Berlin-based musician and DJ Luca Venezia, better known as CURSES, presents ‘Next Wave Acid Punx DEUX’, his second curated compilation exploring the darker side of club music though the decades. The first volume had been a lockdown inspired exploration of his own record collection.
Released by Eskimo Recordings and featuring 49 tracks, the music is split into three distinct chapters with more than half being previously unreleased; “Many of these songs come from friends close of mine, or artists I perform with and tour with a lot, whose music and craft I admire and champion.” Luca Venezia told ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK about the set, “We are all making a very niche style of music, and everyone is approaching it in their own unique way, it is only natural we migrate to be friends and share the stage together… like a primal instinct.”
Conceived with his ideal night out in mind, compiling such an compilation was not without its headaches; “Fortunately with the help of Eskimo and N.E.W.S., the licensing team are an absolute powerhouse” recalled Venezia, “It wasn’t easy, especially the older material, like Malcolm McLaren’s ‘Madame Butterfly’… and yes, there was SO much music I wanted but couldn’t get the rights to. Not because the artists said no, but because it was impossible to find WHO owned the rights now. Members in bands split up, some pass away, some vanish… it’s a puzzle at times to license the 80s underground electronic gems”.
Chapter 1 contains the pioneering acts of the past that were occasionally signed to major labels and even flirted with the mainstream pop charts. The set opens with ‘Distant Dreams Pt 2’, a wonderful suitably obscure 1980 B-side from THROBBING GRISTLE, while another lesser known gem comes from BIG AUDIO DYNAMITE with ‘The Big V’, the instrumental variant of the 1986 single ‘V. Thirteen’.
The first name likely to be recalled when dark club music comes to mind, especially to Taylor Swift fans, are CABARET VOLTAIRE and they fit like a glove on this compendium with ‘Blue Heat’ from ‘Micro-Phonies’, as do Dutch band CLAN OF XYMOX with ‘Obsession’, an excellent example of classic electro-goth disco.
Of course, NITZER EBB are present and correct with ‘Hearts & Minds’ while DAF stand firm with their declaration as ‘Brothers’ in their appealing but less heralded English language disco phase.
Collecting superb tracks from various acclaimed cult acts, ‘The Murder Of Love’ by PROPAGANDA and the I Dream Of Jeanne Mix of ‘Modigliani (Lost In Your Eyes)’ by BOOK OF LOVE demonstrate how the developing digital technology enabled powerful sampled sounds effectively at the flick of a switch. However, best of all are former SOFT CELL backing singers VICIOUS PINK who really should have had a huge worldwide hit with the brilliant Tony Mansfield produced ‘Cccan’t You See’
Chapter 2 moves the night on starting with ‘Voloczny’, an unreleased song from back in day by BOYTRONIC towards the present with modern day electronic producers such as Jennifer Touch and Kris Baha. In a new 2023 version, THE KVB come over like THE JESUS & MARY CHAIN with synths on ‘Still Warm’ while YEARS OF DENIAL capture plenty of stark menace on ‘It Sucks.
Canadian wife-and-husband duo ESSAIE PAS provide enigmatic prose en Français over a cascade of pulsing synths on ‘Retox’ while Berlin-based trio DINA SUMMER update the gothic disco template on ‘Darkness’. Affirming the international cast of ‘Next Wave Acid Punx DEUX’, Spain’s DAME AREA go on a heavier industrial club excursion via ‘Buon Cittadino’ but on the opposite side of the coin and Atlantic, DESIRE offer enigmatic coyness on ‘Love Races On’ outside of their Italians Do It Better stable.
Chapter 3 is the part of the night you probably should go home but don’t… a wilder, harder and more aggressive energy is here if you so desire. There is naturally a Dark Remix of ‘Machina’ from BOY HARSHER with guest vocals by Mariana Saldaña. But utilising tense triplets and brassy melodramatic stabs, CURSES revamps J.W.B. HITS THE BEAT’s ‘Body On Body’. CURSES returns to remix NUOVO TESTAMENTO’s ‘Heartbeat’ and there is an enjoyable instrumental in ‘Non Fiction’ by SILENT SERVANT.
Two of the best tracks come via Australia; ‘Burning Eyes’ is a Hi-NRG romp with wispy voice ad-libs courtesy of NEU-ROMANCER and ZANIAS’ ‘Tryptamine Palace’ is a tremendous textural dance track. ANDI VS RANDOLPH & MORTIMER make their presence felt with big beats on ‘Formidable Truths’ while Michel Amato aka THE HACKER does not disappoint with the previously unreleased ‘Monopoly’. To end, Greek synth duo PARADOX OBSCUR make a beefy contribution in ‘Evo-Devo’ that recalls French art pop duo LES RITA MISOUKO.
On the spiritual and musical thread that helped make this cohesive collection, Luca Venezia surmised: “Every artist involved has their own personal and unique take on the timeless love affair between human and machine. All the music on ‘DEUX’ also embraces the punk and DIY raw energy of live music into electronic music; artists LIKE YEARS OF DENIAL, BOY HARSHER, NUOVO TESTAMENTO, NITZER EBB, BOYTRONIC and DINA SUMMER are all good examples of how the music is very personal, verse chorus verse song-based concert music, yet can also be DJ’d in a club at 4am in a dusty thriving warehouse rave.”
Music from the past and present can sit comfortably together in the same place and ‘Next Wave Acid Punx DEUX’ proves it.
With thanks to Luca Venezia and Mirren Thomson at Eclectica
CREEP SHOW are back and their second album ‘Yawning Abyss’ is possibly more accomplished than their acclaimed debut ‘Mr Dynamite’.
