1981 is the year covered by the second instalment of Cherry Red’s ‘Musik Music Musique’ series.
1980 was something of a transition year for the synth as it knocked on the door of the mainstream charts but by 1981, it was more or less let in with welcome arms. From the same team behind the ‘Close To The Noise Floor’ compendiums and the most excellent ‘Electrical Language’ boxed set, ‘Musik Music Musique 2.0 1981 – The Rise Of Synth Pop’ presents rarities alongside hits and key album tracks from what many consider the best year in music and one that contributes the most to the legacy of electronic music in its wider acceptance and impact.
Featuring HEAVEN 17 with ‘(We Don’t Need This) Fascist Groove Thang’, OMD with ‘Souvenir’ and the eponymous single by VISAGE, these songs are iconic 1981 canon that need no further discussion. Meanwhile the longevity of magnificent album tracks such as ‘Frustration’ by SOFT CELL and ‘I Remember (Death In The Afternoon)’ by ULTRAVOX can be summed by the fact that they have featured in 21st Century live sets alongside their parent acts’ hits.
Although not quite as celebrated, ‘You Were There’ from pastoral second John Foxx long player ‘The Garden’ captures the move from stark JG Ballard imagery to something almost romantic. DEVO are represented by the LinnDrum driven ‘Through Being Cool’, the opener of the ‘New Traditionalists’ album which comes as a statement that the mainstream was their next target; the Akron quintet were one of the many acts signed by Virgin Records as the label focussed on a synth focussed takeover that ultimately shaped the sonic landscape of 1981.
Then there’s TEARS FOR FEARS’ promising debut ‘Suffer The Children’ in its original synthier single recording and The Blitz Club favourite ‘Bostich’ from quirky Swiss pioneers YELLO. Another Blitz staple ‘No GDM’ from GINA X PERFORMANCE gets included despite being of 1978 vintage due to its first UK single release in 1981. The use of synth came in all sorts of shapes and FASHIØN presented a funkier take with ‘Move Øn’ while the track’s producer Zeus B Held took a more typically offbeat kosmische approach on his own ‘Cowboy On The Beach’.
Pivotal releases by JAPAN with the ‘The Art Of Parties’ (here in the more metallic ‘Tin Drum’ album version) and A FLOCK OF SEAGULLS ‘(It’s Not Me) Talking’ highlight those bands’ then-potential for mainstream success. But in the battle of the New Romantic boy bands, the sitar tinged DURAN DURAN B-side ‘Khanada’ easily blows away the SPANDAU BALLET album track ‘Reformation’ in an ominous sign as to who would crack it biggest worldwide.
The great lost band of this era, B-MOVIE issued the first of several versions of ‘Nowhere Girl’ in December 1980 on Dead Good Records and its inclusion showcases the song’s promise which was then more fully realised on the 1982 Some Bizzare single produced by the late Steve Brown although sadly, this was still not a hit.
The best and most synth flavoured pop hits from the period’s feisty females like Kim Wilde and Toyah are appropriate inclusions, as is Hazel O’Connor’s largely forgotten SPARKS homage ‘(Cover Plus) We’re All Grown Up’. But the less said about racist novelty records such as ‘Japanese Boy’ by Aneka, the better… the actual nation of Japan though is correctly represented by their most notable electronic exponents YELLOW MAGIC ORCHESTRA with ‘Cue’ from ‘BGM’, the first release to feature the Roland TR808 Rhythm Composer.
With these type of boxed sets, it’s the less familiar tracks that are always the most interesting. As the best looking member of TANGERINE DREAM, Peter Baumann had a crack at the single charts with the catchy Robert Palmer produced ‘Repeat, Repeat’ while former Gary Numan backing band DRAMATIS are represented by ‘Lady DJ’ although its epic A side ‘Ex Luna Scientia’ would have equally merited inclusion. But BEASTS IN CAGES who later became HARD CORPS stand out with the stark dystopia of ‘Sandcastles’.
The one that “should-have-been-a-pop-hit” is the ABBA-esque ‘I Can’t Hold On’ by Natasha England and it’s a shame that her career is remembered for a lame opportunistic cover of ‘Iko Iko’ rather than this, but the delightful ‘Twelfth House’ demonstrates again how under-rated Tony Mansfield’s NEW MUSIK were, and this with a B-side!
The rather fraught ‘Wonderlust’ by THE FALLOUT CLUB captures the late Trevor Herion in fine form on a Thomas Dolby produced number with a dramatic Spaghetti Western flavour that is lushly sculpted with electronics. Over a more sedate rhythm box mantra, ‘Love Moves In Strange Ways’ from BLUE ZOO swirls with a not entirely dissimilar mood.
Mute Records founder Daniel Miller was breaking through with his productions for DEPECHE MODE in 1981, but representation on ‘Musik Music Musique 2.0’ comes via the colder austere of ‘Science Fiction’ by Alan Burnham. ‘West End’ by Thomas Leer adds some jazzy freeform synth soloing to the vocal free backdrop, while ‘Surface Tension’ from ANALYSIS is an appealing instrumental.
The strangely accessible weirdness of CHRIS & COSEY’s ‘This Is Me’, MYSTERY PLANE’s ‘Something To Prove’ and the gritty ‘Brix’ from PORTION CONTROL will delight those more into the leftfield, while AK-47’s ‘Stop! Dance!’, the work of Simon Leonard (later of I START COUNTING and KOMPUTER fame) is another DIY experiment in that aesthetic vein.
Some tracks are interesting but not essential like Richard Bone’s ‘Alien Girl’ which comes over like an amusing pub singer SILICON TEENS, Johnny Warman’s appealing robopop on ‘Will You Dance With Me?’ and the synth dressed New Wave of ‘Close-Up’ by THOSE FRENCH GIRLS. For something more typically artschool, there’s the timpani laden ‘Taboos’ by THE PASSAGE and SECOND LAYER’s screechy ‘In Bits’.
