Tag: Synth Britannia (Page 2 of 2)

MAD WORLD: An Interview with co-author LORI MAJEWSKI

MAD WORLD‘Mad World: An Oral History of New Wave Artists and Songs That Defined the 1980s’ is a brand new book that covers the music of the MTV Generation.

Written by New Jersey born Duranie Lori Majewski and LA based Glaswegian Jonathan Bernstein, ‘Mad World’ includes many of the bands that formed part of the post-punk British Invasion of the US which the Americans later referred to as New Wave. Very different from the British definition of New Wave which included acts such as BLONDIE, THE PRETENDERS, X-RAY SPEX and THE POLICE, the Stateside classification threw in Synth Britannia, New Romantics, Young Soul Rebels, Goths, Antipodean funk rockers and refugees from The Bromley Contingent!

Regardless of the seemingly incongruous acts being lumped together, what New Wave in the US did was enlighten a whole group of impressionable teenagers about a musical world that artistically and stylistically had more to offer than the turgid home grown rock of bands like BOSTON, REO SPEEDWAGON, STYX, TOTO and JOURNEY.

‘Mad World: An Oral History of New Wave Artists and Songs That Defined the 1980s’ features a foreword by DURAN DURAN’s Nick Rhodes and while not definitive, ‘Mad World’ delves into the spirit, the politics and the heartache behind some of the greatest songs in popular culture, regardless of genre.

With the publication of the book in North America and a UK edition scheduled for Autumn 2014, co-author Lori Majewski kindly spoke to The Electricity Club to give a fascinating American viewpoint on Synth Britannia and much more…

I understand that this book was partly inspired by the advent of Grunge?

Jonathan Bernstein and I met during Grunge when we both worked at Spin Magazine which in the US, used to be a real competitor to Rolling Stone, although how it’s evolved now as Rolling Stone is more of a veteran magazine while Spin is more indie. But back then, it was neck-and-neck, a bit like how NME and Melody Maker were in the UK.

I was just starting out in the business and wanted to work on a music magazine. Unfortunately for me who grew up an Anglophile and liked electronic music, by the early 90s, electronic music was no longer in vogue and even a dirty word; it was really gauche to use synthesizers! Grunge with its guitars and feedback, it was dirty compared with the pretty electronic sound that we loved in New Wave.

I kept it to myself because I was at Spin, but then I heard Jonathan talking about ‘The Lexicon Of Love’ by ABC being his favourite record… it was like I could hear angels singing because I thought “OH MY GOD! Somebody understands that time in music!” because nobody wanted to talk about it anymore. We were kinda nerdy for even liking it, we weren’t cool at Spin. So we became best friends.

So how long has ‘Mad World’ been in the making and what has the journey been like?

It wasn’t until 18 months ago when we read an article with Gary Kemp from SPANDAU BALLET. He was talking about the song ‘True’, the story behind it, all the different influences and what the lyrics meant. We called each other and thought “Wow! Imagine if we could do this kind of article with all of our favourite songs?” That’s how ‘Mad World’ really evolved.

We were going to do the stories behind the songs but as we interviewed the artists, it turned into so much more… it was about the songs, the journeys to making those seminal tracks, how those tracks changed their lives and how sometimes the success strangled artists. Take A-HA; when I interviewed Mags, he said “everyone knows ‘Take On Me’ but I’m like a dad with lots of kids, don’t just like one of my kids, you have to like all of them!”

We also had a cultural conversation with these artists because they talked about The Cold War and Thatcherism. There were some bands like DURAN DURAN who said they “wanted to be the band that you danced to when the bomb drops”. Others like TEARS FOR FEARS wanted to explore that darker side and the psychological melancholy, which is why our book is called ‘Mad World’.

We wanted to do it decades ago, but we could only have done ‘Mad World’ now when these artists were ready to tell their stories of their careers. Plus we had to wait until a time when this kind of music was back in vogue, because no-one would have bought it even five years ago.

How would describe the way you and Jonathan’s very different dynamics combined to produce ‘Mad World’?

Jonathan is 10 years older… he’s 52, I’m 43; he’s Scottish so he was raised on the critical British music press so he’s much more curmudgeonly while during New Wave, I was a wide-eyed American teen who couldn’t get enough of MTV. So I was a fan and he was a critic… but where we meet is we both LOVE this stuff! He loves it from a critical view and he was like “Gosh, it took me a long time to realise it but this stuff is good and influential!” whereas I just bathe in it; I love DURAN DURAN and DEPECHE MODE and built my entire life around that *laughs*

I’m particularly fascinated about how Americans regarded the synthesizer as an instrument and this frequent reference to it being a keyboard, as if there was some kind of denial about it being a real instrument?

From where I sit, I think the synthesizer is essential to my favourite records. The first big record that used the synthesizer I ever heard was GARY NUMAN’s ‘Cars’.

At that time during the turn of the decade, ’79 going into ’80 here in America, I was listening to AIR SUPPLY, OLIVIA NEWTON-JOHN and the ‘Grease’ soundtrack! My father was into WARREN ZEVON. The thing is, Americans really hated disco after a while so when I first heard ‘Cars’, it was unlike anything I’d ever heard. It sounded like the future, it sounded like the space age. You have to remember not everyone was that open and a lot of people I went to school with went “that’s not music”. And just the fact that it was called a synthesizer… it’s synthesized, it’s not real!

