While 1979 saw a post-punk revolution with new wave and ska emerge as energetic expressions of youth with the likes of JOY DIVISION, XTC, THE SPECIALS and MADNESS, maturer acts with power pop sensibilities such as BLONDIE and THE POLICE dominated the UK charts.
But the synthesizer had become a new tool of creativity for those who weren’t interested in learning chords on a guitar and preferred to use one finger, thanks to its new found affordability with refined technology from Japan. While electronics had been present in disco, progressive rock and esoteric avant garde forms, following seminal records in 1978 such as ‘Warm Leatherette’ b/w ‘TVOD’ by THE NORMAL and ‘Being Boiled’ by THE HUMAN LEAGUE, a new DIY artpop form was developing that would eventually take on KRAFTWERK at their own game.
Among those fledgling electronic acts who released their debut singles in 1979 on independent labels were OMD with ‘Electricity’ on Factory Records and FAD GADGET with ‘Back To Nature’ on Mute Records. Meanwhile on another independent Rough Trade, CABARET VOLTAIRE achieved a wider breakthrough with ‘Nag Nag Nag’, the standalone single accompanying their first album ‘Mix-Up’.
Having experimented with synths on ‘Low’ released in 1977, David Bowie had gone to see THE HUMAN LEAGUE at The Nashville in late 1978 and hailed them as “the future of rock ‘n’ roll”. Alas it was TUBEWAY ARMY fronted by Gary Numan who beat THE HUMAN LEAGUE to the top of the UK singles charts in Summer 1979 with Are Friends Electric?’. However, just a few weeks earlier, SPARKS had taken the Giorgio Moroder produced ‘No1 Song In Heaven’ into the UK Top20. But however history is perceived, a revolution had begun that would lead to the dawn of “synthpop” in 1980.
Here are 20 albums which ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK sees as contributing to the electronic legacy of 1979. They are listed in alphabetical order with a restriction of one album per artist moniker, meaning Gary Numan and Edgar Froese appear twice…
As ASHRA, Manuel Göttsching released what many consider to be his first ambient masterpiece ‘New Age Of Earth’. On 1978’s ‘Blackouts’, he expanded the line-up to include drumming synthesist Harald Grosskopf and guitarist Lutz Ulbrich which continued on ‘Correlations’. Despite being more rock-oriented, it featured sequenced electronics with ‘Club Cannibal’ almost entering Jean-Michel Jarre territory.
Although he had released ‘Romance ‘76’ while still a member of TANGERINE DREAM, Peter Baumann’s first solo album after departing the band was something of an interim record before venturing into electronic pop with ‘Repeat Repeat’. Mostly shorter instrumental compositions using mysterious melodies and occasional vocoder textures, ‘Trans Harmonic Nights’ remains something of an underrated electronic gem.
Away from TANGERINE DREAM and perhaps prompted by the success of Jean-Michel Jarre’s electronic symphonies, ‘Stuntman’ was Edgar Froese at his most accessible with strong synth melodies, particularly on the title track. Elsewhere, new age resonances were developing while on ‘Drunk Mozart In The Desert’, there were atmospherics coupled with a rhythmic bounce.
Produced and co-written by Zeus B Held, the debut album by androgynous art history student Gina Kikoine featured an array of ARP and Moog synths to signal the birth of a new European Underground. Cult club favourite ‘No GDM’ was written in honour of the “great dark man” Quentin Crisp while other highlights included the detached robotic soul of the title song and the feisty gender statement ‘Be A Boy’.
With Giorgio Moroder acquiring Roland’s new System 700 and an MC8 Micro-composer to control it, ‘E=MC²’ was touted as the first “electronic live-to-digital” album. This allowed for an uptempo funkiness previously unheard on sequencer based music to come into play. With the euphoric energy and treated vocals of ‘What A Night’, the sound of DAFT PUNK was inadvertently being invented!
As a member of GONG and solo artist, Steve Hillage had a love of German experimental music and ventured into ambient with long standing partner Miquette Giraudy. Recorded for the Rainbow Dome at the ‘Festival For Mind-Body-Spirit’ at Olympia, these two lengthy Moog and ARP assisted tracks each had a beautifully spacey vibe to induce total relaxation with a colourful sound spectrum.
With a manifesto of “synthesizers and vocals only”, the debut album by THE HUMAN LEAGUE included ‘Empire State Human’, ‘Circus Of daeth’, ‘Almost Medieval’, ‘Blind Youth’ and a stark cover of ‘You’ve Lost That Loving Feeling’. While ‘Reproduction’ was not a commercial success, Phil Oakey, Ian Craig Marsh and Martyn Ware gained valuable experience that would progress their careers.