More surprising is Swedish songstress Virna Lindt with her ‘Young & Hip’ which oddly combines showtune theatrics with blippy synth and ska! The set ends rather fittingly with Cherry Red’s very own EYELESS IN GAZA with the abstract atmospherics of ‘The Eyes Of Beautiful Losers’ although they too would eventually produce their own rousing synthpop statement ‘Sunbursts In’ in 1984.
Outside of the music, the booklet is a bit disappointing with the photos of OMD, TEARS FOR FEARS, HEAVEN 17, B-MOVIE and a glam-bouffanted Kim Wilde all coming from the wrong eras. And while the liner notes provide helpful information on the lesser known acts, clangers such as stating Toyah’s ‘Thunder In The Mountains’ was from the album ‘The Changeling’ when it was a standalone 45, “GONG’s Mike Hewlett” and “memorable sleeve designs by Malcolm Garrett’s Altered IMaGes” do not help those who wish to discover the origins of those accumulated gems.
But these quibbles aside, overall ‘Musik Music Musique 2.0’ is a good collection, although with fewer rare jewels compared with the first 1980 volume which perhaps points to the fact that those who had the shine to breakthrough actually did… 40 years on though, many of those hit making acts (or variations of) are still performing live in some form.
Was 1981 the most important year in synth as far becoming ubiquitous in the mainstream and hitting the top of the charts internationally? With VISAGE’s ‘Fade To Grey’ becoming a West German No1 in Spring 1981 through to SOFT CELL taking the summer topspot in the UK and culminating in THE HUMAN LEAGUE eventually taking ‘Don’t You Want Me?’ to No1 in the US, the sound of synth had done its job. Setting the scene for 1982 and 1983, further editions of ‘Musik Music Musique’ are planned.
This history of Mute Records and its esteemed founder Daniel Miller is more than well documented.
The lavish book ‘Mute: A Visual Document From 1978 – Tomorrow’ published in 2017 captured the iconic label’s visual aesthetic. Already a fan of German kosmische scene, Daniel Miller began taking an interest in synthesizers for making pop music after hearing KRAFTWERK’s ‘Autobahn’.
The advent of affordable synthesizers from Japan manufactured by the likes of Korg and Roland made it possible for him to adopt punk’s DIY ethic by buying a Korg 700s for the price of a guitar. That enabled him to make music using just one finger, instead of having to learn three chords.
Conceiving a punk single with electronics, he wrote and recorded ‘Warm Leatherette’ b/w ‘TVOD’ for a one-off independent single release in 1978. Miller’s sense of experimentation within a structured albeit avant pop context led to kindred spirits sending him tapes, thanks to him including his mother’s address “16 Decoy Avenue London NW 11 England” on the back of the MUTE 001 sleeve.
Mute Records’ first signing was a former art student Frank Tovey who released the macabre ‘Back To Nature’ as FAD GADGET in 1979 as MUTE 002 with Miller co-producing. It began establishing a good reputation for experimental electronic pop music. As well as running the label and working in the studio with his own roster of acts, Miller also produced and remixed other artists, although this became less frequent as Mute Records achieved more and more success.
If Daniel Miller had a characteristic sound during the pioneering years of Synth Britannia, then it was his use of the ARP 2600 driven by an ARP 1601 analogue sequencer, particularly for unique rhythmic templates obtained from the percussive capabilities of this versatile American synth.
Always keen to keep up-to-date with the latest technology, Miller’s later acquisitions included a Synclavier, PPG Wave 2, Emulator, Roland System 100M and Roland MC4 Micro-Composer. Many years later, Miller even bought the customised vocoder used on ‘Autobahn’ from the late Florian Schneider even though it was not in fully working order.
While Miller’s production work with DEPECHE MODE over five albums naturally led American new wave acts like BOOK OF LOVE to seek his knowhow, indie band THE HOUSE OF LOVE were surprisingly curious enough to secure his services on their track ‘Safe’. Meanwhile, post-punk art rock combo WIRE saw him as a kindred spirit keen to explore new interesting ways of recording and worked with Miller in various guises.
While Daniel Miller stepped back from producing DEPECHE MODE in 1987 to concentrate on Mute Records, it was his mix with Phil Legg of the Flood produced ‘Enjoy The Silence’ that became the international hit single; Miller had felt the version that François Kevorkian had presented was too electronic.
While work had been going well with the French-born DJ’s mixes for the ‘Violator’ album, Miller’s instincts told him ‘Enjoy The Silence’ needed to be brought back slightly with a more organic vision. The song had already been transformed in the studio from a funereal ballad to an electronic disco number with house influences!
Although Mute Records was bought by EMI in 2002, Miller reached an agreement in 2010 to establish a second independently run record label under the name Mute Artists while the Mute Records name and rights to the label’s archive recordings remained under the control of EMI’s present owners Universal. More recently, Daniel Miller has been happily DJ-ing around the world playing largely techno sets for Berghain in Berlin, Sónar in Barcelona and IMS in Ibiza among others.
Meanwhile he has also occasionally given talks at events such as MoogFest. Red Bull Music Academy, LEAF and the Electri_City_Conference.
With a vast and varied portfolio to investigate, ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK looks back at the creative career of Daniel Miller in music via eighteen of his productions and remixes, with a restriction of one track per artist moniker, presented in yearly, then alphabetical order.
THE NORMAL Warm Leatherette (1978)
Daniel Miller’s sense of experimentation and vision of the synth being the ultimate punk instrument requiring the use of just one finger led to him making his first record. Lyrically inspired by JG Ballard’s ‘Crash’ with its story around car collision symphorophilia, the dystopian ‘Warm Leatherette’ was based around two noisy notes and a twitchy rhythmic backbone that was menacing yet enthralling at the same time. It turned out to be something of a game changer.
