in West Germany!
VISAGE was the beauty of the synthesizer played with symphonic classical overtones fused to the electronic dance beat of Neu Europa and visually styled like a cross between the Edwardian dandies and Weimar Cabaret. Midge Ure remembered “it was a major part of my life and Steve was a major part of that period”.
The meeting of Ure and Currie in VISAGE led to the diminutive Glaswegian joining a relaunched ULTRAVOX who released the iconic ‘Vienna’ album in 1980. Co-produced by Conny Plank, the German always thought in terms of sound and on the title song, he imagined an old man at a piano in a desolate theatre who had been playing the same tune for forty years.
And when Billy Currie came to record his ivory parts, that was exactly the feel which Plank had engineered. It was to become a ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’ for the New Romantic movement when it was released as a single, stalling at No2 despite being one of the best selling singles of 1981, gracing the UK charts at the same time as ‘Fade To Grey’.
Having started as a “Bowie Night”, the man himself became fascinated by this emergent cult with no name that he had inspired. In 1980, Jacqueline Bucknell, an assistant from his label RCA who was also a Blitz Kid, had taken Bowie down to The Blitz Club to cast extras to appear in a video for his new single ‘Ashes To Ashes’; among the chosen ones was Steve Strange.
Utilising Roland guitar synths and an ARP string machine with a final burst of ARP Odyssey, David Bowie saw ‘Ashes To Ashes’ as an epitaph for his artistic past as he lyrically revisited the Major Tom character from ‘Space Oddity’ over a decade on.
With this, The Blitz Club had now become a mainstream phenomenon as the BBC’s Nationwide programme sent an investigative team in, signalling a changing of the guard in popular culture with parallel scenes going on at The Rum Runner in Birmingham, The Warehouse in Leeds and Crocs in Rayleigh from which DURAN DURAN, SOFT CELL and DEPECHE MODE were to respectively gain their fledgling followings.
The perceived elitist exclusivity of The Blitz Club had partly become legend as a result of Steve Strange refusing entry to Mick Jagger for his sporting of blue jeans. Playing on this and adopting its electronic aesthetic to attract attention, five lads from Islington formed SPANDAU BALLET and initially only performed at special events which were by invitation only. Essentially becoming The Blitz Club’s house band, the quintet later scored worldwide success with a less radical sanitised pop soul sound.
Singer Tony Hadley said to The Electricity Club: “Our first album The ‘Journeys To Glory’ will always be one of my favourite Spandau albums, we were just young excited lads trying to make our mark on the world. There’s a rawness and energy on that album that is impossible to recreate. I love synthpop and still one of my favourite songs is SPANDAU BALLET’s first release ‘ To Cut A Long Story Short’.”
Not all enjoyed their visits to The Blitz Club; Billy MacKenzie notably highlighted the vapid nature of the scene in ASSOCIATES’ second hit single ‘Club Country’. But buoyed by its success, Steve Strange and Rusty Egan eventually vacated The Blitz Club and took over The Music Machine in 1982 and relaunched it as The Camden Palace, making it one of the UK’s first modern superclubs.
But the spirit of The Blitz Club still lives on and recently, there came the surprise announcement that Zaine Griff was to join Rusty Egan and ‘Fade To Grey’ co-writer Chris Payne to perform the songs of VISAGE in an audio-visual presentation at a number of events across Europe including W-Festival in Belgium.
Using Dave Rimmer’s 2003 book ‘New Romantics: The Look’ as an initial reference point and calling on the memories of Rusty Egan himself to verify whether he had actually played these songs in his DJ sets, here are The Electricity Club’s 25 Songs Of The Blitz Club to celebrate the flamboyant legacy of that Blitz Spirit.
