Richard Barbieri releases a new album ‘Under A Spell’, but despite beginning his recorded career in 1978 with JAPAN, it is only his fourth full-length solo offering.
Preferring a collaborative format, when JAPAN disbanded after five albums, Barbieri continued working with his former band mates David Sylvian, Steve Jansen and Mick Karn. It was while he was in JBK with the latter two that he met Steven Wilson of NO-MAN and PORCUPINE TREE who recorded and performed live with the trio.
This led to Barbieri joining PORCUPINE TREE and playing on nine of their albums. During this period, Barbieri also recorded an album with Tim Bowness of NO-MAN and two albums with Steve Hogarth of MARILLION.
His most recent release was the five part ‘Variants’ EP series that comprised of unreleased tracks, new material, live versions including his JAPAN composition ‘The Experience Of Swimming’ and the aural curio ‘1979 Rehearsal Room’ which was based around an atmospheric cassette recording made in rehearsals for the band with which he made his name.
Inspired by strange dreams that Barbieri was having triggered by the anxiety and isolation caused by the pandemic, sombre atmospherics are very much the dominant template for ‘Under A Spell’, capturing dark textures, introspective moods and cerebral downtempo rhythms over its nine tracks.
The unsettling demeanour of ‘Serpentine’ is a particular case in point, inspired by a nightmare that Barbieri had and aurally illustrated by sinister piano, jazzy vibes, schizophrenic cries and the fretless bass of Percy Jones.
While there are no conventional vocals, previous collaborators Rylander Love and Steve Hogarth have their voices manipulated and treated by Barbieri as if they were another instrument, with the phrase “Wake up, wake up, come back alive…” making its eerie presence felt on the album closer ‘Lucid’.
Had the “clearing of the vaults” for the ‘Variants’ series helped with focussing on a direction for ‘Under A Spell’?
Not really. The ‘Variants’ series of EPs was a way of staying creative without having the pressure of making a follow-up to ‘Planets & Persona’.
When I was finally ready to make another album, the Covid virus began to take hold in Italy and the UK. From that point on, I had to make a quite different album to the one I intended.
How does ‘Under A Spell’ differ from ‘Planets + Persona’ in terms of concept, sound design and additional musicians?
It’s more introspective and essentially a home recording, though it does feature a good amount of musical performances from the same group of musicians on my recent works.
Some performances were recorded remotely and some I derived from past recording sessions and used them again, but in different contexts. The concept and working process of ‘Planets…’ was outward looking and expansive in nature. ‘Under A Spell’ is informed by vivid dreams and a strange and surreal exterior atmosphere due to the first strict lockdown in the UK.
Photo by Carl Glover
With everything going on outside, had this affected your approach to ‘Under A Spell’?
Definitely. It also changed the compositional process because I focused even more on the atmospheric and textural elements. I let things evolve and tried to make it a very immersive listening experience.
Is there more use of software this time around or are your vintage synths still very much present?
I use a bit of everything. For the first time, I have a dedicated work room / studio so I have all my gear to hand. I used the usual old analogues (Roland System 700 Lab series, Prophet 5, MicroMoog, Yamaha CS-01) and some newer analogues like the Dreadbox Medusa and NYX. Also the Roland SE-02 mono synth. I used some Arturia software instruments, especially the CS80 emulation.
What is your favourite track on ‘Under A Spell’ and how did it come together?
Although it’s probably the hardest listen, I managed to completely achieve the atmosphere I wanted on the opening title track. It has a full complement of performances, some improvised and some heavily processed and mangled. The basis hinged around a jazzy vibraphone progression that I had wanted to use for a long time, combined with muted acoustic guitars and trumpets and whispering voices. I think it sets the scene very well.
Photo by Fin Costello
JAPAN’s ‘Quiet Life’ album gets the deluxe boxed set treatment in March 2021, how does it stand up for you 41 years on and how do you look back on your own contributions?
I’ve heard the remaster of the album and it sounds wonderful. It’s my favourite JAPAN album and that particular period represents the happiest time for me as a musician. My contributions became an integral part of the band sound for the first time really. I love the textural elements, the orchestrations and how the electronics blend with it all. It’s very much an album of that time but it stands up well and I think it has a beautiful organic quality. It’s a sophisticated work made by kids.
ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK gives its warmest thanks to Richard Barbieri
Although JAPAN had something of a shaky start with their first two albums ‘Adolescent Sex’ and ‘Obscure Alternatives’ in 1978, the seeds of an more electronically assisted direction were sown on the Giorgio Moroder produced single ‘Life In Tokyo’ in early 1979.
Now acknowledged as the bridge between growly funk-rock JAPAN and the more familiar, mannered and artier version of the group recognised by most today, ‘Life In Tokyo’ was a key interim milestone in their career as the first recording that the band were happy with.
The classic quintet line-up of JAPAN with David Sylvian, Mick Karn, Steve Jansen, Richard Barbieri and Rob Dean had found enormous success in the country of Japan as well as having more moderate but significant sales in Holland and Canada. So their German-owned label Ariola Hansa persevered, while manager Simon Napier-Bell was still convinced he had group of future stars on his hands.
For their third album ‘Quiet Life’, front man David Sylvian adopted a more crooning baritone style of singing. Meanwhile Mick Karn’s distinctively fluid fretless bass was pushed right up to the front, intricately complemented in the rhythm section by drummer Steve Jansen. Taking in a more atmospheric European approach compared to their earlier work, guitarist Rob Dean and keyboardist Richard Barbieri provided the exquisite textural backdrop.
Produced by John Punter who had worked on ROXY MUSIC’s ‘Country Life’, JAPAN had found a willing conspirator in the studio who not only believed in them, but who they got on well with on a personal level. The Englishman loved the band so much, he even went to tour with them to mix their live sound. But as the quintet embraced synthesizers, sequencers, E-Bows, muzak and orchestrations, some critics accused JAPAN of being a lavish Roxy rip-off.
‘Quiet Life’ was issued in December 1979 in Holland, Japan and Germany before being given a UK release in January 1980.
Although the album peaked at No72 in the UK, it was a major step forward as a quality timeless work that all five members of the band were collectively satisfied with.
Despite their melancholic outlook on life and their detached demeanour, the public eventually caught up with JAPAN when their style was embraced by the New Romantic movement, with the title song even belatedly becoming a UK hit when released as a single in September 1981.
‘Quiet Life’ consolidated JAPAN’s success in Japan itself, reaching the Top30. Their audience also expanded in Europe, pointing them in the right direction and towards Virgin Records who released the albums ‘Gentlemen Take Polaroids’ and ‘Tin Drum’ before the band finally disbanded in late 1982 after their biggest ever concert tour which took in the UK, Europe and the Far East.
