Category: Legacy (Page 2 of 5)

In Search Of Hades: The Legacy of TANGERINE DREAM

TANGERINE DREAM were formed during the Autumn of 1967 by Lithuanian artist Edgar Froese, a lover of Surrealism, sculpture and THE ROLLING STONES.

Based in Berlin, Froese became disillusioned by the rock scene at the time, took the band name from a lyric by THE BEATLES and set about forging a musical project which had sonic experimentation at its very core.

With a fluctuating line-up which at its conception included respected synthesist Klaus Schulze, the band finally started to gain recognition and commercial success in 1975 with the now acknowledged ‘classic’ line-up of Froese, Chris Franke and Peter Baumann.

Following the passing of Froese in 2015 and with their founder’s wishes, TANGERINE DREAM continue with a line-up that still exists today of Thorsten Quaeschning, Ulrich Schnauss and Yoshiko Yamane. TANGERINE DREAM are rightly acknowledged as one of the pioneers of electronic music and the body of work they produced (including the Froese / Franke / Baumann era) has had a huge influence on many musicians to follow.

‘In Search Of Hades: The Virgin Recordings 1973-1979’ covers this imperial phase in TANGERINE DREAM’s timeline, featuring a 16CD + 2 Blu Ray set including a lavish vinyl sized booklet and newly remastered versions of the albums ‘Phaedra’, ‘Rubycon’, ‘Ricochet’, ‘Stratosfear’, ‘Encore’, ‘Cyclone’ and ‘Force Majeure’.

The remastering has been done by Steven Wilson from the available first generation master tapes, but what is most interesting for fans of the bands is the inclusion of a host of previously unreleased material including album out-takes, three London concerts and the full 75 minute soundtrack to the Chichester stage play ‘Oedipus Tyrannus’.

Although much of the band’s rarer material has been well served with the ‘Tangerine Tree’ / ‘Tangerine Leaves’ band-sanctioned bootleg series, a quality set such as this has been long overdue.

The title of TANGERINE DREAM’s 1970 debut album ‘Electronic Meditation’ is a bit of a misnomer in that the work itself featured no actual synthesizers, but utilised organs, tapes and found sounds including a backwards playback of Froese reading from a ferry ticket. ‘Electronic Meditation’ was free-form and experimental in its nature as were the band’s next three albums; ‘Alpha Centauri’, ‘Zeit’ and ‘Atem’.

Primarily eschewing melody for experimentation and atmosphere, it was common for the band have tracks that took up the whole side of an album and this approach continued until 1981 when TANGERINE DREAM started to focus on shorter, more concise pieces. At the heart of the band’s sound was a willingness to experiment with new equipment to the point where music technology manufacturers (including Wolfgang Palm’s PPG) would customize equipment specifically for the band for it to meet their needs.

It was however with their signing to Richard Branson’s fledgling Virgin label and 1974’s ‘Phaedra’ that the band had their major breakthrough commercially. The album itself was a stellar jump musically and was one of the first to feature the sequencer patterns that would go onto to define TANGERINE DREAM’s sound.

Photo by Michael Ochs Archives / Getty Images

Although largely ignored in their own country, the album went on to sell well in the UK, charting at number 15 mainly through word of mouth.

Pivotal to the band was the band’s album cover art, a trademark being the featuring of Froese’s son Jerome either on the front or within the gatefold of the design; most of TANGERINE DREAM’s iconic covers were created by Monique Froese and they help to beautifully encapsulate the music held within.

1975’s ‘Rubycon’ was a close sister to ‘Phaedra’ and could be seen as a refinement of its predecessor with the Mellotron atmospherics and hypnotic sequencer runs all present and correct. Listening back to the work retrospectively now, ‘Rubycon Part One’ still sounds absolutely stunning; after a short two minute intro (which teases the listener that it’s a return to the band’s experimental roots), the track opens up into a beautifully melodic ambient section with electronic birdsong and lush synth pads. The piece then transitions into a sequencer section that was latterly sampled by Alan Wilder’s RECOIL project and went on to secure TANGERINE DREAM’s highest chart placement to date by hitting number 10 in the UK.

The follow-up ‘Ricochet’ differed from the albums that preceded it, in that it was partially comprised of live recordings made at Croydon Fairfield Hall, but with additional studio sections added, including the live piano and Mellotron part that opens ‘Part Two’.

‘Part Two’ remains a breathtaking piece of work with the stunning contrast between the pastoral piano introduction and the interlocking sequencer part that follows. If there is a progression in sound it is the advancing complexity of the band’s Moog sequencer work; whereas ‘Phaedra’ and ‘Rubycon’ featured single lines, ‘Ricochet’ starts to up the ante with multi-layered ones and sets the template for what is now referred to as the ‘Berlin School’ of sequencing.

The album that kept the band occupied between ‘Ricochet’ and ‘Stratosfear’ in 1976 was equally important in securing the band’s reputation and also getting them further work in a different field. ‘Sorcerer’ was a film eventually released in 1977 by ‘The Exorcist’ director William Friedkin and saw the band diversify into mainstream soundtrack work.

Friedkin was an early innovator of using electronic music acts as soundtrack sources and with ‘Sorcerer’, he took the risky approach of getting the band to write their music for the film from looking at the script rather than giving them rushes to work with.

The impact of this approach also meant that the director could play the music on set for the actors and crew to help influence their art and Friedkin even edited much of the footage to fit the music rather than the opposite way around. Although ‘Sorcerer’ wasn’t a huge box office success (and lost a considerable amount of money due to its spiralling budget), it has since been critically re-evaluated and its electronic score certainly puts it ahead of its time when many films of the period would typically be soundtracked orchestrally.

Friedkin has since been quoted as saying that had he discovered TANGERINE DREAM sooner, he would have used the band to soundtrack ‘The Exorcist’, which is now inextricably linked with MIKE OLDFIELD’s ‘Tubular Bells’ instead. It is a shame that ‘Sorcerer’ is not present in the new box set, especially as the poor audio quality of the original vinyl pressings of the soundtrack don’t really do the work proper justice.

Released in 1976, ‘Stratosfear’ saw a departure for TANGERINE DREAM; rather than having side-long 20 minute pieces, a more concise approach was used with 8-10 minute tracks being constructed instead.

An early mix from PINK FLOYD’s Nick Mason was abandoned due to disagreements between the band and Virgin Records.

Although miles away from what could be considered a ‘chart friendly’ hit, the title track would centre around a musical theme that could almost be considered “catchy”! ‘Stratosfear’ has since become a live staple for the new line-up for the band and features on their current tour.

‘Encore’ was touted as TANGERINE DREAM’s first live album ‘proper’; supposedly recorded during the band’s North American 1977 Spring tour, the truth of the matter was far different. In Wouter Bessels’ sleeve notes for the boxset, he refers to the album as a “jigsaw”, with the four long tracks featuring “bits and pieces of recordings mainly made at soundchecks and pre-tour rehearsals in Berlin”. The only track that was truly live was the version of ‘Monolight’, an edited version of a performance captured at the Lisner Auditorium in Washington DC.

‘Encore’ set the precedent for the band in the “is it live or isn’t it?” stakes with the most infamous being the 1988 ‘Live Miles’ album which when compared with a bootleg recording of the Albuquerque concert (that it was meant to represent), showed that it featured no actual music from the show itself! It is interesting to ponder why the band actually did this, were they dissatisfied with the recordings of the performances?

Surely it was inevitable that this ‘deception’ would eventually catch up with them with the huge amount of bootlegs out there in the public domain. These quibbles aside, ‘Encore’ provides a fitting enough tribute to the end of the Froese / Franke / Baumann era and is certainly entertaining from the perspective of hearing of several over-excited Yanks “whooping” during the band’s sequencer passages. However, 1978’s ‘Cyclone’ went to prove to be one of the most polarising albums in TANGERINE DREAM’s back catalogue.

