Released in 1985 on ZTT, PROPAGANDA’s ‘A Secret Wish’ is often hailed as a classic album of the electronic era which heralded the advent of sampling and digital synthesis.
Among its fans were the likes of Martin Gore, John Taylor and Jim Kerr; over the years, ‘A Secret Wish’ has grown in stature with its influence felt on MICHAEL JACKSON’s ‘Bad’ produced by Quincy Jones.
Meanwhile, the quartet of Claudia Brücken, Susanne Freytag, Ralf Dörper and Michael Mertens dubbed “ABBA in hell” were a forerunner of acts such as LADYTRON.
But it all ended acrimoniously and despite attempts to reform PROPAGANDA over the last 30 years, they have all come to nought, although the quartet performed together at the ‘Produced by Trevor Horn’ celebratory concert for The Prince’s Trust in 2004, while Freytag and Dörper joined Brücken for her career retrospective show at The Scala in 2011.
More recently, Claudia Brücken and Susanne Freytag have teamed up with Stephen J Lipson, producer of ‘A Secret Wish’ and have been using social media to introduce their new project named D:UEL; so it was something of a surprise when it was announced that the pair would be playing two London shows performing ‘A Secret Wish’ billed as xPROPAGANDA.
Despite the online protestations of Michael Mertens, the two shows quickly sold out and it was interesting to see Ralf Dörper at the bar as an interested observer to hear how the songs he co-wrote with Mertens would come over in the 21st Century. Squeezed onto the comparatively small stage at The Garage, Brücken and Freytag were joined by Stephen J Lipson on guitar, famed ZTT percussionist Luis Jardim, regular CB sidemen James Watson and Philip Larsen, drummer Paul Jones and Sam Tate on flugelhorn.
Performing ‘A Secret Wish’ in order, it was Freytag who took centre stage first with ‘Dream Within A Dream’, her spoken Germanic tones reciting the stark poem by Edgar Allen Poe. With Brücken on vibraphone, the pair were backed by a progressive soundtrack of hypnotic bass guitar from Watson and some synthetically layered drama from Larsen. While Lipson’s transient soloing maintained the tension, the solid dual percussive backbone of Jones and Jardim were unable to recreate the frenzied attack of the original’s middle section.
The machine rhythm of ‘The Murder Of Love’ welcomed Brücken’s first lead vocal of the evening with an enthusiastic response from the audience, although whether they appreciated Lipson’s jazz guitar work was debatable.
‘Jewel’ brought Brücken and Freytag into an appealing shouting match as a barrage of aggressive textures sourced from the original album were brought into play, before Freytag left the stage for Brücken to give a spirited rendering of ‘Duel’, joyfully accompanied by the crowd. A supreme pop song, Stock Aitken & Waterman loved it so much that they recorded a version of it with Mandy Smith in 1988, while Sophie Ellis-Bextor covered it in 2007!
Freytag returned to offer her shade next to Brücken’s light on ‘Frozen Faces’ before the volume went up a gear for a magnificently powerful rendition of ‘P: Machinery’. The electronic cover of JOSEF K’s ‘Sorry For Laughing’ continued the power trip before the unsettling cinematic glory of ‘Dr Mabuse’; it seems amazing now that this slice of avant pop noir could have even entered the Top 30 of the UK singles chart in 1984, but it was a much more open-minded and visionary time back then… to close the main set, Brücken and Freytag playfully bashed Simmons drums side-by-side to the coda of ‘The Chase’ before departing to the haunting endsay of ‘The Last Word’.
After a short interlude during which the love could clearly be felt in the room, Freytag returned for the encore brandishing a whip for the welcome performance art of ‘Disziplin’.
Acknowledging the contribution of Ralf Dörper, Michael Mertens and late founder member Andreas Thein to PROPAGANDA in her introduction, ‘Disziplin’ was once presented live on ‘The Tube’ back in the day; inspired by THROBBING GRISTLE’s rather stern ‘Discipline’, it was Dörper who wrote some new German lyrics and the demo got PROPAGANDA signed to ZTT.
Brücken swapped places with Freytag and for her encore contribution, she performed a fabulous version of ‘Femme Fatale’, the Lou Reed song originally voiced by German chanteuse Nico for THE VELVET UNDERGROUND’s debut album produced by Andy Warhol, which was the B-side to ‘Dr Mabuse’. With all the classic line-up PROPAGANDA material now performed, there was a reprise of ‘Duel’ to end proceedings on a nostalgic high.
Brücken and Freytag will have a busy year as they take xPROPAGANDA out on the road opening for HEAVEN 17 as well as playing select European festivals in the summer. But while Claudia Brücken celebrates her past, there is the mouthwatering prospect in June 2018 of her new collaborative album ‘Beginn’ with Jerome Froese (son of the late TANGERINE DREAM legend Edgar Froese) which is set to include electronic reimaginings of two FLEETWOOD MAC songs, ‘Sara’ and ‘Gypsy’.
Whether working in the past or present, another hope feeds another dream…
xPROPAGANDA open for HEAVEN 17 on ‘The Luxury Gap’ 35th Anniversary Tour, dates include:
Northampton Roadmender (Friday 9th November), Norwich UEA (Saturday 10th November), Bournemouth O2 Academy (Friday 16th November), Birmingham O2 Institute (Saturday 17th November), Glasgow O2 ABC (Friday 23rd November), Liverpool O2 Academy (Saturday 24 November), London O2 Shepherds Bush Empire (Friday 30th November), Bristol O2 Academy (Saturday 1st December), Manchester O2 Ritz (Friday 7th December), Sheffield O2 Academy (Saturday 8th November)
With her distinctive ice maiden delivery, CLAUDIA BRÜCKEN is the undoubted queen of cinematic avant pop.
She first came to prominence with PROPAGANDA and the Trevor Horn produced film noir drama of ‘Dr Mabuse’.
Together with Susanne Freytag, Michael Mertens and Ralf Dörper, the Düsseldorf based quartet released their acclaimed album ‘A Secret Wish’ on ZTT in 1985.
But despite the album being a favourite of musical figures such as Quincy Jones, Martin Gore, John Taylor and Jim Kerr, PROPAGANDA split following business and creative tensions as a result of their deal with ZTT.
Remaining with ZTT, Brücken formed ACT with early electronic pioneer Thomas Leer and released an album ‘Laughter Tears & Rage’ in 1988 which featured an array of lush synthetic dynamics glossed with a touch of starlet glamour. Not one to rest on her laurels, her first solo album ‘Love: & A Million Other Things’ came in 1991 on Island Records before she took a career break.
There was a brief reunion of PROPAGANDA in 1998, but when that came to nought, Brücken spent much of the new millennium’s first decade working and touring with OMD’s Paul Humphreys in ONETWO, supporting ERASURE and THE HUMAN LEAGUE along the way.
Since then, she has released two further solo albums and more recently been spotted in the studio with Susanne Freytag and Stephen J Lipson, while a new collaborative project with Jerome Froese is also in progress.
