Tag: Billy Mackenzie (Page 2 of 4)

A Beginner’s Guide To MARTIN RUSHENT

Photo by Simon Fowler

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 began his studio career as a projectionist where orchestras would synchronise with motion picture images, before eventually cutting his teeth as an engineer for acts as varied as Shirley Bassey and T-REX, working with their respective producers Johnny Harris and Tony Visconti.

His first major production was for CURVED AIR on their ‘Air Cut’ album. Engineered by Paul Hardiman who was later to produce THE THE and LLOYD COLE & THE COMMOTIONS, it also 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 on ‘(Get A) Grip (On Yourself)’, ‘Peaches’ and ‘No More Heroes’ as well  as BUZZCOCKS on ‘Evere Fallen In Love’ and ‘Promises’. 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. He had no idea about synths, he was a rock producer but knew ULTRAVOX, MAGAZINE and RICH KIDS were disbanded.” Rusty Egan told ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK,  “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! The eventual ‘Hysteria’ album was lukewarm, audibly missing Rushent’s touch.

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 and recently tweeted a photo of project notes from recording with Rushent as she prepared to record her first solo album 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 Battersea Park in September 1978, the band courted controversy when accompanied by strippers for the song’s visual embellishment!

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


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. The tracks included ‘Transmission’, ‘Insight’ and ‘Ice Age’, But afterwards, the band made the decision to go with Factory Records and headed to Strawberry Studios in Manchester to record their debut long player ’Unknown Pleasures’ with Martin Hannett. However, Rushent always reckoned his version of ‘Ice Age’ was better than the speedier version that ended upon the posthumous ‘Still’ double album collection in 1981.

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


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.

Available on VISAGE album ‘Visage’ via Polydor Records


PETE SHELLEY Homosapien (1981)

‘Homosapien’ came about after sessions were aborted for BUZZCOCKS fourth album. Rushent and frontman Pete Shelley worked 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


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


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 Rushent’s modern production and Glare Grogan’s helium fuelled cutesy vocals and nursery rhyme lyrics, the song was denied the No1 spot for 3 weeks by a synth cover of ‘It’s My Party’ and later on, the might of THE POLICE.

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


ALTERED IMAGES I Could Be Happy (1981)

Combining the precision of programmed technology with live instrumentation, ‘I Could Be Happy’ was 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, ultimately causing the original line-up of ALTERED IMAGES to implode.

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


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 merge together for a cool dancefloor friendly tune that’s full of the decadent spirit of the times. Barnacle went on to become one of the top session saxophonists.

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



“The most creative experience I’ve ever had in my life” was how Rushent described the tracks from ‘Dare’ specially remixed and re-edited by him. Pre-sampling, the material was remixed from the mixing board using a multitude of effects with vocal stutters created by cutting up and splicing portions of tape 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


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 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. 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


PETE SHELLEY Telephone Operator (1983)

With Shelley and Rushent developing on ‘Homosapien’ with a more fierce sound, ‘Telephone Operator’ could be seen 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 with 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


HAZEL O’CONNOR Don’t Touch Me (1984)

When endorsing Korg’s PSS-50 Programmable Super Section, 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


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 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


HARD CORPS ‎Je Suis Passée (1985)

Clive Pierce said: “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. 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


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


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.

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


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 manner not dissimilar to THE HUMAN LEAGUE, which naturally made them perfect for a remix by Martin Rushent; three of his mixes were included on the ‘Relativity – Reinvented’ collection.

Available on GRAFTON PRIMARY single ‘Relativity – Reinvented’ via Resolution Music ‎


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 recorded her first solo album.

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


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

Text by Chi Ming Lai
12th February 2018

A Beginner’s Guide To JORI HULKKONEN

Jori Hulkkonen is one of Europe’s most highly regarded electronic producers, yet remains something of a hidden secret.

While a fan of synthesized music such as PET SHOP BOYS, NEW ORDER and John Foxx, Hulkkonen’s love of Detroit techno and house music has brought a rhythmical edge to his many productions and remixes. Hulkkonen released his first album ‘Selkäsaari Tracks’ in 1996, but he first came to the world’s wider attention as ZYNTHERIUS with TIGA on their 2001 electro cover of ‘Sunglasses At Night’.

As well as solo long players such as 2010’s acclaimed ‘Man From Earth’ and collaborative projects like KEBACID, STOP MODERNISTS, PROCESSORY, SIN COS TAN and THE TANIA & JORI CONTINENTS, he has DJ-ed around the world, presented his own radio shows and remixed artists as diverse as Robyn, Kid Cudi and Joe Jackson.

Born in the small town of Kemi, he had The Cold War, the Inari missile-incident and the Tschernobyl disaster right next door, but Hulkkonen found his aesthetics for escapism from the ever-so-imminent nuclear war in electronic music.

Based in Turku on the southwest coast of Finland, Hulkkonen recently downsized the amount of hardware in his AlppIVhouz Studios, although he still retains a Korg PS3100, Emulator II, Roland Jupiter 4, Roland SH101, Roland TR808, Roland TB303, Siel Orchestra and the ubiquitous Eurorack Modular system.

Always up for the odd spot of artistic mischief, he assembled THE ACID SYMPHONY ORCHESTRA, an experimental avant-garde techno ensemble of nine fellow conspirators each controlling a Roland TB-303, conducted and mixed by Hulkkonen; the collective famously supported KRAFTWERK on their Helsinki date in 2009.

More recently, Hulkkonen has teamed up with fellow Finn Jimi Tenor for a touring presentation of their silent art movie ‘Nuntius’. Starring Mr Normall as its central alien character, it features a live improvised soundtrack ranging from blippy ambient to frantic motorik; none of the music is to be released. So with each performance being unique, ‘Nuntius’ provides a cerebral audio / visual experience for who are able to witness it.

With such a varied catalogue of work and projects, ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK looks back at the career of Jori Hulkkonen in the shape of this eighteen track Beginner’s Guide, arranged in chronological order and with a restriction of one track per album / project

TIGA & ZYNTHERIUS Sunglasses At Night (2001)

This Corey Hart cover was adopted by the Electroclash movement and came about when Hulkkonen was in Montreal promoting his ‘Helsinki Mix Sessions’ CD released on TIGA’s Turbo label. “The synthline just felt very cool to use with the 808 beat” he said, “I’m glad I used a pseudonym for that release as even though I loved a lot of the music that was around and connected with Electroclash, the whole scene felt a bit distant to me.”

