In association with Cold War Night Life, SATURDAY 30TH NOVEMBER 2019 at Electrowerkz in London will feature the live return of KOMPUTER.
Veterans of three albums released on Mute Records, KOMPUTER were a reaction to the hangover that was Britpop.
But taking a leaf out of the low monobrow antics of OASIS, the duo of Simon Leonard and David Baker decided “instead of ripping off THE BEATLES we’d rip off KRAFTWERK”.
Their first release ‘EP’ in 1996 set out to create some heavily KRAFTWERK influenced numbers and more than made up for the lack of new material from Kling Klang. ‘We Are Komputer’ was their very own take on ‘The Robots’, while there was also the marvellous tribute to the first female Cosmonaut ‘Valentina Tereshkova’ which mined ‘The Model’.
Best of all though was the blippy ‘Komputer Krash’ while ‘Oh Synthesizer’ was an electronic hymn in the vein of ‘Neon Lights’, right down to the near identical schlagzeug stance and leadline melody.
A debut album ‘The World Of Tomorrow’ in 1998 followed featuring the marvellous train ride that was ‘Terminus Interminus’ and a tribute to their home city ‘Looking Down On London’, the ‘Metroland’ mix of which was sampled by OMD for their 2010 tune ’The Right Side?’.
Indeed, sampling was the next path KOMPUTER would take and with the discarded vinyl they sourced on visits to Spitalfields Market, 2002’s ‘Market Led’ was produced. But an exclusive track more in keeping with their more traditional electronic sound ‘My Private Train’ appeared on the 2003 Lucky Pierre compilation ‘Robopop Volume 1’ which also included CLIENT, SPRAY, MY ROBOT FRIEND, WHITE TOWN, EMPIRE STATE HUMAN, VIC TWENTY and MACONDO.
With advances in technology, the third album ‘Synthetik’ in 2007 explored virtual synths using traditional song structures and more experimental ideas. From it, ‘Headphones & Ringtones’ was a witty observation on how music consumption had changed in the 21st Century, while ‘International Space Station’ captured a glorious spirit of unity.
Leonard and Baker had actually been collaborating since 1982 as the synthpop combo I START COUNTING who had a pair of albums released by Mute Records and opened for ERASURE.
Then the pair mutated into the more dance driven FORTRAN 5 who also had three albums on Mute and recorded a hilarious ‘Derek Sings Derek’ cover of ‘Layla’ featuring a camp theatrical monologue by the late comic actor Derek Nimmo.
Highlights of their eight album catalogue were compiled for the excellent ‘Konnecting…’ retrospective in 2011 and with this special live reunion at TEC006, Leonard and Baker have promised material from their I START COUNTING and FORTRAN 5 periods as well as KOMPUTER.
In a break from making preparations for the show, David Baker had a quick chat about Russian history, OMD, Daniel Miller and more…
‘Valentina’ celebrated the first woman in space, what fascinated KOMPUTER about that mission and the Soviet space programme in general?
It was actually more inspired by BONEY M! We had always loved ‘Rasputin’, we even did a cover version. We wanted to do a song with a narrative that documented someone’s life. Simon had a book on the history of space exploration, which is where we discovered the mostly neglected story of Valentina Tereshkova.
‘Oh Synthesizer’ must have lit the touch paper of those obsessed with the “K” word, can you remember what the response was like to the debut self-titled EP?
It was like a similar to someone’s recent recollection of one of our earliest gigs: “My memory of that Garage gig is a very animated and upset young man in an ill-fitting jumper, spilling Tuborg about the place, screaming at the top of his voice, ‘WHAT IS THE FACKING POINT?!’”
How did you feel about OMD sampling ‘Looking Down On London’ for ‘The Right Side?’
Very pleased. Sting asked if he could do a version of ‘Looking Down On London’ as ‘Looking Down On Sunderland’ for some charity thing. We said no because it’s a silly idea and he’s a twat. But we love OMD, ‘Tesla Girls’ in particular and it does a great mash-up with ‘Hersham Boys’ by SHAM 69.