An electronic supergroup comprising of John Grant, Stephen Mallinder, Ben “Benge” Edwards and Phil Winter, ‘Yawning Abyss’ was produced in Cornwall at Benge’s MemeTune studio.
John Grant is a successful singer / songwriter in his own right while Stephen Mallinder first found fame as a founder member of industrial dance pioneers CABARET VOLTAIRE before joining Benge and Phil Winter in WRANGLER.
While ‘Yawning Abyss’ began as a bunch of sonic experiments using mostly Roland and Moog synths before being taken to Iceland for Grant and Mallinder to record their vocals, what particularly comes across in this sophomore CREEP SHOW adventure is its sense of fun and camaraderie, despite the tensions and menace captured within the resultant music.
How do you look back on the making of ‘Mr Dynamite’ and its reception with your relative fan bases?
John Grant: I just remember that we had a lot of fun in the studio and didn’t really have a specific vision for the record. It was just friends seeing what they could come up with and we all had pretty hectic schedules at the time, so it wasn’t terribly easy to get together.
Stephen Mallinder: I think on reflection it was such a joy because we had no intention other than exploring all the ways the four of us connected artistically and refusing to have anything but a good time doing that. I’m glad people liked it but with respect, we did what we thought was right for us and figured that’s what people would want.
You all met up in Cornwall to lay down the musical bones of ‘Yawning Abyss’, was all the material created from scratch or were there ideas that you didn’t use in your own various guises and productions which were brought in?
John Grant: It was all from scratch.
Stephen Mallinder: It was all us from the very first note…
With this being your second album together, were there any new methods or roles in the creative dynamic that were consciously altered since ‘Mr Dynamite’? Were things even more relaxed this time round as sophomores?
John Grant: I would say we all pretty much played the same roles. Things were even more relaxed this time around. I even fell asleep a few times. While I was singing ‘Yahtzee!’ for example.
Stephen Mallinder: It was a big soup each of us adding ingredients until it tasted perfect. Yes, I had to shake the man awake in ‘Yahtzee!’
Which was everyone’s favourite synths or devices that they used on the album?
John Grant: Maybe the Serge or Mod Cam modular.
Stephen Mallinder: The modular to play hi-hats… old school wrangling…
The lyrics were written and recorded in Iceland, what did that vibe provide that wasn’t possible in Cornwall?
John Grant: I don’t think Iceland made anything possible that wasn’t possible in Cornwall. Except maybe working with engineer Kurt Uenala who has a deep knowledge of Ableton which is what we worked in during the session in Iceland. So he always has a trick or two up his sleeve.
Stephen Mallinder: Iceland was a result of needing to make the most of our available time but it did give things a twist and as John said, Kurt was great to work with and, for me, time in one of the most stunning places on earth.
‘The Bellows’ opens the album and features an array of vocal treatments and Middle Eastern resonances to set the scene?
John Grant: I’m pretty sure this is not a question.
‘Moneyback’ features an alternating avant-rap on crypto currency, how was that inspired?
John Grant: We’re always thinking about the myriad ways the money system sucks as one confronts that all day every day.
Stephen Mallinder: It was a nice way to bounce our voices together and the track pushed it into to the pacey electro vibe.
How did ‘Yahtzee!’ come into being, it’s quite bonkers!?
John Grant: It’s a meditation on the state of things in the US. Pretty much wrote itself. It’s just what came into my head for that music in that moment.
Stephen Mallinder: Pure energy from John and pulls no punches. A response from the gut to the times we live in.
It’s interesting how varied the tracks are with the trancier house influences on ‘Wise and the darker funkier territory of ‘Matinee’ as well?
John Grant: This is also not a question…
Stephen Mallinder: Variety is the spice … we ain’t one trick ponies, nor could ever be.
‘Bungalow’ is possibly the most conventional song on the album, it’s like electronic Bond theme?
John Grant: That sounds about right.
Stephen Mallinder: I think it’s the most beautiful and evocative track on the album – the perfect marrying of one of today’s greatest voices with lush, creeping electronics. An honour to do.
Do you each have a favourite track from ‘Yawning Abyss’? Would you like to do a third CREEP SHOW record?
John Grant: I love the melancholy of ‘The Bellows’ and how haunting the vocoded vox are. We definitely want to do another record.
Stephen Mallinder: I’m with John on ‘The Bellows’ but also think the title track captures what we achieved with the album.
There are a number of live dates coming up this summer, what will be the set up for that and what’s next after?
Stephen Mallinder: Come along and see… who knows what’s on the next page?
ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK gives its grateful thanks to John Grant and Stephen Mallinder
A supergroup comprising of John Grant, Stephen Mallinder, Ben “Benge” Edwards and Phil Winter, CREEP SHOW released their acclaimed debut album ‘Mr Dynamite’ in 2018.
The histories of the individuals involved have been more than well documented and since then, John Grant has released two solo albums ‘Love Is Magic’ and ‘Boy From Michigan’ while Stephen Mallinder had two of his own ‘Um Dada’ and ‘Tick Tick Tick…’.
Busy boy Benge co-produced all of those bar ‘Boy From Michigan’ while he has also been working with Neil Arthur in BLANCMANGE and FADER, as well as John Foxx. Not to be left out, Phil Winter has been back with his experimental folk band TUNNG for two albums.
All this without forgetting the regular Mallinder / Benge / Winter project WRANGLER who released their third album ‘A Situation’ in 2020. However, there was always this sense that the Bella synth union which was CREEP SHOW had more to offer…
Produced in Cornwall at Benge’s MemeTune complex as a bunch of sonic experiments using vintage synths before the tracks were taken to Iceland for Grant and Mallinder to record their vocals, the new album’s title ‘Yawning Abyss’ was inspired by “a cosmic event horizon” that Mallinder observed from his attic window while standing on a chair!
