This history of Mute Records and its esteemed founder Daniel Miller is more than well documented.
The lavish book ‘Mute: A Visual Document From 1978 – Tomorrow’ published in 2017 captured the iconic label’s visual aesthetic. Already a fan of German kosmische scene, Daniel Miller began taking an interest in synthesizers for making pop music after hearing KRAFTWERK’s ‘Autobahn’.
The advent of affordable synthesizers from Japan manufactured by the likes of Korg and Roland made it possible for him to adopt punk’s DIY ethic by buying a Korg 700s for the price of a guitar. That enabled him to make music using just one finger, instead of having to learn three chords.
Conceiving a punk single with electronics, he wrote and recorded ‘Warm Leatherette’ b/w ‘TVOD’ for a one-off independent single release in 1978. Miller’s sense of experimentation within a structured albeit avant pop context led to kindred spirits sending him tapes, thanks to him including his mother’s address “16 Decoy Avenue London NW 11 England” on the back of the MUTE 001 sleeve.
Mute Records’ first signing was a former art student Frank Tovey who released the macabre ‘Back To Nature’ as FAD GADGET in 1979 as MUTE 002 with Miller co-producing. It began establishing a good reputation for experimental electronic pop music. As well as running the label and working in the studio with his own roster of acts, Miller also produced and remixed other artists, although this became less frequent as Mute Records achieved more and more success.
If Daniel Miller had a characteristic sound during the pioneering years of Synth Britannia, then it was his use of the ARP 2600 driven by an ARP 1601 analogue sequencer, particularly for unique rhythmic templates obtained from the percussive capabilities of this versatile American synth. Always keen to keep up-to-date with the latest technology, Miller’s later acquisitions included a Synclavier, PPG Wave 2, Emulator, Roland System 100M and Roland MC4 Micro-Composer. Many years later, Miller even bought the customised vocoder used on ‘Autobahn’ from the late Florian Schneider even though it was not in fully working order.
While Miller’s production work with DEPECHE MODE over five albums naturally led American new wave acts like BOOK OF LOVE to seek his knowhow, indie band THE HOUSE OF LOVE were surprisingly curious enough to secure his services on their track ‘Safe’. Meanwhile, post-punk art rock combo WIRE saw him as a kindred spirit keen to explore new interesting ways of recording and worked with Miller in various guises.
Although Mute Records was bought by EMI in 2002, Miller reached an agreement in 2010 to establish a second independently run record label under the name Mute Artists while the Mute Records name and rights to the label’s archive recordings remained under the control of EMI’s present owners Universal.
More recently, Daniel Miller has been happily DJ-ing around the world playing largely techno sets for Berghain in Berlin, Sónar in Barcelona and IMS in Ibiza among others.
Meanwhile he has also occasionally given talks at events such as MoogFest. Red Bull Music Academy, LEAF and the Electri_City_Conference.
With a vast and varied portfolio to investigate, The Electricity Club looks back at the creative career of Daniel Miller in music via eighteen of his productions and remixes, with a restriction of one track per artist moniker, presented in yearly, then alphabetical order.
THE NORMAL Warm Leatherette (1978)
Daniel Miller’s sense of experimentation and vision of the synth being the ultimate punk instrument requiring the use of just one finger led to him making his first record. Lyrically inspired by JG Ballard’s ‘Crash’ with its story around car collision symphorophilia, the dystopian ‘Warm Leatherette’ was based around two noisy notes and a twitchy rhythmic backbone that was menacing yet enthralling at the same time. It turned out to be something of a game changer.
Following the success of singles ‘Back To Nature’ and ‘Ricky’s Hand’, a FAD GADGET album was eagerly anticipated and it came with ‘Fireside Favourites’ which brought in a Korg Rhythm 55 drum machine, conventional instruments and various found objects alongside the synths. A four way production effort between Frank Tovey, Daniel Miller, Eric Radcliffe and John Fryer, the superb ‘Coitus Interruptus’ was a deeply cynical commentary on casual relationships.
Larry Least was a production pseudonym inspired by the producer, Rak Records mogul and ‘New Faces’ judge Mickey Most. This infectious solo single by Alex Fergusson featured Daniel Miller’s distinctive electronic footprint and his involvement helped the ALTERNATIVE TV guitarist transform from post-punk to more synthesized song experiments. With Fergusson forming PSYCHIC TV with Genesis P-Orridge, it wasn’t until 1992 that a white label only self-titled solo album was released.
Following THE NORMAL, Daniel Miller decided to undertake a new project where rock ’n’ roll standards like ‘Just Like Eddie’ and ‘Memphis Tennessee’ were reinterpreted in a synthpop style, using a fictitious group called SILICON TEENS as a front. While Miller sang like he had a clothes peg attached to his nose and produced the recordings as Larry Least, several actors hired to appear in videos and do press interviews, although lead vocalist ‘Darryl’ was played by Frank Tovey.
For a one-off single on Cherry Red Records, the dystopian minimal synth of ‘Music To Save The World By’ from the little known and somewaht reclusive Alan Burnham was produced by Daniel Miller at Blackwing Studios. He also worked on its B-side ‘Science Fiction’ which was just as haunting as the main act. Perhaps more organic thanks to the use of live drums by Cam Findlay, it took a leaf out of the quirky cult Wirral duo DALEK I LOVE YOU and their song ‘The World’ in particular.
The original ‘Metro MRX’ came from the SOFT CELL debut EP ‘Mutant Moments’ released in October 1980, but the sub-two minute Daniel Miller take of ‘Metro MRX’ for ‘Flexipop’ magazine borrowed the same synthetic rhythm track as DEPECHE MODE’s ‘New Life’ to accompany Almond’s snarls of “he’s a mutant!”. Miller also produced ‘A Man Can Get Lost’, ‘Persuasion’ and perhaps most significantly, the proto-house of ‘Memorabilia’ at those same Stage One recording sessions.
While Eric Radcliffe was holed up working with Vince Clarke and Alison Moyet on the first YAZOO album at Blackwing Studios on the night shift, during the day Daniel Miller was working with DEPECHE MODE on their second. With punchy Simmons Drum modules and a catchy melodic theme, ‘Nothing To Fear’ was a glorious instrumental statement from an important long player that made the most of Miller’s programming expertise to ensure an optimistic future for Messrs Gahan, Gore and Fletcher.
When recording ‘Radio Silence’ for singular consumption, Thomas Morgan Dolby Robertson sought the assistance of Daniel Miller thanks to his track record with DEPECHE MODE. Bringing in his PPG Wave 2 and helping with the final mix, it was released as a single in early 1982 with an alternative rockier guitar driven version on the B-side which was favoured in the US. Both takes also featured the voice of Akiko Yano, who was married to Ryuichi Sakamoto at the time.
WIRE refugees, Bruce Gilbert and Graham Lewis had been working under the name DOME, so when a collaborative adventure with Miller was suggested, an anagram of that moniker and Mute resulted in DUET EMMO. Recorded at Blackwing Studios, ‘Or So It Seems’ was their debut offering, a slice of experimental pop shaped with grumbling synthesized bass, captivating electronics and textural harmonic guitar while Lewis’ haunting vocals provided the emotional centre, spooked by sombre bursts of brass.
Originally the B-side to ‘Only You’, ‘Situation’ was one of only three writing collaborations between Alison Moyet and Vince Clarke, as well as only being one of five YAZOO tracks that Daniel Miller co-produced with Eric Radcliffe. Clocking in at barely two minutes in its original form, it made its impact with some rousing blues based sequenced dance pop; it became a US club favourite when it was remixed by Francois Kevorkian who later worked with KRAFTWERK and DEPECHE MODE.