‘Terminus’ is one of your most popular tracks, what was its genesis and do you have a favourite mix?
A seemingly infinite airport / station, JG Ballard, ‘The Bridge’ by Iain Banks. We actually did a track a few years ago called ‘The Bridge’, but that was about Suicide Bridge. It was very good.
Daniel Miller’s Mix, the Memory mix was our favourite. The COSMIC BABY mix was chosen to be the lead track but we always preferred Miller’s. COSMIC BABY’s mix was a swap, we did a remix of his track ‘Lucifer’, which was very good.
ELECTRICITY.CO.UK gives its sincerest thanks to David Baker
With a pair of excellent albums ‘Like Before’ and ‘Utopia’ now under his belt, Swedish synthesist JOHAN BAECKSTRÖM has more than established his solo credentials.
Best known as a member of DAILY PLANET, Baeckström had been making plans to return to music on his own prior to an unexpected reunion of the acclaimed duo in 2014 with the appropriately titled ‘Two’. Since then, Baeckström has maintained a solo career in parallel with DAILY PLANET.
Baeckström had already covered two WHITE DOOR songs ‘School Days’ and ‘Jerusalem’ for B-sides, so it was not entirely a surprise when it was announced that he would be joining WHITE DOOR for the recording of their long awaited follow-up to the 1983 long player ‘Windows’.
From his studio utopia via the wonders of online communication, Baeckström challenged ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK to a round of Vintage Synth Trumps and told a few interesting stories about his fabulous collection of electronic keyboards and much more.
The first card is the Roland Jupiter 8, so what have been your experiences with this?
I have almost none, I don’t think I’ve ever played one. I’ve seen them and it’s an important icon synth, that Howard Jones cover of ‘New Song’ with the Jupiter 8 made a huge impact and made me think synthesizers looked cool.
But I always thought the Jupiter 6 looked better, it had a nicer design with a better colour scheme, I have one of those and that’s one of my favourites. I know what a Jupiter 8 sounds like, I’ve heard a million demos and it’s on lots of records, it defined the early / mid 80s polysynth sound.
So how close can you get a Jupiter 6 to sound like a Jupiter 8 aesthetically?
I think they are quite different because the Jupiter 8 to me sounds a bit softer and lush. The Jupiter 6 can be lush as well but it’s got a sharper edge to it, which suits my music better as it’s quite percussive and detailed; it’s warm but not as warm as the Jupiter 8. The Jupiter 6 can do harsh, crispy sounds which you can´t really do on the Jupiter 8 because of the multiband filter on the 6, for example.
Which recordings of yours are quite dominated by the Jupiter 6?
When I bought it, the first thing I did to try it was a cover of WHITE DOOR ‘School Days’! It turned out quite nice and I released it as a B-side as you know. Everything on that is the Jupiter 6, also a DAILY PLANET song on the ‘Play Rewind Repeat’ album called ‘Drown’, everything is the Jupiter 6 except for the bass which is a Pro-One.
You mentioned about how you saw the cover for Howard Jones ‘New Song’ when you were younger, but at the time of DAILY PLANET’s first album, you had very long hair… often that’s not a fashion requisite associated with synths? *laughs*
I probably didn’t want to be like everyone else, I started to grow my hair long when I was 14 years old, at first I had “synthpop” hair with everything standing straight up! Then I grew the hair from the neck like Nik Kershaw and then I grew it all very long, I think it was down to my waist at its longest!
Were you a rocker?
I had a time in a rock band when I was 16-17, more a pop rock band like TOTO! I’m not ashamed of it! *laughs*
It was good music, I feel stronger about this now when I heard Daniel Miller in an interview and he admitted he was a big fan of TOTO! If he can admit it, I can!
