Tag: Blaine L Reininger (Page 2 of 2)

Twilight Time: An Interview with JAMES NICE

JamesNice-byPeter StaessensJames Nice is a music publisher and writer whose acclaimed 2010 book ‘Shadowplayers: The Rise and Fall of Factory Records’ provided a detailed and objective account of the legendary label. He also worked for the prestigious Belgian label Les Disques du Crépuscule in Brussels between 1987-91.

More recently, James has resurrected Les Disques du Crépuscule along with its sister Factory Benelux offshoot as platforms to reissue a vast catalogue of experimental and artistically driven music, in addition to releasing newer material from acts such as MARSHEAUX, MARNIE and DEUX FILLES. Back in the day, Les Disques du Crépuscule and Factory Benelux operated as separate entities, although the two labels shared the same premises and staff.

Among Crépuscule’s roster were Blaine L Reininger and Winston Tong from TUXEDOMOON, ASSOCIATES instrumentalist Alan Rankine and former JOSEF K leader Paul Haig. The first music release on Crépuscule came in 1980; ‘From Brussels With Love’ was a carefully curated cassette compilation which included music from John Foxx, Bill Nelson, Harold Budd and Thomas Dolby as well as spoken recordings by Brian Eno and Richard Jobson.

everything's gone green new order FBN12Meanwhile Factory Benelux notably released the 12 inch extended remix of NEW ORDER’s ‘Everything’s Gone Green’ in 1981 and spare recordings from Factory affiliated artists such as A CERTAIN RATIO, SECTION 25, THE WAKE and THE DURUTTI COLUMN.

The latter’s beautiful instrumental ‘For Belgian Friends’ was written in honour of the two labels’ founders Michel Duval and the late Annik Honoré. James Nice kindly chatted to ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK about his various endeavours, past and present.

You wrote the book ‘Shadowplayers’ on the history of Factory Records. There have been several books about the label, what do you think your account gave that hadn’t been provided before?

Well, reliable facts properly researched! I did ‘Shadowplayers’ as a DVD first, in 2006, but I didn’t do the book until after Tony Wilson passed away the following year.

shadowplayers_book_french_edition_450One of the books which influenced the approach I took was an excellent Creation Records history by Dave Cavanagh, which Alan McGee slated as the accountant’s version of Creation when it first appeared (though he changed his mind later).

I feared Tony might say the same thing about a Factory history written by me. He was more into myths and legends than truth.

I also wanted to include all the bands and artists, not just JOY DIVISION, NEW ORDER, HAPPY MONDAYS and The Hacienda; THE STOCKHOM MONSTERS have a tale to tell too. The French edition won a prize, actually. They sent me a leather jacket – which was a bit too small.

How do you see the public’s continued fascination with Factory Records?

I just glance at it in passing these days, because ‘Shadowplayers’ came out in 2010 and I’ve long since moved on. The entire story of Factory was hugely dramatic, genuine tragic in places, and populated by larger than life characters. You can’t really say the same of, for example, 4AD or Domino. I’m not sure you’ll see it repeated either, because music no longer produces the kind of revenue stream that would allow radical mavericks like Tony Wilson and Rob Gretton to build another Hacienda, and Peter Saville is a complete one-off.

Factory was a classic example of do the right thing, and the money will follow. Unfortunately, they then blew all the money on big recording projects and ill-judged property investments. Let’s leave it at that.

from brussels with loveFactory Benelux and Les Disques du Crépuscule have common roots, but were quite different entities in their original ethos?

Both labels started in 1980. Factory Benelux was intended as an outlet for spare Factory recordings, hence a lot of the early releases like ‘Shack Up’ by ACR, ‘The Plateau Phase’ by CRISPY AMBULANCE and ‘Key of Dreams’ by SECTION 25 were exclusive to FBN. As time went on it became more like a normal licensee.

Crépuscule was something else entirely – a cosmopolitan boutique label, with an international roster and aspirations to kick start some kind of art movement in Brussels. In truth Factory were a little suspicious of Crepuscule early on, although later some Crépuscule albums appeared on Factory in the UK eg Anna Domino and Wim Mertens.

You worked for Les Disques du Crépuscule back in the day and lived in Brussels for five years. What are your particular memories of that time?

Way too many to mention. A couple of days after I quit Crépuscule (an argument about a 23 SKIDOO contract, not that anyone will be interested), I took a train to Amsterdam to meet William S. Burroughs.

He was holding court in a hotel with his manager, James Grauerholz. I took along some books to sign, as well as the Burroughs album I’d released on LTM, ‘The Doctor Is On the Market’. I don’t think WSB had even seen a copy before, but he scribbled “Good Work” on it. There was another guy there who was a Lufthansa pilot by day and wrote experimental cut-up novels in his spare time. I remember thinking at the time, I’d like to be that guy.

What are the aims of Factory Benelux and Les Disques du Crépuscule under your direction now?

Heritage curation, and new recordings where appropriate. Michel Duval is quite interested again, and we collaborated on the ‘Ni D’Eve, Ni D’Adam’ compilation at the end of 2015.

I really enjoyed that process, as a matter of fact. The new tracks and artists he brought to the project really added to it, and the artwork by Clou was great too.