ROXY MUSIC Both Ends Burning (1975)
Following-up the hit single ‘Love In The Drug’, ‘Both Ends Burning’ was ROXY MUSIC’s second ‘Siren’ call. With Bryan Ferry’s stylised but anguished vocals, it was a track which laid down the sophisticated art pop trail that JAPAN and DURAN DURAN would later be pursuing. Featuring a prominent coating of ARP Solina string machine sweetened by hypnotic bass and squawky sax, ‘Both Ends Burning’ is probably the most under rated single in the Roxy canon.
Available on the ROXY MUSIC album ‘The Best Of’ via Virgin Records
With a title that was an anagram of TALKING HEADS, the New York art school combo were the inspiration for the frantic metallic romp of ‘Kings Lead Hat’ which became a favourite at The Blitz Club. Brian Eno aped David Byrne in his vocal delivery, while he was later to produce three of the band’s albums as he moved further away from art rock as a solo artist. The song was later covered by ULTRAVOX in their live sets during the early phase their Midge Ure-fronted incarnation.
KRAFTWERK reacted as they generally did to negative criticism by writing a song. A response to a review that said their motionless persona at live performances was like ‘Showroom Dummies’, the sparse eerie atmosphere was punctuated by a tight and rigid electronic drum sound that was completely new and alien, something Rusty Egan was looking to emulate. Incidentally, the count-in of “eins zwei drei vier” was a deadpan Germanic parody of THE RAMONES!
An Iggy Pop collaboration with David Bowie, the Vampiric glam of ‘Nightclubbing’ was the former James Osterberg’s commentary on what it was like hanging out with him every night. Utilising a simple piano melody and a cold Schaffel rhythm via the mechanical precision of a Roland drum machine, legend has it that Iggy insisted on keeping it, saying “it kicks ass, it’s better than a drummer”. Alongside ‘Lust For Life’, ‘Nightclubbing’ also featured in the soundtrack of ‘Trainspotting’.
Available on the IGGY POP album ‘The Idiot’ via Virgin Records
Utilising Warren Cann’s modified Roland TR77 rhythm machine, this was John Foxx moving ULTRAVOX! into the moody ambience pioneered by CLUSTER, away from the art rock of the self-titled first album and the punky interim single ‘Young Savage’. ‘Hiroshima Mon Amour’ had initially been premiered as a far spikier uptempo number for the B-side of ‘ROckWrok’. Incidentally, the ‘CC’ credited on saxophone is not Chris Cross, but a member of the art collective GLORIA MUNDI.
Available on the ULTRAVOX! album ‘Ha! Ha! Ha!’ via Island Records
LA DÜSSELDORF’s second long player ‘Viva’ was their most successful album and the title track was a regular staple at The Blitz Club. An oddball slice of cosmic space rock sung in French and German by Klaus Dinger, proceedings were aided by the dual motorik thud of Hans Lampe and Thomas Dinger. Performed with the same group of musicians, ‘E-Musik’ by Dinger’s previous band NEU! had also been a favourite at The Blitz Club, influencing the intro of the ULTRAVOX B-side ‘Face To Face’.
Commissioned by Alan Parker for the graphic prison drama ‘Midnight Express’, the noted director wanted some electronic accompaniment to the crucial chase scene of the film in the style of ‘I Feel Love’. The bassline from Giorgio Moroder’s own 1976 cover of ‘Knights In White Satin’ was reappropriated. The fruit of their labours was this Oscar winning Hi-NRG romp bursting with VANGELIS-like keyboard melodies, driven by an intense slamming and syncopated by popping pulses.
Already a fan of German music and ‘Autobahn’ by KRAFTWERK in particular, Daniel Miller’s sense of experimentation and an adoption of punk’s DIY ethic led him to buying a Korg 700s synthesizer. Wanting to make a punk single with electronics, he wrote and recorded the stark JG Ballard influenced ‘Warm Leatherette’ as an independent single release on his own Mute Records. Meanwhile, The Blitz Kids came up with their own bizarre twisting and turning dance entering a human arch to accompany it…
The late Wolfgang Riechmann is the forgotten man in the Düsseldorf axis having been in SPIRITS OF SOUND with Michael Rother and Wolfgang Flür; had his life not been tragically cut short, he certainly had the potential to become a revered and respected cult musical figure. The opening title track of his only album chimed like a Cold War spy drama before the beautifully almost oriental melodic piece imagined PINK FLOYD meeting CLUSTER over a delicate Schaffel beat.