Available on the TIGA & ZYNTHERIUS single ‘Sunglasses At Night’ via City Rockers / International Deejay Gigolo Records


JORI HULKKONEN featuring JOHN FOXX Dislocated (2005)

“’Metamatic’ is one of my all-time favourite albums” said Hulkkonen, “and for me it was a fantastic opportunity to get a chance to work with one of the people who had shaped my musical world. ‘Dislocated’ was written by me, with John and the sound of ‘Metamatic’ in mind”. It sounded like what the title suggested and the pair worked together again in more collaborative manner in 2008 on ‘Never Been Here Before’; it wouldn’t be for the final time either…

Available on the JORI HULKKONEN album ‘Dualizm’ via F Recordings


TIGA High School (2006)

Work had actually begun on a TIGA & ZYNTHERIUS album, but the pair both felt that keeping the project as a one hit wonder was a much cooler alternative. However, several songs from those recording sessions ended up on their various solo albums, with ‘Dying In Beauty’ appearing on Hulkkonen’s ‘Dualizm’, while ‘High School’ with its hypnotic synth sequence and latent machine groove found a home on Tiga’s debut long player ‘Sexor’.

Available on the TIGA album ‘Sexor’ via PIAS


JORI HULKKONEN featuring JUSTINE ELECTRA Errare Machinale Est (2008)

2008 could be considered Hulkkonen’s Down Under phase and for the title track of his sixth solo record, he recruited Electra, a Melbourne-based singer / songwriter / musician / DJ to add her wispy nonchalant voice to this expansive mood piece with an extended ambient intro.  The track utilised grainy Emulator II strings in an aesthetic that was to become one of his trademarks. The album also featured a tune fittingly titled ‘Forgive Me Father For I Have Synth’.

Available on the JORI HULKKONEN album ‘Errare Machinale Est’ via Solina Records


THE PRESETS This Boy’s In Love – Jori Hulkkonen Remix (2008)

Australian duo Julian Hamilton and Kim Moyes made their international breakthrough with ‘This Boy’s In Love’, an uptempo ASSOCIATES flavoured highlight from their second album ‘Apocalypso’. Hulkkonen stretched out the track out for almost ten minutes in a beat laden squelch fest and described it as: “a 10 out of 10 remix on my standards. It’s difficult to say why but somehow everything just clicked when I was making it and it still sounds fresh”.

Available on THE PRESETS single ‘This Boy’s In Love’ via Modular Recordings


CLIENT Can You Feel – Jori Hulkkonen Remix (2009)

Co-written with one-time KILLING JOKE bassist Martin Glover aka Youth, Hulkkonen’s remix adopted a deep framework and applied a pulsing club friendly vibe to the dark cool of Client A and Client B’s Cold War Chic, while “dancing on a ticking bomb”. Growing up in Finland during that era with The Bear next door looming would have had a profound effect on Hulkkonen in shaping his soundscapes.

Available on the CLIENT album ‘Command’ via Out Of Line


TIGA Sex O’Clock (2009)

Like its predecessor, TIGA’s ‘Ciao’ was mostly co-produced by Belgian brothers SOULWAX, although James Murphy of LCD SOUNDSYSTEM gave a helping hand on another track originally intended for TIGA & ZYNTHERIUS. Hedonistic and sweaty like a clubby Marc Almond, Tiga however could never quite escape the DJ tag to establish himself a fully-fledged artist in his own right. Indeed, he once congratulated LADYTRON “for escaping Electroclash”.

Available on the TIGA album ‘Ciao!’ via PIAS


JOHN FOXX & LOUIS GORDON Neuro Video – Jori Hulkkonen Remix (2010)

‘Neuro Video’ came out of Foxx and Gordon’s ‘From Trash’ recording sessions and reflected Foxx’s known love of old science-fiction B-Movies which had influenced much of earlier solo work. For his remix, Hulkkonen stripped the track down and made it less percussively frantic, procuring a spacious groove for the bubbling electronics to work within. This remix and another of ‘Impossible’ were originally made available as a free download via Foxx’s Metamatic web platform.

Available on the JOHN FOXX & LOUIS GORDON album ‘Sideways’ via Metamatic Records


VILLA NAH Ways To Be (2010)

Hailing from East Helsinki, Juho Paalosmaa and Tomi Hyyppä’s superb debut album ‘Origin’ was co-produced by Hulkkonen. He said at the time: “The guys had written a lot of songs in the previous couple of years, so someone outside their songwriting duo having a fresh pair of ears was crucial in picking a group of songs that would make a good album… They have a lot going on for them though; great songwriting, a very good debut album to build on and definitely not least, Juho’s magical voice”.

Available on the VILLA NAH album ‘Origin’ via Keys Of Life


PROCESSORY Take Me To Your Leader (2011)

“We were both going through on a very deep phase with THE SMITHS” said Hulkkonen of ‘Lo-Fiction’, his first collaboration with reclusive vocalist Jerry Valuri in 2005. With their ambitious joint project PROCESSORY, the aim was “to create its own little universe” with various space travel themed concepts. With a lo-fi anguished gothique, ‘Take Me To Your Leader’ concocted some very introspective moods at The Finland Station… however, nothing has been proved.

Available on the PROCESSORY album ‘Change Is Gradual’ via Sugarcane Recordings


STOP MODERNISTS feat CHRIS LOWE Subculture (2011)

A cover of the lost NEW ORDER single from 1985, Hulkkonen remembered: “The idea was to take what me and STOP MODERNISTS partner Alex Nieminen felt was an underrated song, make a late 80s deep house interpretation and bring some extra twist with having Chris on the vocals. It’s very hard – impossible, actually – to explain how important this record is to me. PET SHOP BOYS have been the most important musical influence for me”.

Available on the STOP MODERNISTS single ‘Subculture’ via Keys Of Life


SIN COS TAN Trust (2012)

When VILLA NAH went on hiatus, Hulkkonen and Paalosmaa formed SIN COS TAN. Explaining the difference, Paalosmaa said: ”With VILLA NAH, I’ve been solely responsible for the songwriting, so I knew that would be different with SIN COS TAN. With Jori, we both bring our ideas to the table”. Very nocturnal in tone, ‘Trust’ was a superb 21st Century answer to ‘Enjoy The Silence’, described by Hulkkonen as “Disco You Can Cry To”. Indeed, like that iconic tune, ‘Trust’ had been written as a ballad.