Although her catalogue is wide and varied, CLAUDIA BRÜCKEN is perhaps still very much regarded as a cult figure on the music scene. Certainly, she deserves greater recognition so with a restriction of one track per release, The Electricity Club offers a twenty track Beginner’s Guide to her work…
TOPOLINOS Mustafa (1982)
Brücken and Freytag first met in Düsseldorf around Die Ratinger Straße; “There was this interaction between art and music happening and everyone kind of knew one another” she said. Together they formed TOPOLINOS, literally translated as ‘The Mickey Mouses’! Using a rhythm unit, electric organ lines and Middle Eastern flavoured vocal phrasing, ‘Mustafa’ was a typical art school recording of the period and appeared on ‘Partysnäks’, the soundtrack to the film ‘Die Tanzbeinsammler’.
Available on the compilation album Electri_City 2 (V/A) via Grönland Records
PROPAGANDA p: Machinery (1985)
At the suggestion of Freytag, Brücken was recruited into PROPAGANDA and their dynamic sound was marketed as “ABBA in Hell”! p: Machinery captured their Teutonic edge and the charm of state-of-the-art technology such as the PPG Wave and Synclavier systems. Produced by Stephen J Lipson, the song also had an unexpected contributor as Brücken recalled: “It was amazing when David Sylvian came in. On ‘p: Machinery there is this line he wrote on a little keyboard that he brought in…”
GLENN GREGORY & CLAUDIA BRÜCKEN When Your Heart Runs Out Of Time (1985)
Written by Will Jennings, best known for ‘My Heart Will Go On’ for the film ‘Titanic’ and ‘Up Where We Belong’ from ‘An Officer & A Gentleman’, ‘When Your Heart Runs Out of Time’ was recorded for the film ‘Insignificance’ directed by Nicolas Roeg. Brücken and the HEAVEN 17 vocalist met during the Anton Corbijn directed video shoot for ‘Dr Mabuse’ when Gregory’s then-wife Sarah was doing the make-up. The song was produced by Midge Ure, under the pseudonym of Otto Flake Junior.
After PROPAGANDA fragmented, Brücken formed ACT with Thomas Leer in 1987. Working again with Stephen J Lipson, alongside the technological marvels came a more playful, decadent glamour with some political flirtations. ‘Absolutely Immune’ was a commentary on the apathy of the nation at large with its “I’m alright Jack” selfishness. Unfortunately, with the sentiment lost on a British public still drowned in blue emotion, it failed to gain interest in a landscape dominated by the bland blue eyed soul.
While not a sales success, the acclaim and respect that ‘A Secret Wish’ attained among fellow artists led to Brücken being offered many opportunities to collaborate. One of the first came from Jimmy Somerville. ‘Run From Love’ was a lesser known BRONSKI BEAT number reworked in a more house directed fashion by S’EXPRESS producer Pascal Gabriel for the diminutive Glaswegian’s greatest hits collection and Ms Brücken provided backing vocals in the chorus.
Despite ACT ending, Brücken signed a deal with Island Records which eventually spawned her debut solo album produced by Pascal Gabriel. The first single ‘Absolut[e]’ was very much dominated by Gabriel’s dancefloor instincts. But as the album was being recorded, all was not well within. “The MD from Island suddenly left and all the people who worked on my album left as well” she remembered, “A new guy came in and already I could sense what would happen, so Pascal and I decided to get really experimental”.
The reaction to ‘Love: & A Million Other Things’ was muted and Brücken took a career break to bring up her daughter Maddy, emerging only occasionally to record the odd guest vocal. ‘Light The Way’ with CHROME SEDUCTION was a percussively frantic club number that also saw a reunion with former partner-in-crime Susanne Freytag. The project of Magnus Fiennes, brother of actors Joseph Fiennes and Ralph Fiennes, it first surfaced on an independently released 12 inch on Mother Alpha Delta.
Available on the CLAUDIA BRÜCKEN album ‘ComBined’ via Union Square
THE BRAIN I’ll Find A Way (1996)
The project of Düsseldorf based DJ Dietmar Andreas Maier, ‘I’ll Find A Way’ was typical of the frantically paced Euro-Trance of the period. Co-written with Michael Mertens, the seed of a PROPAGANDA reunion began with a number of songs including ‘Ignorance’, ‘No Return’, ‘To The Future’ and ‘Turn To The Sun’ being demoed. Although a video for ‘No Return’ was produced, the title proved poignant and Brücken later announced: “The reunion was worth a try, but did not work out.”
Continuing to contribute the occasional guest vocal, ‘Eyemotion’ was a co-write with John Etkin-Bell which coupled a shuffling drum loop with some beautifully chilled out atmospheres. Brücken’s breathy whispers and a muted synthetic brass motif à la PET SHOP BOYS provided the colourful sonics on an elegant piece of downtempo electronica. Blowing away the likes of ENIGMA and SACRED SPIRIT, the original CD single release was limited to just 2000 copies however.
Available on the OCEANHEAD single ‘Eyemotion’ via Land Speed Records
CLAUDIA BRÜCKEN & PAUL RUTHERFORD This Is Not America (2000 – not released until 2011)
After the aborted reunion of PROPAGANDA, Brücken accepted an invitation in 2000 to join Paul Humphreys on his solo tour of the USA; one of the first recorded fruits of their partnership was a cover of ‘This Is Not America’ featuring FRANKIE GOES TO HOLLYWOOD’s Paul Rutherford intended for a film soundtrack. A beautifully crafted synthesized tribute to DAVID BOWIE & THE PAT METHENY GROUP, although shelved, it finally saw the light of day on her ‘ComBined’ career retrospective.
Available on the CLAUDIA BRÜCKEN album ‘ComBined’ via Union Square
APOPTYGMA BERZERK Unicorn – Duet Version (2002)
Europe maintained a vibrant industrial music scene at the start of the new century and in a one-off collaboration with Norway’s cult electronic body merchants APOPTYGMA BERZERK, Brücken returned to the more Teutonic overtones that had been evident in PROPAGANDA. In an electronic rework of the heavier guitar focussed original, the combo provided a suitably aggressive but accessible backing track for her to duet with frontman Stephan Groth on ‘Unicorn’.
Available on the APOPTYGMA BERZERK album ‘Harmonizer’ via WEA
ONETWO Cloud 9ine (2004)
Brücken formalised her musical partnership with Paul Humphreys and together they named themselves ONETWO. They dusted off a track that had been demoed during the aborted PROPAGANDA reunion. The song in question was ‘Cloud 9ine’, a co-write with Martin Gore which also featured the guitar of DEPECHE MODE’s main songwriter. It was the stand-out song on ONETWO’s debut EP ‘Item’, but it would be a few years before their first album would be completed.