With a new remaster of ‘Quiet Life’ by Miles Showell at Abbey Road and boxed set due, Rob Dean kindly gave an eye witness account into the making of an album that still stands up 41 years after its UK release.
Between the ‘Obscure Alternatives’ and ‘Quiet Life’ albums, JAPAN were in a state of transition from the growly glam funk of ‘Adolescent Sex’ to the mannered artful combo people remember them for today. How conscious had this been as David Sylvian’s voice completely changed, while Mick Karn came to the jazzy fore with his fretless bass playing and your own guitar style moved from rock to something more textural?
Well I think a band owes it to itself (and its audience) to evolve and grow. The first album was basically a band in its infancy attempting to make a cohesive record with a large list of original songs that had been accrued up to that point. The second was a band more accustomed to playing as a live unit and finding its identity with its newest material.
There is always I think an indication of the direction a band will take somewhere from one album to the next. For ‘Adolescent Sex’, it was ‘Communist China’, for ‘Obscure Alternatives’ it was ‘The Tenant’. It all comes down to influences and what the band was generally listening to moving forward.
By the time of creating the material for ‘Quiet Life’, it was KRAFTWERK, Eno, Moroder, Peter Gabriel and Bowie of course to name a few. So to answer your question, I think we all felt that ‘Quiet Life’ had to be drastically different to what preceded it and the band as musicians were finding their own respective voices. Clearly Mick’s approach to bass and David’s change in vocal style were strong motivators in this. For myself (and Steve and Rich I’m sure), it felt like a logical progression also.
Photo by Patrick Lichfield
‘European Son’ (which didn’t actually get an official release until 1980 on the Japanese edition of ‘I Second That Emotion’) and ‘Life In Tokyo’ were two songs recorded in that interim period but both are quite different to the majority of the material on the ‘Quiet Life’ album, how was it finding your feet as a band with a new direction?
Obviously ‘Life In Tokyo’ was seen as a “one off” with Giorgio Moroder at the helm. Had it been a big hit as was hoped by all involved at the time, then perhaps it would have been a logical step to have him produce the third album. If he had, then I’m pretty sure it would be quite different. For one thing, he pushed for co-rights on tracks that he produced.
‘European Son’ was in some ways a song that would suggest that Giorgio wasn’t needed to create an electro-disco song. The reason it didn’t get released until much later was purely because it was never totally finished. Live, we played it in a few different incarnations but I did not record any part I was happy with on it, and that is mainly why. I was concerned foremost about not creating ‘Life In Tokyo version II’. So that one was a bit of a struggle.
As far as “finding your feet with a new direction”, the notion doesn’t really enter into it. You don’t really think about it, other than creating parts for songs that you feel fit and that you are all happy with just as you always do.
Can you remember your thoughts when the band were presented with the songs for ‘Quiet Life’?
Most were presented in the rehearsal studio as they always had been, with David playing a chord structure on guitar and us all starting to build from that. I do remember clearly that he and Rich had been working from home on the germ of an idea which was the song ‘Alien’ (which was at one time going to be the album title, until we learned that Ridley Scott’s film of the same name was due for release!) and in this embryonic stage, it was very different – a slow, brooding, somewhat uncompromising piece. I guess we all felt it wasn’t working and so it was shelved and resurrected in a far more palatable form later on.
In terms of arrangement, what was discussed between the band members? What was the dynamic at the time?
I remember we were in a cab on our way to a first meeting with John Punter and David Sylvian mentioned for the first time using orchestration on a couple of tracks. This was a surprise, but not in any way a negative one. It felt right, considering the songs that we were creating and their more epic scope. As far as general arrangements, we all knew when we were onto something that worked I’d say. We were all very positive about what we were doing and where the new material was going.
How crucial was producer John Punter in the realisation of the ‘Quiet Life’ album?
When we met John Punter, we all hit it off straight away. His warmth and enthusiasm was infectious and from our first meeting, we had nothing but positive thoughts about the forthcoming album sessions.
He made the entire experience a relaxed and enjoyable one for everyone involved, and I think that comes across in what was produced.
John Punter co-produced ROXY MUSIC’s ‘Country Life’ but apparently Bryan Ferry wasn’t too impressed about him working with JAPAN?
He told us that he bumped into Bryan Ferry at AIR later on and was berated for working with us. Whether in jest or not, I can’t say. I guess Bryan Ferry must have thought we were invading his territory or something.
What was it like to work at AIR Studios in terms of atmosphere, environment and equipment? Was Richard Barbieri quite lost in the range of keyboards and synthesizers that were available there for example?
AIR had a wonderful atmosphere. The four studio complex meant there were always interesting artists to brush shoulders with and converse with upstairs in the cafe and pool table area. It was impeccably run and a very positive environment to work in. The studios themselves were all state-of-the art. Despite what you might think, there were not banks of musical equipment to be used other than grand pianos, though. Any instruments other than our own would be rented from outside.
It was cool to go to the nearby pub for a break and be sharing a pint with the likes of Chris Thomas, and John Cale… yes, even David Sylvian went to the pub! I think it helped that John Punter was so well-known and liked around AIR.
THE PRETENDERS were there recording their debut album. Chrissie Hynde was very nice to us but the rest were kind of jerks. One day we arrived at the studio and the guitarist, James Honeyman-Scott had left us a bag full of cheap make up. He thought it was funny. We caught him giggling with his band mates about it, like kids playing a prank in the playground…
Would you be recording the songs one by one, or would there be several things going on at once depending on mood and ideas?
Generally the aim would be to get a definitive take of the drums first, then bass, and so on. Some days would be designated for a particular song and some for a particular instrument, it varied. If there was a problem with one, we would move onto another.
The title track was pivotal and is now held up as an iconic electronic pop single. Can you remember how the song developed and how everyone worked their parts in, because it does sound very much like a joint effort where everyone is firing on all cylinders?
‘Quiet Life’ was pretty much totally realised in our dingy rehearsal room in Willesden. I think the bass part was very integral to how the song developed. As was expected, Mick and Steve worked very tightly together. Sometimes we left them to work on their parts for a while and then added to that. I think the sequencer was part of the strong foundation too. The E-Bow solo was improvised in the studio, but the rest of the guitar parts were already established.
‘Fall In Love With Me’ featured a blistering E-Bowed lead line from yourself, how did you find adapting to this technique, had it opened up a whole new world for you?
Well actually, there is no E-Bow on that track. The verse guitar part is distorted fuzz guitar. But I was however very happy to discover the E-Bow. For a while, I was endeavouring to create thick sustained lead lines with mixed results. Invariably when recorded, they would sound trebly and thin when placed into a track. The E-Bow eliminated this. It was as if it was made for me.
Both ‘Fall In Love With Me’ and ‘Halloween’ had these fading endings to when the band stops playing, had there been any debates as to whether to have them like “live band endings” at full volume or were the fades intentional as a concept?
