Tag: Japan (Page 1 of 11)

NO-MAN Housekeeping: The OLI Years 1990 – 1994

NO-MAN, the long-term musical collaboration between Tim Bowness and the musical juggernaut that is Steven Wilson is now amazingly well into its fourth decade and this retrospective boxset takes us way back to the beginning to cover the early output on the OLI label.

Featuring the band’s first two studio albums, ‘Loveblows & Lovecries’ and ‘Flowermouth’ alongside with the singles compilation ‘Lovesighs – An Entertainment’, the deluxe 5CD collection is rounded off with outtakes, alternate versions and the sessions for radio from the period.

Taking things chronologically, we come first to the ‘Lovesighs’ mini album which includes the band’s debut two singles with additional material from that era. This is where I came in having heard the cover of the Donovan hit ‘Colours’ in my local record shop (remember those?) one rainy afternoon and being taken by the spin on a song which I was all too familiar with.

Also featured here is the wonderful ‘Days in the Trees’ in various guises. A staple of Tim’s solo shows to this day, this is still one of Bowness’s finest vocal recordings and includes some wonderful early guitar work from Wilson. ‘Heartcheat Pop’ and ‘Kiss Me Stupid’ are also on this disc, both great slices of pop with a darker edge and even at this point, interesting instrumentation to make them stand out. That instrumentation is further augmented by Ben Coleman’s violin which at times is driving on these songs and at other points haunting as a counterpoint to the upfront beats offered.

Disc 2 is an expanded version of the full debut album ‘Loveblows & Lovecries’. In this remastered state, the album is returned to, I feel, its rightful place as not only a evergreen NO-MAN release but also an essential 1993 cut, acting as counterpoint to the grunge overload of the part of the decade. Coleman instrumental workout ‘Loveblow’ segues into the single ‘Only Baby’ which gives more than a passing nod to the Moroder produced Donna Summer who Wilson is such a fan of. This really is a great slice of pop which deserved so much more exposure than it received back in the day.

Casual readers of ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK will have their interest piqued by the track ‘Sweetheart Raw’ featuring as it does JAPAN members Mick Karn on bass, future Wilson bandmate Richard Barbieri on keys and drum programming by Steve Jansen. Once again presented in remastered form which has breathed new life into this whole album, it allows the listener to be immersed in the true depth of the soundscape offered by the musicians here and is a piece you will find yourself returning to again and again as Bowness flexes those wistful vocal chords to fabulous effect.

There is so much to enjoy on this album, from the beautiful ‘Housekeeping’ to ‘Break Heaven’ and ‘Babyship Blue’ from the ‘Heaven Taste’ compilation alongside songs like ‘Tulip’ and ‘Painting Paradise’. This album in reworked form would be worth the price of admission alone but there is more to savour in this set and savour we must.

Disc 3 entitled simply ‘Singles’ pulls together the orphaned tracks not featured thus far and, as a collection works well as a standalone album in its own right, which is a testament to the writing and performing of the core members of the band and their invited guests. ‘Swirl’, an early NO-MAN track, features at its close a sample from the 1971 movie ‘Klute’ which starred Donald Sutherland and Jane Fonda so elevates this already great track to essential listening in my eyes / ears. This sample augments a building evolving arrangement that rewards repeat listening.

Also included is the aching ‘Long Day Fall’ and the 20 minute plus closer ‘Heaven Taste’. Once again featuring the trio of JAPAN alumni mentioned above, this is a piece full of twists and turns that demands a listen with headphones. ‘Heaven Taste’ also acts as a suitable off ramp to the next part of this set, a remaster of ‘Flowermouth’.

‘Flowermouth’ has been an album I have returned to over and over since I specially ordered it from that local record shop more years ago now than I care to mention on its original release. The musical ideas, execution and production on ‘Flowermouth’ make it one of those long players I tell folk who will listen that they should have in their collections and I make no apology for evangelising as such.

Is this new remaster worth the time to listen? The answer is a resounding yes. Opening with the ambitious ‘Angels Get Caught in the Beauty Trap’, this is perhaps what listeners of later NO-MAN albums will find more familiar ground. The track rises and falls, leaving you emotionally drained and there’s more to come!

The funky workout that follows in the shape of ‘You Grow More Beautiful’ once again showcases one of no-man’s biggest strengths and that is the vocal of Tim Bowness. Alongside TALK TALK mainman Mark Hollis and Paul Buchanan of THE BLUE NILE, he is one of the few singers with the ability to emotionally charge the seemingly simplest of songs. Every track on this album highlights this wonderfully.

There is so much here to revel in, from the treated rhythms of ‘Soft Shoulders’ to ‘Shell of a Fighter’ with yet another wonderful violin performance to the driving programming on ‘Teardrops Fall’. Closing this disc is perennial favourite ‘Things Change’ which is one of a number of tracks that has not only benefitted from a remaster polish but also a slightly revised mix. ‘Flowermouth’ is a classic and in this guise cements that claim with a sparkling remaster that sounds fresh and vital.

The fifth and final disc in the set fills out an already bursting at the seams collection with a number of Radio Sessions from 1992-1994. Like much of the output from Bowness and Wilson, these songs really come alive when performed live. Augmented across the various sessions by guest musicians, the most interesting cuts are from BBC Radio’s Hit the North featuring as they do those pesky JAPAN chaps that have popped up time and again on this set. The version of ‘Days in the Trees’ from this session in particular is wonderful with the tightest of tight Jansen drumming allowing the much missed Mick Karn to duck and weave around Tim’s vocal. A taste of what might have been…

Other tracks here feature PORCUPINE TREE alumni Chris Maitland and Colin Edwin to offer sufficiently different spins on familiar tracks to command repeat listening. This disc elevates an already great set above a mere quick buck compilation, proving this has been properly curated, something many could learn from. To underscore this even more, the set is rounded out by the inclusion of a hardback book designed by Carl Glover featuring essays from NO-MAN All The Blue Changes blog author Matt Hammers, Tim Bowness and Steven Wilson along with rare photos and memorabilia.

The importance Tim Bowness has had on independent music distribution with Burning Shed cannot be overstated, giving many acts that would struggle to find a route to market exactly that, a true outlet run by artists for artists. That is before we consider his excellent body of solo work.

In turn the impact that Steven Wilson has had across the musical landscape in the last decade plus cannot be underestimated from PORCUPINE TREE to solo work through the remasters of acts as diverse as KING CRIMSON, XTC, TEARS FOR FEARS and ULTRAVOX, oh and tours, further no-man releases and production work, the man clearly never sleeps… that’s before we take into account their always listenable and enjoyable podcast ‘The Album Years’. True music fans.

And all of the above had its seeds in these early NO-MAN releases. Whether you are new to this early work, revisiting after a few decades break or a long-term fan, there is much here to recommend ‘Housekeeping’, the first indispensable release of 2024.

Tim, if you are reading this can we please get the rest of the back catalogue given the same treatment?


‘Housekeeping: The OLI Years 1990 – 1994’ is released as a boxed set on 26 January 2024 via One Little Independent Records, available from https://burningshed.com/store/noman/

http://no-man.co.uk/

https://www.facebook.com/nomanofficial/

https://twitter.com/nomanofficial

https://www.instagram.com/nomanhq/

https://timbowness.co.uk/

http://stevenwilsonhq.com/


Text by Ian Ferguson
19 January 2024

THE ELECTRONIC LEGACY OF 1979

While 1979 saw a post-punk revolution with new wave and ska emerge as energetic expressions of youth with the likes of JOY DIVISION, XTC, THE SPECIALS and MADNESS, maturer acts with power pop sensibilities such as BLONDIE and THE POLICE dominated the UK charts.

But the synthesizer had become a new tool of creativity for those who weren’t interested in learning chords on a guitar and preferred to use one finger, thanks to its new found affordability with refined technology from Japan. While electronics had been present in disco, progressive rock and esoteric avant garde forms, following seminal records in 1978 such as ‘Warm Leatherette’ b/w ‘TVOD’ by THE NORMAL and ‘Being Boiled’ by THE HUMAN LEAGUE, a new DIY artpop form was developing that would eventually take on KRAFTWERK at their own game.

Among those fledgling electronic acts who released their debut singles in 1979 on independent labels were OMD with ‘Electricity’ on Factory Records and FAD GADGET with ‘Back To Nature’ on Mute Records. Meanwhile on another independent Rough Trade, CABARET VOLTAIRE achieved a wider breakthrough with ‘Nag Nag Nag’, the standalone single accompanying their first album ‘Mix-Up’.

Having experimented with synths on ‘Low’ released in 1977, David Bowie had gone to see THE HUMAN LEAGUE at The Nashville in late 1978 and hailed them as “the future of rock ‘n’ roll”. Alas it was TUBEWAY ARMY fronted by Gary Numan who beat THE HUMAN LEAGUE to the top of the UK singles charts in Summer 1979 with Are Friends Electric?’. However, just a few weeks earlier, SPARKS had taken the Giorgio Moroder produced ‘No1 Song In Heaven’ into the UK Top20. But however history is perceived, a revolution had begun that would lead to the dawn of “synthpop” in 1980.

