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.
The origin of the BBC radio session came about due to restrictions imposed on the corporation by the Musicians Union and Phonographic Performance Limited with regards the airing of recorded music.
The thinking behind this was to create employment, as well as force people to buy records and not listen to them free of charge on the air. As a result, the BBC had to hire bands and orchestras to perform cover versions of recorded music to make up for the shortfall.
When the policy evolved with the advent of the more pop and rock oriented station Radio1, bands ventured into BBC’s Maida Vale studios to lay down between 3 to 5 tracks, with in-house personnel such as John Walters, Dale Griffin, Jeff Griffin, Chris Lycett, Mike Robinson, John Owen Williams and (not that) Tony Wilson helming the sessions.
The most celebrated of these BBC sessions were recorded for John Peel, but equally of merit and perhaps more of an indicator to potential breakthroughs into the mainstream were those produced for Richard Skinner and Kid Jensen.
Sessions were usually recorded and mixed in a single day, so had a rougher feel that lay somewhere between a live performance and a studio recording, sounding almost like a polished demo.
While acts would often use the opportunity to promote their latest single or album, others would premiere recently written compositions, try out different arrangements on established songs or perform cover versions. A number of these session recordings were even superior to their eventual officially released versions.
So ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK presents its favourite 25 BBC Radio1 session tracks with other selection criteria including rare songs or tracks capturing the zeitgeist and signalling a change in the course of music. Presented in chronological and then alphabetical order within each year with a restriction of one track per artist moniker, here are some special moments from our beloved Auntie Beeb.
THE HUMAN LEAGUE Blind Youth (John Peel 1978)
In Summer 1978, THE HUMAN LEAGUE perhaps surprisingly recorded their only session for the BBC which included ‘Being Boiled’, ‘No Time’ (which became ‘The Word Before Last’), a cover of ‘You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feeling’ and ‘Blind Youth’. The latter was the frantic percussive highlight of the four, a wonderfully shambolic slice of synth punk with bum bleeps and avant waves of white noise, all held together by the metallic rhythmic bed of a sequenced Roland System 100.
TUBEWAY ARMY I Nearly Married A Human (John Peel 1979)
Although only comprising of three tracks, Gary Numan’s session as TUBEWAY ARMY for John Peel in early 1979 captured an artist in transition. From the comparatively punky ‘Me! I Disconnect From You’ to the dystopian synthpop of ‘Down In The Park’, the electronics were gaining more prominence to suit his increasingly unsettling lyrical themes. And on the mostly instrumental ‘I Nearly Married A Human’, the machines launched a coup d’etat and took over like an army of replicants with the murmurs of the title being the only sign of flesh and blood.
Several months after the release of their self-titled debut long player, OMD returned for their second of their four John Peel sessions with Paul Humphreys and Andy McCluskey accompanied by drummer Malcolm Holmes and keyboardist Dave Hughes. By now, their live sound had expanded and this change was captured on this session with the version of ‘Pretending To See The Future’ having more presence and a looser percussive edge compared with the underwhelming drum machine-led album version.
One of the bands alongside SOFT CELL, DEPECHE MODE and BLANCMANGE who got a profile boost from their inclusion on the ‘Some Bizzare Album’, although they were signed by Phonogram to take on DURAN DURAN, B-MOVIE had more of a psychedelic vibe as reflected by songs like ‘Welcome To The Shrink’ and ‘All Fall Down’ on their first John Peel session in March 1981. But the highlight was ‘Polar Opposites’ with its mighty ‘2001: A Space Odyssey’ synth line. It would have made a great single, but never properly was!
Broadcast in Summer 1981, this session captured the original DEPECHE MODE line-up of Dave Gahan, Martin Gore, Andy Fletcher and Vince Clarke several months before the release of debut album ‘Speak & Spell’. Refining into a pop band but still retaining much of the synthetic rawness that linked them artistically to acts like FAD GADGET, the session was characterised by use of the Korg Rhythm KR55 drum machine with its charming klanky metallics. This version of ‘Boys Say Go’ possessed an aggression that was lost on the eventual album cut.
Like THE HUMAN LEAGUE, DURAN DURAN only did the one BBC session for their biggest champion Peter Powell. Broadcast in June 1981 to coincide with the release of their self-titled debut, they recorded near-facsimile versions of ‘Girls On Film’, ‘Anyone Out There’ and ‘Night Boat’. But a surprise came with ‘Like An Angel’, a sprightly love song unreleased at the time which pointed away from the New Romantics to the more mainstream pop ambition of the ‘Rio’ opus that was to come just a year later.
Available on the DURAN DURAN boxed set ‘Duran Duran’ via EMI Records
Contributing five songs to their first BBC session as ‘Tainted Love’ was rising up the UK chart, brilliant songs like ‘Bedsitter’, ‘Entertain Me’, ‘Chips On My Shoulder’ and ‘Youth’ demonstrated the potential of Marc Almond and Dave Ball, even in basic form. While ‘Seedy Films’ was faster paced and a bit “snap, crackle and pop” compared to the more sophisticated and laid-back clarinet-laden ‘Non-Stop Erotic Cabaret’ album version, it outlined why at the time, SOFT CELL were rated higher than DEPECHE MODE.