Following the success of singles ‘Back To Nature’ and ‘Ricky’s Hand’, a FAD GADGET album was eagerly anticipated and it came with ‘Fireside Favourites’ which brought in a Korg Rhythm 55 drum machine, conventional instruments and various found objects alongside the synths. A four way production effort between Frank Tovey, Daniel Miller, Eric Radcliffe and John Fryer, the superb ‘Coitus Interruptus’ was a deeply cynical commentary on casual relationships.
Larry Least was a production pseudonym inspired by the producer, Rak Records mogul and ‘New Faces’ judge Mickey Most. This infectious solo single by Alex Fergusson featured Daniel Miller’s distinctive electronic footprint and his involvement helped the ALTERNATIVE TV guitarist transform from post-punk to more synthesized song experiments. With Fergusson forming PSYCHIC TV with Genesis P-Orridge, it wasn’t until 1992 that a white label only self-titled solo album was released.
Following THE NORMAL, Daniel Miller decided to undertake a new project where rock ’n’ roll standards like ‘Just Like Eddie’ and ‘Memphis Tennessee’ were reinterpreted in a synthpop style, using a fictitious group called SILICON TEENS as a front. While Miller sang like he had a clothes peg attached to his nose and produced the recordings as Larry Least, several actors hired to appear in videos and do press interviews, although lead vocalist ‘Darryl’ was played by Frank Tovey.
For a one-off single on Cherry Red Records, the dystopian minimal synth of ‘Music To Save The World By’ from the little known and somewaht reclusive Alan Burnham was produced by Daniel Miller at Blackwing Studios. He also worked on its B-side ‘Science Fiction’ which was just as haunting as the main act. Perhaps more organic thanks to the use of live drums by Cam Findlay, it took a leaf out of the quirky cult Wirral duo DALEK I LOVE YOU and their song ‘The World’ in particular.
The original ‘Metro MRX’ came from the SOFT CELL debut EP ‘Mutant Moments’ released in October 1980, but the sub-two minute Daniel Miller take of ‘Metro MRX’ for ‘Flexipop’ magazine borrowed the same synthetic rhythm track as DEPECHE MODE’s ‘New Life’ to accompany Almond’s snarls of “he’s a mutant!”. Miller also produced ‘A Man Can Get Lost’, ‘Persuasion’ and perhaps most significantly, the proto-house of ‘Memorabilia’ at those same Stage One recording sessions.
While Eric Radcliffe was holed up working with Vince Clarke and Alison Moyet on the first YAZOO album at Blackwing Studios on the night shift, during the day Daniel Miller was working with DEPECHE MODE on their second. With punchy Simmons Drum modules and a catchy melodic theme, ‘Nothing To Fear’ was a glorious instrumental statement from an important long player that made the most of Miller’s programming expertise to ensure an optimistic future for Messrs Gahan, Gore and Fletcher.
When recording ‘Radio Silence’ for singular consumption, Thomas Morgan Dolby Robertson sought the assistance of Daniel Miller thanks to his track record with DEPECHE MODE. Bringing in his PPG Wave 2 and helping with the final mix, it was released as a single in early 1982 with an alternative rockier guitar driven version on the B-side which was favoured in the US. Both takes also featured the voice of Akiko Yano, who was married to Ryuichi Sakamoto at the time.
WIRE refugees, Bruce Gilbert and Graham Lewis had been working under the name DOME, so when a collaborative adventure with Miller was suggested, an anagram of that moniker and Mute resulted in DUET EMMO. Recorded at Blackwing Studios, ‘Or So It Seems’ was their debut offering, a slice of experimental pop shaped with grumbling synthesized bass, captivating electronics and textural harmonic guitar while Lewis’ haunting vocals provided the emotional centre, spooked by sombre bursts of brass.
Originally the B-side to ‘Only You’, ‘Situation’ was one of only three writing collaborations between Alison Moyet and Vince Clarke, as well as only being one of five YAZOO tracks that Daniel Miller co-produced with Eric Radcliffe. Clocking in at barely two minutes in its original form, it made its impact with some rousing blues based sequenced dance pop; it became a US club favourite when it was remixed by Francois Kevorkian who later worked with KRAFTWERK and DEPECHE MODE.
Following DAF’s Virgin album trilogy produced by Conny Plank, the duo borke up in a haze of sex, drugs and sequencer. Drummer and synthesist Robert Görl signed to Mute as a solo artist and began his account with the standalone single ‘Mit Dir’. Dark, brooding and magnificent, the song was co-produced by Daniel Miller and went on to become a favourite among the cognoscenti, reinterpreted for Prada commercials and covered by DJ HELL with STEREO MCs.
Polydor A&R man Malcolm Dunbar managed to gain Daniel Miller’s interest to help out on a HARD CORPS track that Martin Rushent had started. “It was an offer we could not refuse and ‘Respirer’ duly ended up being completed with Daniel producing” said the band’s Clive Pierce, “So now we had two of the best ‘electronic’ music producers in the UK both helping on our track”. Exquisitely Gallic, Polydor however released ‘Respirer’ in English as ‘To Breathe’ but it was not the hit that they were seeking.
Available as ‘Respirer’ on the HARD CORPS album ‘Metal & Flesh’ via Sub Culture Records
Chelmsford’s NITZER EBB were founded by school friends Douglas McCarthy, Bon Harris and Bon Harris. Originally produced by Pete Waterman associate Phil Harding, the ambiguous chants of “muscle and late, lies, lies, gold, gold” in ‘Join In The Chant’ encouraged exactly as the title suggested in the manner of a DAF body sculpture. Daniel Miller and Flood’s Gold! restructure took out the Balearic beats and pushed forward a more Teutonic industrial thrust complete with metallic tools to boot.