Here are 20 albums which ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK sees as contributing to the electronic legacy of 1979. They are listed in alphabetical order with a restriction of one album per artist moniker, meaning Gary Numan and Edgar Froese appear twice…


ASHRA Correlations

As ASHRA, Manuel Göttsching released what many consider to be his first ambient masterpiece ‘New Age Of Earth’. On 1978’s ‘Blackouts’, he expanded the line-up to include drumming synthesist Harald Grosskopf and guitarist Lutz Ulbrich which continued on ‘Correlations’. Despite being more rock-oriented, it featured sequenced electronics with ‘Club Cannibal’ almost entering Jean-Michel Jarre territory.

‘Correlations’ is still available via Spalax Music

https://www.electricityclub.co.uk/manuel-gottsching-1952-2022/


PETER BAUMANN Trans Harmonic Nights

Although he had released ‘Romance ‘76’ while still a member of TANGERINE DREAM, Peter Baumann’s first solo album after departing the band was something of an interim record before venturing into electronic pop with ‘Repeat Repeat’. Mostly shorter instrumental compositions using mysterious melodies and occasional vocoder textures, ‘Trans Harmonic Nights’ remains something of an underrated electronic gem.

‘Trans Harmonic Nights’ is still available via Cherry Red Records

https://www.cherryred.co.uk/product/trans-harmonic-nights-remastered-edition/


EDGAR FROESE Stuntman

Away from TANGERINE DREAM and perhaps prompted by the success of Jean-Michel Jarre’s electronic symphonies, ‘Stuntman’ was Edgar Froese at his most accessible with strong synth melodies, particularly on the title track. Elsewhere, new age resonances were developing while on ‘Drunk Mozart In The Desert’, there were atmospherics coupled with a rhythmic bounce.

‘Stuntman’ is still available via Virgin Records

https://www.edgarfroese.de/


GINA X PERFORMANCE Nice Mover

Produced and co-written by Zeus B Held, the debut album by androgynous art history student Gina Kikoine featured an array of ARP and Moog synths to signal the birth of a new European Underground. Cult club favourite ‘No GDM’ was written in honour of the “great dark man” Quentin Crisp while other highlights included the detached robotic soul of the title song and the feisty gender statement ‘Be A Boy’.

Available on the album ‘Nice Mover + Voyeur’ via Les Disques du Crepuscule

http://www.ltmrecordings.com/gina_x.html


GIORGIO E=MC²

With Giorgio Moroder acquiring Roland’s new System 700 and an MC8 Micro-composer to control it, ‘E=MC²’ was touted as the first “electronic live-to-digital” album. This allowed for an uptempo funkiness previously unheard on sequencer based music to come into play. With the euphoric energy and treated vocals of ‘What A Night’, the sound of DAFT PUNK was inadvertently being invented!

‘E=MC²’ is still available via Repertoire Records

https://www.giorgiomoroder.com/


STEVE HILLAGE Rainbow Dome Musick

As a member of GONG and solo artist, Steve Hillage had a love of German experimental music and ventured into ambient with long standing partner Miquette Giraudy. Recorded for the Rainbow Dome at the ‘Festival For Mind-Body-Spirit’ at Olympia, these two lengthy Moog and ARP assisted tracks each had a beautifully spacey vibe to induce total relaxation with a colourful sound spectrum.

‘Rainbow Dome Musick’ is still available via Virgin Records

http://www.stevehillage.com/


THE HUMAN LEAGUE Reproduction

With a manifesto of “synthesizers and vocals only”, the debut album by THE HUMAN LEAGUE included ‘Empire State Human’, ‘Circus Of daeth’, ‘Almost Medieval’, ‘Blind Youth’ and a stark cover of ‘You’ve Lost That Loving Feeling’. While ‘Reproduction’ was not a commercial success, Phil Oakey, Ian Craig Marsh and Martyn Ware gained valuable experience that would progress their careers.

‘Reproduction’ is still available via Virgin Records

https://www.electricityclub.co.uk/martyn-ware-the-reproduction-travelogue-interview/


JAPAN Quiet Life

Although considered a 1980 album, the third JAPAN long player was actually released late 1979 in Japan, Canada, Holland and Germany. Featuring the sequencer-driven title song as well as the rockier ‘Halloween’, despite Roxy rip-off accusations, it was a major artistic step forward as a quality timeless work embracing synths, muzak and orchestrations.

‘Quiet Life’ is still available via BMG

https://www.electricityclub.co.uk/rob-dean-the-quiet-life-interview/


GARY NUMAN The Pleasure Principle

Devoid of guitar but using a flesh-and-blood rhythm section, Gary Numan realised his dream of producing a new form, machine rock. Synths were fed through guitar effects pedals to add a more sinister metallic tone and while there was sombre isolation communicated on all the songs, there was a catchy melodic sensibility which turned Numan into the first synthesizer pop star.

‘The Pleasure Principle’ is still available via Beggars Banquet

https://garynuman.com/


ROBERT RENTAL & THOMAS LEER The Bridge

Originally released on THROBBING GRISTLE’s Industrial Records, ‘The Bridge’ album saw Scottish duo Thomas Leer and Robert Rental trading vocal and instrumental duties. Comprising of a side of five songs and a side with four ambient instrumentals, ‘Day Breaks, Night Heals’ and ‘Monochrome Days’ both showcased an avant pop sensibility. Robert Rental sadly passed away in 2000.

‘The Bridge’ is still available via Mute Artists

https://www.electricityclub.co.uk/story-of-thomas-leer-robert-rental/


ROEDELIUS Selbstportrait

Best known as a member of CLUSTER with the late Dieter Moebius, ‘Selbstportrait’ was Hans-Joachim Roedelius’ third solo album, a “self-portrait” reflecting the gentle introspective ambience of the record. Something of a sister album to the 1977’s ‘Sowiesoso’, it was more accessible than CLUSTER’s own structurally minimal ‘Grosses Wasser’ also issued in 1979.

‘Selbstportrait’ is still available via Bureau B

https://www.roedelius.com/


KLAUS SCHULZE Dune

After the ambitious double opus ‘X’ which also incorporated strings in a record comprising of “Six Musical Biographies” in honour of figures including ‘Dune’ author Frank Herbert, Klaus Schulze conceived an actual album called ‘Dune’. Something of a diversion, ‘Shadows of Ignorance’ featured the eccentric poetry of Arthur Brown while the experimental ambient title track made use of cello.

‘Dune’ is still available via Bureau B

https://klaus-schulze.com/


SIMPLE MINDS Real To Real Cacophony

Stronger than their debut LP ‘Life In A Day’, SIMPLE MINDS started experimenting with more electronics and a very European austere on its swift follow-up ‘Real To Real Cacophony’ with the title song presenting their take on KRAFTWERK’s ‘Radio-Activity’. Underground and pulsating through on ‘Changeling’, that and ‘Premonition’ really were a sign of things to come in their dark avant disco templates.

‘Real To Real Cacophony’ is still available via Virgin Records

https://www.simpleminds.com/


SPARKS No1 In Heaven

Following the inspirational success of ‘I Feel Love’, SPARKS were put in contact with its producer Giorgio Moroder who had aspirations to work with a band. The resultant album saw Russell Mael’s flamboyant falsetto fitting well with the electronic disco template. ‘The No1 Song In Heaven’ hit the UK charts a few months before ‘Are Friends Electric?’ while the follow-up ‘Beat The Clock’ got into the Top 10.

‘No1 In Heaven’ is still available via Lil Beethoven Records

http://www.allsparks.com/


TANGERINE DREAM Force Majeure

Still feeling the void left by the departure of Pete Baumann, following the vocal experiment of ‘Cyclone’, Edgar Froese and Christopher Franke opted to retain drummer in Klaus Krüger. While there was also increased guitar and piano usage, the title song and ‘Thru Metamorphic Rocks’ utilised pulsing sequencer passages to signal the Hollywood direction that TANGERINE DREAM would head in.

‘Force Majeure’ is still available via Virgin Records

https://www.tangerinedreammusic.com/


TELEX Looking For Saint Tropez

The ethos of Belgian trio TELEX was “making something really European, different from rock, without guitar”. ‘Looking For Saint Tropez’ contained ‘Moscow Diskow’ took the Trans-Siberian Express to Moscow by adding a funkier groove while also included were a funereal robotic cover of ‘Rock Around The Clock’ and their deadpan debut single ‘Twist A Saint Tropez’.

‘Looking For Saint Tropez’ is still available via Mute Artists

https://www.facebook.com/ThisIsTelex


THROBBING GRISTLE 20 Jazz Funk Greats

The title and the group photo on Beachy Head were tongue-in-cheek statements but THROBBING GRISTLE were still deathly uncompromising as shown by ‘Persuasion’. However, there were glints of light with the glorious cascading instrumental ‘Walkabout’ and mutant disco lento of ‘Hot On The Heels Of Love’ as Cosey Fanni Tutti’s whispered vocals competed with synthetic whip-crack and drill noises!

‘20 Jazz Funk Greats’ is still available via Mute Artists

https://www.throbbing-gristle.com/


TUBEWAY ARMY Replicas

Whereas the TUBEWAY ARMY debut featured punk tunes with added synth, ‘Replicas’ would see the Philip K Dick inspired dystopian vision of Gary Numan paired with appropriate electronic sounds as the main melodic component on the now classic UK No1 ‘Are Friends Electric?’. But ‘Down In The Park’ and ‘I Nearly Married A Human’ pointed to a future guitar-free follow-up.