Although considered a 1980 album, the third JAPAN long player was actually released late 1979 in Japan, Canada, Holland and Germany. Featuring the sequencer-driven title song as well as the rockier ‘Halloween’, despite Roxy rip-off accusations, it was a major artistic step forward as a quality timeless work embracing synths, muzak and orchestrations.
Devoid of guitar but using a flesh-and-blood rhythm section, Gary Numan realised his dream of producing a new form, machine rock. Synths were fed through guitar effects pedals to add a more sinister metallic tone and while there was sombre isolation communicated on all the songs, there was a catchy melodic sensibility which turned Numan into the first synthesizer pop star.
Originally released on THROBBING GRISTLE’s Industrial Records, ‘The Bridge’ album saw Scottish duo Thomas Leer and Robert Rental trading vocal and instrumental duties. Comprising of a side of five songs and a side with four ambient instrumentals, ‘Day Breaks, Night Heals’ and ‘Monochrome Days’ both showcased an avant pop sensibility. Robert Rental sadly passed away in 2000.
Best known as a member of CLUSTER with the late Dieter Moebius, ‘Selbstportrait’ was Hans-Joachim Roedelius’ third solo album, a “self-portrait” reflecting the gentle introspective ambience of the record. Something of a sister album to the 1977’s ‘Sowiesoso’, it was more accessible than CLUSTER’s own structurally minimal ‘Grosses Wasser’ also issued in 1979.
After the ambitious double opus ‘X’ which also incorporated strings in a record comprising of “Six Musical Biographies” in honour of figures including ‘Dune’ author Frank Herbert, Klaus Schulze conceived an actual album called ‘Dune’. Something of a diversion, ‘Shadows of Ignorance’ featured the eccentric poetry of Arthur Brown while the experimental ambient title track made use of cello.
Stronger than their debut LP ‘Life In A Day’, SIMPLE MINDS started experimenting with more electronics and a very European austere on its swift follow-up ‘Real To Real Cacophony’ with the title song presenting their take on KRAFTWERK’s ‘Radio-Activity’. Underground and pulsating through on ‘Changeling’, that and ‘Premonition’ really were a sign of things to come in their dark avant disco templates.
Following the inspirational success of ‘I Feel Love’, SPARKS were put in contact with its producer Giorgio Moroder who had aspirations to work with a band. The resultant album saw Russell Mael’s flamboyant falsetto fitting well with the electronic disco template. ‘The No1 Song In Heaven’ hit the UK charts a few months before ‘Are Friends Electric?’ while the follow-up ‘Beat The Clock’ got into the Top 10.
Still feeling the void left by the departure of Pete Baumann, following the vocal experiment of ‘Cyclone’, Edgar Froese and Christopher Franke opted to retain drummer in Klaus Krüger. While there was also increased guitar and piano usage, the title song and ‘Thru Metamorphic Rocks’ utilised pulsing sequencer passages to signal the Hollywood direction that TANGERINE DREAM would head in.
The ethos of Belgian trio TELEX was “making something really European, different from rock, without guitar”. ‘Looking For Saint Tropez’ contained ‘Moscow Diskow’ took the Trans-Siberian Express to Moscow by adding a funkier groove while also included were a funereal robotic cover of ‘Rock Around The Clock’ and their deadpan debut single ‘Twist A Saint Tropez’.
The title and the group photo on Beachy Head were tongue-in-cheek statements but THROBBING GRISTLE were still deathly uncompromising as shown by ‘Persuasion’. However, there were glints of light with the glorious cascading instrumental ‘Walkabout’ and mutant disco lento of ‘Hot On The Heels Of Love’ as Cosey Fanni Tutti’s whispered vocals competed with synthetic whip-crack and drill noises!
Whereas the TUBEWAY ARMY debut featured punk tunes with added synth, ‘Replicas’ would see the Philip K Dick inspired dystopian vision of Gary Numan paired with appropriate electronic sounds as the main melodic component on the now classic UK No1 ‘Are Friends Electric?’. But ‘Down In The Park’ and ‘I Nearly Married A Human’ pointed to a future guitar-free follow-up.
Although VANGELIS had never been to China at the time the album was recorded, he had developed a passionate fascination for its people, culture and vast landscape, noting a connection between ethnic Greek and Chinese music. Using traditional elements alongside his synthesizers, the centrepieces were the majestic ‘Chung Kuo’ and the meditative pentatonic piece ‘The Tao Of Love’.
The second and best YELLOW MAGIC ORCHESTRA album featured an embarrassment of riches. It included the glorious Technopop of ‘Rydeen’, the mighty ‘Technopolis’, the moodier ‘Castalia’, the Cossack romp of ‘Absolute Ego Dance’ and ‘Behind The Mask’ which was later covered by Greg Phillinganes, Eric Clapton and Michael Jackson.