Opening proceedings with a punchy backing track, ‘The Bellows’ is like a blippy PET SHOP BOYS with layers of treated and vocodered vocals before being countered by enticing Middle Eastern resonances in the synth solo. A commentary on crypto currency, ‘Moneyback’ offers avant rap alternating between Grant and Mallinder which echoes the former’s ‘Voodoo’ while the accompanying vorsprung durch technik is rather engrossing.
The futuristic-flavoured ‘Yawning Abyss’ title track takes the pace down to a grooving midtempo with slight voice filtering on Grant’s delivery. ‘Matinee’ sees Mallinder get growly and as the track builds in size and tempo to a darker art-funk, it enters a close encounter of a different kind and becomes particularly ominous in the middle eight.
Moving into trancier house, ‘Wise’ is mysterious and minimal, bolstered by a barrage of synthetic noise. There comes another eccentric twisted rap on ‘Yahtzee!’ and despite the inherent weirdness, there are hooks within the squelchy sonics and frantic machine rhythms. ‘Bungalow’ though is conventional in comparison and perhaps comparable to a John Grant solo ballad; dressed with ivory flashes, harp runs and a synthetically sourced choir, with echoes of John Barry, this is akin to electronic Bond theme.
With schizophrenic voices penetrating from all sides indicative of the band name, ‘Steak Diane’ is an abstract experiment featuring bass guitar and reggae inflections to head into the final straight. To conclude, ‘The Bellows Reprise’ offers a shorter drum-less instrumental take on the album opener that adds the dramatic ‘Blade Runner’ sweeps of Vangelis.
Despite the tensions and menace captured within the music, the fun and camaraderie that was quite obviously had by the quartet in making ‘Yawning Abyss’ comes across, making ‘Mr Dynamite’ seem guarded in retrospect. Even the group photos for this album are more relaxed with everyone comfortable with the sophomore dynamic that now ensues. Straightforward in its approach with no egos or pretensions, ‘Yawning Abyss’ is an excellent experimental joyride.
In addition to albums, several standalone singles were to be key to 1983 for those with a preference for the synthesized form.
NEW ORDER’s ‘Blue Monday’ and KRAFTWERK’s ‘Tour De France’ became iconic works while the David Sylvian and Ryuichi Sakamoto collaboration ‘Forbidden Colours’ not only bravely tackled a topic during a period when gay pop stars and media personalities still felt unable to openly come out, but also reinforced the value of a movie tie-in.
Sampling was no longer the preserve of wealthy musicians and their Fairlights as the cheaper but still expensive Emulator became more widely available. Meanwhile the Roland Jupiter-6, Prophet 600, the Roland TR-909 and Roland MSQ-700 became the first instruments available with MIDI. Digital synthesis became affordable via the astonishingly affordable Yamaha DX7, although it proved to be a nightmare to programme. As a result, the music world fell into a preset trap overnight with the sound of simulated slap bass, flute and harmonica appearing on almost every pop record for the next few years…
But synthesizers and electronic sounds ceased being a desired texture as the huge success of David Bowie with his ‘Let’s Dance’ album meant every band would soon add a brass section to their line-up. SPANDAU BALLET, who perhaps may have triggered pop’s brass aspirations back in 1981 with ‘Chant No1’, went all smaltzy with ‘True’ and this coincided with the rise of pseudo-soul pop such as WHAM! and CULTURE CLUB. Meanwhile, in alternative circles, bands like THE SMITHS were spearheading the backlash with their frontman Morrissey declaring “there was nothing more repellent than the synthesizer…”
However, the old guard from Synth Britannia soldiered on and continued to experiment while acts who perhaps were not electronically-minded at their heart could see the benefits of embracing the developing technology, such as having more streamlined line-ups and dispensing with drummers.
However, a sign of the confusing artistic mindsets of the period came with Gary Numan’s ‘Warriors’ album and its dreadful artwork with our hero looking like Mad Max after a visit to the hair salon, but annoyed that his mulleted mane had been dyed the wrong colour.
Things had looked promising for his return to the UK live stage after retiring in 1981, but he fell out with producer Bill Nelson during the recording sessions.
With the embracement of jazz funk influences and sax solos appearing whether they were really needed or not, the result was a well-played if confused record that was the beginning of a creative confidence crisis that would afflict Numan for at least another decade.
So here are 20 albums selected by ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK as contributing to the electronic legacy of 1983. Listed in alphabetical order, there is a restriction of one album per artist moniker where beyond this place, the rains are falling hard…
CABARET VOLTAIRE The Crackdown
After the departure of founder member Chris Watson, the remaining duo of Richard H Kirk and Stephen Mallinder became seduced by the sequenced adventures of NEW ORDER and electronic dance music emerging from New York clubs like Danceteria. Signing to Some Bizzare and licensed to Virgin Records, ‘The Crackdown’ was produced by Flood and featured contributions from Dave Ball of SOFT CELL on the title song and ‘Animation’. Meanwhile the stark single ‘Just Fascination’ helped the album become CABARET VOLTAIRE’s highest ever UK chart entry at No31.
CHINA CRISIS Working With Fire & Steel – Possible Pop Songs Volume 2
Produced by Mike Howlett, ‘Working With Fire & Steel’ allowed CHINA CRISIS to deliver a more cohesive album following the four producers who steered their debut ‘Difficult Shapes & Passive Rhythms’! Best known for the brilliant Emulator laced hit single ‘Wishful Thinking’, the album is much more than that with melancholic synth melodies and woodwind counterpoints over a combination of real and programmed rhythm sections, from feistier numbers such as ‘Animals In Jungles’ to more atmospheric set pieces like ‘Here Comes A Raincloud’ and ‘The Soul Awakening’.
