On paper it shouldn’t have worked; a funereal paced reworking of the song that heralded the birth of rock ‘n’ roll smothered in vocoder. But TELEX always had an eccentric sense of irony about them.
Their cover of ‘Rock Around The Clock’ caused much head scratching when it entered the UK Top 40 singles chart in the summer of 1979, although one person listening was undoubtedly Daniel Miller who borrowed the concept for SILICON TEENS and their only album ‘Music For Parties’. So it is no big surprise that the Belgian trio are to have their back catalogue reissued by Mute Records, beginning with a compilation ‘This Is TELEX’ which bizarrely omits their biggest UK hit!
TELEX began their account in 1978 with another rock ‘n’ roll cover in ‘Twist a Saint Tropez’ made famous by LES CHATS SAUVAGES fronted by French singer Dick Rivers; their manifesto stated their intent of “making something really European, different from rock, without guitar”. With their embracement of synths and a tongue-in-cheek championing of pop and disco, TELEX enjoyed baiting the ideologically-rigid rock press, especially with their cover versions.
This continued on their debut album ‘Looking For Saint Tropez’ released on Vogue Records. It included a KRAFTWERK styled reinterpretation of ‘Ça Plane Pour Moi’ by Belgian faux punk Plastic Bertrand who Lacksman had provided all the synth instrumentation for on his electro-disco favourite ‘Tout Petit La Planète’. Other highlights on ‘Looking for Saint Tropez’ included the hypnotic ‘Pakmowäst’ with its treated robotic vocals and ‘Something To Say’ which didn’t sound unlike one of YELLOW MAGIC ORCHESTRA’s vocal tracks.
Like YELLOW MAGIC ORCHESTRA, TELEX were already experienced hands by the time of their formation; Marc Moulin was a jazz musician with two albums to his name and the boss of the Belgian FM radio station Radio Cité, while vocalist Michel Moers had been a member of prog folkies NUIT CALINE A LA VILLA MON REVE.
The most electronic inclined of the trio, Dan Lacksman was a noted studio engineer who had recorded three solo long players using his Moog IIIP modular system and provided the Roland System 100 sequence programming to the huge worldwide disco hit ‘Born To Be Alive’ by Patrick Hernandez, with whom a young Madonna was once a backing vocalist for.
But TELEX’s wider breakthrough came via The Blitz Club and its resident DJ Rusty Egan who played the self-penned ‘Looking For Saint Tropez’ opener ‘Moscow Diskow’ alongside KRAFTWERK, YELLOW MAGIC ORCHESTRA and SPARKS to signal a new phase in electronic dance music that had been seeded by the Giorgio Moroder produced ‘I Feel Love’ in 1977.
Taking the Trans-Siberian Express to Moscow and adding a funkier groove compared with KRAFTWERK’s ‘Trans Europe Express’ excursion, the track became a cult international club favourite and proved that TELEX were more than just a novelty covers act.
The second TELEX album ‘Neurovision’ in 1980 continued with the deadpan electronic covers and a gloriously metronomic take on ‘Dance To The Music’ showcased the trio’s irreverent humour and penchant for mischievous subversion. But this mischief came to its head with their lampooning number ‘Euro-Vision’, which they actually entered for 1980 Eurovision Song Contest!
A bouncy electropop tune, ‘Euro-Vision’ had deliberately banal lyrics about the whole charade itself. With Lacksman’s Moog modular behind them, the trio had even choreographed swaying and clap movements while Moulin cheekily mimed his MicroMoog polyphonically. The Situationist performance concluded with Moers stoically taking a photo of the bemused audience in The Hague.
With the sole intention of coming last, TELEX were sitting in that very position with just four juries to vote. But Portugal awarded “dix points” and TELEX ended up 17th out of 19 entries ahead of Morocco and Finland!
Featuring a song called ‘Tour De France’ three years before KRAFTWERK and a pulsing jazz tinged Schaffel in ‘En Route Vers De Nouvelles Aventures’, ‘Neurovision’ saw TELEX’s profile raised although they declined to perform live. However, their sophisticated electronic sound would have been very difficult to replicate at the time, a situation which also saw SPARKS unable to perform their Giorgio Moroder produced albums ‘No1 In Heaven’ and ‘Terminal Jive’ in a concert setting.
With many things in common, for TELEX’s third album ‘Sex’ released on Ariola in 1981, the Mael brothers were invited to contribute lyrics to all of its nine tracks and begin a fruitful friendship.
Experiments in swing on ‘Sigmund Freud’s Party’ displayed a sophisticated vintage musicality and the brilliant ‘Haven’t We Met Somewhere Before?’ was the hit single that never was.
Meanwhile, like KRAFTWERK meeting YELLOW MAGIC ORCHESTRA, ‘Brainwash’ was quite obviously the blueprint for LCD SOUNDSYSTEM’s ‘Get Innocuous!’ and ‘Drama, Drama’ reinterpreted the latent funk of Bowie’s ‘Fame’ in synthesizer form.
However, the tracklisting was considerably revamped for the UK release in 1982 as ‘Birds & Bees’ with new material; one of these numbers ‘L’ Amour Toujours’ was a wonderful exploration of latter day ROXY MUSIC if Bryan Ferry had opted to venture into electronic pop. However, ‘Holiday Holiday’ amusingly sounded like a synthy Chris De Burgh on holiday in the French Riviera!
But ‘Birds & Bees’ confused the TELEX story and a remixed ‘L’ Amour Toujours’ ended up also opening the fourth TELEX album ‘Wonderful World’ which only came out in Germany and France despite a new deal with Warners.
Despite its vibrant title song, the album sank without trace but TELEX were still in demand and signed by Atlantic Records for the 1988 album ‘Looney Tunes’. From it, ‘Beautiful Li(f)e’ was an oddball sampling experiment akin to YELLO that showed Moulin, Moers and Lacksman were still willing to explore the possibilities of new digital technology, despite electronic pop being out of vogue and the public seemingly preferring house and techno.
With TELEX going into hiatus, Michel Moers released a solo album ‘Fishing Le Kiss’ in 1990 before becoming a video director and photographer. However, Marc Moulin and Dan Lacksman had maintained parallel production careers during TELEX. Working together in the studio, the pair had scored several domestic hits including ‘Amoureux Solitaires’ and ‘Le Banana Split’ with the sexy Belgian starlet Lio.
