Tag: Mute Records (Page 1 of 10)

A Beginner’s Guide To GARETH JONES

Gareth Jones was born in Lancashire and while he played a number of instruments as a youngster, his interest soon turned to music technology with the purchase of a tape recorder.

He gained his formal training at the BBC and began working as an engineer in various recording spaces including Pathway, a small 8 track studio in North London which was frequently used by Stiff Records and where THE DAMNED recorded ‘New Rose’ in 1976. It was there that he worked on MADNESS’ debut single ‘The Prince’ in 1979. But it was his work with former ULTRAVOX front man John Foxx and his 1980 long playing debut ‘Metamatic’ that was to be his breakthrough.

This led to work producing esoteric acts such as TUXEDOMOON and TAUCHEN-PROKOPETZ; it was while working with the latter on the 1983 ‘DÖF’ record in Vienna that it was suggested that Jones mix the album at Hansa Tonstudio in West Berlin. At the time, it was the most high-tech complex he had ever worked in and prompted to his relocation to die Mauerstadt.

Many British bands began recording and mixing in Berlin as the exchange rate made things highly cost effective. It was while Jones was engineering the recording of the third DEPECHE MODE album ‘Construction Time Again’ at John Foxx’s own studio The Garden in Shoreditch that he proposed mixing the record in Berlin. He had been initially reluctant to work with DEPECHE MODE who he considered lightweight but was eventually persuaded by Foxx to become their Tonmeister.

Gareth Jones was a pioneer in the use of state of art digital equipment including the NED Synclavier and AMS digital delays; among his techniques was using the big ballroom at Hansa to capture atmospheres created by sounds being played through large amplifiers which were then recorded with microphones, creating a huge cavernous sound.

Although chiefly known for his work with synths and sampling, Jones also worked with more guitar driven bands such as WIRE, THE HOUSE OF LOVE, INSPIRAL CARPETS and MOGWAI as well as dark lord Nick Cave. After the fall of The Iron Curtain, Jones later returned to London where he remains today at his current base theArtLab within The Strongroom complex in London.

Having fought cancer in 2008, he continues to produce, mix and compose with a third SUNROOF album with Daniel Miller currently in progress. Meanwhile Jones had also provided his expertise and guidance to emerging studio personnel via the Red Bull Academy.

With a restriction of one track per album project and in chronological order, here are 20 tracks which form ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK’s Beginner’s Guide to the innovative career of Gareth Jones.


JOHN FOXX Plaza (1980)

Having departed ULTRAVOX, when John Foxx recorded his debut solo record, Gareth Jones was the engineer at Pathway, a studio known for its reggae sessions. While the aim was a starker vision of electronic music, both Foxx and Jones absorbed dub influences where things would be stripped back but one sound given all the power. This aesthetic suited the dystopian ‘Metamatic’ opener ‘Plaza’.

Available on the JOHN FOXX album ‘Metamatic’ via Metamatic Records

http://www.metamatic.com/


TUXEDOMOON Incubus (1981)

Impressed with the sound of ‘Metamatic’, TUXEDOMOON had originally sought John Foxx to produce their next album ‘Desire’ but unavailable, he put the American art rockers in touch with Gareth Jones. “Gareth was brilliant, fabulous” said the band’s Blaine L Reininger, “He was able to teach us; kind of organise us”. On one of the highlights, ‘Incubus’, the same Roland CR-78 Compurhythm was used.

Available on the TUXEDOMOON album ‘Desire’ via Crammed Discs

https://www.tuxedomoon.co/


JOHN FOXX Dancing Like A Gun (1981)

With a second album and studio both named ‘The Garden’, Gareth Jones was again working with John Foxx realise both. After the colder overtures of ‘Metamatic’, traditional instrumentation returned. ‘Dancing Like A Gun’ contradicted its “Oppenheimer waltzing” line but blended synth with art rock to recall ‘Quiet Men’ from his ULTRAVOX days.

Available on the JOHN FOXX album ‘The Garden’ via Metamatic Records

https://www.facebook.com/johnfoxxmetamatic


DEPECHE MODE Two Minute Warning (1983)

Working alongside Daniel Miller who continued as producer, Gareth Jones had DEPECHE MODE sampling found sounds around the-then derelict surroundings of Shroreditch to create a new sonic template in pop. Many of the songs had socio-political themes as demonstrated by the Alan Wilder composed Cold War angst ditty ‘Two Minute Warning’.

Available on the DEPECHE MODE album ‘Construction Time Again’ via Sony Music

https://www.depechemode.com/


FAD GADGET Collapsing New People (1984)

Frank Tovey had been intrigued by German band EINSTÜRZENDE NEUBAUTEN whose name translated as “collapsing new buildings” and their use of industrial equipment and found objects. So while recording at Hansa, he got Gareth Jones to record a large printing press nearby as the basis for a loop rhythm that became ‘Collapsing New People’.

Available on the FAD GADGET album ‘Gag’ via Mute Records

https://www.instagram.com/fadgadgetofficial/


BLAINE L REININGER Mystery & Confusion (1984)

For his first second solo album, Blaine L Reininger was reunited with Gareth Jones at the production helm. Using Roland’s portable pre-MIDI holy trinity of the TB-303 Bassline, the SH-101 monosynth and the TR-808 Rhythm Composer synced via a customised cable, its highlight was the cinematic synthpop of ‘Mystery & Confusion’ which saw the TUXEDOMOON leader exude a distinct Eurocentric spirit.

Available on the BLAINE L REININGER album ‘Night Air’ via Les Disques du Crépuscule

https://lesdisquesducrepuscule.com/blaine_l_reininger.html


PALAIS SCHAUMBURG Beat Of 2 (1984)

An influential Neue Deutsche Welle band from Hamburg, PALAIS SCHAUMBURG were on the bill with DEPECHE MODE at the 1981 Mute Night at the London Lyceum. Their members included Thomas Fehlmann who went on to join THE ORB and experimental producer Holger Hiller. The percussive ‘Beat Of 2’ turned out to be their final single and was produced by Gareth Jones alongside Inga Humpe.

Available on the PALAIS SCHAUMBURG album ‘Parlez-Vous Schaumburg?’ via Mercury Records

http://palaisschaumburg.com/


HUMPE HUMPE Yama-ha (1985)

Quirky Neue Deutsche Welle from sisters Annette and Inga Humpe, ‘Yama-ha’ was produced by Roma Baran who had worked on Laurie Anderson’s ‘O Superman’. The “shopping list” synth and sample number listing a number of Japanese tech and vehicle manufacturers was remixed by Gareth Jones. The B-side ‘Memories’ was produced by Conny Plank.

Available on the HUMPE HUMPE album ‘The Platinum Collection’ via Warner Music Group Germany

https://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100063561587623


EINSTURZEN NEUBAUTEN Yü-Gung (1985)

When Gareth Jones was brought in to work with EINSTURZEN NEUBAUTEN, it was to provide a sense of order to the West Berlin group’s experimental metal-bashing. Using sampling technology to provide an avant-dance palette to accompany Blixa Bargeld’s fierce chant of “FÜTTER MEIN EGO”, the sinister rhythm was inspired by the sound of chopping up speed!

Available on the EINSTURZEN NEUBAUTEN album ‘Halber Mensch’ via Potomak

https://neubauten.org/


BRONSKI BEAT Hit That Perfect Beat (1985)

Featuring new BRONSKI BEAT singer John Jøn Foster, ‘Hit That Perfect Beat’ was a frantically paced HI-NRG track helmed by Adam Williams of THE SELECTER who had been co-producer on EURYTHMICS’ singles ‘The Walk’ and ‘Love Is A Stranger’. Impressed by his work for DEPECHE MODE, Gareth Jones was brought in for the final mix which replicated the pumping presence of ‘Master & Servant’.

Available on the BRONSKI BEAT album ‘Truthdare Doubledare’ via London Records

https://www.facebook.com/bronskibeatband


DEPECHE MODE Stripped (1986)

Having risen to co-producer during ‘Some Great Reward’, Jones continued in the role for ‘Black Celebration’. Martin Gore’s songs had got bleaker and inspired by German film director Werner Herzog, Daniel Miller wanted a dystopian intensity, a feeling which ramped up when the band finished the album in Berlin. ‘Stripped’ was the “remarkable” single that heralded this darker direction.