‘Working With Fire & Steel – Possible Pop Songs Volume 2’ is still available via Caroline International
The first album featuring Alan Wilder as a full member as well as Gareth Jones as “Tonmeister”, ‘Construction Time Again’ saw DEPECHE MODE move away from pure synthpop to experiment with found object sampling via the Emulator. Mixed at Hansa Studios in West Berlin, the end result was a socially conscious record featuring Cold War paranoia on ‘Two Minute Warning’, environmental concerns on ’The Landscape Is Changing’ and the now ironic anti-capitalist statements ‘More Than A Party’, ‘Pipeline’ and ‘Everything Counts’!
DURAN DURAN may have eventually yielded a 1984 No1 single in a Nile Rodgers remix of ‘The Reflex’ but overall, ‘Seven & The Ragged Tiger’ was perhaps an over produced disappointment in the shadow of Bowie’s ‘Let’s Dance’. Recorded in France and Australia, tensions between band members and with producer Ian Little led to the ubiquitous Alex Sadkin to be brought in. Despite this, the album featured highlights such as the punchy ‘Shadows On Your Side’, the JAPAN inspired instrumental ‘Tiger Tiger’ and the often forgotten single ‘New Moon On Monday’.
The success of ABC and HEAVEN 17 heralded a new age of technologically enhanced blue-eyed soul. One band with aspirations in that field were Glasgow’s ENDGAMES. Featuring original SIMPLE MINDS drummer Brian McGee, ‘Universe Won’t Mind’, ‘Desire’ and the German No21 hit hit ‘Waiting For Another Chance’ were among the standouts. Meanwhile ‘Love Cares’ was like a funky CHINA CRISIS walking into the recording sessions of ‘The Lexicon Of Love’ and by pure coincidence, singer David Rudden had a passing resemblance to Gary Daly!
‘Building Beauty’ was originally released on Virgin Records, currently unavailable
Recorded as a soundtrack to a documentary film about the Apollo Missions to the moon, Brian Eno wanted to convey the feelings of space travel and weightlessness as a reaction to the uptempo, manner of space travel presented by most TV programmes and news reels of the day with their fast cuts and speeded up images. Although based around a Yamaha DX7, the album was quite varied instrumentally featuring Daniel Lanois’ countrified six string elements on its best known track ‘Deep Blue Day’, as well as ‘Silver Morning’ and ‘Weightless’.
The first of two EURYTHMICS albums in 1983, after their German-inspired debut ‘In The Garden’, Annie Lennox and David A Stewart explored the synthesizer and acquired a Movement Drum Computer to live up to their moniker. Recorded in their newly equipped 8 track home studio in London’s Chalk Farm, ‘Love Is A Stranger’ was the breakthrough although not a hit first time round. Despite its hopeless nihilism, the title song went global but the album had other notable songs such as ‘I Could Give You (A Mirror)’, ‘I’ve Got An Angel’ and the brilliant forgotten single ‘The Walk’.
John Foxx had envisioned ‘The Golden Section’ as “a roots check” with a psychedelic electronic rock flavour. This came to a head on a revised ‘Endlessy’ which captured an accessible uptempo euphoria. With folk laden overtones, ‘Ghosts On Water’ was one of the album’s highlights along with the powerful opener ‘My Wild Love’. But away from these influences, ‘Twilight’s Last Gleaming’ was a glorious haunting closer. Foxx himself later remarked the album was a mistake as he tried to “fit too many favourite things together”.
Produced by Alex Sadkin, ‘Rhythm Of Life’ was the one and only attempt by Paul Haig to crack the pop mainstream away from the frantic guitar driven angst of his previous band JOSEF K. Highly percussive and lifted by some sub-ASSOCIATES rhythm guitar and big layered synth riffs, ‘Never Give Up (Party Party)’ showed great promise while ‘Heaven Sent’ was a superb reimagination of SIMPLE MINDS’ ‘I Travel’ for the New York dancefloor. ‘Justice’ was full of tense drama and contained a fabulously freeform synth solo but a lack of hits failed to ignite wider interest in the album.
After the critical and artistic success of ‘Penthouse & Pavement’, the second album ‘The Luxury Gap’ was HEAVEN 17 aiming to be incredibly popular. With a Roland MC4 Micro-composer and Linn Drum driving their System 100s and Jupiter 4, there were Top 5 hits in ‘Temptation’ and ‘Come Live With Me’. Still experimenting, ‘Lady Ice & Mr Hex’ was a surreal marriage of synthesizers with jazz while with the used of a Roland TB303 Bassline prominently on ‘Let Me Go’ pre-dated acid house.
Trying to follow-up ‘Dare’ proved to be a fractious experience with producer Martin Rushent leaving the sessions after creative conflicts with various members of THE HUMAN LEAGUE. The few completed tracks were issued on a North American mini-album and showed what could have been. While included were the ‘Love Action’ B-side ‘Hard Times’, the catchy title single and the electro-Tamla of ‘Mirror Man’, they were topped by ‘You Remind Me Of Gold’ and Rushent’s mix of ‘I Love You too Much’. The eventual ‘Hysteria’ album in 1984 was underwhelming, undoubtedly missing Rushent’s touch.