They thought it had no skill whereas the stuff we came up on like JOURNEY and FOREIGNER, they were bands that played guitars and it was real masculine stuff! So someone like GARY NUMAN comes along, he’s a one-man band thanks to a synthesizer and he’s wearing make-up!

You see, DAVID BOWIE was not as big in the US as he was in the UK at the time. So you put all that together and no-one here really knew Numan was pretty much born of the rib of Bowie. So people thought it was sissy stuff and uncool… and he’s wearing make-up and making synthesized sounds! So Americans were very suspicious of it.

How would you describe the impact of GARY NUMAN and THE HUMAN LEAGUE in the US during the first wave of UK synth artists?

In the Europe, you also had ULTRAVOX, OMD plus of course KRAFTWERK. GARY NUMAN was the first to really make it big and mainstream so in the US, he opened the door for all that.

But when THE HUMAN LEAGUE and EURYTHMICS came on the scene with ‘Don’t You Want Me?’ and ‘Sweet Dreams (Are Made Of This)’, I just felt “WOW! THINGS ARE CHANGING!”.

The reason we cover ‘Being Boiled’ in the book is an inconvenience of the fact that Phil Oakey didn’t want to talk to us, that was really disappointing. I was thinking “Do we even have a book without ‘Don’t You Want Me?’…?”; but then talking to Martyn Ware, he chatted about his beginnings with THE HUMAN LEAGUE. I realised ‘Being Boiled’ was the boiler plate for so many of the records that came afterwards; DURAN DURAN, OMD and Vince Clarke all talk about ‘Being Boiled’. So we may not have the story you expect with ‘Don’t You Want Me?’, but we have one of the beginning stories of the entire era.

Soft Cell 3 world of leatherThere was still a very macho rockist attitude at the time… I recall John Cougar making some quite homophobic comments about SOFT CELL in Smash Hits!

Really? It’s interesting, as a young girl I didn’t think straight or gay, I was just thinking love. Music has such an emotional impact on you anyway but especially if you are a young person.

I just felt that music opened up my eyes and heart to things that I hadn’t previously been exposed to. And that’s why I fell in love with DURAN DURAN… yes, it helped that they were good looking but they dressed so well and they were so interesting.

But you compare that to the guy at school who may be the equivalent of a John Cougar in the jeans and T-shirt. That may work on some girls but that’s your average guy to me, whereas you had DURAN DURAN on these exotic beaches, wearing these fantastic clothes and having these great accents. And BOY GEORGE, I didn’t think if he was straight or gay, I just thought he was beautiful. At the time, boys looked like girls and girls looked like boys but it didn’t necessarily mean they were gay. SPANDAU BALLET dressed up and sometime wore as much make-up as LIMAHL did. But he said at that time, you just didn’t talk about… but he was not in the closet either.

I think we were so much more progressive back then we are now. During the Grammys this year, we had MACKLEMORE standing up for gay rights. But back in the 80s, you didn’t need a straight white rapper to do that because you had gay pop stars in the charts.

OMD84OMD are an interesting conundrum as they were part of that first wave yet didn’t make it at the time, but they then made progress later when they supported THOMPSON TWINS and THE POWER STATION before ‘If You Leave’ was a hit?

OMD are a good example of where the difference between me and Jonathan is vast. Jonathan loved them right from the beginning and really understood their KRAFTWERK pedigree. Me? I happened by accident to get into OMD because I had tickets to see THE POWER STATION.

SPANDAU BALLET who were due to support had to pull out of the tour as Steve Norman had broken his leg! So I saw OMD with them instead and they played this song from a new movie called ‘Pretty In Pink’. I was thinking “who is this guy with the crazy dance moves?”, but I could see he was really into it and I loved the music.

So I went backwards from ‘If You Leave’ and discovered ‘Architecture & Morality’; I fell in love with the pair of love songs about Joan Of Arc and I was like “THIS IS JUST INCREDIBLE!”. To this day, OMD are definitely in my top three favourite bands. I saw them in concert this past summer and they were my favourite of the year. I still think record after record, they make fantastic music and I say in the book, if no other band existed in the genre of New Wave, I’d be happy to hang my hat entirely on just OMD and say they are a genre unto themselves because I think they are that spectacular a group!

prettyinpinkNow, with OMD’s early stuff compared with the later stuff, I think it’s apples and oranges because with ‘If You Leave’, it’s from ‘Pretty In Pink’ which is my favourite of the John Hughes films.

I have a soft spot for Ducky… which girl who grew up in the 80s didn’t? I grew up with freckles so I really loved the fact that Molly Ringwald was considered a really beautiful girl.

Until her, there were no pretty teenage girls I could look up to, so all of that is wrapped up in ‘If You Leave’. It’s definitely a part of the whole John Hughes nostalgia thing. But when I think of early OMD, I think of ground breaking seminal electronic music.

It’s interesting you feature THE NORMAL in the book, but not KRAFTWERK. KRAFTWERK seem to have made more of a cultural impact on the US urban dance scene rather than New Wave pop?

We look at KRAFTWERK as being a parent figure to this era rather then being a part of it itself. So when I think about who inspired all of these artists, it’s KRAFTWERK, DAVID BOWIE, ROXY MUSIC, T-REX and CHIC. Then you put it through the punk blender because none of these New Wave artists would have picked up an instrument if it wasn’t for punk. Bowie, Roxy and Bolan were too much on a pedestal, you could never imagine emulating them because they were true rock stars.