ERASURE Supernature – Daniel Miller & Phil Legg Remix (1990)
ERASURE were not shy about doing cover versions with ‘Gimme! Gimme! Gimme!’ and ‘River Deep Mountain High’ having already been reinterpreted by this point. Andy Bell and Vince Clarke’s take on Marc Cerrone’s electronic disco landmark saw Daniel Miller and Phil Legg present this tight electro-dance remix extended to over seven minutes. Miller and Legg got together again for DEPECHE MODE’s ‘Enjoy The Silence’ and it was their mix that became the ‘Violator’ album version and single release.
Available on the ERASURE deluxe album ‘Wild!’ via Mute Records
CHRIS & COSEY Synaesthesia – Daniel Miller Mix (1991)
After leaving industrial pioneers THROBBING GRISTLE, Chris Carter and Cosey Fanni Tutti became a popular cult duo with their experimental pop utilising electronics, sampling, rhythms and even cornet alongside Cosey’s distinctive nonchalant vocals. Superbly sinister but beautiful metallic synthpop, ‘Synaesthesia’ exuded hints of PET SHOP BOYS ‘Euroboy’ but a good year before it. Meanwhile Daniel Miller’s brilliant rework took on a different groove to the harder bleepy house laden original.
Available on the CHRIS & COSEY single ‘Synaesthesia’ via Conspiracy International
SUNROOF! was Daniel Miller’s occasional project with Gareth Jones who he first worked with on DEPECHE MODE’s ‘Construction Time Again’ album. Exploring their love of Kosmische, it was perhaps no surprise that they covered the symbolic NEU! track ‘Hero’. Given more of a pulsing electronic treatment, the alluringly detached vocals came from Alison Conway who has part of the Mute family having been part of AC MARIAS, a project which also featured Bruce Gilbert of WIRE and Barry Adamson of MAGAZINE.
POPPY & THE JEZEBELS Sign In, Dream On, Drop Out! – Richard X Meets Larry Least Mix (2012)
POPPY & THE JEZEBELS were a school band based in Birmingham signed to Mute Song. ‘Sign In, Dream On, Drop Out!’ was superbly playful girly synthpop with the ‘Isolation’ bassline borrowed from JOY DIVISION bouncing around in electronic form while sinister Maggie Thatcher voice samples echoed. Originally produced by Richard X, Larry Least came out of retirement when the girls persuaded Miller to remix the track using his trusty Korg 700s synth.
WRANGLER Theme From Wrangler – Daniel Miller rework (2016)
The brief from WRANGLER to remixers of tracks from their album ‘LA Spark’ was simple: “We provide some basic stems from a track selected by you from our debut album ‘LA Spark’ and you add whatever sounds you like – the only rule being that you use just one analogue modular synthesiser system of your choice.” Sweetened by flanged string machine, Daniel Miller provided a gliding rumbling bassline over a metronomic kick on his rework of ‘Theme from Wrangler’.
From Cherry Red Records, the makers of the ‘Close To The Noise Floor’ trilogy showcasing formative and experimental electronic music from the UK, Europe and North America, comes their most accessible electronic collection yet.
Subtitled ‘Independent British Synth Pop 78-84’, ‘Electrical Language’ is a lavish 4CD 80 track boxed set covering the post-punk period when all that synthesizer experimentation and noise terrorism morphed into pop.
Largely eschewing the guitar and the drum kit, this was a fresh movement which sprung from a generation haunted by the spectre of the Cold War, Mutually Assured Destruction and closer to home, the Winter of Discontent.
As exemplified by known names like THE HUMAN LEAGUE, FAD GADGET, SECTION 25 and BLUE ZOO included in the set to draw in the more cautious consumer, this was pop in a very loose manner with melodies, riffs and danceable rhythms but hardly the stuff of ABBA or THE BEE GEES!
‘Red Frame/White Light’ by OMD was a chirpy ditty about the 632 3003 phone box which the band used as their office, while THOMAS DOLBY’s ‘Windpower’ was a rallying call for renewable energy sources. Then there was the dystopian ‘Warm Leatherette’ by THE NORMAL based around two noisy notes and lyrically based on JG Ballard’s ‘Crash’ with its story around car collision symphorophilia.
While those acts’ stories have been rightly celebrated for putting the electronic avant pop art form into the mainstream, with any truly great compilation or collection, the joy is in finding the lesser known jewels.
Made primarily by the idealistic outsiders and independent experimenters from the lesser known side of Synth Britannia, ‘Electrical Language’ has plenty of synthetic material to rediscover or hear for the first time. Indeed, the more appealing tracks appear to fall into three categories; forgotten songs that should have been hits, oddball cover versions and largely unknown archive wonders.
Those forgotten gems include the exotic ‘Electrical Language’ title track by BE BOP DELUXE, documenting the moment Bill Nelson went electro. His production on the gloriously emotive ‘Feels Like Winter Again’ by FIAT LUX is another welcome inclusion to the set.
But the two best tracks on ‘Electrical Language’ are coincidentally spoken word; ‘Touch’ by LORI & THE CHAMELEONS about a girl’s Japanese holiday romance is as enchanting and delightful as ever, while there is also THROBBING GRISTLE refugees CHRIS & COSEY’s wispy celebration of Autumnal neu romance ‘October (Love Song)’, later covered in the 21st Century in pure Hellectro style by MARSHEAUX.
Merseyside has always been a centre for creativity and this included synthpop back in the day. ‘I’m Thinking Of You Now’ from BOX OF TOYS was a superb angsty reflection of young manhood that included an oboe inflected twist which was released on the Inevitable label in 1983. From that same stable, FREEZE FRAME are represented by the atmospheric pop of ‘Your Voice’
Jayne Casey was considered the face of Liverpool post-punk fronting BIG IN JAPAN and PINK MILITARY; the lo-fi electronic offshoot PINK INDUSTRY released three albums but the superb ‘Taddy Up’ with its machine backbone to contrast the ethereal combination of voice and synths lay in the vaults until 2008 and is a welcome inclusion. The ‘other’ Wirral synth duo of note were DALEK I LOVE YOU whose ‘The World’ from 1980 remains eccentric and retro-futuristic.