Pete Byrne and Rob Fisher were NAKED EYES and while their Simmons heavy Bacharach & David cover of ‘Always Something There To Remind Me’ didn’t trouble the UK Top 40, it reached No8 in the US. Produced by Tony Mansfield of NEW MUSIK, the eponymous debut album used a Fairlight, Synclavier 2, PPG Wave 2.2, Emulator, OBX-a and Prophet 5. Not another Bacharach & David cover, a further US hit came with ‘Promises Promises’. Rob Fisher later had UK hits with Simon Climie but sadly passed away in 1999 while Peter Byrne continues performing as NAKED EYES.
‘Burning Bridges’ is still available as ‘Naked Eyes’ via Chrysalis Records
Using sequencer-like effects on interim singles ‘Everything’s Gone Green’ and ‘Temptation’ had set NEW ORDER on a new path and while there were still guitar driven songs such as ‘Age Of Consent’ and ‘Leave Me Alone’, hybrids such as ‘The Village’ and ‘Ultraviolence’ utilised a pulsing electronic backbone. ‘Your Silent Face’, dubbed the “KRAFTWERK one”, was the ultimate romantic homage to Kling Klang but strangely, the track that seeded it all ‘586’ lost its menace in its third recorded incarnation with non-album single ‘Blue Monday’ being the superior development.
A brave sonic exploration of Cold War tensions and economic corruption, ‘Dazzle Ships’ was not what Virgin Records expected from OMD after three Top5 hits. Of its two singles, the jangly ‘Genetic Engineering’ was only a minor hit while the scathing attack on TV evangelism ‘Telegraph’ failed to get into the Top40. Although it featured some of the band’s best songs like ‘The Romance Of The Telescope’, ‘International’ and ‘Radio Waves’, ‘Dazzle Ships’ sold poorly on release but it has since been re-evaluated as a landmark work of the period.
Pop stardom did not suit SOFT CELL so there was no option but for former artschool students Marc Almond and Dave Ball to self-destruct. The imploding disposition of ‘The Art Of Falling Apart’ title song couldn’t have soundtracked a mental breakdown any better. Despite the sinister romp of ‘Baby Doll’ and the explicit ode to promiscuity ‘Numbers’, ‘Forever The Same’ and ‘Loving You Hating Me’ could have been a singles, while ‘Where The Heart Is’ and ‘Kitchen Sink Drama’ featured highly relatable domestic narratives.
With a magnificent combination of synth, preset rhythms and conventional instruments, ‘Mad World’ had set the scene for TEARS FOR FEARS’ debut album ‘The Hurting’. But it disappointed some who had followed the band from the start, as not only had all four singles to date been included but also two B-sides. But the majority had been reworked while the fraught tensions of the title song and ‘Memories Fade’ found favour amongst the new material. The re-recorded ‘Pale Shelter’ became a hit on second time of asking too.
Having slimmed down to a trio, the Alex Sadkin produced ‘Quick Step & Side Kick’ was the third THOMPSON TWINS album. Although ‘Love On Your Side’ was to be the breakthrough hit with the catchy but potentially annoying ‘We Are Detective’ following, the exotic funky non-hit ‘Lies’ deserved greater recognition while ‘Judy Do’ gloriously borrowed from Lou Reed’s ‘Satellite Of Love’. This was all without the Grace Jones cameo on frankly bonkers ‘Watching’ and the rousing ‘If You Were There’.
Hailing from Stoke-on-Trent, WHITE DOOR formed from the ashes of prog rock combo GRACE. Led by the sensitive vocal presence of Mac Austin, he backed by the Davies brothers Harry and John on synths. Produced by a young Andy Richards, ‘Windows’ saw its title song get BBC Radio1 airplay. Even better was the beautiful choir boy synthpop of ‘Jerusalem’ which was later covered by Swedish synthesist Johan Baeckström, along with another album track ‘School Days’. Baeckström was to later join the trio for their 2020 long playing comeback ‘The Great Awakening’.
‘Windows’ is still available as a CD from Cherry Red Records
Despite the success of ‘Upstairs At Eric’s’, all was not well in the YAZOO camp so by the time of ‘You & Me Both’, Vince Clarke and Alison Moyet were laying down their parts separately. ‘Ode To Boy’, one of only three songwriting collaborations the pair did was rescued from B-side obscurity while ‘Nobody’s Diary’ was the mighty swansong single. The album contained Moyet’s poignant anti-war statement ‘Mr Blue’ but in the Vince Clarke voiced ‘Happy People’, he came up with his most polarising composition since ‘What’s Your Name?’.
As a reaction to the over-seriousness of their previous two albums, YELLOW MAGIC ORCHESTRA lightened up considerably for their fifth full-length album ‘Naughty Boys’. The most commercial record of their career, this was highlighted by the joyous lead single ‘Kimi Ni Mune Kyun’. But while ‘Opened My Eyes’ could have been any Western synthpop act of the period, ‘Lotus Love’ revealed some unexpected psychedelic overtones and ‘Kai-Koh’ showed that the trio had not lost their ear for exotic electronically generated timbres.
“There is no musical barrier of peoples acceptance, the only musical barrier is the media. (music press, radio & television.) Remember what people cannot see or hear, they cannot think about.”: Some Bizzare ‘?’
Along with Factory and Mute, Some Bizzare was one of the focal points of independently minded music and culture. It can be credited with launching the careers of SOFT CELL and THE THE while DEPECHE MODE, BLANCMANGE, B-MOVIE, CABARET VOLTAIRE, EINSTURZENDE NEUBAUTEN, FOETUS and PSYCHIC TV have also been part of its story.
At the centre of it all was Stevo Pierce, a Dagenham lad who ran club nights playing electronic music and was bolshy enough to approach rock paper Sounds about publishing his Futurist chart.
