1981 is the year covered by the second instalment of Cherry Red’s ‘Musik Music Musique’ series.
1980 was something of a transition year for the synth as it knocked on the door of the mainstream charts but by 1981, it was more or less let in with welcome arms. From the same team behind the ‘Close To The Noise Floor’ compendiums and the most excellent ‘Electrical Language’ boxed set, ‘Musik Music Musique 2.0 1981 – The Rise Of Synth Pop’ presents rarities alongside hits and key album tracks from what many consider the best year in music and one that contributes the most to the legacy of electronic music in its wider acceptance and impact.
Featuring HEAVEN 17 with ‘(We Don’t Need This) Fascist Groove Thang’, OMD with ‘Souvenir’ and the eponymous single by VISAGE, these songs are iconic 1981 canon that need no further discussion. Meanwhile the longevity of magnificent album tracks such as ‘Frustration’ by SOFT CELL and ‘I Remember (Death In The Afternoon)’ by ULTRAVOX can be summed by the fact that they have featured in 21st Century live sets alongside their parent acts’ hits.
Although not quite as celebrated, ‘You Were There’ from pastoral second John Foxx long player ‘The Garden’ captures the move from stark JG Ballard imagery to something almost romantic. DEVO are represented by the LinnDrum driven ‘Through Being Cool’, the opener of the ‘New Traditionalists’ album which comes as a statement that the mainstream was their next target; the Akron quintet were one of the many acts signed by Virgin Records as the label focussed on a synth focussed takeover that ultimately shaped the sonic landscape of 1981.
Then there’s TEARS FOR FEARS’ promising debut ‘Suffer The Children’ in its original synthier single recording and The Blitz Club favourite ‘Bostich’ from quirky Swiss pioneers YELLO. Another Blitz staple ‘No GDM’ from GINA X PERFORMANCE gets included despite being of 1978 vintage due to its first UK single release in 1981. The use of synth came in all sorts of shapes and FASHIØN presented a funkier take with ‘Move Øn’ while the track’s producer Zeus B Held took a more typically offbeat kosmische approach on his own ‘Cowboy On The Beach’.
Pivotal releases by JAPAN with the ‘The Art Of Parties’ (here in the more metallic ‘Tin Drum’ album version) and A FLOCK OF SEAGULLS ‘(It’s Not Me) Talking’ highlight those bands’ then-potential for mainstream success. But in the battle of the New Romantic boy bands, the sitar tinged DURAN DURAN B-side ‘Khanada’ easily blows away the SPANDAU BALLET album track ‘Reformation’ in an ominous sign as to who would crack it biggest worldwide.
The great lost band of this era, B-MOVIE issued the first of several versions of ‘Nowhere Girl’ in December 1980 on Dead Good Records and its inclusion showcases the song’s promise which was then more fully realised on the 1982 Some Bizzare single produced by the late Steve Brown although sadly, this was still not a hit.
The best and most synth flavoured pop hits from the period’s feisty females like Kim Wilde and Toyah are appropriate inclusions, as is Hazel O’Connor’s largely forgotten SPARKS homage ‘(Cover Plus) We’re All Grown Up’. But the less said about racist novelty records such as ‘Japanese Boy’ by Aneka, the better… the actual nation of Japan though is correctly represented by their most notable electronic exponents YELLOW MAGIC ORCHESTRA with ‘Cue’ from ‘BGM’, the first release to feature the Roland TR808 Rhythm Composer.
With these type of boxed sets, it’s the less familiar tracks that are always the most interesting. As the best looking member of TANGERINE DREAM, Peter Baumann had a crack at the single charts with the catchy Robert Palmer produced ‘Repeat, Repeat’ while former Gary Numan backing band DRAMATIS are represented by ‘Lady DJ’ although its epic A side ‘Ex Luna Scientia’ would have equally merited inclusion. But BEASTS IN CAGES who later became HARD CORPS stand out with the stark dystopia of ‘Sandcastles’.
The one that “should-have-been-a-pop-hit” is the ABBA-esque ‘I Can’t Hold On’ by Natasha England and it’s a shame that her career is remembered for a lame opportunistic cover of ‘Iko Iko’ rather than this, but the delightful ‘Twelfth House’ demonstrates again how under-rated Tony Mansfield’s NEW MUSIK were, and this with a B-side!
The rather fraught ‘Wonderlust’ by THE FALLOUT CLUB captures the late Trevor Herion in fine form on a Thomas Dolby produced number with a dramatic Spaghetti Western flavour that is lushly sculpted with electronics. Over a more sedate rhythm box mantra, ‘Love Moves In Strange Ways’ from BLUE ZOO swirls with a not entirely dissimilar mood.
Mute Records founder Daniel Miller was breaking through with his productions for DEPECHE MODE in 1981, but representation on ‘Musik Music Musique 2.0’ comes via the colder austere of ‘Science Fiction’ by Alan Burnham. ‘West End’ by Thomas Leer adds some jazzy freeform synth soloing to the vocal free backdrop, while ‘Surface Tension’ from ANALYSIS is an appealing instrumental.
The strangely accessible weirdness of CHRIS & COSEY’s ‘This Is Me’, MYSTERY PLANE’s ‘Something To Prove’ and the gritty ‘Brix’ from PORTION CONTROL will delight those more into the leftfield, while AK-47’s ‘Stop! Dance!’, the work of Simon Leonard (later of I START COUNTING and KOMPUTER fame) is another DIY experiment in that aesthetic vein.
Some tracks are interesting but not essential like Richard Bone’s ‘Alien Girl’ which comes over like an amusing pub singer SILICON TEENS, Johnny Warman’s appealing robopop on ‘Will You Dance With Me?’ and the synth dressed New Wave of ‘Close-Up’ by THOSE FRENCH GIRLS. For something more typically artschool, there’s the timpani laden ‘Taboos’ by THE PASSAGE and SECOND LAYER’s screechy ‘In Bits’.
More surprising is Swedish songstress Virna Lindt with her ‘Young & Hip’ which oddly combines showtune theatrics with blippy synth and ska! The set ends rather fittingly with Cherry Red’s very own EYELESS IN GAZA with the abstract atmospherics of ‘The Eyes Of Beautiful Losers’ although they too would eventually produce their own rousing synthpop statement ‘Sunbursts In’ in 1984.