‘Studio B15’ was a short-lived Sunday afternoon magazine show presented by the late Adrian Love that often invited their guests to perform live. SPANDAU BALLET had just released their debut album ‘Journeys To Glory’ and as a band that didn’t tour and rarely played live, this was an opportunity to demonstrate their abilities. ‘Mandolin’ featured a prominent Yamaha CS10 synth line while this version featured Simmons drums and a much clearer vocal with a more pronounced diction from Tony Hadley compared to the oddly smothered album version.
Aired in February 1982, BLANCMANGE were captured in their only John Peel session as a much darker proposition than was later perceived by their UK chart success. It included an early take on ‘Living On The Ceiling’ without its Indian embellishments but the session was notable for ‘I Would’ and ‘Running Thin’, two songs that would not make it onto the ‘Happily Families’ tracklisting. ‘Running Thin’ in particular saw Neil Arthur and Stephen Luscombe trapped in a stark state of gloomy resignation.
Recorded nearly six months before the release of their debut album, CHINA CRISIS’ first John Peel session saw the duo exploring territory that sat between electronic and traditional pop. ‘Seven Sports For All’ and ‘Some People I Know To Lead Fantastic Lives’ ended up on the album while the more moody ‘Be Suspicious’ was already a B-side. But this version of ‘This Occupation’ was pure machine-propelled synthpop complete with sequencing and strong lead lines; later recordings that appeared on the B-sides of ‘Wishful Thinking’ were never as good.
After their 1981 German-inspired debut ‘In The Garden’, Annie Lennox and David A Stewart explored the possibilities of the synthesizer and acquired a Movement Drum Computer to live up to their moniker. In a BBC session that also included ‘Love Is A Stranger’ which was soon to be issued as a single , ‘I’ve Got An Angel’ was an unusual hybrid of synths, electronic drums and wah-wah guitar, with flute by the front woman alongside her particularly intense and raw vocal. By comparison, the released version on the ‘Sweet Dreams (Are Made Of This)’ album was more restrained.
Not actually recorded at the BBC, NEW ORDER’s second self-produced John Peel session was a fascinating document of the Mancunian’s transitioning sound with the throbbing sequences of ‘586’ highlighting a future proto-dance direction. Meanwhile ‘Turn The Heater On’ was a cover of the Keith Hudson reggae song in tribute to Ian Curtis and ‘We All Stand’ had avant jazz overtones. But ‘Too Late’ was significant, sounding like it could have come off debut album ‘Movement’ with its lingering gothic doom but also remaining unreleased, discarded as if a relic from another era.
Featuring ‘The Prisoner’, ‘The Hurting’, ‘Start Of The Breakdown’ and ‘Memories Fade’, the arrangements for this BBC session aired after TEARS FOR FEARS’ success with ‘Mad World’ differed significantly from the versions on their debut album. Featuring Linn Drum programming and Banshees-like guitar instead of sax, this version of ‘Memories Fade’ was far superior, utilising a much more powerful mechanised rhythmic tension that reflected the fraught paranoia and resignation of Roland Orzabal’s lyrical angst.
Available on the TEARS FOR FEARS boxed set ‘The Hurting’ via Mercury Records
Reshaped with a Fairlight and Linn Drum Computer, this version of ‘In My Room’ recorded in session for Kid Jensen was far superior to the irritating album version on ‘Upstairs At Eric’s’. Forming the basis for the live interpretation, it was now free of Vince Clarke’s “Our Father” tape loop monologue and allowed Alison Moyet space to express her emotive frustration to reveal a fantastic song free of distractions. Other songs in the session included beefed up takes on ‘Bring Your Love Down (Didn’t I)’, ‘Situation’ and ‘Too Pieces’.
Co-written with Wayne Hussey, ‘Give It To Me’ was Pete Burns at his filthy lyrical best, declaring that “Apart from all your obvious attractions, I’ve got the bullets, you’ve got the gun, bang me into action, let’s make this obvious distraction, physically you are just what I wanted!”. Although this slice of Middle Eastern favoured HI-NRG later surfaced as a bonus track on the 12 inch single of ‘I’d Do Anything’, it seems almost unbelievable now that this potential hit single was never developed further in the studio.
Available on the DEAD OR ALIVE boxed set ‘Sophisticated Boom Box MMXVI’ via Edsel Records
JOHN FOXX Hiroshima Mon Amour (Saturday Live 1983)
‘Saturday Live’ was a show that featured interviews and live sessions. Having ventured out touring for the first time since his ULTRAVOX days in support of his third solo album ‘The Golden Section’, John Foxx eschewed material from ‘Metamatic’ but perhaps more surprisingly, mined his former band’s catalogue. Backed by Robin Simon, Peter Oxdendale, David Levy and Barry Watts, Foxx performed an interesting arrangement of ‘Hiroshima Mon Amour’ sans rhythm machine but with guitars, ARP Odyssey and the ubiquitous thud of Simmons drums.
Available on the JOHN FOXX album ‘Metadelic’ via Edsel Records
HOWARD JONES Don’t Put These Curses On Me (Kid Jensen 1983)
Having triumphed opening for CHINA CRISIS in Spring 1983, Howard Jones impressed with his first BBC session featuring songs like ‘New Song’ and ‘Natural’ which would be included on his debut album ‘Human’s Lib’. The album title track also featured on the session with its original love triangle monologue intro. But ‘Don’t Put These Curses On Me’ would not be released until 2003, thanks to Jones considering the song unlucky following an equipment breakdown while attempting to perform it on the live Channel 4 TV show ‘Loose Talk’.
