1977 is often seen as Year Zero for synthpop, thanks to hit singles by DONNA SUMMER, SPACE and JEAN-MICHEL JARRE.
But it was not until 1979 with TUBEWAY ARMY reaching No1 with ‘Are Friends Electric?’ that the sound of synth truly hit the mainstream.
Although ‘No1 Song In Heaven’ by SPARKS had actually been a hit a few months earlier, ‘Are Friends Electric?’ was the beginning of the synth being accepted as a worthy mode of expression, rather than as a novelty. But as synths became more affordable, they became the perfect tool of youthful expression.
The set starts appropriately with OMD and ‘Messages’, one of the first tunes showcasing the warmer side of electronics following the colder wave led by Messrs Numan and Foxx. But as if to counter this next generation of youngsters, ‘Messages’ is immediately followed by the collection’s vocoder laden title song ‘Musik Music Musique’ from Zeus B Held and the superb proto-industrial ode to loveless sex ‘Coitus Interruptus’ by the much missed FAD GADGET.
Zeus B Held was later to make his impression on popular culture remixing ALPHAVILLE and SIMPLE MINDS as well producing the likes of FASHION, DEAD OR ALIVE, SPEAR OF DESTINY and TRANSVISION VAMP, but his wider breakthrough came as part of GINA X PERFORMANCE in 1979 with The Blitz Club favourite ‘No GDM’; on this compendium, the lesser-known but just as worthy ‘Vendor’s Box’ from their second album ‘X-Traordinaire’ is deservedly provided a platform.
The best producers often earn their spurs as artists and realising their limitations, use their accumulated studio nous to subvert the mainstream via pop. ‘Astroboy’ by BUGGLES sees Trevor Horn develop his sonic architecture to prove that he had another song that wasn’t ‘Video Killed The Radio Star’. Meanwhile the welcome inclusion of NEW MUSIK’s other hit ‘This World Of Water’ allows Tony Mansfield to showcase the crafted sparkle that would later go on to adorn records by CAPTAIN SENSIBLE, VICIOUS PINK, A-HA and NAKED EYES.
It may seem strange to see SPANDAU BALLET as part of this package but when they first appeared, they were considered a synthesizer band; ‘Glow’ was a UK double A side single with ‘Musclebound’ in 1981 and while it was the last synth-led track they did, their funk soul aspirations were there for all to hear. In fact, songwriter Gary Kemp had conceived ‘Glow’ with a brass section in mind, so it is now something of a curio that could be seen as a precursor to ‘Chant No1’.
SPANDAU BALLET were produced by Richard James Burgess who co-designed the Simmons SDSV; his electro-jazz combo LANDSCAPE figure with the Colin Thurston helmed ‘European Man’ which was actually designated “electronic dance music” on its single artwork some three decades before it was appropriated and abbreviated to become EDM…
Many of the usual suspects from the period like VISAGE, JAPAN, JOHN FOXX, THE HUMAN LEAGUE and OUR DAUGHTER’S WEDDING are all present and correct with familiar recordings, but interestingly (although not for the better), it’s the original version of PHIL LYNOTT’s ‘Yellow Pearl’ without the Rusty Egan drums or the Midge Ure remix that gets the nod!
One of the main beauties of these thoughtfully curated collections is to be able sway away from the obvious and feature a known-name with a lesser-known work; in the case of ULTRAVOX, it’s the occasionally Eno-inspired and Conny Plank produced ‘Waiting’ which was the B-side to their first Midge Ure fronted single ‘Sleepwalk’. Meanwhile, SUICIDE are represented by the excellent Ric Ocasek produced ‘Diamonds, Fur Coat, Champagne’ and YELLO with ‘Bimbo’, the oddball opener of the Swiss trailblazers’ debut long player ‘Solid Pleasure’.
SILICON TEENS get to feature with something other than ‘Memphis Tennessee’ and it’s the Daniel Miller‘s self-penned instrumental ‘Chip N Roll’ that has the honour, while the Mute Records founder gets another track in with ‘Brushing Your Hair’, a gloriously vibrant instrumental production and co-write for Alex Fergusson of ALTERNATIVE TV.
There’s additionally tracks by lesser known international acts or those bands that faded from view after effectively being one hit wonders. The entire career of M may have been overshadowed by the ubiquitous ‘Pop Muzik’ but Robin Scott did go on to release three albums and work with Ryuichi Sakamoto; the sombre ‘Official Secrets’ may not really have much of a hook but it contains some percolating bleepy sections that pre-date KRAFTWERK’s ‘Home Computer’ by one year.
‘A Circuit Like Me’ from Australian combo, THE METRONOMES actually sounds very 21st century with its detached female vocal and charming monosynths, while the gallop of ‘Drawn & Quartered’ by THE KORGIS is a worthy find. Now while ROCKETS found fame with a catchy robotic flavoured cover of ‘On The Road Again’ with the help of Zeus B Held, the silver faced Italians found that the vocoder suited their performance art poise and reapplied it for the self-penned space rocker ‘Galactica’.
Also possessing a bit of a gallop is LORI & THE CHAMELEONS’ wispy Morricone-influenced single ‘The Lonely Spy’ although with its acoustic strum, it is quite different from the understated electronic disco of their best known track ‘Touch’. Cut from a similar melodic post-punk cloth, the Martin Hannett produced ‘Sympathy’ from PAULINE MURRAY & THE INVISIBLE GIRLS is a reminder of how women were coming to the fore after punk in synth-assisted new wave, a fact borne out on ‘Musik Music Musique’ by the inclusion of more obscure works from TOYAH, KIM WILDE and HAZEL O’CONNOR.
‘Musik Music Musique’ is also an opportunity to become reacquainted with lost tunes of yore and ‘The Eyes Have It’ by KAREL FIALKA will be remembered by those who owned the 1980 Virgin Records compilation ‘Machines’, as will the octave driven ‘Destiny’ by DALEK I LOVE YOU. Some enjoyably avant pop adventures come courtesy of XYNN’s ‘Computed Man’ and SCIENCE’s ‘Tokyo’, while one of the more bizarre but successful experiments included is ‘I’m A Computer’ by THE GOO-Q.
One of the lesser known acts featuring with the eccentric ‘Money’ is MOEBIUS, not the member of German duo CLUSTER but an American art rock band with a penchant for DEVO. ‘Doctor …?’ by BLOOD DONOR is another wonderful discovery while of the more experimental art pieces included, NINI RAVIOLETTE’s ‘Suis-Je Normale’ delightfully comes over like a collaboration between Jane Birkin and Laurie Anderson.
Düsseldorf is often seen as the spiritual home of electronic music and there is worthy representation from DER PLAN and ‘Da Vorne Steht Ne Ampel’ illustrating how there were other dimensions to German electronic music other than that engineered by KRAFTWERK. But closing the set is the band named after the Electri_City itself, LA DÜSSELDORF with the light-hearted ‘Dampfriemen’; a quirky slice of synth “Oompah” with comedic chants and a kazoo section, it sums up the manic oddball nature of the former NEU! drummer Klaus Dinger.
