Tag: Billy Mackenzie (Page 1 of 4)

Oh Yeah: The Legacy Of YELLO

The illustrious career of the Swiss electronic trailblazers YELLO is being celebrated in a new lavishly packaged 4CD earbook retrospective entitled ‘YELL4O Years’.

As well as containing their best known tracks, the duo’s more melodic cinematic works are compiled as a separate volume while there is also the inevitable collection of remixes from the likes of DJ Hell, Carl Craig and Mark Reeder. Frustratingly YELLO’s biggest UK hit ‘The Race’ appears in a 2016 live version from their Berlin Kraftwerk residency rather than its studio variants or even the wonderful atmospheric Magician’s Version for Tempest & Cottet!

Boris Blank founded YELLO in Zurich together with Carlos Perón through a mutual love of jazz, musique concrète and tape experimentation. Blank had a taste for the considered uncompromising aspirations of THE RESIDENTS and sent demos to Ralph Records, the label that the American art collective founded. Around the same time, at the suggestion of Paul Vajsabel who ran the Music Market record shop in Zurich which they mutually frequented, Blank and Perón were joined by Dieter Meier as lead vocalist.

Meier was the son of millionaire banker with his own business interests and had also been a professional gambler who had played cards in the presence of Marilyn Munroe. But perhaps in a reaction to his background, Meier had a penchant for performance art. In the rather conservative environment of Switzerland where a policy of neutrality is adopted to not upset anyone, secret banking is available to all with no questions asked and nuclear fallout shelters are a legal requirement in every home, artists were generally frowned upon, so they often had to develop a thick skin and a sense of humour to survive.

And it was within this society that YELLO’s tongue-in-cheek avant pop was born. As if to reinforce this, the name came from wanting a simple brand identity like Lego, inspired a comment made by Meier about “a yelled hello”. The first YELLO album ‘Solid Pleasure’ attracted the interest of Do It Records, the British label formed by Robin Scott of M and Ian Tregoning who had released the debut ADAM & THE ANTS album ‘Dirk Wears White Sox’.

As a result, one of its tracks ‘Bostich’ was played regularly at The Blitz Club by its resident DJ Rusty Egan. Its opening military drum tattoo was deceiving as an electronic throb quickly set in for a perfect slice of avant garde disco. With a quirky range of vocal pitches from Meier achieved by various tape manipulations, it introduced a style of speedy European rap later that was to become YELLO’s trademark.

The conga madness of ‘Pinball Cha Cha’ from the 1981 album ‘Claro Que Si’ proved they were not a straightforward electronic band. Boris Blank had begun with a Farfisa organ as his instrument of choice, later upgrading to the ARP Odyssey and Sequential Pro-One, but it was the purchase of the Fairlight CMI that was to change everything.

Opening up endless possibilities, Boris Blank said to ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK in 2016 that “When making the music for YELLO, I never think about a certain aesthetic or a certain kind of concept. It just comes out. When you work every day, like I do in my studio, more as a painter than like a traditional musician, then things come up that I never knew before. I just make music for fun, of course – it should be fun all the time. At the end, that is the result, reflecting more or less my fantasy from the past months and years that I’ve been working on those tracks.”

Blank laboured over his Fairlight, sampling anything from broken guitars, percussion, rusty brass instruments, screaming, opera singers and golf swings, eventually building up a huge catalogued library of over 14,000 sounds.

“There was a lot of heart and sweat in those old samples. I recorded everything at the time” he said, “I threw a snowball at the studio wall and worked it into a bass drum in the end – things like this”

A self-confessed non-musician, his tendency was not to play notes or count rhythms, but to be like child playing with a classic Lego set comprising of many coloured bricks and no instructions, surmising “Working with modern technology is much more convenient though, it stops you making final decisions.”

With Dieter Meier, his delivery was more like a storyteller or acting as another instrument rather than being a traditional singer. And with the handy Fairlight, Blank had another colour on his palette. YELLO was not a democratic band with equal collaborative input and it was admitted by Blank that only when a track was instrumentally complete would Meier be invited to make his contribution. But while Meier wasn’t that involved in the studio aspects of the music, his voice would give YELLO their personality, much like his cravat would be the crucial statement that complimented his suit.

Having already released a solo record ‘Impersonator’, Carlos Perón left YELLO in early 1983, just after release of their third album ‘You Gotta Say Yes To Another Excess’ on Stiff in the UK and Elektra in the US. It spawned the rhythmic gothic drama of ‘I Love You’ which utilised an unusual wobbly bassline that was doubled by a staccato voice sample, as well as pitched-up repeats of the title and lyrics inspired by ‘The Empire Strikes back’.

But with a synthesized squelch that predated acid house by several years, the moody disco number ‘Lost Again’ became the opening theme to the BBC2 yoof music show ‘ORS’, signalling an interest from TV and cinema in YELLO’s music. And although Do It folded in 1982, Ian Tregoning continued to work with YELLO and introduced the music of the Swiss duo to film director John Hughes.

As YELLO’s fourth studio album ‘Stella’ became their biggest seller to date, Blank and Meier made their mainstream breakthrough. An intricately woven patchwork of samples, the catchy ‘Vicious Games’ featuring the sexy vocals of Rush Winters became a US dance Top10 hit. Meanwhile, the quirky leftfield pop of ‘Oh Yeah’ appeared prominently in the 1986 John Hughes’ film ‘Ferris Bueller’s Day Off’.

‘Oh Yeah’ centred around a deep slowed down Meier going “BEAUTIFUL, OH YEAH!”; the track possessed a comic element that led to it being synched in situations whenever an attractive lady would appear, although it ultimately became ubiquitous as Duffman’s signature tune in ‘The Simpsons’.

Despite the novelty of two mature continental eccentrics becoming the toast of Hollywood and perhaps more unexpectedly, Urban America, YELLO also had a more cinematic European side that was more akin to their cosmopolitan origins; after all, Switzerland is a middle European landlocked country that has four official and very different languages.