‘Replicas’ is still available via Beggars Banquet

https://www.electricityclub.co.uk/beginners-guide-gary-numan/


VANGELIS China

Although VANGELIS had never been to China at the time the album was recorded, he had developed a passionate fascination for its people, culture and vast landscape, noting a connection between ethnic Greek and Chinese music. Using traditional elements alongside his synthesizers, the centrepieces were the majestic ‘Chung Kuo’ and the meditative pentatonic piece ‘The Tao Of Love’.

‘China’ is still available via Universal Music

https://elsew.com/


YELLOW MAGIC ORCHESTRA Solid State Survivor

The second and best YELLOW MAGIC ORCHESTRA album featured an embarrassment of riches.  It included the glorious Technopop of ‘Rydeen’, the mighty ‘Technopolis’, the moodier ‘Castalia’, the Cossack romp of ‘Absolute Ego Dance’ and ‘Behind The Mask’ which was later covered by Greg Phillinganes, Eric Clapton and Michael Jackson.

‘Solid State Survivor’ is still available via Sony Music Direct

http://www.ymo.org/


Text by Chi Ming Lai
1 January 2024

THE ELECTRONIC LEGACY OF 1980

David Bowie had famously dropped in to see THE HUMAN LEAGUE at The Nashville in late 1978 and hailed them as “the future of rock ‘n’ roll”.

But it was TUBEWAY ARMY fronted by Gary Numan who beat THE HUMAN LEAGUE to the top of the UK singles charts in Summer 1979 with Are Friends Electric?’ while just a few weeks earlier, SPARKS had been become willing conspirators with Giorgio Moroder on ‘The No1 Song In Heaven’ to effectively invent the synth duo.

Although it was the dawn of synth, 1980 was a transitional time when the synth was still the exception rather than the rule. The landscape was changing and the seed of what became the New Romantic movement had been planted.

Following the critical mauling he received for his 1979 album ‘Lodger’ but aware of his burgeoning influence in these futuristic sounds, Bowie headed down to The Blitz with RCA assistant and club regular Jacqueline Bucknell to cast extras including the late Steve Strange for the video of his new single ‘Ashes To Ashes’. It hit the top of UK charts and confirmed that once again “There’s old wave. There’s new wave. And there’s David Bowie…”

While Bowie’s was not an electronic artist in the way some of the next generation of artists had declared themselves, he couldn’t resist a sly dig at the acts that he’d inspired, using the line “same old thing in brand new drag” on the track ‘Teenage Wildlife’ from his next album ‘Scary Monsters’. And he was eventually to beat previous winner Gary Numan to the year’s ‘Best Male Singer’ accolade at the BBC endorsed British Rock & Pop Awards.

Belatedly looking back to 42 years ago before automatic stations came, here are 20 albums which ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK sees as contributing to the electronic legacy of 1980. They are listed in alphabetical order with a restriction of one album per act.


BUGGLES The Age Of Plastic

Trevor Horn and Geoff Downes met while working with Tina Charles and her producer Biddu. Together they would go on to form BUGGLES and score a No1 with ‘Video Killed The Radio Star’. From the parent album ‘The Age Of Plastic’, ‘Astroboy’ developed on the duo’s sonic adventures while ‘The Plastic Age’ and ‘Clean Clean’ provided further if minor hits. Horn would go on become a top record producer.

‘The Age Of Plastic’ is still available via Island Records / Universal Music

https://twitter.com/Trevor_Horn_


DALEK I Compass Kum’Pas

Before OMD, the electronic duo on The Wirral was DALEK I LOVE YOU. However, by the time their debut album ‘Compass Kum’pas’ was released, OMD were having hits and keyboards man Dave Hughes had left to join their live band. Although Alan Gill’s vocals could polarise opinion, ‘Destiny’ was their most immediate song with a precise percussive appeal while ‘The World’ was eccentric and retro-futuristic.

‘Compass Kum’Pas’ is still available via Mercury Records

http://www.discogs.com/artist/Dalek+I


FAD GADGET Fireside Favourites

The success of the singles ‘Back To Nature’ and ‘Ricky’s Hand’ attracted a loyal fanbase, so a FAD GADGET album  ‘Fireside Favourites’ was eagerly anticipated. Developing on the minimal industrialism of the singles, the superb ‘Coitus Interruptus’ was a cynical commentary on casual relationships while offering his own brand of romantic macabre was the neo-title song ‘Fireside Favourite’.

‘Fireside Favourites’ is still available via Mute Records

https://mute.com/artists/fad-gadget


JOHN FOXX Metamatic

On the ULTRAVOX! eponymous debut,John Foxx had announced “I want to be a machine”. On signing to Virgin Records as a solo artist, he virtually went the full hog with the seminal JG Ballard inspired ’Metamatic’. ‘Underpass’ and ‘No-One Driving’ underlined the dystopian nature of Foxx’s mindset while the fabulous ‘A New Kind Of Man’ and the deviant ‘He’s A Liquid’ were pure unadulterated Sci-Fi .

‘Metamatic’ is still available via Metamatic Records

http://www.metamatic.com/


HARALD GROSSKOPF Synthesist

Having worked with Klaus Schulze and Manuel Göttsching, Harald Grosskopf took the plunge to go solo with the mind bending album ‘Synthesist’. A work comprising of eight instrumentals that blended a sonic tapestry of synthesizer soundscapes with drumming that provided colour as opposed to dominance, it musically followed in the exquisite tradition of his Berlin electronic friends.

‘Synthesist‘ is still available via by Bureau B

https://www.haraldgrosskopf.de/englisch/home.html


THE HUMAN LEAGUE Travelogue

With THE HUMAN LEAGUE learning lessons from their debut ‘Reproduction’, ‘Travelogue’ had more presence by creatively utilising the harsh screeching frequencies from overdriving their studio desk. ‘The Black Hit Of Space’ had its surreal Sci-Fi lyrics while ‘Dreams Of Leaving’ was a fantastically emotive slice of prog synth. There were glorious cover versions in ‘Only After Dark’ and ‘Gordon’s Gin’.

‘Travelogue’ is still available via Virgin Records

https://martynwareofficial.co.uk/


JAPAN Gentlemen Take Polaroids

Dropped by Ariola Hansa, JAPAN found a refuge at Virgin Records. The bossa nova driven ‘Swing’ explored exotic grooves while the haunting ‘Nightporter’ was the ultimate Erik Satie tribute. An interest in Japanese technopop produced the brilliant ‘Methods Of Dance’ and saw leader David Sylvian collaborate with YELLOW MAGIC ORCHESTRA’s Ryuichi Sakamoto on  ‘Taking Islands In Africa’.

‘Gentlemen Take Polaroids’ is still available via Virgin Records

http://www.nightporter.co.uk/


JOY DIVISION Closer

While not strictly an electronic album in full, half of ‘Closer’ was dominated by polyphonic synthesizers. Featuring an ARP Omni and an early version of Simmons drums, ‘Isolation’ was the most electronic track JOY DIVISION ever recorded. On the second side, ‘Heart & Soul’, ‘The Eternal’ and ‘Decades’ provided the solemn but beautiful Gothic backdrop for Ian Curtis’ elaborate musical suicide note.

‘Closer’ is still available via Rhino

http://joydivisionofficial.com/


LA DÜSSELDORF Individuellos

LA DÜSSELDORF were fronted by the late Klaus Dinger of NEU! The first half of ‘Individuellos’was dominated by variations on ‘Menschen’, a grand statement sounding like a blueprint for Phil Lynott’s ‘Yellow Pearl’. ‘Dampfriemen’ was a quirky slice of synth oompah with comedic chants and a kazoo section while the piano laden ‘Das Yvönnchen’ provided a beautiful closer.

‘Individuellos’ is still available via Warner Germany

https://www.discogs.com/artist/152540-La-Düsseldorf


NEW MUSIK From A To B

Time has shown that Tony Mansfield and NEW MUSIK were underrated. Featuring the hits ‘Living By Numbers’, ‘This World Of Water’ and ‘Sanctuary’ as well as ‘On Islands’ which was later covered by CAMOUFLAGE, the band were dismissed as a novelty act due to the silly voices in their songs. Mansfield went on to become a producer, working with A-HA, NAKED EYES and VICIOUS PINK.

‘From A To B’ is still available via Lemon Records

https://www.new-musik.co.uk/


GARY NUMAN Telekon

The negative side of fame got into the psyche of Gary Numan and his new songs took on a more personal downbeat nature away from the Sci-Fi dystopia of his previous work. ‘This Wreckage’ and ‘Please Push No More’ summed up the self-doubt but while ‘Remind Me To Smile’ could have been a single, ‘Telekon’ suffered from not having the hits ‘We Are Glass’ and ‘I Die: You Die’ on the original LP release.

‘Telekon’ is still available via Beggars Banquet

https://garynuman.com/


OMD Orchestral Manoeuvres In The Dark

OMD released two albums in 1980 but their self-titled debut captured Andy McCluskey and Paul Humphreys using the most basic equipment, the duo not even having a polyphonic synth at the time. With energetic post-punk synth numbers such as ‘Electricity’ and ‘Bunker Soldiers’, on the other side of the coin were ‘Almost’ and ‘The Messerschmitt Twins’. An early version of ‘Messages’ pointed to hit singles.