First established as an exhibition in Greenock during the Autumn of 2018, ‘From The Port To The Bridge: The Story of Thomas Leer & Robert Rental’ recently made its London debut at The Horse Hospital in Russell Square.
Released at the end of 1979, ‘The Bridge’ was the only album by Port Glaswegians Thomas Leer and Robert Rental whose respective solo singles ‘Private Plane’ and ‘Paralysis’ were among 1978 pioneering electronic independent releases which also included THE HUMAN LEAGUE, THE NORMAL and CABARET VOLTAIRE.
To launch the London leg of the exhibition which was attended by luminaries such as John Foxx, Stephen Mallinder and Brian Griffin, a special event was held featuring talk by Daniel Miller who had toured in the guise of THE NORMAL with Robert Rental as a duo opening for Ulster punk bank STIFF LITTLE FINGERS in Spring 1979. As well as loaning his still-working Korg 700s with which he made ‘Warm Leatherette’ for display, his label Mute will be reissuing ‘The Bridge’ as a white vinyl LP edition and CD via their imprint The Grey Area.
Thomas Leer and Robert Rental had met working as gardeners and shared a love of TONTO’S EXPANDING HEAD BAND. Using just two EDP Wasp synthesizers, an EDP Spider sequencer, a guitar and recording equipment provided by THROBBING GRISTLE who originally released the album on their Industrial Records, ‘The Bridge’ is considered a landmark in DIY and experimental electronic music.
As stated on the back of the cover: ”This album was recorded at home on 8 track equipment, provided for us by Industrial Records. It was produced in two weeks dating 18th June to 2nd July. All blips clicks & unseemly noises were generated by refrigerators & other domestic appliances & are intrinsic to the music.”
Comprising of a side of five songs and a side with four ambient instrumentals, the best known track on ‘The Bridge’ is the pulsating dystopia of ‘Day Breaks, Night Heals’ which found itself playlisted regularly at The Blitz Club.
Other highlights included the appropriately titled ‘Attack Decay’ which undoubtedly influenced John Foxx in his ‘Metamatic’ period, the hopeless claustrophobia of ‘Connotations’ and the spacey Eno-inspired soundscape of ‘Interferon’.
The uneasy creative tension between Thomas Leer and Robert Rental revealed itself in the eventual recordings, especially with THROBBING GRISTLE deliberately withholding their best equipment. In a short film of interviews shown as part of the evening, Chris Carter and Cosey Fanni Tutti confirmed it was all part of their mind games to ensure the Scottish pair captured the spirit of their demos and retained their own unique sound, whilst gaining an improvement in sound quality. Carter set up the equipment in the shy and introverted Rental’s London flat and with minimal guidance, let them get on with their voyage of discovery with a deadline of a week (later extended by another week) to complete the album.
It was within the THROBBING GRISTLE axis that Robert Rental had met Daniel Miller, leading eventually to the release of the ‘Double Heart’ single as MUTE 010 but in-between, they played a number of shows together and it was this aspect of the story that the conversation with Daniel Miller hosted by exhibition curator Simon Dell focussed on.
Among the amusing stories, Miller talked of how due to the touch-sensitive membrane keyboard of the Wasp, it would play by itself when overheating under stage lights while with regards to the upcoming reissue of ‘The Bridge’, how important it was not to clean the album up too much although to make it sound good on Spotify, the trick was to “compress the f*ck out of it”.
After the release of the raw ‘Live at West Runton Pavilion, 6-3-79’ one-sided album on Rough Trade, Robert Rental went on to produce the soundtrack for The Comic Strip’s 1984 feature ‘A Fistful of Traveller’s Cheques’. But despite the support of Daniel Miller to continue in music, ever the perfectionist and concerned that Mute might release material that he felt was not of the required standard, Rental retired from the industry; he sadly passed away in 2000.
Thomas Leer went on to release the album ‘Scale Of Ten’ on Arista in 1985 and formed ACT with Claudia Brücken who recorded just one long player ‘Laughter Tears & Rage’ for ZTT in 1988. After a career break, he began releasing music again in 2001.
Photo by Chris Carter
Now living in Greenock and unable to attend the exhibition launch in person, Leer was represented by an insightful new interview filmed by his brother just a few weeks before.
One of the highlights in his forthright anecdotes was his dismay at how DIY was misperceived by the too cool for school crowd as his Fairlight programming was done at home before entering the studio, making it valid as a DIY product as much his 1982 album ‘Contradictions’ on Cherry Red Records.
