With THE ART OF NOISE’s influential and innovative reputation, this live gig was never going to be an ordinary one.
The British Library is certainly not your run of the mill venue either and this show was part of ‘A Season of Sound’, a celebration of the Library’s extensive Sound Archive which hosts in excess of 6 millions recordings.
With their reputation as early pioneers of sampling and use of the Fairlight to grab found sounds alongside more conventional drums and synth textures, this reboot of THE ART OF NOISE made a perfect fit to help celebrate the Library’s own collection of audio.
Special mention must be given to the show’s sound system, a sonically stunning Bowers & Wilkins set-up which throughout the evening delivered audiophile quality live sound, something which you rarely get at gigs these days. The sound system, a cut-down version of the one used at Primavera Sound Festival, which was apparently worth close to a million Euros became a real draw for crowds there.
The PA system was put to good use prior to the band coming on stage, with the audience being treated to a superb ‘Blessed Are The Noisemakers’ mixtape by Kevin Foakes aka DJ Food, with different AON-related tracks like remixes of SCRITTI POLITTI and FRANKIE GOES TO HOLLYWOOD plus snippets of 10CC in ‘Life is a Minestrone’ and ‘I’m Not In Love’ in honour of Lol Creme who was a member of both acts.
As the band walked on stage, the screen behind became a Fairlight boot-up page, with each musician being ‘initialised’ in a kind of homage to KRAFTWERK who apparently shelved their ‘Technopop’ album after hearing AON’s pioneering sampling work.
Sadly there were no actual Fairlights on stage, but each member had Mac screens with the iconic green on black text to reference the machine which was so pivotal to the band’s sound. From left to right the set-up was Anne Dudley on synths / digital piano / electronic percussion, Gary Langan on mixing duties / percussion and JJ Jeczalik on Arturia Matrixbrute synth / Roland electronic percussion.
Also present but via a couple of pre-recorded video clips was ex-member Paul Morley… this was a bit of a surprise as the ZTT split with AON was very acrimonious. Although billed as an ‘In Visible Silence’ gig, the show was still very much a greatest hits set, with a few choice cuts taken from the trio’s aforementioned second album.
After introductory track ‘Instruments Of Darkness’, there was an early airing of ‘Beatbox’ from the band’s debut EP ‘Into Battle With…’ followed by an all-too-short rendition of ‘Camille’, the band’s ‘Moments in Love’ Part Two.
‘Paranoimia’ featuring Max Headroom was next to appear with suitably appropriate graphics behind the band before the stunningly beautiful ‘Moments In Love’.
This was preceded by an introduction from JJ on the various uses of the track, from a Brylcreem advert through to its usage at MADONNA’s wedding to Sean Penn!
To keep the sample trainspotters happy, there was an interesting mid-set diversion when JJ explained the background behind some of the AON samples used. This included the rhythm track for ‘Eye Of A Needle’ which samples the sound from a squash game; the ball being hit, the squeak of a training shoe on the court and the start of a groan from the impact of someone being hit by the ball. Also included was a special mention for the cash register sound which also ended up on ABC’s ‘Date Stamp’ from ‘The Lexicon Of Love’.
One of the more experimental pieces from the bands’ back catalogue, the Steve Reich-inspired ‘Opus’ with its looped / cut-up vocals was up next, followed by AON’s breakthrough hit ‘Close (To The Edit’). Complete with an extended and very comical three-way car not starting sample-off; this track received the best reception on the night and the now iconic “Hey!” vocal additionally recalled THE PRODIGY’s ‘Firestarter’ which sampled it. After a short break, the band came back on for an encore of ‘Peter Gunn’ with its Rik Mayall promo video projected behind, as the trio left the stage to a rolling set of credits behind them.
This gig was a real bucket list moment for many, the band had supported THE HUMAN LEAGUE last year in Liverpool, but live shows by the ex-AON members have been few and far between.
The deservedly rapturous reception that Dudley, Jeczalik and Langan received for their British Library gig should hopefully spur them into doing more dates as they are an utterly engaging live act with a pioneering back catalogue that is more than worthy of being re-visited.
If you get a chance to see this line-up (especially with a B&W sound system), don’t hesitate, it’s a timely reminder of how incredibly influential AON were and helps to cement their position in electronic music history.
‘Influence’ is still available as a double CD via Union Square
“I told a TV Crew it was ‘an absolute fallacy that we tell people what to wear and do’. Guess what? I lied. That was exactly what we did.”: TOM WATKINS
‘Let’s Make Lots of Money: Secrets of a Rich, Fat, Gay, Lucky Bastard’ is the frank autobiography of Tom Watkins, the Pop Svengali best known for managing PET SHOP BOYS, BROS and EAST 17.
Co-written with Matthew Lindsay, the title is provocative. But then, Watkins has always been that kind of a personality. Called “A big man with a loud voice” by Neil Tennant, his high profile as a manager came with a bolshy ability to extract favourable deals, whether it was for his various charges or himself; it is rumoured that Watkins took 20% commission on gross income from PET SHOP BOYS and BROS.
With his earlier success founding the design agency XL, it could be argued that Watkins helped shaped an era in modern pop. Watkins first met the future PET SHOP BOYS vocalist at Marvel Comics, before Tennant moved on to become Deputy Editor of pop rag ‘Smash Hits’ in 1982.
In the book, he recalls gleefully about hearing how Tennant got into an argument with then-NME journalist Paul Morley at the launch party of Dave Rimmer’s book ‘Like Punk Never Happened: Culture Club and the New Pop’, and settled the dispute by kicking the belligerent scribe in the shins!
Watkins was to cross paths himself with Morley. Having spent his younger years as a design student, later working under Terence Conran and Rodney Fitch, he eventually established XL.