‘Orchestral Manoeuvres In The Dark’ is still available via Virgin Records

http://www.omd.uk.com/


ROBERT PALMER Clues

Although rooted in the blues via his previous band VINEGAR JOE, Robert Palmer had taken an interest in synths having become a fan of Gary Numan. That led to two collaborations including a version of ‘I Dream Of Wires’ released before Numan’s own recording and the Eastern flavoured ‘Found You Now’. But the electronic centrepiece was the beautifully world weary ‘Johnny & Mary’.

‘Clues’ is still available via Island Records / Universal Music

http://www.robertpalmer.com/


SILICON TEENS Music For Parties

Following the acclaim that was accorded to THE NORMAL, Daniel Miller decided to undertake a new project SILICON TEENS as a fictitious synth group where rock ’n’ roll standards such as ‘Memphis Tennessee’, ‘Just Like Eddie’, ‘Let’s Dance’ and ‘Sweet Little Sixteen’ were enjoyably reinterpreted in a quirky synthpop style with Miller adding his deadpan monotone vocal.

‘Music For Parties’ is still available via Mute Records

https://mute.com/artists/silicon-teens


SIMPLE MINDS Empires & Dance

Tours opening for Gary Numan and Peter Gabriel took SIMPLE MINDS around Europe to experience Cold War tensions at closer hand. Their wired mood was captured on ‘Empires & Dance’. With its speedy Moroder-esque influence, ‘I Travel’ was a screeching futuristic frenzy and ‘Celebrate’ brought some industrial Schaffel to the party. ’30 Frames A Second’ took a trip down the autobahn.

‘Empires & Dance’ is still available via Virgin Records

https://www.simpleminds.com/


SPARKS Terminal Jive

Following the Giorgio Moroder steered album ‘No1 In Heaven’, SPARKS were despatched by Virgin Records to record a swift follow-up. Although Moroder was still nominally at the helm, Harold Faltermeyer took the majority of production duties on ‘Terminal Jive’. ‘Rock ‘N’ Roll People In A Disco World’ seemed to reflect the confused direction but ‘When I’m With You’ was a massive hit single in France.

‘Terminal Jive’ is still available via Repertoire Records

http://allsparks.com


TANGERINE DREAM Tangram

After experiments with vocals on ‘Cyclone’ and live drums on ‘Force Majeure’, with the recruitment on keyboards with Johannes Schmoelling to fill the difficult to fill void left by the departure of Peter Baumann, Edgar Froese and Christopher Franke got back on track, combining a more immediate sequencer drive with the melodic New Age resonances that would characterise TANGERINE DREAM’s later work.

‘Tangram’ is still available via Virgin Records

https://tangerinedreammusic.com/


TELEX Neurovision

The second TELEX album ‘Neurovision’ continued with the trio’s tradition of deadpan electronic covers and a gloriously metronomic take on ‘Dance To The Music’ showcased their penchant for mischievous subversion. But this mischief came to its head with their lampooning self-composed number ‘Euro-Vision’, a bouncy electropop tune which they actually entered for 1980 Eurovision Song Contest!

‘Neurovision’ is still available via Mute Artists

https://mutebank.co.uk/collections/telex


ULTRAVOX Vienna

Following the first VISAGE sessions, Midge Ure was invited to join Billy Currie, Chris Cross and Warren Cann in ULTRAVOX. Providing a sonic continuity was producer Conny Plank while the robotic spy story ‘Mr X’ voiced by Cann provided another link. Opening with the mighty instrumental ‘Astradyne’ and closing with the synthesized heavy metal of ‘All Stood Still’, the ‘Vienna’ album was a triumph.

‘Vienna’ is still available via Chrysalis Records

http://www.ultravox.org.uk/


VISAGE Visage

Formed as a reaction to the shortage of new electronic dance music to play at The Blitz Club, ex-RICH KIDS members Midge Ure and Rusty Egan recruited its figurehead Steve Strange to front the project under the name of VISAGE. Billy Currie, Dave Formula, John McGeoch and Barry Adamson joined later and captured a synthesized European romanticism that boasted the German No1 ‘Fade To Grey’.

‘Visage’ is still available via Rubellan Remasters

https://www.therealvisage.com/


Text by Chi Ming Lai
29 December 2023

25 FAVOURITE MUSIC BOOKS

Factory Records impresario and Granada TV presenter Tony Wilson once said: “When forced to pick between truth and legend, print the legend.”

Books about the trials and tribulations of the music industry come in all shapes, sizes and angles. The approach can be tricky… should they be personal accounts, encyclopaedic histories, stories based on real life but with some spin, or just snapshots of an era?

In recent years, autobiographies and memoirs have become very popular as money for old rope in the absence of physical music sales. These can range from being informative and hilarious to extremely bitter, with others coming over very dull in an attempt not to upset anybody. Meanwhile others feature so many falsehoods that they may as well be placed in the ‘Fiction’ section.

One less appealing format that has been gaining increasing prevalence is the fan memory compendium; this could be seen as a lazy and cheaper way of producing a publication as followers compete to be seen as the biggest fan. Meanwhile others, notably members of lower league bands, try to make out they were massive fans in the first place with recollections that are actually veiled attempts to promote their own music.

When writing a music book, it helps to actually read and research a few beforehand. In addition, when deciding whether a point is worthy of inclusion, the viewpoint of the reader must always be taken into consideration as they hypothetically ponder “so what?”. 

The 21st Century ubiquity of social media has proved that not everyone can string a coherent sentence together.  But where that may seem a barrier, a ghost writer can be the subject’s best friend and a number of the books listed here have taken that route.

Not a best of list, here are 25 music books that have become the personal favourites of ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK listed in yearly and then alphabetical order by title.


DEPECHE MODE: BLACK CELEBRATION Steve Malins (1999)

Steve Malins’ biography features interviews with Alan Wilder, Daniel Miller and Flood. Offering assessment on the unusual band dynamic, one story that highlights things were going south is the debauched cricket match between DEPECHE MODE and OMD during the 1988 US tour. The continually underappreciated Wilder declares how he proudly bowled out Andy McCluskey whom he intensely disliked. Meanwhile Dave Gahan hovered up a line of coke before going into bat and was inevitably out for a golden duck!

‘Black Celebration’ was originally published by Andre Deutsch Ltd with 2001, 2005 + 2013 updated editions

https://www.depechemode.com/


TAINTED LIFE Marc Almond (1999)

This is a frank but humorous autobiography by the SOFT CELL frontman about living life with art school aspirations but suddenly thrust into becoming a pop star and having false tabloid stories written about him in a homophobic world. Attempting to rebuild a career having signed to Warners in 1991, in a reality check, he is told by MD Rob Dickens that the world does not need another Marc Almond album and suggests recording a Trevor Horn produced cover of Jacques Brel’s ‘Jacky’ as made famous by Scott Walker…

‘Tainted Life’ was originally published by Pan Books

http://www.marcalmond.co.uk/


I WAS A ROBOT Wolfgang Flür (2000)

‘I Was A Robot’ was the controversial autobiographical exposé of the KRAFTWERK machine combined with Wolfgang Flür’s partying exploits. However, as his account of OMD coming backstage to meet the band after the Liverpool Empire gig in 1975 has since proved to be false while his musical contribution to KRAFTWERK recordings has been shown to have been minimal, although entertaining, parts of this book should be taken with a pinch of salt.

‘I Was A Robot’ was originally published by Omnibus Press with 2003 + 2017 revised editions

https://www.facebook.com/WolfgangFlur1


THE ENCYCLOPAEDIA OF CLASSIC 80s POP Jonathan Blythe (2002)

Written in the irreverent vein of classic Neil Tennant-era Smash Hits, the best quote in this amusing book is about DURAN DURAN: “You will have surely have wondered why the girl you fancied seemed far more interested in a slightly porky bloke with bleached-blond hair and a foppish name. The compilation ‘Decade’ contains the 80s hits, but if you want a more comprehensive overview, go for the other one ‘Greatest’. You can usually find them both in the ‘CDs for £5.99’ section, to be honest”

‘The Encyclopaedia Of Classic 80s Pop’ was originally published by Allison & Busby

https://www.goodreads.com/en/book/show/1172733.The_Encyclopaedia_Of_Classic_80s_Pop


24 HOUR PARTY PEOPLE Tony Wilson (2002)

Given the Factory Records catalogue number FAC 424 and subtitled “What The Sleeve Notes Never Tell You”, this account of the Manchester independent label is centred around Wilson’s noted ego where the narrative reads as enjoyable spin rather than factual stories about the label, its bands and The Haçienda. His alleged legendary quote that ”The musicians own everything. The company owns nothing. All our bands have the freedom to f**k off” was to prove to be his downfall…

’24 Hour Party People’ was originally published by Macmillan

https://factoryrecords.org/


NEW ROMANTICS: THE LOOK Dave Rimmer (2003)

Smash Hits writer and author of ‘Like Punk Never Happened…’ Dave Rimmer takes a look at the flamboyant New Romantics via The Blitz Club playlists and profiles of SPANDAU BALLET, VISAGE, DURAN DURAN, SOFT CELL, DEPECHE MODE, KRAFTWERK and DAF. The Myth of Berlin and Futurism are also discussed and there are plenty of glossy photos that encapsulate its spirit.