Having helped get his charges SOFT CELL to No1 with ‘Tainted Love’ in the summer of 1981, Stevo caught an unsuspecting music industry on the hop. “I’ve got you by the boll*cks” he once declared and he could name his price as he shopped his roster to the major labels. His methods could be unconventional and there were legendary stories about teddy bears being sent to meetings with cassettes stating his demands including supplies of sweets for a year.
Stevo’s ace was often to get the major labels to underwrite recordings while still keeping ownership of them himself. And the majors loved dealing with him… for a while at least. But next to the million-selling singles, there were raids by the Vice Squad, sex dwarves, death threats, ecstasy parties and meltdowns with one notable incident when Stevo and Marc Almond trashed the offices of Phonogram Records in Spring 1983.
Wesley Doyle traces the weird and wonderful world of Some Bizzare in his new book ‘Conform To Deform’. It features new contributions from many of the major players in the story including Marc Almond, Dave Ball, Matt Johnson, Daniel Miller, Steve Hovington, Neil Arthur, JG Thirlwell aka Clint Ruin / Jim Foetus, Stephen Mallinder, Anni Hogan, Michael Gira and long suffering personal assistant Jane Rolink, as well as Stevo himself.
Documenting the rise and fall of Some Bizzare, Wesley Doyle chatted to ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK about how his excellent book came together as well as answering some hypothetical questions of interest…
What inspired you to document the story of Some Bizzare?
I’ve been a fan of the label since my early teens, and it was a really important part of my growing up and development. I’d been waiting for years for somebody to write a book, because I wanted to see all those stories collected in one place, but it seemed no writer or publisher wanted to take it on. So I thought I’d do it myself. I wrote a feature for Record Collector, a kind of top 20 Some Bizzare releases, which in the back of my mind I thought I could use as part of a book pitch. Which I did, and Jawbone picked it up.
With ‘Conform To Deform’, you’ve opted for a chronological quotes narrative?
I like oral histories – everyone has their own truth, and I think juxtaposing people’s recollections in their own words is a really interesting way of finding out what actually went on. But initially I started writing the book as a third person narrative, mainly because I didn’t think some of the key players would be willing to talk. It soon became apparent most people were happy to share their recollections, so I shifted it to the oral history format.
I think it works well, and it captures the personality of the characters involved. Some of the characters were so larger-than-life and their voices so strong, and there was a lot of humour that may have been lost otherwise. Stevo’s way of communication is famously unique, and people like Marc Almond, Dave Ball, Anni Hogan and Jane Rolink are all Northerners, so they have this innate sense of humour that wouldn’t have come across if I’d had been pontificating in some kind of flowery prose. Matt Johnson as well is a very funny man, which might surprise some people.
Compared with Mute and Factory, Some Bizzare was more stable than label… see what I did there! *laughs*
That’s good, I wish I’d thought of that!
I guess it’s in the book’s title, ‘Conform To Deform’; Stevo wanted to get in bed with the major labels so that he had their clout. He worked closely with Daniel Miller at the beginning but Mute were a small operation and at the time Daniel wanted to keep it that way. Stevo always thought big – from the very beginning Some Bizzare wasn’t aiming for a minority audience. There were no little independent releases, the first album came out on Phonogram, as did the first run of singles from SOFT CELL and B-MOVIE. Stevo really wanted to hit a big audience, although I don’t think it did him any favours in the long run. As Daniel says in the book, knowing what Stevo’s taste in music was, it was only going to end in tears.
But you can’t deny the success of ‘Tainted Love’. It’s hard to make a comparison now, what with success being measured in billions of streams. In 1981 over a million people in the UK left their homes, walked into their local record shop and handed over money to own that song. And that gave Stevo carte blanche to go to the major labels with bands like THE THE, EINSTÜRZENDE NEUBAUTEN and PSYCHIC TV and they would take a punt on them.
I don’t know if you remember a quote from Marc Almond and I think it was in NME; he said that an artist can only truly be subversive if they have access to the mainstream…
I think it’s true – again, ‘Conform to Deform’. I found out about FOETUS because Marc brought him on TV when SOFT CELL covered SUICIDE’s ‘Ghost Rider’ on Channel 4’s ‘Switch’ show – which was on a teatime on a Friday! I was speaking to Karl O’Connor aka Regis and we both had the same response to that appearance, it totally changed us. So in that respect, getting music like that on mainstream television was a truly subversive act. It was all well and good when CABARET VOLTAIRE were on Rough Trade or Crépuscule and their music reached a few thousand people in trench coats, but it’s only when they were on Some Bizzare and had access to Virgin’s money that people paid real attention. If you want reach people, you’ve got to go though the most popular channels, you’re just in an echo chamber otherwise. Which is fine, but you’ll never change anything.
It’s amazing to think that a lot of the stuff that we were into around that time was being featured in a so-called teen pop magazine like Smash Hits. But talking about the serious music press, it’s interesting that Sounds, at the time known for being more of a rock and heavy metal music paper, published Stevo’s Futurist chart and employed Beverley Glick aka Betty Page to interview these new acts using synths, rather than say the NME?
I remember Sounds being the most open minded of the big four papers generally. They were always seen as the lesser of NME, Melody Maker and Record Mirror, so they really had to fight for their place at the table. Editor Alan Lewis wanted to reach as many people as possible, so you had Garry Bushell writing about the Oi! movement, Geoff Barton writing about heavy metal, Jon Savage writing about post-punk, and Beverley Glick writing about what became the New Romantics. In retrospect it was far more open minded than the other papers.
Your book discusses the Futurist / Blitz Kid divide when New Romantic was not actually a thing yet, which is something the media, fans and record labels have forgotten…
In 1981 I was 12 years old and buying Smash Hits, so New Romantics and Futurists were the same thing to me, I wasn’t aware that there was a perceived difference. But Beverley and Stevo in particular were quite clear that New Romantics DID NOT exist in 1980, it was a retrospective thing.