From the 1987 album ‘One Second’, ‘The Rhythm Divine’ was an immense brooding ballad originally written as part of an ambitious project about Marilyn Monroe under the working title of ‘Norma Jean’. On lead vocals was Shirley Bassey who had been introduced to Blank and Meier by Prince Hubertus Von Hohenlohe. The lyrics were written by the late Billy MacKenzie of ASSOCIATES whose own ghostly neo-operatic vocals proved to be vital as the mighty diva worked around the dynamics of this epic number.

Despite ‘The Rhythm Divine’ being a European hit, Dieter Meier reflected later that the song hadn’t been very YELLO and decided that their next album ‘Flag’ should be as YELLO as possible, with the focus on Blank and himself. It yielded ‘The Race’, their biggest hit yet in English speaking territories like the UK, Ireland and New Zealand. Frantic, thrilling and gimmick laden, ‘The Race’ featured in the 1990 film ‘Nuns On The Run’ and perhaps not surprisingly on the cable channel Eurosport, keeping Meier flush in casino chips and allowing Blank to purchase even more studio equipment.

Billy MacKenzie continued working with YELLO and Boris Blank remembered “The songs ‘Capri Calling’ and ‘Because You Love’ still get under my skin. Working with Billy was always a pleasure. He worked fast and sang with his whole heart and soul, he gave everything. You could see it was very emotional for him. And for me.”

Included on 1991’s ‘Baby’ album, ‘Capri Calling’ was a smooth sunset romance that captured a gentle Mediterranean spirit. The soaring ‘Baby’ title track did not actually appear on the album but later featured on Mackenzie’s first solo long player ‘Outernational’ in 1992. The groovy jazz inflected ‘Rubberbandman’ from ‘Baby’ with Meier pitch shifted down to sound like Louis Armstrong continued the quirky ingenuity.

However from hence on, YELLO made albums less frequently as Meier’s business interests in coffee, wine, watches, silk garments and organic beef took up more of his time. The 1997 album ‘Pocket Universe’ featured the enigmatic Swedish songstress Stina Nordenstam on the techno-flavoured ‘To The Sea’, but the follow-up long players ‘Motion Picture’ and ‘The Eye’ saw public interest wane, even in Switzerland and Germany which had been YELLO’s strongest markets.

After signing to Polydor, 2009’s ‘Touch Yello’ saw a revival in fortunes, reaching No1 in the homeland, their first long player to do so since ‘Stella’. Notably, guest singer Heidi Happy provided a sumptuous smoky quality to the airy ballads ‘Stay’ and ‘You Better Hide’, the latter fittingly appearing at the end of the dystopian Swiss sci-fi movie ‘Cargo’.

The interim period saw Dieter Meier release a solo album ‘Out Of Chaos’, while Boris Blank collaborated with Malawian jazz singer Malia and issued a boxed set of unreleased solo material called ‘Electrified’. Reuniting in 2016 and coinciding with their first full live shows in Berlin, ‘Toy’ released arrived with much fanfare.

‘Limbo’ was a classic YELLO single laced with Meier’s distinctive drawl over a big metronomic beat syncopated by rhythm guitar for something suitably racey. Meanwhile the superb ‘Electrified II’ saw a duet with a guesting Malia in a slice of seductive energetic electro-cabaret.

Meanwhile, Beijing-born chanteuse Fifi Rong offered her own dreamy elegance on ‘Kiss The Cloud’ as addition to the tradition of sophisticated YELLO mellows. She said when Boris Blank first approached her to collaborate: “He reached out to me by email and said he really liked my music and the way I do my harmonies in my tracks.”

YELLO’s most recent album ‘Point’ did not disappoint their cult following. There was no mistaking that the lead single ‘Waba Duba’ was them, all tribal and elastic while punctuated with staccato horn stabs that recalled ‘The Race’. ‘Arthur Spark’ presented a purer electronic vision while ‘The Vanishing of Peter Strong’ showed an artistic affinity with THE ART OF NOISE.

It’s together with THE ART OF NOISE that YELLO have a legacy in technical innovation, pioneering digital sampling and turning found sound into danceable pop music.

More importantly, Boris Blank and Dieter Meier incorporated a sense of humour in their art, something that was largely absent from a significant number of electronic artists. For the general public though, YELLO’s legacy manifests itself in movies, the segments familiar despite the pair remaining largely anonymous.

It would be fair to say that when doing uptempo material, YELLO did not deviate from their signature sound much with songs like ‘Bostich’, ‘The Race’, ‘Tied Up’, ‘Jungle Bill’, ‘Limbo’ and Waba Dubba’ all being close relations! However, in their more downtempo collaborations with other artists like Shirley Bassey, Billy Mackenzie, Heidi Happy and Fifi Rong, they ventured into something more otherworldly and the third “Mello YELLO” volume of the 4CD earbook provides a well-deserved platform for this less appreciated aspect of their catalogue.


‘YELL4O Years’ is released by Polydor on 30th April 2021, available as a 4CD collector’s box, 2CD, abridged double vinyl LP and digital download – further information at https://40years.yello.com/

http://yello.com

https://www.facebook.com/yello.ch/

https://www.instagram.com/yello_official/


Text by Chi Ming Lai with thanks to Simon Helm
19th March 2021

A Short Conversation with KATJA VON KASSEL & CHRIS PAYNE

The highlight of German songstress KATJA VON KASSEL’s ‘Walking In West Berlin’ EP, the song ‘Someday’ was a timeless slice of sophisticated magnificence.

The song was the start of a new writing partnership with former Numan keyboardist Chris Payne. It captures Fraulein von Kassel sorrowfully pondering over the phone and questioning after her moment of haste if “it is foolish to dream”.