Former member Steve Joliffe was asked to rejoin the band by Froese to contribute vocals and flute to ‘Bent Cold Sidewalk’ and ‘Rising Runner Missed By Endless Sender’. If anything, these additions were a retrograde step for the band, with much of ‘Cyclone’ appearing to align itself with other progressive rock acts of the day.

The lengthy ‘Madrigal Meridian’ which formed the whole of the second side was arguably more representative of where the band was heading, but the addition of vocals wasn’t to be repeated until the William Blake influenced 1987 album ‘Tyger’.

Although rather “hey nonny, nonny” and ‘Blackadder’-ish in places, Jolliffe’s vocals on ‘Bent Cold Sidewalk’ do actually work and ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK does have a soft spot for ‘Bent Cold Sidewalk’, its brassy synth melodies and sequencer driven middle section go together to create an excellent audio triptych which bears up to repeated listens.

The follow up to ‘Cyclone’, ‘Force Majeure’ saw a return to pure instrumentals for the band with the blissed out Balearic acoustic guitar based intro for ‘Cloudburst Flight’ and the stunning extended sequencer passage on ‘Thru Metamorphic Rocks’ providing the album highlights. The latter proved so successful that its elements were recycled and ended up on the Michael Mann directed motion picture ‘Thief’ as ‘Igneous’. ‘Cyclone’ drew this era to a close and on the near horizon was the joining of Johannes Schmoelling who would go onto have a huge impact on the band and help redefine their sound for the next six years or so.

For purchasers of the box set, the main attractions are the remastering, the previously unreleased material and Blu Ray content. Long-term fans of the band who open the box will likely gravitate to ‘Oedipus Tyrannus’ first; a set of tracks composed for Keith Michell’s adaptation of a work which was performed on 18th August 1974 at the Chichester Festival Theatre.

‘Oedipus Tyrannus’ has been mixed by Steven Wilson from the original multitracks and is sonically stunning, certainly nothing like a 1974 rarity which had been buried in an archive would be expected to sound like.

The opening couple of tracks ‘Overture’ and ‘Act 1’ revert back to the band’s earlier experimental pre-’Phaedra’ sound, but are nonetheless entrancing all the same. Where the set really finds its feet is in ‘Act 2: Battle’; after opening with white noise based percussion, the piece eventually breaks into one of TANGERINE DREAM’s trademark sequencer workouts which ebbs and flows for the remaining ten minutes before ending on a short Mellotron flute coda. ‘Act 3’ is undoubtedly the centrepiece here and gives much of ‘Phaedra’ and ‘Rubycon’ a run for their money in terms of sheer innovation and quality.

Another bubbling sequencer line takes centre-stage and the audio quality of Wilson’s mix makes ‘Act 3’ sound like it was recorded yesterday and not 45 years ago. Wilson’s usage of panning and reverb sensitively update the band’s sound and it is clear that the mix was done with the utmost respect to TANGERINE DREAM’s roots and original sonic template. There is also a 5.1 surround version of ‘Oedipus Tyrannus’ on one of the two Blu Rays in the box set.

Photo by Michael Putland / Getty Images

The Blu Ray content also includes Steven Wilson’s excellent 5.1 mixes of ‘Phaedra’ and ‘Ricochet’ as well as the Coventry Cathedral concert (which still unfortunately has the overdubbed ‘Ricochet’ soundtrack on it rather than the original concert recording).

There is however some consolation in that the original Coventry Cathedral piece is present on the ‘Stratosfear’ disc within the box set.

Listening back retrospectively to the actual recording of this concert makes it easier to try and comprehend why the film maker Tony Palmer deemed it necessary to try and overdub the footage that he had; the first 25 minutes of the segment featured is uncompromisingly bleak. But the decision to shoehorn these two elements together has continued to raise the hackles of TD fans for several years now, especially as the film footage is beautifully captured.

Tony Palmer pops up again on another of the Blu Ray’s extras, the 1976 German documentary ‘Signale Aus Der Schwäbischen Straße’; this is a fascinating archive piece including contributions from Monique Froese, Richard Branson (misnamed here as ‘Richard Barnes [!]’) and an interview face-off with the band. A rather awkward looking John Peel and journalist (who is only referred to as ‘Miles’) watch as the band fend off a selection of increasingly antagonising questions by Tony Palmer. A finger wagging Froese becomes visibly annoyed by the end, especially with Palmer’s assertion that much of TD’s music is too highbrow and a working class audience just wouldn’t “get it”!

The documentary also features some of the best close quarter footage of the band’s equipment and live performance from this era. The most prescient point in the whole documentary occurs when the journalist ‘Miles’ makes the point that one day, “synthesizers will be able to play chords… that mass production of those synthesizers will open up a new field and will eventually be as affordable as electric guitars”. And when this happens “English groups will be able to make more electronic music as well!” The film ends with Froese in disguise, pointing at the band’s reel-to-reel tape recorder and comically questioning whether they actually play live or not…

Also of interest are the three live sets from the era, one from their debut UK performance at the Rainbow Theatre in Finsbury Park in 1974, one from a gig at Victoria Palace and a recording of the band’s Royal Albert Hall concert from April 1975. All of these recordings are above average in quality considering their age and appear to be unaltered snapshots of the three live sets.

What is incredible about these recordings is the band’s desire never to repeat themselves, which meant that a live gig ‘rehearsal’ would usually entail a short discussion minutes beforehand along the lines of “Let’s start in E and then go up to a major third to G and then end on A”. The fact that the band was also fighting the unreliability of much of their equipment (Moog oscillators were notorious for going out of tune when temperatures fluctuated), meant that what they were doing was technically a hyper-pure form of Jazz… but instead of using upright bass, drums and piano, they were using new and unreliable electronics instead.

Although the music remastering and track selection has been done extremely well here, there are some points of controversy. Several inaccuracies feature in the lavish booklet (which takes up half of the package), this includes incorrect dates, photos which have been wrongly attributed and typographical errors. The most verbal beef has come from Jerome Froese who feels that his mother Monique has been airbrushed out of the project (although she is mentioned in the booklet, but only gets a single mention for her artwork in the rundown of credits at the front of the booklet).

Fortunately, there are vinyl album size reproductions of her iconic sleeves within the package, which put the new ones created for ‘Oedipus Tyrannus’, ‘Royal Albert Hall’, ‘Victoria Palace’ and ‘Live At The Rainbow’ totally to shame.

These gripes aside, ‘In Search of Hades’ is a fitting audio tribute to the early years of TANGERINE DREAM, Steven Wilson has done a fantastic job with his remastering / remixing of the material and the next question for many fans of the band will be “if” and “when” a Johannes Schmoelling-era box set will be released?

Without question there remains only two true titans of electronic music, KRAFTWERK and TANGERINE DREAM, both German and both fortunate enough to be able to afford the best electronic equipment available. Most importantly they were able (in their own differing ways) to use those resources to create an incredible early body of work which would set the template to influence countless artists afterwards.


In memory of Edgar Froese 1944 – 2015

‘In Search Of Hades: The Virgin Recordings 1973-1979’ is released as a 16 CD + 2 Blu Ray boxed set by UMC

http://www.tangerinedream.org/

https://www.facebook.com/TANGERINEDREAM.OFFICIAL

https://twitter.com/QTangerineDream


Text by Paul Boddy with thanks to Andy King and Wouter Bessels
24th June 2019

The Electronic Legacy of EUROPE

Europe is the spiritual home of electronic music, inspiring it not just artistically but forming an important bond with the continent’s classical tradition through the romance of its historical imagery.

Continental Europe is defined as being bordered by the Arctic Ocean, the Atlantic Ocean and the Mediterranean Sea.

Often considered to be separated from Asia by the watershed divides of the Ural and Caucasus Mountains, the Ural River, the Caspian and Black Seas and the waterways of the Turkish Straits, it includes the part of Russia where Moscow and St Petersburg are located.