Following DAF’s Virgin album trilogy produced by Conny Plank, the duo borke up in a haze of sex, drugs and sequencer. Drummer and synthesist Robert Görl signed to Mute as a solo artist and began his account with the standalone single ‘Mit Dir’. Dark, brooding and magnificent, the song was co-produced by Daniel Miller and went on to become a favourite among the cognoscenti, reinterpreted for Prada commercials and covered by DJ HELL with STEREO MCs.
Polydor A&R man Malcolm Dunbar managed to gain Daniel Miller’s interest to help out on a HARD CORPS track that Martin Rushent had started. “It was an offer we could not refuse and ‘Respirer’ duly ended up being completed with Daniel producing” said the band’s Clive Pierce, “So now we had two of the best ‘electronic’ music producers in the UK both helping on our track”. Exquisitely Gallic, Polydor however released ‘Respirer’ in English as ‘To Breathe’ but it was not the hit that they were seeking.
Available as ‘Respirer’ on the HARD CORPS album ‘Metal & Flesh’ via Sub Culture Records
Chelmsford’s NITZER EBB were founded by school friends Douglas McCarthy, Bon Harris and Bon Harris. Originally produced by Pete Waterman associate Phil Harding, the ambiguous chants of “muscle and late, lies, lies, gold, gold” in ‘Join In The Chant’ encouraged exactly as the title suggested in the manner of a DAF body sculpture. Daniel Miller and Flood’s Gold! restructure took out the Balearic beats and pushed forward a more Teutonic industrial thrust complete with metallic tools to boot.
ERASURE Supernature – Daniel Miller & Phil Legg Remix (1990)
ERASURE were not shy about doing cover versions with ‘Gimme! Gimme! Gimme!’ and ‘River Deep Mountain High’ having already been reinterpreted by this point. Andy Bell and Vince Clarke’s take on Marc Cerrone’s electronic disco landmark saw Daniel Miller and Phil Legg present this tight electro-dance remix extended to over seven minutes. Miller and Legg got together again for DEPECHE MODE’s ‘Enjoy The Silence’ and it was their mix that became the ‘Violator’ album version and single release.
Available on the ERASURE deluxe album ‘Wild!’ via Mute Records
CHRIS & COSEY Synaesthesia – Daniel Miller Mix (1991)
After leaving industrial pioneers THROBBING GRISTLE, Chris Carter and Cosey Fanni Tutti became a popular cult duo with their experimental pop utilising electronics, sampling, rhythms and even cornet alongside Cosey’s distinctive nonchalant vocals. Superbly sinister but beautiful metallic synthpop, ‘Synaesthesia’ exuded hints of PET SHOP BOYS ‘Euroboy’ but a good year before it. Meanwhile Daniel Miller’s brilliant rework took on a different groove to the harder bleepy house laden original.
Available on the CHRIS & COSEY single ‘Synaesthesia’ via Conspiracy International
SUNROOF! was Daniel Miller’s occasional project with Gareth Jones who he first worked with on DEPECHE MODE’s ‘Construction Time Again’ album. Exploring their love of Kosmische, it was perhaps no surprise that they covered the symbolic NEU! track ‘Hero’. Given more of a pulsing electronic treatment, the alluringly detached vocals came from Alison Conway who has part of the Mute family having been part of AC MARIAS, a project which also featured Bruce Gilbert of WIRE and Barry Adamson of MAGAZINE.
POPPY & THE JEZEBELS Sign In, Dream On, Drop Out! – Richard X Meets Larry Least Mix (2012)
POPPY & THE JEZEBELS were a school band based in Birmingham signed to Mute Song. ‘Sign In, Dream On, Drop Out!’ was superbly playful girly synthpop with the ‘Isolation’ bassline borrowed from JOY DIVISION bouncing around in electronic form while sinister Maggie Thatcher voice samples echoed. Originally produced by Richard X, Larry Least came out of retirement when the girls persuaded Miller to remix the track using his trusty Korg 700s synth.
WRANGLER Theme From Wrangler – Daniel Miller rework (2016)
The brief from WRANGLER to remixers of tracks from their album ‘LA Spark’ was simple: “We provide some basic stems from a track selected by you from our debut album ‘LA Spark’ and you add whatever sounds you like – the only rule being that you use just one analogue modular synthesiser system of your choice.” Sweetened by flanged string machine, Daniel Miller provided a gliding rumbling bassline over a metronomic kick on his rework of ‘Theme from Wrangler’.
From Cherry Red Records, the makers of the ‘Close To The Noise Floor’ trilogy showcasing formative and experimental electronic music from the UK, Europe and North America, comes their most accessible electronic collection yet.
Subtitled ‘Independent British Synth Pop 78-84’, ‘Electrical Language’ is a lavish 4CD 80 track boxed set covering the post-punk period when all that synthesizer experimentation and noise terrorism morphed into pop.
Largely eschewing the guitar and the drum kit, this was a fresh movement which sprung from a generation haunted by the spectre of the Cold War, Mutually Assured Destruction and closer to home, the Winter of Discontent.
As exemplified by known names like THE HUMAN LEAGUE, FAD GADGET, SECTION 25 and BLUE ZOO included in the set to draw in the more cautious consumer, this was pop in a very loose manner with melodies, riffs and danceable rhythms but hardly the stuff of ABBA or THE BEE GEES!
‘Red Frame/White Light’ by OMD was a chirpy ditty about the 632 3003 phone box which the band used as their office, while THOMAS DOLBY’s ‘Windpower’ was a rallying call for renewable energy sources. Then there was the dystopian ‘Warm Leatherette’ by THE NORMAL based around two noisy notes and lyrically based on JG Ballard’s ‘Crash’ with its story around car collision symphorophilia.
While those acts’ stories have been rightly celebrated for putting the electronic avant pop art form into the mainstream, with any truly great compilation or collection, the joy is in finding the lesser known jewels.
Made primarily by the idealistic outsiders and independent experimenters from the lesser known side of Synth Britannia, ‘Electrical Language’ has plenty of synthetic material to rediscover or hear for the first time. Indeed, the more appealing tracks appear to fall into three categories; forgotten songs that should have been hits, oddball cover versions and largely unknown archive wonders.
Those forgotten gems include the exotic ‘Electrical Language’ title track by BE BOP DELUXE, documenting the moment Bill Nelson went electro. His production on the gloriously emotive ‘Feels Like Winter Again’ by FIAT LUX is another welcome inclusion to the set.
But the two best tracks on ‘Electrical Language’ are coincidentally spoken word; ‘Touch’ by LORI & THE CHAMELEONS about a girl’s Japanese holiday romance is as enchanting and delightful as ever, while there is also THROBBING GRISTLE refugees CHRIS & COSEY’s wispy celebration of Autumnal neu romance ‘October (Love Song)’, later covered in the 21st Century in pure Hellectro style by MARSHEAUX.
Merseyside has always been a centre for creativity and this included synthpop back in the day. ‘I’m Thinking Of You Now’ from BOX OF TOYS was a superb angsty reflection of young manhood that included an oboe inflected twist which was released on the Inevitable label in 1983. From that same stable, FREEZE FRAME are represented by the atmospheric pop of ‘Your Voice’
Jayne Casey was considered the face of Liverpool post-punk fronting BIG IN JAPAN and PINK MILITARY; the lo-fi electronic offshoot PINK INDUSTRY released three albums but the superb ‘Taddy Up’ with its machine backbone to contrast the ethereal combination of voice and synths lay in the vaults until 2008 and is a welcome inclusion. The ‘other’ Wirral synth duo of note were DALEK I LOVE YOU whose ‘The World’ from 1980 remains eccentric and retro-futuristic.