Capturing the beautiful melancholy of Billy Mackenzie, the doomed romantic tragedy of ‘Someday’ is echoed by the chanteuse’s deep forlorn delivery, accompanied by Payne’s hypnotic bassline and haunting vox humana treatment over a simple but hypnotic rhythmic loop.

Fresh from their successful and well-received performance at Electrowerkz in London, where they performed the ‘Walking In West Berlin’ EP and their joint cover of ‘Fade To Grey’, Katja and Chris chatted about the genesis of ‘Someday’.

How did ‘Someday’ come about?

Chris: This was one of the first songs I wrote for Katja, I became interested in working with her because of her voice. I get to hear some really good singers but there are very few that have got that extra something, that dynamic, that individuality, that emotion, whatever you want to call it.

When I listened to her earlier stuff, I realised the connection with that Dita von Teese / Marlene Dietrich / Liza Minnelli / Weimar Cabaret vibe but it was too obvious, so I wanted to take it into another dimension and create this atmosphere of Katja a dynamic declamatory singer on stage. When I sent her the backing track, she loved it and found the words straight away which led to us doing other pieces.

What was going on in your mind with the lyrics?

Katja: When Chris sent the backing track, straight away I had the melody which was just calling out for the lyrics. The music was so amazing that the melody felt like it already existed in my head.

‘Someday’ has a very timeless melody and recalls Billy Mackenzie in particular…

Chris: It wasn’t until you mentioned it that I remembered ASSOCIATES and I thought “Wow”!

It wasn’t a conscious direction, but maybe in my sub-conscious the song does have that atmospheric analogue sound of that period, mixed with some FM modular pads.

It does encapsulate something of a forlorn tragedy…

Katja: What’s strange is when you hear something as an artist when you hear the music, you just feel it and it comes out of you without any logic behind it, the phrase ‘Someday’ just opened it all up and everything else just fell into place. It feels like it HAS to be this way with the melody and lyrics…

Chris: What I didn’t realise when I sent you the backing track, was that it unlocked something, that’s amazing! That’s always a good sign! Another interesting thing about ‘Someday’ is after Katja had done her vocals, for a bit of fun I took all the percussive elements out and it created another track where the entire emotion had changed, I thought that was amazing so that’s why this Cinematic version is also on the EP.

Is there going to be more work from you two?

Chris: OH YEAH!

Katja: Yes!

Chris: Obviously, we’re trying to get a whole album together which will take time…

Katja: So we need everyone who likes our music to let others know we are existing, because that’s the difficult thing as an artist these days.


‘Someday’ and its Cinematic version are on the ‘Walking In West Berlin’ EP, available as a download or CD from https://katjavonkassel.bandcamp.com/

https://www.facebook.com/KatjavKassel/

https://twitter.com/katjavonkassel

http://www.chrispaynemusic.com/

http://www.electroniccircus.co.uk

https://www.facebook.com/Chris-Paynes-Electronic-Circus-1871328086461350/


Text and Interview by Chi Ming Lai
22nd April 2018

KATJA VON KASSEL Walking In West Berlin EP

The captivating German songstress KATJA VON KASSEL follows up her debut EP with a three song plus bonus variants compendium entitled ‘Walking In West Berlin’.

Having worked previously with LADYHAWKE collaborator Alex Gray, ‘Walking In West Berlin’ sees a change of direction in a new writing partnership with former Numan keyboardist Chris Payne, fresh from a rebooting of his ELECTRONIC CIRCUS side-project and his successful stint writing with Rusty Egan where his contributions were sung by luminaries such as Midge Ure and Tony Hadley.

“The tragedy of life is always a good inspiration to me” Katja once said and this is none more apparent on the airy magnificence of ‘Someday’. Capturing the beautiful melancholy of ASSOCIATES’ Billy Mackenzie, the doomed love affair is echoed by the chanteuse’s deep forlorn delivery, accompanied by Payne’s hypnotic synth bassline and haunting Numan-esque vox humana over a simple but hypnotic rhythmic loop.

And when some gentle piano cascades into the song’s second half, it generates an emotional lift which takes ‘Someday’ into a dreamy stratosphere; a sparse alternate Cinematic take of the song prolongs the song’s inherently introspective mood sans percussion.

Exuding purer electro Weimar cabaret with her Dietrich-like overtones, ‘Radio Symphony’ is more dramatic with a harder percussive edge, but still distinctly European and technolstagic in its Kraftwerkian fascination of the broadcast medium’s highly contrasting moods and motivations.

The ‘Walking In West Berlin’ title track is laced with Europäisch Neu Romantisch, to the point that it almost sounds as it is going to burst into ‘Fade To Grey’, the German No1 for VISAGE in 1981 which Chris Payne co-wrote with Billy Currie and Midge Ure; there are also hints of Scott Walker in his lonely Jean-Paul Satre phase too within the poetic grandeur of Katja’s delivery.

Bolstered by versions of all the tracks in Deutsch, this EP contains a thematically cohesive trio of songs that showcase the best in the musical sensibilities of both Fraulein von Kassel and Monsieur Payne.

If not a full-length album, then a follow-up EP is a must. It really would be a shame if the chemistry and compatibility of the von Kassel / Payne partnership was not artistically furthered.


The eight track ‘Walking In West Berlin’ EP featuring German versions of the songs is available as a download or CD from https://katjavonkassel.bandcamp.com/

https://www.facebook.com/KatjavKassel/

https://twitter.com/katjavonkassel

http://www.electroniccircus.co.uk

http://www.chrispaynemusic.com/

https://www.facebook.com/Chris-Paynes-Electronic-Circus-1871328086461350/


Text by Chi Ming Lai
10th March 2018

PAUL STATHAM Interview

What do DEPECHE MODE, SOFT CELL, BLANCMANGE and THE THE have in common?

They all appeared on the ‘Some Bizzare Album’ which acted as a springboard for their fame and fortune.