Some songs are created to end and others not. When recorded, those didn’t have distinct endings but kind of kept steaming ahead. In the mixing stage, the idea of long fades seemed appropriate for both. It just so happened that they just about made it to the end of the takes! And within the context of the album, they worked in respect to the start of the next track. In the case of ‘Fall In Love With Me’, it’s just one of those driving, insistent rhythms that as a musician you are enjoying so much you don’t want it to end, so a fade eliminates that conundrum. Plus, John Punter loved a long fade!
Although lyrically, many of the songs on ‘Quiet Life’ have this doomed romantic demeanour about them, ‘Halloween’ was about the Cold War aftermath of Berlin and the rockiest track on the album? It screams rather like the film of the same name…
Well I think the title conjures up darkness and menace and therefore there needs to be some urgency to the guitars too. A scream seemed appropriate. Even the auto-wah guitar figure in the middle section tied with the synth emphasizes that.
‘Alien’ allowed to you play at being Robert Fripp, had he become a big influence on you by this time? Who were the other guitarists you may have looked to for inspiration on the ‘Quiet Life’ album?
When you have a new toy, you naturally want to play with it! In this case there were two, the E-Bow and my new Gibson RD Artist guitar with its Moog designed active electronics which proved to be a match made in heaven for me. Both very instrumental in the new sounds I was creating. My strongest influences then were naturally Fripp, but also John McGeoch (I was a huge MAGAZINE fan), Ricky Gardiner, Carlos Alomar and Earl Slick.
You didn’t play on the en Français piano mood piece ‘Despair’, so what happens when you are told that your contribution is not required for a track?
I saw ‘Despair’ as something of a companion piece to ‘The Tenant’ from ‘Obscure Alternatives’. I wasn’t instructed to not play on it, it was my own decision. I am always of the mind that if it is not essentially necessary, then why contribute? I didn’t want to play some cursory E-Bow if the piece didn’t require it and that’s how I felt in this case.
Often when I wasn’t needed, I would be reading quietly in a corner somewhere or perhaps playing Space Invaders upstairs. Sometimes if it was anticipated that this would be a lengthy period, then I would catch a film matinee.
In the case of ‘Despair’, there was a bit of labour over Mick’s efforts in trying to play bowed double bass on it. Although he was unquestionably a talented multi-instrumentalist, in this case it defeated him and an outside session player was brought in. Memorably Kate Bush was in Studio 1 and invited to listen to a mix of it by Jon Jacobs, the tape op who had worked with her on ‘Never For Ever’. She sat cross-legged on the floor while we all sat around quietly and when it was over, in typical KB fashion she said “Oh wow, it’s so big, isn’t it?”
Photo by Patrick Lichfield
The ‘Quiet Life’ album includes a reinterpretation of THE VELVET UNDERGROUND’s ‘All Tomorrow’s Parties’ but that wasn’t originally recorded during these sessions, but appears to originate from the same time as ‘European Son’ at DJM Studios? How did the decision to do a cover get made? Did you like the song yourself?
I was of course familiar with the song from THE VELVET UNDERGROUND. I had seen Nico live a couple of times and loved her voice, too. As a band, it was not unusual for us to take someone else’s song and adapt it and this was no exception. I personally was very happy with how it turned out. I think we changed it up sufficiently to put our mark on it. It was way better than Ferry’s rather average version, which came much later, I might add!
The ‘Quiet Life’ album was notable for the use of an orchestra on ‘In Vogue’ and ‘The Other Side Of Life’. The end results were quite beautiful but how was the challenge for the band of integrating your parts into this classical template?
In both cases, the band tracks were complete (except the finished vocal which would be added last). So it was not a case of us adapting to the orchestral arrangements but the exact reverse. Ann O’Dell was given a rough mix of both to write her score around.
So in the case of ‘The Other Side Of Life’, for instance, I think the already recorded instruments would have influenced the feel and approach that Ann O’Dell took with the score. The orchestra played off the syncopation of the bass and drums in the long instrumental outro quite noticeably too.
It is on record that ‘Quiet Life’ was the first album that all five band members were totally satisfied with… in an album of great moments, do you have a particular favourite moment?
I think it was actually standing in the studio while the orchestra were playing on ‘The Other Side Of Life’. Listening to an orchestra playing live to the music you helped create is a real buzz, I can tell you. It took those tracks to an entirely other level. I almost got a stiffy! As a track it was a new high mark of maturity for us.
The instrumental ‘A Foreign Place’ was recorded during the album sessions and shelved, although it came out as a B-side in 1981. Was there any other material that you worked on like ‘Can’t Get Enough’?
Like what? We never had a song with that title! But to answer your question, the band were always very low on unreleased material. Basically what was recorded was officially released… eventually.
The ‘Quiet Life’ album cover photo session with Fin Costello saw the band captured behind glass, yet the finished artwork only had David Sylvian on the front! A sign?
The original concept for the cover when it was still titled ‘Alien’ was of five fold-out panels with each panel a photo of each of us with our own concept. I don’t think there was ever any doubt that David’s would be the front panel. I’m sure that’s what Simon Napier-Bell and Hansa had in mind. Plus from ‘Obscure Alternatives’ onwards, Fin Costello was always putting him front and centre. By that point, it was already a given so no surprise to anyone.
So you had this great album in the can but the UK label doesn’t want to release any singles off it, not even the magnificent ‘Quiet Life’ title song, and a cover version of ‘I Second That Emotion’ was released instead. Was this a Simon Napier-Bell intervention? What did the band think?
I wouldn’t say it was SNB’s doing. As a creative entity where the band was concerned, he was a bit of a non-starter and by that time, his input was somewhat minimal. All he could do was suggest and that mostly fell on deaf ears. I’m sure it was Hansa being desperate after the lack of success with ‘Life In Tokyo’ which must have seemed like a no-brainer. By that point they were panicking and really had next to no idea how to market us.
So a song that people ought to be familiar was all they had to relate to (despite rumours to the contrary, the song was our choice, however). After all, they were all BONEY M and Amii Stewart. They didn’t have a clue. And I think us being associated with that label didn’t help our credibility either.
‘Quiet Life’ was undoubtedly JAPAN’s breakthrough record, how did you feel when the album was embraced by the New Romantic movement and then the title song was a belated hit single in 1981?
Unfortunately having left and living in California by that time, I was as you can imagine somewhat removed from that. Still, you always have to believe in yourself and it wasn’t a surprise. It was, of course, well-deserved and definitely not before time. I was proud to have been a part of it. It would have been nice to have performed just once on ‘Top Of The Pops’ but I still have enough good memories of that time to keep with me.
What are your thoughts on the ‘Quiet Life’ album now with this deluxe reissue, does it still trigger any emotions 40 years on?
