Tag: OMD (Page 3 of 23)

25 SONGS NOT SUNG BY THE LEAD VOCALIST

Wikipedia says “The lead vocalist in popular music is typically the member of a group or band whose voice is the most prominent melody in a performance where multiple voices may be heard”.

It also adds “The lead vocalist may also be called the main vocalist or lead singer. Especially in rock music, the lead singer or solo singer is often the front man or front woman”. A BBC Radio 4 parody series ‘Radio Active’ first made the joke in 1981 that “Ringo Starr isn’t the best drummer in THE BEATLES” and in a similar way, it could be said that Bernard Sumner is not the best singer in NEW ORDER.

However, the lead vocalist is considered the figurehead and often the character of a band so regardless of what is said publicly about democracy, a hierarchy inevitably ensues.

But what happens when another member of the band takes their turn at the front? In most cases, it is just a one-off although sometimes it becomes recurring feature over successive albums. These tracks can meet with varying degrees of success, but there have even been occasions where the second vocalist eventually becomes lead singer! However, there have been strange situations where a less vocally competent instrumentalist is unhappy about the attention that a singer is getting and insists on switching roles, thus ensuring that the band does not play to any of its strengths!

So taking things back to front and with a limit of one track per act, ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK presents a list of 25 songs not sung by the lead vocalist in chronological, then alpnabetical order…


ULTRAVOX Mr X (1980)

Having been an idea that dated back to the John Foxx-era of ULTRAVOX just before his departure, the KRAFTWERK influenced robotic spy story of ‘Mr X’ was voiced by Warren Cann while Midge Ure was settling in as the band’s new lead vocalist. The track had begun as ‘Touch & Go’ and been premiered live. In a gentlemen’s agreement, keyboardist Billy Currie gave his melody of ‘He’s A Liquid’ in return for Foxx’s melody to ‘Touch & Go’, hence the structural similarity to ‘Mr X’.

Available on the album ‘Vienna’ via Chrysalis Records

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


DEPECHE MODE Any Second Now (1981)

Although now known as a songwriter, Martin Gore had contributed an instrumental ‘Big Muff’ and one song with lyrics ‘Tora! Tora! Tora!’ on DEPECHE MODE’s debut album. Written by Vince Clarke like most of ‘Speak & Spell’, ‘Any Second Now’ was a beautiful minimalist set piece that stood out amongst the dance friendly synthpop tunes and suited an understated tone of expression. And so began a tradition of Gore taking on DM’s ballads instead of front man Dave Gahan.

Available on the album ‘Speak & Spell’ via Sony Music

https://www.depechemode.com/


DRAMATIS Turn (1981)

DRAMATIS were the former Gary Numan live band and while they were musically virtuoso, the band’s Achilles’ heel was vocals. RRussell Bell and Denis Haines were the quartet’s main singers and Numan himself guested on their biggest hit ‘Love Needs No Disguise’. The classically trained multi-instrumentalist Chris Payne found himself a reluctant vocalist on a song he had written called ‘Turn’; “I have never felt comfortable about my own voice” he clarified.

Available on the album ‘For Future Reference’ via Cherry Red Records

https://www.discogs.com/artist/45761-Dramatis


NEW ORDER Doubts Even Here (1981)

After the end of JOY DIVISION, Peter Hook, Bernard Sumner and Stephen Morris reconvened as NEW ORDER while recruiting Gillian Gilbert on keyboards and guitar. Synths and drum machines were taking greater prominence but not entirely. While Sumner did the majority of the vocals on their debut album ‘Movement’, it was Hooky’s fraught delivery on ‘Doubts Even Here’ and words from The Bible spoken by Gilbert that provided the album’s most glorious moment.

Available on the album ‘Movement’ via Rhino

http://www.neworder.com/


KISSING THE PINK Watching Their Eyes (1982)

Best known for the profound anti-war statement ‘The Last Film’ which entered the Top20 in 1983, KISSING THE PINK had Nick Whitecross as their lead singer. Produced by Colin Thurston, the baroque opera tinged ‘Watching Their Eyes’ saw saxophonist Josephine Wells provide a haunting impassioned vocal. Wells went on to play live with TEARS FOR FEARS but sadly, she was to later battle her own traumas as a survivor of the Marchioness boat disaster in 1989.

Available on the album ‘Naked’ via Cherry Red Records

https://www.facebook.com/kissingthepink/


CHINA CRISIS Wishful Thinking (1983)

After his OMD success, Mike Howlett produced the most synth based CHINA CRISIS long player. Utilising Emulator strings and a pizzicato sample derived from plucking an acoustic guitar string close to the bridge, ‘Wishful Thinking’ was written and sung by guitarist Eddie Lundon. A sweetly textured, melodic pop single that deserved its hit status, lead singer Gary Daly responded with ‘Never Too Late’ but that song was shelved to B-side status for sounding too similar.

Available on the album ‘Working With Fire & Steel – Possible Pop Songs Volume 2’ via Caroline Records

https://www.facebook.com/chinacrisisofficial/


TEARS FOR FEARS The Hurting (1983)

While Roland Orzabal is more or less seen as TEARS FOR FEARS lead singer now, that is not how it was perceived at the start even though he sang their debut single ‘Suffer The Children’. Following three Top10 hit singles prior to the release of their debut album ‘The Hurting’, Curt Smith was considered the face and the voice of the band. Orzabal was main songwriter and sang lead on the title track with a more angst-ridden take than was heard on the Smith-fronted singles.