Available on the HOWARD JONES boxed set ‘Human’s Lib’ via Cherry Red Records
SIMPLE MINDS The Kick Inside Of Me (Kid Jensen 1983)
By the end of 1983, SIMPLE MINDS were leaning heavily towards more rockist climes with songs like ‘Waterfront’. But for a three song BBC session which also featured a reprise of ‘New Gold Dream’, there was the debut of ‘The Kick Inside Of Me’, a lively track with catchy synth riffs, an infectious bassline and minimal guitar. But come the released version for the Steve Lillywhite produced ‘Sparkle In The Rain’, it had totally been ruined with distorted guitar, overblown drums and yobbish shouting in a pointless attempt to emulate THE SEX PISTOLS!
This session captured TALK TALK after the departure of keyboardist Simon Brenner but before producer Tim Friese-Greene came on board as Mark Hollis’ writing partner. Showcasing at the time four brand new songs, only ‘Call In The Night Boy’ ended up on the next album ‘It’s My Life’ while ‘For What It’s Worth’ and ‘Again A Game Again’ became B-sides. But most interesting was ‘Why Is It So Hard?’ which was only released in Canada on the ‘It’s My Mix’ EP as an Extended Version and didn’t get a UK release until 1998 on the ‘Asides Bsides’ collection.
With only Steve Strange and Rusty Egan now remaining, VISAGE surprised all by recording a BBC session with new members Steve Barnacle and Andy Barnett, featuring previously unheard songs ‘Can You Hear Me?’, ‘Only The Good Die Young’, ‘The Promise’ and the funky standout ‘Questions’. With a more live feel, there was hope that VISAGE would be able to sustain some creative momentum despite the departure of Midge Ure, Billy Currie and Dave Formula but the eventual over-produced ‘Beat Boy’ album was rotten, marred by heavy metal guitar and hopelessly off-key singing!
Despite the patronage of Rusty Egan, Daniel Miller and Martin Rushent as well as a tour opening for DEPECHE MODE, the industrial pop of HARD CORPS did not breakthrough and by the time their only album ‘Metal + Flesh’ was released in 1990, all momentum had been lost. But the gothic tension and edgy energy of their music was perhaps best represented by their BBC sessions for John Peel and Richard Skinner, with ‘Metal + Flesh’ from the 1984 Peel session far outstripping the eventual album title track studio incarnation.
For an Autumn session before the release of their debut album ‘The Age Of Consent’, BRONSKI BEAT took the unusual step of recording three solo tracks, with the only band offering being a take on ‘Why?’ B-side ‘Close To the Edge’. Larry Steinbachek presented a HI-NRG instrumental ‘Ultraclone’ while Jimmy Somerville offered the acapella ‘Puit D’amour’. But Steve Bronski contributed the most unusual track, a beautifully new age piece called ‘The Potato Fields’ which took its lead from the Japanese composer Kitaro, a version of which ended up as a bonus on the ‘I Feel Love’ 12 inch.
From Spring 1984 to coincide with the release of their new single ‘Blue Emotion’, FIAT LUX stepped into BBC Maida Vale for a session to demonstrate their diversity and musicality as more than just a synth act. As well as ‘Blue Emotion’, there was its Brechtean B-side ‘Sleepless Nightmare’ and an acoustic version of ‘Secrets’. But best of all was ‘Breaking The Boundary’, a glorious burst of uptempo North European melancholy that did not officially see the light of day until the shelved FIAT LUX album ‘Ark Of Embers was finally released by Cherry Red Records in 2019.
ERASURE Who Needs Love Like That? (Bruno Brookes 1985)
With ERASURE, Vince Clarke had found himself back to square one after YAZOO and THE ASSEMBLY. Recruiting Andy Bell as the flamboyant front man capable of falsetto and creating the vocal tones of Alison Moyet, ‘Who Needs Love Like That?’ did sound like a YAZOO outtake and in this BBC session recording, was busier and more percussive than the already released single version. While ERASURE were not an instant success, the song did eventually chart on its remixed re-release in 1992.
Available on the ERASURE deluxe album ‘Wonderland’ via Mute Records
John Peel was not a fan of PET SHOP BOYS or much synthpop for that matter, so it was a surprise when Neil Tennant and Chris Love did a session for him using the back to basics approach that they had adopted for the ‘Release’ tour with guitars, bass and percussion in the line-up. But the bonus for fans was that two of the songs recorded ‘If Looks Could Kill’ and ‘A Powerful Friend’, which had been written in 1983 and shelved, were specially revived for the occasion. Both numbers were particularly energetic with the latter even featuring very loud rock guitars!
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.
HARD CORPS were like a piece of a jigsaw that didn’t quite fit.