Outside of the music, the booklet is a bit disappointing with the photos of OMD, TEARS FOR FEARS, HEAVEN 17, B-MOVIE and a glam-bouffanted Kim Wilde all coming from the wrong eras. And while the liner notes provide helpful information on the lesser known acts, clangers such as stating Toyah’s ‘Thunder In The Mountains’ was from the album ‘The Changeling’ when it was a standalone 45, “GONG’s Mike Hewlett” and “memorable sleeve designs by Malcolm Garrett’s Altered IMaGes” do not help those who wish to discover the origins of those accumulated gems.
But these quibbles aside, overall ‘Musik Music Musique 2.0’ is a good collection, although with fewer rare jewels compared with the first 1980 volume which perhaps points to the fact that those who had the shine to breakthrough actually did… 40 years on though, many of those hit making acts (or variations of) are still performing live in some form.
Was 1981 the most important year in synth as far becoming ubiquitous in the mainstream and hitting the top of the charts internationally? With VISAGE’s ‘Fade To Grey’ becoming a West German No1 in Spring 1981 through to SOFT CELL taking the summer topspot in the UK and culminating in THE HUMAN LEAGUE eventually taking ‘Don’t You Want Me?’ to No1 in the US, the sound of synth had done its job. Setting the scene for 1982 and 1983, further editions of ‘Musik Music Musique’ are planned.
The origin of the BBC radio session came about due to restrictions imposed on the corporation by the Musicians Union and Phonographic Performance Limited with regards the airing of recorded music.
The thinking behind this was to create employment, as well as force people to buy records and not listen to them free of charge on the air. As a result, the BBC had to hire bands and orchestras to perform cover versions of recorded music to make up for the shortfall.
When the policy evolved with the advent of the more pop and rock oriented station Radio1, bands ventured into BBC’s Maida Vale studios to lay down between 3 to 5 tracks, with in-house personnel such as John Walters, Dale Griffin, Jeff Griffin, Chris Lycett, Mike Robinson, John Owen Williams and (not that) Tony Wilson helming the sessions.
The most celebrated of these BBC sessions were recorded for John Peel, but equally of merit and perhaps more of an indicator to potential breakthroughs into the mainstream were those produced for Richard Skinner and Kid Jensen.
Sessions were usually recorded and mixed in a single day, so had a rougher feel that lay somewhere between a live performance and a studio recording, sounding almost like a polished demo.
While acts would often use the opportunity to promote their latest single or album, others would premiere recently written compositions, try out different arrangements on established songs or perform cover versions. A number of these session recordings were even superior to their eventual officially released versions.
So ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK presents its favourite 25 BBC Radio1 session tracks with other selection criteria including rare songs or tracks capturing the zeitgeist and signalling a change in the course of music. Presented in chronological and then alphabetical order within each year with a restriction of one track per artist moniker, here are some special moments from our beloved Auntie Beeb.
THE HUMAN LEAGUE Blind Youth (John Peel 1978)
In Summer 1978, THE HUMAN LEAGUE perhaps surprisingly recorded their only session for the BBC which included ‘Being Boiled’, ‘No Time’ (which became ‘The Word Before Last’), a cover of ‘You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feeling’ and ‘Blind Youth’. The latter was the frantic percussive highlight of the four, a wonderfully shambolic slice of synth punk with bum bleeps and avant waves of white noise, all held together by the metallic rhythmic bed of a sequenced Roland System 100.
TUBEWAY ARMY I Nearly Married A Human (John Peel 1979)
Although only comprising of three tracks, Gary Numan’s session as TUBEWAY ARMY for John Peel in early 1979 captured an artist in transition. From the comparatively punky ‘Me! I Disconnect From You’ to the dystopian synthpop of ‘Down In The Park’, the electronics were gaining more prominence to suit his increasingly unsettling lyrical themes. And on the mostly instrumental ‘I Nearly Married A Human’, the machines launched a coup d’etat and took over like an army of replicants with the murmurs of the title being the only sign of flesh and blood.
Several months after the release of their self-titled debut long player, OMD returned for their second of their four John Peel sessions with Paul Humphreys and Andy McCluskey accompanied by drummer Malcolm Holmes and keyboardist Dave Hughes. By now, their live sound had expanded and this change was captured on this session with the version of ‘Pretending To See The Future’ having more presence and a looser percussive edge compared with the underwhelming drum machine-led album version.
One of the bands alongside SOFT CELL, DEPECHE MODE and BLANCMANGE who got a profile boost from their inclusion on the ‘Some Bizzare Album’, although they were signed by Phonogram to take on DURAN DURAN, B-MOVIE had more of a psychedelic vibe as reflected by songs like ‘Welcome To The Shrink’ and ‘All Fall Down’ on their first John Peel session in March 1981. But the highlight was ‘Polar Opposites’ with its mighty ‘2001: A Space Odyssey’ synth line. It would have made a great single, but never properly was!
Broadcast in Summer 1981, this session captured the original DEPECHE MODE line-up of Dave Gahan, Martin Gore, Andy Fletcher and Vince Clarke several months before the release of debut album ‘Speak & Spell’. Refining into a pop band but still retaining much of the synthetic rawness that linked them artistically to acts like FAD GADGET, the session was characterised by use of the Korg Rhythm KR55 drum machine with its charming klanky metallics. This version of ‘Boys Say Go’ possessed an aggression that was lost on the eventual album cut.
Like THE HUMAN LEAGUE, DURAN DURAN only did the one BBC session for their biggest champion Peter Powell. Broadcast in June 1981 to coincide with the release of their self-titled debut, they recorded near-facsimile versions of ‘Girls On Film’, ‘Anyone Out There’ and ‘Night Boat’. But a surprise came with ‘Like An Angel’, a sprightly love song unreleased at the time which pointed away from the New Romantics to the more mainstream pop ambition of the ‘Rio’ opus that was to come just a year later.