There are many other tracks that have merit, but textures which reoccur on ‘Musik Music Musique’ to date stamp the period are the icy chill of the affordable ARP Quartet string machine and squawky sax, although not in an overblown jazz funk way.
Despite ‘Musik Music Musique’ comprising of a carefully researched tracklisting, a few errors do slip through; as well as the SPANDAU BALLET track being released in 1981 as already mentioned (although it was available on a very scarce Japanese-only promo sampler in late 1980), the version of ‘Kebabträume’ by DAF is the 1982 Conny Plank version from the Virgin album ‘Für Immer’ and not the Bob Giddens produced Mute Records five piece band recording which actually came out in 1980.
Then in the booklet, the Foxx fronted 1977 line-up of ULTRAVOX! gets illustrated as opposed to the New Romantic suited Midge Ure one, while LA DÜSSELDORF’s Hans Lampe is referred to as a “Keyboard Whizz” when he is actually a drummer and now performs with Michael Rother who was Klaus Dinger’s partner in NEU!; in fact Dinger handled keyboards himself under the pseudonym of Nikolaus Van Rhein.
Those are minor quibbles though, because this set is very good value and acts as a great music history lesson as well as offering the chance to hear some new vintage synth. While many may have heard of BERLIN BLONDES, THE PASSAGE, THE FALLOUT CLUB and EYELESS IN GAZA, only a few will have heard their music.
‘Musik Music Musique’ offers something of a low risk opportunity to make some new friends while becoming reacquainted with a few old and lost ones. Here’s to the 1981 follow-up set…
The one thing that Rusty Egan is not short of is something to say…
It makes him the most ideal guest for talk events and ‘An Audience with Rusty Egan’ returns to London this June for a fun couple of hours in the animated company of The Blitz Club DJ and VISAGE drummer.
Loud and frank, not always subtle and occasionally angry, but always interesting and lively, his anecdotes combine laughter, tears and a vivid eye-witness account of his role as a catalyst in popular culture over the past four decades.
ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK had originally met up with Rusty Egan for what was intended to be a 10 minute chat to obtain quotes for a mooted Beginner’s Guide listings article but one hour later, the interview ended and only because he had a soundcheck to do for a DJ slot at Blow Up.
The resultant career spanning conversation over several cups of tea was far too enthusiastic, amusing and informative not to make public, so this is Rusty talking, with only a few edits to stop him from going to jail…
How did VISAGE come together in 1978?
Midge Ure and I had some demo time left over after THE RICH KIDS’ demise and EMI let us have Manchester Square Studios.
We got Barry Adamson and Dave Formula from MAGAZINE, Midge and me in, during that time we did ’If You Want Me To Stay’, ‘In The Year 2525’, ‘The Dancer’ and ‘Eve Of Destruction’, I can’t remember much about that last one as I wasn’t a fan, it was something Steve Strange wanted.
Photo by Sheila Rock
So ‘In The Year 2525’ and ‘The Dancer’ were among the first VISAGE recordings?
We did ‘In The Year 2525’ in half a day, but it was an example of the future sound of London you could call it, it was an example of what we wanted to do, as was ‘The Dancer’.
These were demos for what became VISAGE but were turned down by EMI! ‘In The Year 2525’ was just me and Midge with him doing vocals and vocoder.
We were keeping it simple and all that but it was heavily influenced by KRAFTWERK. I had my CR78 Compurhythm and drum triggering while there was that Morse codey type intro. I loved it and I think still sounds great today, although some people hate it!
‘The Dancer’ was obviously influenced by NEU! as you can hear from my drums and a little bit of ‘One Of These Days’ by PINK FLOYD, we wanted that “sccchhiiiing!” and that was one of our trademarks. As Midge was doing guitar and John McGeoch played the sax.
How come ‘If You Want Me To Stay’ was made during those early VISAGE sessions with Ronny singing it?
I met Ronny in Paris, she was very androgynous and she had a low voice so people were going “is it a boy, is it a girl?”. I had this song in mind, Barry Adamson absolutely loved Sly Stone and at the time, we were being VISAGE. We knocked out as much as we could, as fast as we could.
I adored that record and we had an instrumental flipside. It had a lounge type concept like ‘Cracked Actor’; we literally played it live, got it going and pressed record. I bought the Swan Vestas to have the sound of the cigarette match burning.
Ronny later met Warren Cann who then introduced her to Hans Zimmer who he was working with in HELDEN at the time. Then through them, she met Vangelis and then Peter Godwin, so her whole creative life opened up. We remained friends and I’d often see her in clubs but as far as recording went, she was doing her own thing.
You spent a period playing drums with THE SKIDS in 1979?
There’s a hell of a lot of intricate drumming on THE SKIDS, when you talk about the NEU! drumming, I was trying to be a Motorik drummer. So on ‘Charade’, I got this CR78 drum machine banging away and the producer Bill Nelson, who did a great track called ‘Living In My Limousine’, he loved working with them.
So you influenced Bill Nelson’s later use of drum machines in his work?
Yes, I worked quite closely with him on the production of ‘Days In Europa’ at Rockfield Studios in Wales.
DALEK I LOVE YOU were in the next studio, I lent them my drum machine. Funnily enough at the same time, SIMPLE MINDS were in the rehearsal room there!
So I’m stuck in Wales and going “Who’s here? Oh SIMPLE MINDS in the farmhouse!”, so we all got to hang out with each other as there was nothing else to do on a farm.
Want to know why the album is called ‘Days In Europa’? THE SKIDS had a hit in Germany and we were on a TV show called ‘Scene 79’ in Munich… it always happens to me but they only had one drum kit in the studio! It’s a live mimed show, MOTORHEAD were on before us and Philthy Animal Taylor wanted ALL the drums.
So I’m waiting for the kit to be moved from MOTORHEAD’s stage and the announcer goes “Und jetzt DER SKIDS!”… I’ve not even got my f***ing drum kit and I’m standing there like “great!”, the track’s already started and the roadies are bringing me the kit but it’s a live show! *laughs*
You got involved with the New Romantic mime troupe SHOCK and recorded a cover of ‘Angel Face’ backed with ‘R.E.R.B.’ for their first single in 1980?
When VISAGE was recording demos etc, I found out Midge had a professional relationship with some 70s pop writers Bill Martin and Phil Coulter who were involved with SLIK, the bottom line is this led him to know John Hudson who worked with THE GLITTER BAND and owned Mayfair Studios. I thought “Brilliant, I don’t have to go to Wales”
We sat in the control room talking, I loved THE HUMAN LEAGUE’s cover of ‘Rock ‘N’ Roll’ and said I wanted a sound like that clap, so John went round the back and got these two floorboards with some door handles and clapped them together, that’s how they the claps did those records! I said I’d like to do this sound but with computers and triggered drums.