SPARKS continued their association with TELEX and wrote English lyrics for the Canadian edition of Lio’s ‘Suite Sixtine’ album and in return, Moulin and Lacksman did a 12 inch remix of ‘Music That You Can Dance To’.
Meanwhile, Lacksman engineered SPARKS’ ‘In Outer Space’ LP which spawned the Jane Wiedlin duet ‘Cool Places’ that became the Mael brothers’ biggest US hit and Thomas Dolby’s second album ‘The Flat Earth’.
Although Moulin produced several tracks on the self-titled debut of Anna Domino released on the Belgian boutique label Les Disques Du Crépuscule, it was Lacksman who was to have the most lucrative post-TELEX career as a producer, notably working with CAMOUFLAGE on their ‘Methods Of Silence’ and ‘Bodega Bohemia’ albums, as well as producing French ethnic electronica project DEEP FOREST who had a worldwide smash hit with ‘Sweet Lullaby’.
TELEX reunited in 2006 for the ‘How Do You Dance?’ album on Virgin Records; it featured five cover versions including a downtempo take on the Mexican folk standard ‘La Bamba’, a vocodered ‘On The Road Again’ which appeared to replicate ROCKETS’ 1978 version and in tribute to their old mates SPARKS, a superb deadpan interpretation of ‘No1 Song In Heaven’. Welcomed back by the artists who had they had helped lay the electronic foundations for, TELEX did remixes for DEPECHE MODE and PET SHOP BOYS.
Sadly Marc Moulin passed away in 2008 and TELEX was retired. Since then, Michel Moers returned to music in 2013 to provide his Gallic nonchalance on ‘Will I Get to Your Heart?’ for Danish musician NATTEFROST and has been recording solo material. In 2015, Dan Lacksman collaborated with the late Florian Schneider on ‘Stop Plastic Pollution’ to highlight the issue of ocean environment conservation as part of the campaign Parley For The Oceans and continues his studio career.
TELEX have certainly left an impressive legacy linking them with some of the biggest names in electronic music. Their time to be discovered by a new generation and established music fans who may have missed them first time round comes via this new partnership with Mute.
While ‘This Is TELEX’ does not include ‘Rock Around The Clock’ or ‘Haven’t We Met Somewhere Before?’, it does feature a good selection of their career highlights. Long-standing TELEX enthusiasts will be tempted by the new mixes from Lacksman and Moers, although as the former explained “We simplify, we take away, to create something more efficient, more TELEX.” while Moers added “We’re so glad to have signed with Mute. We couldn’t have done better.”
“Beaux messieurs, belles dames: musique au programme…”
In memory of Marc Moulin 1942- 2008
‘This Is TELEX’ is released by Mute Artists on 30th April 2021 in CD, double shrimp pink or fern green coloured vinyl LP, cassette and digital formats
Was 1981 the most important year in synth as far becoming ubiquitous in the mainstream and hitting the top of the charts internationally?
Yes, ‘Autobahn’ and ‘Oxygène’ came before, while the Giorgio Moroder produced ‘I Feel Love’ by Donna Summer is acknowledged as being the track that changed pop music forever and still sounds like the future even in the 21st Century. French electronic disco like ‘Magic Fly’ and ‘Supernature’ also made its impact.
Meanwhile closer to home, a post-punk revolution was already permeating in the UK with the advent of affordable synthesizers from Japan being adopted by the likes of THE NORMAL, THROBBING GRISTLE, CABARET VOLTAIRE and THE HUMAN LEAGUE. But it was Gary Numan who took the sound of British synth to No1 with ‘Are Friends Electric?’ and ‘Cars’ in 1979. It signalled a change in the musical landscape as the synth was considered a worthy mode of youthful expression rather than as a novelty, using one finger instead of three chords.
Despite first albums from John Foxx and OMD, 1980 was a transitional time when the synth was still the exception rather than the rule. But things were changing and there had also been the release of the first Midge Ure-fronted ULTRAVOX album ‘Vienna’ and the eponymous debut long player by VISAGE just as The Blitz Club and the New Romantic movement were making headlines. With the acclaim for the ‘Some Bizarre Album’ in early 1981 which launched the careers of DEPECHE MODE, SOFT CELL, BLANCMANGE, THE THE and B-MOVIE, a wider electronic breakthrough was now almost inevitable.
VISAGE’s ‘Fade To Grey’ went on to be a West German No1 in Spring 1981 and this exciting period culminated in THE HUMAN LEAGUE taking ‘Don’t You Want Me?’ to the top spot in the US six months year after becoming the 1981 UK Christmas No1. It would be fair to say that after this, the purer sound of synth was never quite the same again.
For many listeners, 1981 was a formative year and had so many significant new releases that it was difficult to stretch the limited pocket money to fund album purchases. ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK even took to selling bootleg C90 cassettes on the school playground, promising a value-for-money “two albums for one” deal to support this disgusting habit!
Looking back to four decades ago when there were also albums from DEVO, EURYTHMICS, FAD GADGET, LOGIC SYSTEM, SPANDAU BALLET, SPARKS and TANGERINE DREAM, here are twenty albums which ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK sees as contributing to the electronic legacy of 1981. Listed in alphabetical order with the restriction of one album per artist moniker, this is the way it was in the past, a long long time ago…
DAF Alles Ist Gut
Under a haze of “sex, drugs and sequencer”, the late Gabi Delgado and Robert Görl released an acclaimed album trilogy produced by Conny Plank. The first ‘Alles Ist Gut’ featured their fierce breakthrough track ‘Der Mussolini’ which flirted with right wing imagery in its sardonic reflections on ideology. Causing controversy and confusing observers, DAF attracted a following which Delgado hated. Despite his parents escaping from the Franco regime in Spain, he was always unapologetic about the provocation within his lyrics.
Having conceived the idea of a teenage synthpop group called SILICON TEENS, this dream of Daniel Miller became flesh and blood when he came across a young quartet from Basildon called DEPECHE MODE. Signing on a handshake 50/50 deal to his Mute Records, the group became a chart success. Despite other great songs like ‘Puppets’ and ‘Tora! Tora! Tora!’, the group fragmented on the release of their 1981 debut album ‘Speak & Spell’. The remaining trio of Andy Fletcher, Dave Gahan and Martin Gore recruited Alan Wilder, while Vince Clarke formed YAZOO with Alison Moyet.