Available on the album ‘The Hurting’ via Mercury Records

https://tearsforfears.com/


YAZOO Happy People (1983)

Of Vince Clarke’s most polarising song since ‘What’s Your Name?’ for DEPECHE MODE, Alison Moyet said “That could have been the beginning of the end for us… in fact, no it wasn’t because Vince had already decided to leave. ‘Happy People’, I just tried singing it a couple of ways and I just hit him with ‘I can’t do this, you want it sung, you sing it yourself mate!’… so he sang it himself, fair play to him”. The song was an ironic send-up of middle aged political activists.

Available on the album ‘Three Pieces’ via Mute Records

https://yazooinfo.com/


BERLIN Rumor Of Love (1984)

Multi-instrumentalist John Crawford had proved himself a capable if almost anonymous singer when duetting with BERLIN front woman Terri Nunn on their 1982 breakthrough track ‘Sex (I’m A…)’. But for the B-side of the 1984 Giorgio Moroder produced single ‘No More Words’, Crawford did a lead vocal turn on the Mike Howlett-helmed ‘Rumor Of Love’ which echoed Scott Walker and ended up as a bonus track on the original edition of the ‘Love Life’ album

Available on the album ‘Love Life’ via Rubellan Records

https://www.berlinmusic.net/


OMD Never Turn Away (1984)

While Andy McCluskey was the lead singer of OMD, Paul Humphreys would see his less frequent vocalled tracks released as singles with ‘Souvenir’, ‘Secret’ and ‘Forever Live & Die’ becoming international hits. While their fifth ‘Junk Culture’ saw forays into brass sections, calypso and reggae, ‘Never Turn Away’ was a more traditional OMD ballad with Autumnal atmospheres but while it was a fine album track, it made little impression as a single release.

Available on the album ‘Junk Culture’ via Virgin Records

https://www.omd.uk.com/


PROPAGANDA Dream Within A Dream (1985)

While Susanne Freytag was the original PROPAGANDA vocalist with her stark narrative style, she soon stepped back in favour of her friend and TOPOLINOS bandmate Claudia Brücken. While Freytag’s Germanic prose remained vital on songs such as ‘Doctor Mabuse’ and ‘P-Machinery’, her vocal style suited the lead role on ‘Dream With A Dream’, a 9 minute epic which put a mighty soundtrack to accompany an Edgar Allan Poe poem which was first published in 1849.

Available on the album ‘A Secret Wish’ via ZTT Records

https://www.xpropaganda.co.uk/


KRAFTWERK The Telephone Call (1986)

On the disappointing ‘Techno Pop’ née ‘Electric Café’ album, Karl Bartos gave an assured performance in his only lead vocal for KRAFTWERK on ‘The Telephone Call’. While the assertive automated phone messages were a sharpened metaphor for female empowerment, band politics were at play when Ralf Hütter refused to let Bartos lip-synch his part on the monochromatic video although Wolfgang Flür got to mime a single phrase while cast in shadow.

Available on the album ‘Techno Pop’ via EMI Music

https://kraftwerk.com/


PET SHOP BOYS Paninaro (1986)

“Passion and love and sex and money – Violence, religion, injustice and death” went the opening phrases of Chris Lowe’s debut lead vocal for PET SHOP BOYS. Dryly spoken rather than sung, the track was a celebration of an Italian fashion cult. The middle eight featuring an ‘Entertainment Tonight’ interview saw Lowe deadpan: “I don’t like Country & Western. I don’t like rock music. I don’t like Rockabilly. I don’t like much, really, do I? But what I do like, I love passionately!”

Available on the album ‘Alternative’ via EMI Music

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


NITZER EBB Let Beauty Loose (1987)

With Douglas J McCarthy fronting NITZER EBB, the singing abilities of instrumentalist Bon Harris only came to the fore with his ‘Songs From the Lemon Tree’ lockdown live streams of solo covers often tinged with falsetto. But on the ‘That Total Age’ album, he had shouted his way through ‘Let Beauty Loose’, a typical slice of frantically paced EBM. Acting as a supersub in late 2021, Harris stood in for a hospitalised McCarthy at two NITZER EBB shows in Palm Beach and Toronto.

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

http://www.nitzer-ebb.com/


BOOK OF LOVE With A Little Love (1988)

Originally from Philadelphia, BOOK OF LOVE were started by school friends Susan Ottaviano and Ted Ottaviano who were not actually related. Jade Lee and Lauren Roselli Johnson joined later on and the quartet were invited to support DEPECHE MODE on two US tours while their single ‘I Touch Roses’ was reissued in a Daniel Miller remix. Although Susan Ottaviano was lead vocalist, Ted Ottaviano impressed on ‘With A Little Love’ which was co-produced by Flood.

Available on the album ’Lullaby’ via Noble Rot

https://www.bookoflovemusic.com/


CAMOUFLAGE Sooner Than We Think (1989)

German trio CAMOUFLAGE named themselves after a YELLOW MAGIC ORCHESTRA track. While Marcus Meyn was lead singer and the voice of hits like ‘The Great Commandment’, on their second album ‘Methods Of Silence’, both instrumentalists Heiko Maile and Oliver Kreyssig did a vocal turn, with the latter’s ‘Sooner Than We Think’ considered worthy enough to include on their first two Best Of compilations ‘We Stroke The Flames’ and ‘Rewind – The Best Of 95-87’.

Available on the album ‘Methods Of Silence’ via Universal Music

https://www.camouflage-music.com/en/News


KON KAN Move To Move (1989)

Despite Kevin Wynne being the voice on KON KAN’s sample heavy NEW ORDER inspired international hit ‘I Beg Your Pardon’, he was a hired hand as the mastermind behind the project was Canadian producer Barry Harris. The surprise success led to an album for which Wynne did most of the vocals for. However, Harris took the lead on the album’s title track. For the next two KON KAN albums ‘Syntonic’ and ‘Vida!’, Wynne was not recalled.