Scotland was in on the action too despite many local musicians preferring THE BYRDS and STEELY DAN; although both ‘Mr Nobody’ from THOMAS LEER and ‘Time’ by PAUL HAIG were detached and electronic, they vocally expressed minor levels of Trans-Atlantic soul lilt compared with the more deadpan styles of the majority gathered on ‘Electrical Language’.
Under rated acts form a core of ‘Electrical Language’ and while THE MOBILES’ ‘Drowning In Berlin’ may have come across like a ‘Not The Nine O’Clock News’ New Romantic parody on first listen, its decaying Mittel Europa grandeur was infectious like Hazel O’Connor reinterpreting ‘Vienna’ with The Master of Ceremonies at the Kit Kat Klub in 3/4 time!
NEW MUSIK’s ‘The Planet Doesn’t Mind’ probably would have gone Top 20 if had been done by HOWARD JONES, although band leader Tony Mansfield had the last laugh when he later became a producer working with the likes of A-HA and NAKED EYES. The brassy arty synthpop of ‘XOYO’ from Dick Witts’ THE PASSAGE was immensely catchy with riffs galore, while POEME ELECTRONIQUE’s ‘She’s An Image’ offered stark European electro-cabaret.
Cut from a similar cloth, one-time ULTRAVOX support act EDDIE & SUNSHINE inventively (and some would say pretentiously) presented a Living TV art concept but they also possessed a few good songs. The quirkily charming ‘There’s Someone Following Me’ deserved greater recognition back in the day and its later single version was remixed by one Hans Zimmer.
Meanwhile, the 4AD label could always be counted on more esoteric output and COLOURBOX’s ‘Tarantula’ was from that lineage, but then a few years later perhaps unexpectedly, they became the instigators of M/A/R/R/S ‘Pump Up the Volume’.
These days, modern synth artists think it is something an achievement to cover a synthpop classic, although it is rather pointless. But back in the day, as there were not really that many synthpop numbers to cover, the rock ‘n’ roll songbook was mined as a kind of post-modern statement. The synth was seen as the ultimate anti-institution instrument and the cover versions included on ‘Electrical Language’ are out-of-the-box and original, if not entirely successful.
Take TECHNO POP’s reinterpretation of ‘Paint It Black’ which comes over like Sci-Fi Arthur Brown while the brilliant ‘My Coo Ca Choo’ by BEASTS IN CAGES (which features half of HARD CORPS) is like PJ Proby with his characteristic pub singer warble fronting SILICON TEENS with a proto-GOLDFRAPP stomp.
Having contributed a T-REX cover for the ‘Some Bizzare Album’, THE FAST SET recorded another. Whereas ‘King Of The Rumbling Spires’ on the former was frantic electro-punk, ‘Children Of The Revolution’ is far more sombre and almost funereal. Least desirable of the covers though is ‘Happy Xmas (War Is Over)’ by HYBRID KIDS.
Of the obscurities worth checking out, the rousing standout is ‘Lying Next To You’ by Liverpool’s PASSION POLKA. A brilliant track akin to CHINA CRISIS ‘Working With Fire & Steel’ but with more synths and drum machine, it was recorded in 1983 but never actually saw the light of day until 2011 via a belated release on Anna Logue Records.
Delightfully odd, the VL Tone and organ infused ‘Bandwagon Tango’ from TESTCARD F is swathed with metallic rattles and possesses a suitably mechanical detachment. But with piercing pipey sounds and a hypnotic sequence, the metronomic ‘Destitution’ by cult minimal wavers CAMERA OBSCURA with its off key voice is one of the better productions of that type. Cut from a similar cloth, the perky ‘Videomatic’ by FINAL PROGRAM throws in some lovely string synths to close.
Swirlingly driven by Linn and her sisters, ‘Baby Won’t Phone’ by QUADRASCOPE comes from the Vince Clarke school of song with not only a great vocal, but also the surprise of a guitar solo in the vein of ECHO & THE BUNNYMEN!
‘The Secret Affair’ from JUPITER RED is a great ethereal midtempo synthpop song also using a Linn, while ‘Surface Tension’ from ANALYSIS is an appealing club friendly instrumental that was largely the work of the late Martin Lloyd who later was part of OPPENHEIMER ANALYSIS.
Produced by Daniel Miller, ALAN BURNHAM’s ‘Science Fiction’ from 1981 takes a leaf out of DALEK I LOVE YOU, while tightly sequenced and bursting with white noise in the intro, ‘Feel So Young’ by LAUGH CLOWN LAUGH has bubbling potential but is spoiled by some terribly flat vocals.
One of the weirder tracks is ELECTRONIC ENSEMBLE’s filmic ‘It Happened Then’ which recalls Parisian art rockers ROCKETS; backed by a brilliant ensemble of synths, it sees the return of the cosmic voice from Sparky’s Magic Piano and remember in that story, it could play all by itself!
Of course, other tracks are available and may suit more leftfield tastes… packaged as a lavish hardback book, there are extensive sleeve notes including artist commentaries, archive photos and an introductory essay by journalist Dave Henderson who cut his teeth with ‘Noise’, a short-lived ‘Smash Hits’ rival that featured a regular ‘Electrobop’ column covering the latest developments in synth.
While worthy, the ‘Close To The Noise Floor’ trilogy could at times be very challenging, but ‘Electrical Language’ provides some accessible balance, allowing tunes and beats in. It captures an important developmental phase in music, when technology got more sophisticated, cheaper and user friendly, that can be directly connected to ‘Pump Up the Volume’. Yes, this story is the unlikely seed of the later dance revolution, like it or not! And at just less than twenty five quid, this really is an essential purchase.