I said I could make a track with this trademark sound but without physically playing anything. So I told him I knew this bloke called Richard Burgess who had been doing the linking interludes on the VISAGE album and had that massive Roland System 700 modular with the Micro-composer. Richard had a Fairlight as well, he seemed to be able to get access to all this stuff via the tech companies.
Basically Richard was my tech guy, he’d got hold of Dave Simmons and got me a deal on only the brain of the synthesized drum system they were working on, cos they hadn’t got the pads as they hadn’t been made yet. He said I could trigger them which is how I got the drum fills on ‘R.E.R.B.’
So basically, doing ‘Angel Face’ was the catalyst for ‘R.E.R.B.’?
We programmed the whole thing to do a cover of ‘Angel Face’ first at Mayfair and John Hudson said “You know I can get hold of Gerry Shephard who wrote the song”, so he came along and helped us with the backing vocals… and the lead vocals! *laughs*
Meanwhile, Robert Pereno from SHOCK did ‘Top Of The Pops’ as a member of TIGHT FIT for that ‘Back To The 60s’ medley before ‘The Lion Sleeps Tonight’!
You know that Tim Friese-Greene produced ‘The Lion Sleeps Tonight’ and it was when Mark Hollis heard that, he got him to work with TALK TALK?
REALLY? Well, the sound of that was amazing! Anyway I haven’t finished!! *laughs*
So we’re talking about SHOCK, and “R.E.” Rusty Egan and “R.B.” Richard Burgess… so we had this 7 inch and 12 inch record of ‘Angel Face’ done, John went to RCA and said they loved it and would put it out, but we needed a B-side. So I quickly threw up ‘Angel Face’ and took off all the vocals and things, me and Richard sat at the piano to do that “da-da-dah” theme. I wanted to call it ‘The Red Bridge’ because it was in Luxembourg and has the most beautiful view, I had been there with Brigitte who was the girl’s voice on ‘Fade To Grey’, I wanted to get this feeling of European grandeur but we ran out of time to do any words. So ‘R.E.R.B.’ came out of ‘Angel Face’.
Now if you go back to THE SKIDS, on the album track ‘Animation’, the closing track of ‘Days Of Europa’ is ‘Animation’ backwards, but with the drums put forwards while Stuart Adamson and Richard Jobson wrote another song over it, but it was the basically same backing track. So I had this idea that you could do music over another one, so that’s what we did on ‘R.E.R.B’ with a new melody and those signature drums.
Your first remix was ‘ Burundi Black’…
It was 1980 and I’m DJing in a club. I knew Marco Pirroni from ADAM & THE ANTS and they dropped this record ‘Kings Of The Wild Frontier’ and I knew it was the Burundi drums. So I said to my then partner Jean-Philippe Iliesco who produced SPACE about wanting to get hold of it and he said he knew Eddie Barclay of Barclay Records who had released it.
So he called him and got the multi-tracks for me. I just wanted the drums on their own with the tribe and no music, then I added a drum machine and some playing, I wanted this tribal feel and the future together.
I don’t believe I did a great job on that to be honest… it’s funny but recently Mark Reeder released an album ‘Mauerstadt’ and as I was listening to it, I noticed one track ‘Giant Mushrooms’ was like that, I heard the Burundi sample and loved it. I mentioned it to Mark and said “Oh, you sampled Burundi” but he replied he’d sampled someone who’d sampled Burundi! *laughs*
And that’s the world of sampling now! I might come back to that you know, I’ve got an idea based on what you can do today.
Let’s talk about ‘Yellow Pearl’…
If I’m not mistaken, ‘Yellow Pearl’ was a track that Midge was working on for the VISAGE album but hadn’t got past the drum machine stage. But I had done the break in a rehearsal room somewhere with him that lodged in his head.
After Midge did the THIN LIZZY tour, Phil Lynott came to The Blitz Club and heard the sounds there so when he was doing his solo album, he said he wanted me in on the drums. I did a few songs like ‘Kathleen’ which were very normal. Then I got this call back from Midge that Phil wanted me to do ‘Yellow Pearl’ and use that break. So I said “yeah”, turned up and I did that. Then Midge’s manager showed up with a single piece of paper and asked me to sign my life away so I did, then it got on ‘Top Of The Pops’ as the theme and I was a bit p*ssed off because I’d signed my life away!
SPACE are most famous for ‘Magic Fly’ and you did a remix of a later single ‘Tender Force’…
When I get a remix, I don’t necessarily want to put Rusty all over it, I just like something a lot and I feel that I can shine a light on it.
If you get a song which you like that didn’t make it, sometimes a remix can bring people’s attention to the original and people go “I heard this version by Rusty which I didn’t like, but then I found the original”. So I did timbale drumming cos when you’re a drummer, why don’t you do some drums?
SPACE introduced me to Didier Marouani and Jannick Top who were exceptional musicians, I thought these guys were amazing. Through them, I got on really well with Roland Romanelli and I programmed everything on his solo album ‘Connecting Flight’ which was very pioneering.
So what was ‘Do What Ya Wanna Do’ by THE CAGE featuring Nona Hendryx all about?
I’d got myself a TR808 by now, I had this beat and sequence to make people dance so I’m playing around with it and thought “why don’t I do T-CONNECTION but totally electro?”, it could sound like ‘I Feel Love’. I called up Gary Barnacle who played with SOFT CELL, he brought his bass playing brother Steve and we had this little Casio out for the break, there’s this 64 bar build with the percussion before I smash a light bulb, it was literally hitting fire extinguishers, bashing everything. It was great, I was grabbing everything in the studio, bits of wood…
Through my trips to New York, I’d known Nona Hendryx was session singing having been in LABELLE who did ‘Lady Marmalade’. So Vicki Wickham who managed Dusty Springfield and Nona suggested having her on the track. It was this time that I met producer John Luongo who had remixed THE JACKSONS, so it was all about dance music for me as The Camden Palace was about to open and had the biggest sound system in the world.
The final classic VISAGE track ‘I’m Still Searching’ was moody but still very New York…
It was actually just me and Steve, mostly me although I did credit the other members of VISAGE because at the time, I didn’t believe we had split up, the fact that they weren’t there was irrelevant. VISAGE was always about a group of people where some show up and some can’t like John McGeoch, but he was still a member. So we had to do a B-side…
It’s unusual in that it was a VISAGE B-side that had a vocal…
Yeah, it was just one finger on the synth…
It sounded a bit like PET SHOP BOYS…
I’d never heard of PET SHOP BOYS back then in 1982…
Well that’s cos they didn’t exist at the time! *laughs*
Ok, so what’s the story about your UK remix of MADONNA’s ‘Everybody’?