Available on the DEPECHE MODE album ‘Black Celebration’ via Sony Music

https://www.facebook.com/depechemode


MINISTRY Just Like You (1986)

Having debuted with the synth-oriented ‘With Sympathy’ album in 1983, by 1986 MINISTRY had become more abrasive with industrial elements creeping into their sound. Engineered by Gareth Jones but produced by Adrian Sherwood of On-U Sound, the beat driven ‘Just Like You’ featured a Fairlight CMI which mainman Al Jourgensen had been able to acquire as a part of the deal with Sire Records.

Available on the MINISTRY album ‘Twitch’ via Rhino Records

https://ministryband.com/


NITZER EBB Let Your Body Learn (1987)

With their musical premise of “muscle and hate”, NITZER EBB took the seed of DAF to develop a danceable industrial finesse. While Phil Harding of PWL fame produced and mixed most of their debut long player released by Mute, Gareth Jones and Daniel Miller teamed up to remix their 1986 independently issued single ‘Let Your Body Learn’.

Available on the NITZER EBB album ‘That Total Age’ via Mute Records

https://www.nitzerebbprodukt.com/


ERASURE Blue Savannah (1989)

After his DEPECHE MODE Berlin trilogy, Gareth Jones remained in the Mute family to work with ERASURE. The concept of ‘Blue Savannah’ was Roy Orbison doing electronic pop. As co-producer with Mark Saunders, he provided an uncluttered backdrop to showcase the soaring optimism of what was to become one of the most universally loved songs by Andy Bell and Vince Clarke.

Available on the ERASURE album ‘Wild!’ via Mute Records

https://www.erasureinfo.com/


IRMIN SCHMIDT Gormenghast Drift (1991)

When Mute Records licensed the CAN back catalogue in 1990, there came the opportunity to work on new solo recordings with their keyboard virtuoso Irmin Schmidt. With Gareth Jones as co-producer, while there were vocals as well contributions from bandmates Jaki Liebezeit and Michael Karoli, the closing synth and piano instrumental ‘Gormenghast Drift’ was an atmospheric delight.

Available on the IRMIN SCHMIDT album ‘Impossible Holidays’ via Spoon Records

https://mutebank.co.uk/collections/irmin-schmidt


ERASURE Grace (1995)

An attempt at prog synth on the seventh ERASURE album saw Gareth Jones and Thomas Fehlmann of PALAIS SCHAUMBURG work together as producers on the ambitious if flawed self-titled opus. While there was the brilliant under rated single ‘Fingers and Thumbs (Cold Summer’s Day)’, there were also beautiful emotive neo-classical moments such as ‘Grace’ among the highlights.

Available on the ERASURE album ‘Erasure’ via Mute Records

https://www.facebook.com/erasureinfo


BOYTRONIC Living Without You (2002)

The 21st Century incarnation of BOYTRONIC saw the return of original frontman Holger Wobker. The anthemic ‘Living Without You’, which was one of two songs produced by Gareth Jones for the parent album ‘Autotunes’, utilised an impressive array of instrumentation including electronics, filmic orchestrations and rock guitars as well as Wobker’s impassioned vocals.

Available on the BOYTRONIC album ‘Autotunes’ via Strange Ways Records

https://www.facebook.com/BoytronicOriginal/


MESH No Place Like Home (2006)

When it suggested that MESH work with Gareth Jones, the band were initially reluctant because of the inevitable DEPECHE MODE comparisons. But Rich Silverthorn remembered “He was a really nice guy. We spent about 10 days locked in eating Chinese food, laughing and mixing ‘We Collide’”. Of the six tracks Jones mixed, ‘No Place Like Home’ proved to be one of the most poignant songs of MESH’s career.

Available on the MESH album ‘We Collide’ via Dependent Records

http://www.mesh.co.uk/


GARETH JONES Safe Travels (2020)

On the milestone of his 65th birthday, Gareth Jones’ released ‘ELECTROGENETIC‘, his first album under his own name. Most of the tracks began as improvisations around a modular patch, then crafted in a blend of humanity and electronics. While in Detroit, he developed the subtle rhythmic pulse and absorbing keyboard overtures of ‘Safe Travels’.

Available on the GARETH JONES album ‘ELECTROGENETIC‘ via Calm + Collect

https://www.instagram.com/garethgeniusjones/


SUNROOF 1.8 – 2.3.19 (2021)

A studio collaboration between Gareth Jones and Daniel Miller, while this project mostly produced covers such as ‘Hero’ for the tribute album ‘A Homage to NEU!’ in 1998 and assorted remixes, SUNROOF released a collection of improvised modular experiments recorded in 2019, of which the energetic ‘1.8 – 2.3.19’ was the most immediate.

Available on the SUNROOF album ‘Electronic Music Improvisations Vol1’ via Mute Artists

https://mute.com/artists/sunroof


Text by Chi Ming Lai
1 April 2024

Always: The Legacy of ERASURE

Photo by The Douglas Brothers

It was the late Seymour Stein who said “the reason ERASURE are so great is because they make people feel good about themselves”.

Together as ERASURE, Andy Bell and Vince Clarke have been one of the most consistent British pop acts ever. Originally released in 2015 to celebrate the duo’s 30th anniversary, Mute / BMG have reissued ‘Always – The Very Best of ERASURE’ as a revised and updated double vinyl LP set for the first time.

It would be fair to say that Mute Records’ initial commercial success came on the back of Vince Clarke’s songcraft. First with DEPECHE MODE and then YAZOO with Alison Moyet, Clarke demonstrated his marvellous pop sensibilities amongst all the cult acclaim that was accorded to acts like THE NORMAL, DAF and FAD GADGET.

However, Clarke suffered from recurring disillusionment and having left DEPECHE MODE and disbanded YAZOO, his new project THE ASSEMBLY with producer Eric Radcliffe had hit a brick wall despite a 1984 hit ‘Never Never’ featuring THE UNDERTONES’ Fergal Sharkey. It had been intended to use a different vocalist on each track with BLANCMANGE’s Neil Arthur and BOURGIE BOURGIE’s Paul Quinn among those mooted to take part.

Photo by The Douglas Brothers

“I want to get back to KRAFTWERK, you know” he said to International Musician & Recording World at the time, “Synths that sound like synths, not like brass, or voices or whatever. I know it’s not hip, but I don’t care”. Having decided on a fresh start, Clarke placed an advert in Melody Maker simply stating “Versatile voice wanted for established songwriter”.

A 21 year old ex-butcher Andy Bell was one of the many applicants and was audition #36. In front of a judging panel that also included Mute supremo Daniel Miller and producer Flood, the latter noted that Bell was the only candidate who hit falsetto during one of the audition pieces ‘Who Needs Love (Like That)?’. Impressing with not only with his Moyet-esque vocal technique but his range as well, in neo-X Factor style, Andy Bell was declared the winner and ERASURE were born.

Although Vince Clarke was considered to have a Midas touch following his success with DEPECHE MODE, YAZOO and THE ASSEMBLY, ERASURE’s debut album ‘Wonderland’ was not an instant hit. Released as the lead single, ‘Who Needs Love (Like That)?’ was mistaken by some to be a previously unreleased YAZOO recording.

However, it was very immediate and although Clarke had penned ‘Who Needs Love (Like That)?’ solo, there was a special spark developing both musically and personally between the pair. Soon a collaborative aspect to composition emerged that had not been present in DEPECHE MODE and rarely occurred in YAZOO. Songs were generally written as a duo on guitar or piano before any consideration of electronic embellishment was made.

Among the album’s highlights were the joyous ‘Reunion’ and the funky ‘Push Me… Shove Me’ which also displayed some Italo disco tension. The ‘Wonderland’ HI-NRG centrepiece ‘Oh L’Amour’ also flopped as a single but undeterred, ERASURE toured the college circuit to build up a new fanbase from scratch outside of DEPECHE MODE and YAZOO. Vindicated in 1987, ‘Oh L’Amour’ became a belated hit single for DOLLAR.

The 12” release of ‘Oh L’Amour’ was to become a sign of ERASURE’s future as it contained a thrilling Boystown cover of ‘Gimme! Gimme! Gimme!’. At the time, ABBA were considered passé; but a few years before while on holiday in Tenerife with BLANCMANGE’s Neil Arthur and Stephen Luscombe, the threesome had a tape of the Swedes’ most recent greatest hits collection ‘The Singles: The First Ten Years’ on constant rotation. It was here that the idea of BLANCMANGE doing ‘The Day Before You Came’ was formulated; Clarke was also taking notes…

Following his disillusionment of playing live with YAZOO where the two Fairlights he had hired had proved so troublesome that reserve backing tapes were used as the tour progressed, technology had become more reliable and compact so that meant going on the road in a van was now much more straightforward. ERASURE’s 1986 live set-up featured an Oberheim Xpander, a three module Yamaha TX816 rack, a Sequential Pro-One and two Casios, all driven by a BBC computer using the UMI-2B MIDI sequencer with Yamaha RX11 and Roland TR727 drum machines handling the rhythms.