Scotland was in on the action too despite many local musicians preferring THE BYRDS and STEELY DAN; although both ‘Mr Nobody’ from THOMAS LEER and ‘Time’ by PAUL HAIG were detached and electronic, they vocally expressed minor levels of Trans-Atlantic soul lilt compared with the more deadpan styles of the majority gathered on ‘Electrical Language’.
Under rated acts form a core of ‘Electrical Language’ and while THE MOBILES’ ‘Drowning In Berlin’ may have come across like a ‘Not The Nine O’Clock News’ New Romantic parody on first listen, its decaying Mittel Europa grandeur was infectious like Hazel O’Connor reinterpreting ‘Vienna’ with The Master of Ceremonies at the Kit Kat Klub in 3/4 time!
NEW MUSIK’s ‘The Planet Doesn’t Mind’ probably would have gone Top 20 if had been done by HOWARD JONES, although band leader Tony Mansfield had the last laugh when he later became a producer working with the likes of A-HA and NAKED EYES. The brassy arty synthpop of ‘XOYO’ from Dick Witts’ THE PASSAGE was immensely catchy with riffs galore, while POEME ELECTRONIQUE’s ‘She’s An Image’ offered stark European electro-cabaret.
Cut from a similar cloth, one-time ULTRAVOX support act EDDIE & SUNSHINE inventively (and some would say pretentiously) presented a Living TV art concept but they also possessed a few good songs. The quirkily charming ‘There’s Someone Following Me’ deserved greater recognition back in the day and its later single version was remixed by one Hans Zimmer.
Meanwhile, the 4AD label could always be counted on more esoteric output and COLOURBOX’s ‘Tarantula’ was from that lineage, but then a few years later perhaps unexpectedly, they became the instigators of M/A/R/R/S ‘Pump Up the Volume’.
These days, modern synth artists think it is something an achievement to cover a synthpop classic, although it is rather pointless. But back in the day, as there were not really that many synthpop numbers to cover, the rock ‘n’ roll songbook was mined as a kind of post-modern statement. The synth was seen as the ultimate anti-institution instrument and the cover versions included on ‘Electrical Language’ are out-of-the-box and original, if not entirely successful.
Take TECHNO POP’s reinterpretation of ‘Paint It Black’ which comes over like Sci-Fi Arthur Brown while the brilliant ‘My Coo Ca Choo’ by BEASTS IN CAGES (which features half of HARD CORPS) is like PJ Proby with his characteristic pub singer warble fronting SILICON TEENS with a proto-GOLDFRAPP stomp.
Having contributed a T-REX cover for the ‘Some Bizzare Album’, THE FAST SET recorded another. Whereas ‘King Of The Rumbling Spires’ on the former was frantic electro-punk, ‘Children Of The Revolution’ is far more sombre and almost funereal. Least desirable of the covers though is ‘Happy Xmas (War Is Over)’ by HYBRID KIDS.
Of the obscurities worth checking out, the rousing standout is ‘Lying Next To You’ by Liverpool’s PASSION POLKA. A brilliant track akin to CHINA CRISIS ‘Working With Fire & Steel’ but with more synths and drum machine, it was recorded in 1983 but never actually saw the light of day until 2011 via a belated release on Anna Logue Records.
Delightfully odd, the VL Tone and organ infused ‘Bandwagon Tango’ from TESTCARD F is swathed with metallic rattles and possesses a suitably mechanical detachment. But with piercing pipey sounds and a hypnotic sequence, the metronomic ‘Destitution’ by cult minimal wavers CAMERA OBSCURA with its off key voice is one of the better productions of that type. Cut from a similar cloth, the perky ‘Videomatic’ by FINAL PROGRAM throws in some lovely string synths to close.
Swirlingly driven by Linn and her sisters, ‘Baby Won’t Phone’ by QUADRASCOPE comes from the Vince Clarke school of song with not only a great vocal, but also the surprise of a guitar solo in the vein of ECHO & THE BUNNYMEN!
‘The Secret Affair’ from JUPITER RED is a great ethereal midtempo synthpop song also using a Linn, while ‘Surface Tension’ from ANALYSIS is an appealing club friendly instrumental that was largely the work of the late Martin Lloyd who later was part of OPPENHEIMER ANALYSIS.
Produced by Daniel Miller, ALAN BURNHAM’s ‘Science Fiction’ from 1981 takes a leaf out of DALEK I LOVE YOU, while tightly sequenced and bursting with white noise in the intro, ‘Feel So Young’ by LAUGH CLOWN LAUGH has bubbling potential but is spoiled by some terribly flat vocals.
One of the weirder tracks is ELECTRONIC ENSEMBLE’s filmic ‘It Happened Then’ which recalls Parisian art rockers ROCKETS; backed by a brilliant ensemble of synths, it sees the return of the cosmic voice from Sparky’s Magic Piano and remember in that story, it could play all by itself!
Of course, other tracks are available and may suit more leftfield tastes… packaged as a lavish hardback book, there are extensive sleeve notes including artist commentaries, archive photos and an introductory essay by journalist Dave Henderson who cut his teeth with ‘Noise’, a short-lived ‘Smash Hits’ rival that featured a regular ‘Electrobop’ column covering the latest developments in synth.
While worthy, the ‘Close To The Noise Floor’ trilogy could at times be very challenging, but ‘Electrical Language’ provides some accessible balance, allowing tunes and beats in. It captures an important developmental phase in music, when technology got more sophisticated, cheaper and user friendly, that can be directly connected to ‘Pump Up the Volume’. Yes, this story is the unlikely seed of the later dance revolution, like it or not! And at just less than twenty five quid, this really is an essential purchase.
HARD CORPS were like a piece of a jigsaw that didn’t quite fit.
Utilising aesthetically entrancing KRAFTWERK-like electronic minimalism, produced by the legendary Martin Rushent and Daniel Miller, but restrained by a major label record contract that meant that they never fulfilled their true potential and only belatedly released one full length album ‘Metal & Flesh’ in 1990. Clive Pierce, Hugh Ashton, Rob Doran and Regine Fetet were a candle that burned exceedingly brightly, but still left a small but none the less important legacy of synthetic music which could give their German counterparts a run for their money.
Tracks such as ‘Je Suis Passée’, ‘Dirty’ and ‘Porter Bonheur’ still remain classics of their genre with the band supporting DEPECHE MODE and THE CURE before dissolving a few years after their conception.
HARD CORPS vocalist Regine Fetet cut an enigmatic, but controversial figure by infamously disrobing during their DEPECHE MODE support slots; but tragically passed away in 2003.
Clive Pierce kindly spoke to The Electricity Club about his tenure in HARD CORPS with additional contributions from band members Hugh Ashton and Rob Doran.
What were your individual musical influences?
Hugh: The first records I recall being bought on my behalf were Neil Sedaka’s ‘Happy Birthday Sweet Sixteen’ and ‘Runaway’ by Del Shannon. This latter track featured the sound of a Musitron, an early electronic keyboard with a powerful ‘unworldly’ sound jumping out of the recording which made me aware of the emotional power of ‘sound’. Other examples of this would be ‘62’s Joe Meek produced ‘Telstar’ by THE TORNADOS which was a bit ‘cheesy’ but listen to that Clavioline, another great pre-synthesizer electronic keyboard and DELIA DERBYSHIRE and the BBC RADIOPHONIC WORKSHOP’s ‘Dr Who Theme’.
Rob: Probably my first subconscious feeling that music was powerful, was in secondary school when a cool American kid with hair down to his arse joined. He introduced me to THE DOORS and I especially loved the track ‘Unknown Soldier’ which I played over and over again. I loved its political message and even then, the blending of found sources within music which I have been a fan of ever since.
Clive: After a long time coming, when it was hand-me-down time, I found myself the proud owner of a box of 45s and an old Volmar valve record player that my brother used to own. I think I was more captivated by the machinery than by the music itself at the time, but still within that box of 45s I would as a young child be spinning tracks like ‘You Really Got Me’ by THE KINKS and ‘Telstar’ by THE TORNADOS.