Their artwork adorned the sleeves of KIM WILDE, OMD, NIK KERSHAW, WHAM! and most famously Zang Tuum Tumb (ZTT), the label founded by Paul Morley, Trevor Horn and Jill Sinclair with which THE ART OF NOISE and FRANKIE GOES TO HOLLYWOOD shot to stardom. XL were later to employ a junior designer named Mark Farrow.
Of his relationship with ZTT, Watkins says Trevor Horn was “an adorable space cadet” while Paul Morley was patronising, rude and miserable. Back in 1983, there was no Google so eager to learn, Watkins asked what Zang Tuum Tumb actually meant; Morley’s sneering answer was “It’s the sound the snare drum makes” before sniggering at him. So when Watkins eventually found out about its origins with the Italian Futurists, he felt humiliated, with the assertion that “Only a real prick ridicules someone for asking a question…” – Watkins had the last laugh though when Sinclair and Horn commissioned him to design the interior of Sarm West Studios.
In hindsight, the two brash characters were unlikely to have ever got on and Watkins concedes now “Maybe Zang Tuum Tumb was supposed to be like the sound of a drum machine as well. Maybe I was just being a big, pretty diva…” – but the strange thing is today, even with Google to hand, there are still music journalists who can’t tell their tape recorders from their drum machines.
It was under the XL umbrella that Watkins began his professional relationship with PET SHOP BOYS, designing the sleeve of the original Bobby Orlando produced version of ‘West End Girls’ released by Epic Records in 1984.
But after it flopped and PET SHOP BOYS were dropped, Tennant asked Watkins to manage them, impressed by his FRANKIE GOES TO HOLLYWOOD associations. Watkins loved ‘West End Girls’ and in particular, a sweeping piece of grandeur entitled ‘Jealously’ which Tennant had written in response to a friend who had resented the time he was spending with musical partner Chris Lowe.
Watkins happily accepted, safe in the knowledge that WHAM! and JAPAN manager Simon Napier-Bell had already declined to listen to a demo tape Tennant had given him containing ‘Opportunities (Let’s Make Lots Of Money)’, ‘West End Girls’ and ‘It’s A Sin’.
One of Watkins’ best lines in the book is “you can’t make chicken soup out of chicken sh*t” and he was well aware that a unique selling point was vital to an act’s success. Reflecting one of the issues that could be applied to today’s UK electronic music scene, EMI A&R man Dave Ambrose told Watkins of GIGGLES, his previous foray into band management: “There isn’t anything wrong with them. But there’s not a lot right with them either”.
Despite having some killer songs, Watkins now had the dilemma of how to sell PET SHOP BOYS visually. The first PSB gigs in 1984 at Brixton Fridge and in Luxembourg saw Tennant trying to do his best Bowie impression, while Lowe gyrated and pelvic thrusted his keyboard; neither were particularly comfortable with their actions.
Meanwhile as the “mean (if hardly lean) bullsh*t machine”, Watkins went back to Dave Ambrose with ‘West End Girls’ as the perfect show reel. The man who had signed SEX PISTOLS, DURAN DURAN and TALK TALK to EMI welcomed PET SHOP BOYS into the empire.
Tennant departed ‘Smash Hits’ and at his leaving party, his colleagues presented him with a mocked-up front cover which read: “HOW I LEFT BRITAIN’S BRIGHTEST MAGAZINE TO FORM MY TRAGIC POP GROUP, WENT DOWN THE DUMPER AND ASKED FOR MY JOB BACK” – little did they know that Tennant would grace their front cover within nine months!
Watkins’ attempts to get PET SHOP BOYS to “sex it up” fell on deaf ears though. Tennant and Lowe wanted to be enigmatic; they exuded a Northern contrariness that was the antithesis of DURAN DURAN, SPANDAU BALLET and WHAM! Still not entirely convinced, Watkins recalls the horror of seeing their first ‘Top Of The Pops’ appearance in late 1985: “They don’t do anything. How are people going to go for this?” – but go for it they did!
Despite realising he had a phenomenon on his hands, Watkins did exert his management veto on a few occasions, notably when the duo had the rather pretentious idea of issuing a manifesto called ‘Two In A Million’ to the UK press in Italian! His defensive response in these situations was to become his catchphrase “What would Edna in Huddersfield think?”; but quite what Edna made of the 1988 art movie turkey that was ‘It Couldn’t Happen Here’ is debatable.
PET SHOP BOYS’ dialectic of “east / west. Posh / rough. Irony / sincerity. Pop / anti-pop” led to what Tennant himself would later call their imperial phase, which included four UK chart topping singles and a US No1 in ‘West End Girls’. But despite their seemingly unstoppable success, Watkins’ assessment is that ‘Domino Dancing’ with its AIDS narrative and sexually ambiguous promo video was what stalled Tennant and Lowe’s Stateside momentum.
Just one listen to the ‘Discography’ singles collection is a timely reminder of what PET SHOP BOYS achieved under Watkins’ stewardship. But his contract was not renewed and while he states in the book he was gutted at the time, Watkins admits that he has missed working with Tennant and Lowe, even though in his words: “Unlike Neil Tennant, I could mould Matt Goss and his brother with complete control”.
And so it was that Watkins continued on, looking after ELECTRIBE 101 whose high point was supporting DEPECHE MODE on the ‘Violator’ tour. Fronted by Billie Ray Martin, they split due to good old-fashioned musical differences, but Watkins found success masterminding the careers of BROS and EAST 17, before eventually both acts imploded too.
Misguided self-delusions of talent plagued the former, particularly as Watkins co-wrote all of the BROS hits with producer Nicky Graham under the pseudonym of The Brothers. Indeed, the episode was amusingly documented by PET SHOP BOYS on ‘How Can You Expect To Be Taken Seriously?’.