I do a lot of boring back office stuff as well as making records, chiefly rights administration. You have to have all your ducks in a row when, for instance, Kanye West decides to sample a SECTION 25 track from 1981.

As well as reissues, Factory Benelux and Les Disques du Crépuscule have released new albums by SECTION 25, MARNIE, DEUX FILLES and others. What attracted you to back these recordings?

In the case of new albums by heritage groups like SECTION 25, THE NAMES and CRISPY AMBULANCE, as long as fresh studio projects are financially viable, and the music is good, then of course we want to be involved. Any label can simply recycle back catalogue, but I like to think we’re a little more committed.

The MARNIE album came to Crépuscule because I’m a LADYTRON fan and it was a perfect fit for the label. It worked for her too as she’d successfully funded ‘Crystal World’ via Pledge Music, but was less sure about how to actually deliver the CD version.

It’s important to back new music, and I’m delighted to be releasing ‘Cold Science’ by LES PANTIES later in 2016. They’re a young band from Brussels – terrible name, but great music!

Les Disques du Crépuscule also released ‘Odyssey’ in 2014, a career spanning compilation of MARSHEAUX. What do you find appealing about their music and which are your favourite songs?

I liked MARSHEAUX anyway, even before we began Crépuscule again back in 2013. Like MARNIE, they seemed like a good fit with the label’s heritage, much of which was modern electronic pop music. The focus was on original songs though rather than covers.

The title is a riff on Homer’s ‘Odyssey’, and the idea of a chronological story, and of course the old ARP Odyssey analogue synth. I’m quite good at coming up with album titles, if I say so myself. ‘Retrofit’ by SECTION 25 is probably the best – it popped into my head while I was watching a documentary about the making of ‘Blade Runner’. Perfect for a remix / reboot album.

Yes, very clever of you. But what’s your favourite MARSHEAUX song?

Well, the ‘Ghost/Hammer’ mash-up is the one we keep putting on LDDC compilations.

You maintain a close relationship with Paul Haig. Is he one of the unsung heroes of post-punk in your opinion?

I wouldn’t say unsung because Paul’s always attracted a lot of press and remains well liked by music writers, but I suppose he’s ‘unsung’ in the sense that he never had a proper chart hit. Ironically, his most popular album – on reissue anyway – is ‘Rhythm of Life’, which was considered far too mainstream at the time.

Paul Haig RoLPaul just did things his way and wasn’t prepared to jump through all the hoops required of a mainstream pop star. For a start he was – and remains – far too shy.

Since you mention post-punk in the question, I’ll take this opportunity to plug a forthcoming Paul project for later in 2016, which is a 1982-based double archive CD including his early pop material (‘Justice’, ‘Running Away’), the Sinatra-styled ‘Swing In 82’ EP, the experimental electronica cassette ‘Drama’, and loads of odd singles and sessions.

He’d just left JOSEF K but had not yet signed to Island, and I’m not sure anyone else was quite that diverse and experimental at the time. It’ll be called ‘Metamorphosis’ – another Kafka reference. Told you I was clever with titles. Paul’s quite nervous about it, I have to say!

You’ve also worked closely with Alan Rankine in his post-ASSOCIATES career?

Well, not so much me personally. Back in the 1980s, Alan was married to Belinda Pearse, who was a Crépuscule director at the time, and so for a while he pretty much became the in-house producer at the label, working with Paul Haig, Anna Domino, Winston Tong, Ludus and his own solo material.

My time at LDDC in Brussels did overlap with his, but I didn’t work on any of those projects. He did three solo albums under the auspices of Crépuscule, and some of the music is the equal of anything he did with Billy Mackenzie. Unfortunately Alan isn’t quite as good a singer, though he is a brilliant writer, arranger, producer, guitarist and keys player. The instrumentals he did for Crépuscule work best, I think. We’ve spoken a couple of times this year. Once was to return some master tapes to him, and I also suggested him as a producer / collaborator for MARNIE.

Another unsung hero of the era is Mark Reeder and the release of his remix collection ‘Collaborator’ on Factory Benelux was a fitting acknowledgement of that. What was the process like to select the tracklisting?

Hmm. We tried to avoid replicating too many tracks that were on the earlier ‘Five Point One’ collection, and having Bernard Sumner singing on quite a few of the tracks should have made it seem more like an artist album than just a compilation.

Not sure the concept really gelled though. Mark isn’t easy to label – a lot of people think he’s a DJ, which is the one thing he isn’t (but probably should be). ‘Collaborator’ is a great album and should have sold a lot more than it did. In fact Mark regularly reminds me of that!

As a label manager, how do you decide on the formats that releases will be issued in? When do you know one format will be more viable than another, eg some are CD only, others are vinyl only?

Vinyl tends to be reserved for prestige items, and / or where you can fashion an art object from it, like THE DURUTTI COLUMN album with the die-cut glasspaper sleeve, which I’ll talk about later.

JOSEF K It's Kinda FunnyThe recent JOSEF K singles collection ‘It’s Kinda Funny’ was vinyl only because there have been several JOSEF K CD compilations already, and because a 12” matt board sleeve was a great way of exhibiting the original artwork by Jean-François Octave.