Following the ‘retirement’ of Gary Numan with his spectacular farewell shows at Wembley Arena in April 1981, four of his erstwhile backing band became DRAMATIS. RRussell Bell, Denis Haines, Chris Payne and Ced Sharpley had been instrumental in the success of Numan’s powerful live presentation and their only album showcased the band’s virtuoso abilities. While the use of four different lead vocalists (including Numan himself on the superb ‘Love Needs No Disguise’) confused the continuity of the album, musically, there was much to enjoy.
Originally released by Rocket Records, currently unavailable
It would be fair to say that the classic line-up of Simon Le Bon, Nick Rhodes, John Taylor, Roger Taylor and Andy Taylor took the arty poise of JAPAN and toned down their androgynous outré to make it more accessible But the enduring appeal of DURAN DURAN is great timeless pop songs and that was apparent on the self-titled debut album which at times sounded like an electronic band with a heavy metal guitarist bolted on, especially on ‘Careless Memories’ and ‘Friends Of Mine’. But most will just remember the two hits ‘Planet Earth’ and ‘Girls on Film’.
Thawing considerably following the release of the acclaimed ‘Metamatic’, John Foxx admitted he had been “reading too much JG Ballard”. Exploring beautiful Italian gardens and taking on a more foppish appearance, his new mood was reflected in his music. ‘The Garden’ album featured acoustic guitar and piano as showcased in the Linn Drum driven single ‘Europe After The Rain’. With choral experiments like ‘Pater Noster’, a return to art rock on ‘Walk Away’ and the more pastoral climes of the lengthy title track, Foxx had now achieved his system of romance.
Fronted by the cool persona of vocalist Glenn Gregory, HEAVEN 17’s debut ‘Penthouse & Pavement’ was a landmark achievement, combining electronics with pop hooks and disco sounds while adding witty social and political commentary, taking in yuppie aspiration and mutually assured destruction. The first ‘Pavement’ side was a showcase of hybrid funk driven embellished by the guitar and bass of John Wilson. The second ‘Penthouse’ side was like an extension of THE HUMAN LEAGUE’s ‘Travelogue’, Martyn Ware and Ian Craig Marsh’s swansong with the band.
After Martyn Ware and Ian Craig Marsh left to form HEAVEN 17, vocalist Philip Oakey and Adrian Wright recruited Susanne Sulley, Joanne Catherall, Jo Callis and Ian Burden to record ‘Dare’ under the production helm of Martin Rushent. Like KRAFTWERK meeting ABBA, the dreamboat collection of worldwide hits like ‘Love Action’ and ‘Don’t You Want Me?’ had a marvellous supporting cast in ‘The Things That Dreams Are Made Of’, ‘I Am The Law’, ‘Seconds’ and ‘Darkness’. Only the Linn Drum rework of ‘The Sound Of The Crowd’ blotted the album’s near perfection.
JAPAN took the influences of the Far East even further with the Chinese flavoured ‘Tin Drum’. A much more minimal album than its predecessor ‘Gentlemen Take Polaroids’, there was hardly any guitar while the synths used were restricted to an Oberheim OBX, Prophet 5 and occasionally the Roland System 700. David Sylvian’s lyrical themes of ‘Tin Drum’ flirted with Chinese Communism as Brian Eno had done on ‘Taking Tiger Mountain (By Strategy), a point highlighted by the pentatonic polyrhythmic single ‘Visions Of China’ and its less frantic sister song ‘Cantonese Boy’.
With his synthesized symphonies, Jean-Michel Jarre helped popularise the sound of electronic music. ‘Magnetic Fields’ was his first long player to utilise the Fairlight CMI which allowed him to absorb some musique concrete ideas such as water splashing and hydraulic train doors into his compositions. Featuring the klanky Korg Rhythm KR55, it was a much more percussive album than ‘Oxygène’ and ‘Equinoxe’ had been, complementing the metallic textures that featured. However, ‘The Last Rumba’ confused some who considered the home organ closer incongruous.
Having scored an unexpected UK hit with the sonic beauty of ‘I Hear You Now’, Jon Anderson and Evangelos Odysseas Papathanassiou presented a second album in ‘The Friends Of Mr Cairo’. Featuring ‘State Of Independence’ which was to become a hit for Donna Summer, the album was laced with spiritual overtones over symphonic synths, cinematic piano and dialogue samples from films. However, the album is now best known for the single ‘I’ll Find My Way Home’ which had not been included on the original tracklisting.
‘Computer World’ could be considered one of the most prophetic albums of its time. KRAFTWERK forsaw the cultural impact of internet dating on ‘Computer Love’, but the title track highlighted the more sinister implications of surveillance by “Interpol and Deutsche Bank, FBI and Scotland Yard” with the consequences of its prophecy still very relevant discussion points today. But the dynamic rhythmic template of ‘Numbers’ was to have a major impact on Urban America as it was mutated into hip-hop, rap and techno.
LANDSCAPE From The Tea Rooms Of Mars To The Hell-holes Of Uranus
Jazz fusion combo LANDSCAPE were led by producer Richard James Burgess who co-designed the Simmons SDSV with Dave Simmons as the first standalone electronic drum kit, with circuitry based on the ARP 2600. Using a Lyricon, the first wind-controlled synth played by John Waters as its lead hook, ‘Einstein A-Go-Go’ was a fabulously cartoon-like tune about nuclear weapons falling into the hands of theocratic dictators and religious extremists! Meanwhile, ‘European Man’ predated EDM by having the phrase “electronic dance music” emblazoned on its single sleeve.
Rising from the ashes of JOY DIVISION and reconvening in late 1980, Peter Hook, Bernard Sumner and Stephen Morris chose the name NEW ORDER as a symbol of their fresh start and after deciding against recruiting a new vocalist, Morris’ girlfriend and later wife, Gillian Gilbert was recruited. Despite Martin Hannett still producing, recording sessions were fraught although synths were taking greater prominence while Morris used a Doctor Rhythm DR55 drum machine on ‘Truth’ and ‘Doubts Even Here’. ‘Movement’ may not have been a great debut album, but it was an important one.