Available on the album ‘Move To Move’ via Atlantic Records

https://www.facebook.com/konkanofficial


THE HUMAN LEAGUE One Man In My Heart (1995)

Phil Oakey has often cited Susanne Sulley as the best singer in THE HUMAN LEAGUE. While she famously did a verse on the UK and US No1 ‘Don’t You Want Me?’ as well as various solo phrases on ‘(Keep Feeling) Fascination’ and ‘Heart Like A Wheel’, she didn’t get a lead vocal turn until ‘One Man In My Heart’. The format of the song fitted right in with the rise of female fronted trios like DUBSTAR, SAINT ETIENNE and PEACH.

Available on the album ‘Octopus’ via EastWest

https://thehumanleague.co.uk/


DURAN DURAN Medazzaland (1997)

After their panned 1995 covers album ‘Thank You’, DURAN DURAN were in a state of turmoil; Simon Le Bon was experiencing writer’s block while John Taylor was suffering from depression. This state of affairs led to Nick Rhodes working more closely with guitarist Warren Cuccurullo and the keyboardist taking a spoken word lead on the title track of the ‘Medazzaland’ album. Taylor left halfway through recording while the end product was only released in the US.

Available on the album ‘Medazzaland’ via Tape Modern

https://duranduran.com


LADYTRON True Mathematics (2002)

With a template similar to PROPAGANDA, LADYTRON had a singing vocalist in Helen Marnie while Mira Aroyo provided stark spoken prose in her native Bulgarian. While the latter had been an enticing subplot to ‘Discotraxx’ on the debut album ‘604’, Aroyo took the deadpan lead on the fierce ‘True Mathematics’ which opened their next album ‘Light & Magic’. Owing a debt to THE NORMAL’s ‘Warm Leatherette’, it premiered a much harder LADYTRON sound.

Available on the album ‘Light & Magic’ via Nettwerk

https://www.ladytron.com/


KID MOXIE Medium Pleasure – Marsheaux remix (2009)

KID MOXIE began as a duo comprising of Elena Charbila and Erica Zabowski, recording an EP ‘Human Stereo’ and album ‘Selector’. Although Charbila took the majority of the lead vocals in her airy continental style, Zabowski adopted more of a snarl on ‘Medium Pleasure’ with a lyric attacking cultural mediocrity. By the time ‘Selector’ was released, the pair had already parted.

Available on the album ‘Selector’ via Undo Records

https://www.facebook.com/kidmoxie


DE/VISION Kamikaze (2012)

Forming in 1988, German duo DE/VISION have been a mainstay in Europe for enthusiasts of darker electronic climes. Comprising of Steffen Keth on vocals and Thomas Adam on synths, their vast majority of their songs have been sung in English. For their 2012 album ‘Rockets & Swords’, there was a surprise in the penultimate song ‘Kamikaze’ which was not only voiced by Adam but also in Deutsch.

Available on the album ‘Rockets & Swords’ via Popgefahr Records

http://www.devision-music.de


TWINS NATALIA I Avoid Strangers (2014)

TWINS NATALIA comprised of Marc Schaffer, Steve Lippert, synth wizard Dave Hewson and singers Sharon Abbott and Julie Ruler, with the latter three from cult combo POEME ELECTRONIQUE. With classic Weimar Cabaret melodies and vibrant Kling Klang interplay, they conjured memories of holiday romances. But the uptempo ‘I Avoid Strangers’ featured Hewson on vocals, possessing a paranoia that suited the song perfectly.

Available on the album ‘The Destiny Room’ via Anna Logue Records

https://www.facebook.com/twinsnatalia


CHVRCHES High Enough To Carry You Over (2015)

The two Martin Doherty vocalled tracks on ‘The Bones Of What You Believe’ polarised opinion and his voice made an appearance again on the synth driven funk of ‘High Enough To Carry You Over’ for CHVRCHES second album ‘Every Open Eye’. While nowhere near as accomplished as main vocalist Lauren Mayberry, by taking on a more Americanised drawl in the vein of MISTER MISTER, this was a big improvement on the stoner vibe of his previos two singing attempts.

Available on the album ‘Every Open Eye’ via Virgin Records

http://chvrch.es/


APOPTYGMA BERZERK Nearest (2019)

The project of Norwegian Stephan Groth, APOPTYGMA BERZERK went Deutsch on the ‘Nein Danke!’ EP while displaying a prominent “NEWWAVESYNTHPOP” legend on its artwork. ‘Nearest’ saw Stephan’s live bandmate and brother Jonas step into the limelight on a chilled electronic ballad ‘Nearest’ that possessed the same ethereal qualities as the best known APOP track ‘Kathy’s Song’. Jonas Groth has since stepped fully up to the front in his own synthpop duo PISTON DAMP.

Available on the EP ‘Nein Danke!’ via Pitch Black Drive

http://www.theapboffice.com/


Text by Chi Ming Lai
Photo by Catrine Christensen
31st December 2022

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

CHINA CRISIS Live at The Stables

CHINA CRISIS, THIS IS YOUR LIFE!

It was to Laurie Johnson’s iconic TV theme tune that Gary Daly and Eddie Lundon walked onto the stage to celebrate the 40th Anniversary of CHINA CRISIS as a recording act with the ‘Classic Crisis – Greatest Hits’ show.

The location was The Stables in Wavendon, a village just on the edge of Milton Keynes; the venue had been originally established by jazz legends Sir John Dankworth and Dame Cleo Laine in 1970, within the former stables block of their home, hence the name.