Available on the DURAN DURAN boxed set ‘Duran Duran’ via EMI Records
Contributing five songs to their first BBC session as ‘Tainted Love’ was rising up the UK chart, brilliant songs like ‘Bedsitter’, ‘Entertain Me’, ‘Chips On My Shoulder’ and ‘Youth’ demonstrated the potential of Marc Almond and Dave Ball, even in basic form. While ‘Seedy Films’ was faster paced and a bit “snap, crackle and pop” compared to the more sophisticated and laid-back clarinet-laden ‘Non-Stop Erotic Cabaret’ album version, it outlined why at the time, SOFT CELL were rated higher than DEPECHE MODE.
‘Studio B15’ was a short-lived Sunday afternoon magazine show presented by the late Adrian Love that often invited their guests to perform live. SPANDAU BALLET had just released their debut album ‘Journeys To Glory’ and as a band that didn’t tour and rarely played live, this was an opportunity to demonstrate their abilities. ‘Mandolin’ featured a prominent Yamaha CS10 synth line while this version featured Simmons drums and a much clearer vocal with a more pronounced diction from Tony Hadley compared to the oddly smothered album version.
Aired in February 1982, BLANCMANGE were captured in their only John Peel session as a much darker proposition than was later perceived by their UK chart success. It included an early take on ‘Living On The Ceiling’ without its Indian embellishments but the session was notable for ‘I Would’ and ‘Running Thin’, two songs that would not make it onto the ‘Happily Families’ tracklisting. ‘Running Thin’ in particular saw Neil Arthur and Stephen Luscombe trapped in a stark state of gloomy resignation.
Recorded nearly six months before the release of their debut album, CHINA CRISIS’ first John Peel session saw the duo exploring territory that sat between electronic and traditional pop. ‘Seven Sports For All’ and ‘Some People I Know To Lead Fantastic Lives’ ended up on the album while the more moody ‘Be Suspicious’ was already a B-side. But this version of ‘This Occupation’ was pure machine-propelled synthpop complete with sequencing and strong lead lines; later recordings that appeared on the B-sides of ‘Wishful Thinking’ were never as good.
After their 1981 German-inspired debut ‘In The Garden’, Annie Lennox and David A Stewart explored the possibilities of the synthesizer and acquired a Movement Drum Computer to live up to their moniker. In a BBC session that also included ‘Love Is A Stranger’ which was soon to be issued as a single , ‘I’ve Got An Angel’ was an unusual hybrid of synths, electronic drums and wah-wah guitar, with flute by the front woman alongside her particularly intense and raw vocal. By comparison, the released version on the ‘Sweet Dreams (Are Made Of This)’ album was more restrained.
Not actually recorded at the BBC, NEW ORDER’s second self-produced John Peel session was a fascinating document of the Mancunian’s transitioning sound with the throbbing sequences of ‘586’ highlighting a future proto-dance direction. Meanwhile ‘Turn The Heater On’ was a cover of the Keith Hudson reggae song in tribute to Ian Curtis and ‘We All Stand’ had avant jazz overtones. But ‘Too Late’ was significant, sounding like it could have come off debut album ‘Movement’ with its lingering gothic doom but also remaining unreleased, discarded as if a relic from another era.
Featuring ‘The Prisoner’, ‘The Hurting’, ‘Start Of The Breakdown’ and ‘Memories Fade’, the arrangements for this BBC session aired after TEARS FOR FEARS’ success with ‘Mad World’ differed significantly from the versions on their debut album. Featuring Linn Drum programming and Banshees-like guitar instead of sax, this version of ‘Memories Fade’ was far superior, utilising a much more powerful mechanised rhythmic tension that reflected the fraught paranoia and resignation of Roland Orzabal’s lyrical angst.
Available on the TEARS FOR FEARS boxed set ‘The Hurting’ via Mercury Records
Reshaped with a Fairlight and Linn Drum Computer, this version of ‘In My Room’ recorded in session for Kid Jensen was far superior to the irritating album version on ‘Upstairs At Eric’s’. Forming the basis for the live interpretation, it was now free of Vince Clarke’s “Our Father” tape loop monologue and allowed Alison Moyet space to express her emotive frustration to reveal a fantastic song free of distractions. Other songs in the session included beefed up takes on ‘Bring Your Love Down (Didn’t I)’, ‘Situation’ and ‘Too Pieces’.
Co-written with Wayne Hussey, ‘Give It To Me’ was Pete Burns at his filthy lyrical best, declaring that “Apart from all your obvious attractions, I’ve got the bullets, you’ve got the gun, bang me into action, let’s make this obvious distraction, physically you are just what I wanted!”. Although this slice of Middle Eastern favoured HI-NRG later surfaced as a bonus track on the 12 inch single of ‘I’d Do Anything’, it seems almost unbelievable now that this potential hit single was never developed further in the studio.
Available on the DEAD OR ALIVE boxed set ‘Sophisticated Boom Box MMXVI’ via Edsel Records
JOHN FOXX Hiroshima Mon Amour (Saturday Live 1983)
‘Saturday Live’ was a show that featured interviews and live sessions. Having ventured out touring for the first time since his ULTRAVOX days in support of his third solo album ‘The Golden Section’, John Foxx eschewed material from ‘Metamatic’ but perhaps more surprisingly, mined his former band’s catalogue. Backed by Robin Simon, Peter Oxdendale, David Levy and Barry Watts, Foxx performed an interesting arrangement of ‘Hiroshima Mon Amour’ sans rhythm machine but with guitars, ARP Odyssey and the ubiquitous thud of Simmons drums.
Available on the JOHN FOXX album ‘Metadelic’ via Edsel Records
HOWARD JONES Don’t Put These Curses On Me (Kid Jensen 1983)
Having triumphed opening for CHINA CRISIS in Spring 1983, Howard Jones impressed with his first BBC session featuring songs like ‘New Song’ and ‘Natural’ which would be included on his debut album ‘Human’s Lib’. The album title track also featured on the session with its original love triangle monologue intro. But ‘Don’t Put These Curses On Me’ would not be released until 2003, thanks to Jones considering the song unlucky following an equipment breakdown while attempting to perform it on the live Channel 4 TV show ‘Loose Talk’.