But when punk and KRAFTWERK came around, two things happened; punk made you feel you could do it with just three chords while KRAFTWERK taught you that you didn’t even need a band, just one piece of equipment which was the synthesizer. So that’s why there isn’t a chapter on KRAFTWERK, but they are mentioned many times throughout the book.

The chat with Peter Hook must have been quite revealing considering his Joyless Division with NEW ORDER?

Peter Hook was one of my first interviews for the book actually and he is one of my favourites, I probably talked to him about five times. He was very generous with his time, his memories and he was very candid. Some people think he’s overly angry about the situation but as he says in the book, he gave 30 years of his life to the band and he feels really burnt by it. He said it’s a divorce and as someone who’s been through one, I wasn’t married for over 30 years but I can’t imagine what it must feel like; he calls the new version of NEW ORDER “New Odour”. I really liked talking to Peter and one of the reasons is because he is proud of his legacy and loves his own music, both as JOY DIVISION and NEW ORDER.

Now, when I talked to like Vince Clarke, it was really hard to get him to talk about his own music. But once I started asking him about his heroes, he completely opened up about people like SIMON & GARFUNKEL and THE CURE. So he had no problem talking about that, but had a problem talking about his own music because it’s too close to him. Peter Hook is not like that, he is enjoying preserving his legacy and you can see that; he’s written two books on his career so far and has another on the way about NEW ORDER. I think he’s a great storyteller.

Photo by Donald Christie

Did you talk to Bernard Sumner as well?

Yes, I also interviewed Bernard but he really avoided as much as possible talking about Peter Hook and the problems they had. He said NEW ORDER’s music, particularly ‘Blue Monday’ has been passed down through the family like a gold watch, meaning people who are in their 40s and 50s have passed the music down to their teenage kids who now find it cool. The JOY DIVISION and NEW ORDER chapters are two of my favourites.

My heart hurts for Peter because I’m a very sensitive person too and I can tell that this whole situation with Bernard has broken his heart. However, this is not something that happened recently, this has been a slow boil for many years. Peter said they only shared one phone call over 35 years and that was because Bernard’s car had a flat battery and he need a lift to a gig!

This first wave paved the way for prettier bands like DURAN DURAN and DEPECHE MODE plus electro-soul hybrids like HEAVEN 17, EURYTHMICS and YAZOO in the US. Was there a big difference in these acts that made them more appealing to Americans? Was it really just down to videos and MTV?

A good video is a good video, but a great video can’t rescue a crappy song! So it was much more than that… the truth of the matter is, DURAN DURAN became as big as they are in the United States because they spent many months touring here. In 1984 on their biggest tour, they spent half the year here. So America got used to these bands whereas HEAVEN 17 never set foot here.

Martyn Ware talks about HEAVEN 17 never coming to the US and thinks that hurt them. HEAVEN 17, YAZOO and a few of the others, they appeared on video and it was so new, it got them all around the world at once. So they thought “MTV in America play videos, why do they have to see us live? We don’t need to go to Australia, we’ll send them the video!”

If HEAVEN 17 had toured and put in the time, they had the songs that would have made them big here… ‘Temptation’ had a lot of potential in the US. YAZOO were sizeable here and not just with ‘Only You’. When I was in High School, everyone loved ‘Upstairs at Eric’s’ and they played ‘Situation’ to death.

Photo by Virginia Turbett

Photo by Virginia Turbett

What about DEPECHE MODE?

DEPECHE MODE are interesting in that they’re really two bands… in this book, we talk about the early Vince Clarke Depeche that was really, a different group to the one that came over towards the end of the decade and sold out the Rose Bowl. And when Vince Clarke left, they really didn’t know what was going to happen because he wrote all the songs and produced.

It took Martin Gore a few albums to step up; ‘People Are People’ was a slight hit here but it wasn’t until they really put the time in to breaking in America that they made it. In fact, their first huge hit here wasn’t until ‘Enjoy The Silence’ in 1990. To me, DEPECHE MODE and THE CURE are the Holy pair of New Wave graduates who then went into the alternative music scene and started playing stadiums. I believe if THE SMITHS has stuck it out, they would have been doing so too.

With DURAN DURAN and their sound particularly, were their disco and rock elements also a factor in their American appeal in that they were not a pure synthesizer group?

I think you’re right. I’m the world’s biggest Duranie and I have to say, I think the magic is that the five members made incredible music and were the best at what they did. Nick Rhodes was a great synthesizer player and a producer behind the scenes in putting these records together; Simon Le Bon has an interesting and unique voice;  John Taylor is a hell of a bassist who many contemporary artists look up to; you had Roger Taylor who Mark Ronson and Nile Rodgers both talk about what a strong drummer he is; and then there’s Andy Taylor who Mark Ronson says gave “a Steve Jones element” to the band. So you have this confluence of disco and synth sound with the crazy rock guitar element, it was a unique combination. With DURAN DURAN, you had the best of all worlds. You didn’t have that in SPANDAU BALLET!

Photo of SPANDAU BALLET and DURAN DURAN

Photo by Virginia Turbett

It’s interesting you say that, I briefly spoke to John Taylor once and asked him when he realised DURAN DURAN were going to trump SPANDAU BALLET and he replied “To Cut A Long Story Short”…

…he said to me that he ran out and bought that record, listened to it and was like “alright, nothing to worry about”. A thing that come across in the book is how competitive all of these groups were.