Of course, Daniel Miller had quite long hair when he started making music with synths…
… it’s the interest on TOTO that does it! *laughs*
So saving money on hair conditioner has enabled you to buy more synths? *laughs*
That is true! *laughs*
Next card, it’s the ARP Odyssey…
I have the reissue from Korg and I use it quite extensively. It’s the same as with the Jupiter 6, it has a sharp edge to it and this Korg one has all three filter types that it was released with. The first is a two-pole filter which is very crispy and has a lot of higher frequencies coming through. It can do everything from bass to percussion.
So when you buy a synth, are you influenced by the bands they are associated with?
I’m sure I am… for example to me, the Jupiter 8 IS Howard Jones and the Pro-One IS Vince Clarke, he basically built an album around that synth.
The Odyssey I know Billy Currie of ULTRAVOX used it a lot but so did KRAFTWERK. So yes, to a certain extent.
Do you use the mini-keyboard on the Korg ARP Odyssey reissue or do you MIDI up another full-sized keyboard to it?
I have very few modules, most of my synthesizers have keyboards because when I create sounds and write music, I like to play the instrument I’m programming. So for that, mini-keys are fine but I would probably not bring it out to play live, I would miss a few notes here and there because it’s too small. I would have preferred a full sized keyboard but this was not an option on this reissue by Korg and I’m not prepared to cough up the money for an original one, or the FS version of the reissue.
Was the acquisition of so many synths what led to you building a new studio, or was it to allow for expansion possibilities in the future?
We actually bought a new house so we moved, and one of the rooms in the basement of this house was everything I needed to build a studio, it just needed a new floor, some paint and acoustic panels. The old one was getting a bit cramped so it’s nice to have a bigger studio and in this one, I can have a lounge with a sofa and table, so it’s a much nicer working environment.
The next card is the Korg 800DV…
It’s a good looking one with lots of wood on the sides, but I have no relation to it.
You said your B-side ‘Synth Is Not Dead’ was sort of tongue-in-cheek?
That’s true, I did it for fun which is why it wasn’t put on any album. On the other hand, I think it turned out quite nice so that’s why it came out as a B-side digitally. And thanks to you, some people seem to like it! *laughs*
Next card… oh, here’s an Octave Kitten!
I remember the Octave Cat was a competitor to the ARP Odyssey, I think John Davies from WHITE DOOR still has a Kitten, he used that on the demos for the ‘Windows’ album.
You mentioned the Octave Cat was a competitor to the ARP Odyssey, it had basically the same circuit design!
Yeah, it was a rip-off! That was the Behringer of its day! *laughs*
I think it’s quite interesting how there is so much litigation with song copyright now, but in the synthesizer world, copying is common, even back in the day. Like the circuitry for the Simmons SDS-V was based on the ARP 2600… any thoughts on this modern day cloning thing like with Behringer?
I’m having a hard time with this cloning of everything. If you take the Simmons example, if it’s a total rip-off, then that’s not a nice thing to do because there was probably some patent, but on the other hand, that was a drum module so it’s different from a synthesizer, so perhaps that doesn’t matter.
What Behringer is doing, I suppose it’s positive for people to buy synthesizers which are now largely unobtainable. I mean if you want to buy a vintage Minimoog, it costs a fortune, something like £4000 but a Behringer clone, which from what I heard sounds quite close, is what £250? *laughs*
On the other hand, it’s not their products, they “stole” it! But the patents are free, it’s nothing illegal, it just comes down to ethics and morals. Everyone has to make their own decision as to whether to support it or not, but I can see myself buying Behringer. I haven’t yet but if they do release an Oberheim OBX-a clone and it sounds as it should, I can’t see myself resisting! *laughs*
Talking of American synths, the next one is the Prophet 5…
That’s an icon, probably the one that has meant the most as far as how synthesizers look and behave today. The Minimoog was the first, but the Prophet 5 with its architecture, memories and five octave keyboard, the sound of it was amazing. Now you can get the new Prophets which sound pretty much the same and can do much more, so it’s still relevant after all these years.
I’ve never had one myself, I played it once or twice. I don’t think I would get one now as they are so expensive and I have the Prophet 08, and if I want to come even close to that sound, I can get the Prophet 6. It’s a beautiful instrument to look at as well, it’s a fantastic design in my eyes.