Following his much-publicised retirement from live performance, the last thing Numanoids expected from their hero was an understated Brian Eno homage. At nearly an hour’s playing time, ‘Dance’ outstayed its welcome and despite the title, these were mostly downtempo pieces with ‘Slowcar To China’ and ‘Cry The Clock Said’ stretching to 10 minutes. Much was made of JAPAN’s Mick Karn playing fretless bass although he was only on five of the eleven tracks. It was the wrong album at the wrong time but in ‘A Subway Called You’ and ‘Crash’, there were some great moments.
‘Dance’ is still available via Beggars Banquet Records
”I think ‘Architecture & Morality’ was a complete album, it was just so whole” said Paul Humphreys in 2010. The big booming ambience of the album next to big blocks of Mellotron choir gave OMD their masterpiece, tinged more with the spectre of LA DÜSSELDORF rather than KRAFTWERK. Featuring two spirited songs about ‘Joan Of Arc’, these were to become another pair of UK Top 5 hits with the ‘Maid of Orleans’ variant also becoming 1982’s biggest selling single in West Germany.
SIMPLE MINDS Sons & Fascination / Sister Feelings Call
A generally overlooked ‘double’ opus, ‘Sons & Fascination / Sister Feelings Call’ exploited the KRAFTWERK, NEU! and LA DÜSSELDORF influences of SIMPLE MINDS to the full, under the production auspices of Steve Hillage. From the singles ‘The American’ and ‘Love Song’ to the mighty instrumental ‘Theme For Great Cities’ and the unsettling dentist drill menace of ‘70 Cities As Love Brings The Fall’, with basslines articulating alongside synths and guitars layered in effects that when harmonised together were almost as one, this was SIMPLE MINDS at close to their very best.
In their cover of Northern Soul favourite ‘Tainted Love’, SOFT CELL provided the first true Synth Britannia crossover record. Possibly one of the best albums of 1981, ‘Non-Stop Erotic Cabaret’ captured the edginess of minimal synth arrangements while married to an actual tune. At the time, art school boys Marc Almond and Dave Ball were rated higher than DEPECHE MODE. But with the follow-up success of the Top5 singles ‘Bedsitter’ and ‘Say Hello Wave Goodbye’, the pair became reluctant popstars, chased around by both teenagers and paparazzi.
‘Sex’ was Belgian trio TELEX’s third album and a collaboration with SPARKS that saw the Mael brothers contribute lyrics to all nine tracks. Experiments in swing on ‘Sigmund Freud’s Party’ displayed a sophisticated vintage musicality and ‘Haven’t We Met Somewhere Before?’ was the hit single that never was. Meanwhile, like KRAFTWERK meeting YELLOW MAGIC ORCHESTRA, ‘Brainwash’ was quite obviously the blueprint for LCD SOUNDSYSTEM’s ‘Get Innocuous!’. However, the tracklisting was considerably revamped for the UK release in 1982 as ‘Birds & Bees’.
‘Sex’ was released by Ariola, currently unavailable
‘Rage in Eden’ began with the optimistic spark of ‘The Voice’ but it was something of a paranoia ridden affair having been created from the bottom up at Conny Plank’s remote countryside studio near Cologne. There was synthetic bass power on tracks like ‘The Thin Wall’, ‘We Stand Alone’ and ‘I Remember (Death In The Afternoon)’, but there was also the tape experimentation of the title track which used the chorus of ‘I Remember’ played backwards to give an eerie Arabic toned “noonretfa eht ni htaed… rebmemer i ho” vocal effect.
‘BGM’, the third full length album from YELLOW MAGIC ORCHESTRA was the first recording to feature the now iconic Roland TR-808 Rhythm Composer and was also made using a digital 3M 32-track machine. Following the technopop of the self-titled debut and ‘Solid State Survivor’ albums, ‘BGM’ included reworked pieces such as ‘Loom’ and ‘1000 Knives’. The best song ‘Camouflage’ was a curious beat laden blend of Eastern pentatonics and Western metallics from which the German synth band CAMOUFLAGE took their name.
What do John Foxx, Midge Ure, Tony Fennell and Sam Blue all have in common? They have all, at some point, been the lead singer of ULTRAVOX.
While Fennell and Blue are now largely forgotten, having only recorded one album each in ‘Revelation’ and ‘Ingenuity’ respectively, there are endless debates about whether the John Foxx or Midge Ure fronted ULTRAVOX is the valid and definitive one.
Like with the Peter Gabriel or Phil Collins led versions of GENESIS, both have their own sound and different audiences, while there are some who even like both. But whatever, the four piece ULTRAVOX comprising of Warren Cann, Chris Cross, Billy Currie and Midge Ure was undoubtedly the most commercially successful, scoring thirteen Top 30 hit singles in the UK over a period of four and a half years, as well as five Top 10 albums including a greatest hits collection.
How John Foxx departed the ULTRAVOX fold and Midge Ure came to join at the encouragement of Rusty Egan, following the first VISAGE sessions at Genetic Studios that included Billy Currie, is now more than well documented. The new quartet soon embarked on a US club tour in 1979 to test the water with their new material.
The thread between the two line-ups was German producer and engineer Conny Plank; he had offered to finance an album himself, such was his faith in the band. When interest came from Chrysalis Records and an offer of two days free studio time to make demos, ULTRAVOX opted to use their opportunity to complete a fully recorded version of ‘Sleepwalk’. It saw the new line-up of the band beef up their Motorik inclinations with lots of “fun-fun-fun on the autobahn” and Chrysalis duly offered a deal to the quartet.
ULTRAVOX were despatched to RAK Studios in London to record an album which was to be given the title of ‘Torque Point’ before the band and label settled on ‘Vienna’. With Ure’s background in power pop with SLIK and THE RICH KIDS, dynamic catchy choruses were to become a new trademark to go with a greater use of synthesizers, while there was a conscious move to utilise more of Billy Currie’s classical music training via his piano, violin and viola playing.
Photo by Anton Corbijn
Released in Summer 1980, one of the key tracks on the ‘Vienna’ album was the robotic spy story of ‘Mr X’ which was voiced by Warren Cann and clearly influenced by KRAFTWERK. With its tight Compurhythm backbone, it was an idea that dated back to the John Foxx-era as its hook was very similar to his ‘Touch & Go’ on ‘Metamatic’ released in early 1980. But ‘Touch & Go’ had been premiered live by ULTRAVOX before Foxx departed.