I still prefer CDs because the sound is better, you can fit more material on them, plus they are easier to keep in print over a long period of time. In an era of declining physical sales, the increasing fragmentation of formats isn’t too helpful, at least as far as labels are concerned.

Vinyl retains cultural clout though. Releasing albums used to be like publishing books, whereas once the market became saturated with releases, it’s kind of become degraded and often feels as if you’re just publishing magazine articles. But a vinyl album still has the heft of a book.

Factory Benelux and Les Disques du Crépuscule were both known for tasteful artwork and you have maintained this aesthetic. The vinyl reissue of ‘The Return Of The Durutti Column’ had an interesting genesis?

With the Benelux reissue in 2013, the original intention was to replicate Fact 14 from 1980, with coarse sandpaper front and back and a flexi-disc.

Back then Tony Wilson was able to source 12-inch square sheets from a local company called Naylors Abrasives in Bredbury, near Stockport. They still exist, but they don’t manufacture sandpaper any more, and when I got in touch in 2012 to explain the project, they clearly thought I was a lunatic.

I’m not sure that glasspaper is even manufactured anywhere in Western Europe now. In the end we had to go to a company in China, whose minimum order was 10,000 sheets. What was a cheap and (relatively) easy package for Factory in 1980 turned out to be pretty much impossible to copy three decades later. It’s probably easier to source glasspaper in lurid colours rather than plain old beige, and the biggest rolls were only 11 inches wide. You can still source flexi-discs from one plant in the States, but they end up costing more per unit than a 12-inch vinyl album. Fortunately, however, not being able to do a straight copy served to liberate the project somewhat, so that we began to think in terms of a new edition which referenced the original, but offered something different.

The flexi became a hard vinyl 7”, which sounds far better, and we were now able to add an inner sleeve with period images and explanatory text. The 11-inch glasspaper squares took about eight months to arrive from China, and while we were twiddling our thumbs the designer, Carl Glover, came up with the idea of seating the glasspaper sheet on the front in a recessed deboss. A bit like a frame, thereby underlining the ‘art’ credentials.

The Return Of The Durutti Column

Somewhat to my surprise the pressing plant in Germany agreed to assemble the finished package from start to finish, which was fortunate since I couldn’t imagine NEW ORDER agreeing to help out. I didn’t much fancy the idea of doing it myself. Like the building trade people we had to go through en route to China, the pressing plant just couldn’t understand why we’d want to release a record in a glasspaper sleeve. Someone suggested a photo of some sandpaper might be better…

Then, when the sheets finally arrived, some of the cutting was pretty rough, and the pressing plant insisted on a 3mm tolerance between each side of the sheet and the deboss. That would just look as though we’d fluffed the measurements, besides which even with a deboss, the glasspaper sheets simply stuck on the cover just didn’t have that ‘wow’ factor.

I spent a few days arguing with the plant about tolerances, and agonising generally, then decided that a die-cut would be just as impressive, with the glasspaper underneath, as if you were seeking it through a window. This scheme also overcame the issues about imperfect size and cutting of the glasspaper.

fbn114insituThe only obvious, practical shape for the die-cut was Peter Saville’s original ‘bar chart’ logo, which appeared on the labels of most Factory releases between 1979 and 1980, Fact 14 included. It just looks right, and is also suggestive of a graphic equalizer, which I suppose is a bit Hannett. The pressing plant had already printed 2000 copies of the original inner bag though, so we had to throw those away. All the problems and changes also mean that the release date was late. Very Factory, I suppose.

The finished package looked even better than anyone dared to imagine, and housed in the polythene bag it has a fantastic 3D quality, plus the glasspaper catches the light beautifully. I was particularly delighted that Vini Reilly liked it. All the various headaches and reverses improved the design no end, and the addition of the die-cut means that you now have this unique Reid/Saville hybrid. Truly a happy accident.

LesDisquesduCrepuscule+FactoryBenelux logosYour CD reissues on Factory Benelux and Les Disques du Crépuscule are known for their comprehensive sleeve notes which are written by you. What is your philosophy and style regarding this?

I tend to focus on facts, and direct quotation from the people involved.

Creative writing I leave to experts like Paul Morley, Simon Reynolds and Kevin Pierce. My notes tend to be honest rather than gushing or pseudo-academic, and that’s probably why I rarely get commissioned to write liner notes for other releases! I think the last time was an ELECTRONIC retrospective. Johnny Marr just wanted a hagiography in which everything and everyone was, like, amazing and brilliant, all the time. Buyers aren’t stupid and don’t really want that. Then again, I probably have been a bit too glass half empty at times.

What are your thoughts on modern music, particularly the synthpop and electronic variety, having worked with a number of the original pioneers?

I really like EDM, it’s probably my favourite genre for blasting out loud in the car, annoying my daughter etc; RIHANNA, MISS KITTIN, TODD TERJE, electroclash, Xenomania productions.

A lot of what Crépuscule released during the golden years – the 80s, basically – was either very poppy (Paul Haig, Anna Domino, Isabelle Antena, Kid Montana), or pretty abstract (Wim Mertens, Glenn Branca, Gavin Bryars). That’s probably why my taste in music remains similarly schizophrenic.