Utilising aesthetically entrancing KRAFTWERK-like electronic minimalism, produced by the legendary Martin Rushent and Daniel Miller, but restrained by a major label record contract that meant that they never fulfilled their true potential and only belatedly released one full length album ‘Metal & Flesh’ in 1990. Clive Pierce, Hugh Ashton, Rob Doran and Regine Fetet were a candle that burned exceedingly brightly, but still left a small but none the less important legacy of synthetic music which could give their German counterparts a run for their money.
Tracks such as ‘Je Suis Passée’, ‘Dirty’ and ‘Porter Bonheur’ still remain classics of their genre with the band supporting DEPECHE MODE and THE CURE before dissolving a few years after their conception.
HARD CORPS vocalist Regine Fetet cut an enigmatic, but controversial figure by infamously disrobing during their DEPECHE MODE support slots; but tragically passed away in 2003.
Clive Pierce kindly spoke about his tenure in HARD CORPS with additional contributions from band members Hugh Ashton and Rob Doran.
What were your individual musical influences?
Hugh: The first records I recall being bought on my behalf were Neil Sedaka’s ‘Happy Birthday Sweet Sixteen’ and ‘Runaway’ by Del Shannon. This latter track featured the sound of a Musitron, an early electronic keyboard with a powerful ‘unworldly’ sound jumping out of the recording which made me aware of the emotional power of ‘sound’. Other examples of this would be ‘62’s Joe Meek produced ‘Telstar’ by THE TORNADOS which was a bit ‘cheesy’ but listen to that Clavioline, another great pre-synthesizer electronic keyboard and DELIA DERBYSHIRE and the BBC RADIOPHONIC WORKSHOP’s ‘Dr Who Theme’.
Rob: Probably my first subconscious feeling that music was powerful, was in secondary school when a cool American kid with hair down to his arse joined. He introduced me to THE DOORS and I especially loved the track ‘Unknown Soldier’ which I played over and over again. I loved its political message and even then, the blending of found sources within music which I have been a fan of ever since.
Clive: After a long time coming, when it was hand-me-down time, I found myself the proud owner of a box of 45s and an old Volmar valve record player that my brother used to own. I think I was more captivated by the machinery than by the music itself at the time, but still within that box of 45s I would as a young child be spinning tracks like ‘You Really Got Me’ by THE KINKS and ‘Telstar’ by THE TORNADOS.
Prior to the eventual meeting with Regine, how did the band members come together and what were their individual backgrounds?
Rob: I met Hugh in the 1970s in Brixton and lived in the same large Victorian house. Eventually I ran the recording studio (which we called Mekon) which was built in the basement of the house and became a sound engineer / designer with the punk group Hugh Ashton had formed called THE SKUNKS.
Clive: One day I answered an advertisement from a band based in Brixton, South London called THE SKUNKS. They described themselves as a sort of punk group, not exactly what I envisaged myself getting involved with, but I decided to give it a go because again they mentioned that they had a record deal and a connection with Pete Townsend of THE WHO. Within minutes of starting my audition, I could visualise myself quite happily being involved with them fully.
Only just recently I became aware that they chose me because of two main reasons, all of which centred around a Roland CR78 drum machine. The first was I didn’t object or feel intimidated by the use of one. A lot of drummers saw these machines as a threat to their livelihoods and considered them as just a poor imitation. Secondly, I was actually able to keep very good time alongside one.
Hugh: Having replaced our old-style rock drummer with the metronomic Clive Pierce, we changed our name to CRAZE and started incorporating a new hybrid sound. This led to a record deal with EMI and in ’79, we released the single ‘Motions’ with an instrumental B-side ‘Spartans’ which started getting played at Steve Strange and Rusty Egan’s freshly opened New Romantic hangout at The Blitz in London’s Covent Garden.
Once you had formed as an act, what did you hope to achieve together?
Clive: Speaking personally, it was a break from all that had been before. For a start, it marked the end of looking at myself as just being a drummer within a traditional group structure and the hierarchy that came with that.
Rob: We found the machines enabled us to break out of our previous musical roles. Being only a machine-based band initially narrowed our options musically, but at the same time as we developed into electronic musicians, widened our musical palette. Perhaps we were KRAFTWERK’s rough and noisy neighbours!
Hugh: So with Rob and Clive equally happy to join in this marriage with these powerful new toys, we started to evolve the working methods that would sustain us over the coming few years. It was now ‘81 and apart from seeing KRAFTWERK (whose new masterpiece ‘Computer World’ album showed they were still leading from the front) on their long awaited tour, it did not really matter what other musicians were up to. We were quite happily lost in our own bubble.
How did you go about integrating vocals into the band?
Hugh: A guy called David Porter came in to do vocals and managed to get us a support slot to play at the Marquee Club in Soho. In preparation, he brought us copies of some of the latest gay disco tracks (Patrick Cowley, Bobby O etc) which we copied and changed a bit and then he wrote new ‘songs’ on top and we were ready!
Except how could we recreate it live? This was to become a perennial challenge in the following years and not just for us but for many early 80s electronic acts.
David had hurriedly plucked the name HARD CORPS (which was a sort of opposite of SOFT CELL who had recently gone to No1 with ‘Tainted Love’) from a shortlist of possible names I had in my notebook. Thus under the gaze of a few disgruntled and confused rock fans being subjected to a weird reimagining of gay disco… HARD CORPS was born!