But the silent success story of the ‘Some Bizzare Album’ has to be Paul Statham; while his band B-MOVIE with Steve Hovington, Rick Holliday and Graham Boffey were unable to achieve a foothold in the mainstream like The Big Four, the guitarist later found considerable success as a songwriter and producer.

Working with personalities as varied as Peter Murphy, Jim Kerr, Billy Mackenzie, Dido, Dot Allison, Sarah Nixey, Kylie Minogue, Lisa Scott-Lee, Tina Arena and Rachel Stevens, Statham’s credits also include groups such as THE SATURDAYS and RIGHT SAID FRED.

Statham was also a member of cult electropop trio PEACH with Pascal Gabriel and Lisa Lamb, whose song ‘On My Own’ from their only album ‘Audiopeach’ featured during a key scene in the Gwyneth Paltrow movie ‘Sliding Doors’.

Although B-MOVIE reformed in 2004, Statham has continued his songwriting and production career in parallel.

More recently, there has also been his dark country project THE DARK FLOWERS, while he has also been releasing a series of ambient electronic albums, as well as establishing his own label Loki Records.

Paul Statham kindly took time out of his busy schedule to answer some questions about his career outside of B-MOVIE…

What has motivated you to start Loki Records in the current climate?

Well, exactly the words “current climate”! I did approach some leftfield labels, but the response time was tragic! Also as a long standing writer through Warner Chappell, there is always the thought that the song has to be commented on or is specifically ‘aimed’ at something , even going through an experimental label. So setting up my own label means I can go sit in the woods filming the moon all night, then decide that will be the video as it was for the track ‘Who Won’t Wait’! Of course who sees the video is then down to you endlessly trying to put links up!

After years of songwriting, how did this move towards more experimental music come about?

I have been involved in writing or creating pieces of instrumental music since 2002 through an art curator friend Victor De Circasia to run alongside writing more commercial music. My project THE DARK FLOWERS put a small element of experimental into traditional song using backdrops of wind or recorded atmosphere behind tracks, but my favourite album is Brian Eno’s ‘Another Green World’ and also I love reading about his compositional practice.

Your third ambient release is ‘Asylum’, how does this differ in concept from your first two releases of this type ‘Ephemeral’ and ‘Installation Music 1’ which were given away on Bandcamp?

I did plan to do it this way. The first two are unaltered pieces that were actually used in two installations, ‘Installation Music 1’ is very specific to a sculpture ‘Diving Woman’ by Sottish artist David Mach. ‘Asylum’ took some installation music from the Asylum Chapel in Peckham and simply used it as the starting point to create an album that was added to and experimented on over time.

What do you get out of this more experimental direction that you wouldn’t get from writing pop songs?

Total Freedom. A real journey from going out and exploring sounds in the outside world to developing artwork / films and setting out and letting the unfolding music direct where it heads to with no thought of who may like this. That’s why sometimes I’ll give them away for free!

Any thoughts about trying to compose hour long pieces like Brian Eno has done?

I already have a 28 minute piece that was used in an installation. It involved 28 pieces of thirty seconds long, starting with one then adding to it the next piece every 30 seconds to create a collage of found sound, then after 28 minutes it reverses. I will locate it and put it out for free on Bandcamp now you have reminded me! It was accompanied by painter Daisy Cook’s series of 28 small paintings of the Australian landscape but taken from the air. We made a film but I’ve since lost it!

The B-side to B-MOVIE’s ‘Marilyn Dreams’ was ‘Film Music Part 1’, what ever happened to Part 2 and is composing film music a direction you would like to head in?

That was written by Rick and I really like it! I think it was Rick, although Steve wrote most things back then! Film music is something I would love to do and would offer the music for free to any budding or low budget film in need!

After B-MOVIE first ended, you started to work with Peter Murphy in 1988 and continue to do so today, how would describe your creative dynamic?

Slow development! No, it’s completely different than my usual co-writing and has been long distance, with us rarely or actually ever sitting down in the same room and writing anything together. ‘Love Hysteria’ was me sitting in his attic with a four track and a few instruments, then leaving it with him. ‘Deep’ was similar but in a studio room, with Peter adding stuff once I’d put any sort of sketch down. After his move to Turkey, I would visit Ankara but again go into his studio room alone and sketch ideas, whilst he would then go in after me later at night and really shape them up. Since the internet, we simply share files. Some people find this dynamic difficult but after such a long time, I find it easy to send him anything I feel will intrigue.

In 1996, you formed PEACH who you described as “ABBA Meets THE KLF”? What inspired this?

Hahahaha! That was meeting Pascal Gabriel who produced the Murphy album ‘Cascade’. After the ‘Holy Smoke’ album, Peter dropped THE 100 MEN (band) and I went back to co-writing the whole album via sketches and lots of different styles, but with a more electronic feel. We all went to Spain to record, Peter, Pascal and myself and it was fairly high pressure.

On returning to London, I began to hang out with Pascal and he suggested that we form a very up dayglo electronic trio… very different to my Murphy work and at the time, it was something I definitely needed to do.

How did getting signed to Mute come about? It appeared to happen quite quickly…

We signed to Daniel Miller’s Mute label after playing him two demos in his office with no singer and Pascal sorting of humming vocal ideas. I really respect Daniel Miller and how he got what we were trying to do immediately and offered us a deal on the spot!

I will always be grateful to Pascal as he gave me studio keys and access to all these incredible synths and recording gear and simply let me learn my way around it, whilst we simply began recording with no agenda, other than kicking electropop tunes!

While your first single ‘On My Own’ wasn’t a UK Top 40 hit, it attracted positive responses?

It was a hit in the States and reached No 11 on the radio charts and also was a pop Top 40 hit. It was No 1 in Canada, Israel and bizarrely Singapore where Lisa Lamb and myself headed out to play the city’s 33rd birthday celebrations…v v odd!

How did you feel when ‘On My Own’ featured in the film ‘Sliding Doors’?

I remember being very excited, especially meeting Gwyneth Paltrow at the aftershow of the London premiere. Also seeing your name come up at the end of the film credits was worth it!