Best known as a founding member of THROBBING GRISTLE, electronic pioneer Chris Carter releases his first solo album in 17 years.
Together with Cosey Fanni Tutti, Peter Christopherson and Genesis P-Orridge, THROBBING GRISTLE enthralled and irritated audiences with their confrontational performance art. Their tracks such as ‘Hot On Heels Of Love’ were played by Rusty Egan at The Blitz Club, while ‘Discipline’ was later reinterpreted by Marc Almond and an important inspiration for PROPAGANDA.
Despite the quartet’s no compromise experimentation, Carter occasionally unleashed a more accessible side, as the obviously influenced ‘AB/7A’ from ‘DOA: The Third & Final Report of…’ from 1978 proved.
So when he and Cosey Fanni Tutti broke away from THROBBING GRISTLE, in 1983 they released ‘October (Love Song)’, a playful synthpop ditty which was subsequently covered in Greek by MARSHEAUX.
Over a generous helping of 25 tracks, ‘Chemistry Lessons Volume One’ captures Carter’s enthusiasm for the limitless possibilities of science, with more than a nod towards the work of THE RADIOPHONIC WORKSHOP. But this is also an accessible record with perhaps the unexpected influence of English folk music. As Carter put it himself: “some of tracks on the album hark back to an almost ingrained DNA we have for those kinds of melodies. They’re not dissimilar to nursery rhymes in some ways.”
It all begins with the glorious statement of ‘Blissters’, a potential theme tune with hypnotic sequences and sweeping synths, wonderful offset by some detuned counterpoints and haunting skewed vocals chopped up in Carter’s sonic laboratory.
‘Tangerines’ continues proceedings but in an almost disco euphoria fashion although it ends far too soon, while ‘Nineteen 7’ plays with pentatonic melodies over a sharp electro beat. ‘Cernubicua’ plays with the skew vocals again before on ‘Pillars of Wah’, the beautiful chorals are accompanied by dub rhythms and a wah-wahed sub-bass. The pulsating tension of ‘Modularity’ is self-explanatory while the short uptempo blend of deep squelch and modular bleep of ‘Durlin’ is cut from a similar cloth.
But it’s the beautiful spacey ambience of the suitably titled ‘Moon Two’ that provides yet another accessible asset to ‘Chemistry Lessons Volume One’, an approach that is reprised on the equally beautiful if darker ‘Tones Map’ and the rich interlude of ‘Dust & Spiders’
For those who might find some of the more accessible material in the album’s first half a bit too nice, the second half is undoubtedly darker with the unsettling dissonance of ‘Shidreke’ and the galloping rumble of ‘Uysring’ more than suitable for soundtracking moods of anxiety and discomfort; meanwhile ‘Lab Test’, ‘Noise Floor’ and ‘Post Industrial’ do what they say on the tin.
But ‘Rehndim’ springs a blissful surprise with a manipulated female voice that wouldn’t have been out of place on a single by THE BELOVED while things head back into the shade with the sci-fi gloom of ‘Roane’.
‘Time Curious Glows’ recalls early Virgin-era TANGERINE DREAM with a spy drama twist, while the more motorik ‘Ars Vetus’ will please those who enjoy the darker side of ORBITAL. A diverse and intriguing collection of electronic soundscapes, this record is definitely worth investigating even if Chris Carter’s previous work has never been your thing; there really is something for synth enthusiasts of all persuasions and for that reason alone, ‘Chemistry Lessons Volume One’ is for ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK, the surprise album of 2018 so far.
Possibly one of the best electronic albums of 2017, ‘Zombies 1985’ is the latest release by I SPEAK MACHINE, the enticing audio / visual collaboration between musician Tara Busch and filmmaker Maf Lewis.
‘Zombies 1985’ tells the story of greed and self-obsession in Thatcher’s Britain as a businessman drives home, oblivious to the zombie apocalypse going on around him.
The live score was performed with the film by Busch as the opening act at UK and US shows with GARY NUMAN in 2015; the film incidentally also features his three daughters in cameo roles.
The soundtrack itself is a musical collaboration with Benge Edwards, best known for his work as a member of WRANGLER and JOHN FOXX & THE MATHS. But what had been intended to be a more abstract EP turned into a full length album, bolstered by superb mutant electronic pop songs like ‘Blood From A Stone’, ‘Shame’ and ‘Demon Days’. The end result will no doubt satisfy the curiosity of those with a penchant for stranger things.
I SPEAK MACHINE kindly chatted about the creative in-roads that led to their own day of the dead…
Tara, you’ve worked under your own name, as ANALOG SUICIDE and was a member of DYNAMO DRESDEN. How does I SPEAK MACHINE differ from all those?
Tara: Well, all four differ quite a bit from each other – one is a blog, the other is a band, and the other a rather leftfield film / music project. Prepare for a long answer!
DYNAMO DRESDEN was formed in 2001 with Maf and another producer/ engineer named Rohan Tarry. It was a particularly great learning experience for me as it was the first electronic project I was ever involved in that I liked; Maf and Ro were quite accomplished as producers and in the music business with Maf’s label, Plastic Raygun. I had come over to the UK from North Carolina after being in loads of bands and working as a session singer and was thrilled to finally get out of the States and be in a country that created the music I love the most.
It was a sample-based downtempo electronica that was hugely influenced by THE AVALANCHES and AIR’s ‘Moon Safari’.
ANALOG SUICIDE was a blog that Maf and I started in 2007 just for fun, and in my case, to learn more about synthesizers and production – I thought that if I found it interesting, perhaps some other people might? I would seek out artists I loved and interview them about their creative process and “how they got that sound” – sometimes visiting their studios or interviewing them on camera.