If you’re asking who my current / recent favourites are then its TEGAN & SARA, ROBYN, M83, some NINE INCH NAILS, and the last NEW ORDER album. That was a spectacular return to form. Hats off to them, and to Mute.

Which have been your favourite reissues or products on Les Disques du Crépuscule and Factory Benelux over the years?

I can answer that in a heartbeat. My all-time favourite LDDC album is ‘Night Air’ by Blaine L Reininger, which came out in 1984 and was his first proper solo album during the time he was absent from TUXEDOMOON.

Blaine L Reininger Night AirIt’s a magical album about exile in Brussels and was a key influence on my relocating to the city a couple of years later. Expertly recorded and engineered by Gareth Jones, I might add. I’d love him to tour the whole album – maybe there will be an opportunity after TUXEDOMOON are done touring ‘Half Mute’ during 2016.

My favourite FBN reissues would be the glasspaper Durutti, or the pochette 2xCD edition of ‘Always Now’ by SECTION 25. Both presented considerable challenges, and both came off.

Are there any upcoming releases on Factory Benelux or Les Disques du Crépuscule you can tell us about?

I’ve been talking to a group from Brussels called LES PANTIES for a couple of years. I love their music – poised, sophisticated cold wave, with a hint of shoegaze – they have a great aesthetic sense, and Sophie Frison is an excellent singer. We just couldn’t agree about the name though. It might work in a French speaking country, but elsewhere it sounds like a novelty band. Eventually I just gave in and collected all their singles on an album, ‘Cold Science’, which is coming out on Crépuscule in September. It’s a bit of a passion project for me, I suppose. But it’s also one in the eye for people who carp we do nothing but reissues.

ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK gives its grateful thanks to James Nice



Text and Interview by Chi Ming Lai
Portrait photo by Peter Staessens
28th May 2016, updated 5th February 2017


CULT WITH NO NAME are a London based duo comprising of Erik Stein and Jon Boux.

Referring to themselves as “post-punk electronic balladeers”, they released their debut album ‘Paper Wraps Rock’ in 2007.

The expanded palette of 2010’s ‘Adrenalin’ and 2012’s ‘Above As Below’ gained them further plaudits, while ‘Another Landing’ released in 2014 featured noted guests such as Blaine L Reininger, Bruce Geduldig and Luc van Lieshout from cult American band TUXEDOMOON, former SNEAKER PIMPS singer Kelli Ali and Japanese electronica artist COPPÉ.

As well as recording song based material, they produced an original contemporary score for the German expressionist silent film ‘The Cabinet of Dr Caligari‘. Continuing along this theme, their most recent project has been in collaboration with TUXEDOMOON and JOHN FOXX for the soundtrack of ‘Blue Velvet Revisited’, a documentary based around previously unseen footage filmed on the set of the David Lynch’s film ‘Blue Velvet’.

CULT WITH NO NAME’s vocalist Erik Stein kindly chatted about the duo’s career to date and his interest in the subgenre of synthpunk.

Why did you choose CULT WITH NO NAME as the moniker for your music? Many know it as one of the names for the New Romantics that didn’t stick, but your music does not appear to reflect a connection with that?

There were a number of factors. Firstly, I’d heard GARY NUMAN repeatedly say that one of the reasons he chose TUBEWAY ARMY as a name was because every single punk band was called ‘The’ something. That always stuck, and around the time we formed there was such a glut of ‘The’ bands it was unbelievable… THE STROKES, THE HIVES, THE VINES, THE WHITE STRIPES, THE ZUTONS, THE DELAYS etc. Secondly, I was reading a book called ‘Join Me’ by Danny Wallace, who had created his own cult with no name by placing ads in newspapers that just said “join me”. I liked that too.

As a phrase it had a nice ring to it. Having a band with two people in it calling itself a cult is faintly ridiculous. I always knew of the New Romantic connections of course, so it was also a tongue in cheek reference to that. We may not sound like SPAUNDAU BALLET, but we really do love an awful lot of music from 1981. I’ve since worked with inimitable Rusty Egan a fair bit, founder of The Blitz Club, and he’s championed us. It’s funny how these things come full circle.

CULT WITH NO NAME’s music is hard to categorise. How would you describe it and are there any musical references you could highlight for those who are curious?

I’m very flattered that you think it’s hard to categorise, thank you, particularly as we basically write songs rather than create anything deliberately obtuse. My primary influences are post-punk electronic bands, from the better known to the really obscure. My two favourite bands growing up were actually THE STRANGLERS and THE RESIDENTS, both of whom have a bigger place in the evolution of electronic music than I think is acknowledged.

Jon loves a lot of 20th century classical music, the likes of Arvo Part, which is definitely key to our sound. A big shared electronic influence we have is OMD, and I think you can hear the early OMD influence in at least some of what we do. Another really important musical reference point for the two of us, and anyone that’s curious, is a Dutch band called THE NITS, who are criminally unknown in the UK.

Despite the terrible name, THE NITS have released over 20 albums of incredibly inventive music. Much of it is also electronic, or at least very keyboard based. I encourage anyone to check out their 1990 album ‘Giant Normal Dwarf’. It’s just vocals, keyboards and drums, but I guarantee it doesn’t sound like any other electronic album you’ve heard and is deceptively dark. They are key influence on our music.