At the Marquee Club, David even had an open mic ‘dispute’ on stage with the giant rocker Fish from MARILLION which we by then we were able to enjoy from the audience. Although I don’t think David ever went back on to a stage again and we were more than happy to disappear from the opprobrium and back to the womb of our studio not to re-emerge without a more compelling reason to surface again. So what next?
So what did happen next??
Hugh: The answer was to arrive at a party we were giving at our HQ. Someone I did not know well came up to me and basically said “there is this girl here who you really should meet, she is looking for people to work with because she wants to sing and she is … different and I think she might suit your music!” So off he goes and back he comes with Regine. Well she was just 29 but she looked pretty fine… a gaunt figure with a fine-featured almost medieval visage below a fiery red mane of hair shaved away at the sides and a dead fox (or was it a ferret) draped across her shoulders. She spoke, suggesting she would like to revisit with a cassette of her ‘work’, with a mysterious clipped French accent with almost Germanic overtones (Une Vosgienne!).
She felt hard to refuse and so without much to lose, it was agreed she would return. So she came back to the studio and we found that a song she had already written about a lovelorn petrol-station attendant worked well with a backing track we had recently recorded and ‘Dirty’ was born. Intrigued by the way it all seemed to combine, we found we could create several more tracks that combined tracks we had already prepared with lyrics Regine had already written. So with this ‘flesh’ now added to the bones, the monster HARD CORPS was now truly born.
With Regine now on board, what made you decide to go for a completely electronic aesthetic?
Rob: It was different, a challenge, new, revolutionary, the future, a break from the pompous masturbation of endless dull guitarists and hypocritical rock music. It was two fingers to bland corporate American music. It had a vitality not seen since punk, it was European and it was pioneered by the excellence of KRAFTWERK.
Hugh: So basically we had virtually no outside influences on the music we were making at that time other than late 70s GIORGIO MORODER and KRAFTWERK. Regine was also not really influenced by other writers or singers. She was just very keen to express herself creatively to balance her life…
How did the demos you were creating around this time metamorphose into actual singles?
Hugh: So around 1983, Steve McGowan offered to take our recordings around some record companies. Having got some positive feedback, he effectively became our manager and developed the strategy that led to ‘Dirty’ being pressed as a white label and then being picked up by Survival. We then got an offer to debut at a party in June ‘84, organised by Steve Strange and Rusty Egan who still had a strong presence in London’s clubland.
Steve then secured Polydor’s interest and squeezed a complicated ‘album’ deal out of them that was supposed to give us creative control over all aspects including music production, press, artwork etc which we signed hoping we would keep some control whilst accessing the resources of a ‘major’ record company… a decision we would sooner than expected come to regret.
Whilst Polydor seemed agreeable to us self-producing ‘album’ tracks, they predictably wanted to gain exposure with a single release and wanted to find a producer who could add cache and supervise recording in a ‘proper’ studio rather than our admittedly ‘semi-pro’ basement in Brixton. We were suspicious, but when they offered up Martin Rushent, we were tempted into agreeing given his achievement producing ‘Dare’ for THE HUMAN LEAGUE a few years before. So we recorded ‘Je Suis Passée’ at his Genetic Studios in Reading, Berkshire.
How was the experience of working with Rushent?
Clive: Firstly it was a “pinch yourself” moment for me. I remember quite vividly on the final mix of ‘Je Suis Passée’ sitting alongside Martin at the mixing desk with him riding the 16th delays on a fader on the eight to the bar bass sequence part and me also riding a fader on 16th delays on my middle range sequence part and just bouncing and grooving off each other as the track exited what we affectionately called the ‘crunchy middle break bit’ and thinking to myself “what the f*** is occurring here?” There I was, Little Clive From The Block playing what was effectively duelling banjos with the oddball genius bearded bloke; the one that looked totally out of place in the pictures on the back cover of one of my favourite albums of all time ‘Love and Dancing’. Nuts. Completely nuts!
Martin also monitored extremely loud recording as well as mixing. I was used to working in our Brixton studio on a couple of Auratone speakers, only switching to Tannoys in short bursts to test out the energy of a track for fear of upsetting the very nice lady who lived next door. Martin would have me pinned against the back wall from the blast from the speakers with every bass drum beat hitting me square on in the solar plexus.
Over the space of a few days, it wore me completely down to the point of suffering what I can only describe as mild shellshock. I spent an afternoon in the group restroom on the sofa staring into space and physically shaking much to the amusement of Hugh and Rob, but I felt totally f**ked. I progressively got better but had to request a lower level of playback and take regular breaks from the audio barrage from then onwards. Strange really as I had previously played the drums in various groups with stage monitors pumping sound straight at me, but this was quite different and incessant. I still wince at loud music all these years on… very weird!
Rushent’s huge impact on the production of the songs of THE HUMAN LEAGUE is well documented, what do you feel he brought to the sound of HARD CORPS?
Clive: What we hoped Martin would be able do was to refine and flesh out our sound beyond the point we were physically able to manage ourselves down in our resident basement studio in Brixton and that he did. To also help coax and winkle out the best from Regine who although one of a kind, was never a vocalist in the traditional sense of the word.