The next card is the Pro-One, tell us about your relationship with it…
I haven’t had my one for too long, I bought it in 2014 and I still can’t understand why I didn’t get one sooner, I should have had one in the 80s. It’s probably my favourite synth, at least my favourite monosynth. It sounds amazing and has superfast envelopes which make perfect bass and percussion sounds, sharp blips and blops, y’know *laughs*
It’s got a great modulation matrix, if you compare it with the Minimoog for example, you can do much more with a Pro-One. It’s always a reward to programme it because whatever you do, it sounds great. But the build quality is so-so, it’s quite plastic and the knobs are a bit flimsy, it’s not built like a tank, it’s more like a Trabant! *laughs*
It’s interesting that you mention the build quality of synths, a lot of these machines are quite fragile and not built to be taken on the road. But one vintage synth which is still around now that tends to end up on stage is the Roland Juno 60. Why do you think that one has been able to survive the years better than any others?
I think the reason the Juno 60 still gets used on stage is because it is quite stable as it uses DCOs. With a Jupiter 6 or Jupiter 8, temperatures can mess up the tuning. It was built very solidly, they seem to stand the test of time and it’s not like the Juno 106 which has these chips which go bad after 30 years. I’ve used my Juno106 live a few times, it’s no problem but you’re right, you see the Juno 60 more.
Another card, it’s a Korg Trident…
Oh! I had one! It’s quite a strange synth, because it’s three machines in one, a polysynth, a string machine and a brass machine, which you could combine. It had very fat sounds coming from it, it was huge and looked very powerful, I loved the way it looked. I got it very cheap after the first DAILY PLANET album ‘The Tide’, but I never used it on any records as it had no MIDI; as I sequence everything, MIDI is quite important for me.
Someone offered to trade it with me for a Roland D20!! It was not great but at least it had MIDI, so I traded it! I think you’d get £80 for a D20 today whereas a Trident gets £2500 so it wasn’t my best decision! I regret it still today, I wish I still had it and have been looking for one. Perhaps Behringer can clone one for me *laughs*
So synths that don’t get used much get traded in?
Not today, but back then I had no money. I could have installed a MIDI kit for the Trident but would have cost me £300 which I didn’t have because I was young and unemployed.
So the only thing that made sense was to trade it for something I could use. A few of my synthesizers are not used very much but I don’t trade.
Saying that I did trade a Micro-Korg which I had not used for three years, although it was on ‘Synth Is Not Dead’ for the vocoder, that was probably the only time I recorded with it. I posted up on a Swedish synth forum and got offered a Roland JV1080 and P330 piano module, now I haven’t used them for two years, it’s probably time to trade those as well!
ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK can’t imagine you using piano sounds much, but is that a possible direction for the future?
On the new WHITE DOOR album, there are a few piano sounds while on my latest album ‘Utopia’, they are on the cover song I did ‘Into The 80s’, there’s a CP70 type sound low in the background of the middle. But you won’t hear anything like CHICAGO piano! *laughs*
OK, the next card which will lead an interesting discussion, it’s the Moog Prodigy…
I’ve never had one but I’m told it’s great, it’s pretty much a slimmed down Minimoog with two oscillators instead of three, everything from Moog is great in different ways, because the newer ones are not the same as the older ones, but if I had to choose, the older Moogs are the ones that sound the best, Howard Jones, Vince Clarke and DEPECHE MODE use it…
Now this is where we’re going with the conversation. So the Moog Prodigy was the one that Fletch was “seen” with in early DEPECHE MODE videos and TV appearances, he later moved onto the Moog Source. So did you have any feelings or thoughts about Martin Gore getting the Moog Innovation Award?