Meanwhile the low brain cell count of Brian Harvey sealed the fate of EAST 17. Some have considered band management to be akin to looking after children and whatever one’s feelings on Watkins, he certainly earned his commission dealing with these Primadonnas.
Undeterred, Watkins persevered with FAITH, HOPE & CHARITY, 2WO THIRD3, NORTH & SOUTH, DEUCE, THE MODERN and even an animated character named KULKARNI who couldn’t answer him back! However, while these acts were not themselves successful, they did spawn TV presenter Dani Behr, songwriter Richard ‘Biff’ Stannard and retro flavoured electro artist KID KASIO, so he must have spotted something…
But the pop world was changing and now occupied by reality TV talent shows (Watkins amusingly describes ‘The X Factor’ as like “a Nuremberg Rally on pink drugs”!), bland indie rock and brainless dance music, Watkins’ loud and proud approach no longer had a home. For him, that was it as far as the music business was concerned.
While not for everyone, ‘Let’s Make Lots of Money: Secrets of a Rich, Fat, Gay, Lucky Bastard’ is an amusing and entertaining account of an excessive, yet innovative period when mavericks were embraced and the bland were shunned. In today’s world, the opposite is true.
The music industry is not what it was and while Watkins is a polarising character whose career path has been seemingly driven by a combination of shouting, artistic nous, lust and low self-esteem, he has certainly achieved much more than most.
The Southbank Centre’s year long ‘The Rest Is Noise’ festival concluded its musical journey through the 20th century with a special event entitled ‘19 eighties: the rhythm of a decade’ which saw classical meet synthpop. Broadcast live by BBC Radio3, the evening was hosted by journalist, cultural commentator and ZTT strategist Paul Morley in the company of the BBC Concert Orchestra.
Featuring the work of contemporary composers such as Andrew Poppy, Sir John Tavener, Steve Martland and Michael Nyman as well as tracks from THE ART OF NOISE and the synthpop era arranged in a special orchestral suite by Anne Dudley, it was billed as “a one-off documentary soundtrack to the decade you either love, or love to hate”.
It is well documented how ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK feels about that decade, or rather how it has been generalised. While some of the greatest and most innovative pop music ever produced came from between 1980-1989, the decade also gave rise to some of the worst.
So to have lazy journalists glamourise about how it was one wonderful party for all is not only ignorant, but extremely insensitive to those who suffered in the era.
Music was often an escape for these troubles and for every pioneer who pursued artistic values as a reaction to the system, like today in our X-Factor / Heat magazine driven society, there were corporations and aspiring celebrities prepared to go to the lowest common denominator in order to get rich quick.
But the biggest gripe ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK particularly has is how the synthesizer has been marginalised as a by-product of that era, only be used now as an instrument to reflect nostalgic intent or mock rather than pushing boundaries and encouraging forward thinking. Comments from unenlightened observers who think of Alison Moyet’s ‘the minutes’ album as being “80s sounding”, rather than a songwriter’s experiment in modern electronica, are an example of the imbecilic attitude at large.
So it was apt that to start the evening in the foyer of Southbank Centre’s Queen Elizabeth Hall, HEAVEN 17 and BEF’s Martyn Ware gave a talk entitled ‘A Journey In 20 Synths’.
The Nile Rodgers of Synth Britannia was joined by the BBC Radiophonic Workshop’s Peter Howell with the pair leading an informative and lively discussion about the electronic music decade. Interestingly, most of the chat focussed around equipment from the decade before.
It all started with an instrument that was first launched in 1971, the Stylophone 350s. Ware commented that he thought he was Brian Eno when he got one. Next up was the EMS Synthi 100, one of those huge telephone exchange beasts that have gone down in legend; Howell recalled it had a knob called ‘Option4’ which wasn’t actually connected to anything and often used by members of the BBC Radiophonic Workshop to trick difficult TV producers into accepting their soundtracks by offering tweaks in their presence… ”Oh! Hang on, it just needs some more Option4”!
Ware then gleefully talked about the Korg 700s and Roland System 100, the two synths which effectively helped realise his post-punk musical vision. First manufactured in 1974 and 1975 respectively, these two were the rhythmical powerhouse of THE HUMAN LEAGUE’s first single ‘Being Boiled’ in 1978.
Affection was also bestowed on Roland’s Jupiter 4 from 1978 (described by Ware as his “dream synth”) and the Linn LM1 which Ware said was the “best drum machine ever”.
Asked by a member of the audience whether he liked Oberheim gear, Ware commented that he was not a big fan of American synths as they were designed for musicians, with the filters not being particularly extreme enough for experimentalists. Howell highlighted that one of the beauties of synthesizers was being able to change timbre and tones mid-composition, thus enabling the creation process to be taken into a direction that would not have been possible using acoustic instruments such as guitar or piano.
After adding that he had three Roland TB303 Basslines which were all stolen from the studio because they were pocket sized, Ware groaned as the subject headed towards digital synths of the period.
The Roland D50 from 1987 provoked an interesting debate with Howell in favour of its possibilities while Ware bemoaned the fact that he traded in his Jupiter 8 for a Yamaha DX7!!! Howell then admitted that he used the DX7 as a controller keyboard for the recent Radiophonic Workshop live shows. But both agreed that with FM synthesis, everyone fell into the preset trap and started to use the same sounds… the result inevitably being that pop music became much more homogenised in the latter part of the decade.
Following a comment that the Korg M1 was the worst synth ever designed, Ware walked over to fire up the Roland System 100 and Korg 700s he had brought with him to demonstrate to the receptive audience.