‘The Look’ was originally published by Omnibus Press

https://www.rocksbackpages.com/Library/Writer/dave-rimmer/


IF I WAS Midge Ure (2004)

With dry humour, this is a sincere and honest account by Midge Ure of his career which included being a teen pop idol with SLIK who had their own Look-In magazine comic strip. As well as accounts of his success with ULTRAVOX and VISAGE and as a solo artist, there is also his darker descent into alcoholism in the wake of low sales. Our hero is candid about the occasionally tense dynamics with his colleagues, while an insight into VISAGE’s original contract with Polydor makes very interesting reading.

‘If I Was’ was originally published by Virgin Books with 2011 revised edition

http://www.midgeure.co.uk/


PET SHOP BOYS, CATALOGUE Philip Hoare & Chris Heath (2006)

This is a superbly presented visual retrospective of PET SHOP BOYS up to ‘Battleship Potemkin’ featuring artwork, video stills, stage sets and other artefacts accompanied by insightful commentary. There is also a chronology included as well as an interview with Neil Tennant and Chris Lowe who again steals the show with the quip “We still are grumpy, actually”!

‘Catalogue’ was originally published by Thames and Hudson Ltd

https://www.petshopboys.co.uk/


BRIAN ENO: ON SOME FARAWAY BEACH David Sheppard (2008)

Credited with taking David Bowie into “a whole new school of pretension” with The Berlin Trilogy, this authorised biography on Brian Eno traces his career beginning as a self-confessed non-musician with ROXY MUSIC twisting knobs on a VCS3 to producing U2. In between, he makes synthesizers go bong, popularises ambient music, develops Oblique Strategies with artist Peter Schmidt and gets his head around programming the Yamaha DX7. But the biggest revelation in the book? “Eno was shagging more women than Ferry”!

‘On Some Faraway Beach’ was originally published by Orion

http://www.enoweb.co.uk/


SPARKS: No1 SONG IN HEAVEN Dave Thompson (2009)

An enjoyable unauthorised biography of SPARKS, Ron and Russell Mael’s endearingly witty contributions to this book come from the author’s interviews with the brothers conducted between 1985-2009. There are also press cuttings, an expansive discography and a collector’s guide alongside quotes from former backing band members. But while the stories of the various albums are detailed, those wanting gossip on personal lives will be disappointed.

‘No1 Song In Heaven’ was originally published by Cherry Red Books

http://allsparks.com/


GARY NUMAN: BACK STAGE Stephen Roper (2012)

‘A Book Of Reflections’, long time Numanoid Stephen Roper gives a comprehensive account of the imperial years of Gary Numan from 1979 to 1981 via a series of interviews and memories from band members Chris Payne, RRussell Bell and the late Cedric Sharpley as well as the man himself. OMD’s Andy McCluskey, SIMPLE MINDS’ Jim Kerr and Nash The Slash give the viewpoint of the support acts while there are also additional observations from John Foxx, Richard Jobson and Jerry Casale.

‘Back Stage’ was originally published independently with revised 2017 eBook edition available from https://back-stage.dpdcart.com/cart/view#/

https://www.youtube.com/channel/UC-rRuX6k___Y4ZkTHwQg–Q


IN THE PLEASURE GROOVE: LOVE, DEATH & DURAN DURAN John Taylor (2012)

This autobiography traces the story of how a nervous bespectacled Brummie lad called Nigel became an international sex symbol as John Taylor, bassist of DURAN DURAN; “Now, I had only to wink in a girl’s direction in a hotel lobby, backstage or at a record company party, and have company until the morning” he recalls. As outrageous and debauched as some of these anecdotes of sex and drugs and rock ‘n’ roll are, it would have been very difficult for anyone thrust into this position aged 21 to have acted any differently.

‘In The Pleasure Groove’ was originally published by Sphere

http://www.duranduran.com/


MAD WORLD Lori Majeski & Jonathan Bernstein (2014)

‘Mad World’ delves into the spirit, the politics and the heartache behind some of the greatest songs in popular culture with an American MTV viewpoint courtesy of enthusiastic Duranie Lori Majewski, balanced by the critique of Glaswegian Jonathan Bernstein. The contrasting dynamic ensures a celebration of the era while simultaneously pulling no punches with Bernstein lobbing hand grenades in the direction of KAJAGOOGOO and THOMPSON TWINS!

‘Mad World’ was originally published by Abrams Image

https://www.facebook.com/madworldthebook


JAPAN: A FOREIGN PLACE Anthony Reynolds (2015)

With the co-operation of Richard Barbieri, Steve Jansen and Rob Dean, this book is the first of its kind about the influential enigma that was JAPAN. With detailed accounts by band members and controversial manager Simon Napier-Bell among others, notably absent is David Sylvian who appears via archive interviews while the late Mick Karn is quoted from his own autobiography ‘Japan & Self Existence’.

‘A Foreign Place’ was originally published by Burning Shed

http://nightporter.co.uk/


ELECTRI_CITY: THE DÜSSELDORF SCHOOL OF ELECTRONIC MUSIC Rudi Esch (2016)

First published in German in 2015, this history gives a fascinating insider’s account of The Düsseldorf School and its cultural significance via interview quotes. Contributors on the home side include Wolfgang Flür, Robert Görl, Gabi Delgado, Hans Lampe, Ralf Dörper and Susanne Freytag, while the Brits they influenced feature Andy McCluskey, Martyn Ware, Dave Ball and Daniel Miller among their number. As Robert Görl says: “Wir wollten lieber mit Maschinen arbeiten… We always preferred working with machines”.

‘Electri_City’ was originally published by Omnibus Press

https://www.facebook.com/Electri.city.Esch


LET’S MAKE LOTS OF MONEY Tom Watkins with Matthew Lindsay (2016)

Subtitled “Secrets of a Rich, Fat, Gay, Lucky Bastard”, this is the autobiography of the late Tom Watkins, the Svengali who managed PET SHOP BOYS, BROS and EAST 17. “A big man with a loud voice” said Neil Tennant, but he had a bolshy ability to extract favourable deals including a rumoured 20% commission on gross income while always asking “What would Edna in Huddersfield think?”. Later becoming disillusioned with the pop industry, he describes ‘The X Factor’ as being like “a Nuremberg Rally on pink drugs”

‘Let’s Make Lots Of Money’ was originally published by Virgin Books

https://www.electricityclub.co.uk/tom-watkins-lets-make-lots-of-money/


SUBSTANCE: INSIDE NEW ORDER Peter Hook (2016)

An informative in-depth look inside NEW ORDER, this huge memoir running to over 750 pages by Peter Hook was informative but not unsurprisingly tinged with bitterness and anger. But if you want to know where the band played on 9 April 1985, it’s here! There are track-by-track rundowns of each NEW ORDER album (apart from ’Republic’) and if you’ve always wanted to find out which sequencer was used on ‘True Faith’ or what Hooky’s Top16 bass cab messages are, then look no further!

‘Substance’ was originally published by Simon & Schuster

https://www.facebook.com/peterhookandthelight/


RECORD PLAY PAUSE + FAST FORWARD: Stephen Morris (2019 + 2020)

Effectively a lengthy book divided into two parts, Volume I of Stephen Morris’ memoir demonstrated his abilities as an engaging storyteller blessed with an entertaining dry wit, able to convey his growing up in an amusing and relatable manner. In the NEW ORDER dominated Volume II, readers cannot help but laugh out loud when our hero discovers that the 10 mile shooting range of his newly acquired ex-British Army Abbot FV433 self-propelled gun will make Bernard Sumner’s house in Alderley Edge an easy target!

‘Record Play Pause Rewind’ + ‘Fast Forward’ were originally published by Constable

https://twitter.com/stephenpdmorris


ELECTRONIC BOY: MY LIFE IN & OUT OF SOFT CELL Dave Ball (2020)

The quiet half of SOFT CELL, Dave Ball attended the same Blackpool school as Chris Lowe from PET SHOP BOYS but they never met. There was obviously something in the sea and the accounts of the Northern Soul scene point towards how that influence, along with the affordability of synthesizers, was to seed a long and successful music career which later included THE GRID. The Electronic Boy is honest about his various demons, but there is also humour and an equipment list appendix plus plenty of technical talk.

‘Electronic Boy’ was originally published by Omnibus Press

https://www.facebook.com/daveballofficial


ADVENTURES IN MODERN RECORDING Trevor Horn (2022)

Chaptered around 23 significant pieces of music in the life of Trevor Horn, the producer provides an insight into the making of his greatest moments. Music industry politics are discussed, notably with his ZTT signings FRANKIE GOES HOLLYWOOD, PROPAGANDA and THE ART OF NOISE. Among the revelations are getting bassist Mark Lickley fired from ABC but in all, this is a fun read with lots of name dropping… so imagine sitting in a van with Grace Jones and Jackie Chan that has no seat belts!

‘Adventures In Modern Recording’ was originally published by Nine Eight

https://www.facebook.com/trevorhornofficial


ELECTRONICALLY YOURS Vol1 Martyn Ware (2022)

An autobiography that covers up to the end of 1992, a quarter of the book is brilliantly devoted to a track-by-track analysis of every released recording that Martyn Ware was involved in by THE HUMAN LEAGUE, HEAVEN 17 and BEF. Politics looms within ‘Electronically Yours Vol1’ but without this socially conscientious drive , there would be no ‘Penthouse & Pavement’ or ‘The Luxury Gap’. With the recent passing of Tina Turner, Ware’s accounts of working with her now have added poignancy.