Available on the HOWARD JONES boxed set ‘Human’s Lib’ via Cherry Red Records
SIMPLE MINDS The Kick Inside Of Me (Kid Jensen 1983)
By the end of 1983, SIMPLE MINDS were leaning heavily towards more rockist climes with songs like ‘Waterfront’. But for a three song BBC session which also featured a reprise of ‘New Gold Dream’, there was the debut of ‘The Kick Inside Of Me’, a lively track with catchy synth riffs, an infectious bassline and minimal guitar. But come the released version for the Steve Lillywhite produced ‘Sparkle In The Rain’, it had totally been ruined with distorted guitar, overblown drums and yobbish shouting in a pointless attempt to emulate THE SEX PISTOLS!
This session captured TALK TALK after the departure of keyboardist Simon Brenner but before producer Tim Friese-Greene came on board as Mark Hollis’ writing partner. Showcasing at the time four brand new songs, only ‘Call In The Night Boy’ ended up on the next album ‘It’s My Life’ while ‘For What It’s Worth’ and ‘Again A Game Again’ became B-sides. But most interesting was ‘Why Is It So Hard?’ which was only released in Canada on the ‘It’s My Mix’ EP as an Extended Version and didn’t get a UK release until 1998 on the ‘Asides Bsides’ collection.
With only Steve Strange and Rusty Egan now remaining, VISAGE surprised all by recording a BBC session with new members Steve Barnacle and Andy Barnett, featuring previously unheard songs ‘Can You Hear Me?’, ‘Only The Good Die Young’, ‘The Promise’ and the funky standout ‘Questions’. With a more live feel, there was hope that VISAGE would be able to sustain some creative momentum despite the departure of Midge Ure, Billy Currie and Dave Formula but the eventual over-produced ‘Beat Boy’ album was rotten, marred by heavy metal guitar and hopelessly off-key singing!
Despite the patronage of Rusty Egan, Daniel Miller and Martin Rushent as well as a tour opening for DEPECHE MODE, the industrial pop of HARD CORPS did not breakthrough and by the time their only album ‘Metal + Flesh’ was released in 1990, all momentum had been lost. But the gothic tension and edgy energy of their music was perhaps best represented by their BBC sessions for John Peel and Richard Skinner, with ‘Metal + Flesh’ from the 1984 Peel session far outstripping the eventual album title track studio incarnation.
For an Autumn session before the release of their debut album ‘The Age Of Consent’, BRONSKI BEAT took the unusual step of recording three solo tracks, with the only band offering being a take on ‘Why?’ B-side ‘Close To the Edge’. Larry Steinbachek presented a HI-NRG instrumental ‘Ultraclone’ while Jimmy Somerville offered the acapella ‘Puit D’amour’. But Steve Bronski contributed the most unusual track, a beautifully new age piece called ‘The Potato Fields’ which took its lead from the Japanese composer Kitaro, a version of which ended up as a bonus on the ‘I Feel Love’ 12 inch.
From Spring 1984 to coincide with the release of their new single ‘Blue Emotion’, FIAT LUX stepped into BBC Maida Vale for a session to demonstrate their diversity and musicality as more than just a synth act. As well as ‘Blue Emotion’, there was its Brechtean B-side ‘Sleepless Nightmare’ and an acoustic version of ‘Secrets’. But best of all was ‘Breaking The Boundary’, a glorious burst of uptempo North European melancholy that did not officially see the light of day until the shelved FIAT LUX album ‘Ark Of Embers was finally released by Cherry Red Records in 2019.
ERASURE Who Needs Love Like That? (Bruno Brookes 1985)
With ERASURE, Vince Clarke had found himself back to square one after YAZOO and THE ASSEMBLY. Recruiting Andy Bell as the flamboyant front man capable of falsetto and creating the vocal tones of Alison Moyet, ‘Who Needs Love Like That?’ did sound like a YAZOO outtake and in this BBC session recording, was busier and more percussive than the already released single version. While ERASURE were not an instant success, the song did eventually chart on its remixed re-release in 1992.
Available on the ERASURE deluxe album ‘Wonderland’ via Mute Records
John Peel was not a fan of PET SHOP BOYS or much synthpop for that matter, so it was a surprise when Neil Tennant and Chris Love did a session for him using the back to basics approach that they had adopted for the ‘Release’ tour with guitars, bass and percussion in the line-up. But the bonus for fans was that two of the songs recorded ‘If Looks Could Kill’ and ‘A Powerful Friend’, which had been written in 1983 and shelved, were specially revived for the occasion. Both numbers were particularly energetic with the latter even featuring very loud rock guitars!
So come on, whose first album was a various artists compilation?
They were the biggest sellers for a decade and had dominated the UK album charts so much so that they were given their own!
In 1966, the Canadian budget household gadget firm K-Tel diversified into the territory of compilation albums with ‘25 Country Hits’; it was a surprise success and this comparatively new idea of collecting a number of artists onto an album based around a single theme was expanded further.
K-Tel negotiated directly with artists and labels for the rights to reproduce the original recordings, but where this was not possible, the company would contract “one or more of the original artists” to make a new recording for the compilation, under the premise that the public generally could not tell the difference between a re-recording and the original.
However, UK budget label Pickwick Records via their Hallmark imprint went one step further in 1968 by producing compilations of the latest hits but as rush-recorded soundalike cover versions under the title ‘Top Of The Pops’ which had nothing to do whatsoever with the BBC TV show; it was all perfectly legal thanks to an oversight by the corporation on trademark.
Purchasers unknowingly got treated to unique interpretations of ‘Autobahn’ and ‘The Model’ by anonymous session musicians who quite obviously had only learnt the song ten minutes before entering the studio. Although demand for such records had dimmed by 1981, acts such as SOFT CELL were still unable to escape with ‘Say Hello Wave Goodbye’ hilariously reduced to geezer pub rock! The singer was revealed to be one Martin Jay who a few years earlier had treated the world to his cloak and dagger take on ‘Are Friends Electric?’.