Using the original patches from ‘Being Boiled’, the familiar industrialised rhythm poured from the expanded System 100 driven by its 104 sequencer module. After some temporary 103 Mixer glitches, Ware stood behind the Korg 700s for a run through of the song’s distinctive bass riff
TheKorg 700s’ dual oscillators rumbled the plush confines of the Queen Elizabeth Hall. It was an entertaining and accessible presentation with Ware and Howell articulating their thoughts without too much technical talk in a humourous manner.
Photo by Mark Allan/BBC
And so onto the main event; Paul Morley introduced the evening’s proceedings as “using words and music to summon up memories of that decade, to eradicate some others” and “to try and work out what the hell happened there…”
The ‘rhythm of a decade’ concert itself began with ’32 Frames For Orchestra’, a piece conceived by one time ZTT artist Andrew Poppy as “merging Beethoven with The Velvet Underground”.
In an onstage chat with Morley, Poppy reflected a spirit of adventure that shared an affinity with the innovators of Synth Britannia before taking to the piano himself for a rendition of ‘Almost The Same Shame’. There then followed touching tributes to the recently departed composers Sir John Tavener and Steve Martland. The solemn tranquillity of Tavener’s ‘The Lamb’ captured the sadness of the era eloquently while Martland’s powerfully rhythmic ‘Remix’ represented how he felt classical music could be given a broader audience, a stance reflected in his commitment to music education and as a curator of the short lived Factory Classical label.
Celebrating THE ART OF NOISE and ZTT’s 30th Anniversary, an announcement came forth via Morley in his usual, wittily provocative style: “thirty years after our first record ‘Into Battle’ which was neither an album nor a single, which was really a series of musical movements in the abstract, each of which lasted different lengths from the quite short to the fairly long, the time has perhaps come for a reunion… this is our reunion, hidden in the middle of something else altogether!”
Photo by Mark Allan/BBC
The orchestral premiere of THE ART NOISE’s debut 1983 EP ‘Into Battle’ specially arranged by Anne Dudley was a delight, coming over at times like a lost Bond film soundtrack. The EPs two best known tracks ‘Moments In Love’ and ‘Beatbox’ each had their component parts reinterpreted by classical instruments as “memory of a memory”; the distinctive bassline of ‘Beat Box’ was represented by French horns while the iconic vocal samples of ‘Moments In Love’ had their places taken by an ensemble of violins.
After the interlude, classical music’s link to synthpop was emphasised further before the Grand Finale with a recital of Michael Nyman’s ‘Chasing Sheep’. Itself based on Purcell’s ‘Prelude to Act III, Scene 2’ from ‘King Arthur’, it was recently used by PET SHOP BOYS as the basis of their ‘Love Is a Bourgeois Construct’. A duo with links to many involved in THE ART OF NOISE including Anne Dudley, plus of course Trevor Horn and JJ Jeczalik, all were in attendance for this spirited evening. Engineer Gary Langan was in the audience too, making it a full reunion of THE ART OF NOISE in spirit if not performance.
Photo by Mark Allan/BBC
To conclude the concert, Anne Dudley took to the piano for the much anticipated ‘rhythm of a decade’. While Paul Morley narrated his musings on Thatcher’s Britain, he was accompanied by an orchestral soundtrack arranged by Dudley… and what a soundtrack! Beginning with her own familiar intro to ‘Two Tribes’ before segueing into the beautiful pentatonic melodies of ‘Merry Christmas Mr Lawrence’, there then followed a significant number of synth classics transcribed for everyone’s listening pleasure.
From the dystopian shrills of ‘Underpass’ and ‘Fade To Grey’ to the euphoric club tunes of ‘Pump Up The Volume’ and ‘Pacific State’, each had been carefully chosen by Dudley for their distinctive riff laden elements to complement the dynamics of Morley’s monologue.
The biggest surprise came with a blast of SOFT CELL’s ‘Sex Dwarf’ while ‘Mad World’, ‘Situation’, ‘Love Action’, ‘True Faith’ and ‘Blue Monday’ all figured in proceedings alongside more conventional numbers of the period such as ‘Back To Life’, ‘Let’s Dance’, ‘Ghost Town’ and ‘Running Up That Hill’. It all worked together marvellously for what was slowly emerging effectively as a spoken word art piece accompanied by music.
Overall, Anne Dudley’s orchestral interpretations were a great success, much more so than say OMD’s hit and miss experiment with the Liverpool Philharmonic immortalised on the ironically titled ‘Electricity’ DVD. As for Morley’s narration, for those who have loved his commentary over the years, this was perfect entertainment but for those who have found him an irritant, this would have been an intrusion to the music.
The evening was a triumph that reflected on that decade as not being the cheesefest it has often been portrayed as by the media and the public at large.
The fact that these synthesizer tunes (which have often been derided as not being real music) have been able to be orchestrated by one of modern pop’s most successful arrangers is a testament to their value and integrity. Yes, the rhythm to a decade but also a rhythm to many more…
Special thanks to Victoria Taylor and Camilla Dervan at the BBC
“Put simply, Futurism means hate of the past. Our aim is to energetically combat and destroy the cult of the past” FT Marinetti
How music promotion has changed over the decades… the mid-60s saw the advent of the non-album single with THE BEATLES being particular exponents.
By the early 70s, PINK FLOYD and LED ZEPPELIN refused to even release singles, focussing only on albums. With punk and new wave, acts like THE JAM brought singles back so by 1981, THE HUMAN LEAGUE released four singles from ‘Dare’ while between 1982 to 1984, Michael Jackson’s ‘Thriller’ milked it even further by taking six, thereby turning the album effectively into a greatest hits!
Zang Tuum Tumb was a label financed by Island Records and named after FT Marinetti’s sound poem. Its arch strategist Paul Morley talked gleefully of his belief in “the beauty of the pop single”. Together with his ZTT partners-in-crime producer Trevor Horn and manager Jill Sinclair, they became key to a marketing strategy that changed the course of pop music.
