Like the sound of GIORGIO MORODER played through a Soviet Foxtrot submarine intercom system, ‘Comrades’ is the brand new single from RODNEY CROMWELL.
The musical vehicle of musician and Happy Robots Records CEO Adam Cresswell, it comes from ‘Rodney’s English Disco’ EP, the first all new material since the critically acclaimed ‘Age Of Anxiety’.
Dusting off his Boss DR-55 Doctor Rhythm and what appeared to have become his redundant MicroKorg to use alongside his vintage Moogs, the new RODNEY CROMWELL EP sees Cresswell take on wider issues inspired by the world’s confrontational political climate after the very personal lyrical statements of songs like ‘Black Dog’ and ‘You Will Struggle’ on his debut long player.
To support the upcoming release ‘Rodney’s English Disco’, Cresswell will shortly embarking on the ‘Ohm From Ohm’ tour. Adam Cresswell kindly chatted about life, synths and the Happy Robots way…
The new EP is called ‘Rodney’s English Disco’? Are you leaving the beany hat at home and donning a flared white suit instead?
Ha ha! Not at all. In fact the selection of beany hats has increased. I’ve not gone any more disco than previously. This record is very much inspired by these strange unsettled times living in England right now, and the juxtaposition of Englishness and Disco seemed to fit. And I would look terrible in a white suit.
But in many ways, RODNEY CROMWELL has always been disco, just in that detached SECTION 25 kind of way?
Absolutely. I mean ‘One Two Seven’ on ‘Age of Anxiety’ was a paean to the disco beat. In fact there is probably more direct GIORGIO MORODER, BLACK DEVIL DISCO CLUB or DIVINE influences in the RODNEY CROMWELL sound than there is DEPECHE MODE or GARY NUMAN. As for SXXV, well you know I’ve always been a fan; my favourite LP of theirs is probably ‘Love & Hate’, but ‘Dark Light’ is a close second these days.
Nearly three years on since its release, how do you look back on ‘Age Of Anxiety’?
Well I can’t say I’ve listened to it lately but after our first rehearsal in ages, I felt I probably should have. I still think very fondly of it. If I had known anyone would listen to it, I should have spent a bit longer mixing it, maybe corrected some of the mistakes, but equally that rough and ready-ness added to its honest confessional nature, it was part of its charm. I was incredibly happy how well it was received and I’m still really proud of it.
The vocoder laden ‘Comrades’ has a really chilling Cold War atmosphere, what inspired that?
I’d written ‘Dreamland’ but I was struggling with writers block – or at least I wasn’t writing anything I liked. One afternoon I ended up thumping at the MicroKorg and came up with the opening riff – I thought it sounded a bit Numan or Foxx-ish and I just built the song around that. Chilling is a good word for it. I wanted this record to be a bit darker and atmospheric – I was probably arguing with some alt-right crackpot on Twitter while recording, so that is likely what inspired it.
‘Barbed Wire’ appears to continue this sombre Cold War theme?
This was the first track I’ve ever written inspired by my Facebook wallpaper. I wanted to write something on the bass guitar mainly because I was listening to a lot of BLACK MARBLE at the time. But the track came out sounding much more ‘indie’ than I wanted. So when it came to producing, we tried to make it as sombre and austere as possible. Lots of reverb and synthy drones with a touch of ‘Deutschland 83’ vibe.
The neo-instrumental ‘Technocrats’ drops in some quite weird sounding chords?
I have no idea what the difference between a neo-instrumental and an instrumental is – but I like it!
This one started out really poppy and upbeat, in a ‘Popcorn’ meets ‘Pocket Calculator’ way; but by throwing in a couple of weird chords, it became a bit more whacky and disconcerting, like the rest of the record. I actually wrote this track really quickly – it went to concept to mixed in about three weeks which is a miracle for me. I have my producer Rich Bennett to thank for that. He described this one as a kraut-jam which sounds about right.
There’s a bit of an early OMD feel on ‘Dreamland’?