For many many years, anything that referred to those times felt like I was talking about a different person. Of course recently, I’ve been recording again and so I’ve grown to be more comfortable with that period of my life and in a small way, I have been assisting BMG with this reissue. I just want it to be the best it can under the circumstances and something the fans will appreciate. To me at this time, it’s all about the fans and their continued support. It’s something I am very proud of. Six people working towards the same goal. A time of great adventure, creativity and happiness. I’ll stop now. There’s something in my eye…
Of course, this era of JAPAN have their legacy, most notably in the form of DURAN DURAN, do have you any thoughts? 😉
I like to think that without us, there might not be a TALK TALK… but why does everyone keep referring to a character played by the actor Milo O’Shea in ‘Barbarella’? I don’t get it…
ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK gives its warmest thanks to Rob Dean
‘Quiet Life’ is reissued by BMG on 5th March 2021 as a 3CD+LP Abbey Road half-speed remastered deluxe edition boxed set featuring the original album and non-album tracks ‘Life In Tokyo’, ‘European Son’, ‘I Second That Emotion’ and ‘A Foreign Place’, as well as the full 1980 ‘Live at Budokan’ concert
Was 1981 the most important year in synth as far becoming ubiquitous in the mainstream and hitting the top of the charts internationally?
Yes, ‘Autobahn’ and ‘Oxygène’ came before, while the Giorgio Moroder produced ‘I Feel Love’ by Donna Summer is acknowledged as being the track that changed pop music forever and still sounds like the future even in the 21st Century. French electronic disco like ‘Magic Fly’ and ‘Supernature’ also made its impact.
Meanwhile closer to home, a post-punk revolution was already permeating in the UK with the advent of affordable synthesizers from Japan being adopted by the likes of THE NORMAL, THROBBING GRISTLE, CABARET VOLTAIRE and THE HUMAN LEAGUE. But it was Gary Numan who took the sound of British synth to No1 with ‘Are Friends Electric?’ and ‘Cars’ in 1979. It signalled a change in the musical landscape as the synth was considered a worthy mode of youthful expression rather than as a novelty, using one finger instead of three chords.
Despite first albums from John Foxx and OMD, 1980 was a transitional time when the synth was still the exception rather than the rule. But things were changing and there had also been the release of the first Midge Ure-fronted ULTRAVOX album ‘Vienna’ and the eponymous debut long player by VISAGE just as The Blitz Club and the New Romantic movement were making headlines. With the acclaim for the ‘Some Bizarre Album’ in early 1981 which launched the careers of DEPECHE MODE, SOFT CELL, BLANCMANGE, THE THE and B-MOVIE, a wider electronic breakthrough was now almost inevitable.
VISAGE’s ‘Fade To Grey’ went on to be a West German No1 in Spring 1981 and this exciting period culminated in THE HUMAN LEAGUE taking ‘Don’t You Want Me?’ to the top spot in the US six months year after becoming the 1981 UK Christmas No1. It would be fair to say that after this, the purer sound of synth was never quite the same again.
For many listeners, 1981 was a formative year and had so many significant new releases that it was difficult to stretch the limited pocket money to fund album purchases. ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK even took to selling bootleg C90 cassettes on the school playground, promising a value-for-money “two albums for one” deal to support this disgusting habit!
Looking back to four decades ago when there were also albums from DEVO, EURYTHMICS, FAD GADGET, LOGIC SYSTEM, SPANDAU BALLET, SPARKS and TANGERINE DREAM, here are twenty albums which ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK sees as contributing to the electronic legacy of 1981. Listed in alphabetical order with the restriction of one album per artist moniker, this is the way it was in the past, a long long time ago…
DAF Alles Ist Gut
Under a haze of “sex, drugs and sequencer”, the late Gabi Delgado and Robert Görl released an acclaimed album trilogy produced by Conny Plank. The first ‘Alles Ist Gut’ featured their fierce breakthrough track ‘Der Mussolini’ which flirted with right wing imagery in its sardonic reflections on ideology. Causing controversy and confusing observers, DAF attracted a following which Delgado hated. Despite his parents escaping from the Franco regime in Spain, he was always unapologetic about the provocation within his lyrics.
Having conceived the idea of a teenage synthpop group called SILICON TEENS, this dream of Daniel Miller became flesh and blood when he came across a young quartet from Basildon called DEPECHE MODE. Signing on a handshake 50/50 deal to his Mute Records, the group became a chart success. Despite other great songs like ‘Puppets’ and ‘Tora! Tora! Tora!’, the group fragmented on the release of their 1981 debut album ‘Speak & Spell’. The remaining trio of Andy Fletcher, Dave Gahan and Martin Gore recruited Alan Wilder, while Vince Clarke formed YAZOO with Alison Moyet.
Following the ‘retirement’ of Gary Numan with his spectacular farewell shows at Wembley Arena in April 1981, four of his erstwhile backing band became DRAMATIS. RRussell Bell, Denis Haines, Chris Payne and Ced Sharpley had been instrumental in the success of Numan’s powerful live presentation and their only album showcased the band’s virtuoso abilities. While the use of four different lead vocalists (including Numan himself on the superb ‘Love Needs No Disguise’) confused the continuity of the album, musically, there was much to enjoy.
Originally released by Rocket Records, currently unavailable
It would be fair to say that the classic line-up of Simon Le Bon, Nick Rhodes, John Taylor, Roger Taylor and Andy Taylor took the arty poise of JAPAN and toned down their androgynous outré to make it more accessible But the enduring appeal of DURAN DURAN is great timeless pop songs and that was apparent on the self-titled debut album which at times sounded like an electronic band with a heavy metal guitarist bolted on, especially on ‘Careless Memories’ and ‘Friends Of Mine’. But most will just remember the two hits ‘Planet Earth’ and ‘Girls on Film’.
Thawing considerably following the release of the acclaimed ‘Metamatic’, John Foxx admitted he had been “reading too much JG Ballard”. Exploring beautiful Italian gardens and taking on a more foppish appearance, his new mood was reflected in his music. ‘The Garden’ album featured acoustic guitar and piano as showcased in the Linn Drum driven single ‘Europe After The Rain’. With choral experiments like ‘Pater Noster’, a return to art rock on ‘Walk Away’ and the more pastoral climes of the lengthy title track, Foxx had now achieved his system of romance.
Fronted by the cool persona of vocalist Glenn Gregory, HEAVEN 17’s debut ‘Penthouse & Pavement’ was a landmark achievement, combining electronics with pop hooks and disco sounds while adding witty social and political commentary, taking in yuppie aspiration and mutually assured destruction. The first ‘Pavement’ side was a showcase of hybrid funk driven embellished by the guitar and bass of John Wilson. The second ‘Penthouse’ side was like an extension of THE HUMAN LEAGUE’s ‘Travelogue’, Martyn Ware and Ian Craig Marsh’s swansong with the band.