The entertainment began with a few anecdotes from Daly; an engaging raconteur who could probably get a spot on BBC comedy showcase ‘Live At The Apollo’, he apologised for the lack of visuals which has been seen at other shows, as the laptop containing them had been stolen from his car along with some stage clothes. But the story didn’t end there as Daly had thoughtfully placed a tracker on the computer and told of how the band gave chase and ended up at a local supermarket. They spotted the thief dumping the stage clothes into a charity recycling bin before legging it with the laptop!

It was an evening filled with laughter and music as Daly continued about how he and Lundon had met at St Kevin’s Catholic Boy School in Kirkby near Liverpool and began making music together, partly because they just about hated everyone else who attended! Similarly to OMD, the duo purchased their first synthesizer from a Kays mail order catalogue belonging to Lundon’s mother; it was familiar to Daly as he recalled, for the ladies’ underwear section, which ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK would like to add, was always easy to find as it was after the ladies shoes section!

Settling on a monophonic Yamaha CS10, Lundon used it to play just three notes on their debut single ‘African & White’.

It was at this point that the musical part of the show began with regular sidemen Jack Hymers on synth and saxophonist Eric Animan joined by a drummer, backing vocalist, bassist and another two guitarists (including Stuart Nisbet who played with CHINA CRISIS in 1986-87) to become Merseyside’s answer to BLAZIN’ SQUAD!

In true ‘This Is Your Life’ style, the setlist was primarily chronological as CHINA CRISIS ran through the highlights of their career and told the stories that behind them. Daly took joy in reminiscing about how they were signed by Virgin Records and became a “threat” to label mates and rival Merseyside duo OMD; “When Paul Humphreys and Andy McCluskey saw our photos, they must have thought ‘the game’s over’” Daly delightfully quipped.

But while OMD were affectionately the butt of the humour throughout the evening with the CC33 front man stating “we wrote about our girlfriends, but Andy McCluskey wrote about atomic bombs and genetics, typical pretentious sixth former…”, CHINA CRISIS were capable of haunting anti-war commentary too, as their first hit ‘Christian’ taken off the ‘Difficult Shapes & Passive Rhythms’ album proved. Meanwhile ‘Here Comes A Raincloud’ was an emotive observation on the plight of the working classes in Merseyside as it was ripped apart under the leadership of Margaret Thatcher.


Given a slight Mexican flavour, CHINA CRISIS’ biggest UK hit ‘Wishful Thinking’ was followed by its sister song ‘It’s Never Too Late’, a rare number even in the wider Crisis Canon and deservedly given a platform on this 40th Anniversary tour.

Written by Daly in response to the Lundon-penned ‘Wishful Thinking’, it was originally recorded as part of the ‘Working With Fire & Steel’ album sessions produced by Mike Howlett.

However ‘It’s Never Too Late’ was dropped from the tracklisting for having a similar Emulator I string aesthetic and arrangement despite being of equal quality; it ended up being a bonus song on the limited edition second 12” of ‘Black Man Ray’ so was hardly heard even by CHINA CRISIS fans until it showed up on the 2017 deluxe reissue of third album ‘Flaunt The Imperfection’. “We should have released it after ‘Wishful Thinking’, we would have had another international hit and wouldn’t be here!” bantered Daly, “Like how many times have OMD played The Stables??? Like NEVER!”

‘Black Man Ray’ closed the first half of the show, with Daly recalling the excitement of working with the late Walter Becker of STEELY DAN who was bowled over by the song’s catchy simplicity. But he warned the audience that the second half would feature less hits but still lots of good songs; this was delivered with ‘It’s Everything’ from ‘What Price Paradise’ and the 1986 album’s lead single ‘Arizona Sky’, a song which today sounds like the massive hit it never actually was.

After ‘Sweet Charity In Adoration’ off 1989’s ‘Diary Of A Hollow Horse’ which had been recorded in Hawaii with Walter Becker and passing over the 1994 long player ‘Warped By Success’, CHINA CRISIS quickly moved onto songs from their crowdfunded comeback record ‘Autumn In The Neighbourhood’ issued in 2015.

Following the smooth ‘Fool’, a tune developing on the soulful moods of ‘You Did Cut Me’ featuring Lundon on lead vocals, the show concluded with what Daly termed “a Saturday Night Disco”.

After the mature audience stood and danced to the bouncy pop grooves of ‘King In A Catholic Style’ and ‘Tragedy & Mystery’, the final wind down came with ‘My Sweet Delight’ from ‘Autumn In The Neighbourhood’ as a poignant dedication to loved ones who have passed on…

While CHINA CRISIS didn’t achieve quite as many hits as their Virgin label mates OMD, THE HUMAN LEAGUE and SIMPLE MINDS did, they still had enough of them to enable them to work with their musical heroes, see the world and are today still popular enough to tour regularly with North America as well as their first shows in Australia and New Zealand now on the 2022 itinerary.

With a 50th Anniversary tour unlikely as Daly joked to everyone present that “half of you won’t be here!”, this was an enjoyable and entertaining celebration of possible pop songs, savouring not just the music but the enlightening and comical stories that helped to inspire them as well.


‘What Price Paradise’ is reissued as a 3CD deluxe set by Virgin Records

The ‘Classic Crisis – Greatest Hits’ live DVD is released on 22nd July 2022, pre-order from https://www.musicglue.com/chinacrisis/

CHINA CRISIS tour North America in June / July 2022 and Australia / New Zealand in December 2022 while they will be opening for Kim Wilde on her ‘Greatest Hits’ UK tour in September 2022

https://www.facebook.com/chinacrisisofficial/

https://twitter.com/ChinaCrisisUK

https://www.instagram.com/garydalymusic/

https://open.spotify.com/artist/0WUphJOGHE5i95IeR87hsO


Text and Photos by Chi Ming Lai
25th April 2022

MUSIK MUSIC MUSIQUE 2.0 1981 | The Rise Of Synth Pop

1981 is the year covered by the second instalment of Cherry Red’s ‘Musik Music Musique’ series.