Duran were super competitive with Spandau and that gets a lot of ink. But also, DURAN DURAN were worried about ABC and John Taylor says in the book how nervous he was when ‘The Lexicon Of Love’ came out. And ABC were looking over their shoulder at THE HUMAN LEAGUE. And GARY NUMAN was competing with OMD. Back then, there was a race and ABC’s Martin Fry talks a lot about that race to put out the freshest, coolest, newest sounding record. And they were all competing in it.

They were all very much trying to come up with the next sound. So it’s interesting with ‘To Cut A Long Story Short’; SPANDAU BALLET started as a New Romantic band, then they come out with this funk dancefloor hit ‘Chant No1’, AND THEN became much more of a ballads band with ‘True’.

Look at today’s music scene… no bands are blowing up the formula between records like they did then! That’s what made it so exciting and so interesting. John Taylor went rushing out to buy ‘To Cut A Long Story Short’ because he had no idea what it was going to sound like; whereas today, when KATY PERRY puts out a record, you kinda know how it’s going to sound! And so many of today’s artists use the same producer so they do sound the same! *laughs*

=ultravox_5ULTRAVOX who are in the book never made it in America despite their cinematic videos. Were they just too European and too old for the MTV Generation?

It’s funny, with ULTRAVOX, I think Americans had no idea where Vienna even was, so they couldn’t get into it! *laughs*

But for us Anglophiles who understood and liked DURAN DURAN and SPANDAU BALLET, it opened up Europe to us. The first time I ever went to England was to see a DURAN DURAN concert.

Nick Rhodes said the same thing about Bowie, he had never even left the country but through Bowie, he felt he could understand what it could be like to go to Berlin or Paris. In general, only 2 out of 10 Americans even had a passport and that’s true to this day. Andrew Farriss of INXS said that people in America were getting them confused and thinking they were Austrian instead of Australian! The accents couldn’t be more different! *laughs*

But Midge Ure is one of those really important driving forces of the entire movement because not only was he in ULTRAVOX, but he was a big part of VISAGE and co-wrote ‘Do They Know It’s Christmas?’ so he had to be in this book 🙂

How do you subscribe to the thought that a number of these British acts that made it huge in America were effectively softened versions of acts that came before eg DURAN DURAN with JAPAN, and PET SHOP BOYS with SOFT CELL?

I’ve never thought of PET SHOP BOYS ever as a softened version of SOFT CELL, but I can see where you’re coming from. The first time I heard ‘West End Girls’, it blew my mind, I’d never heard anything like it before and I still haven’t. SOFT CELL’s ‘Tainted Love’ was a tremendous hit here, it’s up there with ‘Sweet Dreams’, ‘Cars’ and ‘Don’t You Want Me?’ but SOFT CELL never really followed it up here.

As far as DURAN DURAN and JAPAN went, it’s like GARY NUMAN and DAVID BOWIE. I didn’t know until years later about JAPAN because they weren’t big here. But I remember listening to them and thinking “Wow! I can really hear DURAN DURAN in this”.

Now Duran may have started out with that influence but let’s not forget about SPANDAU BALLET. DURAN DURAN may have blown them out of the water eventually, but they have Spandau to thank. If there wasn’t a Blitz Club, there wouldn’t have been a Rum Runner so if there wasn’t a SPANDAU BALLET, there wouldn’t have been a DURAN DURAN. But Duran kept it going and they’re the elder statesmen of the entire era.

japan-quietlifeI loved JAPAN but they were too bloody minded and David Sylvian was too arty to want to become pop stars…

DURAN DURAN never minded and wanted to embrace the mainstream.

They were huge and maximised every opportunity whether it was videos or their good looks or the fact that they were good songwriters and musicians. They were a team and shared songwriting credits on every song.

SPANDAU BALLET broke in two because Gary Kemp was being sued by three members of the band for royalties. DURAN DURAN never had to worry about that kind of thing. I’m really proud to be a Duranie because they’re survivors. Have you seen DURAN DURAN live?

Oh yes, several times. I didn’t see them until 1988 unfortunately, but I went to one of the 2004 shows at Wembley Arena and it is still one of the best concerts I’ve ever been to!

I was at every single one, I loved those Wembley shows! OH MY GOD! They blew me away!

This will make you laugh, one of the things about being a male DURAN DURAN fan, you didn’t admit it when you were younger. But you don’t have a problem with it when you’re older. So when me and my mate got to the Wembley gig, we thought “where shall we stand? Oh, let’s stand towards the left” because of course, that was where all the girls were… waiting for John Taylor! 😉

You’re right, guys did not admit to liking them when they were younger but now you go to a Duran concert and there tons of guys there… and they’re not just there to hold the wife’s handbag! *laughs*

Who’d have thought the majority of the acts that feature in ‘Mad World’ are still active as brands and live performers. So should these artists keep touring and how do you feel about them recording new material?

When we interviewed Andy McCluskey, he feels that a lot of bands from this era shouldn’t be doing new music because they have nothing new to say. He felt that when OMD made the last two albums, they had to dig deep to really challenge themselves to say it was not to make a quick buck off the audience. That’s why Tom Bailey has to this day not done an acoustic album of THOMPSON TWINS hits or a reunion tour because he feels he doesn’t have it in him… although for the first time, he’s going to be touring solo in the US with Midge Ure and Howard Jones.