After Martyn Ware and Ian Craig Marsh left to form HEAVEN 17, vocalist Philip Oakey and Adrian Wright recruited Susanne Sulley, Joanne Catherall, Jo Callis and Ian Burden to record ‘Dare’ under the production helm of Martin Rushent. Like KRAFTWERK meeting ABBA, the dreamboat collection of worldwide hits like ‘Love Action’ and ‘Don’t You Want Me?’ had a marvellous supporting cast in ‘The Things That Dreams Are Made Of’, ‘I Am The Law’, ‘Seconds’ and ‘Darkness’. Only the Linn Drum rework of ‘The Sound Of The Crowd’ blotted the album’s near perfection.
JAPAN took the influences of the Far East even further with the Chinese flavoured ‘Tin Drum’. A much more minimal album than its predecessor ‘Gentlemen Take Polaroids’, there was hardly any guitar while the synths used were restricted to an Oberheim OBX, Prophet 5 and occasionally the Roland System 700. David Sylvian’s lyrical themes of ‘Tin Drum’ flirted with Chinese Communism as Brian Eno had done on ‘Taking Tiger Mountain (By Strategy), a point highlighted by the pentatonic polyrhythmic single ‘Visions Of China’ and its less frantic sister song ‘Cantonese Boy’.
With his synthesized symphonies, Jean-Michel Jarre helped popularise the sound of electronic music. ‘Magnetic Fields’ was his first long player to utilise the Fairlight CMI which allowed him to absorb some musique concrete ideas such as water splashing and hydraulic train doors into his compositions. Featuring the klanky Korg Rhythm KR55, it was a much more percussive album than ‘Oxygène’ and ‘Equinoxe’ had been, complementing the metallic textures that featured. However, ‘The Last Rumba’ confused some who considered the home organ closer incongruous.
Having scored an unexpected UK hit with the sonic beauty of ‘I Hear You Now’, Jon Anderson and Evangelos Odysseas Papathanassiou presented a second album in ‘The Friends Of Mr Cairo’. Featuring ‘State Of Independence’ which was to become a hit for Donna Summer, the album was laced with spiritual overtones over symphonic synths, cinematic piano and dialogue samples from films. However, the album is now best known for the single ‘I’ll Find My Way Home’ which had not been included on the original tracklisting.
‘Computer World’ could be considered one of the most prophetic albums of its time. KRAFTWERK forsaw the cultural impact of internet dating on ‘Computer Love’, but the title track highlighted the more sinister implications of surveillance by “Interpol and Deutsche Bank, FBI and Scotland Yard” with the consequences of its prophecy still very relevant discussion points today. But the dynamic rhythmic template of ‘Numbers’ was to have a major impact on Urban America as it was mutated into hip-hop, rap and techno.
LANDSCAPE From The Tea Rooms Of Mars To The Hell-holes Of Uranus
Jazz fusion combo LANDSCAPE were led by producer Richard James Burgess who co-designed the Simmons SDSV with Dave Simmons as the first standalone electronic drum kit, with circuitry based on the ARP 2600. Using a Lyricon, the first wind-controlled synth played by John Waters as its lead hook, ‘Einstein A-Go-Go’ was a fabulously cartoon-like tune about nuclear weapons falling into the hands of theocratic dictators and religious extremists! Meanwhile, ‘European Man’ predated EDM by having the phrase “electronic dance music” emblazoned on its single sleeve.
Rising from the ashes of JOY DIVISION and reconvening in late 1980, Peter Hook, Bernard Sumner and Stephen Morris chose the name NEW ORDER as a symbol of their fresh start and after deciding against recruiting a new vocalist, Morris’ girlfriend and later wife, Gillian Gilbert was recruited. Despite Martin Hannett still producing, recording sessions were fraught although synths were taking greater prominence while Morris used a Doctor Rhythm DR55 drum machine on ‘Truth’ and ‘Doubts Even Here’. ‘Movement’ may not have been a great debut album, but it was an important one.
Following his much-publicised retirement from live performance, the last thing Numanoids expected from their hero was an understated Brian Eno homage. At nearly an hour’s playing time, ‘Dance’ outstayed its welcome and despite the title, these were mostly downtempo pieces with ‘Slowcar To China’ and ‘Cry The Clock Said’ stretching to 10 minutes. Much was made of JAPAN’s Mick Karn playing fretless bass although he was only on five of the eleven tracks. It was the wrong album at the wrong time but in ‘A Subway Called You’ and ‘Crash’, there were some great moments.
‘Dance’ is still available via Beggars Banquet Records
”I think ‘Architecture & Morality’ was a complete album, it was just so whole” said Paul Humphreys in 2010. The big booming ambience of the album next to big blocks of Mellotron choir gave OMD their masterpiece, tinged more with the spectre of LA DÜSSELDORF rather than KRAFTWERK. Featuring two spirited songs about ‘Joan Of Arc’, these were to become another pair of UK Top 5 hits with the ‘Maid of Orleans’ variant also becoming 1982’s biggest selling single in West Germany.
SIMPLE MINDS Sons & Fascination / Sister Feelings Call
A generally overlooked ‘double’ opus, ‘Sons & Fascination / Sister Feelings Call’ exploited the KRAFTWERK, NEU! and LA DÜSSELDORF influences of SIMPLE MINDS to the full, under the production auspices of Steve Hillage. From the singles ‘The American’ and ‘Love Song’ to the mighty instrumental ‘Theme For Great Cities’ and the unsettling dentist drill menace of ‘70 Cities As Love Brings The Fall’, with basslines articulating alongside synths and guitars layered in effects that when harmonised together were almost as one, this was SIMPLE MINDS at close to their very best.
In their cover of Northern Soul favourite ‘Tainted Love’, SOFT CELL provided the first true Synth Britannia crossover record. Possibly one of the best albums of 1981, ‘Non-Stop Erotic Cabaret’ captured the edginess of minimal synth arrangements while married to an actual tune. At the time, art school boys Marc Almond and Dave Ball were rated higher than DEPECHE MODE. But with the follow-up success of the Top5 singles ‘Bedsitter’ and ‘Say Hello Wave Goodbye’, the pair became reluctant popstars, chased around by both teenagers and paparazzi.
‘Sex’ was Belgian trio TELEX’s third album and a collaboration with SPARKS that saw the Mael brothers contribute lyrics to all nine tracks. Experiments in swing on ‘Sigmund Freud’s Party’ displayed a sophisticated vintage musicality and ‘Haven’t We Met Somewhere Before?’ was the hit single that never was. Meanwhile, like KRAFTWERK meeting YELLOW MAGIC ORCHESTRA, ‘Brainwash’ was quite obviously the blueprint for LCD SOUNDSYSTEM’s ‘Get Innocuous!’. However, the tracklisting was considerably revamped for the UK release in 1982 as ‘Birds & Bees’.