Clarke and Bell were still getting to know each other so could be forgiven for their tentative start but the potential in the chemistry between the two hit paydirt with ‘Sometimes’, the first new single after ‘Wonderland’. Just missing out on the No1 spot in Autumn 1986, it was released ahead of the second album ‘The Circus’ and showcased what was to become a signature ERASURE sound with bubbly infectious electronics augmented by rhythmic acoustic strums.

Again produced by Flood but given the final once over by PWL Mixmaster Phil Harding, ‘Sometimes’ marked the beginning of an imperial phase as further hits followed, continuing with the vibrant ‘Victim Of Love’. But ERASURE also took two songs into the charts with poignant political sentiments against the Thatcher era; ‘It Doesn’t Have To Be’ protested against the UK government’s apathy towards the Apartheid regime of the racist South African government while ‘The Circus’ highlighted the plight of those made unemployed in the wake of key UK industries being closed down or sold off.

Meanwhile songs on ‘The Circus’ such as ‘Spiralling’ and ‘Hideaway’ confirmed ERASURE were more than just a great singles act; Hideaway’ was ERASURE’s very own ‘Smalltown Boy’ while the elegiac ‘Spiralling’ was a masterpiece, showcasing Bell’s fine voice in sparse surroundings.

1988’s ‘The Innocents’ produced by Stephen Hague was symbolic in that it was the first time that Vince Clarke had reached the third album milestone with a project… he had finally settled down! As with ‘The Circus’, further political observations came with the excellent ‘Ship Of Fools’ which surprised as the lead single with its maturer pace. But ‘Chains Of Love’ provided more of what was expected, as did the brass punctuated ‘Heart Of Stone’ while ‘Phantom Bride’ took a more serious turn in a commentary on forced marriage.

But the album’s opening song ‘A Little Respect’ was perfection from the off with its combination of Vince Clarke’s pulsing programming and strummed acoustic guitar As the busy rhythmical engine kicked in, Andy Bell went from a tenor to a piercing falsetto to provide the dynamic highs and lows that are always present in all great pop songs. It was deservingly nominated in the ‘Best Contemporary Song’ category at the 1989 Ivor Novello Awards.

To consolidate their best year to date, ERASURE ended 1988 with the seasonally themed ‘Crackers International’ EP. The lead track was ‘Stop!’, a throbbing Giorgio Moroder-inspired disco tune that borrowed counter-melodies from Donna Summer’s ‘Love’s Unkind’. Also featuring ‘Knocking On Your Door’ and ‘The Hardest Part’, the EP helped ERASURE’ maintain their profile while they were preparing their next plan of action. And as it was dropping out of the charts at the start of the new year, ERASURE won the ‘Best British Group’ accolade at the 1989 BRIT Awards,

With Gareth Jones and Mark Saunders at the production helm, 1989 saw ERASURE release their most ambitious album yet in ‘Wild!’ with a tour and accompanying stage set to match. ‘Blue Savannah’ imagined Roy Orbison doing electropop with a rousing sense of optimism to become one of ERASURE’s most universally loved songs, while the surprising Latin romp of ‘La Gloria’ saw Bell realise his Carmen Miranda fantasies. ‘Piano Song’ and ‘How Many Times?’ were the minimally structured ballads while ‘Star’ and ‘Drama!’ provided the hits with the latter displaying a previously unheard turn of aggression.

Amidst the success of the ‘Wild!’ campaign which culminated in a huge open air party at the Milton Keynes Bowl, Clarke was however less sonically satisfied. It had become apparent to him that there were technical limitations in the now dominant MIDI standard when sequencing, known as “MIDI slop”. In order to achieve the tighter feel of his earlier work with YAZOO on the ‘Upstairs At Eric’s’ album in particular where the various synthesizers were controlled using the Roland MC4 Micro-composer and ARP 1601 sequencer, the next ERASURE album ‘Chorus’ eschewed MIDI completely. The restriction of using only analogue synthesizers and no drum machines was applied to its production, save the occasional sampled cymbal crash. The sequenced monophonic nature of the equipment meant there would be no traditional chords either.

With this return to analogues, KRAFTWERK was crossed with Gloria Gaynor on ‘Love To Hate You’ and the energetic vintage thrust of ‘Breath Of Life’ recalled DEPECHE MODE’s ‘Speak & Spell’ album. The superb emotive ballad ‘Am I Right?’ was a surprise hit single while amongst the album highlights were ‘Waiting For The Day’ and ‘Perfect Stranger’.

Announced a year in advance at the time of the ‘Chorus’ album’s release was a theatrical spectacular entitled the ‘Phantasmagorical World Tour’ which took up residencies in London, Edinburgh and Manchester, the latter leg of which was immortalised in ‘The Tank, the Swan and the Balloon’ concert film.

Clarke wanted to take his vintage tech philosophy onto the stage and a special hydraulically controlled caterpillar tracked tank was constructed to house his various pieces of equipment. The engine room was an MC4 acting as the main sequencer controlling via CV / Gate, a Minimoog for bass sounds, a Roland Juno 60, a Prophet 5 alternating with a Roland Jupiter 8 dependent on the song programme and the Oberheim Expander with an Akai MPC-60 and Akai Linn synced up to provide the drum sounds pre-sampled from assorted synths. The data for the MC4 was precariously pre-loaded using a high end Maxell cassette to break the sound barrier.

With the choreographed presentation featuring a flamboyant sexy dance troupe and Andy Bell’s infamous sequinned cowboy outfit with no backside, it also included a bingo interval and Clarke dancing as part of a routine during a meaty sounding ‘Voulez-Vous’! And it was with a 4 song EP of ABBA covers entitled ‘ABBA-Esque’ that ERASURE scored their only No1 single in Summer 1992.

One key legacy of ERASURE during this time was that they planted the seeds of an ABBA revival. Not only was there a new compilation ‘Gold’ released after the profile of the Super-Swedes was boosted by ‘ABBA-Esque’ but around the same time, the Australian tribute act BJÖRN AGAIN released ‘ERASURE-ish’ which had Agnetha, Björn, Benny & Anni-Frid styled versions of ‘A Little Respect’ and ‘Stop!’ in time for the party season.

ERASURE’s cover version success also led to PET SHOP BOYS postponing the release of ‘Go West’ which had been due to be available for Christmas 1992; Neil Tenant and Chris Lowe made the decision after it was pointed out doing a VILLAGE PEOPLE cover would look like the duo were aping their rivals’ ‘ABBA-esque’! ERASURE ended 1992 with their first singles compilation ‘Pop! The First 20 Hits’ featuring all of the band’s singles to date. It reached No1 and has since given PET SHOP BOYS ‘Discography’ a run for its money as one of the best greatest hits collections ever.

To take the pre-MIDI analogue path planted during ‘Chorus’ to the next level, Martyn Ware who had used such synthesizers as a member of THE HUMAN LEAGUE and also used the Roland MC4 Micro-composer on HEAVEN 17’s ‘The Luxury Gap’ was recruited as producer for ERASURE’s next album ‘I Say I Say I Say’. Featuring the hits ‘Always’ and ‘I Love Saturday’, Ware laid out a methodology that was fundamentally “old school” to allow Clarke to bounce ideas off him in the studio.

Another technique was to allow Bell to lay down all his vocals first, so that the music could be worked around him to allow more air in the finished recordings. Ware got on well with Clarke and they were to found Illustrious to explore the possibilities of immersive 3D sound design. “I remember with Vince when we were taking about this process and he agreed” remembered Ware, “He said ‘You know what Martyn, I am my own biggest fan, I just think everything I do is brilliant’… it was so disarmingly honest and it wasn’t anything to do with arrogance at all, he just knew he was the master of his craft because he had all the tools at his disposal to do exactly what he wanted…”

The closing ‘I Say I Say I Say’ track ‘Because You’re So Sweet’ was a pretty ballad representative of the mature approach on the album taken by Andy Bell and Vince Clarke although the frantic energy of earlier ERASURE was not forgotten on ‘Run To The Sun’. But at Ware’s suggestion, a choir was brought in for the glorious ‘Miracle’ to provide an eerie contrast to the electronic proceedings. Meanwhile ‘Man On The Moon’ and ‘Blues Away’ outlined how Bell and Clarke were in the classic songsmith mould, regardless of the synthesized backing behind them. Cited by many as ERASURE’s best album, I Say I Say I Say’ was yet another No1.