‘Electronically Yours Vol1’ was originally published by Constable

https://martynwareofficial.co.uk/


LISTENING TO THE MUSIC THE MACHINES MAKE Richard Evans (2022)

Focussing on “inventing electronic pop”, ‘Listening To The Music The Machines Make’ tells the story of the Synth Britannia generation by referencing archive material rather than via new interviews with the protagonists of the period. The end result is a more accurate picture of how synthesized forms were derided by a hostile music press back in the day, contrasting the rose tinted view projected by some cultural observers and fans today. But over 40 years on, this music has won the fight with many of the acts still performing today.

‘Listening To The Music The Machines Make’ was originally published by Omnibus Press

https://inventingelectronicpop.com/


THE SOUND OF THE MACHINE: MY LIFE IN KRAFTWERK & BEYOND Karl Bartos (2022)

A detailed autobiography of Karl Bartos about his time in KRAFTWERK and more, his optimistic disposition is a key aspect of this story. But although rising to the ranks of co-writer for ‘The Man Machine’ album, some members were more equal than others as Ralf Hütter bagged himself 50% of the publishing for the lyrics of ‘Spacelab’ and ‘Metropolis’ despite those tracks containing one word, thus reducing Bartos’ musical share! Bitterness is largely absent from this book, but it is no “sex, synths und schlagzeug” romp either.

‘The Sound Of The Machine’ was originally published by Omnibus Press

http://www.karlbartos.com/


THEMES FOR GREAT CITIES: A NEW HISTORY OF SIMPLE MINDS Graeme Thompson (2022)

Featuring new interviews with original members Jim Kerr, Charlie Burchill, Mick MacNeil and Derek Forbes, this biography focuses on the SIMPLE MINDS era of 1979-1985 when they were at their imperial and imaginative best. So where did it all go wrong? The book reveals what ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK has thought since buying the album in 1984 and that Jim Kerr himself now confirms… the second half of ‘Sparkle In The Rain’ is not particularly good! So who agrees? “LET ME SEE YOUR HANDS!”

‘Themes For Great Cities’ was originally published by Constable

https://www.simpleminds.com/


CONFORM TO DEFORM: THE WEIRD & WONDERFUL WORLD OF SOME BIZZARE Wesley Doyle (2023)

The story of Some Bizzare was always going to be a grand undertaking but Wesley Doyle managed to assemble Marc Almond, Dave Ball, Matt Johnson, Daniel Miller, Steve Hovington, Neil Arthur, JG Thirlwell, Stephen Mallinder, Anni Hogan, Stevo Pearce and his long suffering personal assistant Jane Rolink to document the rise and fall of the label that got into bed with the majors. Opting for a chronological quotes narrative, the book captures the personality of the characters involved and the tensions between them.

Conform To Deform’ was originally published by Jawbone Press

https://twitter.com/WesleyDoyleUK


Text by Chi Ming Lai
13 June 2023

LISTENING TO THE MUSIC THE MACHINES MAKE Interview

‘Listening To The Music The Machines Make’ is a new book that tells the story of the Synth Britannia generation, an unlikely melange of outsiders, pioneers and mavericks who took advantage of affordable music technology to conquer the pop charts in the UK, Europe and even America.

Written and assembled by Richard Evans, his high profile roles have included the establishment of the This Is Not Retro née Remember The Eighties website and working with ERASURE on their internet and social media presence.

He has conducted years of extensive research to document the synthpop revolution that began from a British standpoint in 1978 with THE NORMAL and THE HUMAN LEAGUE before TUBEWAY ARMY took this futuristic new sound to No1 with ‘Are Friends Electric?’.

Using the subtitle ‘Inventing Electronic Pop 1978 – 1983’, while the book primarily sources period archive material, additional input comes from Neil Arthur, Dave Ball, Andy Bell, Rusty Egan, John Foxx, Gareth Jones, Daniel Miller and Martyn Ware. Meanwhile, Vince Clarke contributes the foreword while a third verse lyric from the ULTRAVOX song ‘Just For A Moment’ provides the book’s fitting appellation.

A conversation between two kindred spirits, Richard Evans and ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK spent an afternoon talking by the window as the light fades about electronic pop’s musical impact and enduring cultural influence, despite the massed resistance to it back in the day.

For this book, you’ve focussed on 1978 to 1983, some might say it should be 1977 to 1984?

I knew roughly what I wanted to cover and my lofty ambition for the book was to create a document of all the most important records, artists and events that created this shift in pop music. Until this specific generation of people started messing around with keyboards without any musical knowledge, adopting that punk rock attitude with this new instrument, it wasn’t until that point that I felt that this story really started.

I looked at all the records I wanted to talk about and at the beginning, there’s relatively few. But the important ones for me were THE NORMAL ‘TVOD’ / ‘Warm Leatherette’ and THE HUMAN LEAGUE ‘Being Boiled’. In fact, ‘Being Boiled’ was my key one and an early version of the book had the subtitle ‘From Being Boiled To Blue Monday’; I thought that sounded quite snappy and explained what the book covered. But then Daniel Miller said to me “You do know ‘TVOD’ / ‘Warm Leatherette’ came out before ‘Being Boiled’?” *laughs*

So the book had to be specific and start around 1978. Then at the other end, it was because of ‘Blue Monday’. By the time late 1983 comes around, the electronic pop that I have been writing about over this 5-6 year period starts to become indistinguishable from everything else in the charts. All the pop stuff, all the soul stuff, all the American stuff that was coming in, it all had the same sequencer and drum machine sounds, the same production techniques… you could almost not quite work out what was electronic and what wasn’t electronic anymore and ‘Blue Monday’ worked well as a track that was pointing forwards to everything that came next.

By starting at 1978, you are specifically highlighting the start of that British wave because before that, it’s international with bands like KRAFTWERK and SPACE as well as Giorgio Moroder and Jean-Michel Jarre…

That’s absolutely right. There is a brief section at the beginning within the context of the whole book that joins together some of the dots, things that people were taking in their early electronic experiments. Things that Vince Clarke was listening to like SPARKS, things that OMD were listening to like Brian Eno, things that THE HUMAN LEAGUE were listening to like Giorgio Moroder.

Although punk was a driving force for this, the actual punk music wasn’t that interesting to any of them because it felt like music they already knew, whereas they felt these new sounds were something that were unknown to them at that point. The tapestry of their influences  was so broad that they would bring in elements of progressive rock, Jean-Michel Jarre and even ELP, putting that in with disco, the German stuff and even the quirky little novelty records like ‘Popcorn’, to create this whole new melting pot.

I’m old enough to have lived through this era, what about you?

This was the first music that felt like it was mine. I grew up in a household where there wasn’t any music, my parents weren’t fans of pop music at all. In a way, that was really important because any music that I found was mine, it wasn’t handed down to me or curated for me. I am the oldest of my siblings so I didn’t have anyone playing stuff in their room that I could hear. Sometimes I would find stuff that was terrible because you make those mistakes.

I started senior school in 1979 so it was really at that point where I became aware of music and its possibilities. But earlier than that in 1977, I was brought up in Chelmsford in Essex and I can remember being in town on a Saturday, seeing the punks hanging around in the shopping centre and I thought they looked brilliant. It was so exciting, they were like scary but otherworldly and I thought they were amazing. When I started senior school, some of those punks were in my school, they were actually kids… in my perception, they weren’t that and were completely ‘other’! I realised I was not so distant from these things *laughs*

You’ve mentioned ‘Being Boiled’, ‘TVOD’ and ‘Warm Leatherette’, but which was your epiphanal moment were you realised you were an electronic pop fan? For me although I had bought ‘The Pleasure Principle’ by Gary Numan as my first album, it wasn’t until I heard OMD ‘Messages’ that I considered electronic music to be my thing…

I don’t know if I have an actual moment to be honest… I realised quite late that I’ve never particularly characterised myself as an electronic music fan, certainly not in the 80s. Looking back, I can see that the things I was listening to and responding to, always had a really strong electronic core. Even if they were rock things like ’Owner Of A Lonely Heart’ by YES which was produced by Trevor Horn, I was obsessed. I was listening to things like ‘The Message’ and that sort of hip-hop stuff… it wasn’t quite electronic music but it had element of precision running through it. Everything I was liking had this common electronic genesis.

One thing that your book does unashamedly focus on which I am pleased about, is that it focusses on the “pop” in electronic pop… other books about electronic music in the past have been a bit “too cool for school”

Absolutely, that’s completely true. I find it really strange because only quite recently has it been ok to be into “pop music”. Like you say, there’s a stigma towards it, that it’s not “proper music”, that you are not a proper music fan if you listen to it, but a victim of some sort of a commercial heist! *laughs*

I think that electronic pop in this period is so crucial in the development of music, and it was just time for someone to tell the story. I’d been working on the book for a few years and the whole time I thought “someone is going to do this, someone is going to do this before me!” *laughs*

With this book, you opted to reference archive material rather than talk to the stars of the period in the present day?