I saw you had a rant about that! I best be quiet about it *laughs*
I actually don’t have an opinion. Exactly what that award is meant to represent, I’m not sure…
That’s ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK’s point, Martin Gore was never seen with Moogs, we could understand Gary Numan getting the award. We don’t question his ability as a songwriter during the imperial phase of DEPECHE MODE, but he was NEVER the synth innovator in the group, so we struggled with the title of that award; if it was a Moog Songwriter award, it would be different. The synth innovators in DEPECHE MODE were Vince Clarke first, and then Alan Wilder…
I agree, those Martin Gore song demos that leaked out, it’s not synthesizer virtuoso stuff so he is not the innovator, sound wise. He was a genius with his songwriting and one of the best there ever was, so what the hell? He can have an award just for the songs. But as an innovator, Alan Wilder would deserve it more, but more so Vince.
You recently covered DEPECHE MODE ‘It Doesn’t Matter Two’? Why that song and particularly a Martin Gore voiced one?
That is one of my all-time favourite songs and this will make me sound cocky, but the arrangement on the original is a shame, it’s such a great song but it’s got this silly “bop-boop-bop-boop” arrrangement. They could have done so much more with it. I guess I don’t like that kind of vocal sampling which they built it around. So my cover is what I wanted it to sound like, it’s an amazing song… that shows you how good it is if I can keep listening to it even though I didn’t like the original arrangement and production.
Did you do ‘It Doesn’t Matter Two’ because your voice is more Martin Gore’s key than Dave Gahan’s?
No, but you’re right, I’m more in his key than Dave’s, I just love the song and had this idea for a new arrangement, I think it turned out quite nice. I was asked to do a DM cover for a Swedish podcast called ‘Blå Måndag’, so I decided to do this one since it´s been one where, after a few beers, me and my friends use to singalong and do harmonies to by the piano!
And the next card is a Korg MS20…
Another classic! I have the reissue, it was one of the first I bought when I started rebuilding my collection back in 2013, I’d sold everything I had back in the 90s to go to software. After that, I got a Prophet 08 and a Moog Little Phatty. I still use it a lot but less with this recent album, probably because I had more synthesizers to choose from.
It’s good for noise effects, it’s got a great filter for bass and percussion sounds like on ‘Nobody’s Friend’ from the second DAILY PLANET album and ‘Talking In My Sleep’ on my first solo album. However, the envelopes are too slow for really good snappy bass and percussion. I think the Pro-One has a better low-end and has more powerful oscillators. With the MS20, I use the ring modulator a lot for metallic sounds, I used it for hi-hat type sounds.
How did you find your first ever UK gig at Synth Wave Live 3?
It was nice, the people who were there were very dedicated. I was very thankful for all who came to see the show.
It also saw you on stage with WHITE DOOR, you’ve joined the band now and there is a new album?
I hadn’t met the WHITE DOOR guys before, they’re really nice chaps and to have them do the show with me was a bit surreal as I was listening to them when I was a teenager. It was hard to imagine then I would be on stage with them! It was good but we hadn’t rehearsed so it probably could have been a more perfect performance, but I think people enjoyed it and we had a really fun time.
WHITE DOOR sprung from a prog rock band called GRACE who they still perform as, and a live video that came from a recent festival was fascinating, they were doing this track called ‘The Poet’ which started like WHITE DOOR, then mutated into GENESIS and before you knew it, it had turned into JETHRO TULL! *laughs*
Yes, there is the same “melody language” (as we say in Sweden) with WHITE DOOR and GRACE, although they are very different bands.
I would think that a lot of the way WHITE DOOR turned out is partly thanks to producer Andy Richards who later worked with FRANKIE GOES TO HOLLYWOOD and OMD, he was the machine wizard. The demos for the ‘Windows’ album were electronic and John Davies had synthesizers but there was also guitars and real bass.
How is the WHITE DOOR album coming along?
It’s coming along nicely, it’s been a slow process but we almost have enough material for an album. I’ve played a few tracks to close friends who love WHITE DOOR and they say it sounds like WHITE DOOR. Now that’s important, when DAILY PLANET reunited in 2014, my plan was that we should not try something too modern, what people wanted was DAILY PLANET to sound like DAILY PLANET. The same approach is what I’m doing with WHITE DOOR although it will sound fresh and be better sounding because of the technology, but there will be a clear connection to the old stuff.