I’ve been recently linking and tweeting over the years about how upset I am about this, but the reason I’m upset is based on my knowledge of Blockchain and how in the future, musicians will ALL be paid, there will be none of this not paying people and all the b*llocks that the music industry loves…
So the bottom line is we did a verbal agreement in New York that I would remix the track for Warner Bros that needed a British introduction. Basically at the time, you could make it easier in England than you could in America.
Was this a thing you sorted with Seymour Stein of Sire Records who were part of the Warners set-up?
Yes, I did a lot with Seymour, I gave him SOFT CELL whose publishing I looked after, B-MOVIE, the ‘Batcave: Young Limbs And Numb Hymns’ compilation album, we did a lot.
Everything was agreed and we put her on at The Haçienda in Manchester, that would introduce her to ‘cool’ England, the tune would be cool and I think it did the job, the press were all over it. I think I did a great mix and you can find it online. If you go to madonna.com there is information on it even though it’s not credited “Rusty Egan”, it says “UK mix” but that IS the Rusty Egan mix. I only played my mix at The Camden Palace, all the time…
So what did you do specifically on your mix that was different to make it more UK friendly?
I gave it a lot more space, it was more on vocals and guitar because I liked that rhythm thing like on ‘The Anvil’ plus I especially liked the talking. I think the regular MADONNA version is a pop song and I made it more of a seductive groove in a club, I extended the breaks, I put echoes and delays on the vocals and brought it right up.
So, let’s enter ‘The Twilight Zone’…
I had an agreement with Warner Chappell and each project they turned down, this was a Warner movie and a classic theme, I did not want to use the main theme, just the well-known sequence adding all the rest myself, bassline and string stabs and percussion. Rob Dickens of Warners came to the studio and said he would not accept the mix unless I edited in the main orchestral and organ theme. So it was released like that as ‘The Twilight Zone’, RUSTY 1 on Warner Bros Records.
That tw*t John Pitcher of MRC who stole VISAGE, ‘R.E.R.B’ and Blitz Club Records then added it to a compilation ‘Trevor Jackson – Metal Dance 2: Industrial New Wave EBM Classics & Rarities 79-88’. But what Trevor did was edit out the main theme back to what I submitted, so it’s all me.
TIME ZONE ‘Wild Style’, you’ve reclaimed this one…
The story is I heard this band called YELLO and I was invited by Ian Tregoning of their label Do It Records to meet them. There was this place on the way by train where these blokes SUPERSEMPFT had made a record I liked, so we went to their studio. I sampled all these records by BLANCMANGE and KRAFTWERK into a beat, programmed the drum machine, played the bass on the Moog and did all the pieces in one night.
I had a cassette of it and went on my journey to meet YELLO, but when I got back, I sent it to Celluloid Records in New York who released a lot of French electronic music I was liking like MATHÉMATIQUES MODERNE, the French seemed to like quite odd records at the time. Anyway, next thing I know, Afrika Bambaataa loves it and suggested we go 50:50 as I’d done the music.
But over the years, people online I’ve never heard of who have claimed they wrote it by logging into this publishing database, I didn’t know about that… in 1993, Todd Terry made a record called ‘My Definition Wild Style’, all he did was take the B-side of the record and added a nice beat, that was it! We don’t mind that BUT what we mind is he claimed he wrote the f***ing thing! I was furious, then a load of other blokes claimed they wrote it, so I had to get Notting Hill Music to say 100% written by Rusty Egan and all the others can F*** OFF! But they’d all been paid for 20 years!
Anyway, I reworked it for ‘Welcome To The Dancefloor’ as ‘Wonderwerke’ because I kept saying in German “Was ist das? Ein Wonderwerke?”, so I’ve reclaimed it from Todd Terry!
To continue the German connection, what about when you worked with German act HONGKONG SYNDIKAT in 1984?
These guys sampled Ronald Reagan’s speech in Berlin for a track called ‘Berlin Bleibt Doch Berlin’ and they did this beat. I met with Gerd Plez from HONGKONG SYNDIKAT, he played me the demos for the next album and I suggested mixing it at my Trident Studios and adding overdubs. We did this song ‘Divided By’ which was literally a pocket calculator that went “9-8-7, 7-8-9, divided by-divided by”, it was hard, maybe too hard.
Then there was a song called ‘Too Much’, I introduced him recently to HP Hoeger and the chill out mix has ended up on a few ‘Buddha Bar’ albums.
Now, you formed THE SENATE and released ‘The Original Sin’…
Yeah, with Kirk Brandon… well, ‘The Original Sin’ was the one everyone says is about Kirk’s friendship with Boy George. Now the other day on The Blitz Club Facebook group, there’s a picture of Kirk Brandon which the poster labelled “closet”, what a f***ing thing to write? Don’t forget, The Blitz was a place where people who were unsure of their sexuality could go to.
While it wasn’t a gay club, you had to be open-minded so why do we have people on The Blitz Club Facebook group talking like a homophobic thug?
Well it’s rather like electronic music fans who are into KRAFTWERK ‘Europe Endless’ and ULTRAVOX ‘New Europeans’ but being staunchly pro-Brexit…
Yes, so basically this song is Kirk admitting that Boy George was a beautiful boy, as was Marilyn, and about when you’re 19-20 years old and you are unsure of your sexuality. We loved that “is it a boy, is it a girl?” time and when I heard that lyric “since you came into my life, I had to rearrange my heart”, boy did Kirk have a voice and I wanted to have this orchestrated epicness behind it, but I think I went way over the top!
Was THE SENATE meant to be a limited project?
Yes, it was one-off, me and Kirk were mates and I’d produced SPEAR OF DESTINY, ‘Mickey’ is a classic and featured Anne Dudley on strings.
PULSE’s cover version of LED ZEPPELIN ‘Whole Lotta Love’, you were having a hit again…
This was 1988, on the bottom of the rear artwork, it says “Every generation has a musical revolution…” and I was part of the 1980 musical revolution. But I was sitting in the Island Records office, working as a friend for U2 on a little salary, I’d lost my wife, my home, my car so basically I’m losing it, 80% of the people at Island were into DEACON BLUE and I was at my lowest ebb! It really wasn’t happening, I liked THE CHRISTIANS and SHRIEKBACK but I was desperately looking for something.
I knew Paul Oakenfold and all these DJs that had come to The Camden Palace so I thought to myself “something is going to happen musically to get me out of this”. But in the meantime, it wasn’t house as it hadn’t arrived yet, electro and techno had probably peaked.
I did this psychedelic record sleeve and I just thought of Robert Plant, so I had this idea of doing ‘Whole Lotta Love’ with Tracy Ackerman from SHAKATAK on vocals, an amazing singer.
Dave Robinson who was Stiff Records but now Island MD at that time was linked with Trevor Horn cos of FRANKIE GOES TO HOLLYWOOD.