‘From This Moment On’ is a timeless pop tune?

I wrote the majority of that alone, picturing a sort of ABBA / ACE OF BASS crossover with a different rhythmic feel than the rest of the more uptempo songs.

I started with the sequencer and then went back and wrote this long intro as I may have discovered a jazz chord or two from some book! Lyrically, I just liked the sound of the words / sentiment without it being particularly about anything! I don’t normally write lyrics, perhaps you can see why!

The eventual ‘Audiopeach’ album was one of the last recordings that the late Billy Mackenzie contributed to. His ad libs on ‘Deep Down Together’ are so unmistakable, how did you know him and what was he like to work with?

Billy Mackenzie was a friend of Pascal’s and I was a HUGE fan of ASSOCIATES. It was shortly before he committed suicide and he arrived very down to earth and humble with a few cans of beer. He simply opened his mouth and that voice exploded. I loved it so much, I owned a DAT tape of him simply singing his vocal line unaccompanied, it was so pure with such a range. He also sang on ’Give Me Tomorrow’, replacing the high sampled opera vocal. I have read ‘The Glamour Chase’ biography twice now and recently have started listening to him a lot.

Photo by Joe Dilworth

By the time ‘Audiopeach’ came out in 1998, the momentum appeared to have stalled, what happened?

Basically we didn’t all get on. Lisa proved difficult at the time, while Pascal and her were complete ‘Polar Opposites’ in just about everything.

I think Lisa herself will admit she found it difficult and although we had success, our vision of what PEACH should sound like / appear like were pulling in two very different directions. I was sad as had left a long running collaboration with Murphy, found success with this pop / electronic vibe, signed to Mute and then walked away from it all.

PEACH supported ERASURE in London but did not play live much, could this have been a contributory factor?

I loved playing live, especially after some amazing live shows around the world with Peter Murphy, who was and is a great frontman and thrived on chaos. Pascal wasn’t so much a live musician and Lisa just got more outrageous, so it wasn’t really a live show at all, just playing a few chords over a backing track. We played three shows with ERASURE in London and before that, two in Hamburg. The German shows were a real success and very enjoyable, but somehow we’d lost enthusiasm by the time we played London!

PEACH appeared to help kickstart your next phase as a pop writer with artists like Kylie Minogue, Rachel Stevens and Lisa Scott-Lee?

Yes, that was only due to the fact I signed via PEACH to Warner Chappell and became great friends with my A&R man Mike Sault who began getting us co-writes with other artists and also, the great work that Sandy Dworniak at TMT Management did as Pascal’s and my manager.

Some might say your best known song is ‘Here With Me’ which you did with Dido, how do you look back on it?

It was so good as Dido had no expectations on her and I loved her voice; as a person and collaborator, she was great fun and wrote quickly and strongly in terms of her lyrics / melodies. We wrote quite a lot of songs and I remember vividly writing ‘I’m No Angel’ with her in about two hours!

So how would you approach a song for a singer, as opposed to artists like Dido, Sarah Nixey or Dot Allison who are more involved in the composition side? Is there a brief from the label?

Yep, sort of. It’s always strange as they give you a reference video by another artist, then the artist plays you something different and the management tell you they want something off the wall and different, so I just try and write the most interesting music I can and see where it goes. It’s so hard to get these things right and you end up with literally hundreds of very very good songs, but then so does everyone else who co-writes with them. It’s frustrating going back and seeing a huge iTunes library with lots of songs that you feel could be hits if the artist / A&R / manager had chosen to go with the song you co-wrote!!

You also worked with Jim Kerr on ‘Return Of the King’, a tribute to Billy Mackenzie for his LOST BOY solo project and subsequently, ‘Kill Or Cure’ for SIMPLE MINDS, what was that like?

Fantastic! I saw SIMPLE MINDS four times in one year when I was a teenager and was a HUGE fan of the first four albums. Not so much ‘New Gold Dream’ onwards, but ‘Reel To Real Cacophony’ and ‘Empires & Dance’.

So writing with Jim Kerr in my small bedroom sized home studio was one of those moments you think if I could have told my 18 year old self that, he wouldn’t have believed me! Also we share a lot of great music references in Bowie, Bolan, Roxy and certain literary styles / books. Jim is a very optimistic and supportive friend, he encouraged THE DARK FLOWERS and we have written a lot of material that may or may not see the light of day!

So what’s happening with THE DARK FLOWERS, which has featured Jim Kerr, Peter Murphy and Dot Allison amongst others?

I have all the music… it’s like herding cats trying to get a song or two from each person as they are all involved constantly in their own work. However I’m getting excited about the second album as its shaping up well… darker in tone than the first (deliberately) and featuring David J as well. Lloyd Cole was interested and started a track, but as of yet???!!!!

In all, are you quite happy with how you music career has turned out in its various guises?

I’m very happy… more so than ever. I re-signed to Warner Chappell in January and balance my week with running a course at BIMM in London once a week and heading up the songwriting workshops at Solent University (sixth year now) once a week too. This leaves me plenty of time to work on my own stuff and collaborate with long standing friends / artists

What’s next for you in whatever guise?

– THE DARK FLOWERS 2
– The continued release of experimental music via Loki Records
– AFTER THE RAIN (my new sample / DJ Shadow style project)
– New B-MOVIE album
– New Peter Murphy collaborations
– A new KRAFTWERK / vaporwave project with film composer Magnus Fiennes out in LA
– And continued co-writing via Warner Chappell’s, particularly with electro R‘n’B singer Billie Black.


ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK gives its grateful thanks to Paul Statham

‘Asylum’ is released on CD by Loki Records, available from https://www.lokirecords.com/shop

http://paulstathammusic.com

https://www.facebook.com/paulstathammusic/

https://paulstatham.bandcamp.com/

http://www.inspiracy.com/peach/

https://www.lojinx.com/artists/the-dark-flowers

https://www.facebook.com/theflowersdark/


Text and Interview by Chi Ming Lai
22nd February 2018

A Beginner’s Guide To MARTIN RUSHENT

Although he became a noted producer during the height of punk, it was with THE HUMAN LEAGUE’s ‘Dare’ that Martin Rushent’s reputation as an electronic music pioneer was forged.

Rushent had cut his teeth as an engineer for acts as varied as SHIRLEY BASSEY and T-REX, working under the wing of their respective producers Johnny Harris and Tony Visconti.

His first major production was for CURVED AIR on their ‘Air Cut’ album.

It featured Jim Russell on drums who became later became one of Rushent’s engineers and joined THE HUMAN LEAGUE for their ‘Crash’ tour.

He then secured a lucrative role working for United Artists, the company famously founded by Charlie Chaplin, Douglas Fairbanks Junior, Mary Pickford and DW Griffith, as an in-house producer with A&R responsibilities.

It was in this position that he found major success working with THE STRANGLERS and BUZZCOCKS. Meanwhile his freelance clause allowed him to also produce bands like GENERATION X, 999 and THE REZILLOS whose guitarist Jo Callis was later to join THE HUMAN LEAGUE.

It was in 1978 at the height of his punk success that Radar Records, an offshoot of Warners who had Elvis Costello and Nick Lowe on their roster, offered Rushent an opportunity to start his own label and production company. Radar had been founded by the team that had hired Rushent for United Artists and the offer included funding to build what was to become his Genetic Sound Studios complex at his home in Reading.

With his new office based above The Blitz Club and a desire to move away from guitar bands, Rushent became fascinated by the New Romantic movement and its electronic soundtrack provided by their resident DJ Rusty Egan. Egan had started a project with Midge Ure named VISAGE fronted by the now sadly departed Steve Strange. Their demos had been offered to EMI but were turned down…

“Martin Rushent turned punk into pop with THE STRANGLERS and BUZZCOCKS and was the hottest punk producer in 1977-78” Rusty Egan told ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK, “He had no idea about synths, he was a rock producer but knew ULTRAVOX, MAGAZINE and RICH KIDS were disbanded. But his musical hunch was ‘they must come up with something’”.

Sensing that something was in the air, Rushent invited VISAGE to use his studio to see what they came up with. These sessions, which also featured ULTRAVOX’s Billy Currie plus MAGAZINE’s Dave Formula, the late John McGeoch and Barry Adamson, intrigued Rushent.

“We came with our equipment and no drum kit” recalled Egan about that visit to Genetic Sound Studios which was still being built.

“I had the CR78 and the Simmons SDS3 prototype which Richard Burgess gave us; Midge had a Yamaha CS50, Billy had an RMI Electra Piano, Elka Rhapsody 610 and the ARP Odyssey while Dave brought his Yamaha CP30, ARP Odyssey and Yamaha string machine. We ran sequenced drums and layered, we had SMPTE timecode as MIDI did not come in for years, so we triggered and I hit drum pads and we created the sounds… Martin had never seen this type of recording”.

Despite the promising material coming from VISAGE, Warners pulled the plug on Radar and immediate plans for Genetic Records became stillborn. In hindsight, this move was extremely short sighted on Warners part as it was rumoured Rushent had been in discussions with JOY DIVISION, ULTRAVOX and SPANDAU BALLET.

Despite this set back, this experience helped Rushent realise that music production moving towards being more computer-driven, so he bought a Roland MC8 Micro-composer along with a Roland System 700 and Jupiter 4.

A strong advocate of clarity in instrument voicing and as a former drummer, how drum sounds were achieved, the availability of the Linn LM1 Drum Computer in 1981 was the final piece in the jigsaw and the set-up helped Rushent realise his vision. The rest as they say, is history and THE HUMAN LEAGUE scored a No1 with ‘Don’t You Want Me?’ on both sides of the Atlantic…

Rushent won the 1982 Brit Award for best producer and went on to produce THE GO-GO’S third album ‘Talk Show’ released in 1984. However, while recording the follow-up to ‘Dare’, a breakdown in his personal life, coupled to deteriorating relations with THE HUMAN LEAGUE led to Rushent leaving the sessions and walking out of his own studio!

Following his divorce, Rushent was forced to sell Genetic Sound Studios to avoid bankruptcy. Despite reducing his workload to more occasional studio recordings with ASSOCIATES, HARD CORPS, THEN JERICO and TWO PEOPLE, Rushent was suffering from depression; realising his heart was no longer in music, he effectively retired from the industry.

Taking time out to raise his family as a single parent, he eventually made a steady return to full album productions with HAZEL O’CONNOR in 2005 and THE PIPETTES in 2010. Buoyed by the huge developments in computer technology, he even presented his own DISCO UNLIMITED project with a track called ‘Itchy Hips’ inspired by his daughter Amy, as well as working with his son James’ band DOES IT OFFEND YOU, YEAH? But just as momentum was returning to his music career, Rushent sadly passed away in June 2011, aged 62.

Remembering working with Martin Rushent, Clive Pierce of HARD CORPS said: “Personally I felt overwhelmed when in the studio with him as it did feel at times that your precious baby was being bounced around in a manner you would never dream of doing yourself. His deft production work magnified what we were attempting to do ourselves and that’s exactly what great producers do”.

THE PIPETTES’ Ani Saunders who now makes music as ANI GLASS added: “One of the greatest lessons I learnt from Martin was to only spend your time working on music you believe in and not to be afraid to change / amend / cut parts or songs if they’re not good enough. Of course the production and engineering skills I gained working with him were invaluable but I also learnt about how to create the right atmosphere for and during recording, something which I think is often overlooked. When I’m writing pop songs I always ask myself ‘what would Martin do?’ – it helps to keep me in check”.