My idea for the book was to tell the stories of all the bands and releases of that synthpop generation who took music in a whole new direction. Because of what I do in my working life, I am very fortunate in that I have access to a lot of people who were the original protagonists in this story. So I thought I could get in touch with them and job done. I also have a shelf full of music autobiographies and I’m sure you have too! *laughs*

There are loads out there but it was while reading those that made me realise that those stories didn’t always quite marry up. There are two reasons for it; one is this period started 45 years ago, you’re not going to remember these details. Two, these stories have been told so many times that they lose their resonance and the facts just change a little bit to make everything look better or to fit with someone else’s narrative.

Ah yes, legend now accepted as truth like Wolfgang Flür saying OMD came backstage to meet KRAFTWERK in 1975 when they didn’t actually exist at the time…

It’s really easy to say in 2022 that DEPECHE MODE were always going to be a huge band, but in 1981 when there was none of the weight of that knowledge. They were a brand new thing being judged entirely on their first forays into electronic music, it’s a very different way of looking at the music and the people who made it. I realised it wasn’t going to be particularly useful to go to the original people and say “tell me that story again” because they’ve told it that many times that they probably aren’t really feeling it and it gets reshaped over the tellings.

So what I decided to do was go back to the music press of the day. I went to The British Library which is a fantastic resource, it’s one of my favourite places. I looked at all the NME, Sounds, Melody Maker, Record Mirror, Smash Hits, The Face, New Sounds New Styles from 1978 to 1983, everything I could lay my hands on that was music or popular culture related.

I went through all these things, page after page after page and every time I saw something that I attained to this story like a news item, review or interview, I took a photo of it on my phone. I ended up with thousands of photos and it was like a box of jigsaw pieces. Each of these photos was part of a story. Then the writing bit came in stringing these things all together and turning them into this story from all those different perspectives layered on top of each other. Hopefully, that would give it a rounder and more accurate picture because they were the opinions of the time and what the people who made the music were saying about it, without the weight of history that they carry today.

What this book captures and reminds people of, is the viciousness and hostility towards electronic pop from the music press during the period, which perhaps contradicts the rose-tinted view that some fans have of the time now…

It’s really quite strange to read through these original accounts of what was happening, but it’s not so strange in retrospect. At that point in time, punk had just happened and had been quite profitable for the music industry and press, the whole black and white aesthetic fitted very well with the way they presented their material.

There was also this new generation of journalists like Nick Kent and Julie Burchill who were quite vicious with this punk rock attitude which was probably quite exciting at the time. Punk was a very short-lived thing, so they found themselves having to move in different directions and I think there was a resentment that it happened from the media. I think there was a snobbishness which we’ve already touched on that this really wasn’t “proper music” because it was machines, these bands hadn’t paid their dues, they hadn’t picked up the guitar, they hadn’t done the toilet circuit playing to 3 people and a dog, being spat on and having their van stolen, all that kind of thing that supposedly makes you a worthy musician.

So none of these things had quite happened with these electronic pop bands and the music press didn’t know what to make of it. So they could choose to either embrace it as the next big thing, or they could reject it, and many rejected it roundly so…

Can I tell you some irony about Nick Kent’s then-stance? His son is PERTURBATOR, the synthwave star!! But in amongst all this journalistic antagonism, there was one bright light and that was Beverley Glick who wrote as Betty Page in Sounds, a female journalist championing the likes of DEPECHE MODE, SOFT CELL, DURAN DURAN, SPANDAU BALLET, VISAGE and JAPAN in a male-dominated profession…

She absolutely was and she was the voice that was the breath of fresh air throughout all of this. She was young and she interested in “the new”. In the same way the older journalists were looking for something to call their own, so was she; but her frame of reference was markedly different from theirs. She found it in what they were rejecting and it probably didn’t do her many favours within the profession to be this person until the tipping point happened. The success started to happen with people going “oh, all the Betty Page bands ARE the new wave, they ARE the new pop royalty…”

I hope it was a nice moment for her. In 1982 I think, she changed papers and went to the short-lived Noise magazine and then Record Mirror… hopefully, that was in recognition of her being a leading light in this particular movement.

You’re right to say she was probably among the first journalists to talk to DEPECHE MODE, certainly one of the first to talk to SPANDAU BALLET, to SOFT CELL and JAPAN… she was very vocal and very reasoned. Also reading her, I liked her… I’ve never met her or anything but I liked her style, she wrote a lot like a fan so she wasn’t out there grinding her axe in attempts to look clever, lofty and intellectual. She was reporting the way she was responding to the things she was exposed to and that felt much more interesting and real to me.

The SPANDAU BALLET versus DURAN DURAN thing has been well documented, but what about SOFT CELL versus DEPECHE MODE?  They were both on the ‘Some Bizzare Album’ but in 1981, SOFT CELL were rated higher than DEPECHE MODE, any thoughts?

The ‘Some Bizzare Album’ was incredibly prescient and also not quite, because in the increasingly chaotic and strange world of Stevo who was behind it, he was very opinionated but also very passionate. He was playing these sorts of records before anyone else, he was pre-Rusty Egan in terms of the electronic records on the decks. He was interested enough to start his Electronic Party nights at the Clarendon in Hammersmith, putting on people like FAD GADGET.

So he came up with this idea to do the ‘Some Bizzare Album’ and reached out to 12 bands; his hit rate was so great, he had DEPECHE MODE, SOFT CELL and BLANCMANGE on there, the three of them alone were enough to shape the new generation.

I think SOFT CELL had more of an edge, their image was a lot more together, they looked meaner and a little bit more credible I suppose. Because they had a more credible background and came from art school, in that journalistic way that you have to pay your dues, you have to go through a cycle of things before you’re allowed to call yourself an artist, I think SOFT CELL had more of that. They had more of a concept, they were more artistic and harder edged. DEPECHE MODE came along and were err, just quite sweet…

Yeah, well, they’d just come from Christian camp… apart from Dave! *laughs*

That’s right, their Boys’ Brigade uniforms were probably still hanging in their wardrobes when they were off to do ‘Top Of The Pops’! So they had come from a very different place, they were a little bit younger, they didn’t have that art school background, they’d met at school and messed around in bands. Vince Clarke decides he wants to put this band together who would be a bit like THE CURE, and when Vince starts to put together the bones of what becomes DEPECHE MODE, it seems he’s incapable of writing songs like THE CURE; his aesthetic and musical vibe is entirely pop so he churned out what people termed “bubblegum”.

This term “bubblegum” is in almost every review of DEPECHE MODE’s early works, especially the ‘Speak & Spell’ album. Because of that, they appealed because they were SO pop, but because they were SO pop, they weren’t in the same credibility bracket as someone like SOFT CELL.

Talking of “synthesizer image”, was that important to you as in the equipment that was used and the way it looked on ‘Top Of The Pops’, like when John Foxx appeared with four Yamaha CS80s for ‘No-One Driving’ or ULTRAVOX doing ‘The Thin Wall’ with two Minimoogs, an ARP Odyssey, an Oberheim OBX and much more or Gary Numan’s first TV performances? This was a thing for a while although there would be a backlash later on, like when OMD appeared with a double bass, sax and xylophone for ‘Souvenir’!

I think it was, but in a different way to you. I’m much less technology focussed, I don’t play music, I’ve never picked up a synthesizer, I don’t know my Korg from my Moog from my Wasp. I could never do Vintage Synth Trumps for example *laughs*

Having said that, the aesthetic was really important to me because it felt so different and new. It surprised me in the preparation for this book when looking at the line-ups for ‘Top Of The Pops’ around this period and seeing how unbelievably straight and staid and dull so many of the bands that were coming through from the 70s still were… glam rock aside, they were almost imageless…

Like RACEY and THE DOOLEYS? *laughs*

Yes! Lots of terrible clothes, bad beards and long hair, it all seemed very soft and safe! Now when the electronic bands started coming through, they came with this aesthetic with the keyboards and it looked fantastic. But they also had this new look, they were smarter, had these interesting haircuts and they looked so different. For me, the thing that was most marked about their performances was the sound itself. It was something that I’d never heard before, those noises were SO new and SO modern!

One of the best things about this era was how these weird avant pop songs could enter the charts, they were classic songs but presented in a strange way with these sounds and boundaries were pushed… as much as I embrace this period of music, I always felt when it all crossed over into the mainstream in 1981, I don’t think it was on the cards and kind of a fluke…

I don’t think it was on the cards either… I think everyone was surprised and backfooted by it, particularly the major labels who struggled to keep up with it, in exactly the same what they had struggled to keep up with punk! They came to the party too late and signed all the wrong bands and were saddled with this legacy that they had an obligation to support what was going on, and that’s the point when everything started to become much less interesting.

In terms of the avant pop, I think it was to do with perspective. I think being of the generation that we are of, I think because we were coming of age at that time, it felt we were like a new generation and new things were happening at the time, not just in music but also politically and technologically with computers. So all of these things were happening at once and suddenly the future felt possible and then this music happened at kind of the same time and it felt like the perfect soundtrack to this possible future.

So, I’m going to throw a controversial question at you, in the context of 1978-1983, which is the most important record label out of Virgin and Mute? *laughs due to pause*

… I think creatively, it’s Mute but commercially it’s Virgin.