Your best known song is possibly ‘Breathing’ from 2010’s ‘Adrenalin’? Can you describe the process of its composition as an example of how you work with your musical partner Jon Boux?

‘Breathing’ was written in the same way as 90% of our songs, so it is a good example. Basically, I write them on guitar, and Jon transposes them on to piano and strings with me there chipping in. I would actually like to use guitars more, but I’m not a very good guitarist and I’m never happy with the guitar sound I get. It’s probably a very good thing, as Jon produces something far more interesting than I ever could. The backing tracks are mainly programmed by me, with Jon adding spurious noises and extra parts.

Our instrumental tracks develop differently, with Jon pretty much doing them from scratch and me just producing and mixing them. The writing process seems to work well and is pretty much unchanged from the day we started.

You’ve released a fair number of albums since your inception in 2004, which ones are you most proud of?

My personal favourite CWNN album is probably ‘Above As Below’ from 2012. I think it’s our most well-rounded album, whatever that means.

We don’t really record songs with albums in mind to be honest. We simply put out an album when we feel we have enough good ones to unleash. Somehow though, ‘Above as Below’ feels a bit more cohesive.

It’s also the first time we used a lot of guest contributors, and they all added so very much. Jonathan Barnbrook, who designed DAVID BOWIE’s last four albums (and does most of JOHN FOXX’s), did a breathtaking cover for it too, using a letterpress.

Of course more recently, ‘Blue Velvet Revisited’ was released, and we’re immensely proud of that album. The label it is released on, the amazing Crammed Discs, is my very favourite record label. When I was much younger I remember buying records on Crammed and seeing that they had an office in Wardour Street, London, which is now no longer there. I always dreamt to myself, “one day, I will work for that label”. Never in a million years did I think I would actually release an album on it, and it still makes me smile.

Your most recent project has been the ‘Blue Velvet Revisited’ soundtrack with TUXEDOMOON and JOHN FOXX. How did you all conceive and realise it?

A friend of mine is Peter Braatz, founder of the German punk / post-punk band S.Y.P.H. whom I adore. Getting to know Peter I found out that as a filmmaker (his primary occupation these days), he worked with David Lynch on ‘Blue Velvet’, documenting the making of it in 1985. Listening to ‘As Below’ from our ‘Above as Below’ album he conceived the idea of editing a feature length ‘Blue Velvet Revisited’ film set to CWNN music.

He got the funding and then commissioned us. I then invited TUXEDOMOON and JOHN FOXX to take part, basically because I thought that would make a seriously cool album. I hope I was right.

Was there much collaboration between the different parties, what was the creative dynamic like?

The JOHN FOXX track was conceived totally separately, although I had to edit it down as the original track was much longer. Luckily, he was very happy with my edit and I think the piece is a perfect fit. The CWNN / TUXEDOMOON tracks are all collaborations. Half of them are tracks that we generated for TUXEDOMOON members to play on and half of them are tracks that they generated for us to edit, add to and produce. As all the collaborations were done virtually via the web, a lot of trust was involved. We’d worked with a number of TUXEDOMOON members before and knew them, so that wasn’t so much of an issue.

They gave us an awful lot of freedom, a surprising amount actually, so the creative dynamic was great. I totally deconstructed some of the pieces they gave us, but they were really delighted with the results. I hope the opportunity arises to work more with them. A little bit of music is left over and certainly the reviews have all been fantastic, and better than we could have ever imagined.

You’ve collaborated a number of times with former SNEAKER PIMPS singer Kelli Ali; how did you find working with her?

Kelli is an absolute delight to work with and has become a very good friend. We met via my friend Tim Riley, once of the 90s goth trailblazers SERAPHIN TWIN, who got to know her through an interview he conducted. Our 2008 album ‘Careful What You Wish For’ is one of her very favourite albums, which is of course very flattering for us.

When I tentatively first suggested she sings some backing vocals on one of our albums she was delighted. I gave her the tracks and thought she might sing on one or two, but she came back with vocals on 8 tracks for ‘Above as Below’! Same goes for the follow up album, ‘Another Landing’.

She has a unique voice, something which I feel is all too lacking in music these days, particularly in electronic music. For all our collective noodling to find the juiciest analogue synth sound around, it’s worth remembering that the human voice is the only instrument in the world with over 8 billion patches. It’s worth taking the time to find the right one and Kelli is a great fit for CWNN. To be honest, I’d love to do an album one day without me singing on it at all, and have various guest singers.

CULT WITH NO NAME have a foot within the UK electronic scene without actually being fully immersed in it. Is there any reason for that and how to you think electronic music in general has developed in the last 10 years?

Every band loves to think of themselves as misfits, don’t they? We’re no exception, and are as boringly self-conscious as they come, but I really do think we can be considered true misfits.

When we started, we split our time between playing acoustic, singer-songwriter venues and electro nights at the likes of Madame JoJos. We’d try anywhere. At the acoustic nights, people would sneer at the fact that we had a synthesizer on stage. (Stage? Who am I kidding, there was never a stage.) Meanwhile, at the electro nights the audience were like “what, some of their songs are just voice and piano, no drums?!” (Audience? Who am I kidding, there was never an audience.) Once, within the same year, we had one review that compared us to RANDY NEWMAN and another to GARY NUMAN… that about sums it up, really.