The final card is an ARP 2600…
I’ve never had one, my first connection with it was one of those early software emulations in the early noughties. It’s been used by a lot of artists that inspired me, Daniel Miller’s kick drum on the ‘Speak & Spell’ and ‘Upstairs At Eric’s’ is amazing, plus they also did the “voice” of R2-D2 with it!
But my friend Daniel Bergfalk who mixed my solo albums and joins me on stage sometimes, actually has two of TTSH clones and I’ve played a lot with that, it’s basically the same. It’s amazing and I will probably get one someday, but not an original and that would now cost the same as a car! Probably a TTSH although there are rumours that Behringer will be doing a clone!*laughs*
You’re performing at Pop+Synth Festival in Copenhagen this November with SOFTWAVE, TRAIN TO SPAIN and OCTOLAB?
I’ve never played in Denmark before so it’s gonna be great to enter a new market live.
Why do you think Denmark seemingly has not had an interest in electronic pop in the way neighbours like Sweden, Norway and Finland have?
There never has been, all the acts I know from Denmark are rock like GASOLIN’ but then, there’s not such a big music scene there at all, I can’t even think of many Danish bands in any genre…
ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK knows one and that’s LUKAS GRAHAM, f***ing hate that song ‘7 Years’! Such inane childish lyrics! *laughs*
I don’t know them! It sounds horrible!
Oh and there’s TRENTEMØLLER who has been featured on ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK…
TRENTEMØLLER is Danish? I thought he was Norwegian! *laughs*
ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK gives its warmest thanks to JOHAN BAECKSTRÖM
Although originally released 18 years ago on CD, this compilation of Frank Tovey’s singles-based material as FAD GADGET is now debuting on vinyl for the first time with an identical track listing spread over four sides.
Looking back retrospectively, one can see how Tovey’s incarnation as FAD GADGET provided a perfect middle ground between DEPECHE MODE’s early synthpop and the darker Industrial (and often verging on the unlistenable) experimentation of acts such as THROBBING GRISTLE.
Born 1956 in London, Tovey was the first artist to work with Daniel Miller at his fledgling Mute Records and quickly gained notoriety not just for his recorded work. Tovey’s live performances often saw him (literally) suffering for his art, precariously climbing to the top of venue stages or balconies during ‘Back to Nature’ and ripping out his pubic hair and throwing it into the audience.
Tovey was never afraid to explore the darker side of life and ‘The Best Of’ rounds up the 1979-1985 A + B sides released as FAD GADGET and one ‘Luxury’ which was released under his own name.
FAD GADGET’s debut single ‘Back To Nature’ was primarily constructed using his own primitive electronic set-up of an early Korg Minipops drum machine and Crumar electric piano fed through a distortion unit, plus Daniel Miller’s soon to become iconic ARP2600 semi-modular synthesizer.
Starting with simulated electronic animal sounds, octave synth bass and a lyric which is based around a caravan holiday in Canvey Sands, ‘Back To Nature’ brilliantly set the template for Tovey’s work as FAD GADGET; exploring similar themes of alienation as his contemporary GARY NUMAN, but from a far more bitter, world-weary standpoint rather than a dystopian Sci-Fi based one.
Second single ‘Ricky’s Hand’ pushed lyrical themes to a far darker place, being a cautionary tale warning of the perils of drink driving. Notable for the use of a Black & Decker V8 electric drill as a jarring percussive instrument and secondly the still stunning moment where the vocal by BJ Frost (Tovey’s girlfriend) dissolved seamlessly into a screaming modulated synth line at the climax of the track. ‘Ricky’s Hand’ also featured some truly wonderful sequencer work by Miller and an early appearance from the ARP2600 generated kick drum which would eventually become a mainstay on the debut DEPECHE MODE and YAZOO albums.