ZAGER & EVANS’ pessimistic ditty was perfect fodder for the first VISAGE demo. Steered by Midge Ure using his freshly acquired Yamaha synths and punctuated by Rusty Egan’s incessant Roland drum machine and synthetic percussion, ‘In The Year 2525’ was perfectly resigned aural dystopia from its vocodered intro onwards. Steve Strange’s deadpan fronted the sombre tone perfectly but Ure’s vocal backing and counterpoints added that extra slice of musicality.
Available on the VISAGE album ‘The Face’ via Universal Records
One of first Japanese bands to have a Top 20 hit single in the UK was YELLOW MAGIC ORCHESTRA in 1980. ‘Firecracker’ was a cover of a 1959 composition by Martin Denny but actually released as ‘Computer Game (Theme From The Invader)’. Recorded in 1978, the parent self-titled album was noted for its use of the then brand new Roland MC8 Micro-Composer to control the synthesizers. The result was a clean, exotic pop sound that was unusual, even in the synthpop heartland of Europe.
Produced by Zeus B Held, ‘No GDM’ was written by androgynous art history student Gina Kikoine 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 gained heavy rotation 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.
Working with Giorgio Moroder, David Sylvian submitted ‘European Son’ for the session in Los Angeles but it was rejected by the producer. Instead, the Italian offered several of his demos, of which, Sylvian picked the one he considered to be the worst so that he could stamp more of his own vision for the developing synthesized sound of JAPAN. Considered to be too avant-garde at its inception but ahead of its time, unbeknown to Moroder and Sylvian, they had just conceived DURAN DURAN!
Available on the JAPAN album ‘Assemblage’ via Sony BMG Records
THOMAS LEER & ROBERT RENTAL Day Breaks Night Heals (1979)
Originally released on THROBBING GRISTLE’s Industrial Records, ‘The Bridge’ album saw Scottish duo Thomas Leer and Robert Rental trading vocal and instrumental duties. With an air of FAD GADGET, ‘Day Breaks Night Heals’ showcased some of Leer’s pop sensibility that was later apparent in his Arista solo period and in ACT with Claudia Brücken, while Rental maintained a dark experimental presence in this slice of artful electronic blues. Robert Rental sadly passed away in 2000.
Available on the album ‘The Bridge’ via The Grey Area
Manipulating their influences like SPARKS and MAGAZINE with a very European austere, Glasgow’s SIMPLE MINDS were “underground, pulsating through” thanks to the rhythmic interplay of Derek Forbes’ bass with Mick McNeil’s synths. Charlie Burchill was now thinking beyond the sound of a conventional electric guitar while the precision of under rated drummer Brian McGee locked the glue. That just left Jim Kerr to throw his bizarre shapes and pontificate over this dark avant disco.
Having graced the UK Top 20 again with the tremendous ‘No1 Song In Heaven’, SPARKS continued their Giorgio Moroder produced rejuvenation and had an even bigger hit with ‘Beat The Clock’. Percussively augmented by Keith Forsey who was later to produce Billy Idol, Russell Mael’s flamboyant falsetto more than suited the electronic disco sound while the programmed backing meant that Ron Mael could stoically maintain his image of doing nothing.
Belgian trio TELEX comprised of Marc Moulin, Dan Lacksman and Michel Moers, with the intention of “making something really European, different from rock, without guitar”. Opening their debut album ‘Looking for Saint Tropez’ which also contained their funeral robotic cover of ‘Rock Around The Clock’, ‘Moscow Diskow’ took the Trans-Siberian Express to Moscow, adding a funkier groove compared with KRAFTWERK’s ‘Trans Europe Express’ excursion for what was to become a cult international club favourite.