We also did a big series of gear videos, interviews and “making of” videos for remixes and songs on my “tarabusch” Youtube channel. It got to where it’s taken a backseat as other projects became more important and I became less interested in making videos that involved me talking to the camera. It’s a huge commitment to keep up a big blog and do it properly, so now it’s more of a so-called personal creative diary about how I make music, etc that I update from time to time.
I released a solo album on Tummy Touch Records, ‘Pilfershire Lane’ in 2009 after DYNAMO DRESDEN disbanded and Maf and I moved to the States. I was very intent on writing, engineering and producing the album myself. I had previously worked with several producers in my attempt to make a solo album, all of which were classic situations where they would take what I was trying to create and go a completely different direction with it. I just wanted to make what was in my mind, so I had to learn how to do it. Anyway – I threw as many learning curves at myself as possible, for better or for worse!
It was about as “psychedelic rock” of an album as I’d ever make, very influenced by ‘Pet Sounds’ and ‘Dark Side of the Moon’. It was lovingly maddening process, my first where I felt I was just finding my own voice at the age of 33 and really truly being in control of what I wanted to create and being totally obsessed with the process. Perhaps someday I’ll make another“Tara Busch” album.
I SPEAK MACHINE is, first of all, is a multimedia film / music project – Maf does the film component and I the music. Our basis for every project is that we try to create both components in tandem with each other so that neither are an afterthought. Then, the films are screened with me playing the score live. We don’t screen the films without the score – the only way to see them is our live shows. We also are quite keen to bring other collaborators in – I feel this project has a far more open minded creative approach than anything else I’ve ever done. We release our soundtracks on Lex Records.
You first became more widely known within the electronic community when you recorded ‘Where You End & I Begin’ with JOHN FOXX & THE MATHS?
Tara: Luke Turner from The Quietus contacted me to see if I’d like to come record a piece with John and Benge, to have featured on their site. Of course I jumped at the chance! It was fantastic to work with the both of them, and turned out to be a great ongoing personal and working relationship, especially with Benge.
This led to you reinterpreting ‘My Sex’ and ‘I Want To Be A Machine’ for the ‘Exponentialism’ tribute EP. What was it like to tackle two cult classics from the first ULTRAVOX! long player?
Tara: When covering songs, I always try to start with a totally clean slate and approach it as if someone gave me the song to produce as my own – to “adopt it”, so to speak. I don’t see the point in doing a “sound-alike” of someone else’s work. It has to be something I can really pump a lot of blood and guts into!
And with these two songs, I was lucky – they both hit me hard right off the bat. Both have such profoundly beautiful lyrics that I as a vocalist I was chomping at the bit to sing…. my production on ‘My Sex’ came together pretty quickly as I felt a super filthy, crunchy, slimy bass would be perfect, a bit like a crumbly, concrete wall under the vocal line, and drums that punch so hard they could give you a bloody lip (I hoped so, anyway).
‘I Want To Be Machine’ was a lot more stubborn – I wrestled with it for a good month until one day, totally frustrated, I picked up this SK1 that I had neglected for so long that the batteries inside of it were corroded. I had Logic going, plugged it in and turned it on, so I could record any odd sounds it might make when switching it on – and lo and behold, it makes a noise like a blender being chucked in a bathtub – and off I went. But that song took ages. You basically have to distance yourself from the originals and trust that you can hopefully create something that does it justice.
You’re no stranger to covers and a wide spectrum of classics such as ‘Cars’ and ‘The Sound Of Silence’ formed part of your Troika! live set. You’ve also recorded songs like ‘Our House’ by MADNESS and ‘Let’s Go To Bed’ by THE CURE in your own style, what attracted you to these songs?
Tara: It’s just so random how I choose these things. Sometimes I’ll hear the song in the grocery store (as is the case with ‘Our House’) and think “YES. I want to dissect this!”… or I’m just messing around in the studio and I start singing the line over something I have cooking, as is the case with ‘Cars’, ‘Ticket to Ride’ and ‘The Sound Of Silence’. With those, I also was creating my live set, so I wanted to add those as pieces that were just the synths and my voice, no samples or backing tracks.
It must have been interesting to perform ‘Cars’ in front of Numanoids when you toured with GARY NUMAN?
Tara: I was pleasantly surprised by how well it went down with Gary and his fans! Performing something as brilliant as ‘Cars’ where the original is so perfect is scary but thrilling. It was a bit surreal playing it and seeing Gary, Gemma and the band in the wings watching me…it was lovely.
Have you any more covers you would like to do?
Tara: Every day one pops into my head, but I have to discipline myself to steer the focus towards my own work! The ‘Dr Who’ theme was in my head in a loop for days after they announced the new doctor! Also, there’s a lovely Skeeter Davis song, ‘The End Of The World’ that I would love to do and I’ve always wanted to do Nick Cave’s ‘People Ain’t No Good’. Also a very morbid version of ‘Here Comes the Sun’ would be fun, since I’m not a fan of the California summers. I really enjoy covering songs that are radically different from what I write myself.
How did you both conceive ‘Zombies 1985’?
Maf: Zombies are my favorite monster, as they’ve often been used as a reflection of our culture. I wanted to turn it around a bit and tell a story against the background of the emerging zombie apocalypse, and a man (Steve) who is so self-obsessed and greedy that he doesn’t notice it happening around him. He sees everyone else as a zombie, because they are not as driven and ambitious, but ultimately he is the zombie, both figuratively and literally. Also, who doesn’t want to make, be in, write the score to a zombie film? We had the idea to set it in 1985, as Tara and Benge wanted to be really strict with the score, with everything was created on pre 1985 equipment.
You opted to crowdfund ‘Zombies 1985’, what were the pros and cons?