She was by nature very hit or miss at the best of times but as much as this could on the one hand be intensely frustrating for us, on the other it could incredibly rewarding when a line or word would emanate from her that was not in any textbook but just sounded right within the context of the music. It was spotting them that was the skill. Martin having worked with the technical brilliance of Shirley Bassey and at the other end of the spectrum Joanne Catherall and Susanne Sulley and their “Working as a waitress in a cocktail bar” performance, I would say was a perfect choice for us.
As you started to record and produce songs for HARD CORPS, how did your relationship with Polydor develop?
Hugh: A profound problem for us was that we had signed thinking we would self–produce an album in our own studio and now we were being cajoled by Polydor into a scenario involving ‘expensive’ names to produce our music and promos. This made the whole project subject to the typical major record company ploy of promoting a single (or two if you’re lucky!) and delaying an album until you have a ‘hit’ and then making the album or otherwise if not, they just drop you.
Given how much they had just spent on one song (combined with the advance we now owed more than £100,000), their position was understandable, but we had spent some years recording enough tracks for an album which they had heard and had originally approved.
As Martin Rushent was now in the throes of a divorce, our A&R man Malcolm Dunbar scouted around for another ‘name’ and to his credit, gained Daniel Miller’s interest. This was quite something since at that time Daniel was steering DEPECHE MODE to international status and was not in the habit of working with people outside of his Mute stable of artists.
So in short, it was an offer we could not refuse and ‘Respirer’ duly ended up being completed with Daniel producing. So now we had two of the best ‘electronic’ music producers in the UK both helping on our track, not to mention Daniel was using Flood as his engineer. A stellar cast and indeed a great honour for us… the only trouble being ‘Respirer’, whilst being a ‘strong’ track was not really, in common with most of our tracks, obvious ‘hit’ single material.
It’s hard not to compare HARD CORPS with PROPAGANDA, especially with tracks like ‘Respirer (To Breathe)’, was there any kind of rivalry or kinship?
Clive: Absolutely none whatsoever in either rivalry or kinship. I only became aware of them initially when I visited a friend of mine who was an eclectic buyer of slightly alternative music, CABARET VOLTAIRE, PSYCHEDELIC FURS, NEW ORDER, FLOCK OF SEAGULLS etc. He played ‘Dr Mabuse’ to me and I immediately thought FRANKIE GOES TO HOLLYWOOD and I was right.
Now who doesn’t like FGTH in small doses, but the formulaic sound of the ZTT production machine just becomes really tiring after a very short space of time to my ears. Not enough rough edges for my taste and far too manipulated to feel any affinity towards. I can see the comparison you make with ‘To Breathe’ though.
The band did a session for John Peel in 1984, how was that experience when at the time the BBC engineers there were more used to dealing with Indie-style guitar acts?
Clive: Yes, it was a very sterile experience for both parties. The chaps at the BBC by nature were very institutionalised and it was record it and ship it out, and we felt the same. Naively, I personally thought John Peel would be popping his head in and out the studio during the recording but he didn’t. A time constraint dictated that we have some of the instrumentation pre-recorded at our Brixton studio and we would only play certain key components live on the sessions.
There was a rather funny moment when the BBC engineer, I think it was Mike Robinson said he had heard some nasty distortion on our track ‘Dirty’. We hadn’t spotted it and so he rewound the tape and ran it past us again. “There!” he gestured pointing at the monitors. Again none of us reacted as we hadn’t heard anything untoward and looked at each other quizzically.
“One more time please Mike” we asked starting to feel a bit amateurish at not having his depth of perception in the distortion spotting department. “There, there” he said again now standing up out of his chair in order to point closer to the speaker in a bid to home in more precisely to identify it for us. Again we couldn’t react to him until it then dawned on us simultaneously that the distortion he was trying to alert us to, was in fact a sound we had generated in our studio by feeding a delay back into itself and allowing it to get to the point that it started to break up.
We had lovingly crafted the distortion he was trying to point out to us as a defect. I don’t think we had the heart to tell him he hadn’t grasped the concept of the track and why should he but on a trip to the free vend coffee machine, the three of us had a good old giggle about it!
With much of Regine’s lyrics being in French, did you come under a lot of pressure to record totally in English?
Clive: For sure, albeit after we had signed with Polydor. Regine however was no Vanessa Paradis. If you put on the Bardot and sing all cutey, then you can get away with quite a lot as you pander to the stereotypical image most ignorant Brits have of the French, but Regine did not fit that model in the slightest. Her vocals and lyrics came from the scars of her life. They could not be delivered in a contrived way. What came out was what you had to work with and unfortunately working her art in the UK was always going to be an uphill struggle whilst singing in her native language.
Prior to Polydor and the “assault” on the charts, she could have sung in Martian as far as we were concerned. The language was not important to us. It was her personality, her realism and her honesty that mattered. She was flawed but in an intoxicating way to our ears to others this was not always appreciated as much.
What was the reaction when ‘Dirty’ was released as a single in 1984?
Rob: Extraordinary! We thought we were far to leftfield for that kind of interest and were totally unprepared for that amazing response.
Clive: It was very favourable, we attained record of the week in the NME and things snowballed from then onwards.
What kind of image did the band try to cultivate?
Rob: We tried to create a hard machine world with the macho men lined up along the back of the stage and the gentle flower symbolised by Regine pushing through the metaphorical concrete. As usual it became quite controversial!