‘Sex’ was released by Ariola, currently unavailable
‘Rage in Eden’ began with the optimistic spark of ‘The Voice’ but it was something of a paranoia ridden affair having been created from the bottom up at Conny Plank’s remote countryside studio near Cologne. There was synthetic bass power on tracks like ‘The Thin Wall’, ‘We Stand Alone’ and ‘I Remember (Death In The Afternoon)’, but there was also the tape experimentation of the title track which used the chorus of ‘I Remember’ played backwards to give an eerie Arabic toned “noonretfa eht ni htaed… rebmemer i ho” vocal effect.
‘BGM’, the third full length album from YELLOW MAGIC ORCHESTRA was the first recording to feature the now iconic Roland TR-808 Rhythm Composer and was also made using a digital 3M 32-track machine. Following the technopop of the self-titled debut and ‘Solid State Survivor’ albums, ‘BGM’ included reworked pieces such as ‘Loom’ and ‘1000 Knives’. The best song ‘Camouflage’ was a curious beat laden blend of Eastern pentatonics and Western metallics from which the German synth band CAMOUFLAGE took their name.
A triptych is defined as “a set of three associated artistic, literary, or musical works intended to be appreciated together”.
Described as “An engaging mixture of dark atmospherics, pulsating electronics and imaginative textural guitar”, ‘Triptych+’ is the expanded mini-album from Robert Dean and Martin Birke.
Initially released on Bandcamp in 2019, its four tracks explore the more soundscape-inclined directions of notable guitarists like Manuel Göttsching, Michael Brook and in particular Robert Fripp.
Robert Dean is best known as having been a member of JAPAN who played guitar on all their albums up to ‘Gentlemen Take Polaroids’ before moving on to work with Gary Numan and Sinead O’Connor. In a particularly rejuvenated return to music, this reissue of ‘Triptych+’ comes just a few months after the release of ‘Dimensions’, the debut long player from his more song-based project LIGHT OF DAY.
Meanwhile, Martin Birke is a former drummer turned electronic musician who as GENRE PEAK has worked with Dean’s former bandmates Steve Jansen, Richard Barbieri and Mick Karn, as well as avant garde trumpeter Jon Hassell who collaborated with David Sylvian on ‘Brilliant Trees’ and ‘Words With The Shaman’.
Dean is a noted exponent of E-bow, a hand-held battery powered device patented in 1978 that opened up the possibilities of the electric guitar. By vibrating a string to create infinite sustain and high harmonics similar to feedback, the E-bow challenged players into introducing new techniques and inventive ideas while using the traditional six string.
‘Locust Storm’ captures its title with a flock of E-bowed echo locks over deep drones before steadily morphing into an understated percussive presence reminiscent of FUTURE SOUND OF LONDON ambient offshoot AMORPHOUS ANDROGYNOUS.
Continuing the use of repeats, ‘Amber Field’ is superb with the captivating soundscape reminiscent Robert Fripp’s work with Brian Eno on 2004’s ‘The Equatorial Stars’ and its crisp minimalist structure also recalling ‘Drawn From Life’, Eno’s earlier collaboration with J Peter Schwalm.
Based around an electronic sequence, ‘Avigation’ is gently rhythmic with Dean’s virtuoso passages providing bite as Birke builds his patterns before a pulsing synth bass leads into a tense section which is all the more urgent in its realisation.
Over 11 minutes, ‘Guidance Is Internal’ is the addition to the original ‘Triptych’ that sees layers of infinite sustain over an icy plate of hypnotic shimmer that moves into an otherworldly drift suddenly woken by a synthetic noise mantra at its climax.
At around 31 minutes in length, ‘Triptych+’ is an intriguing set of aural sculptures and sound paintings. Fitting nicely into the catalogue of experimental instrumental adventures by former JAPAN members, it will find favour with listeners who enjoy an occasional trek into the world of imaginary spaces and environmental escapism.
So come on, whose first album was a various artists compilation?
They were the biggest sellers for a decade and had dominated the UK album charts so much so that they were given their own!
In 1966, the Canadian budget household gadget firm K-Tel diversified into the territory of compilation albums with ‘25 Country Hits’; it was a surprise success and this comparatively new idea of collecting a number of artists onto an album based around a single theme was expanded further.
K-Tel negotiated directly with artists and labels for the rights to reproduce the original recordings, but where this was not possible, the company would contract “one or more of the original artists” to make a new recording for the compilation, under the premise that the public generally could not tell the difference between a re-recording and the original.
However, UK budget label Pickwick Records via their Hallmark imprint went one step further in 1968 by producing compilations of the latest hits but as rush-recorded soundalike cover versions under the title ‘Top Of The Pops’ which had nothing to do whatsoever with the BBC TV show; it was all perfectly legal thanks to an oversight by the corporation on trademark.
Purchasers unknowingly got treated to unique interpretations of ‘Autobahn’ and ‘The Model’ by anonymous session musicians who quite obviously had only learnt the song ten minutes before entering the studio. Although demand for such records had dimmed by 1981, acts such as SOFT CELL were still unable to escape with ‘Say Hello Wave Goodbye’ hilariously reduced to geezer pub rock! The singer was revealed to be one Martin Jay who a few years earlier had treated the world to his cloak and dagger take on ‘Are Friends Electric?’.
The albums from K-Tel attempted to cram as many songs as possible onto the 12 inch vinyl format. In order to accommodate this philosophy within its physical limitations, many of the tracks were faded out early or came in unusual and often clumsy edits. But even these versions were sought after by loyal fans, thus making the records they came from valued collector’s items.
The various artists compilation album changed forever in 1983 when Virgin and EMI joined forces to produce the ‘Now That’s What I Call Music’ series which at the last count had reached ‘Now 106’ and spawned numerous spin-offs and even cable TV channels. In 1984, Sony BMG and Warner Music joined in the action with the ‘Hits’ series, but such was the domination in the UK of these types of albums that in 1989, they were given their own chart and excluded from the main one!
For electronic pop, ‘Machines’ released by Virgin Records in 1980 was one of the first attempts to gather music using synthesizers into one place, but the entry point for many new fans was 1981’s ‘Modern Dance’ on K-Tel. This well-thought out collection saw youngsters saving up their pocket money for their first record purchase or asking Santa to put it into their Christmas stocking, thanks to Radio1 DJ Peter Powell declaring that ‘Modern Dance’ was “The best of total danceability, the sounds of modern dance, on one LP!”.
As with greatest hits albums, what makes a great various artists compilation is a seamless listening experience where possible, or at least more killer than filler. However the continuous DJ mix was a particular irritant running through compilations for a period and rarely worked with classic material or recordings not specifically aimed at the clubland.