With records, photographs, press cuttings, film and equipment including an EDP Wasp and Boss Dr Rhythm DR55 drum machine to tell one of the forgotten stories of Synth Britannia, the pioneering legacy of Thomas Leer & Robert Rental deserves greater recognition and this exhibition provides just that.
For Bristol-based Finlay Shakespeare, his interest in synthesizers came from his parents’ record collection, with iconic music from the likes of JEAN-MICHEL JARRE, KRAFTWERK, THE HUMAN LEAGUE and JAPAN.
An independent musical device manufacturer, he founded Future Sound Systems, building modular synthesizer components, predominantly for the Eurorack format.
But with his own music, his complex modular construction and anxious theatrics were inspired by Warp Records stalwarts AUTECHRE.
With a crystal clear modular synth sound coupled to claustrophobic vocals like they were buried in a box in the manner of FAD GADGET, among those impressed was Neil Arthur who invited Shakespeare to tour with BLANCMANGE in 2019. Live, he possessed the persona of a restless IT technician, delivering a hybrid of THE FAINT, THE KILLERS and THE BRAVERY dreaming of wires rather than guitars.
The material on his debut album ‘Domestic Economy’ was initiated by improvisation whilst being recorded live, with one of its highlights ‘Amsterdam’ being an example in modern Motorik. But ‘Solemnities’ is a definite progression, offering more shape and structure than its predecessor, but maintaining a distinct post-punk anguish.
Finlay Shakespeare said on Twitter: “Many of these tracks are becoming weirdly prescient with the current situation. I hope it’ll bring some degree of comfort, but simultaneously bring about some kind of call to arms. Things have to change and soon.”
The opening track ‘Occupation’ is superb, a metronomic squelch fest about social injustice which sees an angry and impassioned Shakespeare conduct a raucous avant noise experiment in song with penetrating noise percussion and icy retro-futuristic string machines.
The following ‘Fortune’ sounds almost synthpop in comparison; rather like Daniel Miller, Eric Random, Chris Carter, Thomas Leer and Robert Rental morphed into one, it is cold enough to be credible but melodic enough to have been in the charts back in the day alongside John Foxx, Gary Numan and Dindisc-era OMD.
‘The Information’ recalls THE HUMAN LEAGUE when Martyn Ware and Ian Craig Marsh were helming the instrumentation, particularly ‘The Path Of Least Resistance’ although with more of a percussive groove.
However, as the synths starting ringing, it steadily mutates into Da League MkII with echoes of ‘Love Action’.
Moving at a more energetic pace and with Shakespeare’s honest vocals complimenting the backdrop, ‘Second Try’ makes good use of a tight pulsating bassline and synth generated rhythms like THROBBING GRISTLE reworking KRAFTWERK’s ‘The Robots’.
The banging techno punk of ‘Crisis’ is hypnotic and poignant to the current world health emergency, embroiled in a wall of thrusting energy, electronic voice approximations and screeching synths for something oddly euphoric. Its urgent on-message vocal charge isn’t far off from being an electronic take on THE JAM; an odd comment maybe but what’s not widely known is that Paul Weller was a fan of the John Foxx-led ULTRAVOX!
‘Fantasy’ is less shouty and more haunted vocally for what could only be described as an industrial ballad. The eerie electronic texturing and a multi-tracked choir of himself then mutates into a crystalline passage driven by heavy militaristic drum samples and ending with the blast of a deep synthetic kazoo section!
The metallic shiver of the frantic ‘She Says / Nothing Ends’ closes with a sub-eight minute epic. At times, it does sound like a range of crockery is being bashed in the manner of DEPECHE MODE’s ‘Shout’, but as the track builds with layers of sequenced electronics and Shakespeare’s snarling voices, it verges on being almost trippy like a banging trance version of THE FAINT.
Wrapped in a marvellous dynamic tension with a balance of melody and freaky angst, Finlay Shakespeare delivers a fresh take on the experimental side of Synth Britannia that is strangely pop, but will satisfy those seeking more of a colder mechanised edge.
‘Solemnities’ contains a captivating mixture of flavours that work well together, capturing the intense spirit of his live performances.
There are a number of acts being hailed as the new saviours of electronic pop, but Finlay Shakespeare is the real deal, a gloriously wayward soul who simultaneously is also intriguingly disciplined.
The soundtrack of The Blitz Club was provided by its resident DJ Rusty Egan and its story is more than well documented.
This vibrant post-punk scene had a flamboyant clientele who were dubbed ‘Blitz Kids’, ‘The Cult With No Name’ and ‘New Romantics’. It became the catalyst for several bands including VISAGE, SPANDAU BALLET and CULTURE CLUB, as well as assorted fashion designers, visual artists and writers.