But I look at a band like DURAN DURAN; Simon Le Bon said to me that they are “career musicians”, they would not know what to do with themselves if they did not have a tour to do or a studio to go into… they are driven to make new music. Some people think the record ‘Red Carpet Massacre’ with Timbaland was a mistake, but it’s one of my favourites… I’m really look up to Duran because they take chances. I always say hats off to acts like them and U2 for trying new things.

Of course, I see why Duranies were so excited about the Mark Ronson produced ‘All You Need Is Now’ album because it brought them back to ‘Rio’ and that sound. As long as bands are inspired to keep going and can, they should. INXS cannot keep going; they called it a day last year and Andrew Farriss said he has a hard time writing with someone who isn’t Michael Hutchence. Imagine working with someone for so long and suddenly they’re not there anymore?

So the bands that do continue, by and large, none of them disappoint me. I like some records better than others but even if I don’t like what they produce, I love the spirit with which they produce it.

I guess the end result of this New Wave legacy in America is that there’s great cinema like ‘Donnie Darko’, but also terrible new bands like FUTURE ISLANDS…

…I’m not a huge fan of FUTURE ISLANDS either… I was on my way to do a radio interview and I could not remember what they were called, I was thinking “Fantasy Islands? No, that’s not right!” *laughs*

The thing is, when I saw FUTURE ISLANDS on ‘The David Letterman Show’, I thought it was a comedian doing a skit on what they thought an 80s New Wave band was like…

…really? That’s so funny, I can see that! *laughs*

So how do you view the long term cultural significance of New Wave?

What I do like is that the sound continues… I like CHVRCHES, I think they’re good. On ‘American Idol’ the other evening, it was ‘80s Night’ and they had DURAN DURAN on there. Even a lot of this EDM is really a direct descendant of New Wave and electronica. Daniel Miller of Mute said that he can’t stand that term EDM aka Electronic Dance Music, but it’s what New Wave sort of was.

So it continues and it’s cool that the artists we love are finally getting recognition for really paving the way 30 years ago. I mean, there was the 90s when nobody would give OMD or GARY NUMAN a record deal because people thought no-one wanted to hear that music. John Taylor said he would have crawled into a hole in the ground if it wasn’t for Nick Rhodes keeping DURAN DURAN together, because they felt so shunned by popular culture.

What’s nice, whether or not you like EDM, FUTURE ISLANDS or CHVRCHES, is they’re continuing the tradition of the artists we love and allowing them to get their proper due finally.

I really hope that in the next few years, DEPECHE MODE get inducted into The Rock ‘N’ Roll Hall Of Fame. It’s about time one of these bands gets properly recognised for ushering in an entire era of amazing electronic music.

MOBY, who does the afterword in ‘Mad World’, said to you he’d have liked to have been in DURAN DURAN. I always wanted to be in OMD and still dress like Paul Humphreys circa 1981! Which New Wave band would you have liked to have been in?

This is a hard question… to me DURAN DURAN are so good at what they do, I can’t even imagine being a part of it. Do you know what I mean? Whereas I look at a band like BOW WOW WOW, they had a female singer Annabella Lwin and I talk a lot in the book about how she was my first girl crush. She had a Mohican and she was so freaking cool! It seems like it was a party to be part of BOW WOW WOW although you learn from the book that it was nowhere near a party and that she barely hung out with the guys! But from a distance, it looked really fun to be in BOW WOW WOW ?


The Electricity Club gives its warmest thanks to Lori Majewski

‘Mad World: An Oral History of New Wave Artists and Songs That Defined the 1980s’ by Lori Majewski and Jonathan Bernstein is published by Abrams Books

http://madworldbook.com

https://www.facebook.com/madworldthebook

https://twitter.com/MadWorldBook


Text and Interview by Chi Ming Lai
19th April 2014, updated 3rd February 2019

Missing In Action: MIRRORS

Broken By Silence

In 2013, it would appear electronic pop music is as popular as ever with classic acts such as OMD, PET SHOP BOYS and KARL BARTOS producing some of their best work since their heyday. And with them come many new acts who have been inspired by the innovators.

MIRRORSBut one comment often keeps being repeated whenever The Electricity Club discusses particularly the new all-male synth acts on the scene with its colleagues and friends: “They’re not MIRRORS!”

Founded by James New (lead vocals and synthesizer) and Ally Young (synthesizer and backing vocals) in 2008, the pair were soon joined by James ‘Tate’ Arguile (synthesizer) and then Josef Page (electronic percussion) a few months later.

New and Arguile had actually been members of one-time indie hopefuls MUMM-RA who were signed to Columbia Records and had supported THE KILLERS in 2007; their best known song ‘She’s Got You High’ was used in a Waitrose advert and an episode of ‘The Inbetweeners’.

In 2009, MIRRORS released two self-produced singles ‘Look At Me’ and ‘Into The Heart’which showcased an updated post-punk electronic sound. With New’s majestic vocals over their surreal, cinematic atmospheres, MIRRORS designated their music pop noir. After a few false starts image wise, MIRRORS settled on a look based around 20th Century European Modernism.

mirrors13_earlyJames New told The Electricity Club: “We were fed up with how everything looked around us and we were definitely fed up with this celebration of scruffy indie rock music”. Relocating to Brighton, they impressed with their live shows locally and were eventually signed by FAT BOY SLIM’s label Skint Records with a tour supporting DELPHIC following not long after.

The quartet had a distinct vision and after aborted sessions with noted producers Richard X and Ed Bueller, their debut album was recorded and self-produced in a rural Sussex farmhouse before being mixed in New York by Jonathan Kreinik of DFA fame.