Brücken joined ERASURE’s Andy Bell to sing on two tracks for his debut solo album ‘Electric Blue’. More club oriented than ERASURE, the long player was produced by THE MANHATTAN CLIQUE who were also part of the ONETWO live band, and provided the introduction. The call-and-response Hi-NRG stomp of ‘Delicious’ saw Brücken in her most playful mood since ACT and in rare poptastic glory, despite the bittersweet, reflective lyrical nature of the song.
Brücken teamed up with former ZTT label mate Poppy to record a number of stripped back cover versions, with just piano or guitar as accompaniment for her first long form release since 1991. Among the reinterpretations were songs originally performed by RADIOHEAD, MARIANNE FAITHFUL, ASSOCIATES and KATE BUSH. One of the highlights was a suitably dramatic take on ‘Libertango’, better known as ‘I’ve Seen That Face Before’ made famous by GRACE JONES.
Humphreys and Brücken finally released a full length album as ONETWO in 2007 and from it was ‘Anonymous’, a song that began life as a demo from the aborted PROPAGANDA reunion and which had also been co-written with Andy McCluskey. The pretty ringing melodies and elegiac atmospheres were very reminiscent of classic OMD. But the collaboration had been unusual as at the time of the song’s conception, as Humphreys had not yet fully rejoined McCluskey in his old band.
In between the aborted PROPAGANDA reunion and ONETWO, CLAUDIA BRÜCKEN guested with the popular German dance duo on ‘Unknown Treasure’, a most gorgeously shuffled electrobeat ballad. The parties reunited in 2008 but while ‘Unknown Treasure’ was in Brücken’s words, “a real collaboration”, “’Don’t Stop’ was in reverse, they gave me all the music and then I did the words and sent it back to them”. Despite the remote detachment of the recording, ‘Don’t Stop’ was still elegantly enticing.
CLAUDIA BRÜCKEN & THE REAL TUESDAY WELD The Things I Love (2011)
Rockstar Games wanted a German singer for a new game called ‘LA Noire’ soundtracked by THE REAL TUESDAY WELD’s Stephen Coates who was known for producing jazzy cabaret-style music with subtle electronica influences dubbed Antique Beat. “I thought: why not?” said Brücken, “I heard the songs and thought they were so beautiful. I found it a really good challenge doing something I hadn’t done before”. ‘The Things I Love’ was the alluring highlight of three songs recorded.
Available on the soundtrack album ‘L.A. Noire’ (V/A) via Rockstar Games
CLAUDIA BRÜCKEN One Summer Dream (2012)
The B-side to ELECTRIC LIGHT ORCHESTRA’s massive hit ‘Mr Blue Sky’, ‘One Summer Dream’ was the first song to emerge from Brücken’s reinterpretations project with producer Stephen Hague which also included material by DAVID BOWIE, PET SHOP BOYS, DUBSTAR, JULEE CRUISE and THE LILAC TIME. Beginning with a vintage gramophoned segment, it built to a dreamy John Barry influenced, ‘Felt Mountain’-era GOLDFRAPP string arrangement.
Although this Andy McCluskey / Karl Bartos co-write first appeared in 1993 on the ELEKTRIC MUSIC album ‘Esperanto’, Paul Humphreys completely reworked ‘Kissing The Machine’ from scratch for OMD. “Paul had the idea of asking Claudia to do the vocal in the middle eight” remembered McCluskey, “but I suggested we start it with the ‘I want you to want me – I need you to need me…’ bit through a vocoder and went ‘y’know, could you ask Claudia to do it in German as well?’!” The result was electronic magic.
The biggest surprise musically on Brücken’s third solo album ‘Where Else…’ was her adoption of the acoustic guitar. Working with producer John Owen Williams whose credits also included BLANCMANGE, the songs dealt with the subjects of “emotion, beginnings, endings, past life and future hopes”. Almost like ABBA meeting MORRISSEY in a lush organic backdrop, ‘Time To Make Changes’ very much reflected her personal mindset following the end of her relationship with Paul Humphreys.
Available on the CLAUDIA BRÜCKEN album ‘Where Else…’ via Cherry Red Records
For further information on the upcoming projects of CLAUDIA BRÜCKEN, please visit her official website and Facebook page
Trevor Horn is a producer who can be said to have shaped modern pop music.
He began his professional music career as a session bassist, most notably for UK disco starlet TINA CHARLES and her producer Biddu.
Another member of her backing band was keyboard player Geoff Downes; together they would go on to form BUGGLES and score a No1 in 1979 with ‘Video Killed The Radio Star’.
But Horn’s pop stardom was to be short-lived. Despite their musical virtuosity, BUGGLES were an unusual looking pair; so with his best interests at heart, his wife and business partner Jill Sinclair advised that while he wasn’t going to be the greatest frontman in the world, there was a chance he could make it as a top record producer.
In 1981, Horn started a run of producing and co-writing four singles for pop duo DOLLAR; this attracted the attention of NME journalist Paul Morley and they would later establish the ZTT label through Island Records.
Also listening were Sheffield band ABC who asked him to produce their debut album ‘The Lexicon Of Love’. It was during these 1982 sessions that Horn brought together his classic studio team of arranger Anne Dudley, engineer Gary Langan and Fairlight specialist JJ Jeczalik for the first time; the three would later become THE ART OF NOISE.
During this early phase of his production career, Horn favoured the Fairlight CMI as his tool of choice; it had been demonstrated to him electronic music pioneer and Simmons SDS-V co-designer Richard James Burgess, who had worked with him on the first BUGGLES album ‘The Age Of Plastic’.
The Fairlight also allowed for many arrangement possibilities and not just one, but two, three or four different remixes of a single track, a promotional tactic that was employed heavily at ZTT with FRANKIE GOES TO HOLLYWOOD, THE ART OF NOISE, PROPAGANDA and ACT.
Horn had first become interested in more mechanised musical templates after hearing ‘Warm Leatherette’ by THE NORMAL in 1978. So when the Linn Drum Computer came along, it was like manna from heaven for the forward thinking Horn. He told The Guardian in 2004: “You could tell the Linn what to do, which was unbelievable because before then you had to tell the drummer what to do and he was generally a pain in the a*se”. However, Horn did use accomplished session musicians when needed to compliment his carefully controlled direction.
Horn would go on to win BRIT Awards for ‘Best British Producer’ in 1983, 1985 and 1992. In 2010, he received an Ivor Novello Award for ‘Outstanding Contribution to British Music’.
His production portfolio is vast, taking in PAUL McCARTNEY, TOM JONES, CHER, ROD STEWART, MALCOLM McLAREN, ROBBIE WILLIAMS, GENESIS, LEANN RIMES, LISA STANSFIELD and CHARLOTTE CHURCH among many, plus lesser known acts such as PHILIP JAP, INTERPLAY and THE MINT JULEPS.