Focussing primarily on his work with synthesizers and technology, here is a look back at the post-punk career of Martin Rushent. With a limit of one track per album project and presented in chronological order, here is a Beginner’s Guide to the late, great man…


THE STRANGLERS Nice N Sleazy (1978)

Making his fortune producing the key tracks of THE STRANGLERS’ career such as ‘(Get A) Grip (On Yourself)’, ‘Peaches’ and ‘No More Heroes’, the mutant punk reggae of ‘Nice N Sleazy’ saw a diversion into synthesizers with Dave Greenfield’s spacey blast of swirling Minimoog during the instrumental break. At their Battersea Park in September 1978, the band typically courted controversy when they were accompanied by strippers for the song’s visual embellishment!

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

http://www.thestranglers.net


JOY DIVISION Ice Age (1979 – Released 1997)

Recorded in March 1979, JOY DIVISION spent a day at Eden Studios in London with Martin Rushent, recording a 5 track demo with the view to signing to his Genetic Records label. But afterwards, the band headed to Strawberry Studios in Manchester to record their debut album ’Unknown Pleasures’ with Martin Hannett for Factory Records. However, Rushent always reckoned his version of ‘Ice Age’ was better than the speedier version which ended up on the posthumous ‘Still’ collection in 1981.

Available on the JOY DIVISION boxed set ‘Heart & Soul’ via Rhino Records

http://joydivisionofficial.com


VISAGE Tar (1979)

At Genetic Sound Studios, VISAGE started recording an album. Rusty Egan recalled: “we agreed to use the studio for a weekend with Martin engineering”; the first track from those sessions was ‘Tar’, a cautionary tale about the dangers of smoking. After numerous contractual issues, it was finally released as a single on Genetic Records but within days, Warners closed down his funding source at Radar Records. But encouraged by all the synthesizer technology being used in his studio, Rushent saw the future.

Available on VISAGE album ‘Visage’ via Polydor Records

http://www.visage.cc/


PETE SHELLEY Homosapien (1981)

Released on the relaunched Genetic Records via Island Records, ‘Homosapien’ came about after sessions were aborted for BUZZCOCKS fourth album. Rushent suggested to frontman Shelley that the two of them should work on new material using the Roland MC8 Micro-composer and System 700. Now seen as Shelley’s coming out song, a cacophony of synths and 12 string guitar combined for a wonderful futuristic snarl. However, the lyric “Homo Superior in my interior” got it a BBC Radio1 ban.

Available on the PETE SHELLEY album ‘Homosapien’ via Active Distribution Ltd

http://www.buzzcocks.com/_peteshelley/peteshelley.html


THE HUMAN LEAGUE The Sound Of The Crowd (1981)

When presented with the demo of ‘The Sound Of The Crowd’, Rushent’s response was “Well, that’s going in the bin”. Phil Oakey objected but the producer snarled back: “You came to me, so I assume that’s because you want hits?”… triggering bursts of System 700 white noise from the Micro-composer for the rhythm track, the combination of obscure lyrics from Ian Burden like “Stroke a pocket with a print of a laughing sound” and a screaming chant gave THE HUMAN LEAGUE their breakthrough hit.

Available on THE HUMAN LEAGUE album ‘Greatest Hits’ via Virgin Records

http://www.thehumanleague.co.uk


ALTERED IMAGES Happy Birthday (1981)

While Steve Severin from SIOUXSIE & THE BANSHEES produced the majority of the ‘Happy Birthday’, the job of turning the title track into the Glaswegian quintet’s breakthrough hit fell to Rushent. Tight ‘n’ bright thanks to his modern production techniques and Glare Grogan’s helium fuelled cutesy vocals and nursery rhyme lyrics, ALTERED IMAGES were denied the No1 spot for 3 weeks by Dave Stewart and Barbara Gaskin’s synth cover of ‘It’s My Party’ and then later, THE POLICE.

Available on ALTERED IMAGES album ‘Happy Birthday: The Best Of’ via Music Club

https://www.facebook.com/ClareGrogansAlteredImages/


ALTERED IMAGES I Could Be Happy (1981)

Combining the precision of the latest programmed technology with live instrumentation, ‘I Could Be Happy’ was close to perfection as one of Rushent’s best productions. Despite being shrouded in melancholy, it was catchy and danceable enough to be a UK Top 10 hit. Rushent produced the parent album ‘Pinky Blue’ but it was given a lukewarm reception by the music press, ultimately causing the original line-up of ALTERED IMAGES to implode.

Available on ALTERED IMAGES boxed set ‘The Epic Years’ via Cherry Red

https://twitter.com/claregrogan2


LEISURE PROCESS Love Cascade (1982)

Featuring Ross Middleton and Gary Barnacle with production by Rushent, ‘Love Cascade’ was the missing link between PETE SHELLEY and THE HUMAN LEAGUE. The vocals were virtually unintelligible as the clattering Linn Drum, pulsing synths, squawky guitar and sax merged together for a cool dancefloor friendly tune full of the decadent spirit of the times. Rushent produced the duo’s three other singles, while Barnacle went on to become one of the world’s most in-demand session saxophonists.

12 inch version available on the album ‘Retro: Active 5’ (V/A) via Hi-Bias Records Canada

http://www.discogs.com/artist/Leisure+Process


THE LEAGUE UNLIMITED ORCHESTRA Do Or Die (1982)

“The most creative experience I’ve ever had in my life” was how Rushent described the making of ‘Love & Dancing’, an album of tracks from ‘Dare’ specially remixed and re-edited by the producer. Pre-sampling, the material was remixed from the mixing board using a multitude of effects with vocal stutters created by cutting up small portions of tape and splicing them together with the aid of his custom-made ruler. The percussive dub laden barrage of ‘Do Or Die’ was one of the highlights.