The resultant long player ‘Lights & Offerings’ was a wonderfully cohesive, seamless body of work that expressed the hopes and fears of young manhood. Following the philosophy of the Bauhaus movement’s founder Walter Gropius in uniting art and technology, the album crucially possessed an intelligent balance between precise electronic beats and emotive vintage synthesizer melodies.

James New had certainly kept his promise when he described the album to The Electricity Club as a collection of “really great pop songs” that contained “very densely produced, heavily layered, emotional, soulful electronic music”. Epic tracks such as ‘Fear Of Drowning’, ‘Somewhere Strange’ and the sub-11 minute ‘Secrets’ showed depth and ambition while there was accessible but cerebral synthpop in ‘Searching In The Wilderness’, ‘Hide & Seek’ and ‘Ways To An End’. And to show off their versatility, there was the beautiful electro cover of cult Country and Western number ‘Something On Your Mind’

Despite delivering a fine debut album, MIRRORS didn’t get the recognition they deserved. There were several possible reasons for this. By the start of 2011, there appeared to be a synthpop backlash following the success of LA ROUX, LITTLE BOOTS and even LADY GAGA during 2009-2010.

mirrorsCertainly the music press only seemed to embrace bands with a rogue electronic element if there was an obvious guitar backdrop (see THE KILLERS, LCD SOUNDSYSTEM and WHITE LIES).

But ultimately, they wanted combos with beards, guitars and preferably no synthesizers at all (see KINGS OF LEON and MUMFORD & SONS!)

MIRRORS probably also suffered from being compared to HURTS, particularly in Germany, the one market where MIRRORS were expected to prosper and the only country where the quartet undertook a full headline tour.

HURTS’ ‘Wonderful Life’ had been a No2 hit there and while the arthouse monochromatics of both acts indicated they each had a common goal to subvert the perception that bands needed to wear jeans and be hairy in order to attain any kind of credibility, musically the two acts were kilometres apart.

HURTS were more TAKE THAT and SAVAGE GARDEN cleverly dressed as ULTRAVOX, while MIRRORS really were the illegitimate offspring of OMD and DEPECHE MODE! But even the European public didn’t quite see it like that and certainly HURTS were able to attain more promotional momentum thanks to the weight of the Sony Corporation behind them!

While it could be expected that the real music brigade would be resistant to MIRRORS and their thoughtful aspirations, there was a surprising refusal to accept them within the electronic community itself. Electronic music didn’t die post-grunge but had mutated into numerous sub-genres and cottage industries. But there was many a petty jealously embroiling as this band seemingly appeared out of nowhere and picked up on the distinctly European legacy that had been left behind back in the day to satisfy the synthobic territory of the USA with the advent of MTV. Comments like “Synth Britannia throwbacks”, “credit crunch KRAFTWERK” and “OMD tribute act” were among those banded about.

Then there was OMD’s drummer Mal Holmes’ amusing quip that “MIRRORS do OMD better than OMD do OMD…” – although complimentary, the comment may have inadvertently had an adverse effect.

It was known to have got up the backs of several OMD fans who felt that OMD could do no wrong, despite them delivering a disappointing comeback album in ‘History Of Modern’! Ultimately, it was as if some wanted MIRRORS to fail.

Of course, OMD were one of MIRRORS many influences. The invitation to support the band on their 2010 European tour proved to be a blessing and a curse. While opening for OMD put MIRRORS firmly in front of an audience who were most likely to embrace them, it also drew comparisons due to the shared musical and sartorial roots of both bands.

The tour was a great success and enabled MIRRORS to undertake a headlining sojourn of Deutschland but the decisions to accept invitations to open for OMD in June and September of 2011 may have been ill-advised in hindsight.

With MIRRORS also playing events such as Back To The Future – Tomorrow Is Today with GARY NUMAN and JOHN FOXX plus Godiva Festival with HEAVEN 17 and BLANCMANGE as well, MIRRORS were now being perceived as a Synth Britannia support act! James New later admitted: “I think we’ve made without realising it, maybe a record that was slightly more derivative than we hoped to make. We can be honest about that!”

This must have been preying on the band’s mind because prior to the Autumn batch of OMD dates and a slot at Bestival sharing the bill with SANTIGOLD and ONETWO, MIRRORS cancelled their appearances to “write new material”. Many followers of the band sensed all was not well and this was confirmed in a statement a few weeks later when Ally Young announced he was leaving.

The reason appeared to be good old fashioned musical differences; “We were coming to the point where writing the second record had begun. I felt like I’d taken it as far as I could perhaps emotionally as I wanted to” Young said to The Electricity Club in December 2012, “we were writing things that were good but I didn’t feel like I wanted to be part of it anymore. I didn’t know what I wanted to do at the point but I did know it wasn’t that!”

mirrors-three3MIRRORS parted ways with Skint Records although a belated remix album ‘Deconstructed’ was issued before Christmas 2011. But it appeared as though MIRRORS were done and dusted. Then at the start of 2012, the remaining threesome announced the release of an EP ‘This Year, Next Year, Sometime…?’ which featured two newly recorded songs ‘Dust’ and ‘Shooting Stars’; the remaining songs were various works-in-progress or demos.

While it appeared to be nothing more than a stop-gap, it showed that Messrs New, Arguile and Page were still determined to pursue their artistic ideals just as DEPECHE MODE had with ‘A Broken Frame’ back in 1982 after Vince Clarke left. Using a wider palette of possibilities including more prominent guitar and conventional bass, the sparser direction still retained their essential melodic components. It proved if nothing, that MIRRORS were in still business although between premises and working from home.