So I was invited down to Sarm Studios and they offered to let me use it, so we made that! Then U2 released it on their Son Records imprint…
Ah yes, Son Records released that novelty Country & Western cover of ‘The Fly’ by THE JOSHUA TRIO and ‘Riverdance’…
And again, I never got paid! *laughs*
So it all ended for a few decades but you came back with a club remix of FILTHY DUKES ‘Messages’ in 2009…
I think it’s f***ing great that mix! The late Mick Clark who signed SOUL II SOUL suggested I remix so they put me in this studio with all the parts of FILTHY DUKES, but of course I hadn’t been in one for 20 years so didn’t know what to do, it was all computerised! So I’m there with this guy Sie Medway-Smith who I was told had remixed DEPECHE MODE and I was like “WHAT?”… they said he was the right guy for me.
BUT, when you go back into the studio for the first time in ages and don’t really know how it works anymore, you tend to let other people do things and then say “I don’t like it”… but when you say “I don’t like it”, it tends to go down like nails down a blackboard! So what happened with him was he went “well, this is how it works mate!”
I just wanted it simple and I did all the synths, but everything about it was an argument! Sie Medway-Smith was way advanced and in-demand so acted like he was doing me a favour, I couldn’t p*ss him off!
So there’s this interesting side-story with LA ROUX…
Because of that mix, through Mick Clark I got the chance to see and remix LA ROUX. I went to the Notting Hill Arts Club and I heard ‘Bulletproof’. So I went back to Sie and said “I want to do this!”, but he went “it’s f***ing rubbish Rusty”! Sie pulled up the lead vocal and said “it’s terrible” and I was like “IT’S NOT! IT’S A POP SONG!”, so we basically had this argument. I’m trying to do a remix and he’s literally downing tools, doing anything to avoid finishing it! *laughs*
I was powerless cos I don’t know what to do, so we get like a half finished version to Mick Clark who said “it’s good but it’s not right and you’ve missed the deadline, they’ve gone for some drum ‘n’ bass guy and it’s blowing up!”…. I had to ask what that meant!! I was so angry! You can hear it on my Soundcloud.
Fast forward to 2014 and you do this mash-up with Antony Toga on TINY MAGNETIC PETS ‘Control Me’?
I search for stuff all the time and I found ‘Control Me’, I thought it was brilliant although the drums were sh*t, so I knew Antony Toga and his adaptation of ‘Seconds’ by THE HUMAN LEAGUE so I mashed them together and sent it to the band. I said “I think you’re great and I love your songs but you need to sort your drums out”…
Funnily enough, I said the same to them after I first saw them live in Düsseldorf 2015…
It was only supposed to be an idea, but TINY MAGNETIC PETS made a video and uploaded it saying I did it but it wasn’t me as such. They left it as it is but I suggested they contact Antony Toga to make sure he didn’t mind. They do this version live…
Some of your most high profile remixes recently were for U2?
I had always been a U2 fan, but I lost it around ‘How To Dismantle An Atomic Bomb’. I hadn’t really reconnected to their new music, their first five albums were classic as most people I think would agree, although I did like ‘Beautiful Day’.
But I reconnected on this new album ‘Songs Of Experience’, I felt it had a message and that message was love. It had vocoders, synthesizers and I thought “this isn’t your rock ‘n’ roll’, I would love to do something with this”.
So I wrote to U2 asking if I could remix them, not realising 20 other DJs had already done so. They sent me a link and they were HORRIBLE, sh*tty terrible EDM! I asked to do ‘Love Is Bigger Than Anything In Its Way’ which I did with HP Hoeger, one without drums, one with drums and one in the style of ‘In The Air Tonight’ by Phil Collins.
NOW, we all know ‘In The Air Tonight’ is a Roland CR78 drum machine, it’s got this sound but I just wanted to put a beat on it, which I programmed on a plug-in. I sent it to the band and they loved this version but wanted more guitars on, so it became like the ‘band’ mix. But the Chill mix without the drums is my preferred mix…
U2 go with the ‘band’ mix which is not the one I love, but then this well-known remixer from Holland, Ben Liebrand is on YouTube and Soundcloud going “RUSTY EGAN HAS STOLEN MY DRUMS!”, so I’m like “what?”… I searched and found he had remixed a version of ‘In The Air Tonight’ in 1988, I listened to it and went “OH F*CK! It sounds like the same thing!”, but then that’s because it’s the same drum machine!
Anyway, when you Google “Drums In The Air Tonight Phil Collins”, there’s all these YouTube tutorials going “Hi! Whassup? Today we’re going to show you how to programme the ‘In The Air Tonight’ drums”… I was like “Hang on Ben Liebrand, there’s 25 guys here who can programme the ‘In The Air Tonight’, I DIDN’T do ‘In The Air Tonight’, I did U2 and used the same f***ing drum machine! There is no ‘In The Air Tonight’ drums on it, it is just SOUND!”
But using a drum sound is not like nicking a bit off an actual song…
That’s right! So if you want to get into that, I made THE ART OF NOISE drum sound! I’d brought JJ Jeczalik who did ABC into my studio, I paid him £500 to press all these buttons on a Fairlight as none of us knew how to work it, he took my sound and he had a band of his own called THE ART OF NOISE!
Was that the VISAGE ‘Beat Boy’ drum sound?
YES! You can tell ‘Beat Boy’ and THE ART OF NOISE are the same sound! We made it before! *laughs*
If Ben Liebrand had written to me privately about the similarity or whatever, we could have handled it in an “oh my god, I didn’t realise” manner. ‘Yellow Pearl’ IS my drum sound, people when they listen to music always go “oh, it sounds like…”
Let’s talk about ‘Thank You’, the closing track on your album ‘Welcome To The Dancefloor’…
‘Thank You’ is as it is, I just believe a lot of people should say “thank you” but they don’t… so I felt when I made my album, my career and everything that I am is because of that list of people.
And even if in there I thank Nikonn who worked with me on that album and I clashed with, or people that I disagreed with, it’s about the music. I even end it poignantly by saying “VISAGE”, regardless of any problems or issues that I had with Steve Strange, I am still immensely proud of the music I made with VISAGE, so I am very upset when it is imitated or faked as anybody would be…
ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK gives its warmest thanks to Rusty Egan
Richard James Burgess is the renowned record producer who famously coined the term New Romantic.
His triumphs from that era include the brilliant 12 inch Special Mix of ‘The Freeze’ and the glorious neo-classicism of ‘Musclebound’ by SPANDAU BALLET.
The Islington quintet’s earlier, more electronic sounding work was all produced by Burgess. A winner of numerous production awards, his book ‘The Art Of Music Production’ is an international best seller.
He is also a successful musician in his own right with the group LANDSCAPE who scored their biggest hit ‘Einstein A Go-Go’ in early 1981.
At the forefront of studio developments such as the Roland Microcomposer, the Fairlight CMI and his own Simmons SDSV, Burgess appeared on the BBC’s ‘Tomorrow’s World’ on no less than three occasions to demonstrate these wonders of musical technology that without doubt changed music forever.