Of the B-sides featured here, both ‘Insecticide’ and ‘Lady Shave’ showcase Tovey’s experimentation with vocal dynamics and effects, becoming a fly in the former and screaming “shave it!” throughout the latter with added tape delay to enhance the effect.
FAD GADGET peaked commercially with the ‘Under The Flag’ album which is represented here by three tracks. The album saw a shift up in production quality and the appearance of Blackwing Studio’s newly acquired Roland MC4 Microcomposer which allowed for the multiple sequencing of parts at the same time. The tracks ‘Love Parasite’ with its proto funk-based synth bassline and ‘For Whom The Bells Toll’ (featuring a certain Alison Moyet on backing vocals) both remain highpoints in the FAD GADGET back catalogue.
However, if ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK could pick out a FAD GADGET Desert Island Disc, then it would have to be ‘Life On The Line’; starkly emotive and written under the shadow of the Falklands War, the addition of live piano to Tovey’s electronics helps to humanise the piece and make it an all-time electronic classic.
Once Mute started to invest in sampling technology, it was only natural that Tovey would begin to gravitate towards using it, eventually collaborating with German industrial metal-bashers EINSTÜRZENDE NEUBATEN on the single ‘Collapsing New People’ which featured a sample of a printing press as a rhythmic backbone for the track. This era provided a turning point for Tovey as he started to move away from electronics and towards a far more acoustic aesthetic, eventually culminating in the jettisoning of the FAD GADGET name.
Tovey would then take a complete U-turn in 1989 with a cover of the English folk song ‘Sam Hall’ and recording primarily acoustically with the albums ‘Tyranny & The Hired Hand’ and ‘Grand Union’, the latter featuring his new backing group of Irish musicians called THE PYROS. In 1993, Tovey withdrew from the music business, but a comeback which started with a high profile support slot on DEPECHE MODE’s ‘Exciter’ tour was tragically cut short when he suffered a fatal heart attack in 2002 at the age of 45.
2020 will see a new career-spanning box set of FAD GADGET material to tie in with the 40th anniversary of the ‘Fireside Favourites’ album, but in the meantime, vinyl lovers of darker electronic music would be foolish not to invest in this superb collection of one of the true innovators of synthetic music.
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.
“With this noise, I can try to find if it is possible to make music out of it…”
‘The Potential Of Noise’ is a touching insight into the late Conny Plank, undoubtedly one of the most innovative and important studio exponents in popular music.
Directed by his son Stephan with Reto Caduff, the film sees him embarking on a journey to rediscover his father’s impact and his importance in music history.
As the studio in the converted farmhouse in Wolperath, half an hour’s drive from Cologne, was also the family home, Stephan grew up around the artists who his father worked with.
John Foxx is one artist who considers Conny Plank to be the most important record producer since George Martin, having recorded ULTRAVOX’s ‘Systems Of Romance’ album with him in 1978. ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK also has spoken to a number of the musicians who Conny Plank worked with and all had nothing but affectionate memories of him.
Eberhard Kranemann, a one-time member of KRAFTWERK who later recorded an album ‘Fritz Müller Rock’ with Plank said: “He was a very important man, for me in the last century he was the most important producer, engineer and mixer in the whole world, THE BEST! He was so great that he even turned down David Bowie and U2. He was very honest, he didn’t want to work with them.”
DAF drummer and instrumentalist Robert Görl who made four albums with Plank went further, saying “He was almost like a father to me, we lived at the studio so it was all very familiar. We had a room and slept there, we would go down in the morning and he would be making breakfast while his girlfriend Christa Fast would make cakes. It was a very homely feeling that we remember most. And this made it easier for us to feel good and create without having a heavy head.”
“To work with him was always a pleasure” said Bodo Staiger of RHEINGOLD, “he was relaxed, very competent and had the talent to listen what the artist wants. And he also brought some good ideas and inspiration. For example, the percussive synth sound on ‘Dreiklangsdimensionen’ was his idea.”