Clive: The image I reflected on stage was purely a theatrical statement based on how I felt in regards my relationship to the music. I saw the musical phrases I played as having gender. Some male, others female. It felt honest and right to have both those represented in the way, I portrayed myself, a hard edge and a sensitive edge, both of which I possessed. I also think there was a degree of wanting to escape the everyday me who in reality was a rather average guy.
Hugh: I remember I had to deal with a panic at Polydor which involved being hauled in front of John Preston, the new CEO. We had performed at Islington Town Hall in London and we backline boys had decided to wear some 1950s surplus store ex-police motorcyclist’s jodhpurs as a uniform to emphasise our differences to normal casual rock band attire. They were reminiscent of those worn in Fritz Lang’s ‘Metropolis’ and seemed to us to capture in an amusing way (to us anyway), the sort of ‘retro-futurist’ vibe.
However we had not anticipated members of NITZER EBB being at the front of the audience dressed in long leather SS type overcoats. It led to a review in the music press where the reviewer was concerned that she had stumbled on some sort of ‘neo-fascist’ gathering. Preston wanted reassurance that his company had not signed something politically malodorous. I had to reassure him this was not the case and in fact the gig had been organised by Rock Against Racism which might have explained the reviewer’s sensitivity!
The band’s performance of ‘Je Suis Passée’ on ‘The Tube’ is still transfixing, can you say what happened in the lead up to this appearance and why Regine looks so stressed and distant?
Clive: Well, we missed our flight from Heathrow to Newcastle. I can’t recall exactly why, but whatever the reason, it was quite inexcusable. TV appearances when you are in your infancy as a group do not throw themselves at your feet very often. We managed to get a later flight from Heathrow to Teeside Airport a good thirty odd miles from the TV studio so had to jump into a cab and tell the driver to put his foot down to get us there. Fortunately our gear had gone up the day before and was already partly set up when we arrived to sound check.
After the sound check I (as I usually did) drifted off to have a look around ‘The Tube’ set and take as much as I could in before the show started. I really had no idea that during this time Regine had had an argument with our manager. I never knew until a long time after the show that this is why her performance looked so stressed. She was actually brooding live on TV. I just thought she was just being her normal self and took no notice of it!
The bit where Rob and yourself turn their backs on the audience, tweak the Rolands and glance at each other is probably one of the coolest things in a live electronic music performance, was that pre-rehearsed?
Clive: Yes is the simplest answer to that! It was the routine that was required to carry out that part of the track. The turning of our backs to the audience was not intended as snub to them at all. The System 100M by nature is rather plain looking viewed from behind so we opted to have the modules with their flashing LED’s facing out towards the audience for the drama. Consequently when we had to change any settings, it meant having to turn our backs to the audience.
DEPECHE MODE’s Black Swarm Devotee fanbase was notoriously antagonistic towards support bands, were you aware of this prior to playing with them?
Clive: No we weren’t aware of them at all. Even if we were, it wouldn’t have bothered us in the slightest. We actually would have revelled in a bit of antagonism, but I can’t say that on the ‘Music For The Masses’ tour, we noticed any animosity from the devotee DM fans.
The worst it ever got for me on the DM tour was actually backstage at the NEC in Birmingham.
There are long periods of spare time on tour pre-concert and the chance to have a bit of a kick around with a football was a good way to while a bit of time away and stretch those legs from the tour van. Rob and I were just passing the ball around when a couple DM roadies walked by. “Wanna game lads, HARD CORPS v DM?” and I said, “Yeah alright”. So down with the jumpers for goalposts and off we went. Within a short while (which normally always happens) a few others joined in on each side including Martin Gore and we had a five a side match on our hands.
Now it was all good natured and sporting, that is until one of the DM roadies took it upon himself to tackle me so ridiculously hard that he almost broke my leg in the process. I wasn’t prepared for that level of aggression from him in what was essentially just a friendly kick around and certainly not two hours before I was due to go on stage. I thought “you complete f**king tw*t!” That tackle could have spelled out the end of my DM tour.
When he next got the ball, I made it my mission to dish out a bit of retribution and hit him twice as hard as he had hit me. He went down but immediately got up and before we knew it we had squared up to each other snarling and swearing with fists about to fly. That was until Martin Gore stepped in between us before things got completely out of hand and managed to calm it down a bit!
What was your opinion about Regine’s dress sense on the DM support tour, do you feel that there was something wilfully self-destructive about it or was it a natural kind of ‘punk’ aesthetic for her?
Clive: Regine was a law unto herself. If she wanted to do something, she would do it regardless of what anyone said or recommended to her. That was her strength as well as her weakness.
The DM tour came at a time where we were as a unit struggling to keep the momentum going and sort of had a fatalistic attitude going into it. Perhaps a few years prior to the DM tour, I might have questioned the sanity of how far she was taking it but on this tour, I thought if we go down we may as well go down in flames…. which is what happened in the end! Retrospectively looking back on it, I can fully understand how her antics rendered us a liability to both DM and their promoters.
I for one, even though I am far from being a prude would have been seriously pissed off if I had gone to a DM concert with my young son or daughter and saw the support group’s front woman with her private parts out parading around on stage. There are lines you do not cross and even though I ashamedly had no regard for that line back then, I regret having been party to Regine being allowed to cross it. It cost us the European leg of the tour and perhaps the American leg and signalled the end for us.