Starting with FRANKIE GOES TO HOLLYWOOD in 1983, the original 16 minute ‘Sex Mix’ of ‘Relax’ on the 12 inch drew a large number of complaints because it was so radically different from the 7 inch single. Eventually, a more conventional extended version (also confusingly entitled ‘Sex Mix’) was issued.
Aided by the BBC ban, the public lapped up the song in all its various versions and ‘Relax’ was in the charts for over a year. An idea had been hit on and the next single ‘Two Tribes’ saw a new remix released every four weeks to keep it in the Top 40 for as long as possible. The multiple remix, sometimes in a version that bore little or no relation to the original track played on the radio could at times be a rewarding but also frustrating experience. FGTH’s bassist Mark O’Toole summed things up in a 1986 edition of International Musician and Recording World when he snorted “A punter wants to buy a single and there’s half a dozen mixes of it… it’s a pain in the arse!”
But new sampling keyboard computers such as the Fairlight CMI with its ‘Page R’ sequencer gave producers, programmers and musicians the opportunity to construct multiple arrangements of songs that only a few years previously would have needed hours in the studio with endless cutting of tape and real time overdubbing as exemplified by Martin Rushent’s work on THE LEAGUE UNLIMITED ORCHESTRA’s ‘Love and Dancing’.
In advertently helped by the then low sampling rates of these very expensive machines, sounds could be manipulated and distorted into something that was totally unreal, creating a new and original instrumental palette. And now, the two influential ZTT acts that are forever associated with this pioneering phase of electronic music have new deluxe packages available.
THE ART OF NOISE were named after the futurist essay ‘The Art Of Noises’ by Luigi Russolo.
Consisting of engineer Gary Langan, Fairlight programmer JJ Jeczalik, musician/arranger Anne Dudley, this was the team that worked with Trevor Horn on MALCOLM McLAREN’s ‘Duck Rock’ and ABC’s ‘The Lexicon Of Love’. In addition to Trevor Horn, THE ART OF NOISE also boasted as a member Paul Morley who masterminded the group’s faceless image and post-modern manifesto as well as contributing song titles.
‘Influence’ collects together singles (mostly in bite size 7 inch edits for the beginner) from the ZTT era and post Horn/Morley period on China for the first time, along with some previously unreleased material.
From the off, THE ART OF NOISE were rattling cages. ‘Beat Box’ was the track which scared KRAFTWERK enough for them to delay the release of their ‘Technopop’ album and rework it as the poorly received ‘Electric Cafe’. The crazy staccato sample cacophony of ‘Close (To The Edit)’ which was later borrowed by THE PRODIGY for ‘Firestarter’ sounds as fresh and mad as ever, who can forget Smash Hits actually publishing the lyrics as if to declare they were also in on the joke!
And ‘Moments In Love’ heralded a new age in ambient mood music. Such a beautiful piece was always going to become ubiquitous and it ended up in a variety of TV commercials for products such as Brylcreem. It was even played at MADONNA’s wedding to Sean Penn.
Photo by Peter Ashworth
Despite the success, all was not happy among the troops. Jeczalik indicated that he and Morley did not get along and felt his writing was pretentious. Morley said to The Guardian in 2002 “I loved the name THE ART OF NOISE so much that I forced my way into the group. If over the years people asked me what I did in the group, I replied that I named them, and it was such a great name, that was enough to justify my role. I was the Ringo Starr of THE ART OF NOISE. I made the tea!”
Unhappy with their lot, Dudley, Jeczalik and Langan took their talents to China Records in 1985. Continuing their influence but in what some would perceive as a more of a novelty manner, their technologically enhanced covers of ‘Peter Gunn’ and ‘Kiss’ brought special guests Duane Eddy and Tom Jones to a brand new audience. The more soundtrack orientated work like ‘Dragnet’, ‘Ode To Don Jose’, ‘Robinson Crusoe’ (not included on ‘Influence’) and the theme to ‘The Krypton Factor’ were enjoyable, but perhaps not as immediate to some ears. But whatever, THE ART OF NOISE had acquired fans in the jazz and hip-hop fraternities, such was their appeal.
The group disbanded in 1990 but in 1998, Anne Dudley, Trevor Horn and Paul Morley discussed the original intent of THE ART OF NOISE. As a result they reformed, adding 10CC’s Lol Creme to the line up although JJ Jeczalik and Gary Langan were absent. The resulting album ‘The Seduction of Claude Debussy’ was partly inspired by Trevor Horn’s epic PET SHOP BOYS production ‘Left To My Own Devices’ and its unforgettable line “Che Guevara and Debussy to a disco beat” – With a mix of ambient, rap, classical, opera, drum’n’bass and John Hurt, tracks such as ‘Metaforce’ and ‘The Holy Egoism of Genius’ ably delivered the concept.
The second CD of ‘Influence’ contains interesting fragments of THE ART OF NOISE’s history for fans and completists. Various takes and variations of ‘Moments In Love’ appear including an ‘Anne To Tears Mix’ which was rejected by Anne Dudley with the note “I never want to hear this track again!”.
As well as that, there’s ‘Beep Beep’ which is an early version of ‘(Who’s Afraid Of) The Art Of Noise?’ and the lovely ‘The Invention Of Love’ which samples from ‘Moments In Love’ and neatly bookends THE ART OF NOISE story. Meanwhile in the ZTT Building, Düsseldorf’s PROPAGANDA were the proto LADYTRON or ABBA in Hell!
Photo by Anton Corbijn
They boasted within their ranks Ralf Dörper and Michael Mertens along with two mini Marlene Dietrichs in Claudia Brücken and Susanne Freytag. The magnificent Fritz Lang film noir of ‘Dr. Mabuse’ was their opening salvo.