Not necessarily collecting his best known or mainstream work, but certainly listing some of his more interesting adventures in modern recording, The Electricity Club chooses eighteen works from Trevor Horn that fit closest to its ethos, presented in chronological order…
ABC Poison Arrow (1982)
ABC’s first single ‘Tears Are Not Enough’ produced by Steve Brown was loose, scratchy funk that fitted in with the times, but the Sheffield combo wanted to be a far more polished and approached Horn to hone their sound. The first fruit of labours was ‘Poison Arrow’ was held together with a drum machine backbone and augmented by some dramatic piano passages from Anne Dudley in her first session with Horn. The chemistry of all involved led to a musical masterpiece of the era, ‘The Lexicon Of Love’.
Available on the ABC album ‘The Lexicon Of Love’ via Mercury Records
Horn reworked Richard James Burgess’ production of ‘Instinction’ and threw in reworked synths from Anne Dudley and extra bombastic percussion; it saved SPANDAU BALLET’s career. However, further sessions were abandoned when, according to songwriter Gary Kemp in his autobiography ‘I Know This Much: From Soho to Spandau’, Horn wanted drummer John Keeble replaced with a drum machine. Kemp stuck by his bandmate and went with IMAGINATION producers Swain and Jolley for the ‘True’ album.
Available on the SPANDAU BALLET album ‘Gold : The Best Of’ via EMI Records
In 1981, Horn had partly abandoned work on the second BUGGLES album to join Geoff Downes in YES; the press dubbed the new line-up YUGGLES! But Horn amicably left a few months later to finish what became ‘Adventures In Modern Recording’ and kickstart his production career. With Gary Langan and JJ Jeczalik on board, ‘Owner Of A Lonely Heart’, could be considered as the birth of THE ART OF NOISE; the stabbing samples of a jazz orchestra and tight programmed drums provided a distinctive counterpoint.
Available on the YES album ‘90125’ via Atlantic Records
THE ART OF NOISE “happened because of a happy accident” said Gary Langan. But Trevor Horn was not their producer – “Well, he wasn’t the producer!!” Langan clarified,“we were the producers! If I’m being really honest, we were a little naive. Anne, JJ and myself really had no intention of forming a band… so when we signed to ZTT, we needed somebody to do all the artwork and how it was going to portrayed which was really down to Paul and Trevor”. It was an indicator of how powerful Horn’s name had become.
Available on THE ART OF NOISE album ‘Who’s Afraid Of…?’ via Union Square / Salvo
Düsseldorf’s PROPAGANDA were the proto-LADYTRON or ABBA in Hell, depending on your point of view! They boasted within their ranks Ralf Dörper and Michael Mertens, plus two mini-Marlenes in Claudia Brücken and Susanne Freytag. The magnificent Fritz Lang film noir of ‘Dr Mabuse’ was their opening salvo. Produced by Horn, the success of FRANKIE GOES TO HOLLYWOOD however meant the producer’s helm was handed over to his engineer Stephen J Lipson, although Horn was later involved in the final mix.
Available on the PROPAGANDA album ‘A Secret Wish’ via Union Square / Salvo
FRANKIE GOES TO HOLLYWOOD The Power Of Love (1984)
A key signing to ZTT, regardless of who was actually playing and what the band would have achieved without Trevor Horn, in their short life FRANKIE GOES TO HOLLYWOOD were a thrilling adventure that wouldn’t have worked without the songs, which were largely written by Holly Johnson, Peter Gill and Mark O’Toole. ‘Relax’ and ‘Two Tribes’ got the ball rolling, but the classical grandeur of ‘The Power Of Love’ was an outstanding piece of work in anyone’s book.
Available on the album ‘Bang!: The Greatest Hits’ via Warner Music
After they left 10CC, Kevin Godley and Lol Creme’s appetite for experimentation with tracks like ‘Babies’ led them to be called “the older generation’s Depeche Mode” by Smash Hits. They also branched out into directing promo videos for VISAGE and DURAN DURAN. It was while doing videos for FRANKIE GOES TO HOLLYWOOD that they ended up working with Trevor Horn. Almost sparse by Horn’s standards with a metronomic tension alongside minimal guitar, ‘Cry’ was a terrific pop statement.
Available on the album ‘Cry: The Very Best Of’ via Polydor / Universal Music
Trevor Horn took his multiple remix approach to its zenith with GRACE JONES’s seventh album; rather than actually do a collection of songs, why not do an album that was effectively multiple remixes and interpretations of one song? While the familiar single version of ‘Slave To The Rhythm’ was wonderful, sun-kissed funky pop, the album’s fifth track take was far more aggressive, with a punchy synth brass riff taking centre stage to make the most out of Miss Jones’ enigmatically frightening demeanour.
Available on the album ‘Slave To The Rhythm’ via Culture Factory
Following her departure from PROPAGANDA, Claudia Brücken teamed up with early electro trailblazer Thomas Leer in ACT. The Trevor Horn produced ‘Chance’ was released as their third single, but withdrawn due to the 12″ mix containing an unauthorised varispeeded sample of ABBA’s ‘Take A Chance On Me’. Far more theatrical and spielerisch than PROPAGANDA, ACT were however, less well received with the eventual Stephen J Lipson produced ‘Laughter, Tears & Rage’ not making quite the impact that was hoped for.
Available on the album ‘Love & Hate’ via Union Square / Salvo
“Che Guevara and Debussy to a disco beat” was a concept coined by Horn while he was working in the studio with Neil Tennant and Chris Lowe. Taking in the then ubiquitous form of acid house, ‘Left To My Own Devices’ incorporated a dramatic string arrangement by Richard Niles and the opera stylings of soprano Sally Bradshaw. One of PET SHOP BOYS’ most striking recordings it had been intended to programme the synthesizers and record the orchestra in one day… six months later, the song was finished.
Available on the album ‘Introspective’ via EMI Records
The bombastic tendencies of the now stadium friendly SIMPLE MINDS were well-suited to the Trevor Horn treatment, although paradoxically by the time they got into the studio together in 1988, the Glaswegians were favouring a more restrained follow-up to the rock monster that was ‘Once Upon A Time’. Time has not been kind to ‘Street Fighting Years’ album, which now comes across as self-indulgent and over-politicised. But one track with a vibrant energy despite the soapbox was the more classic sounding ‘Wall Of Love’.
Available on the boxed set ‘Street Fighting Years’ via Virgin Records
SEAL found fame as the voice of ADAMSKI’s ‘Killer’ which reached No1 in 1990. Possessing a soulful voice that suited both dance and rock, Horn couldn’t believe his luck when he discovered hel was a free agent. A deal with ZTT was sealed and their first single together was the mighty techno rock of ‘Crazy’. It was the perfect platform for SEAL’s crossover potential and the Paddington-born singer found fame in America with ‘Kiss From A Rose’, which was also produced by Horn and netted a 1995 Grammy Award.