Rusty Egan told ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK: “I just played as much as I could fit in, it was not all disco. It was a bar and opened after work. I’d arrive 8.30–9.00pm and played all my faves till it was packed, then I got them dancing and at the end, I slowed down”. The dancing style at The Blitz Club often involved the swaying of arms at a distance from the face like slow motion maraca shaking so as not to spoil any carefully hairsprayed styles. Meanwhile, feet movements were often impossible as the small dancefloor was often overcrowded!
With Steve Strange as doorman and fashion gatekeeper, the concept for what was initially a “Bowie Night” came together at Billy’s nightclub in Soho in Autumn 1978 in an effort to find something new and colourful to escape the oncoming drabness in the Winter Of Discontent. After a disagreement with the owners of Billy’s, the pair moved their venture to The Blitz Club.
Although Rusty Egan had been a soul boy and an active participant in punk through a stint rehearsing with THE CLASH and then as a member of THE RICH KIDS with Midge Ure, the two friends became fascinated with electronic dance music though the Giorgio Moroder produced ‘I Feel Love’ by Donna Summer and KRAFTWERK’s ‘Trans Europe Express’ album which had been a surprise favourite in New York discos and whose title track referenced David Bowie.
“There was a couple of years of punk which Midge Ure and myself weren’t too impressed with in terms of the clubs and the environment in Thatcherite Britain, it was horrible in Manchester, Birmingham and Liverpool!” recalled Egan, “So we were just trying basically to grasp the good in life, trying to be positive in a very negative time.”
Photo by Gabor Scott
Although Egan curated an eclectic playlist of available synth works supplemented with soundtracks and relatable art rock tunes, tracks were comparatively scarce in this new innovative electronic form.
So with studio time available following the split of THE RICH KIDS, Ure and Egan hit upon the idea of making their own electronic dance music for The Blitz Club, fronted by Steve Strange. Ure came up with the name VISAGE for the project and presented the demo to his then employers at EMI Records, but it was rejected!
Undeterred, the pair recruited Billy Currie from a then-in hiatus ULTRAVOX plus MAGAZINE’s Dave Formula, John McGeoch and Barry Adamson to record the first VISAGE album at the-then newly constructed Genetic Studios of Martin Rushent.
When Billy Currie toured with Gary Numan in 1979, he and fellow keyboardist Chris Payne composed what was to become ‘Fade To Grey’; it was included on the eventual ‘Visage’ album released by Polydor Records in 1980 and the rest is history, reaching No1 in West Germany!
VISAGE was the beauty of the synthesizer played with symphonic classical overtones fused to the electronic dance beat of Neu Europa and visually styled like a cross between the Edwardian dandies and Weimar Cabaret. Midge Ure remembered “it was a major part of my life and Steve was a major part of that period”.
The meeting of Ure and Currie in VISAGE led to the diminutive Glaswegian joining a relaunched ULTRAVOX who released the iconic ‘Vienna’ album in 1980. Co-produced by Conny Plank, the German always thought in terms of sound and on the title song, he imagined an old man at a piano in a desolate theatre who had been playing the same tune for forty years.
And when Billy Currie came to record his ivory parts, that was exactly the feel which Plank had engineered. It was to become a ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’ for the New Romantic movement when it was released as a single, stalling at No2 despite being one of the best selling singles of 1981, gracing the UK charts at the same time as ‘Fade To Grey’.
Having started as a “Bowie Night”, the man himself became fascinated by this emergent cult with no name that he had inspired. In 1980, Jacqueline Bucknell, an assistant from his label RCA who was also a Blitz Kid, had taken Bowie down to The Blitz Club to cast extras to appear in a video for his new single ‘Ashes To Ashes’; among the chosen ones was Steve Strange.
Utilising Roland guitar synths and an ARP string machine with a final burst of ARP Odyssey, David Bowie saw ‘Ashes To Ashes’ as an epitaph for his artistic past as he lyrically revisited the Major Tom character from ‘Space Oddity’ over a decade on.
With this, The Blitz Club had now become a mainstream phenomenon as the BBC’s ‘Nationwide’ programme sent an investigative team in, signalling a changing of the guard in popular culture with parallel scenes going on at The Rum Runner in Birmingham, The Warehouse in Leeds and Crocs in Rayleigh from which DURAN DURAN, SOFT CELL and DEPECHE MODE were to respectively gain their fledgling followings.
The perceived elitist exclusivity of The Blitz Club had partly become legend as a result of Steve Strange refusing entry to Mick Jagger for his sporting of blue jeans. Playing on this and adopting its electronic aesthetic to attract attention, five lads from Islington formed SPANDAU BALLET and initially only performed at special events which were by invitation only. Essentially becoming The Blitz Club’s house band, the quintet later scored worldwide success with a less radical sanitised pop soul sound.