Produced by Trevor Horn, the success of FRANKIE GOES TO HOLLYWOOD however meant a delay to the follow-up and the producer’s helm being handed over to engineer Stephen J Lipson although Horn was later involved in the final mix.
The avant pop of that 1985 follow-up ‘Duel’ is still genius, ice maiden cool yet full of pentatonic warmth and boosted by a funky rhythm section. Its crazy piano solo is just one of those great moments! And the vicious industrial dub variation ‘Jewel’ was its naughty dominatrix sister. Both were included on the eventual album ‘A Secret Wish’.
Of the other tracks, the slap heavy attack of ‘The Murder of Love’, the deadpan drone cover of JOSEF K’s ‘Sorry for Laughing’ and the mechanised beauty of ‘P.Machinery’ all still possess the Teutonic edge and the charm of the then state of the art technical tricks that made it such fascinating listening first time round.
With the lengthy ‘Dream Within A Dream’, the listener is taken on a massive aural adventure. It was this epic journey that prompted SIMPLE MINDS to initially recruit Stephen J Lipson for their ‘Street Fighting Years’ album which Trevor Horn also worked on. To the chagrin of Paul Morley, hippy Lipson brought in YES guitarist Steve Howe for a spot of soloing. But it worked, with Howe coming over a bit like ASHRA’s Manuel Göttsching whose album ‘New Age of Earth’ successfully mixed progressive six string indulgences with Germanic electronica.
Other musical notables were also listening to ‘A Secret Wish’. John Taylor of DURAN DURAN made it his album of the year. DEPECHE MODE’s Martin Gore declared it one of his major influences; ‘Black Celebration’ and ‘Music For The Masses’ are testament to that. And MICHAEL JACKSON’s producer Quincy Jones wanted to license ‘A Secret Wish’ for America. As Trevor Horn remarked: “If you listen to Michael Jackson around that time, he started to sound a lot like Propaganda. A lot of industrial sounds… “
The deluxe remaster features a directors cut with restored full length versions including a different mix of ‘Dream Within A Dream’ and a 10 minute ‘Dr. Mabuse’ although the shorter original ‘analogue variation’ is present and correct if that all proves a little too much. On the bonus CD are various rare rarities including the 20 minute cassette megamix ‘Do Well’ which features no less than five takes of ‘Duel’ plus unreleased mixes such as Paul Morley’s 10 minute Unapologetic 12 inch of ‘Sorry for Laughing’ and the Goodnight Mix of ‘The Chase’.
Another added treat is the percussive slaughter of ‘Thought I’, a harsh instrumental cover of THROBBING GRISTLE’s ‘Disziplin’ which in demo form was the track that got PROPAGANDA signed to ZTT.
As with THE ART OF NOISE, Paul Morley was at the heart of the dissent inside PROPAGANDA with accusations of favouritism towards his then-wife Claudia Brücken. The band left ZTT but reappeared in 1990 with just Michael Mertens and featuring new vocalist Betsi Miller plus ex-SIMPLE MINDS members Derek Forbes and Brian McGee for the album ‘1234’ on Virgin.
Claudia Brücken remained with ZTT and formed ACT with Thomas Leer, releasing an excellent album ‘Laughter, Tears and Rage’.
While the 1998 reformation of THE ART OF NOISE yielded an album, the PROPAGANDA reunion during the same period wasn’t so smooth and the tracks that were laid down in those sessions remain unreleased.
Photo by John Stoddart
Both ‘Influence’ and ‘A Secert Wish’ capture the essence of a gloriously adventurous time in electronic music as it moved into the digital age. While their contemporaries were hacking through Yamaha DX7 presets and ending up all sounding the same or sampling whole phrases of other people’s songs, the gang at ZTT were creating a new sound and a new art form that totally encompassed the true challenging spirit of Futurism.
Gary Langan, along with JJ Jeczalik, Anne Dudley, Trevor Horn and Paul Morley is one of the founder members of THE ART OF NOISE.
He cut his teeth in music working as a tape op with renowned producers Mike Stone and Roy Thomas Baker for QUEEN.
He later progressed to being assistant engineer for THE BOOMTOWN RATS. In 1979 he met Trevor Horn, then of BUGGLES and engineered their album ‘The Age Of Plastic’ which featured the No1 single ‘Video Killed The Radio Star’.
One of the drummers on those BUGGLES sessions happened to be electronic music pioneer Richard James Burgess who later demonstrated his brand new Fairlight CMI to Horn and introduced his trainee programmer JJ Jeczalik who had originally been Burgess’ roadie. Continuing to work with Horn on his productions for ABC’s ‘The Lexicon Of Love’ and Malcolm McLaren’s ‘Duck Rock’ along with Jeczalik, Langan met Horn’s orchestral arranger Anne Dudley. The team ended up working with YES and the rest, as they say is history.
Langan is also a producer in his own right and his varied credits have included ABC’s ‘Beauty Stab’ and ‘Traffic’, SPANDAU BALLET’s ‘Through the Barricades’ and ‘Heart Like A Sky’, PUBLIC IMAGE LIMITED’s ‘Happy’ and THE ALOOF’s ‘Seeking Pleasure’. More recently, he has discovered a passion for front of house at live performances, looking after the sound on the Jeff Wayne’s ‘The War Of The Worlds’ tour and ABC’s performance of ‘The Lexicon Of Love’ at the Royal Albert Hall in 2009 where the incumbent BBC Concert Orchestra was conducted by Anne Dudley.
With the release of the new ‘Influence’ collection, ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK caught up with Gary Langan to go back down the avenues of history for an insightful interview that cleared up a few of the myths that have arisen around THE ART OF NOISE.
Photo by Peter Ashworth
How do you remember the genesis of THE ART OF NOISE?