That’s probably due to the drums and the Solina strings. This was the first track written for the EP and I decided to dig out the old Boss DR-55 – it’s the drum machine on the first NEW ORDER album ‘Movement’. And anyway I just loved those sounds, so I decided to build the whole EP around them. ‘Dreamland’ is ultimately a break-up song and OMD do great breakup songs.
Are there any new synths in your armoury?
Nope. Don’t you know, I run a record label – I don’t have money for buying new synths. I’ve have actually succumbed to the convenience of soft synths though. After someone told me one of my very favourite albums LADYTRON’s ‘604’ was recorded entirely with soft synths, I got over my innate snobbishness and I use the Arturia Solina String Ensemble soft synth all over this record.
What do you think of those clones that Behringer are attempting to market?
I’m completely oblivious to what new synths are coming to market. But if Behringer want to send me a couple, I will happily test them extensively.
So how have you been juggling making music, along with running Happy Robots Records and releasing acts like HOLOGRAM TEEN, PATTERN LAGUAGE, TINY MAGNETIC PETS and SINOSA? Is this why it’s just an EP?
Nah! Even at my most prolific I’ve never managed more than four or five good songs a year, so a new Rodders album was never going to happen.
Running the label has been great – and it has been awesome working with such great bands. But it is such a lot of work trying to make a success of it – particularly when juggling with a day job. You do sometimes feel trapped in a great endless cycle of work and it starts to make you go a bit crackers to be honest. And obviously, it’s even harder financially now that it was even two years ago – when I did the Hologram Teen 7” in 2016, I got 300 units for £700 but now the same is over a grand. It’s crazy and likely to get much worse.
‘Ohm From Ohm’? But Ohm is where the ARP is?
The ARP is in my new studio room in the loft. Gathering dust. I’m sure someone wrote a song about that once.
What can potential punters expect if they come along to any of your upcoming shows?
From me, three tracks from the new EP, three or four of the big hitters from ‘Age of Anxiety’, some nice looking visuals and maybe a costume change (or at least a hat change). With four bands, we’re going to be running a tight ship, so perhaps you won’t get as much banter as some RODNEY CROMWELL shows. It’s going to be fun though, all the bands are great and we get on really well (for now).
Where is electronic music heading? Are you happy that CHVRCHES have gone the full Taylor or are you more of a CHRIS CARTER man?
I like pop music, but I’m not a TAYLOR SWIFT fan really. Not enough melody for me, she makes my stuff sound like PAUL McCARTNEY. I read something on Twitter saying she’s a Trump supporting neo-nazi, but even I think is going a bit far. I’ve not heard the new CHRIS CARTER although it’s on the list and I’m sure the new CHVRCHES will be good.
As for where electronic music is heading; well it all seems to be getting a bit darker, doesn’t it. I listened to the new COMPUTER MAGIC yesterday and even that is a bit dark in places. It’s the creatives rallying together. The post post-truth pop revolution has begun.
ELECTRICITY CLUB.CO.UK gives its grateful thanks to RODNEY CROMWELL
OUTERNATIONALE is Scottish musician Derek Miller and while ‘ON’ is his debut EP release, he has already worked with several key names from the post punk era.
Miller boldly recorded a cover version of JOY DIVISION’s ‘Atmosphere’ featuring the vocals of Paul Haig which met with the approval of Peter Hook himself and was released on Haçienda Records in 2011.
Meanwhile, he mixed and co-produced ‘Dark Light’, the most recent album by cult Factory band SECTION 25.
The ‘ON’ EP boasts four tracks, three of which feature the dreamy voice of Jenny Electrik from electro rock duo DYNASTY ELECTRIK.
The pairing of her with Miller really comes into its own with the magnificent ‘The Moments Before’. With hints of MADONNA during her William Orbit phase, the driving syncopated rhythms act as the backbone to a combination of seductive vocals and hypnotic electronics.
‘World’s End’ is less frantic and gives Electrik plenty of space for self-expression amongst Miller’s synths, while the complex rhythm construction of ‘Careless’ provides structure without being overbearing with a suitably breathy performance
To close ‘ON’, Miller is left to run free on his own with the excellent instrumental ‘Path’; reminiscent of GARY NUMAN, it is however attached to much more rigid electro rhythmic pattern than perhaps the former Gary Webb would usually indulge in.