Singer Tony Hadley said to ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK: “Our first album The ‘Journeys To Glory’ will always be one of my favourite Spandau albums, we were just young excited lads trying to make our mark on the world. There’s a rawness and energy on that album that is impossible to recreate. I love synthpop and still one of my favourite songs is SPANDAU BALLET’s first release ‘ To Cut A Long Story Short’.”
Not all enjoyed their visits to The Blitz Club; Billy MacKenzie notably highlighted the vapid nature of the scene in ASSOCIATES’ second hit single ‘Club Country’. But buoyed by its success, Steve Strange and Rusty Egan eventually vacated The Blitz Club and took over The Music Machine in 1982 and relaunched it as The Camden Palace, making it one of the UK’s first modern superclubs.
But the spirit of The Blitz Club still lives on and recently, there came the surprise announcement that Zaine Griff was to join Rusty Egan and ‘Fade To Grey’ co-writer Chris Payne to perform the songs of VISAGE in an audio-visual presentation at a number of events across Europe including W-Festival in Belgium.
Using Dave Rimmer’s 2003 book ‘New Romantics: The Look’ as an initial reference point and calling on the memories of Rusty Egan himself to verify whether he had actually played these songs in his DJ sets, here are 25 Songs Of The Blitz Club selected by ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK to celebrate the flamboyant legacy of that Blitz Spirit.
ROXY MUSIC Both Ends Burning (1975)
Following-up the hit single ‘Love In The Drug’, ‘Both Ends Burning’ was ROXY MUSIC’s second ‘Siren’ call. With Bryan Ferry’s stylised but anguished vocals, it was a track which laid down the sophisticated art pop trail that JAPAN and DURAN DURAN would later be pursuing. Featuring a prominent coating of ARP Solina string machine sweetened by hypnotic bass and squawky sax, ‘Both Ends Burning’ is probably the most under rated single in the Roxy canon.
Available on the ROXY MUSIC album ‘The Best Of’ via Virgin Records
With a title that was an anagram of TALKING HEADS, the New York art school combo were the inspiration for the frantic metallic romp of ‘Kings Lead Hat’ which became a favourite at The Blitz Club. Brian Eno aped David Byrne in his vocal delivery, while he was later to produce three of the band’s albums as he moved further away from art rock as a solo artist. The song was later covered by ULTRAVOX in their live sets during the early phase their Midge Ure-fronted incarnation.
KRAFTWERK reacted as they generally did to negative criticism by writing a song. A response to a review that said their motionless persona at live performances was like ‘Showroom Dummies’, the sparse eerie atmosphere was punctuated by a tight and rigid electronic drum sound that was completely new and alien, something Rusty Egan was looking to emulate. Incidentally, the count-in of “eins zwei drei vier” was a deadpan Germanic parody of THE RAMONES!
An Iggy Pop collaboration with David Bowie, the Vampiric glam of ‘Nightclubbing’ was the former James Osterberg’s commentary on what it was like hanging out with him every night. Utilising a simple piano melody and a cold Schaffel rhythm via the mechanical precision of a Roland drum machine, legend has it that Iggy insisted on keeping it, saying “it kicks ass, it’s better than a drummer”. Alongside ‘Lust For Life’, ‘Nightclubbing’ also featured in the soundtrack of ‘Trainspotting’.
Available on the IGGY POP album ‘The Idiot’ via Virgin Records
Utilising Warren Cann’s modified Roland TR77 rhythm machine, this was John Foxx moving ULTRAVOX! into the moody ambience pioneered by CLUSTER, away from the art rock of the self-titled first album and the punky interim single ‘Young Savage’. ‘Hiroshima Mon Amour’ had initially been premiered as a far spikier uptempo number for the B-side of ‘ROckWrok’. Incidentally, the ‘CC’ credited on saxophone is not Chris Cross, but a member of the art collective GLORIA MUNDI.
Available on the ULTRAVOX! album ‘Ha! Ha! Ha!’ via Island Records
LA DÜSSELDORF’s second long player ‘Viva’ was their most successful album and the title track was a regular staple at The Blitz Club. An oddball slice of cosmic space rock sung in French and German by Klaus Dinger, proceedings were aided by the dual motorik thud of Hans Lampe and Thomas Dinger. Performed with the same group of musicians, ‘E-Musik’ by Dinger’s previous band NEU! had also been a favourite at The Blitz Club, influencing the intro of the ULTRAVOX B-side ‘Face To Face’.