Another standout was the lengthy instrumental ‘Astradyne’, a glorious statement of intent that was the perfect opener. Under the spell of German acts like LA DÜSSELDORF and RIECHMANN with a fantastic interplay between the band and a final celebratory section coming from an unexpected lift.
Billy Currie told ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK in 2012 that “Midge came up with that final section lift taking it out of the long ARP solo. I double it! It is a very good strong keyboard part. I used to say at the time: ‘Only a guitarist could come up with that!’, I meant that as a good thing!”
There were more guitar driven songs too with Ure adopting the chunky flanged sound that had been showcased by his predecessor Robin Simon which blended well with the Minimoog, ARP Odyssey, Oberheim OBX and Yamaha SS30 that were in the ULTRAVOX keyboard armoury. ‘Passing Strangers’ was the hit single that never was while ‘New Europeans’ featured a lyric written by Warren Cann which hit the zeitgeist with a narrative about a young man whose “modern world revolves around the synthesizer’s song”.
Meanwhile ‘All Stood Still’ was verging on heavy metal in the vein of THIN LIZZY, perhaps unsurprising given Ure’s time as a stand-in-guitarist for Phil Lynott’s combo when Gary Moore went AWOL before their US tour with JOURNEY; it was this link that led to THIN LIZZY’s managers Chris O’Donnell and Chris Morrison looking after the business interests of ULTRAVOX. Complete with thundering Moog bass, powerhouse drums and Jimi Hendrix impressions using an ARP Odyssey, ‘All Stood Still’ rocked so much that many listeners were unaware it was a tune about a nuclear holocaust…
Sandwiched between ‘New Europeans’ and ‘Passing Strangers’, ‘Private Lives’ was like a less frantic amalgam of the two but if the ‘Vienna’ album had an under rated track, then it was ‘Western Promise’. Relevant today in light of questions about the British Empire’s past role in colonisation, slavery and genocide, the mighty tune used the Far East as its location with a distorted Ure ranting “Oh mystical East, you’ve lost your way, your rising sun shall rise again. My Western world gives out her hand, a victor’s help to your fallen land” like some totalitarian dictator…
But the tune which the wider public remembered most was the title track. When Conny Plank heard the demo of ‘Vienna’, he imagined an old man at a piano in a desolate theatre who had been playing the same tune for forty years. And when Billy Currie came to record his ivory parts, that was exactly the feel which Plank had engineered for the now iconic track. As for the Roland CR78 Compurythm intro, Warren Cann told ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK that it was perhaps his proudest moment when he presented his idea to the rest of the band and went “How about this?”.
With the ‘Vienna’ reaching No2 as a single and No3 as an album in the UK charts, ULTRAVOX were getting the success they deserved. But for the follow-up ‘Rage In Eden’, they adopted a completely different approach. Whereas lyrically, a fair portion of the lyrics had been written by Cann, this now shifted primarily to Ure.
Photo by Brian Griffin
Although the ‘Vienna’ album had been written and played live before recording, the band decided to decamp to Conny Plank’s residential countryside studio with no material pre-prepared. Living in each other’s pockets for three months, the sessions were tense and that impression came across in the music.
Released in Autumn 1981, ‘Rage In Eden’ began with the optimistic spark of ‘The Voice’ and possessed the Motorik thrust of NEU! while maintaining some marvellous symphonic pomp. Creative tensions that had now emerged between Ure and Cross on one side, and Currie on the other who responded with his magnificent middle eight ARP Odyssey solo and a very proud ivory run.
But aside from that, ‘Rage In Eden’ was a paranoia ridden affair. However, many of its tracks were mighty. Chris Cross’ trademark triggered Minimoog bass synth came to the fore on tracks like ‘We Stand Alone’ and ‘I Remember (Death In The Afternoon)’ with Billy Currie working more with the Oberheim OBX for his soloing, although neither was a particularly cheerful affair. In between, there was the tape experimentation of the title track which used the chorus of ‘I Remember’ played backwards to give an eerie Arabic toned “noonretfa eht ni htaed… rebmemer i ho” vocal effect.
Also making a prominent appearance was the Linn LM-1 Drum Computer, a machine that used digital samples for its sounds which Warren Cann acquired, fascinated with furthering the possibilities of programmed percussion that had been opened up. Speaking to ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK in 2010, he surmised that “Drum machines lent a new dimension to music on two fronts; one, the hypnotic element given by perfect unwavering tempo, and two, the ability to endlessly layer, edit, and re-edit rhythm tracks.”
‘The Thin Wall’ dramatically merged synthesizers, guitar, piano, violin and Linn Drum for a formidable yet under rated hit single, but then the album entered a dense phase of indulgence with the deeply rhythmic but overlong ‘Stranger Within’ and the meandering ‘Ascent On Youth’. The melancholic interlude ‘The Ascent’ provided some relief despite its intensity before the haunting conclusion with the sparse mental breakdown of ‘Your Name (Has Slipped My Mind Again)’.
Not as accessible as ‘Vienna’, only two singles were lifted from ‘Rage In Eden’ whereas its predecessor had four; ‘Rage In Eden’ was ambitious and loosely conceptual but it may have been too much for some, including the band.
So for 1982’s ‘Quartet’ album, ULTRAVOX worked with George Martin, most notable for his work with THE BEATLES. The sound was brighter, more structured and stripped of the density that had characterised the albums with Conny Plank, perhaps coinciding with the use of more digital hardware like the PPG Wave 2.2 and Emulator.
The catchy ‘Reap The Wild Wind’ opened proceedings with an immediacy that was less angular and experimental that anything on ‘Vienna’ or ‘Rage In Eden’ although this poppier approach may have alienated any John Foxx-era fans that had stuck it out into the Ure-era.
However, the quasi-religious pomp of ‘Hymn’ had the anthemic thrust of the previous two albums and in ‘Visions in Blue’, ‘Quartet’ had its own ‘Vienna’ but aside from those, ‘Mine For Life’ and ‘Serenade’, overall it was something of a disappointment. While the mighty motorik attack of ‘The Song (We Go)’ offered some percussive edge, the middle second side trio of ‘When The Scream Subsides’, ‘We Came To Dance’ and ‘Cut & Run’ proved lacking in the delivery of their verses despite strong choruses.