Available on the SIN COS TAN album ‘Sin Cos Tan’ via Solina Records


BILLY MACKENZIE Boltimoore – Original JiiHoo Bootmix (2012)

The magnificent voice of Billy Mackenzie from his stark cover of Randy Newman’s ‘Baltimore’ was flown into a hypnotic tech house bootleg constructed by Hulkkonen. With deliberate incorrect spelling of our hero’s name to mask its illegal nature, it was a haunting ghostly return from the heavens to the dancefloor. Mackenzie would have loved it and had he been alive today, he would have almost certainly been working with Hulkkonen; what magic that would have been…

Available on the 12” vinyl release ‘Boltimoore’ via Kojak Giant Sounds


JOHN FOXX & JORI HULKKONEN Evangeline (2013)

Despite their collaborations, Foxx and Hulkkonen had never worked together on a body of work with a conceptual theme, but the opportunity came with the ‘European Splendour’ EP. Using the grainier downtempo template of PROCESSORY, ‘Evangeline’ was full of depth. Coupled with an anthemic chorus and vibrant exchange of character throughout, this rousing yet soothingly futuristic number was quite otherworldly.

Available on the JOHN FOXX & JORI HULKKONEN EP ‘European Splendour’ via Sugarcane Recordings


SIN COS TAN featuring CASEY SPOONER Avant Garde (2013)

Hulkkonen first found fame during the Electroclash era and a noted personality from that scene made an appearance on the second SIN COS TAN album ‘Afterlife’. ‘Avant Garde’ featured Casey Spooner who provided a suitably cynical snarl to contrast Paalosmaa’s lost boy cry on a track that sounded like THE CURE being produced by PET SHOP BOYS. Paalosmaa was particularly thrilled, saying “I’ve been a big FISCHERSPOONER fan since their debut in 2001, so it was a very cool honour”.

Available on the SIN COS TAN album ‘Afterlife’ via Solina Records


JORI HULKKONEN Italian Love Affair (2015)

A brilliant slice of uptempo electronic pop with more than just a hint of Giorgio Moroder and NEW ORDER, ‘Italian Love Affair’ was Italo Disco laced with a soaring vocal and a fabulous neon lit groove. Despite having shied away from singing throughout the majority of his career, Hulkkonen took on vocals himself on this highlight from his ninth solo album, with the end result sounding not unlike a cross between Jerry Valuri and Juho Paalosmaa.

Available on the JORI HULKKONEN album ‘Oh But I Am’ via My Favorite Robot Records


FEELS If You’d Meet Me Tonight – Jori Hulkkonen Remix (2016)

FEELS are a Helsinki based indietronica band comprising of Sofi Meronen, Mikael Myrskog and Jooel Jons; when Hulkkonen saw them band play live in Turku, he became a fan and asked if he could work on their material. Speeded up considerably and pracatically changing the entire character of the song, his remix of ‘If You’d Meet Me Tonight’ was highly danceable, but still retained the trio’s glorious Nordic melancholy for some more of that “Disco You Can Cry To”.

Available as a free download via https://soundcloud.com/feelsfeels/if-youd-meet-me-tonight-jori-hulkkonen-remix


VILLA NAH Stranger (2016)

VILLA NAH unexpectedly returned after six years and Hulkkonen was there to assist again as co-producer. Of the magnificent track with which they returned, Paalosmaa said: “‘Stranger’ is a play on words; how somebody you’ve known can turn stranger over the span of time… and end up as a complete stranger in the process”. This was classic crystalline synthpop with a modern twist at its best, in a fine juxtaposition of swirling arpeggios and melodic tension.

Available on the VILLA NAH album ‘Ultima’ via Solina Records


JORI HULKKONEN Tintån Terdel (2017)

Hulkkonen has released several EPs and singles over the last couple of years in the build-up to a new long player, while a new single ‘Don’t Believe In Happiness’ is set to be unleashed. A cinematic synth wave instrumental with a dripping percussive template, ‘Tintån Terdel’ signals a possible future in film work. It’s an avenue already being explored by himself and Jimi Tenor in a live context via the unique presentations of their silent Sci-Fi movie ‘Nuntius’.

Available on the JORI HULKKONEN EP ‘I Am The Night’ / ‘Tintån Terdel’ via My Favorite Robot Records


Text by Chi Ming Lai with thanks to Tapio Normall
26th August 2017

PAUL HAIG Interview

Photo by Sheila Rock

While Paul Haig has a cult following within the post-punk cognoscenti, he has often been overlooked in wider music circles.

But between 1982 to 1985, he produced some of the best electronic pop singles of the period. Haig had been the lead singer of JOSEF K, a guitar band with a frenetic pace who were to influence acts such as THE WEDDING PRESENT and FRANZ FERDINAND.

PROPAGANDA covered JOSEF K’s best known song ‘Sorry For Laughing’ for their acclaimed album ‘A Secret Wish’.

Inspired by acts such as NEW ORDER and HEAVEN 17, he headed towards a danceable electronic template and worked with a variety of key figures such as Bernard Sumner, Alan Rankine, Billy MacKenzie, Alex Sadkin and Bernie Worrell.

But in the interim period, free from the shackles of a conventional band format, Haig produced material that ranged from jazz to indie pop to experimental electronica. These early tracks have been gathered on ‘Metamorphosis’, an archive 2CD collection released by Les Disques du Crépuscule.

‘Metamorphosis’ bridges the gap from when Haig left JOSEF K to signing to Island Records as a solo artist and releasing his debut album ‘Rhythm Of Life’. Paul Haig chatted about his varied career.

bernard-sumnner-paul-haig-by-sunny-lee‘Metamorphosis’ documents an interesting period in your early solo career covering a range of styles, how do you look back on it?

It’s a very long time ago! I’ve always had eclectic tastes in music so I think it was a time when I could experiment freely without the constraints of being in a band for the first time. It was exciting to try out new ideas.

How were the tracks selected for this release, or was it quite obvious which ones were going to be included?

It was James Nice at Crepuscule who selected most of the tracks, then sent me a list. We more or less agreed on most of the tracks he chose.

You made a statement of intent after JOSEF K by using a drum machine on your first solo recordings ’Chance’, ‘Running Away’ and ‘Time’?

I had been interested in beats and drum machines for a while and even used to record simple rhythms of the keyboards in the music shop where I worked for a year. I’d take the cassette tape home and play stuff along with the rhythms onto another cassette recorder. I progressed onto a DR Rhythm type box after that but when the Roland TR-808 machine came out, I had to get one. It was perfect for the way I was working at the time and enabled me for the first time to program more or less exactly the beats I needed.