If it wasn’t for SOFT CELL, then the path for FRANKIE GOES TO HOLLYWOOD and PET SHOP BOYS might not have been so smooth. Signing with Warners, this cover of Jacques Brel’s ‘Les Chanson De Jacky’, made famous in an English version by Scott Walker, was a compromise reached by Almond to regain both his pop and artistic high ground. While basically a technologically enhanced remake of Walker’s cover, Horn’s production was mighty and cute, in a stupid arse way 😉
Available on the album ‘Tenement Symphony’ via Warner Music
Virgin Records had always been pushing MIKE OLDFIELD for a ‘Tubular Bells II’ since the original in 1973. But ironically, when Oldfield departed the label for Warners, he did just that. Horn was a natural choice as producer for this long awaited follow-up. The first ‘Tubular Bells’ featured no synthesizers at all; with the titled inspired by an Arthur C. Clarke short story, not only did ‘Sentinel’ exploit the use of modern studio technology, but beautiful female vocals were also part of this more obviously melodic reprise.
Available on the album ‘Tubular Bells II’ via Warner Music
Written by Arthur Baker, Taylor Dayne and Fred Zarr, ‘Whatever You Want’ for TINA TURNER was an archetypical production from Horn. Using the most up-to-date technology yet retaining a vital musicality, there was always space for the lead vocalist to perform to their maximum. However, it always was a time consuming process. Legend has it that when ROBBIE WILLIAMS handed over his demos for the 2009 album ‘Reality Killed The Video Star’, he apparently said to Horn “I’ll see you in six months!”
Available on the album ‘Wildest Dreams’ via EMI Music
Faux lesbian duo Julia Volkova and Lena Katina caused a stir with the Horn produced No1 single ‘All The Things She Said’ and its accompanying video that broke many broadcast taboos. Much more interesting musically though was another Horn produced track ‘Not Gonna Get Us’. Sounding like THE PRODIGY fronted by fleas on helium, ‘Нас Не Догонят’ (as it was originally titled in Russian) was heavier than usual Europop, with a rebellious teenage angst message.
Available on the album ‘200 km/h In The Wrong Lane’ via Interscope Records
In 2003, Horn worked with Glaswegians BELLE & SEBASTIAN for the first time. And after the hangover of Britpop, indie bands were starting to embrace synths again. Southampton band DELAYS almost went the full hog with the brilliant ‘Valentine’, a Horn-assisted disco number. The pulsing sequences and syncopated rhythm section were pure DURAN DURAN, although Greg Gilbert’s raspy falsetto in the soaring chorus and some choppy guitar ensured the band weren’t totally detached from their roots.
Available on the album ‘You See Colours’ via Rough Trade
PET SHOP BOYS reunited with Trevor Horn, ‘I’m With Stupid’ was a perfect politically charged jape at the special relationship between George W Bush and Tony Blair. The satirical lyrical content was enhanced further with an amusing promo video featuring ‘Little Britain’ stars Matt Lucas and David Walliams. However, other than the brilliantly hypnotic opener ‘Psychological’, the remainder of the ‘Fundamental’ album was lacklustre, with the dreary Diane Warren penned ballad ‘Numb’ being a low point.
Available on the album ‘Fundamental’ via EMI Music
Stephen J Lipson, both individually and in collaboration with Trevor Horn, has been responsible for some of the most iconic sounding electronic-based musical productions over the last 30 years.
Alongside Trevor Horn, he was an integral part of the ZTT Records sound which was the Ying to the pop Yang of Stock, Aitken and Waterman – producing a stellar run of songs that were musical, very often cerebral and in many cases, massive chart hits.
Whereas some band producers of the era were happy just to record the artists and suggest a few overdubs, Lipson and Horn saw the potential in often scrappy sounding demos and had the vision to use the latest available technology, combined with their own musicianship, to totally transform and take them to another place altogether.
The two acts that remain most musically indebted to the ZTT stable were Liverpool’s FRANKIE GOES TO HOLLYWOOD and Germany’s PROPAGANDA. As well as producing tracks which arguably sounded better than most of the competition, the label’s arch strategist Paul Morley perpetuated a tradition started by Factory Records in aligning the music of their artists with a design aesthetic that although could be seen as being ultra-pretentious, helped give the bands a unique identity.
Stephen J Lipson has also produced for PET SHOP BOYS, SIMPLE MINDS, ANNIE LENNOX, SOPHIE B HAWKINS, PHARRELL WILLIAMS and ULTRAVOX amongst others. He kindly spoke to The Electricity Club about elements of his glittering career and also his move into the world of film music production and mixing.
Your early days in the industry seemed to involve a lot of “learning on the job”…
I was self-taught and I built my first studio in the mid 70’s with no knowledge or help. Then I started engineering, making it up as I went along – my only previous experience was operating a Revox tape machine in my bedroom. After the studio had been going for a few months, Dave Robinson (Stiff Records) wanted to record an album there and suggested that he got an engineer in for the first day. That was Phil Brown who, in the space of 12 hours, got the project under way and taught me some invaluable lessons.
The art of band album production is often seen as a bit of a “black art”, what is your take on being successful at it?
You need to have personal taste, be able to get on with people and have good teamwork. Not taking up too much space in the room too by doing what has to be done – tea, driving, jokes, playing, writing, emailing, etc etc. Also giving encouragement to all involved and understanding that it’s not too important, at the end of the day it’s just music!
You’re well known for playing on some of the works you produce, are many producers frustrated artists?
I don’t know many producers and the ones I do know seem to be happy without the need for adulation.
Things really clicked into place when you started working with Trevor Horn and the whole ZTT experience, what are you main memories from that period?
My main memory is WORK! We worked so hard that when FRANKIE GOES TO HOLLYWOOD’s ‘Relax’ went to number one we didn’t celebrate, we just kept at it – it was enjoyable work in a great team though. My other memory is exposure to loads of equipment and having the time to use it.
‘Relax’ took a lot of attempts to perfect, how did the process go from the original (very rough) demo to final product?
Trevor had done a version with The Blockheads before I started working with him. We then spent ages on a “smart” version which took ages. Then he came in one day and said he wanted to scrap it and start again. That was when the single happened, very quickly, Trevor, JJ Jeczalik, Andy Richards and myself all playing live.
With the exception of Holly Johnson and Paul Rutherford, the rest of FRANKIE GOES TO HOLLYWOOD didn’t actually play on the final released version of ‘Relax’, how did the public react to that?
As far as I know I don’t think anyone knew at the time!
PROPAGANDA’s ‘A Secret Wish’ is still a stunning sounding piece of work, were the demos you received for the album pretty fully formed?
For the most part the demos weren’t finished at all. They were skeletons, which is one of the reasons the album took so long. Michael Mertens, the musician in the band, lived in Düsseldorf. Trevor was working on other projects, so we were very much left to our own devices. Paul Morley was the main person who helped steer the project. My main memory of the album is of working in a black room for months with Andy Richards and loads of gear.
Apparently there were 14 versions of ‘Relax’ and 10 of ‘Dr.Mabuse’ – why go the extra mile and create so many alternative versions?
No-one knew what they were doing at the time and Paul Morley probably kept asking for more and we just kept going!