Commissioned by Alan Parker for the graphic prison drama ‘Midnight Express’, the noted director wanted some electronic accompaniment to the crucial chase scene of the film in the style of ‘I Feel Love’. The bassline from Giorgio Moroder’s own 1976 cover of ‘Knights In White Satin’ was reappropriated. The fruit of their labours was this Oscar winning Hi-NRG romp bursting with VANGELIS-like keyboard melodies, driven by an intense slamming and syncopated by popping pulses.
Already a fan of German music and ‘Autobahn’ by KRAFTWERK in particular, Daniel Miller’s sense of experimentation and an adoption of punk’s DIY ethic led him to buying a Korg 700s synthesizer. Wanting to make a punk single with electronics, he wrote and recorded the stark JG Ballard influenced ‘Warm Leatherette’ as an independent single release on his own Mute Records. Meanwhile, The Blitz Kids came up with their own bizarre twisting and turning dance entering a human arch to accompany it…
The late Wolfgang Riechmann is the forgotten man in the Düsseldorf axis having been in SPIRITS OF SOUND with Michael Rother and Wolfgang Flür; had his life not been tragically cut short, he certainly had the potential to become a revered and respected cult musical figure. The opening title track of his only album chimed like a Cold War spy drama before the beautifully almost oriental melodic piece imagined PINK FLOYD meeting CLUSTER over a delicate Schaffel beat.
ZAGER & EVANS’ pessimistic ditty was perfect fodder for the first VISAGE demo. Steered by Midge Ure using his freshly acquired Yamaha synths and punctuated by Rusty Egan’s incessant Roland drum machine and synthetic percussion, ‘In The Year 2525’ was perfectly resigned aural dystopia from its vocodered intro onwards. Steve Strange’s deadpan fronted the sombre tone perfectly but Ure’s vocal backing and counterpoints added that extra slice of musicality.
Available on the VISAGE album ‘The Face’ via Universal Records
One of first Japanese bands to have a Top 20 hit single in the UK was YELLOW MAGIC ORCHESTRA in 1980. ‘Firecracker’ was a cover of a 1959 composition by Martin Denny but actually released as ‘Computer Game (Theme From The Invader)’. Recorded in 1978, the parent self-titled album was noted for its use of the then brand new Roland MC8 Micro-Composer to control the synthesizers. The result was a clean, exotic pop sound that was unusual, even in the synthpop heartland of Europe.
Produced by Zeus B Held, ‘No GDM’ was written by androgynous art history student Gina Kikoine in honour of the “great dark man” Quentin Crisp and featured an array of ARP and Moog synths to signal the birth of a new European Underground. Unsurprisingly, the song gained heavy rotation at The Blitz Club. The nonchalant, detached vocal influence of GINA X PERFORMANCE went on to be heard in the music of LADYTRON, CLIENT and MISS KITTIN.
Working with Giorgio Moroder, David Sylvian submitted ‘European Son’ for the session in Los Angeles but it was rejected by the producer. Instead, the Italian offered several of his demos, of which, Sylvian picked the one he considered to be the worst so that he could stamp more of his own vision for the developing synthesized sound of JAPAN. Considered to be too avant-garde at its inception but ahead of its time, unbeknown to Moroder and Sylvian, they had just conceived DURAN DURAN!
Available on the JAPAN album ‘Assemblage’ via Sony BMG Records
THOMAS LEER & ROBERT RENTAL Day Breaks Night Heals (1979)
Originally released on THROBBING GRISTLE’s Industrial Records, ‘The Bridge’ album saw Scottish duo Thomas Leer and Robert Rental trading vocal and instrumental duties. With an air of FAD GADGET, ‘Day Breaks Night Heals’ showcased some of Leer’s pop sensibility that was later apparent in his Arista solo period and in ACT with Claudia Brücken, while Rental maintained a dark experimental presence in this slice of artful electronic blues. Robert Rental sadly passed away in 2000.
Available on the album ‘The Bridge’ via The Grey Area
Manipulating their influences like SPARKS and MAGAZINE with a very European austere, Glasgow’s SIMPLE MINDS were “underground, pulsating through” thanks to the rhythmic interplay of Derek Forbes’ bass with Mick McNeil’s synths. Charlie Burchill was now thinking beyond the sound of a conventional electric guitar while the precision of under rated drummer Brian McGee locked the glue. That just left Jim Kerr to throw his bizarre shapes and pontificate over this dark avant disco.
Having graced the UK Top 20 again with the tremendous ‘No1 Song In Heaven’, SPARKS continued their Giorgio Moroder produced rejuvenation and had an even bigger hit with ‘Beat The Clock’. Percussively augmented by Keith Forsey who was later to produce Billy Idol, Russell Mael’s flamboyant falsetto more than suited the electronic disco sound while the programmed backing meant that Ron Mael could stoically maintain his image of doing nothing.