The albums from K-Tel attempted to cram as many songs as possible onto the 12 inch vinyl format. In order to accommodate this philosophy within its physical limitations, many of the tracks were faded out early or came in unusual and often clumsy edits. But even these versions were sought after by loyal fans, thus making the records they came from valued collector’s items.
The various artists compilation album changed forever in 1983 when Virgin and EMI joined forces to produce the ‘Now That’s What I Call Music’ series which at the last count had reached ‘Now 106’ and spawned numerous spin-offs and even cable TV channels. In 1984, Sony BMG and Warner Music joined in the action with the ‘Hits’ series, but such was the domination in the UK of these types of albums that in 1989, they were given their own chart and excluded from the main one!
For electronic pop, ‘Machines’ released by Virgin Records in 1980 was one of the first attempts to gather music using synthesizers into one place, but the entry point for many new fans was 1981’s ‘Modern Dance’ on K-Tel. This well-thought out collection saw youngsters saving up their pocket money for their first record purchase or asking Santa to put it into their Christmas stocking, thanks to Radio1 DJ Peter Powell declaring that ‘Modern Dance’ was “The best of total danceability, the sounds of modern dance, on one LP!”.
As with greatest hits albums, what makes a great various artists compilation is a seamless listening experience where possible, or at least more killer than filler. However the continuous DJ mix was a particular irritant running through compilations for a period and rarely worked with classic material or recordings not specifically aimed at the clubland.
Staying within theme on a compilation though is VERY important and straying just slightly can spoil a whole concept, especially if it has been outlined in the title. Soul Jazz Records’ lushly packaged ‘Deutsche Elektronische Musik’ sets over two volumes contained a wide range of freeform experimental works from Germany, but occasionally forgot about the Trade Descriptions Act implications of its title. Meanwhile, ‘Reward’ by post-punk trip-poppers THE TEARDROP EXPLODES had a regular place on collections such as ‘Club For Heroes’, ‘New Romantic Classics’, ‘It’s Electric’ and ‘Our Friends Electric’ despite being brass dominated.
But the nadir came with ‘Synth Pop’, a 3CD collection by Sony Music in 2015 which totally missed the point by featuring AZTEC CAMERA and HAIRCUT 100!??! Now while the inclusion of IMAGINATION’s ‘Body Talk’ with its iconic Moog bassline could be justified, the set highlighted just how much the modern day definition of “synth pop” had become particularly blurred…
Now while some listeners just want endless hits on various artists compilations, others want to be informed and introduced to some lesser-known or rare songs. However, this latter approach can meet with mixed results.
For example, Cherry Red’s ‘Close To The Noise Floor’ and the Trevor Jackson’s ‘Metal Dance’ series were historically fascinating, but not always easy collections to listen to in one sitting. With some of the music close to being unlistenable, it could be akin to studying a hefty text book… highly educational but not always entirely fun!
So ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK takes a personal look at the electronic legacy of various artists via twenty notable compilation albums, each with valid reasons for their inclusion, presented in yearly and then alphabetical order within.
Yes, several songs reoccur over a number of these releases, but perhaps that is more an indication of their timeless nature. These were tunes that were dismissed by the press and wider public back in the day, but are now considered classic and part of the cultural heritage.
Having seen the future and signed THE HUMAN LEAGUE as well as OMD through their Dindisc subsidiary, Virgin Records had the foresight to issue a long playing showcase of acts that used synthesizers as their primary instrumentation. As well as their two great hopes, among the outsiders on board were TUBEWAY ARMY, FAD GADGET, SILICON TEENS and DALEK I LOVE YOU. While XTC’s B-side ‘The Somnambulist’ appeared to be incongruous, this was from the band’s synth experimentation period before going more acoustic on 1982’s ‘English Settlement’.
This compilation had actually been the idea of David Sylvian, hence why it was named after the JAPAN song although their contribution would be ‘The Art Of Parties’. Virgin presented their embarrassment of riches including BEF, DEVO, DAF, SIMPLE MINDS and MAGAZINE while the primary selling point was a new special dub edit of THE HUMAN LEAGUE’s ‘Do Or Die’ acting as a trailer to ‘Love & Dancing’. The cassette featured more tracks including John Foxx and the actual undanceable ‘Methods Of Dance’ song in place of ‘The Art Of Parties’!
1981 was when the sound of electronic pop was virtually everywhere, so the release of ‘Modern Dance’ was perfect synthchronicity. Featuring superb singles from the stellar cast of OMD, THE HUMAN LEAGUE, HEAVEN 17, JAPAN, DEPECHE MODE, SIMPLE MINDS, VISAGE, LANDSCAPE, FASHION and THE CURE as well as synth trailblazers John Foxx and Gary Numan, an indicator of how supreme this compilation was came with the fact that its most obscure track ‘A World Without Love’ by little known combo THE NEWS was rather good!
Stevo Pearce’s compendium of new Futurist acts has gone into folklore, having launched the careers of DEPECHE MODE, SOFT CELL, BLANCMANGE, THE THE and B-MOVIE. Several of acts who didn’t make it were also superb. THE FAST SET’s cover of Marc Bolan’s ‘King Of The Rumbling Spires’ was enjoyable electro-macabre while ‘Tidal Flow’ by ILLUSTRATION is one of the great lost songs of the era, the band themselves disappearing despite securing the services of Martin Hannett to produce their debut single ‘Danceable’, but it was never finished…
It took a few years for people to realise just how good the music from the New Romantic era was, so how better than to celebrate it than a compilation named after one of Steve Strange and Rusty Egan’s club nights. Featuring the all-star cast of DURAN DURAN, SPANDAU BALLET, ULTRAVOX, VISAGE, SOFT CELL and JAPAN, other acts who also got entry into the party were YAZOO, ABC, TALK TALK and CLASSIX NOUVEAUX while most welcome were ICEHOUSE with their eponymous single.
Gathering nineteen “Classic Hits From An Electric Era” including the full length ‘Blue Monday’ from NEW ORDER, ‘It’s Electric’ was largely, a more purist synth collection than ‘Club For Heroes’. Alongside the usual suspects were A FLOCK OF SEAGULLS, TEARS FOR FEARS, BRONSKI BEAT, KRAFTWERK, EURYTHMICS, BRONSKI BEAT and ERASURE. However, this collection featured the album version of ‘Tainted Love’ instead of the single, a mistake that would be repeated again and again even on SOFT CELL’s own compilations.