1980 was something of a transition year for the synth as it knocked on the door of the mainstream charts but by 1981, it was more or less let in with welcome arms. From the same team behind the ‘Close To The Noise Floor’ compendiums and the most excellent ‘Electrical Language’ boxed set, ‘Musik Music Musique 2.0 1981 – The Rise Of Synth Pop’ presents rarities alongside hits and key album tracks from what many consider the best year in music and one that contributes the most to the legacy of electronic music in its wider acceptance and impact.

Featuring HEAVEN 17  with ‘(We Don’t Need This) Fascist Groove Thang’, OMD with ‘Souvenir’ and the eponymous single by VISAGE, these songs are iconic 1981 canon that need no further discussion. Meanwhile the longevity of magnificent album tracks such as ‘Frustration’ by SOFT CELL and ‘I Remember (Death In The Afternoon)’ by ULTRAVOX can be summed by the fact that they have featured in 21st Century live sets alongside their parent acts’ hits.

Although not quite as celebrated, ‘You Were There’ from pastoral second John Foxx long player ‘The Garden’ captures the move from stark JG Ballard imagery to something almost romantic. DEVO are represented by the LinnDrum driven ‘Through Being Cool’, the opener of the ‘New Traditionalists’ album which comes as a statement that the mainstream was their next target; the Akron quintet were one of the many acts signed by Virgin Records as the label focussed on a synth focussed takeover that ultimately shaped the sonic landscape of 1981.

Then there’s TEARS FOR FEARS’ promising debut ‘Suffer The Children’ in its original synthier single recording and The Blitz Club favourite ‘Bostich’ from quirky Swiss pioneers YELLO. Another Blitz staple ‘No GDM’ from GINA X PERFORMANCE gets included despite being of 1978 vintage due to its first UK single release in 1981. The use of synth came in all sorts of shapes and FASHIØN presented a funkier take with ‘Move Øn’ while the track’s producer Zeus B Held took a more typically offbeat kosmische approach on his own ‘Cowboy On The Beach’.

Pivotal releases by JAPAN with the ‘The Art Of Parties’ (here in the more metallic ‘Tin Drum’ album version) and A FLOCK OF SEAGULLS ‘(It’s Not Me) Talking’ highlight those bands’ then-potential for mainstream success. But in the battle of the New Romantic boy bands, the sitar tinged DURAN DURAN B-side ‘Khanada’ easily blows away the SPANDAU BALLET album track ‘Reformation’ in an ominous sign as to who would crack it biggest worldwide.

The great lost band of this era, B-MOVIE issued the first of several versions of ‘Nowhere Girl’ in December 1980 on Dead Good Records and its inclusion showcases the song’s promise which was then more fully realised on the 1982 Some Bizzare single produced by the late Steve Brown although sadly, this was still not a hit.

The best and most synth flavoured pop hits from the period’s feisty females like Kim Wilde and Toyah are appropriate inclusions, as is Hazel O’Connor’s largely forgotten SPARKS homage ‘(Cover Plus) We’re All Grown Up’. But the less said about racist novelty records such as ‘Japanese Boy’ by Aneka, the better… the actual nation of Japan though is correctly represented by their most notable electronic exponents YELLOW MAGIC ORCHESTRA with ‘Cue’ from ‘BGM’, the first release to feature the Roland TR808 Rhythm Composer.

With these type of boxed sets, it’s the less familiar tracks that are always the most interesting. As the best looking member of TANGERINE DREAM, Peter Baumann had a crack at the single charts with the catchy Robert Palmer produced ‘Repeat, Repeat’ while former Gary Numan backing band DRAMATIS are represented by ‘Lady DJ’ although its epic A side ‘Ex Luna Scientia’ would have equally merited inclusion. But BEASTS IN CAGES who later became HARD CORPS stand out with the stark dystopia of ‘Sandcastles’.

The one that “should-have-been-a-pop-hit” is the ABBA-esque ‘I Can’t Hold On’ by Natasha England and it’s a shame that her career is remembered for a lame opportunistic cover of ‘Iko Iko’ rather than this, but the delightful ‘Twelfth House’ demonstrates again how under-rated Tony Mansfield’s NEW MUSIK were, and this with a B-side!

The rather fraught ‘Wonderlust’ by THE FALLOUT CLUB captures the late Trevor Herion in fine form on a Thomas Dolby produced number with a dramatic Spaghetti Western flavour that is lushly sculpted with electronics. Over a more sedate rhythm box mantra, ‘Love Moves In Strange Ways’ from BLUE ZOO swirls with a not entirely dissimilar mood.

Mute Records founder Daniel Miller was breaking through with his productions for DEPECHE MODE in 1981, but representation on ‘Musik Music Musique 2.0’ comes via the colder austere of ‘Science Fiction’ by Alan Burnham. ‘West End’ by Thomas Leer adds some jazzy freeform synth soloing to the vocal free backdrop, while ‘Surface Tension’ from ANALYSIS is an appealing instrumental.

The strangely accessible weirdness of CHRIS & COSEY’s ‘This Is Me’, MYSTERY PLANE’s ‘Something To Prove’ and the gritty ‘Brix’ from PORTION CONTROL will delight those more into the leftfield, while AK-47’s ‘Stop! Dance!’, the work of Simon Leonard (later of I START COUNTING and KOMPUTER fame) is another DIY experiment in that aesthetic vein.