Tara: We didn’t ask for a huge sum, and we got what we needed in a couple of days – then it went continued and luckily wound up raising a lot more than our goal. It made it so that everyone could get paid decently at least. The pros are of course that you can fund projects you love, but the cons – you really have to, for want of a better word – do quite the sh*t ton of whoring for the 3 weeks or so that you have to raise funds. And it can be stressful as everything hinges on being able to raise those funds.
The first three tracks on ‘Zombies 1985’ are distinctly soundtrack based while the rest of the material comprises of various song-based formats. How and why did the project expand?
Tara: It happened pretty organically. Benge and I had always wanted to write together, so we took the opportunity to do so here, by expanding on the ‘Zombies 1985’ world. I wanted to create something of an “imaginary soundtrack”, something that the characters in the film would have been listening to in 1985. So, after we finished the score, we remotely wrote 6 more songs. I guess we just had a bit more to express, and we wanted to explore more of a CHRIS & COSEY, GRACE JONES, GARY NUMAN, CABARET VOLTAIRE sort of territory.
What was the general creative dynamic between you, Maf and Benge?
Tara: Well, I feel a great equilibrium myself with Benge and Maf of this project – there was no one person that was anointed “boss”. Benge and I write very easily together, I guess there’s a lot of respect between the three of us and a lot of humor! Benge and Maf are both incredibly skilled at what they do, so it’s also a great learning experience.
I don’t ever feel like “the woman in the back of the studio waiting to sing over some guy’s tracks”. It all feels very natural and equal, as it should.
The album had an artistic self-imposed restriction of using only “1985 period equipment”. Which synths and bits of gear came to be your favourites to give you the textures you wanted?
Tara: SO many! Benge has some incredible machines, and I’ve recently come into a nice handful myself, so it was a blast to work with these “personnel”, so to speak.
The one that stood out for me the most was Benge’s ARP 2500 – it’s like conversing with a beautiful ghost – I mean, this was the machine they used in ‘Close Encounters Of The Third Kind’ to communicate with the aliens! It brought tears to my eyes to play it.
I had also just adopted an ARP 2600, Roland SH5, 808, Oberheim 2 voice and a Model D in my own studio, which I used a lot on the songs we did remotely. Benge used an Oberheim DMX on the soundtrack part of the score, and I loved it so much I ran out and grabbed one myself. Anything by Oberheim is gorgeous though!
And of course my ever -present Pro One. I always have to pinch myself that I own these things and get to work with them. The restriction wasn’t too big a deal, as I now tend to use machines that are pre ’85 most of the time anyway… except for my laptop of course!
‘Shame’ recalls ‘Hot On The Heels Of Love’ by THROBBING GRISTLE, what first drew you to that early British electronic experimentation?
Tara: Thanks, that’s a big compliment! That is one of those “holy grail” songs for me – if I live to write anything even half that beautiful, I’ll be pleased. Anyway – when Benge and I wanted to expand the score into an album with extra songs, that was just simply the atmosphere that we wanted to call upon – THROBBING GRISTLE, CHRIS & COSEY etc.
Meanwhile, ‘Trouble’ appears to have been inspired by ‘No-One Receiving’ by BRIAN ENO?
Tara: I shamefully admit I’m not familiar with that song! I must research… ‘Trouble’ was the first of the songs we did together, in fact it’s the one that did not adhere to the “early industrial” vibe I was after. But it just came out that way, more atmospheric and mellow.
‘Demon Days’ does what it says on the tin, what was the genesis of that one?
Tara: That plays over the ending credits, it closes the film. I pulled components of the score out to create a cohesive song – and the lyrics are about how much I hate summer (or in general hot weather) in LA.
We were doing a residency of shows with Gary in LA at the same time I was writing that, and I think ‘Down In The Park’ was creeping around in my head a lot at the time! That was very much influenced by ‘Replicas’- era Numan.
‘Blood From A Stone’ is a brilliant track and has this eerie early GOLDFRAPP feel?
Tara: Thank you! I’m not totally sure what influenced me here if that’s what you’re asking; most likely I was happily overdosing on GAZELLE TWIN at the time or THE KNIFE… I was really into bleak, dark, disorientating artists at the time, GAZELLE TWIN being my favorite.
I love GOLDFRAPP, but they’re not in the front of my mind as an influence – it’s odd… I think people compare me a lot to Alison Goldfrapp because we have the same vocal range, we’re both women and synths are involved? Women get clumped together like that constantly, and it’s bizarre – I guess that’s another topic for another time.
Production-wise, this was the first one I got to use my 808 on as well which was a huge thrill – it sounds so meaty and satisfying.
You’re an Anglophile but on ‘Petrified Mind’, you seem to head towards more Stateside vibes. Who were your influences on that track?
Tara: That was a straight up Peter Murphy imitation, actually. I was listening to ‘Third Uncle’, ‘Bela Lugosi’s Dead’ and wanted something boomy and gloomy like that. So I’m still straight up Anglophile, no worries there.
What are your own favourites on ‘Zombies 1985’?
Tara: ‘New Dawn’ has taken on an even more disturbing context since the so-called US election. It reminds me of ‘The Handmaid’s Tale’ more and more each time I listen to it. That’s my current favorite, plus ‘Gone To LA’ and ‘Shame’.
How is the ‘Deep Clean’ project with KITE BASE who you toured with, coming along?
Tara: I believe they’re in the process of filming it! More to come, not sure I can say much else about it, other than I’m very excited to work with Kendra and Ayşe from KITE BASE – I absolutely adore them as artists and humans.
What else is next for you?
Tara: ISM are working on 2 new short films this summer, one with Raven Numan who impressed us so much in ‘Zombies 1985’, we wanted to work with her again, and an animated project with our label Lex and comic book illustrator/ writer/ director Tommy Lee Edwards.
ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK gives its sincerest thanks to I SPEAK MACHINE