Mark Reeder was one of the first British music personalities to fully adopt Europe, making West Berlin his home in 1978 and subsequently releasing a number of themed compilation albums such as ‘European’ in 1995 and ‘Assorted (E For Europe)’ in 1999 on his MFS label. His fellow Mancunian and friend Bernard Sumner of NEW ORDER said to The European in 2016: “I feel European, I regard myself as a European… as a musician I’ve always been massively influenced by Europe and its people”.

From Paris to Vienna back to Düsseldorf City, Europe fascinated British musicians who having been open-minded enough to use synthesizers, now embraced many different mindsets, languages, cultures and cuisines, all within a comparatively accessible geographical land mass. Meanwhile, European instrument manufacturers such as PPG, Elka, Crumar, RSF, Jen and Siel found their products in the thick of the action too.

ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK stands proud of its Eurocentric focus. Esteemed names like Hütter, Schneider, Flür, Bartos, Moroder, Jarre, Vangelis, Plank, Rother, Dinger and Froese have more than highlighted the important debt that is owed by electronic music to Europe.

While the UK may have scored an equalizer with Synth Britannia, it was the Europeans who took that crucial half time lead. So to disengage with the European tradition would be betraying everything that ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK is all about.

Presented in yearly and then alphabetical order with a restriction of one track per artist moniker, here are our favourite twenty electronic tunes that were inspired, either directly or obliquely, by the legacy of Europe…


DAVID BOWIE Warszawa (1977)

‘Warszawa’ was named after the Polish capital city but accurately captured the Cold War tensions in Europe without the need for lyricism. At Hansa Studios where the sessions were being mixed, the watch towers in East Berlin could look into the windows of the building! Tony Visconti’s production only enhanced the collaborative drama between David Bowie’s enigmatic wailing over Brian Eno’s Minimoog and Chamberlain keys. This formed part of an all instrumental suite on the ‘Low’ album’s second side.

Available on the DAVID BOWIE album ‘Low’ via EMI Records

http://www.davidbowie.com


KRAFTWERK Europe Endless (1977)

With KRAFTWERK utilising a customized 32-step Synthanorma Sequenzer and a Vako Orchestron with pre-recorded symphonic string and choir sounds sourced from optical discs, if there was such a thing as a musical European travelogue, then the romantically optimistic beauty of ‘Europe Endless’ was it. This lengthy work influenced the likes of NEW ORDER, OMD and BLANCMANGE who all borrowed different aspects of its aesthetics for ‘Your Silent Face’, ‘Metroland’ and ‘Feel Me’ respectively.

Available on the KRAFTWERK album ‘Trans Europe Express’ via EMI Records

http://www.kraftwerk.com/


THE DURUTTI COLUMN For Belgian Friends (1980)

‘For Belgian Friends’ was written in honour of Factory Benelux founders Michel Duval and the late Annik Honoré. Although not strictly electronic in the purest sense, Martin Hannett’s technologically processed production techniques made Vini Reilly’s dominant piano sound like textured synthetic strings, complimenting his sparing melodic guitar and the crisp percussion of Donald Johnson. This beautiful instrumental was one of Reilly’s best recordings, originally on the compilation ‘A Factory Quartet’.

Available on THE DURUTTI COLUMN album ‘LC’ via Factory Benelux Records

http://www.thedurutticolumn.com/


FATAL CHARM Paris (1980)

Nottingham combo FATAL CHARM supported ULTRAVOX and OMD in 1980. Their excellent first single ‘Paris’ was produced by Midge Ure and could be seen reflecting the electronically flavoured new wave template of the period. Singer Sarah Simmonds’ feisty passion gave a freshly charged sexual ambiguity to the European love story written in the days before the Channel Tunnel. Instrumentalist Paul Arnall said: “we were able to use Midge’s Yamaha synth which gave it his sound”.

Available on the FATAL CHARM album ‘Plastic’ via Fatal Charm

http://fatalcharm.co.uk/


IPPU DO German Road (1981)

Did you hear the one about the Japanese band impersonating a German band and doing it rather well? Influenced by the motorik backbeat of NEU! and also heavily borrowing form its guitarist Michael Rother’s solo track ‘Karussell’, IPPU DO’s leader Masami Tsuchiya was something of a multi-cultural sponge, later joining JAPAN for their final ‘Sons Of Pioneers’ tour in 1982. Meanwhile IPPU DO are still best known in the UK for their startlingly original cover version of THE ZOMBIES ‘Time Of The Season’.

Remixed version available on the IPPU DO album ‘Essence: The Best Of’ via Sony Music

http://www.ne.jp/asahi/masami/london/


LANDSCAPE European Man (1980)

Electronic pioneer Richard James Burgess said: “I think we all embraced this new direction because of our raw excitement over the new technology… We discussed it in the band and everyone was on board so I started working on the lyrics that became ‘European Man’”. Colin Thurston was the producer assisting in realising this new direction and interestingly, the rear artwork of the first issue of the single featured a very early use of the term “electronic dance music”.

Available on LANDSCAPE album ‘From The Tea-Rooms Of Mars…’ via Cherry Red Records

https://twitter.com/Landscape_band


SIMPLE MINDS I Travel (1980)

“Europe has a language problem” sang Jim Kerr on ‘I Travel’, adding “in central Europe men are marching”. Aware of the domestic terrorist threats that were apparent in every city they were visiting on tour, SIMPLE MINDS captured a claustrophobic tension within its futuristic frenzy like a doomy disco take on Moroder. It was a favourite of DJ Rusty Egan at The Blitz Club where its shadier spectre was highly welcomed by its clientele, reflecting their own discontent closer to home.

Available on the SIMPLE MINDS album ‘Empires & Dance’ via Virgin Records

http://www.simpleminds.com


TELEX Eurovision (1980)

TELEX’s manifesto was “Making something really European, different from rock, without guitar.” Having previously visited a ‘Moscow Disko’ and with tongues firmly in cheeks, they entered the 1980 Eurovision Song Contest with a bouncy electropop song that had deliberately banal lyrics about the whole charade itself. Performing to a bemused audience in The Hague with the sole intention of coming last, unfortunately Finland decided otherwise! Who said the Belgians didn’t have a sense of humour?!

Available on the TELEX album ‘Ultimate Best Of’ via EMI Music Belgium

http://www.telex-music.com/


ULTRAVOX New Europeans (1980)

If there was a song that truly represents ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK’s ethos, then the synth rock fusion of ULTRAVOX’s ‘New Europeans’ is it! Noting that “his modern world revolves around the synthesizer’s song” in lyrics largely written by drummer Warren Cann, it all pointed to an optimistic way forward “full of future thoughts and thrills” that would later be opened up by direct train travel across the channel with freedom of movement to and from the continent for “a European legacy and “a culture for today”.

Available on the ULTRAVOX album ‘Vienna’ via EMI Records

http://www.ultravox.org.uk/


VISAGE Moon Over Moscow (1980)

While in his dual role as DJ at The Blitz Club and VISAGE’s drummer, Rusty Egan had become inspired by the melodic interplay of Japanese trio YELLOW MAGIC ORCHESTRA which had been European influenced: “I liked the album and played it along with TELEX and SPARKS. The sound was an influence on VISAGE. By the time we recorded ‘Moon Over Moscow’, that was to include Russia, Japan, Germany and France in our sound… the drummer was also using the same drum pads as me!”

Available on the VISAGE album ‘Visage’ via Alliance Import

http://rustyegan.net/


ASSOCIATES White Car In Germany (1981)

ASSOCIATES first musical signs of a fascination towards European influenced electronic music came with the funereal pulse of ‘White Car In Germany’. The swirling electronics, cold atmosphere and treated percussion were intended to sound as un-American as possible. Billy MacKenzie’s observational lyric “Aberdeen’s an old place – Düsseldorf’s a cold place – Cold as spies can be” accurately captured post-war tensions under the spectre of the bomb.