Some tracks are interesting but not essential like Richard Bone’s ‘Alien Girl’ which comes over like an amusing pub singer SILICON TEENS, Johnny Warman’s appealing robopop on ‘Will You Dance With Me?’ and the synth dressed New Wave of ‘Close-Up’ by THOSE FRENCH GIRLS. For something more typically artschool, there’s the timpani laden ‘Taboos’ by THE PASSAGE and SECOND LAYER’s screechy ‘In Bits’.

More surprising is Swedish songstress Virna Lindt with her ‘Young & Hip’ which oddly combines showtune theatrics with blippy synth and ska! The set ends rather fittingly with Cherry Red’s very own EYELESS IN GAZA with the abstract atmospherics of ‘The Eyes Of Beautiful Losers’ although they too would eventually produce their own rousing synthpop statement ‘Sunbursts In’ in 1984.

Outside of the music, the booklet is a bit disappointing with the photos of OMD, TEARS FOR FEARS, HEAVEN 17, B-MOVIE and a glam-bouffanted Kim Wilde all coming from the wrong eras. And while the liner notes provide helpful information on the lesser known acts, clangers such as stating Toyah’s ‘Thunder In The Mountains’ was from the album ‘The Changeling’ when it was a standalone 45, “GONG’s Mike Hewlett” and “memorable sleeve designs by Malcolm Garrett’s Altered IMaGes” do not help those who wish to discover the origins of those accumulated gems.

But these quibbles aside, overall ‘Musik Music Musique 2.0’ is a good collection, although with fewer rare jewels compared with the first 1980 volume which perhaps points to the fact that those who had the shine to breakthrough actually did… 40 years on though, many of those hit making acts (or variations of) are still performing live in some form.

Was 1981 the most important year in synth as far becoming ubiquitous in the mainstream and hitting the top of the charts internationally? With VISAGE’s ‘Fade To Grey’ becoming a West German No1 in Spring 1981 through to SOFT CELL taking the summer topspot in the UK and culminating in THE HUMAN LEAGUE eventually taking ‘Don’t You Want Me?’ to No1 in the US, the sound of synth had done its job. Setting the scene for 1982 and 1983, further editions of ‘Musik Music Musique’ are planned.


‘Musik Music Musique 2.0 1981 – The Rise Of Synth Pop’ is released by Cherry Red on 15th October 2021 as a 3CD boxed set

https://www.cherryred.co.uk/product/musik-music-musique-2-0-the-rise-of-synth-pop-3cd-clamshell-box/


Text by Chi Ming Lai
12th October 2021

THE ELECTRONIC LEGACY OF 1981

Was 1981 the most important year in synth as far becoming ubiquitous in the mainstream and hitting the top of the charts internationally?

Yes, ‘Autobahn’ and ‘Oxygène’ came before, while the Giorgio Moroder produced ‘I Feel Love’ by Donna Summer is acknowledged as being the track that changed pop music forever and still sounds like the future even in the 21st Century. French electronic disco like ‘Magic Fly’ and ‘Supernature’ also made its impact.

Meanwhile closer to home, a post-punk revolution was already permeating in the UK with the advent of affordable synthesizers from Japan being adopted by the likes of THE NORMAL, THROBBING GRISTLE, CABARET VOLTAIRE and THE HUMAN LEAGUE. But it was Gary Numan who took the sound of British synth to No1 with ‘Are Friends Electric?’ and ‘Cars’ in 1979. It signalled a change in the musical landscape as the synth was considered a worthy mode of youthful expression rather than as a novelty, using one finger instead of three chords.

Despite first albums from John Foxx and OMD, 1980 was a transitional time when the synth was still the exception rather than the rule. But things were changing and there had also been the release of the first Midge Ure-fronted ULTRAVOX album ‘Vienna’ and the eponymous debut long player by VISAGE just as The Blitz Club and the New Romantic movement were making headlines. With the acclaim for the ‘Some Bizarre Album’ in early 1981 which launched the careers of DEPECHE MODE, SOFT CELL, BLANCMANGE, THE THE and B-MOVIE, a wider electronic breakthrough was now almost inevitable.

VISAGE’s ‘Fade To Grey’ went on to be a West German No1 in Spring 1981 and this exciting period culminated in THE HUMAN LEAGUE taking ‘Don’t You Want Me?’ to the top spot in the US six months year after becoming the 1981 UK Christmas No1. It would be fair to say that after this, the purer sound of synth was never quite the same again.

For many listeners, 1981 was a formative year and had so many significant new releases that it was difficult to stretch the limited pocket money to fund album purchases. ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK even took to selling bootleg C90 cassettes on the school playground, promising a value-for-money “two albums for one” deal to support this disgusting habit!

Looking back to four decades ago when there were also albums from DEVO, EURYTHMICS, FAD GADGET, LOGIC SYSTEM, SPANDAU BALLET, SPARKS and TANGERINE DREAM, here are twenty albums which ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK sees as contributing to the electronic legacy of 1981. Listed in alphabetical order with the restriction of one album per artist moniker, this is the way it was in the past, a long long time ago…


DAF Alles Ist Gut

The late Gabi Delgado and Robert Görl released an acclaimed album trilogy produced by Conny Plank. The first ‘Alles Ist Gut’ featured their fierce breakthrough track ‘Der Mussolini’ which flirted with right wing imagery in its sardonic reflections on ideology. Causing controversy and confusing observers, DAF attracted a following which Delgado hated. Despite his parents escaping from the Franco regime in Spain, he was always unapologetic about his lyrical provocation.