Another way I feel we don’t fit in is the subtle use of humour and irony. Subtle humour is a great and more insidious way of making a serious point and was more prevalent than people think in the 80s with the likes of BLANCMANGE, YELLO, THE ART OF NOISE and MOMUS. Parts of the music scene of the past 10 years (not just electronic) do seem to be lacking that sense of irony in the music and certainly the lyrics. If I had it my way, every home would own at least one SPARKS album.

Also, referencing your earlier question about being hard to categorise, that bothers gig promoters greatly, which is understandable as they’re effectively in the marketing business. So, that makes it hard for us to have a foot in any kind of camp without soon needing to buy new shoes.

What’s next for CULT WITH NO NAME?

We’re about 75% through a new album. Just to stick to the band stereotype I can confidently say that it’s our best one yet. No, it really is! We’re not sure if that will come out this year or early next, yet. Meanwhile, we have a track on a forthcoming S’EXPRESS covers album. People might think that’s a strange connection, but remember that acid house was the electronic alternative scene when I was growing up. I was unfortunately just too young to rave, but loved the squelchy bass lines.

Crammed Discs are releasing a covers album of the TUXEDOMOON classic ‘Half Mute’ album this year, a different band tackling a different track, and we’re on that too. Finally, we’re also supporting TUXEDOMOON in Cologne in June. I’m sure there will be more.

You’re an avid enthusiast of synthpunk and have even been featured in Record Collector talking about it. To the uninitiated, what is it and why do you think it is worth investigating?

Good question. Not very well defined is what it is. Synthpunk, for me, focuses on a few key scenes in the late 70s, most notably in San Francisco, Los Angeles, Pittsburgh, Melbourne and Sydney.

What binds it together is that it’s largely non-European. It lacks the gloominess of European post-punk electronic music (replacing it with aggression at times) and also in some ways the strong KRAFTWERK lineage and Teutonic undertones. SUICIDE are a great example, but also an anomaly as New York had No Wave.

To say that it’s punk music using synths and electronics is a big oversimplification, though some of it is, particularly THE SCREAMERS. Most of it, however, is highly creative and using electronics and electronic instruments without ever surrendering to them. In terms of bands to check out, try THE UNITS, WHIRLYWIRLD, THE SCREAMERS, PRIMITIVE CALCULATORS, EQUAL LOCAL, TINY DESK UNIT, THE CARDBOARDS, DOW JONES & THE INDUSTRIALS, TONE SET and NERVOUS GENDER to name but a few.

ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK gives it warmest thanks to Erik Stein

TUXEDOMOON & CULT WITH NO NAME ‘Blue Velvet Revisited’ is released by Crammed Discs in CD, vinyl LP and digital formats



Text and Interview by Chi Ming Lai
5th April 2016

An Interview with TUXEDOMOON’s Blaine L Reininger

Blaine L Reininger’s roguish moustache and dinner jacket were a familiar sight in post-punk Brussels.

The American singer and multi-instrumentalist had crossed the Atlantic with TUXEDOMOON, the band he founded with Steven Brown in 1977, and become an exile of circumstance.

Unable to afford the return fare to San Francisco, Reininger became an accidental European.

Falling in with the Crépuscule and Crammed Discs sets, he recorded iconic albums of genre-crossing material, both as a solo artist and, despite a period of estrangement, with TUXEDOMOON.

We find Reininger based in Athens, shorn of his moustache and recently married to his long-time partner, Maria Panourgia. Green tea and cycling have replaced the fuels from his time in the Low Countries, and he’s been working on the stage and in film, but making and performing the music of TUXEDOMOON is his ever-fixed mark. Their latest release is the soundtrack for Peter Braatz’s documentary film, ‘Blue Velvet Revisited’, made as a collaboration with CULT WITH NO NAME.

Put together for the thirtieth anniversary of David Lynch’s ‘Blue Velvet’, the film features previously unseen footage taken on set by Braatz. The album, issued by Crammed as Vol. 42 of its respected Made to Measure series, also includes a contribution by John Foxx. We asked Reininger how the project came about.

The story of this project is down to Erik Stein [of CULT WITH NO NAME] and his connections and his doings.

His group will often go and do artists’ support. They’ve done our support twice in Berlin. So, that’s what was happening.

They were doing our support in Berlin. They introduced us to this film-maker guy who outlined the project. The motive force behind that was Erik. It was his connection. They outlined the project, and we settled on trying to do what we could when we could.

It’s always difficult for TUXEDOMOON to get further work, because we’re spread out all over the map, really. Steven Brown is in Mexico. You’ve got me here in Athens; Peter Principle on the East Coast, between Virginia and New York; Bruce Geduldig in California; Luc van Lieshout in Belgium – he’s the only one left in Brussels, even though Brussels is like our rolling headquarters. In order to work on the project, we had to steal the time from our tour itinerary.

So, for instance, we were playing here in Athens, so I found a guy that had a rehearsal studio who is a TUXEDOMOON fan. We set up here in Athens and started to work in our usual fashion – we jam. We’re a jam band. We’ve been doing it for so long, it’s almost instinctive. We can do a lot in a short period of time.