Do you feel you and Trevor Horn deserve more recognition for pioneering the art of remixing and the alternative version?
No… people who do what we do are, by definition, backroom people. That is a choice and those who want to know can find out…
I believe you were one of the first producers to work using digital recording, how was that experience?
It was a massive relief. There was no hiss, the difference in sound to our ears was wonderful and less EQ was needed. The Sony machines were also really reliable, we tried a Mitsubishi 32 track first but it didn’t work.
Are you a “snob” when it comes to music/studio equipment?
Absolutely not. Just about every piece of equipment is good nowadays, plus you can’t blame the gear any more. Instruments are different of course…
Do you often wish that vocalist-enhancing tools such as Autotune and Melodyne were available back in the day?
Not really. The limitations were good and I miss that, but we can’t turn the clock back, so onwards…
Do you have a favourite post-ZTT artist that you’ve worked with?
It’s hard to say, I enjoy the process of recording so if I were to pick an artist I would base it on personality which isn’t really relevant.
You produced the ULTRAVOX comeback album ‘Brilliant’, were you a fan of the band before joining the project?
Yes! Also I thought that any band that could write and make the records that they had over the years would be great to work with.
How was the process of working with the band on the album, was it a challenging experience?
Sort of, but it was very fulfilling. They’re lovely guys, but I was amazed that the album didn’t do all that well, I thought it was very good.
Do you have any ideas as to why the album wasn’t more successful?
Not a clue. Maybe it was a lack of money to promote it? Maybe a lack of interest in the band? It’s hard to say.
Today it is far easier for artists to self-produce and record, do you still think the big studio has a place in the current market?
Yes and no. In order to collaborate it’s ideal to be in the same space and this requires more than a home studio. I miss the collaborative aspect of record making but pragmatism must prevail, plus there are rarely any big budgets for projects now.
Does having the internet mean that there is a less of a necessity to travel for certain projects now?
To a certain extent, but a common space is better. It’s an interesting way of working though. I did an album with MIKE OLDFIELD recently, where I was in LA and London and he was in the Bahamas where he lives. For the most part it worked but we did have some strange moments!
Much of your work now involves mixing/producing film scores including with HANS ZIMMER on ‘The Dark Knight Rises’ and ‘Rush’, how does that compare with making band albums?
It was a massive learning experience moving into the film world, but it happened for me at an ideal point. I was getting bored with the predictable song structure and instrumentation of pop music. And I was starting to feel out of touch with the charts. There isn’t much comparison apart from music being the common denominator. Everything in film world is larger – budgets, quantity of music, sounds, personalities, sophistication. But being able to go between the two is amazing as after a while I miss all the things I found boring in pop.
Is HANS ZIMMER’s studio as stunning as it looks in photographs?
More so! The pictures don’t show the technical side which is beyond one’s wildest thoughts.
What projects are you currently working on and are they still biased towards the film world?
The film work is definitely biased towards the film world!
Currently I’m working with RONAN KEATING. The 5th album of his I’ve worked on. Also an amazing Japanese artist called HOTEI. In a couple of weeks I’m off to New York to do another movie with Hans.
If you could pick a ‘Desert Island Disc’ track that you are most proud of working on, what would it be?
I have no idea. I’m not truly happy with anything so would probably take something else entirely!
The Electricity Club gives its warmest thanks to Stephen J Lipson
PROPAGANDA release a compilation of their best known material from their time on ZTT, the erstwhile label run by producer Trevor Horn, his wife Jill Sinclair and conceptualist Paul Morley that also gave the world FRANKIE GOES TO HOLLYWOOD and THE ART OF NOISE.
Subtitled ‘A Compact Introduction To PROPAGANDA’, the album contains 76 minutes of bite size highlights and a choice of extended variations featuring ‘Dr. Mabuse’, ‘Duel’, ‘p:Machinery’ and ‘Dream Within A Dream’.
Founded by Ralf Dörper of cult industrial electronic band DIE KRUPPS, Andreas Thein and Susanne Freytag from girl band TOPOLINOS, PROPAGANDA germinated within Düsseldorf’s vibrant art school scene based around Die Ratinger Straße. They recorded a reinterpetation of ‘Discipline’ by THROBBING GRISTLE which was heard by Paul Morley and he signed them to ZTT. The line-up was expanded to include classically trained percussionist Michael Mertens and songstress Claudia Brücken who had been in TOPOLINOS with Susanne Freytag.
Although Andreas Thein left after the Trevor Horn produced debut single ‘Dr Mabuse’ in 1984, the remaining quartet, dubbed “Abba in Hell”, recorded the now legendary album ‘A Secret Wish’ under the helm of Stephen J Lipson. The 1985 album’s notable fans included DEPECHE MODE’s Martin Gore, DURAN DURAN’s John Taylor, SIMPLE MINDS’ Jim Kerr and MICHAEL JACKSON producer Quincy Jones who later borrowed its industrial pop elements on MJ’s 1987 album ‘Bad’.
One unlikely admirer was Pete Waterman who subsequently recorded a cover of ‘Duel’ with Mandy Smith in 1988 as he plotted world domination with his PWL empire…ironically, Stock Aitken & Waterman had been suggested as producers by Jill Sinclair when Trevor Horn’s commitments with FRANKIE GOES TO HOLLYWOOD and GRACE JONES made him unavailable to work on ‘A Secret Wish’!
The classic line-up of Claudia Brücken, Susanne Freytag, Ralf Dörper and Michael Mertens only ever recorded the one album but the quartet did reunite in 2004 for a performance of ‘Dr Mabuse’ during a special concert at Wembley Arena which celebrated the work of Trevor Horn in aid of The Prince’s Trust. More recently, Claudia Brücken, Susanne Freytag and Ralf Dörper have performed together at the ‘This Time It’s Claudia Brücken’ show at London’s Scala which is now immortalised on the ‘This Happened’ DVD.
With the release of ‘Noise & Girls Come Out To Play’, Ralf Dörper kindly spoke to The Electricity Club about his time with PROPAGANDA…
With ‘A Secret Wish’ being readily available and hailed by many as a classic album, who is the ‘Noise & Girls Come Out To Play’ album aimed at do you think?
For a start, we do not own our back-catalogue so that seems to be a question the record company should answer – which, I believe, initially wanted to compile a best-of covering not just the ZTT era but the Virgin period (and possibly even more) as well. But licensing issues prevented that.
I have to admit that I was quite concerned regarding this release – as it could be seen as flogging a dead horse and might backfire on us. PROPAGANDA released just one album ‘A Secret Wish’ on ZTT… so how to make a proper introduction without repetition?
But in my opinion, the curator has done an excellent job – again. After having listened (at proper volume) I can fully say that this “introduction” really gives a full picture of the weirdness that was essential to PROPAGANDA. Because behind the polished sheen of the singles – the hits are included – you get frantic string arrangements, industrial noises and weird vocal manipulations – and you get Michael Mertens singing – well worth the admission…
The only flaw in my humble opinion is the packaging. Once more the full frontals of the ‘Duel’ nude photo-sessions were omitted and just the portraits were used…
Do you think potential listeners are still possibly intimidated by the “Abba in Hell” descriptions of PROPAGANDA and the general Teutonic nature of the music, hence this ‘An Introduction to…’ compilation?