But ERASURE’s run of five UK album chart toppers ended with their self-titled seventh album in 1995. ‘Erasure’ was Vince Clarke’s attempt at prog synth or as Andy Bell referred to it, the duo’s own ‘Dark Side Of The Moon’ or ‘Bright Side Of The Sun’; produced by Thomas Fehlmann who was best known for his work in THE ORB, it was an ambitious if flawed opus with extended intros and the sub-10 minute numbers like ‘Rock Me Gently’.

But there were also emotive neo-classical moments such as ‘Grace’ which recalled the atmospheric drama of prime OMD. The brilliant ‘Fingers and Thumbs (Cold Summer’s Day)’ though was its most accessible offering and remains possibly their most under rated single. The experimentation of the period also led to B-sides such as the delightful KRAFTWERK homage ‘Chertsey Endlos’.

Produced by Gareth Jones and Neil McLellan, 1997’s ‘Cowboy’ brought back the 3 minute pop tunes, with the superb ‘Reach Out’ and ‘Rain’ among the highlights along with the two contrasting singles ‘In My Arms’ and ‘Don’t Say Your Love Is Killing Me’. Clarke declared the album his favourite although Bell felt it lack passion and was too linear. However, ERASURE played the biggest arena tour for quite some time with a promising new live act HEAVEN 17 opening for them…

However, ERASURE then entered a quiet period but it wasn’t until later that it was learnt that there had been more serious concerns to deal with. But when the ‘Loveboat’ album emerged in 2000, it was considered a disappointment all round with discontent in the ranks. Despite production by Flood, Andy Bell admitted how shocked he was when he heard the “weird and indie” final mix by Rob Kirwan that emphasised the more guitar driven dynamics.

The ‘Loveboat’ album lacked the usual ERASURE charm and even its one potentially great song ‘The Moon & The Sky’ was missing an uplifting chorus, something which was only fixed with the Heaven Scent Radio Rework version by Jason Creasey that was later released on an EP. Fans were confused but in the face of poor sales, Clarke quipped on Channel 4’s Electro Pop Pioneers Top 10 show in 2001 that the ‘Loveboat’ album had “a couple of holes in it” while Bell added with a smile, “we’ll just do another one!”.

Fortunes only slightly improved with their mid-career crisis covers record ‘Other People’s Songs’. In a creative rut, what began as an Andy Bell solo covers exercise became an ERASURE one with Vince Clarke proposing Peter Gabriel’s ‘Solsbury Hill’ and THE BUGGLES ‘Video Killed The Radio Star’. Bell’s choices were more from the classic songbook including True Love Ways’, ‘Ebb Tide’, ‘You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feelin’’ and ‘Walking In The Rain’ while a take on Steve Harley’s “Make Me Smile (Come Up and See Me)’ with a Stylophone solo provided another Top 20 hit.

2003 saw a new ‘best of’ compilation called ‘Hits! The Very Best of ERASURE’ but a year later, Andy Bell was in a confessional headspace with his health. Making his 1998 HIV diagnosis and a hip replacement public, this was to affect the mood of the next ERASURE album ‘Nightbird’ although this was to be their best body of work since I Say I Say I Say’. Released in 2005, ‘Nightbird’ was something of a departure as it comprised entirely software synths, enforced partly by Clark’s move to the US, leaving him unable to work with his analogue armoury for a period.

Introspective in its demeanour, ‘Nightbird’ was more layered than anything they had undertaken before. Although ‘No Doubt’ was about riding the storm through tough times, ‘Let’s Take One More Rocket Ship To The Moon’ offered a hopeful “live for today” message. ‘Breathe’, ‘Here I Go Impossible Again’, ‘Don’t Say You Love Me’ and ‘I Broke It All In Two’ were among the many highlights in a brilliantly cohesive work. It was proof if that if you’ve got it but have lost it, the redeeming consequence is you can get it again back if you keep trying…

Issued in 2006, the interim ‘Union Street’ was a collection of previously released album tracks re-interpreted in an acoustic and countrified style. But in the opposite direction, the next ERASURE long player was the more dance-oriented ‘Light at the End of the World’. Produced by a returning Gareth Jones, while the entire album was played on its accompanying 2007 tour, it proved to be lukewarm, sparking more mixed fortunes for Clarke and Bell both creatively and commercially.

However, one of the more memorable tracks that emerged from these sessions was track on ‘The ‘Storm Chaser’ EP entitled ‘Early Bird’. An enjoyable duet between Cyndi Lauper and Andy Bell, it was a soulful slice of Trans-Atlantic synthpop that coincided with Ms Lauper heading towards a career renaissance with her enjoyable ‘Bring Ya To The Brink’ album in 2008.

As the duo took an extended break, Clarke reunited with Alison Moyet for the YAZOO ‘Reconnected’ tour while Bell worked on a second solo album which following aborted sessions with Stephen Hague, eventually saw the light of day in 2010 produced by Pascal Gabriel under the title of ‘Non-Stop’.

ERASURE headlined the closing night of the Short Circuit Presents Mute event in Spring 2011 with guest appearances from Alison Moyet and Fergal Sharkey as another new album ‘Tomorrow’s World’ was pencilled in for the Autumn. However, things were not promising as the severely over rated Frankmuzik was recruited to apply his modern dance production aesthetic.

The first single ‘When I Start To (Break It All Down)’ sounded like a rather anodyne TAKE THAT ballad and Bell’s voice was strained to an auto-tuned flatness, lacking power and soul. The joyous ‘Be With You’ was a good second single choice from the album but still came over as dispassionately mechanised. But much more enjoyable and classic was the Vince Clarke produced ‘Be With You’ B-side ‘Never Let You Down’ which was free of the auto-tune treatments that Frankmusik had applied when helming ‘Tomorrow’s World’.

2013 gave ERASURE the opportunity to finally make ‘Snow Globe’, the Christmas record they had wanted to do since including ‘God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen’ for the CD edition of the ‘Crackers International’ EP. As well as traditional seasonal tunes and new songs such as the joyous ‘Make It Wonderful’, the centre-piece was the haunting Ecclesiastical Latin carol ‘Gaudete’. Taken from its 16th Century origins and thrown into the new millennium with a precise electronic backbeat, there was even a cheeky ‘Ice Machine’ reference thrown in for good measure.

Following the disappointment of ‘Tomorrow’s World’, 2014’s ‘The Violet Flame’ produced by Richard X saw ERASURE return to form and express an infectious zest for the future. Following his VCMG techno project with former DM band mate Martin Gore, the songs began with Clarke’s pre-recorded dance grooves. Bell vibed instantaneously with these faster pace backbones and the end result was a much more immediate and uptempo album.

‘Dead Of Night’ was the collection’s euphoric, uplifting opening number while despite the cutting rave stabs and thundering rhythms, ‘Sacred’ did bear a rather striking resemblance to GUNS ‘N’ ROSES’ ‘Sweet Child O’ Mine’! But the best number from the sessions was ‘Be The One’ in its remixed treatment by Paul Humphreys who added some of the beautiful Synthwerk magic that characterised OMD’s brilliant ‘English Electric’. With ‘The Violet Flame’, ERASURE returned to the Top 20 album charts for the first time since 2003.

But following their 30th anniversary, ERASURE returned in a more pensive mood for the self-produced ‘World Be Gone’ album. The percussive lead single ‘Love You To The Sky’ sounded uninspired and while ‘A Bitter Parting’ ably communicated its anguish, it sounded laboured in its execution. It was a departure but it was not particularly easy listening for ERASURE fans.

Photo by Chi Ming Lai

The first trio of UK shows that came not long after ‘World Be Gone’ was released were oddly paced too. Possibly due to a run of high profile dates opening for Robbie Williams coming straight after, the first hour of the set more or less comprised of hit after hit like a dress rehearsal for those support slots before a run of three songs from the new album found themselves slotted in at the end. This undoubtedly inhibited the expected concert climax before the welcome encore of ‘Victim Of Love’ and ‘A Little Respect’.