Meanwhile after producing an aborted second album for Britpop influenced rockers VIVA BROTHER, Ally Young teamed up with their singer Lee Newell to form LOVELIFE and uprooted to New York. While still very much synth and sample led, the duo developed a sound based more around R’n’B grooves which were very much influenced by their new urban surroundings. Appropriately enough, they toured North America supporting THE NEIGHBOURHOOD while their first two EPs ‘El Regreso’ and ‘The Fourth Floor’ were well received; from the former, the HARD-FI meets OMD template of ‘Brave Face’ was a particular highlight.

On the MIRRORS front, things have been slightly less clear. Although a single ‘Hourglass’ backed with the superb ‘Between Four Walls’ was issued via Bandcamp in Summer 2012, New and Arguile reformed MUMM-RA for a one-off show later that Autumn. Fast forward to April 2013 and MUMM-RA have released a new download only EP. Other than a low-key gig in the Czech Republic at the FIS Ski Flying World Cup in February 2013, MIRRORS have remained silent. However, it is understood the band’s management have been answering enquiries for live bookings from various parties in 2013, although none of these have actually come to fruition.

Meanwhile, New has contributed vocals to two songs with production duo FOTONOVELA, best known for their work with MARSHEAUX and co-writing the OMD song ‘Helen Of Troy’. The vibrant first song from the sessions ‘Romeo & Juliet’ was premiered on The Electricity Club while the magnificent second number ‘Sorrow’ is still to be aired publically. Whatever happens, MIRRORS are greatly missed and one wonders what the reaction to ‘Lights & Offerings’ might have been had it been released in the more sympathetic climate of 2013, a year which has seen KRAFTWERK headline Latitude and synthpop trio CHVRCHES get signed to Virgin Records.

After two and half years, what remains is the music and it is only after some distance that there can be an objective reassessment. Thus ‘Lights & Offerings’, with its associated bonuses, remains an impressive body of work. OMD’s Andy McCluskey once said MIRRORS had the potential to become “the DURAN DURAN of modern synthpop”. Even if that prospect is to remain unfulfilled, it really would be shame if there was to be no more great music from MIRRORS.


‘Lights & Offerings’ is still available via Skint Records

The EP ‘This Year, Next Year, Sometime…?’ and single ‘Hourglass’ are available as downloads via Bandcamp from http://mirrorsofficial.bandcamp.com/

www.facebook.com/theworldofmirrors

www.theworldofmirrors.blogspot.com


Text by Chi Ming Lai
26th August 2013

GARY NUMAN Micromusic DVD

GARY NUMAN was one of the UK’s biggest stars. In the space of just two years he had amassed three number 1 albums; two number 1 singles and a huge legion of fans. However, his overnight success came at a price.

He was vilified by the UK press, and away from the spotlight he was beset by a lack of self-confidence. As a result, at the height of his fame in 1981, he announced his retirement from live shows.

To mark the occasion he staged a spectacular farewell concert over three nights at Wembley Arena. This farewell show is now available for the first time on DVD, with remastered sound and a new interview with Gary Numan.

Watching the DVD, the first thing that strikes you is the sheer scale of the production. By 1981 Numan had already established a reputation for his extravagant stage sets, and for these final concerts he was determined to go out in style. The Wembley stage featured huge towers of light panels; revolving pyramids and a remote-controlled car, all amid a sea of dry ice. According to his lighting designers at the time, the show took two months to construct and cost Numan around £150,000 to stage. Watching this DVD it’s easy to see why!

The two hour set mostly comprises material from his three classic albums: ‘Replicas’, ‘The Pleasure Principle’ and ‘Telekon’. As a body of work it is consistently impressive. The likes of ‘Cars’ and ‘Are Friends Electric?’ are here of course, but there are a number of album tracks that could just have easily been singles; eg ‘Metal’, ‘Films’, ‘I Dream of Wires’.

Numan now says that one his reasons for retiring from live shows was to hone his songwriting skills, but ironically many of his best songs had already been written! Numan himself is a great showman, prowling the stage, mouthing silent words, and gazing out from the stage with that distinctive alien stare. It is that look which is so mesmerising and has kept fans coming to his gigs after all these years.

In spite of his robotic detachment, this is at times an emotional show. Red roses and teddy bears are thrown onto the stage by adoring fans. Towards the end of the set Numan sits on the edge of the stage to sing ‘Please Push No More’ and his ice-cool composure visibly cracks. The lyrics “now it’s all over for sure” will bring a tear to the eye of any fan of this genre! At the end of the show, after a roof-raising ‘We Are Glass’, Numan poignantly says “this has been the greatest two years I’ve ever had, thank you”, and then he is gone; an icon bowing out long before his time.

Numan’s retirement from touring was, as it turned out, short lived and he was back on the road just over a year later. The ‘Micromusic’ DVD includes a fascinating present-day interview, in which Numan talks candidly about the farewell shows and his reasons for retiring. At the time, he says, it felt like the right thing to do as he found it hard to deal with the constant attention from the press and the fans. But at the very moment he left the stage, he knew he had made a huge mistake. To sum up, he now says of the show, “I’m really proud of it, but wish I’d never done it”.