What had motivated you to take on a more electronic template? Were there any particular bands that influenced you?

For some reason I was attracted to electronic sound and noise. Possibly seeing KRAFTWERK at a very early and impressionable age on the ‘Tomorrow’s World’ TV show influenced me somewhat. I liked ‘Warm Leatherette’ by THE NORMAL and listened to THROBBING GRISTLE ‘20 Jazz funk Greats’.

The ‘Swing In 82’ material doesn’t seem so unusual now when you consider that your romantic post-punk peers like Martin Fry, Billy MacKenzie, Glenn Gregory and even Ian Curtis all had an interest in the stylings of Sinatra?

I guess not. For me it was an easy choice at the time as I had listened to Sinatra when I was growing up. What influenced me just as much however, was a double album called ‘Starring Fred Astaire’ which had some great songs on it, he was a good singer as well as an excellent dancer.

TWI1096CD_12pp_booklet‘Metamorphosis’ also features your first forays into instrumental experiments and soundtracks, something that you’ve continued in your ‘Cinematique’ series of recordings. What do you get out of this type material that you can’t get with writing pop songs?

I don’t have to sing! Also, I like the freedom of creating instrumentals and not having to adhere to the same old structures of a normal song etc.

I get a lot out of using sounds and textures that create atmospheres that can end up going to different places as you work on them.

Which are your favourites tracks on ‘Metamorphosis’ and are there any particular reasons?

I don’t listen to it much, maybe ‘Time’ as it seemed like a new departure for me and I had a new synthesizer on the go. It was a bit like indie synth ABBA.

Some of this material was lost when you signed the licensing agreement with Island Records in 1982. In hindsight, did you anticipate how much control they were likely to impose?

Probably not, but I was prepared to play the game a bit at the time, that is until I didn’t. Mostly it was OK apart from the odd children’s TV show.

You were criticised for having Alex Sadkin to produce your first solo album ‘Rhythm Of Life’, but he was actually considered to be a credible producer at the time you worked with him…

I chose him because I really liked his mix of ‘Pull Up To The Bumper’ by Grace Jones. When we were recording in New York, I quickly realised it might have been better to go down an indie type road and work more with Anton Fier from THE FELLIES and people like that. We also met Arthur Baker and could have worked with him, but it just wasn’t doable.

Paul Haig RoLIt was my own fault really as I wanted to go for the pop thing when I signed the deal. I think Alex was a bit preoccupied anyway, with producing DURAN DURAN and THOMPSON TWINS and I understood that.

Having the late Bernie Worrell play on your album was quite cool?

That was cool! He used to come into the studio with a small bottle of Jack Daniels in a brown paper bag. It seems mad now, but I used to sit with him in the recording room and he’d say “is this how you want it?” and I’d say “great, can you add this note…”

How do you feel about the ‘Rhythm Of Life’ today?

It’s a thing. It will always be a thing.

Bernard Sumner was involved in the production of ‘The Only Truth’, a track which many consider to be your best single, especially in its full length 12 inch mix? How did that track develop in the studio?

I had everything arranged before going in. I remember being left alone with the engineer to record the whole thing basically; the drum programming, the keyboards and guitars. It was after that, that Bernard and Donald Johnson started adding more to it like extra guitar, bass and percussion. We spent a long time on the sound of the percussion which I still notice if I hear it today.

During your career, you’ve worked with both Alan Rankine and Billy MacKenzie of ASSOCIATES separately. What were each of them like to collaborate with?

Billy was always very inspiring to work with, we used to risk our sanity in the process but it was always exciting. As he didn’t really play an instrument, his ideas would usually be sung at you.

Once we were in a studio that didn’t have any drum machine, so we burst a water filled balloon while sampling it and then made it into a bass drum.

When I worked with Alan, it was just as mad but we managed to get the job done somehow. I once sketched him cooking bacon in a London studio and in the sketch the bacon was saying, “please don’t hurt us Alan, please”.

‘Something Good’ was a minor German hit in 1989, what was it like to have some kind of commercial recognition after years of trying?

Don’t know actually as I’ve only heard rumours about that happening in France. I remember going to Germany briefly in 1985 to promote ‘Heaven Help You Now’.

You went on to work with Lil’ Louis and Kurtis Mantronik, what appealed to you about the club oriented music of that period?

I’d been aware of Mantronik/Mantronix for a while and really liked the production and beats. I don’t remember how Lil’ Louis came about really. I do recall they were in kind of competition with each other, always asking how I’d got on with the other one.

You’ve been quite bold in the choices of songs that you’ve covered like JOY DIVISION’s ‘Atmosphere’ and THE WALKER BROTHERS’ ‘The Electrician’?

Yes, it’s a bit cheeky really considering their voices. Don’t know what I was thinking 😉

Has the shake-up in the music industry over the last ten years worked in your favour?

I like the way you can put something out when you want to. If you don’t have a label, you can do it far more easily now. I also love the music making technology for production. With regard to the music industry, I feel removed from it. “Music” and “Industry”… there’s two words that don’t sound good together.

paul-haig-kubeWhat’s next for you as far as musical projects are concerned? Are you working on a follow-up to ‘Kube’ yet?

I have been working on a new album for some time now. There are so many choices and amazing ways you can produce music now that sometimes it makes the whole process slower. I seem to have a different way of working now which is more time consuming, but well worth it in terms of sounds and production quality. So, the new album is a further attempt at finding the right balance between the synthetic / electronic and the organic / natural.

ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK gives its warmest thanks to Paul Haig

Special thanks to James Nice at Les Disques du Crépuscule

‘Metamorphosis’ is released as a 2CD set by Les Disques du Crépuscule




Text and Interview by Chi Ming Lai
14th September 2016

The Associate: An Interview with MICHAEL DEMPSEY

The Associates London 1980

Photo by David Corio / Redferns

A former member of THE CURE, bassist Michael Dempsey first became aware of ASSOCIATES when the two bands were label mates at Chris Parry’s Fiction label.

Comprising of the kaleidoscopic vocal presence of Billy MacKenzie and the driven musicality of Alan Rankine, Dempsey soon joined ASSOCIATES as a silent partner and along with drummer John Murphy.