ERASURE’s eighteenth studio long player ‘The Neon’ came in the middle of the 2020 lockdown. Described by Bell as “going back to the beginning” with Clarke in love with analogue synthesizers again, songs such as ‘Hey Now (Think I Got A Feeling)’, ‘Diamond Lies’, ‘Nerves Of Steel’ and ‘Fallen Angel’ captured a vibrant immediacy that offered some much needed escapism.

Unable to promote the album in a conventional manner, Bell and Clarke instead held endearing ‘Staying In With ERASURE’ online broadcasts where Clarke and Andy Bell talked about some of their favourite records and answered questions from fans while at the end of the year, they held a Virtual Christmas Party. It was this personable effort to connect compared with some of their contemporaries that highlighted why ERASURE have been so adored by their dedicated following around the world.

With ‘The Neon’ reaching No4 in the UK album charts, their highest placing since ‘I Say I Say I Say’ in 1994, their 2021 tour came just as the world started allowing live events again post-pandemic; it saw ERASURE headline London’s O2 Arena for the very first time. But just as further 2022 arena shows were announced in the UK with BLANCMANGE as the support act along with dates in Europe, North America and South America, the next leg of the tour was cancelled due to unexpected family circumstances.

Aside from ‘Day-Glo (Based on a True Story)’, an experimental record based on reconstructions using parts of ‘The Neon’, ERASURE have been quiet of late but Andy Bell recently emerged to perform solo at various festival events the UK and Ireland. He has also returned to the ABBA cover fold with Claire Richards of STEPS for a stomping version of ‘Summer Night City’.

ERASURE’s enduring legacy is great emotive pop songs but with an openly gay front man, Andy Bell has been a trailblazer for equality and acceptance with Vince Clarke as his loyal ally. Continuing the good work laid down by SOFT CELL, ERASURE have along with PET SHOP BOYS furthered the cause of the synth duo as the most practical format to make quality pop for outsiders that has also managed at times to crossover into the mainstream.

Photo by Richard Price

ERASURE is a long standing pop marriage that only PET SHOP BOYS can equal. Compared with PET SHOP BOYS, while Neil Tennant and Chris Lowe may have scored more UK No1 singles, Andy Bell and Vince Clarke come out on top with more UK album No1s over the same period.

One of the other reasons ERASURE have been able to achieve longevity is that Bell and Clarke have given each other space and allowed the flexibility to undertake side projects. The first Andy Bell solo album came out after ‘Nightbird’ in 2005 and saw collaborations with Claudia Brücken and Jake Shears. Since 2014, he has been involved in the ‘Torsten’ trilogy with a series of theatre shows written by Barney Ashton and Christopher Frost.

Meanwhile, Clarke produced a wealth of instrumental material with Martyn Ware which was collected as the 8CD boxed set ‘House Of Illustrious’ as well as doing remix commissions, running his own label VeryRecords and presenting The Synthesizer Show with Reed Hays of REED & CAROLINE on Maker Park Radio in New York..

In the expanded ‘Total Pop! The First 40 Hits’ deluxe boxed set booklet issued in 2009, Andy Bell said “Some people like the records and some can’t stand them I guess”. But as Vince Clarke dryly said back then: “We’re just going to keep making records. We’ll never split, sorry folks!”


‘Always – The Very Best of ERASURE’ is released by Mute / BMG as a double vinyl LP on 18 August 2023

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Text by Chi Ming Lai
15 August 2023

TELEX Interview

Photo by Frank Uyttenhove

Belgian synth trio TELEX are to release a new box set of their studio albums on Mute this Spring.

Their 1979 debut album ‘Looking For Saint-Tropez’ featured three unusual and striking electronic reinterpretations of rock ‘n’ roll through the ages including ‘Rock Around The Clock’, ‘Twist À St. Tropez’ and ‘Ça Plane Pour Moi’. Pre-dating SILICON TEENS, the fictional teen synth band devised by Daniel Miller, the new partnership with Mute is highly fitting with the one-time apprentice providing a new home for the sorcerer.

As well as ‘Looking For Saint-Tropez’, the ‘TELEX’ box set will also contain ‘Neurovision’ (1980), ‘Sex’ (1981), ‘Wonderful World’ (1984), ‘Looney Tunes’ (1988) and ‘How Do You Dance?’ (2006); all the albums have been remastered and newly mixed from the original tapes by band members Dan Lacksman and Michel Moers.

The Brussels-based threesome of Michel Moers, Dan Lacksman and Marc Moulin were already experienced hands when they formed TELEX in 1978. But they trailblazed and subverted during their imperial phase, crossing paths with SPARKS and YELLOW MAGIC ORCHESTRA along the way. Representing Belgium at the 1980 Eurovision Song Contest, their bouncy song ‘Eurovision’ with its deliberately banal lyrics sending up the whole charade featured a Situationist performance that puzzled most watching on TV but delighted many others.

Recognised as techno, house and synthpop pioneers thanks to seminal tracks such as ‘Moscow Diskow’ and ‘Haven’t We Met Somewhere Before?’, TELEX were to later remix DEPECHE MODE and PET SHOP BOYS. But after Marc Moulin sadly passed away in 2008, TELEX were formally retired.

Blessed with another opportunity to present their impressive legacy to a new generation and established music fans who may have missed them first time round, Michel Moers and Dan Lacksman spent a joyful hour chatting to ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK about their time as TELEX…

TELEX joining the Mute family is quite appropriate isn’t it, like it was meant to be?

Michel: It should have been earlier… *laughs*

We had a very long contract so when we could get out of it, the first thought was “Mute is the best”; so we tried and it was the right move, we didn’t ask anybody else. The next day, we received an email from Daniel Miller saying “yes OK, let’s talk”.

Dan: We couldn’t believe it because it was our dream. “What would be the best company to reissue the albums?” and of course it was Mute. It’s great.

Michel: We loved ‘Warm Leatherette’, it was like a punch! Then SILICON TEENS came after TELEX, but at the time I wasn’t aware it. KRAFTWERK were a big influence but as “The Belgian KRAFTWERK” (*laughs*) with Belgian humour and cartoons, it was more related to our environment and personalities. English humour is better known around the world.

Dan: Belgian humour quite is surreal, similar to Monty Python which was very popular here because it was completely absurd. Also there are two cultures in Belgium, the French one and the Dutch one. It’s a mixture of both. I am French speaking but my grandfather was Flemish so I can feel both sides in me and a lot of Belgian people, especially in Brussels, they are a mixture of cultures.

Michel: In Belgium, we are much closer to English humour than French humour.

There are new mixes of the albums but what do you mean by that, as that might ring alarm bells for some, like dance remixes etc? *laughs*

Dan: It’s not every title, it’s about 60%… when we first started to remaster, some of the mixes we were listening to and thinking “it’s a pity, there is too much reverb” or whatever. But then the idea came to try a new mix but sounding similar to the original. So we decided to try one and if we don’t like it, we don’t do it! But it worked very well, so well that finally we listened to every album and we decided which titles we thought were ok for mastering and which ones we should attempt a new mix. And so that’s what we did.

Michel: So it’s new mixes, NOT “remixes”, that is more related to dance… the main thing we did was to take tracks away…

Dan: …to simplify…

Michel: The first album was our main reference and we probably didn’t succeed after because there were so many new machines to try… so with these new mixes and less tracks, the six albums are more a whole, you can really feel more of a thread….

Dan: All the songs are original, we didn’t replace anything, the vocals are all the original ones and no cheating, well…

Michel: …sometimes calibrating my timing or my pitch! *laughs*

Dan: The bass was played manually in those days, no sequencer which is why it was grooving, Marc had an incredible groove but sometimes, there were parts we replaced but very few really…

How did ‘Moscow Diskow’ come together, the idea of going to a club behind The Iron Curtain?

Michel: The original idea was to make lyrics, French words that English or American people were using, like “fantastique”. It was putting all these words together, some more personal ones like my girlfriend was called a “French Garçon” and things like that. It came together with the idea of a train…

Dan: So I thought, what about the hi-hat, it would be the train, a steam train which would be a completely surrealistic concept. So I started from there and added a kick drum and claps, there is no snare and I did the “woo-woo” sound with two oscillators and an envelope controlling the pitch. It was done very fast. We didn’t specify a 130 tempo, it was just a knob, like “what about this?”. We had to first record the drums on three tracks before we could do the keyboards as always, it was very spontaneous. It came like this, et viola!

Michel: At the time, the Moscow graphics were very well used, we liked to play with clichés… if we were writing the song now, we would choose another town…

‘Rock Around The Clock’ is TELEX’s only UK hit and the ‘Top Of The Pops’ performance is still great performance art… but it crossed over, even my mother liked it!