From their third album ’20 Jazz Funk Greats’, the uncompromising THROBBING GRISTLE led by the late Genesis P-Orridge were neither jazzy or funky! Gloriously sequenced by Chris Carter via a Roland System-100M modular, ‘Hot On The Heels Of Love’ was mutant dystopian disco lento with a hypnotic rhythm punctuated by a synthetic whip-crack for that S&M twist as Cosey Fanni Tutti’s whispered vocals competed with pentatonic melodies and electronic drill noises!
Zaine Griff had a Bowie-esque poise was tailor made for The Blitz Club and Tony Visconti saw enough in him to produce his debut solo album ‘Ashes & Diamonds’. Featuring Hans Zimmer on synths, the title song was sitting just outside the Top 40 and earned a performance on Top Of The Pops but the episode was pulled thanks to a Musicians Union strike. Demonstrating the song’s longevity despite it not being a major hit, it was recently covered live by American alternative rockers MGMT.
‘Being Boiled’ was the first song Philip Oakey wrote with Martyn Ware and Ian Craig Marsh for THE HUMAN LEAGUE, his bizarre lyrics being the result of a confusion between Buddhism and Hinduism while highlighting the plight of silk worms. Intended to reimagine FUNKADELIC’s funky overtones as synthetic horns, this brassier re-recorded version with fatter electronic beats was included on the ‘Holiday 80’ EP and the ‘Travelogue’ album, becoming a dance staple of The Blitz Club.
Available as a bonus track on THE HUMAN LEAGUE album ‘Travelogue’ via Virgin Records
Didier Marouani wrote the worldwide hit ‘Magic Fly’ but having left the band, Roland Romanelli and Jannick Top continued as SPACE. The rousing thrust of ‘Tender Force’ was, like ‘Magic Fly’, produced by Jean-Philippe Iliesco who later invited Rusty Egan to contribute a timbale heavy remix of this synth disco tune ; he was later to begin an ill-fated business relationship with Iliesco who was named by Midge Ure in his ‘If I Was’ autobiography as responsible for putting a wedge between him and Egan in VISAGE…
Although now known as a duo, eccentric Swiss pioneers YELLO actually began as a trio of Dieter Meier, Boris Blank and Carlos Peron. Later remixed and extended, the military drum tattoo at the start of ‘Bostich’ was deceiving as an electronic throb quickly set in. This was perfect avant garde disco for The Blitz Club with a quirky range of vocal pitches from Meier while the track also included a style of speedy European rap later that was repeated on their only major UK hit ‘The Race’ in 1988.
Available on the YELLO album ‘Essential’ via Mercury Records
Electronic pop music was often seen as pretentious, LANDSCAPE had their tongues firmly in their cheeks as evidenced by ‘Einstein A Go-Go’. “The song is a cautionary tale about the apocalyptic possibilities of nuclear weapons falling into the hands of theocratic dictators and religious extremists.” said the band’s Richard Burgess, “We talked about the track conceptually before we wrote it and our objective was to make a very simple, cartoon-like track with a strong hook that would belie the meaning of the lyrics!”
Written as a B-side instrumental for The Blitz Club’s resident dance troupe SHOCK to work a routine to, ‘R.E.R.B.’ was constructed by Rusty Egan and Richard Burgess, hence the title. Burgess had been doing the linking interludes with a Fairlight on the first VISAGE album and brought in Roland System 700 modular driven by the Micro-composer while Egan triggered the brain of the synthesized drum system that Burgess had been working on with Dave Simmons for its punchy drum fills.
Available on the SHOCK single ‘R.E.R.B.’ via Blitz Club Records
Produced by Daniel Miller, one of the first SOFT CELL recordings on signing to Phonogram was the seminal ‘Memorabilia’. While not a hit, it was critically acclaimed and become a favourite at The Blitz Club. Dave Ball’s deep Roland Synthe-Bass and klanky Korg Rhythm KR55 provided a distinctive danceable backbone to accompany Marc Almond’s souvenir collecting metaphors about sexual promiscuity. After this, SOFT CELL were signed by Rusty Egan to Metropolis Music for publishing.