Both played on the three albums which defined their reputation; ‘The Affectionate Punch’, ‘Fourth Drawer Down’ and ‘Sulk’. Now reissued as 2CD deluxe editions via BMG alongside ‘The Very Best of ASSOCIATES’ compendium for the more cautious listener, these collections have been supervised and produced by Dempsey. Each package includes previously unreleased tracks and 28 page booklets featuring unseen photos, rare memorabilia and extensive sleeve notes to do justice to the ASSOCIATES legacy.

Michael Dempsey kindly chatted about this new ASSOCIATES reissue campaign and the challenges of the remastering / repackaging process in the 21st century.

What did you think bonded you with Billy and Alan musically?

I often wonder that too because they came from a very different part of the country. People describe your music as belonging to the time when it came out ie the 80s in the case of ASSOCIATES. But I think their music was very much 60s and 70s, much more so than a lot of people who were out there. I think that’s where my impressions came from.

You piece it together over time and when I listen back to a lot of ASSOCIATES stuff, it’s that really exciting 60s music that seeped into their subconscious, in the same way it did for me. When I first met them, I was amazed. I’d never come across anyone that put together music in the way that they did. It wasn’t wildly experimental or anything like that, but it was packed with these reference points that I could relate to.

Michael Demspey in The Cure

Photo by Richard Mann

It was enough to make you jump ship from THE CURE. What was your creative dynamic with them like, compared with Robert Smith and Lol Tolhurst?

Billy and Alan were so different and Billy’s personality was so beguiling, the music just drew you in. With THE CURE, we were touring intensely, there wasn’t that same sort of activity going on in ASSOCIATES. THE CURE got their debut album out before ASSOCIATES, so we were slightly rivals on the label I guess.

They were constantly vying for attention from Fiction. THE CURE were a lot easier to get going, we had a band and could tour while Alan and Bill were a duo who didn’t have a band. It would have been easier 10 or 20 years later to understand how to put an act like that out. But at the time, it wasn’t very clear how Fiction would deal with these guys. So ASSOCIATES were always kept hanging on and they were always hanging around the studio. They were really good company so it wasn’t difficult for me.

You are quoted as saying the recording of ‘Sulk’ had the band inventing ways of recording with click tracks and overdubs to make the sound as lush as possible. What were the most unusual things you witnessed or were asked to do?

The notion of us being wildly experimental came from them changing their sound quite often. When they were a duo, they wanted to be a band.

When they were a band, they wanted to be electronic. And then came ‘Sulk’, which is hard to categorise. They didn’t do it in the same way as everybody else.

I found on reflection that they were using a lot of old school recording techniques. Half speed was a typical ASSOCIATES thing. To get it tight like a machine, you recorded at half speed, played it back at normal speed and it would sound a bit weird. That was something the kind of engineers and producers we worked with would have been well used to, because it was a typical 70s recording technique.

The experimenting started with their songwriting, the way they put things together was quite traditional in that it was voice and guitar. Also, they weren’t modish, they didn’t want to sound whatever it was in at that moment, they almost perversely wanted to sound unlike that. Bill would often describe the sound he wanted in oblique ways like “make the bassline green”… you’d play it and he’d go “NO! That’s blue! You’ve got to play it more green!” Some of it was just for fun, why not? *laughs*

Let’s just do it wrong! It was a perverse streak, a bit like what we had in THE CURE too. There’s somebody telling you how to do something… when you’re 19-20 years old, you try and do it in exactly the opposite way! Once they got hold of the controls, they would try and subvert the sound to make their music unusual. It often worked, sometimes it didn’t but more often, it worked. We didn’t just keep it bass / drums / guitar, we would bring in any instruments that were knocking around. So if you could lay your hands on Rick Wakeman’s vibraphone before it was picked up, you would!

How did producer Mike Hedges help in the creative process?

Mike’s biggest contribution was indulgence. So he was happy to try anything. Lots of producers will say “C’mon guys, this is really a waste of time!” whereas Mike was quite prepared to try stuff.

When you have that sort of attitude and you don’t have anyone saying “No, look at the time, we really must crack on”, it’s great. He was experimenting as much as we were. So he wasn’t a defacto producer who was calling the shots or overriding flights of fancy, he was open to ideas. THE CURE found him sympathetic too.

What was your approach with regards these reissues, compared with the V2 series in 2000?

I wanted it to be out there and we had various suitors. ASSOCIATES were very clever… unlike everybody else at the time, they actually licenced their material. So that gave us the opportunity every 5-10 years to re-licence it. You normally signed a contract into perpetuity. They were shrewd, but perhaps more by accident than design. With BMG, my expectations weren’t all that high, not because I had my pre-conceptions about them, but just because in the past, people would make a cursory attempt to put it out, but they didn’t try really hard.

But BMG were completely different from day one. They became almost more obsessive than I did. We had in Ian Gilchrist, a very good label manager, he wanted to go that extra mile, every mile. That meant we dug very deep. It was them that suggested putting ‘Sulk’ out on vinyl, I wasn’t expecting that. Then he suggested making everything a double and getting some really good pictures. That’s the one thing about ASSOCIATES, they were pretty chaotic in their existence. The idea that any of us would carry a camera would be unthinkable so pictures are very hard to come by, as are any moving images.

BMG were thorough and it’s taken about a year to bring them out. People generally bark loudly about their product but I’m happy to bark loudly, with an element of surprise, because I didn’t think it would come out as well as it has.

What can you do now that you couldn’t do then?

First of all, you can sample at 92 KHz 48bit, that’s a very respectable sound. Even to my older ears, it makes a difference. It’s like wearing a particularly fine pair of glasses, you can hear more detail at the higher sample rate.

The idea of vinyl, ASSOCIATES’ previous attempts were always disastrous because we were experimental. Things wouldn’t be simple and often dense, so it would be hard to cut, moving forwards and backwards to the master for weeks and weeks.

There would be after thoughts of speeding things up or slowing them down as we did the cut. It was very hard at the time to get us sounding good, but we were never pleased how it sounded. It was cut quietly to err on the side of caution.

When the digital age came along, it was much more of a flexible process. Back then, you had two controls, which were treble and bass! That wasn’t going to be sufficient for ASSOCIATES! *laughs*

We used to watch all these people fiddle around, but now we’re more informed. What’s great for us is that you can make things sound appropriate to whatever medium somebody wants to listen to the music in. So it’s great having everything.

I don’t know many people who actually listen to vinyl, I’ve listened to it and thought “this is interesting”. But I also quite like listening to something that hasn’t got any surface noise on it too.