Available on the ASSOCIATES album ‘The Very Best Of’ via BMG

https://www.facebook.com/theassociatesofficial/


JOHN FOXX Europe After The Rain (1981)

Foxx admitted he had been “reading too much JG Ballard” and had thawed considerably following ‘Metamatic’. Now spending his spare time exploring beautiful Italian gardens and taking on a more foppish appearance, his new mood was reflected in his music. Moving to a disused factory site in Shoreditch, Foxx set up a recording complex which he named ‘The Garden’ and the first song to emerge was the Linn Drum driven ‘Europe After The Rain’. Foxx had now achieved his system of romance.

Available on the JOHN FOXX album ‘Modern Art: The Best Of’ via Music Club

http://www.metamatic.com/


JAPAN European Son (1981)

Recorded as a JAPAN demo for the 1979 Giorgio Moroder sessions that produced ‘Life In Tokyo’, this sequencer heavy number was rejected by the Italian disco maestro. Left dormant in the vaults of Ariola Hansa, the song was finished off under the supervision of John Punter and later given a single remix by Steve Nye with redone parts by Mick Karn. ‘European Son’ showed David Sylvian’s vocals in transition from the catty aggression of earlier albums to the Ferry-ish croon most now associated with the band.

John Punter version available on JAPAN album ‘The Very Best Of’ via BMG

http://www.nightporter.co.uk/


THE MOBILES Drowning In Berlin (1981)

THE MOBILES’ were from the sleepy shores of Eastbourne; while ‘Drowning In Berlin’ may have come across as a ‘Not The Nine O’Clock News’ New Romantic parody on first listen, its decaying Mittel Europa grandeur was infectious like Hazel O’Connor reinterpreting ‘Vienna’ with The Master of Ceremonies at the Kit Kat Klub. And like ‘Vienna’, ‘Drowning In Berlin’ was inspired by a holiday romance, in this case one that singer Anna Maria had while visiting the divided city.

Available on THE MOBILES album ‘Drowning In Berlin: The Best Of’ via Cherry Red Records

https://www.discogs.com/artist/98916-Mobiles


BERLIN The Metro (1982)

Inspired by acts like ULTRAVOX and KRAFTWERK, Californian band BERLIN with their approach to synthesizers were a far cry from the way they were being used Stateside within rock. And in ‘The Metro’ with its frantic motorik drum machine and Teutonic pulses, songwriter John Crawford aimed to capture the tense filmic romance of Paris despite never having visited the city, a vibrant but detached feeling ably projected by partner and singer Terri Nunn in a similar fashion to FATAL CHARM.

Available on the BERLIN album ‘Best Of’ via Geffen Records

http://www.berlinpage.com/


DEPECHE MODE Oberkorn (1982)

Radio Luxembourg broadcasted pop music to the UK using the most powerful privately owned transmitter in the world. But when DEPECHE MODE played the country in early 1982, they were booked to perform in a small town called Oberkorn. With a glorious ambient instrumental on the B-side of the then soon-to-be-released single ‘The Meaning Of Love’ requiring a title, Martin Gore needed no further inspiration, unconsciously capturing the air of the Grand Duchy’s countryside and oceanic climate.

Available on the DEPECHE MODE boxed set ‘DMBX1’ via Columbia Records

http://www.depechemode.com/


THE MOOD Paris Is One Day Away (1982)

Before the days of the Channel Tunnel, young York based New Romantic trio THE MOOD noted the how long it took by boat and train to get to the French capital. ‘Paris Is One Day Away’ was the hit that got away; reaching No. 42, it secured a slot on ‘Top Of The Pops’. However, it was the 1982 World Cup and a match heading into extra time meant that a hasty edit was made. And it was THE MOOD’s performance as the new and unknown act that ended up on the cutting room floor!

Available on THE MOOD album ‘The Singles Collection’ via Cherry Red Records

http://www.themood.info/


RATIONAL YOUTH Saturdays in Silesia (1982)

After ‘Dancing On The Berlin Wall’, RATIONAL YOUTH mainman Tracy Howe turned his attention towards Poland. “What was it like to be young person behind the Iron Curtain? What did they do on a Saturday night anyway?” he told ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK, “Did they have clubs to go to? Probably underground ones. They’d probably break down the door. Apart from the fact that there are no ‘navy docks’ in Silesia, this record makes a jolly racket and may well be the first recorded instance of a Roland TR-808.”

Available on the RATIONAL YOUTH album ‘Cold War Night Life’ via EMI Records

https://www.facebook.com/RationalYouth/


IAN ANDERSON Different Germany (1983)

Fascinated by the likes of Thomas Dolby and Gary Numan, JETHRO TULL frontman Ian Anderson went synth in 1983. Assisted by Peter John Vitesse, ‘Different Germany’ embraced both the electronic and progressive sides of Anderson’s career perfectly with a marvellous middle section featuring a bristling keyboard solo. The end result sounded not unsurprisingly like Tull fronting ULTRAVOX; of course, the circle was completed when Midge Ure covered ‘Living In The Past’ in 1985.

Available on the IAN ANDERSON album ‘Walk Into Light’ via EMI Records

http://jethrotull.com/ian-anderson-bio/


THE STRANGLERS European Female (1983)

Born to French parents in Notting Hill, THE STRANGLERS’ bassist Jean-Jacques Burnel was a loyal European, even releasing a 1979 solo album entitled ‘Euroman Cometh’ where “a Europe strong, united and independent is a child of the future”. Taking lead vocals for the beautiful ‘European Female’, it possessed an understated quality with subtle Spanish guitar from Hugh Cornwell alongside Dave Greenfield’s sparkling synths and Jet Black’s electronic percussion to celebrate the allure of continental mystery.

Available on THE STRANGLERS album ‘The Very Best Of’ via EMI Records

http://www.thestranglers.co.uk/


Text by Chi Ming Lai
18th April 2019

Play To Win: The Legacy Of HEAVEN 17

HEAVEN 17 started as a pop subsidiary of BRITISH ELECTRIC FOUNDATION, a production company signed to Virgin Records formed after Martyn Ware and Ian Craig Marsh left THE HUMAN LEAGUE in 1980.

With Glenn Gregory as lead singer, the trio eventually became almost as successful as their former sparring partners Philip Oakey and Adrian Wright who had recruited Ian Burden, Jo Callis, Susanne Sulley and Joanne Catherall to score a chart topper in ‘Don’t You Want Me’ on both sides of the Atlantic. THE HUMAN LEAGUE had a huge selling hit album as well in ‘Dare’, for which Ware and Marsh received a small royalty as part of the original divorce settlement.

Whereas at the time, THE HUMAN LEAGUE had a purer synthesizer vision, Ware had been keen to incorporate his love of soul and disco into proceedings. “We wanted a little distance between what THE HUMAN LEAGUE had been and probably were still going to be, and what HEAVEN 17 were about to become..” remembered Glenn Gregory, “The balance in any group is obviously changed when anyone leaves or joins… things were naturally heading in a different direction just by the very fact that the dynamic of the group had changed, I suppose the real turning point was when we had written ‘Fascist Groove Thang’ (only about ten days after THE HUMAN LEAGUE had split) and Martyn had suggested we put a bass guitar solo in the middle breakdown…”

Featuring young Sheffield bassist John Wilson who also turned out to be a master on rhythm guitar and powered by Simmons SDS-V drums, ‘(We Don’t Need This) Fascist Groove Thang’ was a salvo of urgent electronic funk that won the support of the serious music press, but got a ban from the BBC due to its Ronald Reagan baiting lyrics and warnings about the resurgence of extreme right wing ideology. It only fired the trio up even more!

The resultant ‘Penthouse & Pavement’ album was released in Autumn 1981. It was a landmark achievement, cleverly combining electronics with pop hooks and funky disco sounds while adding witty social and political commentary. It fell into two halves, the ‘Penthouse’ side being more electronic avant pop like an extension of THE HUMAN LEAGUE’s ‘Travelogue’ while the other ‘Pavement’ side was aided and abetted by a game changing piece of digital technology; “The Linn Drum became within a day, the new direction” recalled Martyn Ware, “that and discovering John Wilson were the two things that defined ‘Penthouse & Pavement’.”