It is the Simmons SDSV that could be considered Burgess’ biggest contribution to music and popular culture. Conceptualised and co-designed with Dave Simmons, it was the first standalone electronic drum kit where the individual parameters of each sound could be adjusted. The original idea had been to make a machine which could be played by a drummer as a replacement for acoustic drums and was developed from having to deal with the problems of audio spill via microphones when playing drums live. Sounds were originally mocked up around an ARP 2600 synthesizer which had already been popular with producers such as Martin Hannett and Daniel Miller for being able to obtain distinctive but useable percussive palettes.
A prototype of the SDSV triggered by a Roland Microcomposer was used on singles by SHOCK and the LANDSCAPE album ‘From The Tea-rooms of Mars To The Hell-holes Of Uranus’. But the full kit itself did not appear on a recording until SPANDAU BALLET’s ‘Chant No1’ in 1981. The hexagonal pads, made from material used in police riot shields, became an iconic image while the distinctive synthetic “dzzshhh” sound (which Burgess modelled on the way he tuned his Pearl concert toms with one tension rod loosened causing the pitch to drop after the initial hit) became ubiquitous featuring on records by ULTRAVOX, DURAN DURAN, TALK TALK, CLASSIX NOUVEAUX, THOMAS DOLBY and A FLOCK OF SEAGULLS among many.
Now based in Washington DC where he works as Director of Marketing and Sales for Smithsonian Folkways Recordings, Richard James Burgess recently paid a visit to the UK and hooked up with his old mate Rusty Egan from VISAGE and The Blitz Club. He took time out from his busy schedule to talk at length about his pioneering career.
How did you first get into record production?
I bought a portable Tandberg tape recorder when I sixteen and recorded everything that made a noise. I actually studied electronics at college before I went to Berklee and Guildhall for music and then I owned an EMS Synthi A synthesizer and bought myself a Revox tape machine that I used to record almost every LANDSCAPE gig. In the mid-70s when I was in the group Easy Street signed to CBS and Polydor Records, we used to produce our own demos in high end studios all over London and I was working with wonderful producers as a studio musician and in the various bands I was playing in.
At first producing didn’t appeal to me because it involved such a lengthy commitment of time to a single project but when I started making music using the MC-8 Microcomposer, I realized that none of the producers and engineers had any understanding of how to deal with that technology and what was about to become the new way of making records.
LANDSCAPE had recorded one track for what would become the ‘Tea-rooms of Mars…’ album with Colin Thurston and we realized that it would be easier to produce the record ourselves because we understood the underlying thinking of computer generated music. We were putting most of it together at my home studio and then just dumping it to tape at the studio anyway.
So the ‘Tea-rooms…’ album would be the first commercial co-production (with the other members of LANDSCAPE) that I did, but we held it back until after the SPANDAU BALLET ‘Journeys to Glory’ album came out. Spandau’s manager Steve Dagger called me out of the blue and asked me if I wanted to produce their first album.
I was very excited about that and I had seen the band at nearly all of their first six gigs. I knew them personally from The Blitz and liked them. I also knew that we could make a great album that would be a hit and that the LANDSCAPE album would be more likely to chart if I had a hit with SPANDAU BALLET first.
The confidence of youth is a beautiful thing and it all worked out very well. The ‘Journeys to Glory’ album immediately went gold and launched my production career. It nearly ended my career as well because all I was offered after that was artists who wanted to sound just like SPANDAU BALLET and I preferred to work with artists who are fundamentally original.
The new remastered sound of ‘Journeys to Glory’ is really quite shocking. As the producer, do you have an opinion on this and this trend for loudness and brickwalling in mastering?
I am not sure I have the same version you do and I don’t listen to my old stuff at all unless I have a reason to do so. Labels don’t bother to call the original producer about these things and who knows which masters they are using. I stand strongly opposed to brickwalling in mastering. It existed in vinyl mastering too – everyone was trying to make the loudest record. What makes no sense about this practice is that it doesn’t matter – radio compresses and EQs the life out of everything anyway so destroying the sound of your production to make it a couple of dB louder is irrational. If you are listening in the car or at home you can just turn it up a bit if it seems quiet.
‘Diamond’ has come out much better and it occurred to me how the second artier side is a very under rated. The track ‘Innocence & Science’ in particular isn’t really that different from JAPAN’s ‘Ghosts’. Many who have never heard this would be surprised to learn it’s SPANDAU BALLET. How did you achieve those naturalistic sound textures like the cheng, sitar, vocal drones, water drips, ethnic percussion etc? Were those courtesy of your Fairlight?
Thank you. My recollection is that this was about the time I stopped reading my press. If I recall correctly, we got slammed for the B side – some reviewers thought it was pretentious.
It was Gary Kemp’s idea, I loved it. There is no Fairlight on it at all. We did it at Jam Studios in North London and we played or created all those sounds naturally, the huge sounding concert bass drums were courtesy that amazing huge old room (it used to be a Decca classical soundstage).
I felt that we were naturally progressing – ‘Chant No1’ signalled the move from the initial sparse, New Romantic sound into the funkier sound that many other groups picked up on and that B side of ‘Diamond’ was pushing into atmospheric, world kinds of sounds. As you have success, it seems like a good opportunity to stretch and take risks.
LANDSCAPE started as primarily as a jazz funk fusion group. Was there a particular moment when you and the group decided to pursue a more synthetic direction?
As I mentioned I had a strong grounding in electronics and Chris Heaton (keyboard player in LANDSCAPE) and myself had an avant garde electronic group (ACCORD, with Chris on treated and prepared piano, Roger Cawkwell on synth, myself on homemade electronic percussion and sometimes Chris’s brother Roger Heaton on clarinet). I had been fascinated by the computer music experiments going on at Stanford and IRCAM (John Chowning etc) and when I heard about the Roland MC-8 Microcomposer, John L Walters and myself immediately went out to the Roland warehouse to play with it and I bought one.
I had been working on what would become the Simmons SDSV drum synthesizer and had been using electronics triggered by my drums for several years (as can be heard on the first LANDSCAPE album on RCA). I had been playing around with several concepts for electric and electronic drums and had built a bunch of prototypes which I used on gigs. LANDSCAPE had sold about 25,000 EPs of our live recordings, U2XME1X2MUCH (pr. you two timed me one time too much) and Workers Playtime. I don’t know what the first LANDSCAPE album for RCA sold but it didn’t chart in any big way.
Rusty Egan was playing several tracks from it at The Blitz, in particular the lead track ‘Japan’ which featured treated piano, electronically altered soprano sax and trombone and electronic triggers on the drums.
I also used Moog Drum on ‘The Mechanical Bride’ from the album and other bits and pieces I begged, borrowed and made myself.