We have been demons to some, angels to others… whoever came up with “Abba in Hell” – we took it as a compliment, not as an intimidation. Much better than “Fleetwood Mac in Hell” I think. I am not sure about the “general Teutonic nature of the music” you refer to however. We never did marches – or we actually stopped doing them realising that LAIBACH are much better at that.
You and Michael co-wrote ‘Dr. Mabuse’ with original member Andreas Thein. How did that come together and was it intended originally for Susanne to perform lead before Claudia joined?
When ZTT showed interest on the strength of our first (non-released) recording ‘Disziplin’, Andreas and myself had plenty of musical sketches but just a few more structured demos, such as ‘Doppelgänger’ (recorded but not released)… in fact plenty of “D”-songs to start with, because I had the lyrical concept for ‘Duel’ already and the intention to do a song called ‘Dr. Mabuse’, it actually evolved from a sequencer-line (TB-303!).
The song structure was developed with Michael who more or less joined the ranks at the same time as Claudia, so ‘Dr Mabuse’ was never conceived as a song for Susanne but very much already with Claudia and Trevor Horn in mind… and I won’t confirm the rumour that I wrote the line “sell him your soul” after we signed the contract with ZTT.
Trevor Horn and his team – and the unlimited access to sounds – enabled us to explore the potential of ‘Dr. Mabuse’ much further and to enter new sound territories we wouldn’t have dared to image or try before. There had been re-starts, scrapped ideas – but no erased tapes. That’s why the ‘Mabuse’ takes on ‘Noise & Girls…’ are all very interesting. Maybe ZTT should have done it the ‘Slave To The Rhythm’ way and released a ‘Mabuse’ mini-album in 1984… Fritz Lang actually needed three movies to show all facets of the Doctor…
In the compositional process, what synths and equipment were you using in PROPAGANDA?
Pre-ZTT, we worked with very basic equipment as synths still were pretty expensive. As these were also pre-MIDI times, we used mostly the basic Roland machines as these synchronized well. In the recording of ‘Disziplin’, we also had temporary access to PPG and the Linn modules which we triggered.
Michael brought his marimba (which when played by a proper musician sounds like a sequencer made from wood) and an Oberheim he used. I met Michael when I answered his classified ad – he wanted to sell a rhythm machine. When I saw that equipment at his home-place, we started talking.
It was great, somebody who had no knowledge or interest in actual pop music – but was keen to explore… Michael played with the Düsseldorf Symphonic Orchestra and studied composition and percussion instruments! In London, we were confronted with state-of-art musician’s machines, which for example recorded your mistakes and did not correct them straight-away by quantisizing. This led to some hiccups and not so well spent studio time in the beginning…
Quite a few of the songs were made from scratch in London – sometimes with false starts but great advice from the engineers and producers. Here the unlimited supply of technical possibilities sometimes was a problem as the operators knew their equipment best… how should we have known what sounds JJ of THE ART OF NOISE had hidden in his Fairlight…
But it got much more focused after we had managed to squeeze some money from ZTT – or better from Perfect Songs. To become more independent from the Fairlight etc, Michael and myself invested a publishing advance to buy some equipment, especially the PPG system.
How would you describe the dynamic in the way the songs grew from your demos to the eventual Stephen Lipson productions using the Synclavier, Sony 1610 digital recorder etc?
In general terms, you could say that ‘Dr. Mabuse’ (produced by Trevor Horn) was very much based on Fairlight while the album production (by Steve Lipson) was much more Synclavier, PPG and still Roland. The Super Jupiter is featured quite often.
Steve Lipson was great as he understood our ideas even when they were still in an embryonic state. The quality of the demos improved drastically because of Michael, which means that ‘p:Machinery’ (of which an early version is included on ‘Noise & Girls…’), ‘The Chase’ or especially ‘Dream Within A Dream’ were fully structured as demos already. Whereas ‘Dr. Mabuse’ was just very basic and created step-by-step (including false starts) in the studio.
‘Duel’ was tricky as we wanted to have a musical duel taking place within the song itself – let’s say harmony and noise fighting each other. This concept was too heady and not properly working. But we found the solution in the end to have ‘Duel / Jewel’ like Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde – and the conceptual idea was realized by confronting the A-side of the single with the B-side. Hard to understand for someone just knowing about iTunes nowadays…
The possibilities in the studio with the digital technology became almost endless with dozens of remixes for some tracks. Were there many creative tensions with regards a track like ‘Dream Within A Dream’ for example which hasn’t really appeared in multiple versions? It’s almost like you were all happy with that?
‘Dream Within A Dream’ was a track which was nearly fully pre-arranged in Düsseldorf. This was made possible as the PPG – ie our own equipment – made us more independent from the sound sources at Sarm which were only fully grasped by their respective programmers and engineers. You really had to attend educational seminars before you could manage those complex systems as Fairlight or Synclavier. It would take ages to try to understand them just by reading the manuals.
It was also Michael’s idea to use the Flügelhorn on ‘Dream Within A Dream’. He tried that out with a former college of his from the Düsseldorf Symphonic Orchestra. And later we flew him in to do this part in the Studio. It’s a real instrument, no Synclavier!
Whose idea was it to cover THE VELVET UNDERGROUND’s ‘Femme Fatale’? And why was a vocal version of THROBBING GRISTLE’s ‘Discipline’ never actually released? Did you consider doing any other covers as Claudia has done quite a few in her various guises?
I have a very stern view with regard to cover versions – I think there are too many and I hate tribute albums in particular. I believe you should only do a cover if you can add something special or move the song into another dimension – maybe that is the reason that nobody dared to cover ‘Dr. Mabuse’ so far.
Or you use a cover version as a reference point, to express where you stand or where you are coming from. This might not necessarily apply for solo singers, but in my opinion, a band should avoid covers or make very careful and conscious choices only. Did KRAFTWERK, SUICIDE or ULTRAVOX! (John Foxx version) ever do a cover? – I ask.
But ZTT’s policy in the beginning was to have a cover version on the B-side of the singles… I think the idea was scrapped after the artists realised what amounts of publishing income would go to a lucky stranger…while the Relax B-side ‘Ferry Cross The Mersey’ for me is a good point of reference for FGTH as a hymn to Liverpool, we had some problems with Morley’s initial choice of a CARPENTERS (!) song.
Me and Andreas strongly opposed and it would have contradicted our concept. In the end we came to the compromise of ‘Femme Fatale’ which has quite a European sentiment in the original version sung by NICO, who is German.