Prior to the eventual meeting with Regine, how did the band members come together and what were their individual backgrounds?
Rob: I met Hugh in the 1970s in Brixton and lived in the same large Victorian house. Eventually I ran the recording studio (which we called Mekon) which was built in the basement of the house and became a sound engineer / designer with the punk group Hugh Ashton had formed called THE SKUNKS.
Clive: One day I answered an advertisement from a band based in Brixton, South London called THE SKUNKS. They described themselves as a sort of punk group, not exactly what I envisaged myself getting involved with, but I decided to give it a go because again they mentioned that they had a record deal and a connection with Pete Townsend of THE WHO. Within minutes of starting my audition, I could visualise myself quite happily being involved with them fully.
Only just recently I became aware that they chose me because of two main reasons, all of which centred around a Roland CR78 drum machine. The first was I didn’t object or feel intimidated by the use of one. A lot of drummers saw these machines as a threat to their livelihoods and considered them as just a poor imitation. Secondly, I was actually able to keep very good time alongside one.
Hugh: Having replaced our old-style rock drummer with the metronomic Clive Pierce, we changed our name to CRAZE and started incorporating a new hybrid sound. This led to a record deal with EMI and in ’79, we released the single ‘Motions’ with an instrumental B-side ‘Spartans’ which started getting played at Steve Strange and Rusty Egan’s freshly opened New Romantic hangout at The Blitz in London’s Covent Garden.
Once you had formed as an act, what did you hope to achieve together?
Clive: Speaking personally, it was a break from all that had been before. For a start, it marked the end of looking at myself as just being a drummer within a traditional group structure and the hierarchy that came with that.
Rob: We found the machines enabled us to break out of our previous musical roles. Being only a machine-based band initially narrowed our options musically, but at the same time as we developed into electronic musicians, widened our musical palette. Perhaps we were KRAFTWERK’s rough and noisy neighbours!
Hugh: So with Rob and Clive equally happy to join in this marriage with these powerful new toys, we started to evolve the working methods that would sustain us over the coming few years. It was now ‘81 and apart from seeing KRAFTWERK (whose new masterpiece ‘Computer World’ album showed they were still leading from the front) on their long awaited tour, it did not really matter what other musicians were up to. We were quite happily lost in our own bubble.
How did you go about integrating vocals into the band?
Hugh: A guy called David Porter came in to do vocals and managed to get us a support slot to play at the Marquee Club in Soho. In preparation, he brought us copies of some of the latest gay disco tracks (Patrick Cowley, Bobby O etc) which we copied and changed a bit and then he wrote new ‘songs’ on top and we were ready!
Except how could we recreate it live? This was to become a perennial challenge in the following years and not just for us but for many early 80s electronic acts.
David had hurriedly plucked the name HARD CORPS (which was a sort of opposite of SOFT CELL who had recently gone to No1 with ‘Tainted Love’) from a shortlist of possible names I had in my notebook. Thus under the gaze of a few disgruntled and confused rock fans being subjected to a weird reimagining of gay disco… HARD CORPS was born!
At the Marquee Club, David even had an open mic ‘dispute’ on stage with the giant rocker Fish from MARILLION which we by then we were able to enjoy from the audience. Although I don’t think David ever went back on to a stage again and we were more than happy to disappear from the opprobrium and back to the womb of our studio not to re-emerge without a more compelling reason to surface again. So what next?
So what did happen next??
Hugh: The answer was to arrive at a party we were giving at our HQ. Someone I did not know well came up to me and basically said “there is this girl here who you really should meet, she is looking for people to work with because she wants to sing and she is … different and I think she might suit your music!” So off he goes and back he comes with Regine. Well she was just 29 but she looked pretty fine… a gaunt figure with a fine-featured almost medieval visage below a fiery red mane of hair shaved away at the sides and a dead fox (or was it a ferret) draped across her shoulders. She spoke, suggesting she would like to revisit with a cassette of her ‘work’, with a mysterious clipped French accent with almost Germanic overtones (Une Vosgienne!).
She felt hard to refuse and so without much to lose, it was agreed she would return. So she came back to the studio and we found that a song she had already written about a lovelorn petrol-station attendant worked well with a backing track we had recently recorded and ‘Dirty’ was born. Intrigued by the way it all seemed to combine, we found we could create several more tracks that combined tracks we had already prepared with lyrics Regine had already written. So with this ‘flesh’ now added to the bones, the monster HARD CORPS was now truly born.
With Regine now on board, what made you decide to go for a completely electronic aesthetic?
Rob: It was different, a challenge, new, revolutionary, the future, a break from the pompous masturbation of endless dull guitarists and hypocritical rock music. It was two fingers to bland corporate American music. It had a vitality not seen since punk, it was European and it was pioneered by the excellence of KRAFTWERK.
Hugh: So basically we had virtually no outside influences on the music we were making at that time other than late 70s GIORGIO MORODER and KRAFTWERK. Regine was also not really influenced by other writers or singers. She was just very keen to express herself creatively to balance her life…
How did the demos you were creating around this time metamorphose into actual singles?
Hugh: So around 1983, Steve McGowan offered to take our recordings around some record companies. Having got some positive feedback, he effectively became our manager and developed the strategy that led to ‘Dirty’ being pressed as a white label and then being picked up by Survival. We then got an offer to debut at a party in June ‘84, organised by Steve Strange and Rusty Egan who still had a strong presence in London’s clubland.
Steve then secured Polydor’s interest and squeezed a complicated ‘album’ deal out of them that was supposed to give us creative control over all aspects including music production, press, artwork etc which we signed hoping we would keep some control whilst accessing the resources of a ‘major’ record company… a decision we would sooner than expected come to regret.
Whilst Polydor seemed agreeable to us self-producing ‘album’ tracks, they predictably wanted to gain exposure with a single release and wanted to find a producer who could add cache and supervise recording in a ‘proper’ studio rather than our admittedly ‘semi-pro’ basement in Brixton. We were suspicious, but when they offered up Martin Rushent, we were tempted into agreeing given his achievement producing ‘Dare’ for THE HUMAN LEAGUE a few years before. So we recorded ‘Je Suis Passée’ at his Genetic Studios in Reading, Berkshire.
How was the experience of working with Rushent?
Clive: Firstly it was a “pinch yourself” moment for me. I remember quite vividly on the final mix of ‘Je Suis Passée’ sitting alongside Martin at the mixing desk with him riding the 16th delays on a fader on the eight to the bar bass sequence part and me also riding a fader on 16th delays on my middle range sequence part and just bouncing and grooving off each other as the track exited what we affectionately called the ‘crunchy middle break bit’ and thinking to myself “what the f*** is occurring here?” There I was, Little Clive From The Block playing what was effectively duelling banjos with the oddball genius bearded bloke; the one that looked totally out of place in the pictures on the back cover of one of my favourite albums of all time ‘Love and Dancing’. Nuts. Completely nuts!
Martin also monitored extremely loud recording as well as mixing. I was used to working in our Brixton studio on a couple of Auratone speakers, only switching to Tannoys in short bursts to test out the energy of a track for fear of upsetting the very nice lady who lived next door. Martin would have me pinned against the back wall from the blast from the speakers with every bass drum beat hitting me square on in the solar plexus.
Over the space of a few days, it wore me completely down to the point of suffering what I can only describe as mild shellshock. I spent an afternoon in the group restroom on the sofa staring into space and physically shaking much to the amusement of Hugh and Rob, but I felt totally f**ked. I progressively got better but had to request a lower level of playback and take regular breaks from the audio barrage from then onwards. Strange really as I had previously played the drums in various groups with stage monitors pumping sound straight at me, but this was quite different and incessant. I still wince at loud music all these years on… very weird!