Photo by Pete Wood
‘Quartet’ had been a big budget effort with recording in George Martin’s Air Studios in London and Monserrat plus a tour with a huge grey gothic stage set to support it, as documented in the ‘Monument’ concert film and soundtrack.
By this time, ULTRAVOX took out a huge amount of equipment live which caused many logistical headaches. There were nearly thirty keyboards and electronic gadgets on stage including ARP Odysseys, Minimoogs, PPGs, Emulators, Oberheims and assorted Yamaha keyboards including the CP70 electric grand piano which could take up to three hours to tune in soundcheck!
Then there was Warren Cann’s infamous percussion console ‘The Iron Lung’ which had the Simmons SDSIII, SDSV and SDSVII drum synthesizers, Roland TR77 and CR78 drum machines, a Linn LM-1, a LinnDrum and various effects processors like the Roland Space-Echo.
So things became more simplified by ULTRAVOX’s standards for the next album ‘Lament’ released in Spring 1984, with the recording sessions taking place in home studios and self-produced. Largely gone were Billy Currie’s trademark synth solos with the ARP Odyssey although its replacement, the OSCar made a fleeting appearance in that style on the closing song ‘A Friend I Call Desire’. Meanwhile Warren Cann had acquired the MIDI compatible Sequential Drumtraks and there were more obviously programmed rhythm tracks than on previous ULTRAVOX albums while the band seemed quite pleased with their new Yamaha DX7.
Photo by Paul Cox
But one new keyboard acquisition proved to be a major disappointment in Sequential’s giant Prophet T8. “I got it thinking it would be a competitor to the Yamaha CS80 but the action was always far too heavy” remembered Currie, “It was the only other synth that had a totally polyphonic touch-sensitive keyboard. It was about £4000… a bargain!”
The album contained many varying different styles as the band battled for a clear direction. ‘One Small Day’ was a decisively hands-in-the-air rockist statement in the vein of U2 and SIMPLE MINDS.
Meanwhile the brilliant ‘White China’ was a full fat sequencer number about the eventual 1997 handover of British ruled Hong Kong to Red China that developed on NEW ORDER’s ‘Blue Monday’.
Using Far Eastern ethnic influences with a nod towards JAPAN’s ‘Tin Drum’, the title song was an exquisite but obviously mournful ballad. But the album’s highlight was the magnificent ‘Man Of Two Worlds’, an electro Celtic melodrama featuring a haunting female Gaelic vocal from Mae McKenna with doomed romantic novel imagery capturing a feeling of solitude in an unusual mix of synths, programmed Motorik rhythms and manual funk syncopation.
Notably a re-configuring of ‘Sonnenrad’ by NEU! guitarist Michael Rother from his ‘Sterntaler’ album which Conny Plank had produced and given a copy to Billy Currie, ‘Dancing With Tears In My Eyes’ was yet another song about a nuclear holocaust. While it might have been a depressing subject to revive, there was the spectre of ‘Protect & Survive’ when Mutually Assured Destruction lingered in the minds of the population. Released as a single, ‘Dancing With Tears In My Eyes’ reached No3 in the UK singles charts, ULTRAVOX’s biggest hit since ‘Vienna’.
Photo by Paul Cox
ULTRAVOX had been a consistent singles band but after eleven successive Top30 hits, it seemed as good a time as any to release a greatest hits for the 1984 Christmas market.
At the time of release, ‘The Collection’ was novel. Not only did it feature all thirteen Midge Ure-fronted era singles to date, but in ‘Love’s Great Adventure’, it also included a brand new one too.
It was a perfect package that could be played from start to finish, from ‘Dancing With Tears in My Eyes’ to ‘Lament’ via ‘The Thin Wall’, ‘Vienna’, ‘Sleepwalk’, ‘Reap The Wild Wind’ and ‘All Stood Still’.
After four albums in five years, it was time for Cann, Cross, Currie and Ure to take a break, but instead, the ULTRAVOX frontman took a busman’s holiday. There was Band Aid and then a solo career which yielded a UK No1 in 1985 with ‘If I Was’, a song Ure had co-written with Danny Mitchell from the band MESSENGERS who had played support and augmented the live ULTRAVOX set-up on the previous two tours.
After an appearance at Live Aid, when ULTRAVOX reconvened in 1986 for the making of their next album, the quartet imploded with Warren Cann unceremoniously fired from the band due to musical differences. By now, Cann had more or less given up the notion of live drums while the other three favoured a back-to-basics approach with more live instrumentation.
Despite Conny Plank returning to produce, the resultant ‘U-Vox’ was poor. The title said it all, a band with something missing. The album saw ill-advised excursions into funk, brass and folk with the latter being a rather sombre collaboration with THE CHIEFTAINS about the threat of a nuclear holocaust called ‘All Fall Down’.
Meanwhile most of the other tracks on ‘U-Vox’ were uninspired pieces of rock, with the lame ‘Moon Madness’ being a particular low point. Despite this, there was a genuine highlight in ‘All In One Day’, a magnificent song about ‘Live Aid’ which featured an orchestral arrangement by George Martin. However, after an underwhelming arena tour, ULTRAVOX split. Midge Ure continued his solo career to varying degrees of success while Chris Cross left music to become a psychotherapist amd Warren Cann moved to Los Angeles.
Meanwhile, Billy Currie made three attempts at reviving the ULTRAVOX name. However, the first one featuring Marcus O’Higgins as singer and a returning Robin Simon on guitar was blocked; when the recordings from these 1989 sessions were finally released as ‘Sinews Of The Soul’ under the name HUMANIA in 2006, the booklet notes saw Billy Currie launch into an almighty tirade against Midge Ure and Chris Morrison who had taken on the role of sole ULTRAVOX manager after Chris O’Donnell moved on. An interview that Currie gave to Beatmag that year was no less frank.
There was now a lot of bad feeling, so any possible future activity involving the four members of the classic ULTRAVOX line-up was now unlikely… or so it seemed. In 2003, Ure was playing a significant amount of ULTRAVOX material on his ‘Sampled Looped & Trigger Happy’ tour.
Then in 2009, the impossible happened and the classic line-up of ULTRAVOX reunited for the ‘Return To Eden’ tour following an offer from Live Nation, who their former manager Chris O’Donnell was now working for. The show went on two triumphant European stints and things went well enough for a new album to be recorded, with writing taking place at Midge Ure’s log cabin retreat near Montreal in Canada.