In all, ‘ON’ is an impressive debut offering from OUTERNATIONALE that acts as a fine shop window for Derek Miller’s talents as a producer and collaborator.
‘ON’ is released as a download EP by 5 Pin Din Recordings
Despite their success, NEW ORDER still got their hands dirty in helping to produce a number of acts for Factory Records and other associated labels such as Factory Benelux, Les Disques Du Crépuscule and Rob’s Records.
Be Music was the moniker of NEW ORDER’s publishing and eventually used to cover studio production work by all four members of the band.
‘NEW ORDER Presents Be Music’ gathers a selection of these varied recordings which involved either Bernard Sumner, Peter Hook, Stephen Morris, Gillian Gilbert or combinations thereof.
It includes electro club tracks released between 1982 and 1985, as well as more recent remixes and productions. This is a lavishly boxed 36 track 3CD affair that documents variations on the NEW ORDER theme before solo projects like ELECTRONIC, REVENGE, THE OTHER TWO and MONACO took over. There’s even the inclusion of the JOY DIVISION era ‘Knew Noise’ by SECTION 25, produced by Ian Curtis and Rob Gretton in 1979 which explores the doomy sub-PiL post-punk style of the period.
Beginning the package on Disc 1, QUANDO QUANGO’s percussive ‘Love Tempo’ sets the scene. Bernard Sumner said: “Producing was a really important sideline, it’s OK doing it because although all the groups are skint, you learn a lot and you’re helping somebody”. Mike Pickering’s pre-M PEOPLE electro-funk outfit certainly groove under Sumner’s guidance and the Anglo-Dutch interpretation of the form sounds accessible but unusual even today. The less immediate ‘Tingle’ is also included on the collection.
Another one of Bernard Sumner’s productions with A CERTAIN RATIO’s Donald Johnson featured the late MARCEL KING, a member of SWEET SENSATION who won ‘New Faces’ and had a No1 in 1974 with ‘Sad Sweet Dreamer’; ‘Reach For Love’ couldn’t have been more different. Layered with synths and bassline programming with an infectious machine rhythm, Shaun Ryder remarked that if the song had been released on a label other than Factory, it would have been a hit!
It’s B-side ‘Keep On Dancin’ is also present and comes over as a cooler electrified take on SHALAMAR, while the beefier New York remix of ‘Reach For Love’ by Mark Kamins and Michael H. Brauer is a nice bonus.
While 52ND STREET’s trailblazing ‘Cool As Ice’ was solely produced by Donald Johnson, Sumner contributed the synth basslines programmed using a Moog Source; it was a trademark feature on many of the NEW ORDER frontman’s productions. The hybrid of authentic Manchester soul and New York electro-influences was not surprisingly a cult success across the Atlantic. Indeed, also in the collection is the electro-funk workout of ‘Can’t Afford’, a Stephen Morris production that’s even more New York than Manchester.
Much starker, ‘Looking From A Hilltop’ from Blackpool’s very own post-punk doom merchants SECTION 25 was prompted by founder member Larry Cassidy’s assertion that “you can’t be a punk all your life”. In a move not dissimilar to Gillian Gilbert joining NEW ORDER, Cassidy recruited his wife Jenny and sister Angela to join his brother Vin in the band to realise this game changing manifesto. Produced by Sumner with remix input from Johnson, the collage of clattering drum machine accompanied by ominous synth lines and hypnotic sequenced modulations still sounds magnificent.
Meanwhile, ‘Reflection’ from the parent ‘From The Hip’ long player is a surprise but welcome inclusion to the set.
Almost chirpy when judged against SECTION 25’s earlier output, the tighter sequencing and drum machine programming from Sumner totally transformed the band.