Rushent’s huge impact on the production of the songs of THE HUMAN LEAGUE is well documented, what do you feel he brought to the sound of HARD CORPS?
Clive: What we hoped Martin would be able do was to refine and flesh out our sound beyond the point we were physically able to manage ourselves down in our resident basement studio in Brixton and that he did. To also help coax and winkle out the best from Regine who although one of a kind, was never a vocalist in the traditional sense of the word.
She was by nature very hit or miss at the best of times but as much as this could on the one hand be intensely frustrating for us, on the other it could incredibly rewarding when a line or word would emanate from her that was not in any textbook but just sounded right within the context of the music. It was spotting them that was the skill. Martin having worked with the technical brilliance of Shirley Bassey and at the other end of the spectrum Joanne Catherall and Susanne Sulley and their “Working as a waitress in a cocktail bar” performance, I would say was a perfect choice for us.
As you started to record and produce songs for HARD CORPS, how did your relationship with Polydor develop?
Hugh: A profound problem for us was that we had signed thinking we would self–produce an album in our own studio and now we were being cajoled by Polydor into a scenario involving ‘expensive’ names to produce our music and promos. This made the whole project subject to the typical major record company ploy of promoting a single (or two if you’re lucky!) and delaying an album until you have a ‘hit’ and then making the album or otherwise if not, they just drop you.
Given how much they had just spent on one song (combined with the advance we now owed more than £100,000), their position was understandable, but we had spent some years recording enough tracks for an album which they had heard and had originally approved.
As Martin Rushent was now in the throes of a divorce, our A&R man Malcolm Dunbar scouted around for another ‘name’ and to his credit, gained Daniel Miller’s interest. This was quite something since at that time Daniel was steering DEPECHE MODE to international status and was not in the habit of working with people outside of his Mute stable of artists.
So in short, it was an offer we could not refuse and ‘Respirer’ duly ended up being completed with Daniel producing. So now we had two of the best ‘electronic’ music producers in the UK both helping on our track, not to mention Daniel was using Flood as his engineer. A stellar cast and indeed a great honour for us… the only trouble being ‘Respirer’, whilst being a ‘strong’ track was not really, in common with most of our tracks, obvious ‘hit’ single material.
It’s hard not to compare HARD CORPS with PROPAGANDA, especially with tracks like ‘Respirer (To Breathe)’, was there any kind of rivalry or kinship?
Clive: Absolutely none whatsoever in either rivalry or kinship. I only became aware of them initially when I visited a friend of mine who was an eclectic buyer of slightly alternative music, CABARET VOLTAIRE, PSYCHEDELIC FURS, NEW ORDER, FLOCK OF SEAGULLS etc. He played ‘Dr Mabuse’ to me and I immediately thought FRANKIE GOES TO HOLLYWOOD and I was right.
Now who doesn’t like FGTH in small doses, but the formulaic sound of the ZTT production machine just becomes really tiring after a very short space of time to my ears. Not enough rough edges for my taste and far too manipulated to feel any affinity towards. I can see the comparison you make with ‘To Breathe’ though.
The band did a session for John Peel in 1984, how was that experience when at the time the BBC engineers there were more used to dealing with Indie-style guitar acts?
Clive: Yes, it was a very sterile experience for both parties. The chaps at the BBC by nature were very institutionalised and it was record it and ship it out, and we felt the same. Naively, I personally thought John Peel would be popping his head in and out the studio during the recording but he didn’t. A time constraint dictated that we have some of the instrumentation pre-recorded at our Brixton studio and we would only play certain key components live on the sessions.
There was a rather funny moment when the BBC engineer, I think it was Mike Robinson said he had heard some nasty distortion on our track ‘Dirty’. We hadn’t spotted it and so he rewound the tape and ran it past us again. “There!” he gestured pointing at the monitors. Again none of us reacted as we hadn’t heard anything untoward and looked at each other quizzically.
“One more time please Mike” we asked starting to feel a bit amateurish at not having his depth of perception in the distortion spotting department. “There, there” he said again now standing up out of his chair in order to point closer to the speaker in a bid to home in more precisely to identify it for us. Again we couldn’t react to him until it then dawned on us simultaneously that the distortion he was trying to alert us to, was in fact a sound we had generated in our studio by feeding a delay back into itself and allowing it to get to the point that it started to break up.
We had lovingly crafted the distortion he was trying to point out to us as a defect. I don’t think we had the heart to tell him he hadn’t grasped the concept of the track and why should he but on a trip to the free vend coffee machine, the three of us had a good old giggle about it!
With much of Regine’s lyrics being in French, did you come under a lot of pressure to record totally in English?
Clive: For sure, albeit after we had signed with Polydor. Regine however was no Vanessa Paradis. If you put on the Bardot and sing all cutey, then you can get away with quite a lot as you pander to the stereotypical image most ignorant Brits have of the French, but Regine did not fit that model in the slightest. Her vocals and lyrics came from the scars of her life. They could not be delivered in a contrived way. What came out was what you had to work with and unfortunately working her art in the UK was always going to be an uphill struggle whilst singing in her native language.
Prior to Polydor and the “assault” on the charts, she could have sung in Martian as far as we were concerned. The language was not important to us. It was her personality, her realism and her honesty that mattered. She was flawed but in an intoxicating way to our ears to others this was not always appreciated as much.
What was the reaction when ‘Dirty’ was released as a single in 1984?
Rob: Extraordinary! We thought we were far to leftfield for that kind of interest and were totally unprepared for that amazing response.
Clive: It was very favourable, we attained record of the week in the NME and things snowballed from then onwards.
What kind of image did the band try to cultivate?
Rob: We tried to create a hard machine world with the macho men lined up along the back of the stage and the gentle flower symbolised by Regine pushing through the metaphorical concrete. As usual it became quite controversial!
Clive: The image I reflected on stage was purely a theatrical statement based on how I felt in regards my relationship to the music. I saw the musical phrases I played as having gender. Some male, others female. It felt honest and right to have both those represented in the way, I portrayed myself, a hard edge and a sensitive edge, both of which I possessed. I also think there was a degree of wanting to escape the everyday me who in reality was a rather average guy.
Hugh: I remember I had to deal with a panic at Polydor which involved being hauled in front of John Preston, the new CEO. We had performed at Islington Town Hall in London and we backline boys had decided to wear some 1950s surplus store ex-police motorcyclist’s jodhpurs as a uniform to emphasise our differences to normal casual rock band attire. They were reminiscent of those worn in Fritz Lang’s ‘Metropolis’ and seemed to us to capture in an amusing way (to us anyway), the sort of ‘retro-futurist’ vibe.
However we had not anticipated members of NITZER EBB being at the front of the audience dressed in long leather SS type overcoats. It led to a review in the music press where the reviewer was concerned that she had stumbled on some sort of ‘neo-fascist’ gathering. Preston wanted reassurance that his company had not signed something politically malodorous. I had to reassure him this was not the case and in fact the gig had been organised by Rock Against Racism which might have explained the reviewer’s sensitivity!
The band’s performance of ‘Je Suis Passée’ on ‘The Tube’ is still transfixing, can you tell The Electricity Club about the lead up to this appearance and why Regine looks so stressed and distant?
Clive: Well, we missed our flight from Heathrow to Newcastle. I can’t recall exactly why, but whatever the reason, it was quite inexcusable. TV appearances when you are in your infancy as a group do not throw themselves at your feet very often. We managed to get a later flight from Heathrow to Teeside Airport a good thirty odd miles from the TV studio so had to jump into a cab and tell the driver to put his foot down to get us there. Fortunately our gear had gone up the day before and was already partly set up when we arrived to sound check.