A tie-in with Uncut magazine celebrating “a music synonymous with futurism”, ‘Dawn Of Electronica’ included the album version of ‘From Here To Eternity’ by Giorgio Moroder and for the first time on CD, the Some Bizzare version of ‘Remembrance Day’ by B-MOVIE. With the likes of DAF, SUICIDE, ASSOCIATES, CABARET VOLTAIRE, PROPAGANDA, THE ART OF NOISE and YELLO alongside TUBEWAY ARMY, ULTRAVOX, JAPAN and SOFT CELL, this compilation was something a bit different compared to the ones that had come before.
Like ‘Teenage Kicks’ for punk and new wave, there are far too many compilations named ‘Electric Dreams’. This 2CD affair from Virgin Records comprised of thirty-eight “synth pop classics”. For once, this was a compilation documenting the different electronic pop phases including trailblazing analogue electro and the advent of digital sampling that actually worked. From ‘The Model’ and ‘Electricity’ to ‘Relax’ and ‘19’, with ‘We Are Glass’, ‘Yellow Pearl, ‘Say Hello Wave Goodbye’ and ‘Absolute’ in between, this was one of the best releases of its type.
Subtitled “A Nu-Wave Electro Compilation”, this modern collection brought out the electro in Electroclash with gloriously klanky drum machines in abundance. The undoubted star was Miss Kittin with four tracks including the mighty scene anthem ‘You & Us’ with Michael Amato aka THE HACKER; meanwhile the man himself and Anthony Rother each had three contributions in various guises. FPU, DOPPLEREFFEKT and ADULT. were among those helping to bring the sound of vintage electronic pop into the 21st Century for the club crowd.
Compiled by Ministry Of Sound, ‘This Is Tech-Pop’ was a representative snapshot of electronic music at the start of the 21st Century. However the “Tech-Pop or Electroclash or Synth-Core or Neu-Electro” legend in the booklet highlighted the dance music’s daft obsession with categorisation. But the music from the likes of FISCHERSPOONER, TIGA & ZYNTHERIUS, FC KAHUNA, WALDORF, ZOOT WOMAN, LADYTRON, SOVIET, FELIX DA HOUSECAT, CIRC and GREEN VELVET was mostly excellent, although DJ mixing the tracks together clouded the listening experience.
‘Electricity 2’ came at a time when the only platform for UK and Irish synth acts seemed to be Ninthwave Records in the USA. It featured HEAVEN 17’s first new song for six years in the ‘Music Sounds Better With You’ influenced ‘Hands Up To Heaven’ as well as material by WHITE TOWN, SPRAY and EMPIRE STATE HUMAN. Among the highlights were ‘The Machines’ by MASQ which sounded like a bizarre Gaelic synthpop take on Gary Numan and the comical ‘Alan Cumming’ by TURD FERGUSON which satirically sent up ‘Frank Sinatra’ by MISS KITTIN & THE HACKER.
Compiled by Wayne Clements of Essex duo MACONDO for his own Lucky Pierre imprint, ‘Robopop’ was possibly the closest thing to the ‘Some Bizzare Album’ in the 21st Century. Heading the line-up were the-then newly configured CLIENT and MY ROBOT FRIEND while Mute stalwarts KOMPUTER contributed the previously unreleased ‘My Private Train’. The stand-outs though were machine funksters ALPINE STARS, irreverent retro-poppers BAXENDALE and VIC TWENTY featuring Piney Gir with a delicious synth cover of Lynsey de Paul’s ‘Sugar Me’.
Compiled by Alex Hush, now of U2 and ERASURE remixers DAYBREAKERS, ‘Retro:Active 5’ pulled off the feat of gathering twelve classic 12 inch extended versions into a listenable programme. Longer takes of ‘I’ve Been Losing You’ by A-HA and ‘Pretty In Pink’ by THE PSYCHEDLIC FURS led the way with BLANCMANGE and DEAD OR ALIVE in support. But the biggest selling points were the ultra-rare ‘Love Cascade’ from LEISURE PROCESS and ‘More To Lose’ by SEONA DANCING, the synthpop duo fronted by Ricky Gervais.
For ‘Robopop The Return’, Wayne Clements was joined by production duo MANHATTAN CLIQUE who co-released the compilation via their own Planet Clique label. Described as “Essential Electro Pop”, it was a much higher profile release than its predecessor with GOLDFRAPP, THE KNIFE, TIGA and DRAGONETTE all on board. Also present were THE MODERN relaunching themselves as MATINEE CLUB while HUSKI, FORMATIC, LORRAINE and SOHO DOLLS were among the worthy lesser-known inclusions. A bonus DJ mix by MANHATTAN CLIQUE also featured.
Electronic music of a more downtempo disposition compiled by BLANK & JONES, perhaps unsurprisingly, the most exquisite tracks featured female vocalists with Sarah Nixey just pipping the highlight honours on her cover of JAPAN’s ‘Ghosts’ with INFANTJOY over Claudia Brücken guesting on the hosting trance DJ duo’s ‘Don’t Stop’. ‘Ghost Trains’, a solo tune by KINGS OF CONVENIENCE and RÖYKSOPP vocalist Erlend Øye was a livelier number that actually worked alongside chilled out tracks by THE GRID, BLISS, SPOOKY, MARCONI UNION and DEPECHE MODE.
ELECTRI_CITY 1_2 Elektronische Musik Aus Düsseldorf (2016)
Tying in with Rudi Esch’s book about the German city of Düsseldorf’s music heritage, ‘ELECTRI_CITY 1_2’ gathered the more accessible elements of Deutsche Elektronische Musik, Kosmische and Neue Deutsche Welle. Featuring RIECHMANN, DAF, DER PLAN, DIE KRUPPS, LIAISONS DANGEREUSES, RHEINGOLD, HARMONIA, LA DÜSSELDORF, NEU! and pre-PROPAGANDA girl group TOPLINOS featuring a very young Claudia Brücken and Susanne Freytag, this two volume collection was like a journey of discovery with the benefit of a local tour guide.