It happened because of a happy accident. I’d been working with Anne Dudley and JJ Jeczalik, we were like Trevor Horn’s backroom boys/girl’ working on an album with YES that spawned ‘Owner of a Lonely Heart’ called ‘90125’. Because I was the engineer, I was the curator of a tape that had a track recorded at the famous Air Studios that YES had scrapped but the drum sound was just absolutely incredible.
I surreptitiously hid it amongst all the other tapes which I thought at some point in my life, I was going to get round to using one way or another. Fast forward a month or so, we were at Sarm Studios and everybody had gone and left me and JJ with the Fairlight CMI. He said “Let’s go” but I said “No, we’re going to stick around for a bit… I’ve got this idea!” And my idea was to sample the whole drum kit and put it into the Fairlight which nobody had really thought about doing. Everybody at that stage was sampling bits and bobs of the drum kit. I said to him “No, I want to put this whole drum kit into the Fairlight” and JJ kind of gave me this gazed look like I was mad… I said “bear with me”!
So I gave him this mono mix, he plugged into the Fairlight and I asked him to sample me a bar because we only had one and a half seconds of sample at the time, so I reckoned we could just about get a bar in. And JJ, bless him, not being very musical made a happy accident of hitting the ‘go’ button on beat 3 and not beat 1 of the bar! So when he played it back to me, I now had this drum groove that was effectively backwards, it was going “3-4-1-2-3-4-1-2” and I said “you’re a genius!” He looked at me again and said “what do you mean?” and I said “you’ve got it wrong but it’s brilliant!” *laughs*
And I said “OK, now let’s put some of those wacky things that we’ve sampled from when the Fairlight was living round at my house” because JJ used to rent a room from me. The sounds happened to be a guy trying to start his VW Golf and other bits that we’d had a go at sampling. So we stuck around that night and did the demo that became ‘Beat Box’.
A couple of weeks later I was driving Trevor around, he’d been asked to start this label by Chris Blackwell of Island Records and he’s looking and searching, thinking in his head “what am I going to do as a first signing?”. So I played him this demo that JJ and I had done in the car. He went nuts and gave it to Chris Blackwell, he took it to New York that weekend and played it out in a few clubs. He came back and said to Trevor “You’ve got to do something with these guys, this is where you start!”. So that was the manifestation, that was the beginning!
‘Beat Box’ was the song that scared the life out of KRAFTWERK wasn’t it?
Well it did, but I was actually a bit of a KRAFTWERK fan to be honest so there are influences in there obviously. I think it scared them but they just didn’t have the equipment that we were privy to. But if it wasn’t for JJ being the operator and Trevor buying the Fairlight, I don’t think it ever would have happened.
Photo by Peter Ashworth
What was the collaborative dynamic between you, JJ Jeczalik and Anne Dudley musically? Did you attain specific roles or did you yourself also get involved in programming the Fairlight for example?
No, we had very definite roles. I was Trevor’s engineer, JJ was the master of the Fairlight and Anne was the master of melodies.
And none of us crossed over and that’s how the chemistry of the three of us worked.
How did Trevor Horn and Paul Morley eventually fit into all this? Obviously Trevor was the producer…
Well, he wasn’t the producer!! I’m going to put the history straight there… we were the producers!! If I’m being really honest, we were a little naive. Anne, JJ and myself really had no intention of forming a band, it was as I said, a very happy accident. So when we signed to ZTT, we needed somebody to do all the artwork and how it was going to portrayed which was really down to Paul and Trevor. So out of a sort of a friendship thing, we said “you might as well be part of the band”.
I have to say that it was Paul who came up with the name, and it was Paul who did all the artwork and copy that went on the subsequent albums. The idea of the fantastic photographs taken by Anton Corbijn, that was all totally Paul. Trevor, he really wasn’t the producer, we were. He came up with a few ideas that we then explored, but because it was his label and everything, we then became a band of five. But Trevor and Paul were never in the studio. As far as studio work went, it was always Anne, JJ and myself.
Do you think if Trevor and Paul hadn’t been there with ZTT, that the demo of ‘Beat Box’ may not have got anywhere?
It wouldn’t have gone anywhere without a doubt! That whole ZTT scenario was absolutely amazing. The cogs were all falling into place and fitting very well together so the pair of them, Paul brought an awful lot to the project and Trevor oversaw the whole thing but we really were left to our own devices.
It was exciting time for all but what was the straw that broke the camels back when you, JJ and Anne decided to leave ZTT?
It was politics and money which is usually the driving force behind anybody jumping ship from a project whether it be music or a day job. It usually comes down to those two things, it was clearly obvious that our relationship with ZTT had actually sadly in some respects come to an end.
Photo by Peter Ashworth
But you had the last laugh when ‘Peter Gunn’ was a hit with DUANE EDDY on board and won a Grammy for Best Rock Instrumental Performance? How did you meet Duane?
It was a bit of a full circle because when I started in the studio as a tape op/assistant tea boy/runner, whatever you want to call it, one of the first people that I was in the studio with was Duane Eddy. But you’re going back to 1973-74! Fast forwarding, we left ZTT and signed with Derek Green and China Records.
Derek was also very astute and realised that one of the ways forward for this band was to have collaborations. So it was Derek’s idea that we do a version of ‘Peter Gunn’. We sent a demo to Duane and he obviously said yes and at that point we were recording in Anne’s house in Sarratt, Hertfordshire. There wasn’t really a studio area, she just really had a small control room because everything we did was via the Fairlight or synthesizers and things like that.
It was in the winter and Anne, being a bit on the tight side wouldn’t put on the central heating during the day. So Duane turned up and stayed in a local B+B believe it or not! I set him up in Anne’s living room and Duane stood there in this huge sheepskin fur coat, a Fender Twin and this beautiful Gretsch guitar with this rhinestone guitar strap and did what Duane did! He played the riff on the two bottom strings of this Gretsch.