Taking all that into account, why does ‘18 Carat Love Affair’ appear to be a different mix to the original 1982 vinyl single version?

It’s interesting; what you have to understand is ASSOCIATES never made a fetish of looking after their master tapes. So when you finished recording something, that was it. You didn’t need the tape, so it stayed in the studio it was recorded in.

Maybe they got moved years later and put in a cellar which got damp when it rained! So for example, there isn’t any pure tape that says “Definitive ‘Sulk’ Master”

Also, typically, we’d go into the mastering room and someone would say “It’s a little bit like it’s dragging, shall we speed it up a bit?” – so you’re speeding up the master tape to make your vinyl… but who’s making a note of what percentage it was sped up at? It’s really hard, but we don’t have the definitive production masters of each record, so you have to piece it together.

Your record player may be running a bit slow or fast. By ’18 Carat Love Affair’, I think we’d moved over to another producer Mark Arthurworrey to finish things off, because Mike Hedges was working with SIOUXSIE & THE BANSHEES. Listening back, he didn’t actually remix, he more EQ-ed so that might be why you hear more or less of something. Again, that may have been tweaked in the final process to cut the vinyl.

All I can offer is my best approximation and I’ve decided I quite like it like that. As an exercise, it still keeps it alive.

Did you have to make any concessions to suit the download / streaming format that some favour today?

Not really, you make available your best possible master and then you hand it over to whoever. I was learning that Apple are quite fussy and use various studios to get their finished product, whereas Amazon are less fussy. Where do you stop? If I was supremely conscientious and fully employed in this, I could take it all the way but there’s a point you have to hand it over, so I surrender at a certain point.


Photo by David Corio / Redferns

How do you look back on the band imploding in the wake of the success of ‘Sulk’? Was there anything in hindsight that could have been done to keep Billy and Alan working together?

We would have had to have waited until we were 52, had wisdom and more understanding. It was stupid, the 80s were excessive and the focus was on style rather than content, ASSOCIATES kind of had both.

It was considered that ‘Sulk’ was a big sounding record and needed lots of people to recreate it live… it’s quite easy to see now that it was the completely wrong thing to do. Because Billy was an instinctive guy, he knew when something was wrong and would often judge people just from their clothes… that can be frustrating, because some people don’t dress particularly well. BUT, he kind of had a point as well, because you are the pair of shoes you wear very often. So he would size people up amazingly accurately. *laughs*

As the thing ballooned, he felt he was losing control of the situation and the only thing he could do was to say “No, I don’t want to do this!” – he’s the one person that you can’t do without, along with Alan as well. What should we have done? I say they should have gone out as a duo with a drum machine; Billy would have loved that because he loved SUICIDE.

The name ASSOCIATES, he was always keen to tell me time and time again, was that he liked to be associated with people, he didn’t want to carry a John, Paul, George and Ringo around with him. It would have been much better if he and Alan had simply stripped it right back… the idea of stripping things down didn’t come to be mainstream until very much later.

I think Alan on guitar, with a vibraphone player and Billy singing would have been a nice sound. These songs are really good, they don’t depend entirely on production technique which a lot of stuff did at that time. When I first heard their entire repertoire of about 50 songs, they sat down in their bedroom and played the lot, and it was just voice and guitar. So that could have translated very simply to live and I think that would have saved them.

But back then, people didn’t have that sort of grasp or flexibility, it was a lot harder to do things. Things are a lot simpler now. Music is a bit more respectable and there are better people working in it too. If we were in that situation today, I’d know exactly what to do and there would be the possibility of everyone responding to that.

What are your personal favourites from these releases?

I’ve always loved ‘Skipping’ because I helped write it, but it also captures that exuberance and I know Billy liked that a lot as well, he felt that was a really strong track on ‘Sulk’. I also think ‘No’ is a very powerful, dark song which always works for me too.

People will no doubt criticise the extras as being just that and perhaps being a little superfluous, but they illustrate how you get to the hits. They’re stepping stones along the way; they’re not perfect but I find them very intriguing.

Perhaps one of my favourites is the track that I close ‘Sulk’ CD2 with, which is ‘Grecian 2000’. That was the last piece of music that we recorded before the ill-fated tour started up… that was the way it was going. When you listen to that, it’s really tantalising. Billy did start on a vocal, I remember him singing it but it wasn’t recorded. They were moving onto the next phase, yet this great steamroller got in the way… they should have gone back to the studio and just wrote another 10 of these and had another album.

Is there much left in the ASSOCIATES vaults that aren’t on these reissues?

Back in 2000 when I last did it, I thought “that’s it, nothing else is going to come up”… but because the ASSOCIATES vault never seems definitive, this time, much more stuff did surface. The longest, most intense period is trying to trawl through who might possibly have something. The multi-tracks of ‘Club Country’ and ‘Party Fears Two’ were lost a long time ago and miraculously, I don’t know where it came from, we finally found ‘Club Country’. We still don’t have ‘Party Fears Two’, so somebody has got that somewhere or it’s at the bottom of the River Tay. So next time somebody asks me to do this, who knows?

I knew they existed but we only just got the masters for the John Leckie produced tracks; one is ‘Australia’ and the other is an early version of ‘Arrogance Gave Him Up’ called ‘Me, Myself & The Tragic Story’. ‘Australia’ is interesting because it’s a completely different production so had we gone down the John Leckie road, ‘Sulk’ would have sounded very different.

What’s your take on the continual interest in ASSOCIATES?

It doesn’t surprise me. I find it hard, then and now, to describe what they sound like. They were outsiders, and that’s sort of where I came from with THE CURE, we were on the edges of lots of things, but never sounded like anybody.

While other bands managed to get a contemporary sound and prosper, I don’t think ASSOCIATES ever got a contemporary sound, and so didn’t prosper! But long term, that makes it more fascinating for a lot of people. It’s that ultraplicity of references that you hear in the music which draws disparate people in, but it’s not a particular sound. That’s why I think people still find them very intriguing.

You’ve got a great singer, me and Alan were talking about this today and about who around at the time would really have stood up against Billy… some kept it simple and pulled it off, but Billy didn’t keep it simple. He often tried too hard, but he worked it beyond the call of duty sometimes, particularly live.

He could do things no-one else could do with his voice; everybody recognised that at the time and people still recognise that now.It was the combination of him and Alan; as Billy was a brilliant singer, Alan was a brilliant musician who could play anything, and did play anything. Between the two of them, they were great songwriters too, they really loved music. When you’ve got that collision of positives, then you’re going to come up with something different and outstanding.

ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK gives its warmest thanks to Michael Dempsey

Additional thanks to Stuart Kirkham at Hall Or Nothing Independent Publicity

‘The Affectionate Punch’, ‘Fourth Drawer Down’, ‘Sulk’ and ‘The Very Best of ASSOCIATES’ are available now as 2CD packages via BMG


Text and Interview by Chi Ming Lai
21st May 2016


Photo by Paul Cox

Like their contemporaries JAPAN, Scotland’s ASSOCIATES are a band that burned briefly but brightly.

Fronted by the mercurial Billy MacKenzie and driven musically by multi-instrumentalist Alan Rankine, the group’s entire back catalogue has been remastered, accompanied by a new compilation. The MacKenzie / Rankine era albums ’The Affectionate Punch’, ‘Fourth Drawer Down’ and ‘Sulk’ have been supervised by silent partner and bassist Michael Dempsey. These 2CD deluxe editions include previously unreleased tracks and 28 page booklets featuring unseen photos, rare memorabilia and extensive sleeve notes to do justice to the ASSOCIATES legacy.

The young Alan Rankine grew up in Linlithgow, a town that was stuck between Glasgow and Edinburgh in more than just the geographical sense. The way he and MacKenzie came together seemed almost predestined, with the pair forming a live covers band to keep themselves afloat as a sustainable entity, while demoing their own material.

Courted by a number of labels, they decided to take control of the situation and independently released a cover of ‘Boys Keep Swinging’ only weeks after the Bowie original came out. As if by magic, Fiction Records offered a deal and their first album ‘The Affectionate Punch’ came out in 1980.

However, they were unhappy with their time on a conventional label and opted thereafter to licence their material, first with Situation 2 for their second album ‘Fourth Drawer Down’ and WEA for their commercial breakthrough ‘Sulk’. During their run of three chart hits in 1982, it would be fair to say ASSOCIATES gave SIMPLE MINDS a run for their money in the art rock stakes.

But stardom was not really something that suited ASSOCIATES, particularly MacKenzie. Sadly after the cancellation of a world tour, the pair parted ways, leaving SIMPLE MINDS to head for the stadiums while A-HA took up the mantle left vacant for melancholic cinematic multi-octave synthpop.

With the upcoming reissues soon to be released, Alan Rankine kindly spoke about his time with ASSOCIATES and the legend of Billy MacKenzie.

You and Billy played in a covers band which seems miles away from the usual route to the way bands at the time. Is the cover ‘Eloise’ on the ‘Very Best of ASSOCIATES’ indicative of the material were you playing?

Bill and I had a real affection for these kinda big sounding singles from the ‘67-‘68, we’re talking about things like ‘Rainbow Valley’ by LOVE AFFAIR, horns and strings and stuff. So we ended up doing a punk version of ‘Eloise’ by Barry & Paul Ryan, it was at breakneck speed!

As his catalogue has shown, Billy was very comfortable with doing covers?

We were both very keen on doing the occasional cover version. When we were in the studio or even at soundchecks, we would start playing ‘Brown Sugar’ or ‘Let’s Spend The Night Together’ by THE ROLLING STONES, or a Bowie or Roxy song. And then we would go onto ‘The Look Of Love’ by Dusty Springfield.

You and Billy bonded over a shared love of ROXY MUSIC, SPARKS and Bowie. Was it a gradual process coming up with that Venn diagram which became your sound?

I know exactly what you mean… it’s a Venn diagram with a few circles crossing over, but central to a lot of it was Bowie, a bit of Roxy, a bit art of art rock a la THE TUBES maybe and a bit of zaniness like THE REZILLOS. There was always an element of cheekiness in there. Anyone that was into music at that time just could not help be influenced by Bowie, but I think we had a more cinematic approach.

We loved our film themes, how they could hug your emotions and pull you this way and that way, just with a change of a chord here and the introduction of a different instrument there.

The cover of ‘Boys Keep Swinging’ forced Fiction’s hand and led to the recording of ’The Affectionate Punch’. You seemed to almost immediately find your own sound.

We did the recording of ’The Affectionate Punch’ very quickly in about three and a half weeks including mixing and mastering. Then we went into rehearsals and only played three songs from the ten track album which didn’t please the record company very much. But we just said “F*** YOU”, we just played what we felt was good. ’The Affectionate Punch’ has a lot of keyboards on it and we wanted to go out as just guitar / bass / drums / vocals. We played ‘Gloomy Sunday’ as well, which didn’t surface on record until 1982, so it was a bit of a mish-mash.

How did you get back into using synths again?

When you’re out there playing live to 600-700 people, it’s really fun to have a post-punk aesthetic but when you start recording again, it’s a luxury and you’ve got to have this sound. So we had five keyboards all lined-up ready to go, five different guitars and five different amps. We would work at breakneck speed, not because there was a time pressure, but because we had so many ideas coming into our heads at the same time. We wanted sumptuousness and for it to be dripping with silk and satin, we didn’t want cotton! *laughs*

Which keyboards where you using?

Digital-wise, we used the Synclavier. These geeky guys used deliver this thing which we hired by the day and it had floppy discs. It was fairly primitive, but it worked. Apart from that, we used Oberheims, Solinas, Yamaha CS80s, that sort of thing… there was another one starting with a ‘P’ but I can’t remember what it was! *laughs*

We liked to try and do different things; very seldom did we just use a preset sound and not put an effect on it in some way. Sometimes, we would just play a sound and hold down the notes of a chord and changed positions as the chord progression changed, and the sound would open up as the snare drum would hit. So it was like a Wah-Wah effect which was in time with the snare. The snare drum triggered off the sound, so it would open up and immediately shut.

‘White Car In Germany’ was an obvious nod to KRAFTWERK and LA DÜSSELDORF, but I seem to remember Billy saying he was really into THE HUMAN LEAGUE?

Yes, I can remember when we were in Ashley Newton of RSO Records’ BMW and he was playing THE HUMAN LEAGUE when he drove us to the studio. We thought it was great; I wouldn’t call Phil Oakey a vocalist, I would call him a vocaliser and there was brilliant songwriting from Jo Callis who was in THE REZILLOS. He wrote ‘Don’t You Want Me?’ so yeah, it was just the sheer pop of it. To us, it was really no difference between that and ‘Dancing Queen’ by ABBA, that’s bloody genius!