Be Music was the moniker of NEW ORDER used to cover studio production work by all four members of the band. This boxed set gathered these varied recordings which involved either Bernard Sumner, Peter Hook, Stephen Morris, Gillian Gilbert and combinations thereof, with notable solo tracks from Marcel King, Paul Haig and Winston Tong alongside those of 52ND STREET, SECTION 25, THE BEAT CLUB, SHARK VEGAS and AD INFINITUM’s cover of ‘Telstar’ which many believed was NEW ORDER in disguise but actually only featured Hooky.
ELECTRICAL LANGUAGE Independent British Synth Pop 78-84 (2019)
From the team that put together the ‘Close To The Noise Floor’ series, the 4CD ‘Electrical Language – Independent British Synth Pop 78-84’ did as it said on the tin and with a far more accessible template, was all the better for it. With THE HUMAN LEAGUE, OMD, THE NORMAL and FAD GADGET included to draw in the more cautious consumer, purchasers were treated to a plethora of wonderful lesser known acts like FIAT LUX, BOX OF TOYS, LORI & THE CHAMELEONS, PASSION POLKA, TESTCARD F, EDDIE & SUNSHINE and JUPITER RED. Meanwhile, the best novelty item was a Schaffel driven cover of Alvin Stardust’s ‘My Coo Ca Choo’ by BEASTS IN CAGES; half of the band went on to form HARD CORPS!
Subtitled ‘1980: The Dawn Of Synth Pop’, this boxed set collection explored the year before the synth became the rule rather than the exception. Although this featured the expected big hitters from OMD, VISAGE and JAPAN, there were rarer tracks from ULTRAVOX and SPANDAU BALLET. Lesser known highlights included ‘A Circuit Like Me’ from Australian combo THE METRONOMES with its detached female vocal and the light-hearted ‘Dampfriemen’ from LA DÜSSELDORF, a quirky slice of synth “Oompah” with comedic chants and a kazoo section.
Compiled by Pete Wiggs and Bob Stanley of SAINT ETIENNE, what ‘The Tears Of Technology’ had was a heartfelt suite of music which captured the essence of its title. At its centre was OMD’s sub-eight minute adventure ‘Sealand’ alongside synthy diversions by THE TEARDROP EXPLODES and THE PALE FOUNTAINS, with the Merseyside connection extended to CARE and CHINA CRISIS. Scotland got also got a look in courtesy of Paul Haig and Thomas Leer. The rare ‘Direct Lines’ by Chris Payne’s ELECTRONIC CIRCUS found itself a place too.
A truly international line-up gathered for Synth Wave Live 3, with acts from three continents present at London’s Electrowerkz on a rare sunny day in what has been a very rainy June.
Combining synthpop and new wave, hence the “Synth” and “Wave” tagline of the event, it was as if acid house had never happened.
Featuring a range of musicians from original Some Bizzare trailblazers and prog synthpop veterans to various musical descendants of Mute Records, things all came nicely together for a varied but coherent bill…
With a stage set comprising of TV monitors and glowing projections directed by Outland VJ Will Cunningham, THE DEPARTMENT opened Synth Wave Live 3 by performing tracks from the recently released ‘Pressure’ EP, a body of work channelling a midlife angst with observations on narcissism amongst its subject matter.
Following on was the stunning Parisian presence of YS ATLOVE who began her set with the danceable Europop of ‘Back To Yesterday’.
With her alluring stage manner and appealing nouvelle vague disco, she also presented her cover of ‘True Faith’, NEW ORDER’s paradoxically radio friendly tune about narcotic dependency, and prompted the first audience singalong of the day. Meanwhile, ‘You Can’t Fool Me’ revealed her moodier side.
Having been out of music for nearly four years, her return to live performance has without doubt rejuvenated her muse. But while YS ATLOVE may have approached things cautiously, there was not fear of that from CIRCUIT3. Armed with his Behringer MS-101 clone, the Dublin synthpop chap took to the stage to showcase material from his well-received ‘siliconchipsuperstar’ long player and the forthcoming second album ‘The Value Of Everything & The Price Of Nothing’.
Wearing a heavy black leather great coat inspired by Midge Ure at Live Aid, Peter Fitzpatrick’s songs like the dreamy ‘Ghost Machine’ and frantic ‘Hundred Hands’ donned their hat to HOWARD JONES and HEAVEN 17 respectively.
Meanwhile an affectionate reinterpretation of THE HUMAN LEAGUE’s ‘Being Boiled’ affirming CIRCUIT3’s spiritual connection to Synth Britannia.
Meanwhile, new tunes like ‘Breaking Point’ offered some political reflection with accompanying footage of a dancing policeman highlighting the absurdity of the current divisive stand-offs.
JOHAN BAECKSTRÖM is possibly Europe’s greatest synthpop secret; best known as a member of DAILY PLANET, the Swede however has been making a fine impression with his escapist solo work, as with the delightfully ERASURE-ish ‘Running Away From Myself’. But there were also more weightier concerns like the environment on ‘Like Before’ and the madness of materialism on Utopia’. He then naturally ventured ‘Into The 80s’ with a synthetic cover of a 1979 song by Canadian rocker Nick Gilder.
Although Baeckström is unashamedly candid about the influence of Vince Clarke on his music, another lesser known facet to his sound is that of prog synth trio WHITE DOOR who released their only album ‘Windows’ in 1983.
Having covered ‘School Days’ and ‘Jerusalem’ as B-sides, Baeckström invited Mac Austin, John Davies and Harry Davies to join him on stage for the first live rendition of those songs featuring the original band for 35 years.
Austin was in good voice although he was slightly overwhelmed as he came in a bar early for the chorus of ‘Jerusalem’. But this slight slip just brought smiles from all concerned on this highly emotional occasion. New material from WHITE DOOR featuring Baeckström as a new member is on the way with a promise of more live performances.
The wild cards of Synth Wave Live 3 and the youngsters of the event, synth assisted post-punk trio CENTRE EXCUSE offered some exuberant energy to proceedings.