Duane’s phrase “Hey, do you think I should do one more?” that was put on one of the 12 inch mixes of ‘Peter Gunn’ became a music industry in-joke didn’t it?
Yeah, I think we made lots of jokes at the time! *laughs*
I think the funniest thing was when Smash Hits printed the lyrics of ‘Close (To The Edit)’!
What did they print? *laughs*
It was “dum-dum, da-dum-dum-dum-dum-dum”!
But speaking of this “Hey, do you think I should do one more?” thing, do you agree with David Sylvian’s synopsis is that a recording is never actually finished, merely abandoned?
I sort of jump between two mountains if you like, I am a great believer of the first take. As a recording engineer, I truly believe and I could clarify this with loads of examples but I won’t… the first take is actually, if you’re dealing with someone who knows what they’re doing, the best.
We can run the 100 metres and get it done, and that would be the first take. Or we go and do the marathon. You can win both races but which route do you want to go?
We can do first take, or we can go round and round and round and I can guarantee you after you trying something for two more hours, I’ll play what you’ve just done and what you did two hours ago and there’s not going to be too much difference between the two performances. It was Duane saying it more out of politeness because as far as we were concerned, it was done! Bish-bosh-bash!
Was there any point with the endless remixes that you just thought “ENOUGH”?
Some of the time, after the third or fourth call for yet another remix, which is what ZTT were good at, of say ‘Moments In Love’, it was like “WHAT ARE WE GOING TO DO NOW?” And the last version, I said “let’s just play it back at half speed and see what that does!”. You get pushed and we were always good to respond to a challenge.
But some of them worked really easily, sometimes it really was kind of like pulling teeth… “OH MY LORD!! 11 O’clock, we’ve been at this seven hours and got nowhere!” It was fun though, it was breaking new ground. Doing something that other labels weren’t really doing and then they jumped on the bandwagon.
THE ART OF NOISE had that quite staccato sound because of the short sample times and that was quite unique.
We were just limited by technology. Now, you can go to Currys or PC World and buy a Mac or a PC and I can get you a bit of software and interface and you can sample half an hour if you want! We were driven by the limitations of the technology which I always thought was really good. Sometimes I think now youngsters have too much choice. They don’t get the opportunity to really work something to its limit and really start squeezing it. And that’s when things start to happen.
That’s quite Eno-esque what you just said there
Well, it’s true, I like Brian Eno. We made an album together JAMES’ ‘Pleased To Meet You’, I got on well with him.
Photo by Peter Ashworth
You left THE ART OF NOISE in 1987 following working on SPANDAU BALLET’s ‘Through the Barricades’ album. Why did you leave and are there any regrets?
We had a difference of opinion which happens in every walk of life. We were offered a tour in America and the way our manager at the time wanted it, it was to do a college sit down audience tour. And I said “that’s rubbish”, I felt we needed to be more innovative when it came to touring.
So I suggested that it should be ‘THE ART OF NOISE Plays Manhattan’ and we should set up in a club called Danceteria and employ VJs and use ENG (Electronic News Gathering) cameras and microwave links so that we can actually play in four or five clubs at the same time. And what the VJs would be used for is they’d get camera shots of the audience in all the other clubs and we would make those people famous for five minutes. What I wanted to do was play on the Warhol thing of everybody will be famous for five minutes of their life, that would be groundbreaking. A sit down tour? Anybody can do that!
The other two were swayed in the other direction and I went “I don’t agree!”. At the same time, I was due to go off to Europe with SPANDAU BALLET for their ‘Through The Barricades’ tour. So we parted company at that point, although I did kind of come back and recorded a final concert at the Hammersmith Odeon or whatever it’s called! *laughs*
But no regrets. Sure, made some bad decisions, gone down some wrong avenues but as long as you learn from it, no regrets really.
‘Influence’ is an ideal way of re-evaluating the legacy of THE ART OF NOISE. What do you think the band’s ultimate contribution to music is?
I think in terms of contribution, what we showed was as long as you’re dedicated and passionate, you can do anything you want to do. I think we showed that to a lot of youngsters that came up after us like THE PRODIGY and 808 STATE, bands like that. Even when I listen to PROPAGANDA, I can hear influences form THE ART OF NOISE in their music.
Did you work on PROPAGANDA’s ‘A Secret Wish’?
Yes, I did! I did some low level engineering for them. It’s not credited, but the assistant that I trained Bob Kraushaar was the main engineer. It was low level stuff but because it was centred around the ZTT Building, then I’d dive in and help out. I did some remixes. The whole ZTT outfit was just one really big family and Trevor’s ethos behind it was he wanted to have something that was identifiable as ZTT like when you heard Tamla Motown… you didn’t know who the artist was but in the first twenty or thirty seconds you’d realise it had come out of Tamla Motown stable.
And what tracks hold the most affection for you?
Well, obviously the two early ones ‘Beat Box’ and ‘Close (To The Edit)’, ‘Moments In Love’ and then there was a track that Anne and I did that was called ‘Opus 4’.
We took this very famous poem November by Simon Armitage and I had this idea where we got Camilla Pilkington-Smyth from the Pilkington Glass family to read it three or four times. I took one line and said “that’s going to be my bass drum” and took another line and said “that’s going to be my snare drum” and I built up this whole track. I got Anne to do some fantastic melody stuff over the top. So those are the four tracks that really hold it for me.
Is Camilla the posh girl on ‘Close (To The Edit)’?
Yes, and she’s the girl that said “HEY!”
ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK gives its sincerest thanks to Gary Langan
Special thanks to Richard James Burgess for the additional information