Michael Rother remembered “he was so valuable… we wouldn’t have been able to record NEU! or the second HARMONIA album or my solo albums without Conny, so he’s all over the place in my music… thank you Conny.”
With such compliments, any film featuring prominent figures such as Midge Ure, Daniel Miller and David A Stewart recounting their memories of working with Conny Plank was likely to be fascinating. But for his son Stephan who was only 13 years old when Plank passed away in December 1987, this bittersweet film has been a journey to understand more about his father while confronting his demons of being neglected.
The key to Plank’s success was undoubtedly his personality rather than his actual technique and his ability to get the best out of the people, something he felt he wouldn’t be able to do working with David Bowie or U2. Today, Plank’s custom hand-built 56 channel mixing desk is owned by David M Allen, another producer known for his warm outlook and gift for providing an environment for artists to excel.
For those who perhaps only know Plank’s work through KRAFTWERK and ULTRAVOX, the soundtrack that accompanies ‘The Potential Of Noise’ is an education, with the instrumental music of NEU! and CLUSTER & ENO being particularly effective. Among the interviewees are the late Holger Czukay, Hans-Joachim Roedelius, Michael Rother, Robert Görl, Karl Hyde, Jaz Coleman, Annette Humpe, Gianna Nannini and many more.
Daniel Miller describes Plank’s work as experimental but still musical, while Robert Görl and Annette Humpe recall how Plank was particularly good at capturing the right mood for recording with “no rules”. And while Plank only produced the debut EURYTHMICS album ‘In The Garden’, David A Stewart applied that hippy with technology philosophy to their breakthrough second album ‘Sweet Dreams (Are Made Of This)’, mixing electronics with brass in a converted church studio.
Although recorded at RAK Studios in London, Midge Ure remembers after playing the demo of ‘Vienna’, ULTRAVOX talked musically about the plans for recording while Plank thought in terms of sound; he imagined an old man at a piano in a desolate theatre who had been playing the same tune for forty years. And when Billy Currie came to record his ivory parts, that was exactly the feel which Plank had engineered for the now iconic track.
For Plank, money and tapes were things that passed through his life, but his generosity is apparent throughout this documentary, both financially and in spirit. Michael Rother talks of how Plank helped to fund the recording of the first NEU! album to ensure that the duo had as much independence as possible to create, while it is also known he had offered to finance the recording of the first Midge Ure fronted ULTRAVOX album before the band signed to Chrysalis Records.
The most emotional recollections of Conny Plank come from hip-hop duo WHODINI who consider Conny’s Studio to be the best facility that they have ever recorded in, while also glowing about the effort which Plank made towards providing a recording environment that was as comfortable as possible, something the pair never experienced again after that visit to Germany.
But despite the generosity to his artists, the film tells of how Plank was not exactly the perfect father to Stephan, with Holger Czukay remembering that Plank treated Stephan as Christa Fast’s son, rather than his own.
It’s a point also highlighted by Annette Humpe who tellingly, actually asks Stephan on camera whether his father ever took him out into the countryside; it turned out he did… but for just one afternoon.
Resigned to the fact that few photos exist of them together, Stephan reflects that the best memento of his father now is his vast catalogue of work. Plank’s own end is sad, with him becoming too ill to mix EURYTHMICS ‘Revenge’ album following returning from a concert tour in South America with Dieter Moebius.
Despite Christa nursing him back to near health with a new diet regime, Plank’s need to work ultimately consumed him and worsened his condition, eventually leading to the cancer to which he succumbed to.
The film concludes with Stephan taking his own young family to Wolperath to see his former home, reminiscing about the bathroom where the gold and platinum discs used to hang, as well as the dining area where the family and the visiting artists used to sit. With the final words of the documentary, Midge Ure summarises that the music Plank made was timeless and ultimately outlived him.
Described by KILLING JOKE’s Jaz Coleman as “a revolutionary”, when the end credits roll of ‘The Potential Of Noise’, it’s rather appropriately to the proto-punk of ‘Hero’ by NEU!