In a mood of buoyant optimism, ‘Play To Win’ celebrated aspiration, while the title song with its blistering burst of guitar synth by Wilson wittily captured the greed of yuppie culture during the Thatcher era. But on the other side of the coin, ‘Let’s All Make A Bomb’ and ‘Height Of The Fighting’ reflected The Cold War and the horrifying spectre of Mutually Assured Destruction. The album fittingly ended with ‘We’re Going To Live For A Very Long Time’, a humourous ode to the dangers of religious fundamentalism that had a connected end groove on its original vinyl to ensure it went on for infinity…

With electronic music technology becoming more sophisticated while affordable and user friendly, Ware upped the ante with its production values; “We’d moved on by then to programming using the Roland MC4 Microcomposer so there was a lot of numeric programming on that album.” he said, “That drove my System 100 and Ian’s System 100M. The original demos are really just the programmed parts which then got layered over with real instruments.”

Securing the talents of notable session musicians such as Ray Russell, Simon Phillips and Nick Plytas as well as retaining John Wilson, ‘The Luxury Gap’ had a glossy sheen which combined synthesizer programming and digital drum computers with orchestrations, brass, jazz piano, rhythm guitar and guitar synths.

The first single ‘Let Me Go’ with one of the first uses of the Roland TB303 Bass Line sequencer was a striking slice of art funk, offset by deep delayed thrusts of Jupiter 8 but again failed to be a Top40 hit.

Interestingly, its recording had concocted a few conundrums in the studio. “When we finished ‘Let Me Go’” remembered Gregory, “we realised we’d lost the original beauty of the demo so we did it again…so basically, ‘The Best Kept Secret’ is ‘Let Me Go’ but redone with an orchestra. So we got two songs out of it.”

More obviously pop oriented than its predecessor ‘The Luxury Gap’ hosted two international hits. ‘Temptation’ was euphoric soul fusion of epic proportions utilising strings and the voice of Carol Kenyon. “Martyn had the idea for the Motown backbeat but it’s still very electronic really… there was this part that built and we decided to try an orchestra.” Gregory explained, “So we were in the studio with this massive orchestra and it was like ‘oh my god’, it was amazing because it was so different. It was a complete game changer.”

Meanwhile ‘Come Live With Me’ was a heartfelt cinematic ballad with no instrumental break which was delivered so sincerely, that it veiled its origins as an inter-band joke. “I was at that time I wrote it, seeing a young girl and I was getting a few jibes” recollected the HEAVEN 17 front man, “The words were making us laugh! It was all messing around! That’s where it all came from and we were quite surprised we’d written quite a beautiful song by the end of it because we were laughing like mad.”

‘Crushed By The Wheels Of Industry’, ‘Who’ll Stop The Rain’ and ‘Key To The World’ pointedly explored the themes of ‘The Luxury Gap’ and maintained HEAVEN 17’s socio-political consciousness despite their entry into the mainstream. But there were other highlights; ‘Lady Ice & Mr Hex’ provided a weird fusion of jazz piano, polyrhythmics, Linn Drum and acid squelches while the frantic energy of ‘We Live So Fast’ presented what it said on the tin.

Success brought money and this was reflected in Autumn 1984 with the Fairlighted jamboree of third album ‘How Men Are’. “The operational reasons for moving to the Fairlight were that Ian had bought one without asking anyone and with his own money… £40,000!” affirmed HEAVEN 17’s musical director of their newly accquired workstation, “I was going ‘Are you sure about this Ian?’, it seemed a little extreme but he was keen”.

The results were mixed and the many options provided by the computer from Sydney, Australia led to the start of HEAVEN 17’s artistic confusion.

But without doubt, ‘Five Minutes To Midnight’ was an outstanding opener. Referencing The Doomsday Clock and following on from ‘Let’s All Make A Bomb’ to highlight the absurdity of Mutually Assured Destruction, it used and abused the Fairlight, throwing in ‘Protect and Survive’ styled civil defence announcements, deathly whoops and a doomy orchestral crescendo bringing a frightening finality to proceedings…

“I’m a big fan of ‘How Men Are’ looking back on it” said Ware, “I think it’s an underrated album and that was when we were probably in our most daring and creative phase.” That daring creativity manifested itself on the sub-ten minute closer ‘And That’s No Lie’, an ambitious adventure in sound that threw in everything from abstract sonic experiments, jazz piano, Fairlight samples, gospel voices and an orchestra, plus some excellent live bass and guitar work from John Wilson and Ray Russell respectively.

Although there were hits in ‘Sunset Now’ and ‘This Is Mine’, these singles highlighted that with the exception of ‘Flamedown’, the ‘How Men Are’ album material was not ultimately as strong as it had been on ‘The Luxury Gap’. One case in point was ‘The Skin I’m In’, an insipid ballad in the vein of SPANDAU BALLET’s ‘True’ although it was partly saved by a plucky acoustic guitar solo created using a Roland System 100!

But the world was changing. Synthpop was falling out of fashion and while potentially there was still success to be had across the Atlantic with the advent of MTV, thanks to the unexpected success of SIMPLE MINDS, British acts were under pressure make themselves more palatable to American audiences.

“So consequently when it came to making ‘Pleasure One’, we’d lost our confidence a bit because it felt like we were slipping.” Ware recalled, “So we started employing more session players and moving towards a more traditional rock sound. And that wasn’t a deliberate decision. We lost confidence not in our songwriting but in the sound that we had, so it like really lost a bit of identity… We wanted to move on but there wasn’t anywhere to move on to from a sound point of view.”

But to be fair, a good number of acts from the school of Synth Britannia like THE HUMAN LEAGUE, OMD, ULTRAVOX and BLANCMANGE were having something of an existential crisis and even those who had tasted major success in the US like DURAN DURAN were falling apart.

Released in Autumn 1986, the conventionally band driven ‘Pleasure One’ which also saw the return of Carol Kenyon was given a lukewarm reception. Highlights included the groovy call for world unity ‘Contenders’ and the LEVEL 42 aping ‘Trouble’, while ‘If I Were You’ brought in an unexpected influence from THE BEATLES. But overall, HEAVEN 17 had lost momentum.

Ware’s success as a producer for acts like Tina Turner and Terence Trent D’Arby was perhaps placing his artistic focus elsewhere, but when Glenn Gregory appeared on the album cover of 1988’s ‘Teddy Bear, Duke & Psycho’ wearing a Stetson and cowboy boots, the writing was on the wall.

“‘Teddy Bear, Duke & Psycho’ was the nail in the coffin; we’d completely lost our way by then as far as I was concerned! We were retreading some ideas and some of the things we were doing were not working. I think we all knew it had run its course at that point” lamented Ware, “But ironically, it wasn’t that we’d run out of musical ideas, it was just that vehicle because at that time, I was doing Terence Trent D’Arby album which showed myself, Glenn and Ian that we’d still got creative ideas but we’d lost focus on what HEAVEN 17 should be at that point.”

‘Teddy Bear, Duke & Psycho’ were the affectionate nicknames given by Terence Trent D’Arby respectively to Ware, Gregory and Marsh, but the album possessed none of the enthusiasm or spirit of the former GI who Ware had been working with on ‘Introducing The Hardline According To…’. ‘The Ballad Of Go Go Brown’ was the cue for some fans to exit, although ‘Train Of Love In Motion’ was a better single.

Meanwhile ‘Big Square People’ was as good as some of blue eyed soul of the times. But with mainstream audiences finding younger acts such as WET WET WET, HUE & CRY and JOHNNY HATES JAZZ more to their liking, HEAVEN 17 effectively went on hiatus between 1989 to 1995, although a dance enhanced Brothers In Rhythm remix of ‘Temptation’ became a surprise UK Top5 hit in 1992.

Then in 1996, the trio reunited to re-explore their electronic roots with a new album ‘Bigger Than America’ and in 1997 toured as the opening act for ERASURE whose 1993 album ‘I Say I Say I Say’ had been produced by Ware.