After the sound check I (as I usually did) drifted off to have a look around ‘The Tube’ set and take as much as I could in before the show started. I really had no idea that during this time Regine had had an argument with our manager. I never knew until a long time after the show that this is why her performance looked so stressed. She was actually brooding live on TV. I just thought she was just being her normal self and took no notice of it!
For The Electricity Club, the bit where Rob and yourself turn their backs on the audience, tweak the Rolands and glance at each other is probably one of the coolest things in a live electronic music performance, was that pre-rehearsed?
Clive: Yes is the simplest answer to that! It was the routine that was required to carry out that part of the track. The turning of our backs to the audience was not intended as snub to them at all. The System 100M by nature is rather plain looking viewed from behind so we opted to have the modules with their flashing LED’s facing out towards the audience for the drama. Consequently when we had to change any settings, it meant having to turn our backs to the audience.
DEPECHE MODE’s Black Swarm Devotee fanbase was notoriously antagonistic towards support bands, were you aware of this prior to playing with them?
Clive: No we weren’t aware of them at all. Even if we were, it wouldn’t have bothered us in the slightest. We actually would have revelled in a bit of antagonism, but I can’t say that on the ‘Music For The Masses’ tour, we noticed any animosity from the devotee DM fans.
The worst it ever got for me on the DM tour was actually backstage at the NEC in Birmingham.
There are long periods of spare time on tour pre-concert and the chance to have a bit of a kick around with a football was a good way to while a bit of time away and stretch those legs from the tour van. Rob and I were just passing the ball around when a couple DM roadies walked by. “Wanna game lads, HARD CORPS v DM?” and I said, “Yeah alright”. So down with the jumpers for goalposts and off we went. Within a short while (which normally always happens) a few others joined in on each side including Martin Gore and we had a five a side match on our hands.
Now it was all good natured and sporting, that is until one of the DM roadies took it upon himself to tackle me so ridiculously hard that he almost broke my leg in the process. I wasn’t prepared for that level of aggression from him in what was essentially just a friendly kick around and certainly not two hours before I was due to go on stage. I thought “you complete f**king tw*t!” That tackle could have spelled out the end of my DM tour.
When he next got the ball, I made it my mission to dish out a bit of retribution and hit him twice as hard as he had hit me. He went down but immediately got up and before we knew it we had squared up to each other snarling and swearing with fists about to fly. That was until Martin Gore stepped in between us before things got completely out of hand and managed to calm it down a bit!
What was your opinion about Regine’s dress sense on the DM support tour, do you feel that there was something wilfully self-destructive about it or was it a natural kind of ‘punk’ aesthetic for her?
Clive: Regine was a law unto herself. If she wanted to do something, she would do it regardless of what anyone said or recommended to her. That was her strength as well as her weakness.
The DM tour came at a time where we were as a unit struggling to keep the momentum going and sort of had a fatalistic attitude going into it. Perhaps a few years prior to the DM tour, I might have questioned the sanity of how far she was taking it but on this tour, I thought if we go down we may as well go down in flames…. which is what happened in the end! Retrospectively looking back on it, I can fully understand how her antics rendered us a liability to both DM and their promoters.
I for one, even though I am far from being a prude would have been seriously pissed off if I had gone to a DM concert with my young son or daughter and saw the support group’s front woman with her private parts out parading around on stage. There are lines you do not cross and even though I ashamedly had no regard for that line back then, I regret having been party to Regine being allowed to cross it. It cost us the European leg of the tour and perhaps the American leg and signalled the end for us.
Hugh: The first concert was in Newport in Wales and the concert promoters were furious because parents, who had accompanied their young teenage children, were suddenly confronted with a French Stripper! We had recruited a private detective friend to manage us for the tour and he had to deal with the fall out. So Regine had to sign a letter for the tour promoters, promising specifically not to expose her nipples again. So she did the rest of the tour with a rubber band across her breasts inscribed with the word “censored”.
Did you ever at any point say to her, “look let’s tone things down a bit”?
Clive: Yes! When you have 15 minutes or so before going on stage and the promoter won’t allow you to go on unless Regine signed a disclaimer stating that she would not disrobe on stage. Regine refused to sign the disclaimer but eventually after us pleading to her, signs it with a scrawl and then goes on stage and disrobes anyway!
Hugh: We were not offered the European leg of the tour despite Martin Gore’s stage attire being remarkably similar to that which Regine revealed when she removed her orange raincoat!
You also supported THE CURE, do you have any memories of this experience?
Clive: We were very fortunate to be published by the same company as THE CURE were and as a result were offered the slot on ‘The Head On The Door’ tour. The chance to tap in to THE CURE’s following was not to be sniffed at and all of us having a healthy respect for them and their music was an amazing opportunity.
Little ole hard CORPS on the same bill as THE CURE… wow the thought blew me personally away. A lot of my mates were ardent CURE fans and I just couldn’t wait to tell them the news. It was all very exciting!
In Torino, Italy we played our set to half a crowd as most of them were still in the bar areas. I don’t remember which track we were performing but we probably weren’t being very well received by the crowd as all manner of objects were being hurled at us. I got hit on the head with a couple of coins and a boiled sweet which fortuitously bounced down on to my keyboard.
Being a boiled sweet fan (who isn’t?) I unwrapped it and popped it in my mouth and gave a thumbs up in the general direction the gift horse had originated from. Hugh was less fortunate. This whole carrier bag of something was lobbed at him. What a shot. The handle managed to impale itself on one of his drumsticks stopping him in full flow. We lost a bar or so of beats as he untangled himself from his plastic nightmare and we finished the rest of our set dodging used Tampax etc!
As I left the stage, I grabbed the bag as I was curious to see what was in it. It was a whole packed lunch. Sandwiches, a packet of crisps and an apple. So if the person who threw it at Hugh ever reads this, I hope you went home hungry that night you bastard!
The band eventually split, was there a particular straw that broke the camel’s back or a series of contributory factors to this?
Clive: We fizzled out rather than split. As touched on previously, the death warrant had been signed when we became too difficult to handle anymore after the DEPECHE MODE tour. We had effectively painted ourselves into a very bleak corner. I think any comradery we had forged since the time Regine joined forces with us had evaporated and we met less and less to work on material, eventually just naturally drifting off our separate ways.
After all of the various recording sessions and singles, the album for Polydor never saw the light of day, why was that?
Rob: If we had released an album on Polydor, they would have been obliged to enter the next year of the contract so it became economically political. In other words, it would have cost them more investment than their accountants were prepared to budget for.
With your electronic aesthetic, you seemed on paper to be an ideal Mute Records band especially with the Daniel Miller link, do you think things could have turned out differently if HARD CORPS had been on a more sympathetic label?
Clive: I really believe we should have adopted the album band model and not been so wooed by the lure of a major label. We could never have been a commodity that would have sat comfortably on ‘Top Of The Pops’ churning out catchy tunes. Polydor were throwing serious money at us and had every right to demand chart contending ditties, but we just didn’t have them in us nor the personality to carry that pop star act off.
When HARD CORPS dissolved, what kind of career did you pursue afterwards?
Clive: My father was a self-employed builder among other things and I had worked alongside him off and on ever since leaving school to help pay my way. When we split, it was really game over for me. So much time was put into the project that I was left well behind my friends’ career wise. They had become civil servants, accountants, estate agents, policemen and were already well into paying mortgages off. I had virtually nothing in comparison to them.
So I just completely turned my back on music and knuckled down working with my father. We made a very good team with me supplying the strength and he the experience. I loved every moment with him. It was around this time that I became a father myself and my focus from then onwards was to provide security for my daughter.
Rob: I wrote and produced music and sound design for Film, TV and radio commercials.