‘Alles Ist Gut’ is still available via Grönland Records

http://www.robert-goerl.de/


DEPECHE MODE Speak & Spell

Having conceived the idea of a teenage synthpop group called SILICON TEENS, this dream of Daniel Miller became flesh and blood when he came across a young quartet from Basildon called DEPECHE MODE. Signing on a handshake 50/50 deal to his Mute Records, the group became a chart success. Despite great songs like ‘Puppets’ and ‘Tora! Tora! Tora!’, the group fragmented on the release of their 1981 debut album ‘Speak & Spell’.

‘Speak & Spell’ is still available via Mute Records

http://www.depechemode.com/


DRAMATIS For Future Reference

Following the live ‘retirement’ of Gary Numan, four of his erstwhile backing band became DRAMATIS. RRussell Bell, Denis Haines, Chris Payne and Ced Sharpley had been instrumental in the success of Numan’s powerful live presentation and their only album showcased the band’s virtuoso abilities. While the use of four different lead vocalists (including Numan himself on the superb ‘Love Needs No Disguise’) confused the continuity of the album, musically, there was much to enjoy.

‘For Future Reference’ is now available via Cherry Red Records

http://www.numanme.co.uk/numanme/Dramatis.htm


DURAN DURAN Duran Duran

It would be fair to say that DURAN DURAN took the arty poise of JAPAN and toned down their androgynous outré to make it more accessible. But their enduring appeal ofis great timeless pop songs and that was apparent on the self-titled debut album which at times sounded like an electronic band with a heavy metal guitarist bolted on, especially on ‘Careless Memories’ and ‘Friends Of Mine’. But most will just remember the two hits ‘Planet Earth’ and ‘Girls on Film’.

‘Duran Duran’ is still available via EMI Records

http://www.duranduran.com/


JOHN FOXX The Garden

Thawing considerably following ‘Metamatic’, John Foxx admitted he had been “reading too much JG Ballard”. Exploring beautiful Italian gardens, his new mood was reflected in his music. ‘The Garden’  featured acoustic guitar and piano as showcased in the Linn Drum driven single ‘Europe After The Rain’. With choral experiments like ‘Pater Noster’, a return to art rock on ‘Walk Away’ and the more pastoral climes of the title track, Foxx had now achieved his system of romance.

‘The Garden’ is still available via Edsel Records

http://www.metamatic.com/


HEAVEN 17 Penthouse & Pavement

HEAVEN 17’s debut ‘Penthouse & Pavement’ was a landmark achievement, combining electronics with pop hooks and disco sounds while adding witty social and political commentary, taking in yuppie aspiration and mutually assured destruction. The first ‘Pavement’ side was a showcase of hybrid funk driven. The second ‘Penthouse’ side was like an extension of THE HUMAN LEAGUE’s ‘Travelogue’, Martyn Ware and Ian Craig Marsh’s swansong with the band.

‘Penthouse & Pavement’ is still available via Virgin Records

http://www.heaven17.com/


THE HUMAN LEAGUE Dare

Philip Oakey and Adrian Wright recruited Susanne Sulley, Joanne Catherall, Jo Callis and Ian Burden to record ‘Dare’ produced by Martin Rushent. Like KRAFTWERK meeting ABBA, the dreamboat collection of worldwide hits like ‘Love Action’ and ‘Don’t You Want Me?’ had a marvellous supporting cast in ‘The Things That Dreams Are Made Of’, ‘I Am The Law’, ‘Seconds’ and ‘Darkness’. Only the Linn Drum rework of ‘The Sound Of The Crowd’ blotted the album’s near perfection.

‘Dare’ is still available via Virgin Records

http://www.thehumanleague.co.uk/


JAPAN Tin Drum

JAPAN took the influences of the Far East even further with ‘Tin Drum’. A much more minimal album, there was hardly any guitar while the synths used were restricted to an Oberheim OBX, Prophet 5 and occasionally the Roland System 700. David Sylvian’s lyrical themes flirted with Chinese Communism as Brian Eno had done on ‘Taking Tiger Mountain (By Strategy), highlighted by the pentatonic polyrhythmic single ‘Visions Of China’ and its less frantic sister song ‘Cantonese Boy’.

‘Tin Drum’ is still available via Virgin Records

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


JEAN-MICHEL JARRE Magnetic Fields

With his synthesized symphonies, Jean-Michel Jarre helped popularise the sound of electronic music. ‘Magnetic Fields’ was his first long player to utilise the Fairlight CMI which allowed him to absorb some musique concrete ideas such as water splashing and hydraulic train doors into his compositions. Featuring the klanky Korg Rhythm KR55, it was a much more percussive album than ‘Oxygène’ and ‘Equinoxe’ had been, complementing the metallic textures that featured.

‘Magnetic Fields’ is still available via Sony Music

http://jeanmicheljarre.com/


JON & VANGELIS The Friends Of Mr Cairo

Having scored an unexpected UK hit with the sonic beauty of ‘I Hear You Now’, Jon Anderson and Vangelis presented a second album in ‘The Friends Of Mr Cairo’. Featuring ‘State Of Independence’ which was to become a hit for Donna Summer, the album was laced with spiritual overtones over symphonic synths, cinematic piano and dialogue samples from films. However, the album is best known for ‘I’ll Find My Way Home’ which had not been included on the original tracklisting.

‘The Friends Of Mr Cairo’ is still available via Polydor Records

https://www.jonanderson.com/

https://www.facebook.com/VangelisOfficial/


KRAFTWERK Computer World

‘Computer World’ could be considered one of the most prophetic albums of its time. KRAFTWERK forsaw the cultural impact of internet dating on ‘Computer Love’, but the title track highlighted the more sinister implications of surveillance by “Interpol and Deutsche Bank, FBI and Scotland Yard” with the consequences of its prophecy still very relevant discussion points today. But the dynamic rhythmic template of ‘Numbers’ was to have a major impact on Urban America.