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.
German producer ZEUS B HELD may be not as well known as some of his contemporaries like Giorgio Moroder, Martin Rushent and Colin Thurston, but he has been a key presence in the development of electronic pop music with his edgy, danceable sound. In 2005, Uncut Magazine referred to him as “an artier Giorgio Moroder”.
His credits have included FASHION, DEAD OR ALIVE, JOHN FOXX, DIE KRUPPS, GARY NUMAN and NINA HAGEN, while he was also instrumental in the synthetic sheen for wanabee punksters TRANSVISION VAMP.
But he first became more widely known as one half of GINA X PERFORMANCE whose 1979 cult classic ‘No GDM’ was a regular staple of Rusty Egan’s DJ sets at The Blitz. Recorded in Japan, Germany and the UK, ‘Logic of Coincidence’ is Held’s first solo record since 1981’s ‘Attack Time’.
An intelligent and adventurous album, ‘Logic of Coincidence’ is worthy of investigation on its concept alone as Held explained: “I have always been fascinated by the mathematical and philosophical aspects of coincidence. For me, ‘The Dice Man’ by Luke Rhinehart is an all-time favourite book. It tells the story of a psychiatrist who begins making life decisions based on the casting of dice, and I was lucky enough to find a recording of Rhinehart himself reading from it”.
Indeed, this spoken narrative makes its presence felt on two tracks, ‘The Glass Bead Dice Man’ and ‘Surrender Your Soul’, the former of which sets the scene for this cinematic, almost ambient imaginary film soundtrack. “There’s nothing you HAVE to be…” announces Rhinehart, “be anyone you want to be… surrender your soul, let the dice roll”
The beautiful ‘Being & Time In Todtnauberg’ plays with Alpine Volksmusik, crossing it with a reversing shuffle beat; it could be ‘Ohm Sweet Ohm’ for the 21st Century. A bizarre rhythm section comprising of mouth pops holds the jazzier ‘Sho Pen How Air’ together with vocoder flourishes while ‘Who’s Happy Here?’ is a sumptuous piece in a modern style. Imagine Johan Strauss reimagined by a WILLIAM ORBIT versus TOMITA collaboration with added dubdrops for good measure. What is striking about the first third of ‘Logic of Coincidence’ is that it is experimental yet highly melodic.
‘Stay Epicure’ is more futuristic, recalling JOHN FOXX when the distorted vocaloid kicks in. Meanwhile ‘Wittgenstein’s Balaclava’ and ‘Kepos Garden’ keep the albums conceptual ambience maintained but the more progressive ‘Seven Answers By Robert M. Pirsig’ takes things a little too far and loses itself in self-indulgence.
Another jazz odyssey shapes ‘Five Beats On Tyche’ but with ‘Chaos In Sisyphus’, the tension builds to layers of gentle synthesized squelches. While the album is perhaps not wholly representative of Held’s past pop exploits, his artier Moroder template notably appears on ‘Kant Can’t Dance’. Its disco friendly outlook sounds strangely out of place on ‘Logic Of Coincidence’ though, but it is a fabulous track all the same.
“These are soundtracks for imaginary, usually abstract scenes – film, theatre or performance – all of which involve philosophers, thinkers and writers who dealt with issues of chance and coincidence” says Held. And ‘Descartes’ Dream of Lully’ certainly provides a fitting close with neo-classical interludes and abstract explorations that get more frantic towards the track’s conclusion.
At nearly 70 minutes including a bonus remix version of ‘Kant Can’t Dance’ by DREAM CONTROL and a hidden percussive sound sculpture, ‘Logic of Coincidence’ is a bit on the long side, but it is a well-crafted musical journey from Held, with a good number of enjoyable and accessible highlights.