You and Billy popped down to The Blitz Club occasionally and you documented your experiences on ‘Club Country’…

We were definitely there fairly early on when it was in Great Queen Street. Yes, it was a bit exotic and yes, it was a bit pretentious but it was a young animal finding its feet; sometimes it did feel a little bit elitist and I think that was the nature of the beast, it was what it was. I don’t think we really fitted in; I think SPANDAU BALLET fitted in there but I think we fell between two points. We were not New Romantics, we were not post-punk… were we new wave? I don’t know! The closest I can think of, if there was a category called Barking Mad, that’s where we would lie! *laughs*

What was the approach to recording Billy? Do you remember any particular quirks you can remember?

Recording Bill was such a luxury. After I went on to produce other people, I thought everyone was like that, I thought they all got it in one or two takes! God, how wrong I was! I found myself thinking “this is sh*t” and they’re on like their 40th take in the studio and it’s still not right! So you’re having to make up composites of five different takes! On ‘White Car In Germany’ and ‘Kitchen Person’, Bill did sing through greaseproof paper and a comb. And into the bargain, on ‘Kitchen Person’ he was singing down the hose of a vacuum cleaner before it got to the mic.

‘Party Fears Two’ hit the top 10 in early 1982. The instrumental version included on CD2 of ‘Sulk’ brought a tear to my eye for a number of reasons. It revealed a lot of layers and each instrument has its own voice, but ultimately, Billy is missing…

You’re exactly right there; it’s like a great big hole. Yes, the instrumental sounds good and you can hear things more clearly in a more defined way. But yes, the lyrics, the vocal expression and the colour of the human voice, Bill had it all.

Looking back, you weren’t ones for following the usual script. With the subsequent success of ‘Sulk’, it set you on the path that led to implosion of the band.

We recorded ‘The Affectionate Punch’ in the Spring of 1980 but promptly ditched most of the album and did new songs, some of which would appear on later albums and played in Scotland.

I’ve looked up our gigography and we were up there for about two and a half months, playing maybe thirteen or fourteen gigs. So there was no tour laid out in front of us, it was more “oh, have we got a gig this week?”

Then we moved down to London and it was slightly more structured there. We’d play a month of Sundays at The Marquee etc but still, not like a world tour. But having your life mapped out for the next fifteen months, where you’re going to be, who’s going to meet you, how many radio stations you’re doing, how many press interviews you’re doing, that to Bill was just an anathema… that would freak anyone out, but it freaked Bill out because he was being boxed in. All we really wanted to do was be creative. Or if he was going to do a concert or two or three, that would be enough… ten days into the future was enough for Bill to take.

’18 Carat Love Affair’ is often considered the anomaly in the ASSOCIATES’ cannon and has been described as “quasi Neil Sedaka”… how do you look back on it? In retrospect, it was quite subversive to have a perfect pop song about a secret gay relationship in the charts in 1982.

Yeah, that’s another one. With ‘Party Fears Two’, the piano motif was written by us in 1977… we stared at each other hungover one Sunday morning and said “this is good but we can’t use this right now”. And indeed, we didn’t until five years later, the market just wasn’t there for it. Similarly with ’18 Carat Love Affair’, to me it’s like 60s pop song, the melody, the feel of it. I like the fact it’s got an agony aunt in the lyrics, Evelyn Home who was in ‘Woman’ magazine and it was about a secret gay affair.

Is there anything you could have done differently in retrospect to keep the partnership together with Billy?

I really don’t think so, because Bill needed to stretch his legs creatively and work with other people… I get that now. At the time, yes I was mad as hell and all the rest of it, but that’s what he needed to do. He needed to work with YELLO and write the lyrics and melody to ‘The Rhythm Divine’; he needed to not be with me. I don’t think there was anything we could have done about that.

You continued to record with other artists like Paul Haig and Winston Tong. Would the recordings you did with them be an indicator of how ASSOCIATES might have sounded if you’d continued to work with Billy?

They’re different in that Paul’s a great vocalist, but he’s not Billy; he’s not got a four octave range and Paul really can’t sing unless it’s through microphones, he needs his voice to be electrified for him to feel comfortable.

Winston? Not the greatest singer! You had a forty-five minute window to try and get a performance out of him before he fell over, he was taking a little too much heroin although I’m glad to say he’s clean now. But he was having a real bad time when he was recording the ‘Theoretically Chinese’ album with me.

Again, with Paul and Winston and with whoever else, everything was done very quickly and it was always a great laugh and good fun.

After several solo records on Les Disques du Crépuscule and Virgin, you got back together with Billy in 1993 but he didn’t follow it through with the pressure for live shows. Was there no-one willing to take ASSOCIATES on as a studio-only band?

No, all the record companies were interested, but they were saying “PROVE IT!”… that was like a red rag to a bull for Bill, he just said “I’m not f***ing proving myself to anyone! Get real!”

Would the environment of today with self-releasing been better for him?

It probably would have suited Bill right down to the ground.

Are you surprised by people’s continual fascination with the band?

I think there’s a great deal of good will with regards the memory of ASSOCIATES and the memory of Bill, plus a certain amount of frustration because a lot of people that heard us in ‘81 and ‘82 hadn’t seen us play live in 1980-81, so you never know… *laughs*

What are your personal favourites from these releases?

On ‘The Very Best Of ASSOCIATES’, it’s got to be ‘International Loner’ and ‘Edge Of The World’. These were both done in the 1993 sessions; I see and hear them as a much more mature sound. I suppose ‘Skipping’ is probably my all-time favourite, although really, it’s ‘Party Fears Two’ because it gets played a lot.

But also, if you go back to the cover versions, ‘Long Hangover’ because I can remember being in Moulin Rouge Studios and Bill did that in two takes. There’s something about doing a cover version because you’re not in any way insular or self-conscious. Just watching and listening to Bill in full flight without a care in the world, there’s something very special about that.

What does the future hold for yourself?

I’ve done everything from perfume adverts to wet your panties teen pop. I just write and write whatever comes into my mind.

ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK gives its warmest thanks to Alan Rankine

Additional thanks to Stuart Kirkham at Hall Or Nothing Independent Publicity

The expanded 2CD deluxe edition reissues of ‘The Affectionate Punch’, ‘Fourth Drawer Down’ and ‘Sulk’ are released by BMG on 13th May 2016

The 2CD anthology ‘The Very Best Of ASSOCIATES’ is available now via Union Square through the usual retailers


Text and Interview by Chi Ming Lai and Ian Ferguson
28th April 2016

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