Michel: We also did a cover of ‘La Bamba’ and it is also slower than the original like ‘Rock Around The Clock’ so that old people can even dance to it *laughs*

The idea was to show who TELEX were, as people would know the original and hear the difference. It was an easier way to show who we are and that the audience may like an original song of ours. TELEX were like making a “History of Music”, so ‘Rock Around The Clock’ is rock, ‘La Bamba’ is South America, ‘Dance To The Music was black music…

Were you surprised to get the call to be on ‘Top Of The Pops’?

Michel: No, because maybe the reason we were asked was because they had a new Quantel machine to make new kinds of images and special effects. We were probably the only band around at that time with electronics where they could make these images that had not been made before. So it was more for them to play with their machine *laughs*

Dan: The rule on ‘Top Of The Pops’ at that time for international artists was that everything had to be live, but they wanted to experiment with this machine. So the day before, we went to the BBC and they filmed us to prepare some effects that they would insert the next day when we were performing, they were running the effects in sync and then they would put the live image and some effects, so when we did the “da-da-da” and the picture swirling, it was great, it true that it fits with the music.

Was it your idea to read the newspaper or the ‘Top Of The Pops’ director? *laughs*

Michel: It wasn’t the director, his reaction was “Are they bored? They don’t want to be there” *laughs*

No, we liked sometimes to use the anti-cliché of pop music you know… in pop music, everybody is smiling and moving, so the idea was to do the contrary. One of the main comedy characters we liked was Buster Keaton…

Dan: …he never smiled!

Michel: So we thought, “what would he do?”… you didn’t dance, just *does swaying arm movement*

Dan: NO! *laughs*

PET SHOP BOYS did the newspaper thing in 2009, I don’t know if they got the idea from you?

Michel: They also don’t dance… at the end of ‘Eurovision’, I take a picture of the audience but now, everybody has an iPhone and is taking the picture so it’s funny. The idea was reversing the process.

So ‘Rock Around The Clock’ saw you covering an old song, you also covered an quite new song at the time ‘Ça Plane Pour Moi’ and Dan, you have a connection because you did the synths for Plastic Bertrand on ‘Tout Petit La Planète’? Was this cover deliberate because of your connections?

Michel: Well, it was to please our producer as it was the same record company *laughs*

Dan: But we thought it would be funny to do as it was a very fast track, to make it slower and add vocoder…

Michel: It was part of that “History of Music” idea, add some punk plus it was the only way you could make people understand the words! *laughs*

As the box set shows, TELEX became notable for their cover versions, which were your favourites and which songs do you wish you had recorded?

Michel: There are two that have not been released sung by me but they are probably not TELEX enough… my idea would be to keep the backing and have someone who sings well! *laughs*

With people who sing well, what they sing is usually boring to me. Maybe it’s not the same in England but over here, it’s for radio but the singers sound like…

Dan: …that’s maybe because of the voice program that is everywhere and it’s just physical performance, it’s not singing anymore… like why? Maybe people are just accustomed to it, even if it is out of tune, it doesn’t matter but when you stick Autotune on, you have no more feeling.

When you did ‘On The Road Again’ in 2006, had you been aware of ROCKETS’ version which similarly used vocoder?

Dan: I was not aware…

Michel: I was aware after… the idea of ‘On The Road Again’ was simply because we were making a new record after so many years of silence. Now I know the ROCKETS version but it was a few weeks after our version came out, Italian TELEX fans were sending me pictures of these guys full of blue. Often the same things can be produced all around the world without realising, like the invention of the telephone, we didn’t know.

So ‘Eurovision’, did the song come first or was it TELEX entering Eurovision that inspired it?

Michel: The song was written for Eurovision, but the idea was to make a photo of what it is, people being well-dressed and at that time there were borders… well, there are borders now! *laughs*

But the idea was all these borders were open for one night and after that, they would close and anyway, the image would go through armoured cables so it was like war. At that time, Peter Gabriel had written about something similar on ‘Games Without Frontiers’ and also Robin Scott as M with ‘Pop Musik’; in fact, we met him at Cannes before the contest and asked him whether he would be interested in making lyrics for us, but he said “I’ve done that already with ‘Pop Musik’”, so I finally did it myself.

Was there a selection competition back home?

Michel: Yes, we had one, there were 10 contestants and we won the competition… but when we were asked by the record company, we thought they were crazy, it was not what we really wanted to do, it was not our music. We thought about it for 2 weeks and said “let’s go for it” as it would be like the epitome of pop music.

So the country was behind you?

Michel: Maybe not the country, but the people at radio and TV on the jury liked it. But all the other competitors were very normal… *laughs*

Dan: Boring, nothing special… we were completely different…

So they were more like The Singing Nun, Dana or Nicole type of entry?

Dan: EXACTLY!

Michel: But The Singing Nun would have had a chance! *laughs*

I am already imagining in my head the idea of TELEX covering The Singing Nun song ‘Dominique’! *laughs*

Michel: In fact, Dan and Marc did it!!

Dan: We did an electronic version with Soeur Sourire, it was a complete flop! *laughs*

So back to Eurovision, how were you choreographing your performance and moves?

Michel: The moves began before because there were normally three rehearsals and we couldn’t achieve one. There was a rule that everything you hear had to be seen, so all the instruments. So if you hear a drum, there should be a drummer. But everything we had was in three Moog modules so there was nothing to see, that was the first argument in the first rehearsal. Then the other argument was about electricity!

Dan: Yes, they didn’t like us because everything was supposed to be live which was not correct, because they said we could come with a backing tape, but everything on tape must be on stage! Simple! So like with ABBA, it was a backing tape, they didn’t play for real but the voices were real. So for us, it was the same thing, we sent a tape but the “drums” I made with the Modular Moog, so you don’t see a drum, you just hear “drums”.

When we were starting rehearsals, the director says “STOP! I hear a drum, where is the drum?” So I had to explain the drum sound was made with this instrument. “OK, we don’t see anything” he said, but I asked if they gave us some electricity, we could push a button and see the sequencer going on… “OH NO! NOT POSSIBLE!” but the director asked if the singer could push a button and fake it. So Michel just pushed a button, nothing happens on the Moog, no wire, nothing so it was completely… and then the song went on and Michel couldn’t hear himself…

Michel: The real time, I couldn’t hear myself, I don’t know if they did it on purpose but I couldn’t hear the three backing singers so my voice is a bit stressed, that’s it! *laughs*

And then?

Michel: Just before our turn on stage, we met Johnny Logan…

Dan: He won by the way…

Michel: I said “I’m sure you are going to win” and he replied “If I win, it’s good for me but if you win, it will be good for music”, that was so nice.

So you wanted to win, or come last but how did you actually feel when Portugal gave you those points? *laughs*

Michel: It was very mixed in our mind… we were chosen to go and then our British and American record companies thought we would win! It was the 25th Anniversary of Eurovision and we heard they would like to change the rules… so they changed the rules to a public vote, so this was very difficult for us! At the same time, we could feel we couldn’t win and it took some years to recover some balance! *roars of laughter*

Dan: We didn’t take it especially seriously, but we were surprised that everybody else was so serious, it was almost a pity to see the two young girls Sophie & Magaly from Luxembourg completely destroyed and crying when they didn’t get points. We were sitting, we had nothing and understood “OK”, so we hoped we were last. And then suddenly Portugal gave us 10 points! WHY? And then Royaume-Uni give us one point (this is why the first box set is called ‘Belgium… One Point’) and Greece three points! We were not last and it was a poor group from Finland… everyone was very serious and we were a bit apart.

Michel: All the organisation was very strict, it was like being in an airport which I understand… we didn’t win but in the long run, people remember us and every year, we have 30 seconds of fame…

Dan: …because of the strange stuff that happened on Eurovision…

Yeah, I’m one of the guilty ones who keeps posting up the ‘Eurovision’ clip… *laughs*

Dan: You’re not the only one!

I don’t know if you are aware when ABBA won in 1974, the UK gave them nil point!

Michel: There’s a lot of politics now…

Dan: It’s more difficult than ever, you have the two semi-finals and then you have the final, it’s getting very completely crazy.

‘The Man With The Answer’ from ‘Sex’ seems to show an affinity with YELLOW MAGIC ORCHESTRA featuring the late Yukihiro Takahashi, did you feel a connection with any of the other electronic music acts?