‘Disziplin’ was not a full cover version of ‘Discipline’ but more a song inspired by… – I would say nowadays. Not sure if Genesis P. Orridge objected as I did totally new lyrics… however I very much would have preferred to have a THROBBING GRISTLE cover version – if any – on our debut instead of ‘Sorry For Laughing’.
What do you think the follow-up to ‘A Secret Wish’ would have sounded like had you, Claudia, Susanne and Michael been able to stay together for a few more years?
Although I like speculation (…go short in euro, long in pound…), I am not really inclined to go for this futile exercise. In 1985 the tensions were growing rapidly, there were plenty of unsolvable issues internally – not to mention the huge problem of unfair remuneration!
But three quarters of PROPAGANDA continued anyway – albeit after a long frozen period. And I think that ‘Ministry of Fear’ and ‘Vicious Circle’ are very much in the tradition of ‘A Secret Wish’…it is also rather futile to argue if the choice of producers was right…how to follow Horn/Lipson?
But one thing is for sure, in case of a continuation it would be much easier for any passing listener of ‘1234’ to identify the band’s origin: it’s Düsseldorf, Germany not Ohio, USA…
You decided not to remain with Michael for what became the ‘1234’ album?
You could also say WE decided… and you should speak to Michael to get the full account of the story as I think PROPAGANDA’s Virgin period was nearly as dramatic as the ZTT time.
We started with a handicap because we were lacking a singer when we were in the wilderness of legal proceedings against ZTT – and our accounts had been frozen.
But thanks to the help of friends in Germany and especially Derek Forbes (ex-SIMPLE MINDS) in Scotland, we had access to studios where we could work on some material which got us signed eventually by Virgin records in 1988.
The new singer Betsi Miller was discovered by Susanne (indirectly, by her bother) and we thought it should be mainly her decision after she had been pushed away from the spotlight by ZTT somewhat… however the chemistry between the two did not really develop, so she left first – but she can still be heard on ‘Vicious Circle’, the song on ‘1234’ which has – together with ‘Ministry Of Fear’ – most of the former PROPAGANDA flavour I believe.
I also have to admit that I somewhat had lost interest in pop in the second half of the 80s and was keen again on more extreme sounds. I was living in London at that time (and working in the City) and often listened to pirate stations on the radio which played Chicago Acid and Detroit Techno. And in the clubs you heard hard electronic sounds (again) which reminded me of the early 80s in Düsseldorf – for example NITZER EBB who continued where DAF stopped…
In fact I met with Andreas (Thein) again at that time. He often visited London living off the Mabuse-fame. I convinced him to do an acid track together – using his alias RIFIFI. We recorded it in Germany in two and a half days. It became the first German acid track and went straight into the charts in Germany – it was called ‘Dr. Acid & Mr. House’ and was mainly programmed on the machines we started ‘Dr Mabuse’ on: Roland TB-303 and TR-808…
So the “vicious” circle had closed – that was the time me and PROPAGANDA parted company… however I think Michael, Derek and the others made a record to be proud of. And I am still proud to have written the words to ‘Only One Word’ which was a very big hit in South America…
How was it for you to be on stage with Claudia and Susanne for the 2011 concert at The Scala to perform PROPAGANDA songs? That must have been interesting as you were unable to play live with PROPAGANDA back in the day because of your day job I understand?
This might be the official story – however, it sounds a bit odd given the fact that I played a couple of hundred concerts in Europe and North America with DIE KRUPPS in the 90s – while still having a so called “day job”.
In fact I had a quite stubborn view on playing live as PROPAGANDA as I believed it would be not possible to give a proper impression without lifting the studio on stage. And I did not consider it an option to use guest musicians … especially no guitar player. HEAVEN 17 had a similar stance and will – for the first time – perform ‘The Luxury Gap’ this year because just now it is possible without compromising, due to today’s technology.
As I like one-off events, I did the Trevor Horn event at Wembley and Claudia’s show at The Scala. This was especially for the fans – and the latter also to express my respect for the works of Claudia.
But what happened in Düsseldorf?
I did not do Düsseldorf as this event was not open to the public but more of a promotional tool for the local Stadtwerke (energy board).
Here the audience consisted mainly of management and chosen employees – and friends and family of the promoter…
I understand you, Claudia and Susanne have been in the studio together more recently, can you tell us more about that?
No, I cannot confirm that rumour. Or do you refer to the abridged session roughly two years ago? Michael Mertens, who creates a lot of music for TV and advertising, had done a snippet for Heidi Klum’s model show, which is big here on German TV. That was a short teaser – great hook – on which Claudia did the vocals.
At that time we considered giving PROPAGANDA another try – and the hook was promising enough to elaborate… I kept the words of the chorus and added the verses…but this proved to be the final PROPAGANDA track as old conflicts / wounds / problems / whatever broke out again…
What have been your own proudest moments with regards PROPAGANDA and the band’s legacy?
It’s been 30 years! (PROPAGANDA was conceived in 1982!)
So many crucial moments to recall and too difficult to bring them in a proper order – so I stick to the most recent ones…
So, recent moments of pride:
– The audience going wild at The Scala when the intros of ‘p:Machinery’ and ‘Dr. Mabuse’ were played
– The feat of charting with the reissue of ‘A Secret Wish’ in the UK (I thought this is only possible for ‘Tubular Bells’ or ‘Dark Side of the Moon’)
– Discovering a Mexican ‘Best of the 80s’ compilation which included PROPAGANDA during my holidays
What projects are you working on at the moment?
Actually I stopped recording music more or less at the end of the 90s. However DIE KRUPPS – which also stopped in 1997 – are back on the live circuit since 2005. The reason was the 25-year anniversary of our first record and the rising demand.
Funnily enough, the band is seen as some sort of EBM / industrial-godfathers and there is a big scene not just in Germany but all over Europe and the Americas.
Last year we did a joint European tour together with Mute act NITZER EBB which was fun. We like to play concerts because we have a young audience – it has nothing to do with revivalism. We play mainly our greatest hits but include from time to time new songs.
We actually recorded a version of ‘Der Amboss / The Anvil’ by VISAGE which we made only available at concerts. It features Sarah Blackwood aka Client B. We also from time to time play a simplified but hard version of ‘Dr. Mabuse’ live…
And are there any new acts who you like who may be of interest The Electricity Club?
I am living in the past…well, that was a joke, but currently I am re-discovering some things which were taking place when we were sucked into the ZTT machinery… for example I discovered what exciting recordings Conny Plank made (mainly with Dieter Moebius) in the middle of the 80s. That material – among others – has been brought back by German label Bureau B which takes good care of Germany´s electronic music heritage.
Interestingly Karl Bartos (who once was in KRAFTWERK) will release new material there. Something to look forward to… I am also waiting for the final THROBBING GRISTLE record – and the first FACTORY FLOOR album.
With regard to new acts, I guess The Electricity Club is well aware of what is good and worthwhile. I could only name one act to of interest you might not have heard of yet: it is from Düsseldorf, called STABIL ELITE.
The Electricity Club gives its sincerest thanks to Ralf Dörper