When I get into this discussion with anyone, I always say Virgin because although they were more established and successful commercially later in this period, they did actually take chances with acts like THE HUMAN LEAGUE, JAPAN and SIMPLE MINDS…

They were both incredibly important and I wouldn’t know who to back in a fight! *laughs*

This is why I wanted to talk about this in the context of 1978-1983 because thanks to some of the business choices that Richard Branson has made over the years which have upset people, the Virgin name has been tarnished as far as their contribution to music is concerned. Meanwhile history has seen Daniel Miller come out smelling of roses. An interesting thing about Virgin in 1980 was that they were close to bankruptcy.

I have heard that and was aware that Virgin did have all sorts of money problems at that time.

One of the things that irked Branson in particular was how OMD were the biggest selling act in the Virgin group in 1980 via the Dinsdisc subsidiary. This had embarrassed him so ultimately he was keen to see Dindisc fall apart so that he could get OMD for the parent company…

Yes, this situation impacted on the bands that we are talking about, there were pressures on people to be more commercial when one of the reasons that they were attracted to Virgin in the first place was so that they could be less commercial should they choose to be.

But then, those pressures were happening within the bands themselves, THE HUMAN LEAGUE are a great example of this. They went in to be wilfully uncommercial and yet they always had that commercial edge, they stated their intent to be a combination of disco and KRAFTWERK. Although they loved being the conceptualists and the renegades with their Machiavellian feeling that they were infiltrating the music industry from the inside, they were starting to feel dissatisfied that their efforts so far hadn’t really crossed over in the way they felt that they deserved to.

So the two things in tandem, the bands wanting to make more of a mark and wanting the recognition that came with that, plus Virgin’s financial situation which meant they needed bands to step up and start making more commercial records, was actually a very powerful moment in shaping some of the most important records in Virgin’s catalogue I would say.

In this 1978-1983 period which you cover in the book, is there a favourite year and if so, why?

Good question! I don’t specifically, it hadn’t occurred to me until you asked, but I think from a writing point of view, the earlier years were the most interesting to me because in 1978, I was 10 so I wasn’t really aware of these things. Lots of these records, I didn’t really hear until later and some much later… one or two of them, and I’m not confessing which ones, I didn’t even listen to until I started writing the book.

So from my point of view as a fan of this music, then 1978 would probably be the most interesting year because it provided me new material to listen to that I hadn’t heard before.

The book talks about a lot of acts who are basically canon now and many of them are still performing in some form or another. But is there an underrated act for you from this period?

For me, I would say YELLO; they were making really challenging and innovative records, they were visually interesting, they had all the bases covered. They gave great press but for whatever reason, it took quite a long time for them to break through into the mainstream and even then, it was only because their music was used in other contexts like films. They were a band who I had underappreciated previously, but have got to know much better through the course of writing the book. They should have been much bigger than they were.

Your book cuts off at 1983 and that’s for the context reasons rather than stopping liking music. But Simon Reynolds said in ‘Synth Britannia’ that it was Howard Jones that made him feel that electronic pop was now no longer special and part into the mainstream… was there a moment when this music changed for you?

I don’t think I have a moment for that, my musical church is quite broad and I’ve never been very over-intellectual about my music tastes, it’s like “I do or I don’t”. Howard Jones came in with a different take on the form and actually, I loved Howard Jones so from my point of view, my love of electronic pop did continue. It blurs and like we talked about earlier, lots more things were interesting in different directions and also taking some of this electronic sensibility into it. They may well have been more interesting to me at the time. However, I was perfectly prepared to accept Howard Jones and the later electronic acts.

After 1984 and then into the new decade, a lot of people were trying to kill off electronic pop, especially around Britpop but was there a point later, and this might tie in with Remember The Eighties, when you thought “this stuff has value and people are liking it again”, that there might actually be a legacy?

You are kind of right that the start of Remember The Eighties came from that.

The site was born of a conversation I had with an 80s artist; in my working life, I build fan bases and work for bands, I’ve done this for quite a long time. This artist came to me and said “I’m thinking of doing some new material but I don’t know if I have an audience anymore. If I do have an audience, I don’t know how to reach them”… the reason I’m saying “an 80s artist” is I felt that this particular person didn’t really have an audience anymore, and to find that audience if it was there at all, would be very time consuming for very limited return.

But I started thinking “wouldn’t it be great if there was one place that people could go, people like me who remember the 80s (*laughs*) fondly and could find out what all these people are doing today?”. The strange thing was I was never really interested in it being retro, it was always about today’s news from those bands, I thought “that’s a good idea”. I was learning to build websites at the time and it was early days in all that. I had some time so I just decided to do that, put up some stories and waited to see what happened.

It became something quite successful and partly that was because the whole 80s rediscovery hadn’t happened. Like you said, the 80s came with a bad rep at that point in time and imploded quite messily with lots of non-credible aspects emerging and dominating it. It had eaten itself almost. But the timing just happened to be right and all of a sudden, there were PR companies coming to me saying “Thank goodness you’re there!” because they had nowhere to go with these artists they were representing. So they were asking if I would like to interview then and I was like “Yeah! Great!” *laughs*

That was how the website started so yes, I guess that was the moment for me in 2001-2002. It suddenly felt like these bands had a new cache. I’d invested so much of my myself and spent so much of my money in my teens in their music, that it wasn’t such a big jump to continuing that support of them 10-15-20 years later. The investment was already done, it was more like picking up the story.

For me, it was like 1998, DURAN DURAN had the ‘Greatest’ CD out and were touring, OMD had a new singles compilation and CULTURE CLUB had reformed for shows with THE HUMAN LEAGUE and ABC supporting… but I think it took a long time for something to develop. I don’t think it was until DURAN DURAN reformed the classic line-up with the three Taylors in 2004 and then the OMD classic line-up reunion in 2007 that things got properly kick started… I think it took a while because of the age of the audience, people had mortgages and kids in primary school!

You’re right, it was like a stage of life, you need time to reconnect with the person you used to be.

Your book captures a period, I don’t know if you listen to much modern day pop, but do you think there is an electronic pop legacy today, whether direct or indirect from this 1978-1983 era? The act I’m going to highlight is THE WEEKND…

I definitely do think there is a legacy. I’m not great on contemporary electronic music, the things I hear about, I tend to hear about from ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK and that’s fantastic. I use Spotify a lot and the suggestions function is quite powerful as well. From a sonic musical point of view, I can totally see these bands are referencing things that happened during the period I have written about in the book.

Everything seems to go on cycles but at the moment, in the last year or so, it feels like there’s been a return to a starkness, a certain simplicity of sound. I’m not denigrating it because I think it’s a very effective way of presenting sound. It feels there’s been a period where everything and the kitchen sink has gone into electronic music and its gradually being pared away to a point where the instruments and sounds are getting a bit of space to breathe. It feels like the same sort of sounds that I started responding to on ‘Top Of The Pops’ when we first saw DEPECHE MODE and SOFT CELL.

Although THE WEEKND isn’t strictly an electronic pop artist and more of a one man compilation album who dips in an out of styles like Ed Sheeran (whose own synthpop track ‘Overpass Graffiti’ incidentally is very good even though it rips off ‘The Boys Of Summer’), there was this song THE WEEKEND did called ‘Less Than Zero’ which is exactly what you’ve just described. We mentioned underrated bands and I would say this track sounds like NEW MUSIK…

That’s a great choice actually…

NEW MUSIK have been popping up on these Cherry Red boxed set collections and its obvious now with the passage of time that they were pretty good! They were dismissed as a novelty act back in the day because they had silly voices in the songs, but there’s a crucial connection with that track by THE WEEKND in that there’s gently strummed guitar alongside all the pretty synth stuff. NEW MUSIK’s leader Tony Mansfield went on to produce most of A-HA’s debut album ‘Hunting High & Low’… although A-HA are outside of the scope of your book, they can be seen as the bridge between your book and modern electronic pop like THE WEEKND’s ‘Blinding Lights’…

That’s true, I think A-HA are a really important band and yes, they are not in the scope of the book but if they could have been, I would have been delighted to include them because their canon is quite ambitious and wide-ranging.

Is there another book of this type to cover the later period on the cards at all?

No, I don’t have another book project at the moment. I only actually finished writing this book in July. Naively, I thought you just hand your book in and six months later they hand you a copy. But the process of going through all the edits, the photos, getting the artwork and style right, it’s been quite intense. It’s been quite a challenge to balance it with what I’m doing workwise.

Are there any ideas for a future book?

There are a couple of people who I have come to recognise that they played much bigger roles in this story and in some other stories as well than they are given credit for. But it’s going to take a bit more research in those directions to find out whether there’s a book’s worth of material.

Is an ERASURE book an ambition?

Obviously I work with ERASURE and individually or together, they are probably approached by publishers 2 or 3 times a year with offers to write or be involved in books. At this point, neither Vince nor Andy feel it’s the right time for them to be telling their story. I think they feel so much of what they have to say is already available and they don’t necessarily want to talk about the things that aren’t, because they are the personal things. So at this point, there is not a specific plan. If at any point, there is an official ERASURE book, then I hope I would be involved in some way.


ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK gives its warmest thanks to Richard Evans

Special thanks to Debra Geddes at Great Northern PR

‘Listening To The Music The Machines Make’ is published by Ominbus Press, available from the usual bookshops and online retailers, except North America where the book will be on sale from 26th January 2023

https://inventingelectronicpop.com/

https://www.facebook.com/inventingelectronicpop

https://www.instagram.com/inventingelectronicpop/


Text and Interview by Chi Ming Lai
3rd December 2022

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