‘Computer World’ is still available via EMI Records

http://www.kraftwerk.com/


LANDSCAPE From The Tea Rooms Of Mars To The Hell-holes Of Uranus

LANDSCAPE were led by producer Richard James Burgess who co-designed the Simmons SDSV. Using a Lyricon wind-controlled synth as its lead hook, ‘Einstein A-Go-Go’ was a fabulously cartoon-like tune about nuclear weapons falling into the hands of theocratic dictators and religious extremists! Meanwhile, ‘European Man’ predated EDM by having the phrase “electronic dance music” emblazoned on its single sleeve.

‘From The Tea Rooms Of Mars To The Hell-holes Of Uranus’ is still available via Cherry Red Records

https://twitter.com/Landscape_band


NEW ORDER Movement

Rising from the ashes of JOY DIVISION, Peter Hook, Bernard Sumner and Stephen Morris chose the name NEW ORDER as a symbol of their fresh start and after deciding against recruiting a new vocalist, Morris’ girlfriend and later wife, Gillian Gilbert was recruited. Despite Martin Hannett still producing, recording sessions were fraught although synths were taking greater prominence while Morris used a Doctor Rhythm DR55 drum machine on ‘Truth’ and ‘Doubts Even Here’.

http://www.neworder.com/


GARY NUMAN Dance

Following his ‘retirement’ from live performance, the last thing Numanoids expected was an understated Brian Eno homage. At nearly an hour’s playing time, ‘Dance’ outstayed its welcome with ‘Slowcar To China’ and ‘Cry The Clock Said’ stretching to 10 minutes. Much was made of JAPAN’s Mick Karn playing fretless bass although he was only on five of the eleven tracks. In ‘A Subway Called You’ and ‘Crash’, there were some great moments.

‘Dance’ is still available via Beggars Banquet Records

https://garynuman.com/


OMD Architecture & Morality

”I think ‘Architecture & Morality’ was a complete album, it was just so whole” said Paul Humphreys in 2010. The big booming ambience next to big blocks of Mellotron choir gave OMD their masterpiece, tinged more with LA DÜSSELDORF rather than KRAFTWERK. Featuring two spirited songs about ‘Joan Of Arc’, these were to become another pair of UK Top 5 hits with the ‘Maid of Orleans’ variant also becoming 1982’s biggest selling single in West Germany.

‘Architecture & Morality’ is still available via Virgin Records

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


SIMPLE MINDS Sons & Fascination / Sister Feelings Call

This generally overlooked double opus exploited the Germanic influences of SIMPLE MINDS to the full, under the production auspices of Steve Hillage. From the singles ‘The American’ and ‘Love Song’ to the mighty instrumental ‘Theme For Great Cities’ and the unsettling dentist drill menace of ‘70 Cities As Love Brings The Fall’, with basslines articulating alongside synths and guitars almost as one, this was SIMPLE MINDS at close to their very best.

‘Sons & Fascination / Sister Feelings Call’ is still available via Virgin Records

https://www.simpleminds.com/


SOFT CELL Non-Stop Erotic Cabaret

In their cover of ‘Tainted Love’, SOFT CELL provided the first true Synth Britannia crossover record. One of the best albums of 1981, ‘Non-Stop Erotic Cabaret’ captured the edginess of minimal synth arrangements while married to an actual tune. At the time, art school boys Marc Almond and Dave Ball were rated higher than DEPECHE MODE. But with the  follow-up success of the Top5 singles ‘Bedsitter’ and ‘Say Hello Wave Goodbye’, the pair became reluctant popstars.

‘Non-Stop Erotic Cabaret’ is still available via Mercury Records

https://www.softcell.co.uk/


TELEX‎ Sex

‘Sex’ was Belgian trio TELEX’s third album and a collaboration with SPARKS that saw them contribute lyrics to all nine tracks. Experiments in swing on ‘Sigmund Freud’s Party’ displayed a sophisticated vintage musicality and ‘Haven’t We Met Somewhere Before?’ was the hit single that never was. Meanwhile, like KRAFTWERK meeting YELLOW MAGIC ORCHESTRA, ‘Brainwash’ was quite obviously the blueprint for LCD SOUNDSYSTEM’s ‘Get Innocuous!’.

‘Sex’ was released by Ariola, currently unavailable

https://www.facebook.com/TELEX-312492439327342


ULTRAVOX Rage In Eden

‘Rage in Eden’ began with the optimistic spark of ‘The Voice’ but it was something of a paranoia ridden affair from ULTRAVOX having been created at Conny Plank’s remote countryside studio near Cologne. There was synthetic bass power on ‘The Thin Wall’, ‘We Stand Alone’ and ‘I Remember (Death In The Afternoon)’, but there was also the tape experimentation of the title track using the chorus of ‘I Remember’ played backwards to give an eerie Arabic toned effect.

‘Rage In Eden’ is still available via EMI Records

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


YELLOW MAGIC ORCHESTRA BGM

‘BGM’, the third full length album from YELLOW MAGIC ORCHESTRA was the first recording to feature the now iconic Roland TR-808 Rhythm Composer and was also made using a digital 3M 32-track machine. More experimental than their first Technopop focussed long players, the best song ‘Camouflage’ was a curious beat laden blend of Eastern pentatonics and Western metallics from which the German synth band CAMOUFLAGE took their name.

‘BGM’ is still available via Sony Music

http://www.ymo.org/


Text by Chi Ming Lai
9th January 2021

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