Hugh: In ’92, I joined THE SUN KINGS and using the same equipment as HARD CORPS, we had an enjoyable time through the rest of the 90s doing our take on sort of ambient-techno incorporating our love of 60s psychedelia and 70s ‘German’. We released three albums ‘Hall of Heads’ on G.P.R in 1994, ‘Soul Sleeping’ on Blue Room in 1997 and ‘Before We Die’ released on Chill Out sometime after we stopped in ‘99.
Although HARD CORPS’ body of work is pretty small in comparison with many of their contemporaries, why do you think there is an enduring interest in the band’s work?
Clive: I think we were a truffle in a forest of chanterelles. Not to everyone’s taste but never the less rare and pungent in an appealing way to those who like their musical bouquet a little different.
Dedicated to the memory of Regine Fetet
The Electricity Club gives its warmest thanks to HARD CORPS
Although he became a noted producer during the height of punk, it was with THE HUMAN LEAGUE’s ‘Dare’ that Martin Rushent’s reputation as an electronic music pioneer was forged.
Rushent had cut his teeth as an engineer for acts as varied as SHIRLEY BASSEY and T-REX, working under the wing of their respective producers Johnny Harris and Tony Visconti.
His first major production was for CURVED AIR on their ‘Air Cut’ album; it featured Jim Russell on drums who became later became one of Rushent’s engineers and joined THE HUMAN LEAGUE for their ‘Crash’ tour.
He then secured a lucrative role working for United Artists, the company famously founded by Charlie Chaplin, Douglas Fairbanks Junior, Mary Pickford and DW Griffith, as an in-house producer with A&R responsibilities.
It was in this position that he found major success working with THE STRANGLERS and BUZZCOCKS. Meanwhile his freelance clause allowed him to also produce bands like GENERATION X, 999 and THE REZILLOS whose guitarist Jo Callis was later to join THE HUMAN LEAGUE.
It was in 1978 at the height of his punk success that Radar Records, an offshoot of Warners who had Elvis Costello and Nick Lowe on their roster, offered Rushent an opportunity to start his own label and production company. Radar had been founded by the team that had hired Rushent for United Artists and the offer included funding to build what was to become his Genetic Sound Studios complex at his home in Reading.
With his new office based above The Blitz Club and a desire to move away from guitar bands, Rushent became fascinated by the New Romantic movement and its electronic soundtrack provided by their resident DJ Rusty Egan. Egan had started a project with Midge Ure named VISAGE fronted by the now sadly departed Steve Strange. Their demos had been offered to EMI but were turned down…
“Martin Rushent turned punk into pop with THE STRANGLERS and BUZZCOCKS and was the hottest punk producer in 1977-78”Rusty Egan told The Electricity Club, “He had no idea about synths, he was a rock producer but knew ULTRAVOX, MAGAZINE and RICH KIDS were disbanded. But his musical hunch was ‘they must come up with something’”.
Sensing that something was in the air, Rushent invited VISAGE to use his studio to see what they came up with. These sessions, which also featured ULTRAVOX’s Billy Currie plus MAGAZINE’s Dave Formula, the late John McGeoch and Barry Adamson, intrigued Rushent.
“We came with our equipment and no drum kit” recalled Egan about that visit to Genetic Sound Studios which was still being built, “I had the CR78 and the Simmons SDS3 prototype which Richard Burgess gave us; Midge had a Yamaha CS50, Billy had an RMI Electra Piano, Elka Rhapsody 610 and the ARP Odyssey while Dave brought his Yamaha CP30, ARP Odyssey and Yamaha string machine. We ran sequenced drums and layered, we had SMPTE timecode as MIDI did not come in for years, so we triggered and I hit drum pads and we created the sounds… Martin had never seen this type of recording”.
Despite the promising material coming from VISAGE, Warners pulled the plug on Radar and immediate plans for Genetic Records became stillborn. In hindsight, this move was extremely short sighted on Warners part as it was rumoured Rushent had been in discussions with JOY DIVISION, ULTRAVOX and SPANDAU BALLET.
Despite this set back, this experience helped Rushent realise that music production moving towards being more computer-driven, so he bought a Roland MC8 Micro-composer along with a Roland System 700 and Jupiter 4.
A strong advocate of clarity in instrument voicing and as a former drummer, how drum sounds were achieved, the availability of the Linn LM1 Drum Computer in 1981 was the final piece in the jigsaw and the set-up helped Rushent realise his vision. The rest as they say, is history and THE HUMAN LEAGUE scored a No1 with ‘Don’t You Want Me?’ on both sides of the Atlantic…
Rushent won the 1982 Brit Award for best producer and went on to produce THE GO-GO’S third album ‘Talk Show’ released in 1984. However, while recording the follow-up to ‘Dare’, a breakdown in his personal life, coupled to deteriorating relations with THE HUMAN LEAGUE led to Rushent leaving the sessions and walking out of his own studio!
Following his divorce, Rushent was forced to sell Genetic Sound Studios to avoid bankruptcy. Despite reducing his workload to more occasional studio recordings with ASSOCIATES, HARD CORPS, THEN JERICO and TWO PEOPLE, Rushent was suffering from depression; realising his heart was no longer in music, he effectively retired from the industry.
Taking time out to raise his family as a single parent, he eventually made a steady return to full album productions with HAZEL O’CONNOR in 2005 and THE PIPETTES in 2010. Buoyed by the huge developments in computer technology, he even presented his own DISCO UNLIMITED project with a track called ‘Itchy Hips’ inspired by his daughter Amy, as well as working with his son James’ band DOES IT OFFEND YOU, YEAH? But just as momentum was returning to his music career, Rushent sadly passed away in June 2011, aged 62.
Remembering working with Martin Rushent, Clive Pierce of HARD CORPS said to The Electricity Club: “Personally I felt overwhelmed when in the studio with him as it did feel at times that your precious baby was being bounced around in a manner you would never dream of doing yourself. His deft production work magnified what we were attempting to do ourselves and that’s exactly what great producers do”.
THE PIPETTES’ Ani Saunders who now makes music as ANI GLASS added: “One of the greatest lessons I learnt from Martin was to only spend your time working on music you believe in and not to be afraid to change / amend / cut parts or songs if they’re not good enough. Of course the production and engineering skills I gained working with him were invaluable but I also learnt about how to create the right atmosphere for and during recording, something which I think is often overlooked. When I’m writing pop songs I always ask myself ‘what would Martin do?’ – it helps to keep me in check”.
Focussing primarily on his work with synthesizers and technology, The Electricity Club looks back at the post-punk career of Martin Rushent. With a limit of one track per album project and presented in chronological order, here is a Beginner’s Guide to the late, great man…
THE STRANGLERS Nice N Sleazy (1978)
Making his fortune producing the key tracks of THE STRANGLERS’ career such as ‘(Get A) Grip (On Yourself)’, ‘Peaches’ and ‘No More Heroes’, the mutant punk reggae of ‘Nice N Sleazy’ saw a diversion into synthesizers with Dave Greenfield’s spacey blast of swirling Minimoog during the instrumental break. At their Battersea Park in September 1978, the band typically courted controversy when they were accompanied by strippers for the song’s visual embellishment!
Recorded in March 1979, JOY DIVISION spent a day at Eden Studios in London with Martin Rushent, recording a 5 track demo with the view to signing to his Genetic Records label. But afterwards, the band headed to Strawberry Studios in Manchester to record their debut album ’Unknown Pleasures’ with Martin Hannett for Factory Records. However, Rushent always reckoned his version of ‘Ice Age’ was better than the speedier version which ended up on the posthumous ‘Still’ collection in 1981.