Rusty Egan was on the Blitz Kid side and Stevo was on the Futurist side, and what surprised me was how visible both were when it came to the press. Stevo was so embedded in Sounds, he was a big character in that paper.
Having spoken to the people that were there, no-one said anything about New Romantics, it was Futurists and Blitz Kids. Blitz Kids were ULTRAVOX, SPANDAU BALLET, DURAN DURAN and VISAGE while Futurists were slightly edgier stuff like SOFT CELL, BLANCMANGE, FAD GADGET and CLOCK DVA. And never the twain would meet!
The whole thing got put on a pedestal when the ‘Some Bizzare Album’ came out in early 1981, it’s now become iconic and prescient but how do you think it stands up today?
What I found interesting was that Stevo did ask lot of established bands to be on it, like CABARET VOLTAIRE, THROBBING GRISTLE and CLOCK DVA. He wanted it to reflect what he was playing out as a DJ rather than a showcase for new acts. But those bands didn’t want to do it, so by default it became a compilation of new artists. It’s a weird one, when you listen to the ‘Some Bizzare Album’ now, there’s a lot of very strange stuff on there. You’d be hard pushed to listen to even the BLANCMANGE or THE THE tracks and think “Ooh, they’re going places!” *laughs*
ILLUSTRATION’s ‘Tidal Flow’ is one of the most commercial things on it but they didn’t do anything else. B-MOVIE’s ‘Moles’ is pretty strong, but even SOFT CELL’s ‘The Girl With The Patent Leather Face’, although a highlight, you still wouldn’t think, “This is a multi-million selling act we have here”.
But the ‘Some Bizzare Album’ does have DEPECHE MODE on it, one of the biggest bands in the world and ‘Photographic’ is one of their best songs, and I think a lot of the album’s reputation rests with that. So it’s a real curio, if you listen to the other label compilations around the time like Virgin’s ‘Methods Of Dance’ and stuff like that, they were probably a bigger indicator of what people were actually listening to.
On the ‘Some Bizzare Album’, what do you think are the best tracks outside of the “BIG 5” of DEPECHE MODE, SOFT CELL, THE THE, BLANCMANGE and B-MOVIE, I nominate ILLUSTRATION and THE FAST SET?
The ILLUSTRATION one is good and THE FAST SET’s cover of ‘King Of The Rumbling Spires’ is OK, but the single ‘Junction 1’ which they put out on Axis / 4AD is a better song I think. I really like the BLAH BLAH BLAH one, I’m a big fan of Tom Waits so when I think back to my own musical development, something like ‘Central Park’ would have teed me up for stuff like that.
A purely hypothetical question, what would have happened if DEPECHE MODE had been on Some Bizzare and SOFT CELL had been on Mute?
That’s a great question. Well for a start I think Dave Gahan would have had to go into rehab sooner! *laughs*
Seriously though, I don’t think either band would’ve been as successful, either creatively or commercially. You only have to listen to the demos SOFT CELL did with Daniel to hear that the regimented, sequenced production that worked so well for DEPECHE MODE didn’t for them, the exception being ‘Memorabilia’ of course. Plus SOFT CELL wouldn’t have gone to New York and had the experiences they did, which changed not only their creative direction but so many of their label mates too.
And with his more leftfield musical tastes, Stevo would’ve grown tired of Depeche’s early poppier stuff pretty quickly. And I don’t think he would’ve been emotionally mature enough to support them through Vince leaving and encouraging them to carry on. I think they would’ve have gone the way of B-MOVIE had they signed Some Bizzare.
Although Paul Statham from B-MOVIE could be considered Some Bizzare’s silent success story with his later co-writes for Peter Murphy, Dido and Kylie, why do you think out of the “BIG 5” that the band did not break into the mainstream?
Like lot of people, the first time I heard B-MOVIE was on the Flexipop flexidisc when ‘Remembrance Day’ was paired with SOFT CELL ‘Metro MRX’. If you follow the threads, then there were the singles ‘Marilyn Dreams’ and ‘Nowhere Girl’ plus there were two EPs before that, which positioned them as a perfect post-punk band. Personally, I always thought B-MOVIE had more in common with THE TEARDROP EXPLODES, THE SOUND and ECHO & THE BUNNYMEN. And Rick Holliday’s keyboard playing was very accomplished, much more musical and didn’t really fit in with that one-fingered synth thing. B-MOVIE’s singer Steve Hovington speaks very openly in the book about how at the time B-MOVIE thought they were geniuses and felt they should have been given a lot more respect than they got. And people at Phonogram genuinely thought they had a rival to DURAN DURAN on their hands. But it soon became apparent they weren’t that kind of band.
Rick Holliday was the last to join B-MOVIE and the first to leave when he went off with Cindy Ecstasy so I think the chemistry and group mentality of the band got really altered…
With most bands the chemistry is unique, and once you start to tamper with it, you lose something. As soon as Rick left, they changed the line-up and got session players in to re-record and re-re-record those early songs. By the time they finally released an album, they really weren’t the same band and they’d kind of lost what made them great. They were signed to Sire by that point and maybe weren’t really in control. Sometimes limitations are better and working within those parameters becomes part of the end result. Other times, you can give musicians access to big studios and big money, but they just lose what was good about them. I actually think B–MOVIE are a much better band now than they were during that mid-80s period.
Which version of THE THE ‘Uncertain Smile’ is your favourite, ‘Cold Spell Ahead’, the single version produced by Mike Thorne or the ‘Soul Mining’ one?