I had used very early electronic percussion on the Easy Street recordings in the mid-70s: the Impakt Percussion device and I used my Synthi A to mock up percussive sounds.
We had all or most of the music written for what would become the ‘Tea-rooms…’ album and I was sitting at home thinking and I realized that we were going to get the same result as we did with the debut album if we put out another instrumental jazz-funk album through a major label. We discussed it in the band and everyone was on board so I started working on the lyrics that became ‘European Man’ (over a track we called Route Nationale). John and I worked up ‘Einstein A Go-Go’; everybody in the band wrote and arranged so we reconceptualised that album.
We rehearsed the music and recorded those sessions, I wrote out my drum parts and programmed them for the MC-8 Microcomposer and the prototype SDSV drum synth. John and I programmed many of the other parts too and the rest we played using mostly altered or synthetic sounds. By this time I also had one of the first three Fairlight CMI samplers to leave Australia (Peter Gabriel had one, Syco Systems who sold them had one and I had the other) and we were very close to putting a track on the album featuring that instrument but in the end decided that the album was complete without it.
I think we all embraced this new direction because of our raw excitement over the new technology and the seemingly endless possibilities for new sounding orchestrations along with the realization that we weren’t going to be able to survive at RCA if we kept making instrumental jazz-funk recordings.
Electronic pop music was often seen as pompous and pretentious by the general public, but it always seemed LANDSCAPE had their tongues firmly in their cheeks as evidenced by ‘Einstein A Go-Go’, ‘Norman Bates’, ‘Eastern Girls’ and the album title ‘From the Tea-rooms of Mars to the Hell-holes of Uranus’! Do you think this all went over the heads of most people?
I am so glad that you understand this. The clothes (vinyl suits!), much of what we did was tongue in cheek. We were serious about the music and production but we understood the inherent ironies and challenges of being an odd looking band with a very non standard line-up trying to make a living and even hit the charts.
It did not appear to me that the humour, irony and cynicism were ever picked up on by the media. I did see a recent review of ‘Einstein A Go-Go’ that mentioned that the song is a cautionary tale about the apocalyptic possibilities of nuclear weapons falling into the hands of theocratic dictators and religious extremists. We talked about the track conceptually before we wrote it and our objective was to make a very simple, cartoon-like track with a strong hook that would belie the meaning of the lyrics!
You were very close to the scene at The Blitz and are credited with coining the term New Romantic. How did this come about and why do you think this has stuck when other descriptions like ‘The Cult With No Name’, ‘Blitz Kids’, ‘Peacock Punks’ and ‘Futurists’ etc fell by the wayside?
I always believed that for a movement to stick and be identifiable it needed a name. We had just been through punk and glam. Initially I was using three terms Futurist, Electronic Dance Music (the LANDSCAPE singles have EDM printed on them) and New Romantic. My feeling was that the first two terms applied to LANDSCAPE and bands like ULTRAVOX but SPANDAU BALLET was the pre-eminent band for the new movement and New Romantic really applied to the dandyish dress styles of not only Spandau but the whole Blitz look. The look was what caught the attention of the worldwide media – it was such a contrast with punk.
Even ADAM ANT (I produced him later in 1983) who had been around for several years by that time got roped into the New Romantic category in America because of his look. The track ‘Face of the Eighties’ on ‘Tea-rooms…’ was a reference to the phenomenon. Once the other bands like CULTURE CLUB, DURAN DURAN, HUMAN LEAGUE broke and then the next generation kicked in such as HAIRCUT 100, KAJAGOOGOO etc, the die was cast.
You were at the forefront of new technology with developments such as the Roland Microcomposer, Fairlight CMI, Lyricon and the Simmons SDSV electronic drum kit. How exciting was this period for you, particularly with the Simmons which has now become so iconic that LA ROUX has an unplugged bass drum pad as a stage prop?
It was incredibly exciting without question, but I don’t think I could really appreciate what was happening fully because I was so busy – and that was exciting to be in demand and working with great people so much.
I tend to be forward looking and think about what’s next more than thinking about what has been, so once it all happened I was definitely in ‘next’ mode.
Was the futuristic looking hexagonal shape of the Simmons pads your idea?
Yes it was. I was driving up to St Albans where Musicaid was based (that was the name of the company before they went bankrupt and Simmons was formed) and I was thinking about what kind of shape the pads should be. I realized they didn’t need to be round. The first prototype was triangular (I still have that) but I wanted something that would fit together well in a drum set and it struck that the honeycomb is an organic shape that locks together. Dave Simmons made bats-wings and the Rushmore Head set (I have two of those) but in the end it was the hex shape that caught on.
I mentioned to Rusty Egan that the SHOCK B-side ‘RERB’ was one of my favourite tracks of his. You co-wrote and co-produced it with him, can you remember how this magnificent track came about and were you ever disappointed it never gained the recognition it deserved as a classic electronic dance track?
We wrote that in about ten minutes at my home studio in London. It was made as a B-side for ‘Angel Face’ so I didn’t have any major aspirations or expectations for it. My MC8 / System 100M setup was always ready to roll; we talked about what we wanted and it popped out complete.
I think SHOCK, in general, suffered from being too early, as did LANDSCAPE. A couple of years later there were radio stations all over the world that would play this stuff and many more clubs but this was still the end of the disco era and the new wave era, we were limited to cutting edge DJs in London, NYC and LA and very little else.
To see SHOCK perform that stuff on stage in a packed show at The Ritz in NYC was an electrifying experience, and it really fed the excitement of the early adopters but there just weren’t enough of them, worldwide, at that time for it to gain mass acceptance. Many of the people at that Ritz gig and their other gigs became movers and shakers in the 80s scene – it was as if this was the kind of music and the look they were waiting for.
Your production credits also include KING, ADAM ANT, VIRGINIA ASTLEY, KIM WILDE, WHEN IN ROME and PRAISE. As well as that, you did Fairlight programming for KATE BUSH and VISAGE. Did you have any particular favourite acts who you worked with and memories you can share?
I can’t say enough good things about KATE BUSH. She was always wonderful to work with, incredibly talented and an innovator. She called us about the Fairlight – she found out about it through PETER GABRIEL and she fully grasped the implications of what it could do immediately. KIM WILDE is an absolute sweetheart and that was a fun record to make in Los Angeles. VIRGINIA ASTLEY was a really different record for me and she had a strong vision which is something I really look for in an artist.
I did the VISAGE programming at my home studio and recorded it at Mayfair and that was fun because of all the guys in the band who were setting the trends in the Futurist/New Romantic scene, there was a feeling that we were treading new ground. WHEN IN ROME I did in LA and I am still in contact with those guys – nice people and a lot of fun.
I felt that PRAISE really set the ambient music compass, Geoff MacCormack and Simon Goldenberg really defined that world music and wordless vocal sound. As successful as the record was, I don’t think they got the credit they deserved. Records can be hard to make for many reasons, personality clashes and creative differences being among them but I really felt fortunate in being able to work with great people.