Staying within theme on a compilation though is VERY important and straying just slightly can spoil a whole concept, especially if it has been outlined in the title. Soul Jazz Records’ lushly packaged ‘Deutsche Elektronische Musik’ sets over two volumes contained a wide range of freeform experimental works from Germany, but occasionally forgot about the Trade Descriptions Act implications of its title. Meanwhile, ‘Reward’ by post-punk trip-poppers THE TEARDROP EXPLODES had a regular place on collections such as ‘Club For Heroes’, ‘New Romantic Classics’, ‘It’s Electric’ and ‘Our Friends Electric’ despite being brass dominated.
But the nadir came with ‘Synth Pop’, a 3CD collection by Sony Music in 2015 which totally missed the point by featuring AZTEC CAMERA and HAIRCUT 100!??! Now while the inclusion of IMAGINATION’s ‘Body Talk’ with its iconic Moog bassline could be justified, the set highlighted just how much the modern day definition of “synth pop” had become particularly blurred…
Now while some listeners just want endless hits on various artists compilations, others want to be informed and introduced to some lesser-known or rare songs. However, this latter approach can meet with mixed results.
For example, Cherry Red’s ‘Close To The Noise Floor’ and the Trevor Jackson’s ‘Metal Dance’ series were historically fascinating, but not always easy collections to listen to in one sitting. With some of the music close to being unlistenable, it could be akin to studying a hefty text book… highly educational but not always entirely fun!
So ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK takes a personal look at the electronic legacy of various artists via twenty notable compilation albums, each with valid reasons for their inclusion, presented in yearly and then alphabetical order within.
Yes, several songs reoccur over a number of these releases, but perhaps that is more an indication of their timeless nature. These were tunes that were dismissed by the press and wider public back in the day, but are now considered classic and part of the cultural heritage.
Having seen the future and signed THE HUMAN LEAGUE as well as OMD through their Dindisc subsidiary, Virgin Records had the foresight to issue a long playing showcase of acts that used synthesizers as their primary instrumentation. As well as their two great hopes, among the outsiders on board were TUBEWAY ARMY, FAD GADGET, SILICON TEENS and DALEK I LOVE YOU. While XTC’s B-side ‘The Somnambulist’ appeared to be incongruous, this was from the band’s synth experimentation period before going more acoustic on 1982’s ‘English Settlement’.
This compilation had actually been the idea of David Sylvian, hence why it was named after the JAPAN song although their contribution would be ‘The Art Of Parties’. Virgin presented their embarrassment of riches including BEF, DEVO, DAF, SIMPLE MINDS and MAGAZINE while the primary selling point was a new special dub edit of THE HUMAN LEAGUE’s ‘Do Or Die’ acting as a trailer to ‘Love & Dancing’. The cassette featured more tracks including John Foxx and the actual undanceable ‘Methods Of Dance’ song in place of ‘The Art Of Parties’!
1981 was when the sound of electronic pop was virtually everywhere, so the release of ‘Modern Dance’ was perfect synthchronicity. Featuring superb singles from the stellar cast of OMD, THE HUMAN LEAGUE, HEAVEN 17, JAPAN, DEPECHE MODE, SIMPLE MINDS, VISAGE, LANDSCAPE, FASHION and THE CURE as well as synth trailblazers John Foxx and Gary Numan, an indicator of how supreme this compilation was came with the fact that its most obscure track ‘A World Without Love’ by little known combo THE NEWS was rather good!
Stevo Pearce’s compendium of new Futurist acts has gone into folklore, having launched the careers of DEPECHE MODE, SOFT CELL, BLANCMANGE, THE THE and B-MOVIE. Several of acts who didn’t make it were also superb. THE FAST SET’s cover of Marc Bolan’s ‘King Of The Rumbling Spires’ was enjoyable electro-macabre while ‘Tidal Flow’ by ILLUSTRATION is one of the great lost songs of the era, the band themselves disappearing despite securing the services of Martin Hannett to produce their debut single ‘Danceable’, but it was never finished…
It took a few years for people to realise just how good the music from the New Romantic era was, so how better than to celebrate it than a compilation named after one of Steve Strange and Rusty Egan’s club nights. Featuring the all-star cast of DURAN DURAN, SPANDAU BALLET, ULTRAVOX, VISAGE, SOFT CELL and JAPAN, other acts who also got entry into the party were YAZOO, ABC, TALK TALK and CLASSIX NOUVEAUX while most welcome were ICEHOUSE with their eponymous single.
Gathering nineteen “Classic Hits From An Electric Era” including the full length ‘Blue Monday’ from NEW ORDER, ‘It’s Electric’ was largely, a more purist synth collection than ‘Club For Heroes’. Alongside the usual suspects were A FLOCK OF SEAGULLS, TEARS FOR FEARS, BRONSKI BEAT, KRAFTWERK, EURYTHMICS, BRONSKI BEAT and ERASURE. However, this collection featured the album version of ‘Tainted Love’ instead of the single, a mistake that would be repeated again and again even on SOFT CELL’s own compilations.
A tie-in with Uncut magazine celebrating “a music synonymous with futurism”, ‘Dawn Of Electronica’ included the album version of ‘From Here To Eternity’ by Giorgio Moroder and for the first time on CD, the Some Bizzare version of ‘Remembrance Day’ by B-MOVIE. With the likes of DAF, SUICIDE, ASSOCIATES, CABARET VOLTAIRE, PROPAGANDA, THE ART OF NOISE and YELLO alongside TUBEWAY ARMY, ULTRAVOX, JAPAN and SOFT CELL, this compilation was something a bit different compared to the ones that had come before.
Like ‘Teenage Kicks’ for punk and new wave, there are far too many compilations named ‘Electric Dreams’. This 2CD affair from Virgin Records comprised of thirty-eight “synth pop classics”. For once, this was a compilation documenting the different electronic pop phases including trailblazing analogue electro and the advent of digital sampling that actually worked. From ‘The Model’ and ‘Electricity’ to ‘Relax’ and ‘19’, with ‘We Are Glass’, ‘Yellow Pearl, ‘Say Hello Wave Goodbye’ and ‘Absolute’ in between, this was one of the best releases of its type.
Subtitled “A Nu-Wave Electro Compilation”, this modern collection brought out the electro in Electroclash with gloriously klanky drum machines in abundance. The undoubted star was Miss Kittin with four tracks including the mighty scene anthem ‘You & Us’ with Michael Amato aka THE HACKER; meanwhile the man himself and Anthony Rother each had three contributions in various guises. FPU, DOPPLEREFFEKT and ADULT. were among those helping to bring the sound of vintage electronic pop into the 21st Century for the club crowd.