I’m going to be pedantic and say it’s actually none of those, it’s the 10 minute 12 inch version with the flute and sax produced by Mike Thorne. Outside of his work on ‘Untitled’, that was the first thing I heard by Matt Johnson. And taken with the two B-sides – ‘Three Orange Kisses From Kazan’ and ‘Waitin’ For The Upturn’ – it’s simply some of the best music ever recorded in my opinion.
I always thought it was a shame Matt Johnson didn’t stay working with Mike Thorne…
Yeah, that was a Stevo thing…
Some Bizzare’s union with CABARET VOLTAIRE’s club-oriented era now seems obvious but at the time, it wasn’t because they were known to be uncompromising and independent on their own?
I didn’t really know anything about CABARET VOLTAIRE before their Some Bizzare period, ‘Just Fascination’ was the first thing I heard by them. As far as I was concerned, they were like a new band who had just signed to Some Bizzare. Mal (Stephen Mallinder) told me they felt they had gone as far as they could go with Rough Trade and wanted to move onto bigger budgets and bigger studios. I was astounded to find they had nothing prepared when they made ‘The Crackdown’, they went into Trident Studios for a week, having never worked with a producer before, and just made it from scratch. Flood was engineering, Dave Ball played some keyboards and Stevo shopped the end result to the major labels.
What do you think was the seed of it going wrong for Some Bizzare?
That’s a tough one… I think Stevo wasn’t able to find another SOFT CELL, a big-selling pop act which could balance out his more left-field artists. So he didn’t have a contingency when bands wanted to leave. Also, this amazing idea of getting leftfield bands to be treated as bona-fide unit shifting pop stars, soon fell apart when the amount of money that the majors were spending on the records wasn’t being reflected in the amount of money being made. It was the cold hard facts of business that bit them on the arse in the end. I agree with Jim Thirwell aka FOETUS that the A&R decisions went out of the window. Maybe if Stevo had signed YELLO, who he was after at one point, things may have been different. But he signed TEST DEPARTMENT instead… which kind of sums it up! *laughs*
Some Bizzare had a great visual identity, so what was your favourite artwork?
The childish part of me wants to say, “the w*nking devil” on the cover of the ‘Infected’ 12”. I have the design on a T-shirt which I’ve only wore out once and even then kept it covered up! *laughs*
I love Andy Dog Johnson’s stuff for THE THE; I interviewed Matt a couple of times for the book and he was super generous. The second time I went to see him, he let me look at some of his brother’s sketchbooks… the guy was astounding, the colour palettes he used were incredible. I love Val Dehnam’s stuff although I know that’s not to everyone’s taste, but the cover of ‘Torment & Toreros’ is amazing. And I love the cover to the second compilation album too.
Of Huw Feather’s work it would be ‘Torch’ for me, such an incredible, confusing, vibrant image. There was a lot of one-off bits of artwork produced for the label, and over the years I’ve tried to track down all the fan club stuff and merch flyers that were produced. There were some brilliant single-use magazine adverts, too. In particular one for ‘Bedsitter’ from Sounds – a line drawing of what a bedsit would look like looking up from a bed. It didn’t appear on anything else, it was unique piece of artwork for the music press. I had far too much visual material to include in the book so a lot of it got left out. I’m aiming to get some of it up on my Instagram feed around the time of publication so people can see it.
What is the ultimate Some Bizzare record?
I think THE THE’s ‘Infected’ project is the ultimate crystallisation of what Stevo was trying to do. It’s a challenging piece of work – both musically and lyrically – and visually very strong. And there was an accompanying film which was incredibly expensive and again very cutting edge for the time. And of course Stevo got it bankrolled by a major label who lost their shirt on it – there was no way it was going to recoup. Yet it still stands up to this day – you can watch the film now and still be impressed by its production values, and the music is still incredible. The Some Bizzare ethos runs all the way through ‘Infected’.
What about the legacy of Stevo and Some Bizzare?
Stevo would disagree, but I think there are still people doing what he tried to do. DJ Food in the book mentions James Lavelle which I thought was a good example. Also Wiley too, who uses mainstream channels when they suit him, and goes underground when they don’t. A lot of legacy artists who now own their own means of production make their albums and then shop them to whichever label that gives them the best deal. People like Damon Albarn, Paul Weller and Nick Cave who retain artistic control but use the clout of a major, that’s definitely a Stevo thing.
As far as trying to push boundaries and change people’s minds about artistic expression, I don’t know. Things like the ‘Sex Dwarf’ video would be seen as relatively tame and facile now, I don’t think it would shock anybody…
…it’s not RAMMSTEIN’s ‘Pussy’ is it? *laughs*
No, it’s not, thank god! *laughs*
I don’t really know what sort of boundaries stuff like that is pushing to be honest, it doesn’t seem to have a point. The thing about Some Bizzare and what Stevo was trying to do, whether he knew it or not, was he allowed people who would not have access to that kind of platform to be heard. For a while, you could find out about bands like EINSTÜRZENDE NEUBAUTEN or SWANS, read about what they were trying to do, and then decide for yourself if you wanted to pursue their music further.
Your website is testament that the early-to-mid 80s period was a golden age for leftfield artists moving into the mainstream, which was great for the most part. But a lot of those acts adjusted their music to make it more palatable. THE FUTURE changed to THE HUMAN LEAGUE who signed to Virgin, and then split into THE HUMAN LEAGUE MKII and HEAVEN 17, and both made concessions to ongoing commercial success, for better or worse. But Neubauten always sounded like Neubauten, and Stevo’s attitude was, “Why shouldn’t they be on Virgin too? Get the music out there, and let people make up their own minds.”
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