Belgian trio TELEX comprised of Marc Moulin, Dan Lacksman and Michel Moers, with the intention of “making something really European, different from rock, without guitar”. Opening their debut album ‘Looking for Saint Tropez’ which also contained their funereal robotic cover of ‘Rock Around The Clock’, ‘Moscow Diskow’ took the Trans-Siberian Express to Moscow, adding a funkier groove compared with KRAFTWERK’s ‘Trans Europe Express’ excursion for what was to become a cult international club favourite.
From their third album ’20 Jazz Funk Greats’, the uncompromising THROBBING GRISTLE led by the late Genesis P-Orridge were neither jazzy or funky! Gloriously sequenced by Chris Carter via a Roland System-100M modular, ‘Hot On The Heels Of Love’ was mutant dystopian disco lento with a hypnotic rhythm punctuated by a synthetic whip-crack for that S&M twist as Cosey Fanni Tutti’s whispered vocals competed with pentatonic melodies and electronic drill noises!
Zaine Griff had a Bowie-esque poise was tailor made for The Blitz Club and Tony Visconti saw enough in him to produce his debut solo album ‘Ashes & Diamonds’. Featuring Hans Zimmer on synths, the title song was sitting just outside the Top 40 and earned a performance on ‘Top Of The Pops’ but the episode was pulled thanks to a Musicians Union strike. Demonstrating the song’s longevity despite it not being a major hit, it was recently covered live by American alternative rockers MGMT.
‘Being Boiled’ was the first song Philip Oakey wrote with Martyn Ware and Ian Craig Marsh for THE HUMAN LEAGUE, his bizarre lyrics being the result of a confusion between Buddhism and Hinduism while highlighting the plight of silk worms. Intended to reimagine FUNKADELIC’s funky overtones as synthetic horns, this brassier re-recorded version with fatter electronic beats was included on the ‘Holiday 80’ EP and the ‘Travelogue’ album, becoming a dance staple of The Blitz Club.
Available as a bonus track on THE HUMAN LEAGUE album ‘Travelogue’ via Virgin Records
Didier Marouani wrote the worldwide hit ‘Magic Fly’ but having left the band, Roland Romanelli and Jannick Top continued as SPACE. The rousing thrust of ‘Tender Force’ was, like ‘Magic Fly’, produced by Jean-Philippe Iliesco who later invited Rusty Egan to contribute a timbale heavy remix of this synth disco tune; he was later to begin an ill-fated business relationship with Iliesco who was named by Midge Ure in his ‘If I Was’ autobiography as responsible for putting a wedge between him and Egan in VISAGE…
Although now known as a duo, eccentric Swiss pioneers YELLO actually began as a trio of Dieter Meier, Boris Blank and Carlos Peron. Later remixed and extended, the military drum tattoo at the start of ‘Bostich’ was deceiving as an electronic throb quickly set in. This was perfect avant garde disco for The Blitz Club with a quirky range of vocal pitches from Meier while the track also included a style of speedy European rap later that was repeated on their only major UK hit ‘The Race’ in 1988.
Available on the YELLO album ‘Essential’ via Mercury Records
Electronic pop music was often seen as pretentious, LANDSCAPE had their tongues firmly in their cheeks as evidenced by ‘Einstein A Go-Go’. “The song is a cautionary tale about the apocalyptic possibilities of nuclear weapons falling into the hands of theocratic dictators and religious extremists.” said the band’s Richard Burgess, “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!”
Written as a B-side instrumental for The Blitz Club’s resident dance troupe SHOCK to work a routine to, ‘R.E.R.B.’ was constructed by Rusty Egan and Richard Burgess, hence the title. Burgess had been doing the linking interludes with a Fairlight on the first VISAGE album and brought in a Roland System 700 modular driven by the Micro-composer while Egan triggered the brain of the synthesized drum system that Burgess had been working on with Dave Simmons for its punchy drum fills.
Available on the SHOCK single ‘R.E.R.B.’ via Blitz Club Records
Produced by Daniel Miller, one of the first SOFT CELL recordings on signing to Phonogram was the seminal ‘Memorabilia’. While not a hit, it was critically acclaimed and become a favourite at The Blitz Club. Dave Ball’s deep Roland Synthe-Bass and klanky Korg Rhythm KR55 provided a distinctive danceable backbone to accompany Marc Almond’s souvenir collecting metaphors about sexual promiscuity. After this, SOFT CELL were signed by Rusty Egan to Metropolis Music for publishing.