Comprising of Teddy Lewis, Alex Rush and James Caine, their sound can be best exemplified by the single ‘Let It Ride’ which combines THE CURE and guitar driven NEW ORDER with elements of Britpop and occasional synthesizer textures.
A tight and engaging live band, their good looks certainly won’t do them any harm, with front man Lewis particularly noticeable thanks to his resemblance to Joseph Gordon-Levitt when he was in ‘3rd Rock From The Sun’. The joyous ‘Thank You (For Moving Me Up)’ had the bonus of some cascading voice-derived samples and with ‘Moon, Sky & Stars’ expressing their interest in synthesizers, it will be interesting to see if CENTRE EXCUSE do a MUMM-RA and morph into something like MIRRORS!
Hailed within the Synthwave community, the charming Italian EUGENE gave a superbly energetic performance with a passion and physicality that was the antithesis of the static laptop boys associated with that scene.
With his love of European synthpop, there were tunes, vocoders and uptempo rhythms too, particularly during the superb ‘HR Diagram’ with its inherent danceability and the Casiotone driven ‘Promenade’.
LISBON KID’s Danny De Matos joined EUGENE to reprise their collaboration ‘Waiting For You’ before the Portuguese singer / songwriter outlined an important message about suicide awareness via a cover of RADIOHEAD’s ‘No Surprises’ which would have upset purists with its electronic rearrangement, but was glorious none the less. Ending with the catchy Italo flavoured pulse of ‘Radiowave’, it was an impressive performance by Signore Valente.
Like WHITE DOOR, Mansfield quartet B-MOVIE deserved greater recognition for their work back in the day, having achieved critcal acclaim and BBC Radio1 airplay. Their appearance on the ‘Some Bizzare Album’ with SOFT CELL, DEPECHE MODE, THE THE and BLANCMANGE had earmarked them for great things, but wider fame as a band was to pass by Steve Hovington, Rick Holliday, Graham Boffey and Paul Statham.
However quality numbers like ‘Polar Opposites’, ‘Moles’ and ‘Institution Walls’ performed tonight only highlighted how their music has stood the test of time.
There was a slight technical glitch during ‘Welcome To The Shrink’, but things got back on track with the synthetic chill of ‘Stalingrad’, a single as good as anything B-MOVIE did in their creative prime when they were considered to have more potential than SOFT CELL.
Of course, the songs that fulfilled that promise ‘Nowhere Girl’ and ‘Remembrance Day’ closed a highly enjoyable set and while commercial success may have eluded B-MOVIE, the fact that they are here still making great new music is a blessing and a bonus.
SOL FLARE have changed considerably since their charismatic vocalist Jenny Jones departed in 2018. But since then, Australian musician Dominic Wood has soldiered on with the name as a solo act with primarily instrumental material and the occasional song with guest vocalists. Not far from a DJ set with a neon tinged backdrop, the club friendly vibe kept things warm.
Closing proceedings were LUCKY+LOVE from sunny Los Angeles. With a new album ‘Transitions’ just unleashed for public consumption, April Love’s vocal enthusiasm could not be doubted on during their brooding set.
The duo’s indie darkwave soundtrack was a fitting backdrop to finish Synth Wave Live 3 as Electrowerkz transformed itself into the long standing resident Goth club night Slimelight and the regular clientele drifted in.
With a wide age range of acts celebrating the art of synthpop and new wave, Synth Wave Live 3 entertained with its multi-generational line-up. What stood out most throughout the event were the songs being performed, whether as originals or cover versions from the Synth Britannia era or as brand new work influenced by that amazingly creative period of crafted synthetic material.
As JOHAN BAECKSTRÖM himself sang in ‘Synth Is Not Dead’, his own rather wonderful tribute to the electronic pop form: “Some might say that it’s an old forgotten relic from the past. But I claim it is the most inspiring music to be heard…”
ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK really couldn’t have put it much better itself ??
Despite B-MOVIE having released their debut EP ‘Take Three’ back in 1980, their guitarist and multi-instrumentalist Paul Statham is now possibly busier than ever musically.
As well as releasing B-MOVIE new material in the shape of the excellent three song ‘Repetition’ EP featuring the superb ‘Stalingrad’, his experimental solo ambient work and the avant Americana adventure of THE DARK FLOWERS, Paul Statham has now unveiled his DJ Shadow-inspired sample-based electronica soundscape project AFTER THE RAIN.
Statham’s career has included the electropop trio PEACH who had a US Top20 hit with ‘On My Own’ in 1997, as well as collaborations with people as diverse as Peter Murphy, Jim Kerr, Billy Mackenzie, Dido, Dot Alison, Sarah Nixey, Kylie Minogue and Rachel Stevens.
Now while AFTER THE RAIN does feature vocals, the tracks are not in the conventional song vein which saw Statham become one of the quieter success stories of ‘Some Bizarre Album’.
With Moby as a ubiquitous reference point, lead track ‘Gospel Train’ uses an emotive four line sample of ‘The Gospel Train’ sung by Belleville A Cappella Choir taken from a collection entitled ‘Southern Journey Vol. 1: Voices from the American South’. Offset against a propulsive electronic framework, the two contrasting elements hauntingly and successfully combine to recall the work of not just the one-time Richard Melville Hall, but also that of Alan Wilder in RECOIL.
Also cut within a gospel backdrop, the strangely vibey ‘Black Is The Colour’ uses phrases from the traditional standard of the same name made famous by Nina Simone, vocalised for AFTER THE RAIN by London soul jazz artist Billie Black. Punctuated by atmospheric and big beat sections, it offers a rather cerebral listening experience.
Beginning with acoustic six string, ‘Waterfront’ is less synthetic, its country roots flavour providing a nod towards THE DARK FLOWERS. Given an alien outlook by vocodered phrases borrowed from the similarly titled John Lee Hooker number, the brooding combination is unusual if nothing else, coming over like some of the Brian Eno song based album ‘Another Day On Earth’ from 2005.
Constructing new music around decades old archive material can be a thorny subject, but in his introductory offer for AFTER THE RAIN, Statham does it well and respectfully. Mysterious, yet hopeful and familiar at the same time, he adds yet another string to his talented bow.