Although there has only been one further album ‘Before / After’ in 2005 and the departure of Ian Craig Marsh not long after, HEAVEN 17 have been regulars on the live circuit since 2008, often showcasing ‘Penthouse & Pavement’ and ‘The Luxury Gap’ in full where their political commentary still remains sadly relevant in the modern world.

‘Play To Win – The Virgin Years’ captures the glorious imperial phase of HEAVEN 17 and the developmental pace of music technology through these five albums. Featuring a 36 booklet with new interviews and archive photos, the CD version is particularly desirable with its plethora of extended mixes, radio edits, instrumentals and non-album tracks such as the standalone single ‘I’m Your Money’ and its B-side ‘Are Everything’ plus the brilliant and very different demo version of ‘Temptation’ which took its lead from SOFT CELL’s cover of ‘Tainted Love’.

Gregory, Ware and Marsh’s ultimate legacy is being able to use music to deliver socio-political statements with good tunes and a sense of humour while also applying a juxtaposition of programmed technology with live musicians to provide a unique sound for the times.

“Some things will always be relevant” summarised Gregory, “We wrote about subjects that touched our lives and our souls, things that mattered not just to us as individuals but also to us as a part of a political or social system. We never preached and always (I hope) ranted with wit and humour”.

As the band once stated during their 1996 return: “TRUST US – WE’RE ENTERTAINERS”.


‘Play To Win – The Virgin Years’ is released by Edsel Records as a 10CD or 5LP coloured vinyl 12” x 12” boxed set on 29th March 2019

HEAVEN 17 will be opening for SQUEEZE on their 2019 tour, dates include:

Scunthorpe Baths Hall (17th October), Sheffield City Hall (18th October), Gateshead Sage (19th October), Glasgow Royal Concert Hall (21st October), Leicester De Montfort Hall (22nd October), Birmingham Symphony Hall (23rd October), Oxford New Theatre (25th October), Brighton Centre (26th October), Southend Cliffs Pavilion (27th October), London Royal Albert Hall (29th October), Bath Forum(30th October), Hull City Hall (1st November), Liverpool Philharmonic Hall (2nd November), Manchester Salford Quays The Lowry (3rd November), Northampton Derngate (5th November), Guildford G Live (6th November), Nottingham Royal Concert Hall (9th November), Bournemouth Pavilion (11th November), Cambridge Corn Exchange (12th November), Cardiff St David’s Hall (13th November), Llandudno Venue Cymru (15th November), Harrogate Convention Centre (16th November), Reading Hexagon (17th November), Folkestone Leas Cliff Hall (19th November), Ipswich Regent (20th November)

https://www.heaven17.com/

https://www.facebook.com/heaven17official/

https://twitter.com/heaven17bef

https://www.instagram.com/heaven17official/


Text and interviews by Chi Ming Lai
12th March 2019

Hunt The Self: The Legacy of HOWARD JONES

When Howard Jones’ debut Colin Thurston-produced single ‘New Song’ emerged in September 1983 it would have been very easy to dismiss him as yet another fluffy synthpop act; the single combined an early DEPECHE MODE style lead synth riff, organ chords and lyrics chock-full of optimism and positivity.

Whereas many synth acts of the era used synthesizers mainly for their sonic appeal, Jones’ background at the Royal Northern College of Music in Manchester meant that he melded a more traditional songwriter-driven approach to his prominent electronic productions.

What also differentiated Jones from some of his peers was his insistence on not relying on backing tapes live and taking his main synths including a Roland Juno 60 and Sequential Circuits Pro-One on the road with him.

This one man band approach, although a bit risky due to the unreliability of the technology at the time, did however help him secure some major support slots with artists such as CHINA CRISIS and OMD. An early session for BBC Radio One’s David ‘Kid’ Jensen also helped provide exposure and all of these factors contributed to Jones hitting the ground running with his initial singles and album successes.

The release of the No1 album ‘Human’s Lib’ in March 1984 showed that beneath the woolly jumpers and multi-coloured spiked hair there was considerably more substance to the act. Produced by Rupert Hine of QUANTUM JUMP, the album yielded three more hit singles, ‘What Is Love?’, the glacial ‘Hide & Seek’ and ‘Pearl In The Shell’ but it was with some of the album cuts that there emerged a different side to Jones’ work.

Songs like opener ‘Conditioning’ and the album’s title track showcased a far more mature lyrical stance which was understandable as Jones at the time was a good 8-10 years older than most of his musical peers at the time. The former tackled the subject of brainwashing and bullying within a track which featured some nifty metal-bashing sampling alongside the omnipresent Yamaha DX7; meanwhile ‘Human’s Lib’ still raises an eyebrow with it’s opening line “Sometimes I’d like to go to bed with a hundred women or men”.

HOWARD JONES’ upbringing defined the sound of ‘Human’s Lib’ with its themes of self-empowerment and positivity stemming from his membership of the Buddhist association Soka Gakkai International and the prominent usage of synth chords, rather than the de rigueur one-finger approach, coming from his time spent in prog rock band WARRIOR.

The singer / songwriter approach really reveals itself on ‘Don’t Always Look At The Rain’; another positivity-themed piece which showcases Jones’ piano-playing background and again further distanced the artist from other synthpop acts of the era. The success of ‘Human’s Lib’ on both sides of the Atlantic meant that a follow-up to ‘Human’s Lib’ started gestation in Farmyard Studios in Buckinghamshire the same year.

A stop-gap single ‘Like To Get To Know You Well’ was released alongside the remix album ‘The 12” Album’ before the emergence of ‘Dream Into Action’ in March 1985. Prior to the album release, ‘Things Can Only Get Better’ gave jones another Top 10 UK single. Although still featuring electronics, in places ‘Dream Into Action’ showcased a more soul-driven sound; backing vocalists AFRODIZIAK (including SOUL II SOUL vocalist Caron Wheeler) being brought on board to fill out the overall production, again by Rupert Hine. In a QUANTUM JUMP connection, their drummer Trevor Morais joined the expanded live set-up along while Jones’ brother Martin came in on bass guitar.

Some of the lyrical content on ‘Dream Into Action’ was again ultra-personal to Jones; being a long-term vegetarian, ‘Assault & Battery’ tackled the subject head-on with choir-like voices delivering the “Children’s stories with their farmyard favourites – On the table in a different disguise” lines.  Other tracks worthy of a mention include ‘Automaton’ with its ‘Tour De France’ slap bass synthetic intro which is unsurprisingly KRAFTWERK influenced and ‘Elegy’, a downtempo and atmospheric reflection upon life and death given additional resonance with a solemn cello contribution by Helen Liebman.

A further three singles all made the Top 20 including a re-recorded version of ‘No One Is To Blame’ with Phil Collins and Hugh Padgham. This union was hardly surprising as Jones’ keyboard style and sound in places here echoes GENESIS synth man Tony Banks; especially with its’ Yamaha CP80 piano sound and FM keyboard textures.

Considering the success of these first two HOWARD JONES albums, it’s perhaps surprising that there haven’t been deluxe versions issued sooner; but what has prompted their appearance now is the fact Jones initially licensed his own music from Warners for his own Dtox label which resulted in some box sets. Then Cherry Red bought his catalogue thus leading to these two updated packages in differing formats.

As far as deluxe issues go, these are REALLY exhaustive, and it appears no stone was left unturned when going through the archives to put these albums together. Worthy of a mention in the ‘Human’s Lib’ set are a remastered version of Jones’ original demo cassette and a few rare unreleased BBC radio session tracks. These include the live favourite ‘Don’t Put Your Curses On Me’ which should really have featured on his debut album, although Jones’ himself felt the song was jinxed after an equipment glitch while performing it on Channel 4’s ‘Loose Talk’ for his live TV debut.