LIVING IN A BOX were great. SHREIKBACK was tough because Barry Andrews didn’t really want to make a record that commercial and I can commiserate with that, but that’s what Island Records brought me in for and we wound up with three or so tracks in the Billboard modern rock charts simultaneously from ‘Go Bang’.
It would be true to say that I got a lot of satisfaction out of the COLONEL ABRAMS tracks I cut, particularly ‘Trapped’ and ‘I’m Not Gonna Let’. I produced all the hits that he had and some people say that we defined the early house music sound.
I had just moved to NYC and I didn’t have much equipment with me – a LinnDrum, DX7 and a Juno 106 and I made the record with just those instruments. The special factor there (apart from Colonel’s incredible voice) was Colonel and Marston’s NY street sensibility combined with my radio production perspective and programming sensibility and we got something that really took off.
How did you feel when Stock Aitken and Waterman basically ripped ‘Trapped’ off for RICK ASTLEY’s ‘Never Gonna Give You Up’
It’s funny, I didn’t even know until LIVING IN A BOX pointed it out to me. Frankly, I take it as a huge compliment. SAW are very capable writers and for them to build a completely new song and create another big hit off of one of my bass lines just points up the incredible breadth of possibilities available even in a specific genre like dance music.
You and John L Walters from LANDSCAPE originally produced HOT GOSSIP’s debut album in 1981 which Dindisc Records didn’t release and it was eventually completed with HEAVEN 17’s Martyn Ware and Ian Craig Marsh. But Andy McCluskey from OMD who were also signed to Dindisc at the time was particularly uncomplimentary about you in the music press. Did you ever get to the bottom of why he had such venom and did you ever bump into him to err… discuss the matter?
I made a decision right after my first big success as an artist and producer not to read my press. So this is the first I am hearing about Andy McCluskey’s negative comments.
All I can say is that I am really good friends with Mike Howlett who produced those OMD records and I hold him in very high regard. I don’t know Andy and I have no understanding of why people can be negative like that about someone and something they know nothing about.
I also met Martyn Ware recently and like him immensely; clearly we have a lot of shared interests and history.
I will say that I think the HOT GOSSIP record that I made with John L Walters was one of my favourite productions. I haven’t listened to it in nearly thirty years, but my recollection is that we really broke some new ground.
Unfortunately I think what Carol Wilson (the A&R person) and Arlene Phillips (HOT GOSSIP) were looking for was something more like SHOCK, LANDSCAPE, SPANDAU BALLET and I used Harvey Mason Jr on drums, Gil Evans played piano on it (that is a great story) and David Sanborn played sax along with many other amazing musicians. I was young and somewhat naive and I played the roughs to Arlene and the label all the way through the process; everyone was nothing but enthusiastic and yet when I turned in the mixes, it all went horribly south.
With a couple more years of experience under my belt I might have been able to right the ship, but they just went ahead and remade the album without any meaningful discussion. This was a huge learning experience for me and rocked my confidence for a bit. With regard to negative press in general, I think it’s inevitable once you have major success that the knives will come out. Artists attacking artists – especially ones they don’t personally know – seems unnecessary. There was a period where I could do no wrong and another where I could do no right in the music press’s eyes.
What would you say was your proudest artistic or technological achievement?
Some of the moments I am proudest of are ones that were ephemeral: gigs in the early jazz-funk phase of LANDSCAPE.
I am a musician, a drummer – I still play regularly- to play with great musicians really excites me. I was never driven by money or success, although both are good and necessary in order to keep making music.
There were some specific gigs I remember that were incredibly exhilarating, I am thinking about The Stapleton in Crouch Hill and the Music Machine before it became the Camden Palace (we used to jam that place), the guys in LANDSCAPE were so great to play with. I am still happy with ‘Einstein A Go-Go’ and the whole ‘Tea-rooms’ album.
I am still comfortable with what I did with ‘Chant No1’, ‘Trapped’, ‘Living In A Box’ and many other tracks I produced. I wanted to keep challenging myself and once everybody else starts doing something, it tends to lose its appeal for me so that we made the first computer driven hit single and album with the MC-8 (‘Einstein’ and ‘Tea-rooms…’) the Fairlight stuff with Kate, the SDSV for sure, ‘Trapped’ felt like we were pioneering again, PRAISE seemed like new territory at the time also.
The early programming stuff in the 70s was incredibly exciting, if equally tedious. We were programming drums in machine code – ons and offs – the other parts were just a series of numbers; three to define one note. Although it’s not remarkable at all today, to be able to stand back after hours and hours of programming and watch this thing that looked like an adding machine play your compositions and arrangements was an unbelievable thrill.
Oh, three times on ‘Tomorrow’s World’ was fun.
You are now Director of Marketing and Sales for Smithsonian Folkways Recordings in Washington DC. What does this involve? And how do you feel about records such as MOBY’s Play and 18 which sample a lot of traditional gospel and folk recordings as their conceptual basis?
The original intention of copyright law was to protect a work for a period to allow the artist to benefit and then to make that work available for others (preferably after the artist is dead). Montage and collage has been around for a very long time in the visual arts, I have no problem with people sampling other people’s work and creating a new work. If the work is still in copyright then a license should be obtained and the creator should be compensated fairly. If the creator is still alive, they can always decline the license if they don’t approve of the use. I do think copyright law for sound recordings needs to be standardized internationally and I don’t agree with the fifty year law in Europe – at the very least the artist’s lifetime should be covered. Artists can always issue Creative Commons licenses if they so desire.
Your book The Art Of Music Production was a big seller and is still going strong. How do you feel about modern production techniques and how they’ve developed? Are there any of new generation of producers who you rate?
Oh, so many. I think we have moved into a new era where record production is not as clearly defined as it was and we will see more and more slash producers – artist/producer/video director etc. I only see that as a good thing. When I sit down in my studio I still am amazed at the power of software recording
Do you listen to much new electronic pop music these days? Is there anyone who has caught your attention that you enjoy?
I have very wide taste in music. I’ll jump from Beethoven’s Ninth to early 20s recordings of jazz. I have been immersed in jazz for quite a while again because I am producing a boxed set called Jazz: The Smithsonian Anthology that covers the history of jazz from 1917 to 2005, 111 artists and a 200 page book. Obviously I get to hear a lot of roots music and world music being at Smithsonian Folkways but we also have early electronic stuff – JOHN CAGE etc.
I do hear new stuff that I like. I think that one of the dangers is that when so much is possible – samples of all kinds of sounds are available online and software synths and keyboards can emulate anything – things can start to get samey. It usually takes someone to come along and work within economic, technological or self imposed limitations to create something that is really different and stimulating. There has always been a tendency for record labels to sign the epigones and overlook the innovators and the originators.
ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK gives its sincerest thanks to Richard James Burgess