Hugh: The first concert was in Newport in Wales and the concert promoters were furious because parents, who had accompanied their young teenage children, were suddenly confronted with a French Stripper! We had recruited a private detective friend to manage us for the tour and he had to deal with the fall out. So Regine had to sign a letter for the tour promoters, promising specifically not to expose her nipples again. So she did the rest of the tour with a rubber band across her breasts inscribed with the word “censored”.
Did you ever at any point say to her, “look let’s tone things down a bit”?
Clive: Yes! When you have 15 minutes or so before going on stage and the promoter won’t allow you to go on unless Regine signed a disclaimer stating that she would not disrobe on stage. Regine refused to sign the disclaimer but eventually after us pleading to her, signs it with a scrawl and then goes on stage and disrobes anyway!
Hugh: We were not offered the European leg of the tour despite Martin Gore’s stage attire being remarkably similar to that which Regine revealed when she removed her orange raincoat!
You also supported THE CURE, do you have any memories of this experience?
Clive: We were very fortunate to be published by the same company as THE CURE were and as a result were offered the slot on ‘The Head On The Door’ tour. The chance to tap in to THE CURE’s following was not to be sniffed at and all of us having a healthy respect for them and their music was an amazing opportunity.
Little ole hard CORPS on the same bill as THE CURE… wow the thought blew me personally away. A lot of my mates were ardent CURE fans and I just couldn’t wait to tell them the news. It was all very exciting!
In Torino, Italy we played our set to half a crowd as most of them were still in the bar areas. I don’t remember which track we were performing but we probably weren’t being very well received by the crowd as all manner of objects were being hurled at us. I got hit on the head with a couple of coins and a boiled sweet which fortuitously bounced down on to my keyboard.
Being a boiled sweet fan (who isn’t?) I unwrapped it and popped it in my mouth and gave a thumbs up in the general direction the gift horse had originated from. Hugh was less fortunate. This whole carrier bag of something was lobbed at him. What a shot. The handle managed to impale itself on one of his drumsticks stopping him in full flow. We lost a bar or so of beats as he untangled himself from his plastic nightmare and we finished the rest of our set dodging used Tampax etc!
As I left the stage, I grabbed the bag as I was curious to see what was in it. It was a whole packed lunch. Sandwiches, a packet of crisps and an apple. So if the person who threw it at Hugh ever reads this, I hope you went home hungry that night you bastard!
The band eventually split, was there a particular straw that broke the camel’s back or a series of contributory factors to this?
Clive: We fizzled out rather than split. As touched on previously, the death warrant had been signed when we became too difficult to handle anymore after the DEPECHE MODE tour. We had effectively painted ourselves into a very bleak corner. I think any comradery we had forged since the time Regine joined forces with us had evaporated and we met less and less to work on material, eventually just naturally drifting off our separate ways.
After all of the various recording sessions and singles, the album for Polydor never saw the light of day, why was that?
Rob: If we had released an album on Polydor, they would have been obliged to enter the next year of the contract so it became economically political. In other words, it would have cost them more investment than their accountants were prepared to budget for.
With your electronic aesthetic, you seemed on paper to be an ideal Mute Records band especially with the Daniel Miller link, do you think things could have turned out differently if HARD CORPS had been on a more sympathetic label?
Clive: I really believe we should have adopted the album band model and not been so wooed by the lure of a major label. We could never have been a commodity that would have sat comfortably on ‘Top Of The Pops’ churning out catchy tunes. Polydor were throwing serious money at us and had every right to demand chart contending ditties, but we just didn’t have them in us nor the personality to carry that pop star act off.
When HARD CORPS dissolved, what kind of career did you pursue afterwards?
Clive: My father was a self-employed builder among other things and I had worked alongside him off and on ever since leaving school to help pay my way. When we split, it was really game over for me. So much time was put into the project that I was left well behind my friends’ career wise. They had become civil servants, accountants, estate agents, policemen and were already well into paying mortgages off. I had virtually nothing in comparison to them.
So I just completely turned my back on music and knuckled down working with my father. We made a very good team with me supplying the strength and he the experience. I loved every moment with him. It was around this time that I became a father myself and my focus from then onwards was to provide security for my daughter.
Rob: I wrote and produced music and sound design for Film, TV and radio commercials.
Hugh: In ’92, I joined THE SUN KINGS and using the same equipment as HARD CORPS, we had an enjoyable time through the rest of the 90s doing our take on sort of ambient-techno incorporating our love of 60s psychedelia and 70s ‘German’. We released three albums ‘Hall of Heads’ on G.P.R in 1994, ‘Soul Sleeping’ on Blue Room in 1997 and ‘Before We Die’ released on Chill Out sometime after we stopped in ‘99.
Although HARD CORPS’ body of work is pretty small in comparison with many of their contemporaries, why do you think there is an enduring interest in the band’s work?
Clive: I think we were a truffle in a forest of chanterelles. Not to everyone’s taste but never the less rare and pungent in an appealing way to those who like their musical bouquet a little different.
Dedicated to the memory of Regine Fetet
ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK gives its warmest thanks to HARD CORPS