There is also a version of the ‘Human’s Lib’ song with the now-forgotten extended spoken intro referencing Ruth, David and Dennis who feature on the album’s artwork. The various formats include live footage replicas of tour programmes, pin badges and archive TV footage from ‘Top of the Pops’ and ‘The Old Grey Whistle Test’.

In terms of the legacy and overall influence of HOWARD JONES, the main thing the musician should be credited for is showing how modern technology finally made it possible to adopt a ‘one man band’ approach; not just in the studio, but live as well.

Back in the day, it was almost second nature for electronic acts to use backing tapes and also take additional musicians out live as FAD GADGET and TALK TALK did. Although there is no direct influence musically on contemporary artists such as MAPS, EAST INDIA YOUTH, MAN WITHOUT COUNTRY, NILS FRAHM, ULRICH SCHNAUSS and JON HOPKINS, all of these current performers are great examples of people still adopting the ‘one man band’ approach and doing it super effectively.


With grateful thanks to Matt Ingham at Cherry Red Records

‘Human’s Lib’ + ‘Dream Into Action’ are released by Cherry Red Records on 30th November 2018 as super deluxe 12”x12” boxed sets, deluxe 2CD+DVD packages, coloured vinyl LPs and repackaged CDs  – for more information, please visit https://www.cherryred.co.uk/artists/howard-jones/

HOWARD JONES ‘Transform 2019 Human’s Lib – 35th Anniversary Tour’ with special guests CHINA CRISIS includes:

Birmingham Symphony Hall (23rd May), Southend Cliffs Pavilion (24th May), Cardiff St David’s Hall (25th May), London Palladium (26th May), Leicester De Montfort Hall (29th May), Manchester Bridgewater Hall (30th May), Edinburgh Queens Hall (31st May), Gateshead Sage (1st June)

http://www.howardjones.com/

https://www.facebook.com/howardjones

https://twitter.com/howardjones

https://www.instagram.com/thehoward_jones/


Text by Paul Boddy
Portrait Photo by Simon Fowler
27th November 2018

Technopolis: The Legacy of YELLOW MAGIC ORCHESTRA

YELLOW MAGIC ORCHESTRA formed in 1978 as an intended one-off project for producer and bass player Haruomi Hosono.

After Hosono hired two session musicians drummer Yukihiro Takahashi and keyboardist Ryuichi Sakamoto to record that debut self-titled album, the rest was history…

To celebrate the 40th anniversary of the formation of YELLOW MAGIC ORCHESTRA, ten bodies of work originally released by Alfa Records between 1978-1983 are being reissued by Sony Music Direct in high resolution formats remastered by Bob Ladick as part of #YMO40.

Hosono was already a music veteran having been involved in the recording of several early electronic rock records in Japan while Takahashi was in THE SADISTIC MIKA BAND, a progressive rock outfit who were signed to PINK FLOYD’s label Harvest. The classically trained Sakamoto had experimented with electronic music at the Tokyo National University of Fine Arts and Music.

Hosono’s concept for YELLOW MAGIC ORCHESTRA had been an instrumental disco band who could appeal internationally. But when Sakamoto introduced the music of KRAFTWERK to his bandmates, the die was cast for what was to become the YMO sound.

Acts like KRAFTWERK had helped restore a sense of German identity in reaction to the Americanisation of European post-war culture. The trio felt this was also needed in Japan so they endeavoured to make something very indigenous and original while using electronics. As Sakamoto remarked, this involved using the “very Japanese” approach of merging many different styles like a Bento box in a reliable, forward thinking fashion.

The technology used on YELLOW MAGIC ORCHESTRA’s 1978 self-titled debut album included the Moog III-C, Korg PS-3100, Polymoog, ARP Odyssey, Oberheim Eight Voice, Minimoog, Korg VC-10 Vocoder and Roland MC-8 Micro Composer. With the latter programmed by fourth member Hideki Matsutake aka LOGIC SYSTEM to control the synthesizers, the result was a crisp exotic pop sound that was unusual and ahead of its time, even in the electronic music heartland of Europe.

As a result YELLOW MAGIC ORCHESTRA became standard bearers for what eventually became known in Japan as Technopop. This was best exemplified by the anthemic Sakamoto penned ‘Tong Poo’ which despite its disco bassline, was inspired by Chinese music from its controversial Cultural Revolution. It was a sign of things to come as Sakamoto would later revisit the theme as a composer for the film ‘The Last Emperor’ which netted him an Oscar for its soundtrack.

Also from the debut album, ‘Simoon’ sung by Shunichi Hashimoto imagined a retro-futurist jazz club in the 22nd Century as did the appropriately titled ‘Cosmic Surfin’, both showing off YELLOW MAGIC ORCHESTRA’s musical diversity. Meanwhile, the influence of ‘Popcorn’ and French acts such as SPACE could be felt on the mildly off-the-wall ‘Mad Pierrot’.

But the debut album’s key track was to become a surprise UK Top 20 hit single in 1980 while also gaining traction in America where the band made a memorable appearance on the prestigious music show ‘Soul Train’. Titled ‘Computer Game (Theme From The Invader)’, the main section of the track was actually ‘Firecracker’, a cover of a 1959 composition by Martin Denny.

Although the original could be seen as an early form of cultural appropriation using every pentatonic cliché in the book, YELLOW MAGIC ORCHESTRA took it back and gave the tune authenticity, with their electronic treatment acting as a symbol of the Far East’s advancement in the worthy cause of affordable technology.

The international popularity of YELLOW MAGIC ORCHESTRA coincided with the burgeoning electronic pop movement in the UK which had embraced affordable synthesizers from Japanese manufacturers such as Roland, Korg, Kawai and Yamaha.

VISAGE’s drummer Rusty Egan in his dual role as DJ at The Blitz Club in London had been spinning YMO tunes just as acts like GARY NUMAN, THE HUMAN LEAGUE, ULTRAVOX, OMD, SOFT CELL and DEPECHE MODE were beginning to gain traction within the mainstream. The music made a big impact on Egan:

“I liked the album and played it along with TELEX and SPARKS. The sound was an influence on VISAGE. We’d recorded ‘The Dancer’ which was more NEU! and ‘In The Year 2525’ which was more KRAFTWERK, so by the time we recorded ‘Moon Over Moscow’, that was to include Russia, Japan, Germany and France in our sound. I got tickets to the gigs and they came to thank me as they had heard from the record label that I was the guy loving the album and playing them. The drummer was also using the same drum pads as me!”

Released in Autumn 1979, the excellent second album ‘Solid State Survivor’ included the glorious Technopop of ‘Rydeen’ and its middle eight syndrum fest, while ‘Castalia’ displayed a moodier side to YELLO MAGIC ORCHESTRA. The rousing syncopated Cossack romp of ‘Absolute Ego Dance’, featuring Sandii O’Neale of SANDII & THE SUNSETZ who Hosono later produced, was another highlight on what can now be seen as possibly YMO’s best album.

However, the track which crossed over and became a worldwide phenomenon began life as music for a Seiko Quartz watch commercial. ‘Behind The Mask’ had initially put together by Sakamoto and Takahashi but had a catchy vocodered chorus written by Tokyo based British composer Chris Mosdell added; the extended recording ended up on ‘Solid State Survivor’.

Another highlight from ‘Solid State Survivor’ was the mighty ‘Technopolis’, easily a musical equal to ‘Rydeen’. However, a cover of THE BEATLES ‘Day Tripper’ was ill-advised; voiced by Takahashi, his style in the vein of a Bryan Ferry after too much sake often polarised listeners. And as artistically YMO moved away from solely instrumental compositions, his vocal presence would become more frequent.

The title of YMO’s third full length long player ‘BGM’ stood for “Background Music” although only ‘Happy End’ and ‘Loom’ fitted into this category; it was an odd mix and ‘BGM’ effectively became a Hosono / Takahashi effort as Sakamoto was largely absent from the sessions.