Having watched the ‘Micromusic’ DVD, I caught up with The Electricity Club’s Chi Ming Lai who was lucky enough to be at the final Wembley show back in 1981…

I really enjoyed watching this DVD but nothing can compare to being there! Tell us what it was like.

It was my second ever concert and it was jaw-dropping!

It made such an impression on me that I can still remember moments from it distinctly.

Even little things like guitarist RRussell Bell doing a Bez-like handclap dance during ‘M.E.’, TIK and TOK’s robot movements to ‘I Dream Of Wires’ and the male members of the audience wolf whistling when it appeared that one of the girls from SHOCK was topless during her routine to ‘Trois Gymnopedies’!

My particular highlights included ‘Everyday I Die’ when he shone a huge spotlight into the audience, his robot car in ‘Down In The Park’ (although it does look like a Gothic Sinclair C5 now!) and everyone singing along to ‘Please Push No More’.

But it really was all brilliant… even the moment when the band got out of synch with the ‘She’s Got Claws’ backing tape! It was a brand new song at the time so no-one really noticed, even though it sounded a bit odd!!

Songwise, the set list was a perfect example of Numan in his prime. All his best stuff got played that night and there was the live premiere of ‘Complex’ too. But even before it all started, the atmosphere on the floor area was electric, people were already standing up and there was a big surge to the front. Unfortunately, I was stuck in the upper tier so the show was a lot more detached at our end… people didn’t feel able to get up and dance until the encore and we were pretty envious of all the fans below.

The stage set looks immense. How impressive was it in real life? Have you seen anything to top it since?

The stage set was fantastic, I mean it was enormous. For the era, it was massive! There was the ‘Teletour’ towers set, the panels of the ‘Touring Principle’ tilted over on either sides of the stage and a new flying saucer rig hanging above. The footage on ‘Micromusic’ captures it quite well but you really had to have been there, although at no point do you actually see the whole stage set. I honestly don’t think I’ve personally seen anything like this in terms of stage hardware as opposed to LED screens until MUSE’s ‘Haarp’ show at Wembley Stadium in 2007.

It’s also been said that this show was really loud! In the interview on the DVD, Numan claims that low frequency speakers were installed under the floorboards of the arena, so that the venue literally shook when the low notes were played! Is this something you remember? Has your hearing recovered yet?

I don’t remembering it being really loud but it certainly wasn’t quiet. I guess I was too far away from the stage to have really felt the sound as much as those on the floor.

The OMD concert I’d been to a few months before was bloody loud though, the bass was really thumping on my chest there and my ears rang for two days!

At certain points in the show, Numan seems quite emotional. Was it an emotional occasion for you?

I definitely remember having a lump in my throat during ‘Please Push No More’ and I could see he was a bit choked… it’s more apparent if you watch the DVD. The performance seemed to say it all, especially when he changed some of the lyrics to suit the occasion. It made me realise what a great song it was having not given it the time of day before.

But GARY NUMAN will always mean something to me; I wouldn’t have got into electronic pop music without him. Yes, it was around before and DAVID BOWIE will say that he nicked all his ideas but Numan was of our generation, our very own hero. I’m a fan of Bowie, but he will never mean as much to me as Numan because it was ‘Are Friends Electric?’ in ’79, not ‘Starman’ in ’72 that I saw on ‘Top Of the Pops’ at that special moment in my life when I was ready to discover something for myself. There really is a unique innocence that gets you following your favourite artists. So for that reason, I can understand why synthpop fans a few years younger than me revere HOWARD JONES!! *laughs*

I finally got to meet GARY NUMAN in 2002 and had my photo taken with him… I have to say, I was absolutely thrilled!

At the time, did you believe that this would really be his last live show?

All us Numanoids really did think Numan was going to pack it in for good so there was definitely an air at Wembley that the fans were going to give him the biggest send-off possible.

And it was all very sad when it all ended, but then I got back to school and remembered this group JAPAN being mentioned by Numan in his interviews at the time. So after hearing their brilliant ‘Quiet Life’, I transferred all my energies getting into them! Teenagers can be terribly fickle I’m afraid!

In hindsight, I personally think Numan may have returned to the stage too soon after retiring. It was just over a year after Wembley that he did those low-key ‘I Assassin’ club gigs in America.

And then, he did that big ‘Warriors’ comeback tour in ’83. There hadn’t been enough time for people to miss Numan or for the critics to realise just how important he’d been to whole synthesizer thing.

It probably didn’t help that Numan appeared to lose his musical direction after those Wembley concerts. It’s understandable really because he was only 23.

‘Dance’ was interesting, but was probably the wrong album at the wrong time and it outstayed its welcome by at least 20 minutes! ‘I Assassin’ had some great stuff on it, but was patchy. And I never liked ‘Warriors’ at all, I still don’t!

He seemed to have got some of it back together for 1985’s ‘The Fury’ but then he got into that funk / rock thing! From what I can understand from reading his ‘Praying To The Aliens’ autobiography, he didn’t find himself musically again until 1994’s ‘Sacrifice’. Whilst I can’t say I’m a big fan of his new darker material, I still take an interest in his stuff and go to the classic album gigs. But the Andy Gray remix of ‘Prayer To The Unborn’ has to be the best thing he’s done in this heavier incarnation and it’s up there with his greatest songs.


‘Micromusic’ is released on DVD by Mortal

https://garynuman.com

https://www.facebook.com/GaryNumanOfficial/

https://twitter.com/numanofficial


Text and Interview by Steve Gray
11th June 2010, updated 6th February 2018

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