Compiled by Ministry Of Sound, ‘This Is Tech-Pop’ was a representative snapshot of electronic music at the start of the 21st Century. However the “Tech-Pop or Electroclash or Synth-Core or Neu-Electro” legend in the booklet highlighted the dance music’s daft obsession with categorisation. But the music from the likes of FISCHERSPOONER, TIGA & ZYNTHERIUS, FC KAHUNA, WALDORF, ZOOT WOMAN, LADYTRON, SOVIET, FELIX DA HOUSECAT, CIRC and GREEN VELVET was mostly excellent, although DJ mixing the tracks together clouded the listening experience.
‘Electricity 2’ came at a time when the only platform for UK and Irish synth acts seemed to be Ninthwave Records in the USA. It featured HEAVEN 17’s first new song for six years in the ‘Music Sounds Better With You’ influenced ‘Hands Up To Heaven’ as well as material by WHITE TOWN, SPRAY and EMPIRE STATE HUMAN. Among the highlights were ‘The Machines’ by MASQ which sounded like a bizarre Gaelic synthpop take on Gary Numan and the comical ‘Alan Cumming’ by TURD FERGUSON which satirically sent up ‘Frank Sinatra’ by MISS KITTIN & THE HACKER.
Compiled by Wayne Clements of Essex duo MACONDO for his own Lucky Pierre imprint, ‘Robopop’ was possibly the closest thing to the ‘Some Bizzare Album’ in the 21st Century. Heading the line-up were the-then newly configured CLIENT and MY ROBOT FRIEND while Mute stalwarts KOMPUTER contributed the previously unreleased ‘My Private Train’. The stand-outs though were machine funksters ALPINE STARS, irreverent retro-poppers BAXENDALE and VIC TWENTY featuring Piney Gir with a delicious synth cover of Lynsey de Paul’s ‘Sugar Me’.
Compiled by Alex Hush, now of U2 and ERASURE remixers DAYBREAKERS, ‘Retro:Active 5’ pulled off the feat of gathering twelve classic 12 inch extended versions into a listenable programme. Longer takes of ‘I’ve Been Losing You’ by A-HA and ‘Pretty In Pink’ by THE PSYCHEDLIC FURS led the way with BLANCMANGE and DEAD OR ALIVE in support. But the biggest selling points were the ultra-rare ‘Love Cascade’ from LEISURE PROCESS and ‘More To Lose’ by SEONA DANCING, the synthpop duo fronted by Ricky Gervais.
For ‘Robopop The Return’, Wayne Clements was joined by production duo MANHATTAN CLIQUE who co-released the compilation via their own Planet Clique label. Described as “Essential Electro Pop”, it was a much higher profile release than its predecessor with GOLDFRAPP, THE KNIFE, TIGA and DRAGONETTE all on board. Also present were THE MODERN relaunching themselves as MATINEE CLUB while HUSKI, FORMATIC, LORRAINE and SOHO DOLLS were among the worthy lesser-known inclusions. A bonus DJ mix by MANHATTAN CLIQUE also featured.
Electronic music of a more downtempo disposition compiled by BLANK & JONES, perhaps unsurprisingly, the most exquisite tracks featured female vocalists with Sarah Nixey just pipping the highlight honours on her cover of JAPAN’s ‘Ghosts’ with INFANTJOY over Claudia Brücken guesting on the hosting trance DJ duo’s ‘Don’t Stop’. ‘Ghost Trains’, a solo tune by KINGS OF CONVENIENCE and RÖYKSOPP vocalist Erlend Øye was a livelier number that actually worked alongside chilled out tracks by THE GRID, BLISS, SPOOKY, MARCONI UNION and DEPECHE MODE.
ELECTRI_CITY 1_2 Elektronische Musik Aus Düsseldorf (2016)
Tying in with Rudi Esch’s book about the German city of Düsseldorf’s music heritage, ‘ELECTRI_CITY 1_2’ gathered the more accessible elements of Deutsche Elektronische Musik, Kosmische and Neue Deutsche Welle. Featuring RIECHMANN, DAF, DER PLAN, DIE KRUPPS, LIAISONS DANGEREUSES, RHEINGOLD, HARMONIA, LA DÜSSELDORF, NEU! and pre-PROPAGANDA girl group TOPLINOS featuring a very young Claudia Brücken and Susanne Freytag, this two volume collection was like a journey of discovery with the benefit of a local tour guide.
Be Music was the moniker of NEW ORDER used to cover studio production work by all four members of the band. This boxed set gathered these varied recordings which involved either Bernard Sumner, Peter Hook, Stephen Morris, Gillian Gilbert and combinations thereof, with notable solo tracks from Marcel King, Paul Haig and Winston Tong alongside those of 52ND STREET, SECTION 25, THE BEAT CLUB, SHARK VEGAS and AD INFINITUM’s cover of ‘Telstar’ which many believed was NEW ORDER in disguise but actually only featured Hooky.
ELECTRICAL LANGUAGE Independent British Synth Pop 78-84 (2019)
From the team that put together the ‘Close To The Noise Floor’ series, the 4CD ‘Electrical Language – Independent British Synth Pop 78-84’ did as it said on the tin and with a far more accessible template, was all the better for it. With THE HUMAN LEAGUE, OMD, THE NORMAL and FAD GADGET included to draw in the more cautious consumer, purchasers were treated to a plethora of wonderful lesser known acts like FIAT LUX, BOX OF TOYS, LORI & THE CHAMELEONS, PASSION POLKA, TESTCARD F, EDDIE & SUNSHINE and JUPITER RED. Meanwhile, the best novelty item was a Schaffel driven cover of Alvin Stardust’s ‘My Coo Ca Choo’ by BEASTS IN CAGES; half of the band went on to form HARD CORPS!
Subtitled ‘1980: The Dawn Of Synth Pop’, this boxed set collection explored the year before the synth became the rule rather than the exception. Although this featured the expected big hitters from OMD, VISAGE and JAPAN, there were rarer tracks from ULTRAVOX and SPANDAU BALLET. Lesser known highlights included ‘A Circuit Like Me’ from Australian combo THE METRONOMES with its detached female vocal and the light-hearted ‘Dampfriemen’ from LA DÜSSELDORF, a quirky slice of synth “Oompah” with comedic chants and a kazoo section.
Compiled by Pete Wiggs and Bob Stanley of SAINT ETIENNE, what ‘The Tears Of Technology’ had was a heartfelt suite of music which captured the essence of its title. At its centre was OMD’s sub-eight minute adventure ‘Sealand’ alongside synthy diversions by THE TEARDROP EXPLODES and THE PALE FOUNTAINS, with the Merseyside connection extended to CARE and CHINA CRISIS. Scotland got also got a look in courtesy of Paul Haig and Thomas Leer. The rare ‘Direct Lines’ by Chris Payne’s ELECTRONIC CIRCUS found itself a place too.