We only actually played together for a couple of days. We had a couple of sessions – five or six hour sessions.

We were working with tracks that Erik had already sent us, and we were just busting our faces off for two days.

We took some of those recordings and sent them over to Erik. They had to exercise some editorial control, and they decided what they liked.

The next time we were able to do that was in Brussels, which was also on days off during the tour. It’s usually the only time we are able to all get together. Somebody has to pay for us to be together. We have to get rehearsal studios. If it takes any more, it’s us – we pay. It’s touring that funds the whole deal. So that’s what we did – we further refined our contributions to the project in Brussels.

The inclusion of a John Foxx track might be presumed to come from another of Erik Stein’s connections, but the links between Foxx and TUXEDOMOON go back a long way.

In the 80s – 80, 81 – both ULTRAVOX! and TUXEDOMOON were more in the media eye. We contacted each other by reading interviews with one another. We saw an interview with John Foxx in – I don’t know what – the NME, what have you, and they said, “What American bands do you find interesting?” He said, “This TUXEDOMOON I find very interesting.”

Photo by Gilles Martin

We said similar things. We liked what he was doing. We liked ULTRAVOX! I did, anyway. I was always a massive fan, when he was in the band, and I liked what he did after he left the band, as well.

There is a certain amount of influence – there are certain commonalities between, say, ‘Metal Beat’ and ‘Desire’. We were using the same gear, for that matter – the CR-78 village, in particular, causing a lot of these sounds.

So, when we started working with an English record company, Charisma, we wanted to contact John Foxx, and that’s what happened. As it turned out, he was not able to participate in the recording of ‘Desire’, except to put us together with Gareth Jones, of course, which was a big plus. Gareth was brilliant, fabulous. Of course, he went on to do a lot of work with DEPECHE MODE. He kind of defined their sound. Working with him was really marvellous. He was able to teach us; kind of organise us.

Of course, we always knew a lot about recording from the early outset – TUXEDOMOON was a studio group at the beginning. Stephen and I were both working in his rudimentary TEAC four track studio at school, and we continued to do that with his four track tape recorder. From the outset, TUXEDOMOON was a studio band, really. So, we already knew quite a bit about multitrack recordings. Desire was our first 24 track experience. That was mainly aided by Gareth’s input.

Recorded in a studio installed in a Surrey farmhouse, ‘Desire’ was TUXEDOMOON’s second album. Tracks like ‘Incubus (Blue Suit)’ capably channelled the coldness of Foxx’s ‘Metamatic’, while ‘Holiday for Plywood’ took Dave Rose’s ‘Holiday for Strings’ deep into quirk-funk terrain. ‘Desire’ demonstrated that the psychedelic world of TUXEDOMOON was capable of absorbing and processing incidental music and futuristic pop without being precious about the boundaries between them. Jones’ contributions led to further involvement in Reininger’s solo work.

Of course, we became friends. TUXEDOMOON would often become friendly with the people we work with; so, when I was doing my second solo record outside of TUXEDOMOON, I had to write to Gareth to come along. I asked him if he would do it, and that’s what happened. He came over to Brussels and we recorded ‘Night Air’ together, which was a marvellous experience.

Gareth had really excellent production ideas that I had never thought of. He would take an electronic rhythm machine out – by that time, I was using the TR-808 – he would take that, run it through a guitar amplifier in the studio and mic the bass kick through a bass amp. He would get a little bit of that overdrive in the package. He did things like wobble up the piano with this modulated echo sound – and that kind of stuff was all kind of new to me. We had a really good time making that record.

‘Night Air’ came out in 1984. It spawned the single, ‘Mystery & Confusion’, which was a nod to Ennio Morricone’s Spaghetti Western soundtracks but also steeped in synthesized sounds. How did Reininger, the classically-trained violinist, come to electronic music?

I have always been enamoured of electronics, and over the years with TUXEDOMOON, really. I started on a level with electronics very early on. I was – I don’t know, 12 – and my music teacher at school used to take the advanced students and he would have these morning sessions at the school.

He would play records for us and talk to us. Among the things he played was Varèse. You know, he would play that guy Varèse, and I thought, “Wow!” ‘Déserts’ by Edgard Varèse – I thought this was fabulous.

Not long after that, Wendy Carlos’ version of the ‘Clockwork Orange’ soundtrack came out. Just hearing those sounds on the radio, hearing this Moog or maybe Keith Emerson’s solo on ‘Lucky Man’ – the sound of the Moog just blew my little mind, and I resolved that I wanted it – a piece of that. As soon as I was able, as soon as I could get together the resources, I wanted to play that thing. I went to the various colleges. I haunted the electronic music labs. This guy let me play on a Moog Sonic Six at one point, at one of my schools. It was a precursor to the Minimoog. It was the first suitcase synth.

Of course, another big influence on me was when Paul McCartney came out with his first solo record, where he played everything, and I had never considered that as a possibility. But the possibility that I wouldn’t have to work with all these morons that I had been working with – that I could just do it all myself – dispense with them – this was going to be my life’s work.

And it became my life’s work – as this poly-instrumentalist solo guy. The greater part of all my solo work is just me, really, and now it is entirely me. I rarely have the means or the desire to hire people in. I will play all the guitars and I will play the bass. I will play a bunch of violins and all the synths. That’s heaven to me. I love to sit here, at this very computer, amassing the sounds. It is in the process, more than the results, where I get lost.