Michel: At that time, no, we didn’t listen much to each other… it’s really funny but maybe we were a bit shy but we were on the same stage in Paris with YELLOW MAGIC ORCHESTRA on TV and we didn’t speak to each other which was stupid… but finally Harumi Hosono came to the studio to make a cover of our song ‘L’Amour Toujours’ with a Japanese singer Miharu Koshi.

Dan: Just an anecdote with Harumi Hosono, it was incredible because he could speak only Japanese, no English, no French; there was a French guy living in Tokyo to translate but he didn’t need him because for the work, we understood each other perfectly because it was the same equipment, the same way, it was fantastic, he would programme the sequencer and find the sounds, we were very close technically, those three days were really incredible.

Michel: It could be astonishing that we don’t really relate to your question because Belgium is so small and we were all working apart, we had other jobs, it’s not like having a success all around the world, we couldn’t live on just music. So we were not really part of an electronic scene like London where we would have to go out every night or even in Belgium because even if we were invited somewhere, we wouldn’t go. Also, we were a bit older than most people because we had done things before musically, so we didn’t have the same needs or same way to live. But Belgium is, well, was an island… *laughs*

But one act that you did connect up with was SPARKS. Was bringing them in to collaborate on lyrics on the ‘Sex’ album part of a conscious effort on TELEX’s part to be more international and accessible like on ‘Haven’t We Met Somewhere Before?’ and ‘Long Holiday’?

Dan: It was a coincidence because I was working with a Belgian singer called Lio with Marc Moulin at the same time as TELEX, she was an incredible big success and she was doing TV everywhere in the world. Once in Paris, she was on the same programme as SPARKS. Then Russell Mael proposed that she make her next album in English and offered to write the lyrics. So they arranged to work at my studio in Brussels but Lio never came! We were recording the ‘Sex’ album at the same time so we met, they listened to the album and proposed some English lyrics…

Michel: I had made some French lyrics that I couldn’t make work in English so it was ok.

Dan: So Russell and Ron stayed in Brussels, coached Michel with the singing and they liked the city and came back to make their own albums. They would take the tram to the studio and people would recognise them, so they would sign autographs and it was great, they really liked it *laughs*

Michel: The SPARKS tram! *laughs*

I always thought ‘Haven’t We Met Somewhere Before?’ should have been a hit single in the UK…

Michel: We didn’t write songs to be hits, it’s nice when it comes but we did things we wanted to hear.

In the UK, there was this strange thing of the ‘Sex’ album being released as ‘Birds & Bees’ with different tracks including a new single ‘L’ Amour Toujours’; you did two versions of ‘L’ Amour Toujours’ and I preferred the earlier one on ‘Birds & Bees’ over the reworked ‘Wonderful World’ version…

Michel: I think there are even more versions… *laughs*

At that time, we felt that song could be a hit and maybe we were searching for a way to make it more clear and that’s why there are different versions, maybe we didn’t make the right one. That’s the song Harumi Hosono made with Miharu Koshi. There are maybe 5 or 6 versions on the tapes… sometimes we lost our way because there were so many new machines… that was his fault! *laughs*

Dan: We experimented a lot…

Michel: So compared to KRAFTWERK, we didn’t make as many new songs and they made remixes… they also had a strong image, we didn’t really care about showing ourselves… someone once asked us after the 2006 album ‘How Do You Dance?’, “why do you make music like DAFT PUNK?”…

By ‘Wonderful World’, the digital technology had taken hold, how did you find working with it? ‘Raised By Snakes’ is good but it could be any variety of acts at the time?

Dan: It’s funny you mention ‘Raised By Snakes’ because it’s a pre-sampler track. I didn’t have the Fairlight yet there is this chord; I remember that we had the idea to put on this chord all the time so I put it manually into the multi-track. We put the chord on a quarter inch tape and I had a zero lock and a return button, so to record it, I played the multi-track, then I sent the chord “ding” and then I returned to zero ready for the next time. So it would have been more easier with a sampler but it was just before, it’s funny. Of course, the result is the same.

With the Fairlight from 1983 plus the Synclavier, these were the first digital synthesizers and it was impossible not to have one… on top of TELEX, I had my studio SYNSOUND and people came to me to put electronic sounds on their records so I had to have the whole palette. That’s why I kept buying these novelties at the desespoir of my wife *laughs*

Which were your favourite synths?

Dan: Well, I would say it’s the Oberheim OB6, it’s quite new but it’s the one I use the most because every time, the sound is so inspiring, it’s completely analogue and so it’s great. It’s polyphonic also so you can do almost anything. But of course if you want a real good bass, there is nothing like the Minimoog and if you want some more sophisticated analogue sounds, there is nothing like the Moog Modular, they are all complementary.

Michel: Don’t ask me! *laughs*

I made demos but I don’t go into the final thing, I must confess, I just use Logic now… I’m more interested in composing, but of course it is important to use the right sound.

Dan: I use plug-ins too.

And what was the synth or piece of equipment that was most disappointing, the one didn’t meet expectations?

Dan: It’s easy, the Simmons drums because I could do better sounds with the Moog Modular. It’s not good enough, you only had one envelope and with this envelope, you can control the pitch and the length of the sound. But you would need two envelopes to make it good, one for the pitch and the other for the filter for example which you can even do on a Minimoog! I bought a module and five pads because it was quite popular at the time. The pads are in the attic, they are beautiful by the way, but I almost never used it.

What are your own TELEX career highlights?

Michel: To me, it’s really the first album ‘Looking For Saint Tropez’ because we made music that was really fitting with what was on the market, the idea was so simple, not many things were polyphonic. So for me it was the best period, discovering things and after, it was trying to find the same enthusiasm with new things. But our first album and single ‘Twist A Saint Tropez’…

Dan: … it was very spontaneous… Marc asked me one day “what about making an electronic group together?” and it was great idea. And then we needed a singer, and Marc reminded me of this singer Michel Moers who we worked together with. So we had a rendez-vous in my studio to try something, what can we do? And then Marc and Michel said “Maybe let’s take a French song and make it completely electronic? Oh what about ‘Twist A Saint Tropez’ by LES CHATS SAUVAGES?”; so we switched on everything and then in one day, we finished the track. I did a quick rough mix and put it on a cassette because Marc was seeing a friend who was working for RKM Records. It was played to the boss Roland Kluger and the next day we had a contract! It was so quick!

Michel: The nice thing about all this is that although we made a cover, we prevented ourselves from listening to the original, it was a cover made from our memory. That’s why it’s so different. This is why it’s important for me, it was an exciting period.

What are the highlights of your career Dan?

Dan: What career? *laughs*

It was always great to work… in the beginning, we were discovering, then we were experimenting so some days were a bit, I would say, disappointing but the next, we would listen back and think “that’s great” because sometimes you would be thinking too much or whatever. Before TELEX, I did some records on my own but I never liked it frankly, I am not extrovert so I prefer to be in the studio. TELEX was perfect as it was something we did together, but it was something made in the studio so that we don’t have to make concerts. Later, I had a lot of work with other artists at my studio, synthesizers were really popular so I was working every day.


Dedicated to the memory of Marc Moulin 1942-2008

ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK gives its warmest thanks to Michel Moers and Dan Lacksman

Special thanks to Zoe Miller at Zopf PR

The ‘EP3’ playlist featuring ‘We Are All Getting Old’, ‘Spike Jones’ and more can be heard at https://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=OLAK5uy_n6rRiB3JzRz_QRBSuil91EYmczVfjGiMA

The ‘TELEX’ box set is released by Mute as a 6 piece set in coloured vinyl LP and CD variants on 14th April 2023, pre-order from https://mute.ffm.to/telex_boxset

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

https://www.facebook.com/ThisIsTelex

https://www.instagram.com/this_is_telex/

http://danlacksman.be/

https://www.facebook.com/danlacksmanmusic

https://www.facebook.com/explusguests

http://www.marcmoulin.com/

https://open.spotify.com/artist/6PzO2zYVuLxLwhZJfnP1Wj


Text and Interview by Chi Ming Lai
3rd February 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/

https://linktr.ee/inventingelectronicpop


Text and Interview by Chi Ming Lai
3rd December 2022

Euro-Vision: The Legacy Of TELEX

On paper it shouldn’t have worked; a funereal paced reworking of the song that heralded the birth of rock ‘n’ roll smothered in vocoder. But TELEX always had an eccentric sense of irony about them.