Co-produced by Stephen J Lipson, the ‘Brilliant’ album’s title song chorused a cautious optimism in a bittersweet comment on pop culture. Meanwhile as the album opener, ‘Live’ came as message of intent like ‘Dancing With Tears In My Eyes’ but without the imminent nuclear holocaust as its superb instrumental breakdown dropped to a magnificent pulsing sequence, piano and lone bass drum reminiscent of LA DÜSSELDORF.
One of the main talking points about the ‘Brilliant’ album was Ure’s voice which now possessed a fragility and honesty only could have come from battle-hardened life experience. But fans were polarised about his use of the Melodyne, an audio pitch modification tool not dissimilar to Auto-Tune.
In his defence, Midge Ure told ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK in 2015 about how “it’s a tool and no different from any of the plug-ins that I use when I make music. It’s a bit like saying ‘why do you use reverb on your voice?’… well, it’s because it suits the song and makes it more interesting.”
The excellent ‘Satellite’ recalled former glories and even recycled the violin solo from the album version of ‘The Thin Wall’ while the percolating sequences and rhythmic snap of ‘Rise’ emulated Giorgio Moroder for a 21st Century update of ‘Western Promise’.
‘One’ and ‘Remembering’ captured the chromatic romanticism of Europe with its classical influences although the soaring stadium rock pandering of ‘Flow’ was not to everyone’s taste. However, this blip was countered by the whirring ARP Odyssey lines on ‘Change’ which featured some majestic widescreen inflections glossed with beautiful ivory runs bouncing off a shuffling percussive pattern.
Closing with the resignation of ‘Contact’, a sensitive statement about the emotional detachment caused by modern technology, ‘Brilliant’ was a better album than many expected and righted the wrongs of ‘U-Vox’. There was another successful European tour and it looked as though the old wounds between the four had healed. Then came a surprise run of dates opening for SIMPLE MINDS on the arena leg of their ‘Greatest Hits+’ UK tour at the end of 2013 but after that, it all went quiet.
Speaking to ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK, Midge Ure said that “We always said we were never getting back together to take over the world as a band and pretend we were a bunch of teenagers, we all have other things that we do. And we said that if and when something interesting pops up, we would get-together and do it”. But in 2017, Billy Currie made a statement on his website that his tenure with ULTRAVOX was over and even sold his beloved ARP Odyssey MkII on eBay!
Despite this, the legacy of this particular incarnation of ULTRAVOX lives on, with Ure going out on the road in 2019 with his solo band to play the ‘Vienna’ album in its entirety on ‘The ‘1980 Tour’ as a testament to its artistic longevity. And now there is a 40th Anniversary boxed set complete with a new 5.1 surround sound mix by Steven Wilson.
ULTRAVOX also brought the sound of the NEU! axis to a mainstream British audience and even re-exported back to Germany – in acknowledgement, Ure had the music of Michael Rother played before the shows of ‘The 1980 Tour’.
Meanwhile, there has also been a substantial and diverse ULTRAVOX legacy within modern popular culture. The Manchester pop duo HURTS effectively played on being TAKE THAT dressed as ULTRAVOX, especially with their single ‘Stay’ and its accompanying promo video. Meanwhile for their quintet reunion album ‘Progress’, TAKE THAT themselves interpolated ‘Vienna’ for a song called ‘Eight Letters’ which resulted in the rather unusual credit “written by Barlow / Donald / Orange / Owen / Williams / Ure / Cross / Cann / Currie”!
Photo by Chi Ming Lai
But the biggest ULTRAVOX legacy can be found in the stadiums of the world via the Teignmouth rock trio MUSE. It is not difficult to imagine Midge Ure singing ‘Starlight’ while ‘Vienna’ has been borrowed not once but twice, first on ‘Apocalypse Please’ where the middle eight bass synth section was more or less lifted note-for-note while the second time was more obviously with the drum intro to ‘Guiding Light’.
ULTRAVOX were indeed a jigsaw sequence, but no-one could see the end.
‘Vienna’ is released as a 5CD+DVD and 4LP clear vinyl boxed set by Chrysalis Records on 9th October 2020
“Meine Damen und Herren – Ladies and Gentlemen – Heute abend aus Deutschland – Die Mensch Maschine KRAFTWERK”.
Many electronic music fans know KRAFTWERK, but how many know their work in their native language? In days gone by, German editions of KRAFTWERK albums were sought after but expensive in the UK. School exchange trips often left little pocket money spare to make a purchase after buying the obligatory gifts for family and friends.
But the ‘Computerwelt’ that KRAFTWERK predicted in 1981 has led to ‘Trans Europa Express’, ‘Die Mensch-Maschine’, ‘Computerwelt’, ‘Techno Pop’ née ‘Electric Café’ and ‘The Mix’ (in Deutsch) being made available openly outside of Germany, Austria and Switzerland for the first time. With the recent passing of founder member Florian Schneider, this wider international digital release of KRAFTWERK’s albums in German is particularly poignant.
Desiring a new Germanic cultural identity ignoring Trans-Atlantic rock traditions, KRAFTWERK fused sound and technology, graphic design and performance, modernist Bauhaus aesthetics and Rhineland industrialisation to conceive a Gesamtkunstwerk or “synthesis of the arts” that was to change the course of modern music.
Of course, KRAFTWERK’s breakthrough record ‘Autobahn’ in 1974 was unique in being very German but the willingness to gain a wider acceptance, particularly in the US, led to the bilingual format of its follow-up ‘Radio-Aktivität’ in 1975.
However, the ‘Radio-Aktivität’ title song was notoriously ambiguous in both English and German. The stance infuriated the increasingly strong Green political lobby in the Bundesrepublik. Meanwhile, KRAFTWERK did not help their cause by controversially having promotional photographs taken at a Dutch nuclear installation.
But in 1991, KRAFTWERK stopped sitting on the fence and notably reworked the track for ‘The Mix’ to contain an explicit anti-nuclear message to “STOP RADIO-AKTIVITÄT” while also highlighting the tragedies and disasters in Chernobyl, Harrisburg, Sellafield and Hiroshima.
Developing from the alles Deutsch ‘Autobahn’, ‘Trans Europa Express’ was the first KRAFTWERK album that was released in distinct standalone English and German versions.