Unlike with other kind of work – where I’m working for somebody else, I get tired and want to go home – when I’m doing this, I’ll work twelve hours non-stop. I’ll forget to pee and everything – I’ll just get lost in the synthesis. I love the pieces.

With ‘Mystery & Confusion’ in particular, it was a great delight and a great challenge to make those sounds, but the gear that I had!

I had this Roland SH-101 synth, and I was so proud of myself that I was able to get this French horn sound out of an SH-101. I used it for all of the bass sounds.

I was an early disciple of this Roland sync – a pre-MIDI Roland sync. So, I had the TB-303, the SH-101 and the TR-808 all running in sync with one-another. I took the Controlled Voltage out from the TB-303 and made my own cable – I also made my own Roland sync cable, which was a pre-MIDI 3-pin DIN – and I ran all that stuff. I slaved the SH-101 to the TB-303, and I used the layered sound of those two devices to get my bass sounds. So, on that record – also on ‘Mystery & Confusion’, of course – I had some good musicians with me. I had Michael Belfer, who worked with TUXEDOMOON, and I had Alain Goutier, who is a really fine bass player – he was playing fretless bass. I had Alain Lefebvre, who was playing an actual drum kit. Alain Lefebvre has his own label, called Off, in Belgium.

The 101/303/808 combination is a classic set-up for dance music. On reflection, Reininger may be the first person to put them together for a purpose other than creating acid house singles.

That’s what I could afford. Some of the other guys around had these Oberheim rigs and stuff, but I couldn’t afford that. When I was able to finagle a publishing advance from a guy who’s now the head of SABAM Belgium – he was my publisher – I got enough money from him, and Alain Goutier worked at a music store in Belgium, so I was able to get this Roland gear at a discount. It fit my budget.

The good thing about it was that it all worked together. You could sync several devices together before MIDI. It was also superior, because the DX7 came in later and emasculated everything: it whitewashed the whole deal, and everything started to sound like the soundtrack to ‘The Breakfast Club’. I am sure there are people who are nostalgic for that 80s DX7 heavy sound, but I am not one of them. It became less interesting.

Photo by Vic Vinson

Reininger was away from the United States from 1982 to 1999. We asked: How did it feel going back? Was it like going to a different place?

Absolutely. When I went in 1999, I had been away for the better part of 17 years.

I had missed the 80s in America entirely, so many things were new to me. I didn’t know what people made of me.

I assumed they thought I’d been in jail, because it isn’t often that you see an old dude with grey hair who doesn’t know how to operate the microwave in the 7-11. Things like that. Some of the things that we take for granted: “What the hell is this thing?!” It was like this serious Rip Van Winkle effect. I figured they must assume I have been in the joint, which is why I don’t know anything. Then I saw the money: “Whoah! It’s all the same size and the same colour – how do they tell it apart?”

It’s a strange way to be. It’s a strange situation. It gives me this life that is in a constant state of ambivalence – of two hearts, as Goethe said. Two hearts beat in my breast. There is great longing to go home. Some of my solo work has this almost pathological nostalgia, this homesickness. I felt imprisoned. I was not able to find the means to leave Europe and go home. It was not necessarily a choice. It was that great longing to be there, and also this shock and kind of horror, and – I don’t know what – disgust – at things in America: what they did, how things had decayed under the conservatives and continue to do so.

Reininger’s presence in Athens has led to invitations to perform on stage. He has also appeared in a number of films by Nicholas Triandafyllidis. We wondered whether the roles called for performance in Greek.

Sometimes. It’s not all that easy. I did a big part in the National Theatre. I played a transvestite. That was all Greek – I did the whole thing in Greek. It was difficult – I don’t speak the language that well. A lot of times, I will do this musical actor thing – I’ll be performing and I will be doing the music as well.

I’ll be on stage, incorporated into the action, but I will also be the music director or I’ll be performing the music live. A lot of times, I end up playing a foreigner. I did two movies last summer and I pretty much played a foreigner. In one of those movies, I played a banker who came to buy the prime minister. In another movie, I played a tourist. In a third movie, I played a member of the troika. So, I play these kinds of things, and I do that in English.

Should we expect to see the theatre competing for Reininger’s attention?

To be honest, not really. I enjoy doing theatre work. It is something I can do competently – I am a theatrical kind of guy – but I don’t prefer it to music, by any means. What I rarely get to do is compose a big piece of music for theatre, give it to them, collect the money and that’s the end: that’s that; I don’t have to go to rehearsal; and I don’t have to go to any performances. That doesn’t happen all that often. Most of the time, they want me to perform – my physical presence. What I enjoy most is to sit here and fool with my computer. When it becomes necessary to get up and play my violin, I will, and I enjoy it because I can.

ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK gives its warmest thanks to Blaine L Reininger

Special thanks to Erik Stein

TUXEDOMOON & CULT WITH NO NAME ‘Blue Velvet Revisited’ is released by Crammed Discs in CD, vinyl LP and digital formats on 16th October 2015





Text and Interview by Simon Helm
24th September 2015

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