Their cover of ‘Rock Around The Clock’ caused much head scratching when it entered the UK Top 40 singles chart in the summer of 1979, although one person listening was undoubtedly Daniel Miller who borrowed the concept for SILICON TEENS and their only album ‘Music For Parties’. So it is no big surprise that the Belgian trio are to have their back catalogue reissued by Mute Records, beginning with a compilation ‘This Is TELEX’ which bizarrely omits their biggest UK hit!

TELEX began their account in 1978 with another rock ‘n’ roll cover in ‘Twist à Saint Tropez’ made famous by LES CHATS SAUVAGES fronted by French singer Dick Rivers; their manifesto stated their intent of “making something really European, different from rock, without guitar”. With their embracement of synths and a tongue-in-cheek championing of pop and disco, TELEX enjoyed baiting the ideologically-rigid rock press, especially with their cover versions.

This continued on their debut album ‘Looking For Saint Tropez’ released on Vogue Records. It included a KRAFTWERK styled reinterpretation of ‘Ça Plane Pour Moi’ by Belgian faux punk Plastic Bertrand who Lacksman had provided all the synth instrumentation for on his electro-disco favourite ‘Tout Petit La Planète’. Other highlights on ‘Looking for Saint Tropez’ included the hypnotic ‘Pakmowäst’ with its treated robotic vocals and ‘Something To Say’ which didn’t sound unlike one of YELLOW MAGIC ORCHESTRA’s vocal tracks.

Like YELLOW MAGIC ORCHESTRA, TELEX were already experienced hands by the time of their formation; Marc Moulin was a jazz musician with two albums to his name and the boss of the Belgian FM radio station Radio Cité, while vocalist Michel Moers had been a member of prog folkies NUIT CALINE A LA VILLA MON REVE.

The most electronic inclined of the trio, Dan Lacksman was a noted studio engineer who had recorded three solo long players using his Moog IIIP modular system and provided the Roland System 100 sequence programming to the huge worldwide disco hit ‘Born To Be Alive’ by Patrick Hernandez, with whom a young Madonna was once a backing vocalist for.

But TELEX’s wider breakthrough came via The Blitz Club and its resident DJ Rusty Egan who played the self-penned ‘Looking For Saint Tropez’ opener ‘Moscow Diskow’ alongside KRAFTWERK, YELLOW MAGIC ORCHESTRA and SPARKS to signal a new phase in electronic dance music that had been seeded by the Giorgio Moroder produced ‘I Feel Love’ in 1977.

Taking the Trans-Siberian Express to Moscow and adding a funkier groove compared with KRAFTWERK’s ‘Trans Europe Express’ excursion, the track became a cult international club favourite and proved that TELEX were more than just a novelty covers act.

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

A bouncy electropop tune, ‘Euro-Vision’ had deliberately banal lyrics about the whole charade itself. With Lacksman’s Moog modular behind them, the trio had even choreographed swaying and clap movements while Moulin cheekily mimed his MicroMoog polyphonically. The Situationist performance concluded with Moers stoically taking a photo of the bemused audience in The Hague.

With the sole intention of coming last, TELEX were sitting in that very position with just four juries to vote. But Portugal awarded “dix points” and TELEX ended up 17th out of 19 entries ahead of Morocco and Finland!

Featuring a song called ‘Tour De France’ three years before KRAFTWERK and a pulsing jazz tinged Schaffel in ‘En Route Vers De Nouvelles Aventures’, ‘Neurovision’ saw TELEX’s profile raised although they declined to perform live. However, their sophisticated electronic sound would have been very difficult to replicate at the time, a situation which also saw SPARKS unable to perform their Giorgio Moroder produced albums ‘No1 In Heaven’ and ‘Terminal Jive’ in a concert setting.

With many things in common, for TELEX’s third album ‘Sex’ released on Ariola in 1981, the Mael brothers were invited to contribute lyrics to all of its nine tracks and begin a fruitful friendship.

Experiments in swing on ‘Sigmund Freud’s Party’ displayed a sophisticated vintage musicality and the brilliant ‘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!’ and ‘Drama, Drama’ reinterpreted the latent funk of Bowie’s ‘Fame’ in synthesizer form.

However, the tracklisting was considerably revamped for the UK release in 1982 as ‘Birds & Bees’ with new material; one of these numbers ‘L’ Amour Toujours’ was a wonderful exploration of latter day ROXY MUSIC if Bryan Ferry had opted to venture into electronic pop. However, ‘Holiday Holiday’ amusingly sounded like a synthy Chris De Burgh on holiday in the French Riviera!

But ‘Birds & Bees’ confused the TELEX story and a reworked ‘L’ Amour Toujours’ ended up also opening the fourth TELEX album ‘Wonderful World’ which only came out in Germany and France despite a new deal with Warners.

Although it possessed a vibrant title song, the album sank without trace but TELEX were still in demand and signed by Atlantic Records for the 1988 album ‘Looney Tunes’. From it, ‘Beautiful Li(f)e’ was an oddball sampling experiment akin to YELLO that showed Moulin, Moers and Lacksman were still willing to explore the possibilities of new digital technology, despite electronic pop being out of vogue and the public seemingly preferring house and techno.

With TELEX going into hiatus, Michel Moers released a solo album ‘Fishing Le Kiss’ in 1990 before becoming a video director and photographer. However, Marc Moulin and Dan Lacksman had maintained parallel production careers during TELEX. Working together in the studio, the pair had scored several domestic hits including ‘Amoureux Solitaires’ and ‘Le Banana Split’ with the sexy Belgian starlet Lio.

SPARKS continued their association with TELEX and wrote English lyrics for the Canadian edition of Lio’s ‘Suite Sixtine’ album and in return, Moulin and Lacksman did a 12 inch remix of ‘Music That You Can Dance To’.

Meanwhile, Lacksman engineered SPARKS’ ‘In Outer Space’ LP which spawned the Jane Wiedlin duet ‘Cool Places’ that became the Mael brothers’ biggest US hit and Thomas Dolby’s second album ‘The Flat Earth’.

Although Moulin produced several tracks on the self-titled debut of Anna Domino released on the Belgian boutique label Les Disques Du Crépuscule, it was Lacksman who was to have the most lucrative post-TELEX career as a producer, notably working with CAMOUFLAGE on their ‘Methods Of Silence’ and ‘Bodega Bohemia’ albums, as well as producing French ethnic electronica project DEEP FOREST who had a worldwide smash hit with ‘Sweet Lullaby’.

TELEX reunited in 2006 for the ‘How Do You Dance?’ album on Virgin Records; it featured five cover versions including a downtempo take on the Mexican folk standard ‘La Bamba’, a vocodered ‘On The Road Again’ which appeared to replicate ROCKETS’ 1978 version and in tribute to their old mates SPARKS, a superb deadpan interpretation of ‘No1 Song In Heaven’. Welcomed back by the artists who had they had helped lay the electronic foundations for, TELEX did remixes for DEPECHE MODE and PET SHOP BOYS.

Sadly Marc Moulin passed away in 2008 and TELEX was retired. Since then, Michel Moers returned to music in 2013 to provide his Gallic nonchalance on ‘Will I Get to Your Heart?’ for Danish musician NATTEFROST and has been recording solo material. In 2015, Dan Lacksman collaborated with the late Florian Schneider on ‘Stop Plastic Pollution’ to highlight the issue of ocean environment conservation as part of the campaign Parley For The Oceans and continues his studio career.

TELEX have certainly left an impressive legacy linking them with some of the biggest names in electronic music. Their time to be discovered by a new generation and established music fans who may have missed them first time round comes via this new partnership with Mute.

While ‘This Is TELEX’ does not include ‘Rock Around The Clock’ or ‘Haven’t We Met Somewhere Before?’, it does feature a good selection of their career highlights. Long-standing TELEX enthusiasts will be tempted by the new mixes from Lacksman and Moers, although as the former explained “We simplify, we take away, to create something more efficient, more TELEX.” while Moers added “We’re so glad to have signed with Mute. We couldn’t have done better.”

“Beaux messieurs, belles dames: musique au programme…”


In memory of Marc Moulin 1942- 2008

‘This Is TELEX’ is released by Mute Artists on 30th April 2021 in CD, double shrimp pink or fern green coloured vinyl LP, cassette and digital formats

https://www.facebook.com/ThisIsTelex

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

http://danlacksman.be/

https://www.facebook.com/danlacksmanmusic

https://www.facebook.com/explusguests

http://www.marcmoulin.com/


Text by Chi Ming Lai
25th January 2021

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