Available on THE LEAGUE UNLIMITED ORCHESTRA album ‘Love & Dancing’ via Virgin Records

http://www.muzines.co.uk/articles/human-league-in-the-studio/4246


THE HUMAN LEAGUE Fascination (1983)

Tensions were running high with creative differences during the recording sessions for THE HUMAN LEAGUE’s follow-up to ‘Dare’, with Rushent losing enthusiasm for the album project due to conflicts in the studio with Phil Oakey and in particular, Susanne Sulley. The weirdly catchy ‘Fascination’ was the last track to be recorded with Rushent, but he departed before it was mixed, despite Jo Callis’ attempts to mediate. The eventual ‘Hysteria’ album was lukewarm, audibly missing Rushent’s touch.

Extended version available on THE HUMAN LEAGUE album ‘A Very British Synthesizer Group’ via Virgin Records

https://www.facebook.com/thehumanleague/


PETE SHELLEY Telephone Operator (1983)

With Shelley and Rushent developing on ‘Homosapien’ with a more fierce sound, ‘Telephone Operator’ could be seen as an extension lyrically to the themes of its predecessor. The original parent album ‘XL-1’ had a novel bonus track in a computer program for the Sinclair ZX Spectrum which printed lyrics in time with the music and displayed graphics, there was a locking groove before the code so that its bleeps and squeaks could not be played accidentally.

Available on PETE SHELLEY album ‘XL-1’ by Active Distribution Ltd

https://www.discogs.com/artist/28754-Pete-Shelley


HAZEL O’CONNOR Don’t Touch Me (1984)

When endorsing Korg’s PSS-50 Programmable Super Section for a magazine advert, Rushent was enthusing about a record which “apart from voice” was “all written and performed on one synth” – that album was HAZEL O’CONNOR’s ‘Smile’. From it, the moody single ‘Don’t Touch Me’ was very art school Weimar Cabaret with some very passionate vocals from O’Connor, constructed around a Synclavier with its distinct period bass and brass sounds.

Available on HAZEL O’CONNOR album ‘Smile’ via Cherry Red

http://www.hazeloconnor.com


ASSOCIATES Breakfast (1985)

Rushent worked with Billy Mackenzie on five tracks for ‘Perhaps’, the much anticipated recorded return of ASSOCIATES. ‘Waiting For The Love Boat’ was one of those songs, but the recording which stood out from the sessions was the epic string laden drama of ’Breakfast’. It is possibly Mackenzie’s greatest single moment, the melancholic piano motif setting the scene for an entire film noir in five minutes with its widescreen dramatics and mournful tension.

Available on ASSOCIATES album ‘Singles’ via WEA

http://www.billymackenzie.com


HARD CORPS ‎Je Suis Passée (1985)

Clive Pierce told ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK: “HARD CORPS, having traditionally self-produced tracks at our resident studio in Brixton relished the prospect of working with Martin on ‘Je Suis Passée’ having been admirers of his work on ‘Love & Dancing’. It was difficult but never the less a total education. That’s the trouble being so close to something it’s difficult to let go. In retrospect I now listen to ’Je Suis Passée’ in awe of what he achieved for the track. The baby was fine”.

Originally released as a single by Polydor Records, version available on the album ‘Clean Tables Have To Be Burnt’ via Minimal Wave Records

https://www.facebook.com/hard-CORPS-217860235015406/


THEN JERICO The Big Sweep (1985)

Pop rockers THEN JERICO were fronted by the handsome if volatile Mark Shaw; their debut single ‘The Big Sweep’ was recorded with Rushent and some help from his new Synclavier. However, due to the track’s anti-tabloid lyrical subject matter, the band’s label London Records initially declined to release the track. So it was self-released as a 1000 limited edition, although the track eventually resurfaced in its club mix on the 12 inch of ‘Muscle Deep’ in 1987.

Available on the THEN JERICO album ‘The Best Of’ via London Records

http://www.thenjerico.com


THE HUMAN LEAGUE Heart Like A Wheel (1990)

Jo Callis told ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK: “With ‘Heart Like A Wheel’, when The League came to thinking about the follow up to ‘Crash’ (which would become ‘Romantic?’), I thought there might be a good opportunity to try and get ‘the old team’ back together again, which I did manage to achieve for a couple of tunes at least”. With Rushent at the helm again, the result was a tune that recalled the classic pop era of THE HUMAN LEAGUE more than either of the two 1986 singles ‘Human’ or ‘I Need Your Loving’ had done.

Available on THE HUMAN LEAGUE album ‘The Very Best Of’ via Virgin Records

http://jocallis.com


GRAFTON PRIMARY Relativity – Martin Rushent remix (2008)

Australian electro-noir duo GRAFTON PRIMARY balanced in the divide between art and science on their debut single ‘Relativity’. Benjamin and Joshua Garden utilised sharp synthpop hooks and solid basslines in a classic Synth Britannia vein not dissimilar to THE HUMAN LEAGUE, which naturally made the Garden brothers perfect for a remix by Martin Rushent.

Available on GRAFTON PRIMARY single ‘Relativity’ via Resolution Music ‎

https://www.facebook.com/graftonprimarymusic/


THE PIPETTES Our Love Was Saved By Spacemen (2010)

From Rushent’s final album production, ‘Our Love Was Saved By Spacemen’ was a celestial Latin flavoured pop tune by the MkII variant of THE PIPETTES, fronted by sisters Gwenno and Ani Saunders. The partnership was to prove inspirational with Gwenno’s next solo long player ‘Y Dydd Olaf’ being one of the best albums of 2014, while Ani recently tweeted a photo of project notes from recording with Rushent as she prepared to record her first solo album.

Available on THE PIPETTES album ‘Earth Vs The Pipettes’ via Fortuna Pop

https://www.facebook.com/thepipettes/


In memory of Martin Rushent 1948-2011

ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK gives its warmest thanks to Rusty Egan, Clive Pierce, Ani Saunders and Jo Callis

A Facebook tribute group to Martin Rushent run by his son Tim can be viewed at
https://www.facebook.com/groups/216490505038835/


Text by Chi Ming Lai
12th February 2018

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