Photo by Günther Fröhling
Perhaps the most lyrical of all their imperial phase long players, it manifested an accessible spirit of cultural adventure In KRAFTWERK, thanks to their central European location in Düsseldorf.
Deep inside their psyche, ‘Europa Endlos’ was a forward thinking piece that, despite its nostalgic romanticism, was aspiring to a continent without borders that supported a vision of peace and unity. The syllable count on the title hook was more of a mouthful compared with the English version but the 10 minute journey was still glorious in whatever language.
Effectively a spoken word piece with a subtle footstep backbone, ‘Spiegelsaal’ worked like an original Brothers Grimm tale set to music. But with ‘Schaufensterpuppen’, the tight punchy rhythms complimented KRAFTWERK’s Teutonic lyrical sentiment in response to criticism that when performing live, they did not move and acted like showroom dummies. But of course, relishing the opportunity to turn a negative statement into their own positive, they revolted while “Wir gehen in den Club und wir fangen an zu Tanzen”.
By 1978, the classic KRAFTWERK line-up of Ralf Hütter, Florian Schneider, Wolfgang Flür and Karl Bartos were at the height of their powers with ‘Trans Europa Express’ becoming an unexpected favourite on the New York dancefloors. ‘Die Mensch-Maschine’ possessed a sense of humour which was very apparent in ‘Das Modell’, already made third person gender thanks to the German quirk of the neuter designation for girls. KRAFTWERK were enjoying their local VIP status and stalking the Mora discotheque in Düsseldorf for attractive models and hoping to impress them.
Regularly taking their orders for expensive champagne, the club’s resident eccentric waiter was invited to Kling Klang to butt in and shout “SEKT! KORREKT!”, satisfied that he was earning even more commission. ‘Neonlicht’ though remains fabulous in Englisch oder Deutsch while on the title track, “Halb Wesen und halb Ding” translated directly as “Half being and half thing”.
The Giorgio Moroder-inspired ‘Spacelab’ and ‘Metropolis’ though displayed Hütter’s minimalist interest in lyrics by preferring vocal expression using just singular words. However, ‘Die Roboter’ made use of the Russian phrase “Я твой слуга – “Я твой работник” to reinforce KRAFTWERK’s view that they were Musikarbeiter or “musical workers”.
But 1981’s ‘Computerwelt’ was the one album though that lost some of its Germanic impact by being worked into English, with simple nursery rhyme lyrics being coupled to probably KRAFTWERK’s most accessible work in their history. On the title track in particular, the darker more sinister implications of surveillance were highlighted in German.
Photo by Clynt Garnham
While “Interpol und Deutsche Bank, FBI und Scotland Yard” paralleled the English version, there was the addition of “Flensburg und das BKA” who are respectively Germany’s DVLA and Federal Crime Agency.
The phrase “Haben unsere Daten da” highlighted how those security and financial institutions held personal data. ’Computerwelt’ may have been written nearly 40 years ago but the consequences of its prophecy are very relevant discussion points today.
But there was more in die Kristallkugel; substituting one of the bridging “Computer World” phrases with “Denn Zeit ist Geld”, die Musikarbeiter concluded that “time is money…”; this was before “Automat und Telespiel – Leiten heute die Zukunft ein – Computer für den Kleinbetrieb – Computer für das Eigenheim” anticipated that “Arcade games and video consoles introduce the future today, with computers for small businesses and computers for the home…”
Launched using their own KRAFTWERK branded Casio VL-80 musical calculator, ‘Taschenrechner’ had its own charm but would go on to be surpassed in affection by ‘Dentaku’ and ‘Mini Calcolatore’, respectively versions in Japanese and Italian. Meanwhile, the wonderful masterpiece ‘Computer Liebe’ mirrored the English translation, although the harsher intonation made the sentiment less forlorn and sympathetic.
However, ‘It’s More Fun To Compute’ remained Anglophile in its statement, while ‘Nummern’ and ‘Computerwelt 2’ were identical to the ‘English’ versions thanks to their international counting calls, although eagle-eared enthusiasts will have noted an extra “eins – zwei – drei – vier” dropped into the fade.
Photo by Clynt Garnham
In the interim, there was what became a standalone single in ‘Tour De France’ released in 1983. The original was in French anyway and was rendered rather pointless in German as all the place names mentioned as part of the race route were in France anyway!
Remixed by François Kevorkian in 1984, the New York-based Frenchman was recruited to help mix their next album which ‘Tour De France’ had originally been intended to be part of.
On the much delayed ‘Techno Pop’ née ‘Electric Café’ for 1986, ‘Der Telefon Anruf’ was distinctly more impactful in German with Karl Bartos making an impressive turn in his only vocal performance for KRAFTWERK. But the assertive automated phone messages became an even more sharpened metaphor for female empowerment.
Touching on a similar theme, ‘Sex Objekt’ was an ironic response that originated from one of the band making unwanted advances on a lady in a club. Now while it is amusing to hear Herr Hütter’s disdain at being treated as an object of lust, it’s the overlong passage of KRAFTWERK hacking through various slap bass, guitar and percussive presets like an online Yamaha DX7 tutorial that is now funnier!
However, tracks like ‘Boing Boom Tschak’ and ‘Musique Non Stop’ were phonetic and multi-lingual so language was no longer a barrier as the world got smaller and smaller. But with the lack of a sufficiently intriguing theme on ‘Electric Café’ proving underwhelming, KRAFTWERK lost crucial momentum creatively. And so it was that the classic RFWK line-up had split by the time of 1991’s ‘The Mix’, a largely disappointing digital rework collection of Die Klassik Werks that dated within a year.
Photo by Clynt Garnham
However, it would be fair to say by this time KRAFTWERK had transcended their nationality and were no longer just a German band, but actually the most influential act on the planet. KRAFTWERK could now present their work in any language and it no longer mattered. Indeed, when ‘Tour De France Soundtracks’ came out in 2003, there was no German or English edition.
There was just one release for all markets and the voices on it just happened to be in French; KRAFTWERK’s dream of ‘Europa Endlos’ was now reality. In 1977, KRAFTWERK sang “Das Leben ist Zeitlos” or “Life is timeless” and now after five decades since releasing their self-titled debut album, so is their music.
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 willbe 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.