Available on the JOY DIVISION boxed set ‘Heart & Soul’ via Rhino Records
At Genetic Sound Studios, VISAGE started recording an album. Rusty Egan recalled: “we agreed to use the studio for a weekend with Martin engineering”; the first track from those sessions was ‘Tar’, a cautionary tale about the dangers of smoking. After numerous contractual issues, it was finally released as a single on Genetic Records but within days, Warners closed down his funding source at Radar Records. But encouraged by all the synthesizer technology being used in his studio, Rushent saw the future.
Available on VISAGE album ‘Visage’ via Polydor Records
Released on the relaunched Genetic Records via Island Records, ‘Homosapien’ came about after sessions were aborted for BUZZCOCKS fourth album. Rushent suggested to frontman Shelley that the two of them should work on new material using the Roland MC8 Micro-composer and System 700. Now seen as Shelley’s coming out song, a cacophony of synths and 12 string guitar combined for a wonderful futuristic snarl. However, the lyric “Homo Superior in my interior” got it a BBC Radio1 ban.
Available on the PETE SHELLEY album ‘Homosapien’ via Active Distribution Ltd
When presented with the demo of ‘The Sound Of The Crowd’, Rushent’s response was “Well, that’s going in the bin”. Phil Oakey objected but the producer snarled back: “You came to me, so I assume that’s because you want hits?”… triggering bursts of System 700 white noise from the Micro-composer for the rhythm track, the combination of obscure lyrics from Ian Burden like “Stroke a pocket with a print of a laughing sound” and a screaming chant gave THE HUMAN LEAGUE their breakthrough hit.
While Steve Severin from SIOUXSIE & THE BANSHEES produced the majority of the ‘Happy Birthday’, the job of turning the title track into the Glaswegian quintet’s breakthrough hit fell to Rushent. Tight ‘n’ bright thanks to his modern production techniques and Glare Grogan’s helium fuelled cutesy vocals and nursery rhyme lyrics, ALTERED IMAGES were denied the No1 spot for 3 weeks by Dave Stewart and Barbara Gaskin’s synth cover of ‘It’s My Party’ and then later, THE POLICE.
Combining the precision of the latest programmed technology with live instrumentation, ‘I Could Be Happy’ was close to perfection as one of Rushent’s best productions. Despite being shrouded in melancholy, it was catchy and danceable enough to be a UK Top 10 hit. Rushent produced the parent album ‘Pinky Blue’ but it was given a lukewarm reception by the music press, ultimately causing the original line-up of ALTERED IMAGES to implode.
Featuring Ross Middleton and Gary Barnacle with production by Rushent, ‘Love Cascade’ was the missing link between PETE SHELLEY and THE HUMAN LEAGUE. The vocals were virtually unintelligible as the clattering Linn Drum, pulsing synths, squawky guitar and sax merged together for a cool dancefloor friendly tune full of the decadent spirit of the times. Rushent produced the duo’s three other singles, while Barnacle went on to become one of the world’s most in-demand session saxophonists.
12 inch version available on the album ‘Retro: Active 5’ (V/A) via Hi-Bias Records Canada
“The most creative experience I’ve ever had in my life” was how Rushent described the making of ‘Love & Dancing’, an album of tracks from ‘Dare’ specially remixed and re-edited by the producer. Pre-sampling, the material was remixed from the mixing board using a multitude of effects with vocal stutters created by cutting up small portions of tape and splicing them together with the aid of his custom-made ruler. The percussive dub laden barrage of ‘Do Or Die’ was one of the highlights.
Available on THE LEAGUE UNLIMITED ORCHESTRA album ‘Love & Dancing’ via Virgin Records
Tensions were running high with creative differences during the recording sessions for THE HUMAN LEAGUE’s follow-up to ‘Dare’, with Rushent losing enthusiasm for the album project due to conflicts in the studio with Phil Oakey and in particular, Susanne Sulley. The weirdly catchy ‘Fascination’ was the last track to be recorded with Rushent, but he departed before it was mixed, despite Jo Callis’ attempts to mediate. The eventual ‘Hysteria’ album was lukewarm, audibly missing Rushent’s touch.
With Shelley and Rushent developing on ‘Homosapien’ with a more fierce sound, ‘Telephone Operator’ could be seen as an extension lyrically to the themes of its predecessor. The original parent album ‘XL-1’ had a novel bonus track in a computer program for the Sinclair ZX Spectrum which printed lyrics in time with the music and displayed graphics, there was a locking groove before the code so that its bleeps and squeaks could not be played accidentally.
Available on PETE SHELLEY album ‘XL-1’ by Active Distribution Ltd
When endorsing Korg’s PSS-50 Programmable Super Section for a magazine advert, Rushent was enthusing about a record which “apart from voice” was “all written and performed on one synth” – that album was HAZEL O’CONNOR’s ‘Smile’. From it, the moody single ‘Don’t Touch Me’ was very art school Weimar Cabaret with some very passionate vocals from O’Connor, constructed around a Synclavier with its distinct period bass and brass sounds.
Available on HAZEL O’CONNOR album ‘Smile’ via Cherry Red
Rushent worked with Billy Mackenzie on five tracks for ‘Perhaps’, the much anticipated recorded return of ASSOCIATES. ‘Waiting For The Love Boat’ was one of those songs, but the recording which stood out from the sessions was the epic string laden drama of ’Breakfast’. It is possibly Mackenzie’s greatest single moment, the melancholic piano motif setting the scene for an entire film noir in five minutes with its widescreen dramatics and mournful tension.
Clive Pierce told The Electricity Club: “HARD CORPS, having traditionally self-produced tracks at our resident studio in Brixton relished the prospect of working with Martin on ‘Je Suis Passée’ having been admirers of his work on ‘Love & Dancing’. It was difficult but never the less a total education. That’s the trouble being so close to something it’s difficult to let go. In retrospect I now listen to ’Je Suis Passée’ in awe of what he achieved for the track. The baby was fine”.
Pop rockers THEN JERICO were fronted by the handsome if volatile Mark Shaw; their debut single ‘The Big Sweep’ was recorded with Rushent and some help from his new Synclavier. However, due to the track’s anti-tabloid lyrical subject matter, the band’s label London Records initially declined to release the track. So it was self-released as a 1000 limited edition, although the track eventually resurfaced in its club mix on the 12 inch of ‘Muscle Deep’ in 1987.
Available on the THEN JERICO album ‘The Best Of’ via London Records
Jo Callis told The Electricity Club: “With ‘Heart Like A Wheel’, when The League came to thinking about the follow up to ‘Crash’ (which would become ‘Romantic?’), I thought there might be a good opportunity to try and get ‘the old team’ back together again, which I did manage to achieve for a couple of tunes at least”. With Rushent at the helm again, the result was a tune that recalled the classic pop era of THE HUMAN LEAGUE more than either of the two 1986 singles ‘Human’ or ‘I Need Your Loving’ had done.
GRAFTON PRIMARY Relativity – Martin Rushent remix (2008)
Australian electro-noir duo GRAFTON PRIMARY balanced in the divide between art and science on their debut single ‘Relativity’. Benjamin and Joshua Garden utilised sharp synthpop hooks and solid basslines in a classic Synth Britannia vein not dissimilar to THE HUMAN LEAGUE, which naturally made the Garden brothers perfect for a remix by Martin Rushent.
Available on GRAFTON PRIMARY single ‘Relativity’ via Resolution Music
THE PIPETTES Our Love Was Saved By Spacemen (2010)
From Rushent’s final album production, ‘Our Love Was Saved By Spacemen’ was a celestial Latin flavoured pop tune by the MkII variant of THE PIPETTES, fronted by sisters Gwenno and Ani Saunders. The partnership was to prove inspirational with Gwenno’s next solo long player ‘Y Dydd Olaf’ being one of the best albums of 2014, while Ani recently tweeted a photo of project notes from recording with Rushent as she prepared to record her first solo album.