Released in early 1981, ‘BGM’ was the first full length recording to feature the now iconic Roland TR-808 Rhythm Composer. The album was also made using a 3M 32-track digital recorder; but while producing ‘BGM’, Hosono did not like its aural sharpness and preferred to record Takahashi’s rhythm contributions onto a TASCAM analogue tape machine first before copying them to the 3M machine.

With lyrics co-authored by expatriate DJ Peter Barakan, the album’s best song ‘Camouflage’ was a curious beat laden blend of East and West, its rolling 808 tom patterns and creepy pentatonics offering a more sinister demeanour than the brighter sound of their previous material. But overall, ‘BGM’ was disappointing as a gloomy follow-up to ‘Solid State Survivor’ with only ‘1000 Knives’ recalling anything like the vibrant instrumental material on that or the debut album.

‘BGM’ was comparatively experimental but with YMO’s fourth long player ‘Technodelic’ released in late 1981, the trio went further and adopted a particularly sombre tone in the process. Notable for its use of an LMD-649, a hand-made sampler developed by Toshiba-EMI engineer Kenji Murata, it was put to full use on ‘Neue Tanz’ with its staccato samples of Indonesian Kecak chants. Effectively a KRAFTWERK tribute, Haruomi Hosono played bass guitar to add a dark funkiness to offset the inherent robotics.

Meanwhile, ‘Pure Jam’ explored a more precise groove laced with layers of exotic synth sounds and ‘Light In Darkness’ was an atmospheric but punchy instrumental that wouldn’t have gone amiss on the soundtrack to ‘Blade Runner’ if VANGELIS had been into funk.

Despite their technological innovations, neither ‘BGM’ nor ‘Technodelic’ were considered particularly accessible, even in the synth friendly environment of 1981. In fact, ‘Technodelic’ was declined a release by their UK label Epic Records.

As a reaction to the over-seriousness of their previous two albums, the trio lightened up considerably for YMO’s fifth full-length album ‘Naughty Boys’ released in Spring 1983. Delivering their most commercial song based album to date, a sense of fun was highlighted by the massively popular and joyous lead single ‘Kimi Ni Mune Kyun’.

But ‘Opened My Eyes’ could have been any Western synthpop act of the period, which can be seen in all sorts of ways, while ‘Lotus Love’ revealed some unexpected psychedelic overtones and ‘Kai-Koh’ showed that YMO had not lost their ear for exotic electronically generated timbres.

Like the bizarre ‘∞Multiplies’ mini-album from Summer 1980 which included a very odd cover of ‘Tighten Up’ and the surfer ska of its title track, the sixth album ‘Service’ released in late 1983 featured various skits; these were performed by the Japanese comedy combo SUPER ECCENTRIC THEATER (SET). Whether this was meant as an ironic act of cultural subversion, it was a mystery to Western ears as the sketches were all in Japanese!

With ‘Service’ containing just seven songs alongside seven skits, the standout was ‘You’ve Got To Help Yourself’ which tellingly had previously featured as a short instrumental taster on ‘Naughty Boys’, perhaps highlighting the lack of material available for a full album. However, ‘Limbo’ was not a bad effort as an unusual attempt at Japanese electronic soul, complete with Barry White impersonations!

It was obvious that YELLOW MAGIC ORCHESTRA as a project was losing momentum and the trio went into hiatus in 1984. The transition was smooth as each member had already established a parallel solo career.

Hosono was one of the first people to acknowledge the potential of video game music as well as later producing Japanese Idol singers like Narumi Yasuda and Seiko Matsuda. There was even a collaboration with James Brown as part of his FRIENDS OF EARTH collective for a new version of ‘Sex Machine’ in 1986.

Adding acting to his burgeoning music career, Sakamoto worked with David Sylvian, Robin Scott, Thomas Dolby, Iggy Pop, Virginia Astley, Youssou N’Dour, Brian Wilson, Robbie Robertson, Roddy Frame, David Bowie and Madonna among many, while the musicians who Takahashi worked with included Steve Jansen, Mick Karn, Ronny, Bill Nelson, Zaine Griff, Iva Davies, Tony Mansfield, Phil Manzanera and Andy Mackay.

While the trio said they were “spreading out” rather than splitting, they continued to play on each other’s solo recordings and made guest appearances at various live shows. A short reunion took place in 1993 for the ‘Technodon’ album where the band had to be known as YMO, as the name YELLOW MAGIC ORCHESTRA was owned by Alfa Records.

As befitting the album title, ‘Technodon’ had a trippy techno flavour with hints of jazz as exemplified by ‘Hi-Tech Hippies, although the album ended with a Japanese language cover of ‘Pocket Full Of Rainbows’, a mellow ballad made famous by ELVIS PRESLEY in ‘GI Blues’.

There was no further activity until 2007 when Hosono, Sakamoto and Takahashi reunited for a light hearted Kirin Lager advertising campaign performing ‘Rydeen’.

Hosono and Takahashi had been working together as SKETCH SHOW and Sakamoto was invited to join in. Inevitably, YELLOW MAGIC ORCHESTRA reformed again when they played the 2007 Kyoto Live Earth event, although for recording purposes, they were known as HASYMO.

In Summer 2008, the trio played the Meltdown Festival curated by MASSIVE ATTACK billed as YMO, although only four YMO songs were played while the rest of the set comprised of SKETCH SHOW, HASYMO and solo material. There were live appearances in 2009 and 2010 so it appeared YELLOW MAGIC ORCHESTRA were still a going concern despite the confusion over the various band monikers. However, any thoughts of further YELLOW MAGIC ORCHESTRA appearances were put on hold while Sakamoto recuperated from illness in 2014.

Happily Hosono, Takahashi and Sakamoto all continue with their various individual musical endeavours and are active on social media to varying degrees. #YMO40 now allows for the trio to be re-evaluated and rediscovered as their musical legacy on Western rock and American urban forms has been enormous, especially as a South East Asian band.

With ‘Behind The Mask’, YELLOW MAGIC ORCHESTRA touched rock, pop and soul. The late Michael Jackson loved the track so much that he penned additional lyrics to it during the ‘Thriller’ sessions. Unable to release it himself at the time, Jackson gave the reworked track to his musical director Greg Phillinganes who had a surprise 1985 hit with it in the US R’n’B charts. This proxy collaboration was then later covered by Eric Clapton who hit the mainstream with his rockier version in 1987. The remixed MJ demo eventually appeared on the posthumous album ‘Michael’ in 2011.

The YMO version of ‘Firecracker’ made an impact out on the block as it was sampled by Hip-Hop godfather Afrika Bambaataa on ‘Death Mix’ in 1983 and then in 2001, it was used again by Jennifer Lopez on ‘I’m Real’.

In Europe, the German synth band CAMOUFLAGE took their name from that very song. And then there was the influence they had on a certain Lewisham combo called JAPAN! Meanwhile a YMO versus THE HUMAN LEAGUE EP featuring yet another version of ‘Behind The Mask’ and a reworked ‘Kimi Ni Mune Kyun’ with new English lyrics by Phil Oakey was released by Alfa Records in 1993.

And in hindsight with the known creative issues KRAFTWERK were facing, the resemblance of 1986’s ‘Musique Non-Stop’ to ‘Neu Tanz’ is uncanny despite the five year gap between them.

Closer to home ‘Kimi Ni Mune Kyun’ achieved national ubiquity as the closing theme to the popular Anime series ‘Maria Holic’ in a squeaky vocaloid version sung by the cast, while a marching band rendition of ‘Rydeen’ appeared in ‘Hibike! Euphonium’.

Whether people realise it or not, the artistic contribution of YELLOW MAGIC ORCHESTRA and its three members has been felt by multiple generations all over the world.


The reissues for #YMO40 are released in standard vinyl LP, double 45RPM collectors vinyl LP, SACD and digital formats by Sony Music Direct from 30th November 2018 – info at http://www.110107.com/s/oto/page/YMO40

http://www.ymo.org/

https://www.facebook.com/YMOofficial/

https://twitter.com/ymo


Text by Chi Ming Lai
24th November 2018

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