Following along almost similar lines, ‘Fate/Hate’ by Hull combo NYAM NYAM was one of Peter Hook’s Be Music productions and its mighty Moroder-esque template proved that the bass Viking knew his way around the dancefloor despite his more rock inclined sympathies. ‘Fate/Hate’ certainly deserves to be as lauded as ‘Looking From A Hilltop’.
The inclusion of the now rare Bernard Sumner remix of THE BEAT CLUB’s ‘Security’ makes the purchase price alone of ‘NEW ORDER Presents Be Music’ worthwhile. This was the first ever release on Rob’s Records, the imprint of the late Rob Gretton, famed manager of NEW ORDER. Sumner’s additional remix and production saw an overhaul of the original version, with the addition of his own crucial vocal contribution giving it an unsurprisingly NEW ORDER-like feel along the lines of a more fully realised ‘State Of The Nation’.
More widely available, the full length version of ‘The Only Truth’ by PAUL HAIG is possibly the best NEW ORDER song that NEW ORDER never recorded. Although Haig demoed the song to an almost complete standard, there is no doubt that the extra bass, percussion and programming laid down by Johnson and Sumner are the necktie to go with Haig’s shirt and suit. The result is a brilliant cross between ‘Blue Monday’ and ‘Temptation’, and almost as long!
The Be Music journey moves to Berlin where renowned remixer Mark Reeder made his home in 1978, having become fascinated by the artistic diversity of the city.
Reeder often sent records to Bernard Sumner from the emerging electronic club scenes and this influenced his whole outlook on music. So a studio union between the pair was inevitable.
This came with Reeder’s band SHARK VEGAS and their 1986 Factory Records release ‘You Hurt Me’. Produced by Sumner and characterised by the type of disco sequence programming that made NEW ORDER famous, in a bizarre way it sounded like a relative of ‘Reach For Love’, the infectious groove offset by Alistair Gray’s dispassionate vocals.
Italian band SURPRIZE’s ‘Over Italia’ was originally part of the ‘In Movimento’ EP issued on Factory Benelux in 1984. Another Dojo / Be Music co-production, the Bologna combo’s ska and dub influences make this track an interesting curio, although there is no real hook within the repetition.
While Disc 1 has more of a bias on Bernard Sumner, Disc 2 on focusses on Stephen Morris. It has to be said, this second instalment of classic and new recordings is more mixed. THICK PIGEON (led by singer Stanton Miranda) and their ‘Babcock + Wilcox’ is a 1984 production by Stephen Morris and Gillian Gilbert that sort of passes by. However, ‘Bootsy (Swingfire Mix)’ with a remix from THE OTHER TWO is one of A CERTAIN RATIO’s better tracks.
But FACTORY FLOOR’s ‘(Real Love)’ produced by Morris is undoubtedly polarising. Some say it is genius, others a load of repetitive bleeping to an incessant four-to-the-floor beat! ‘Another Hilltop’ though is fabulous, a squiggly reworking by Morris with Bethany Cassidy taking her mother’s role in this update of the SECTION 25 classic; and it wins hands down over FACTORY FLOOR by virtue of being a song.
As the playlist progresses, there’s the treat of a frantic 2011 instrumental from THE OTHER TWO entitled ‘Inside’ which features the KRAFTWERK ‘Uranium’ sample used on ‘Blue Monday’, while ‘The Hunter’ by MARNIE is given a deep metronomic dance reinterpretation.
On FUJIYA & MIYAGI’s ‘Daggers’, as can be expected from the man who wanted to be a drum machine, Stephen Morris’ remix is rhythmically strong while THE OTHER TWO remix of ‘Oh Men’ by TIM BURGESS offers a Germanic flavour and some lovely cascading synth tones. There’s another 9 minutes of FACTORY FLOOR in ‘A Wooden Box’ before the second CD concludes with two takes on LIFE’s ‘Tell Me’, a female vocalled alternative pop number released as FAC106 in 1984.
Disc 3 collects together some assorted band contributions and a number of Peter Hook productions.
Previously known as just ‘Theme’, ‘Lavolta Lakota Theme’ was composed as gig intro music for LAVOLTA LAKOTA and comes over as a menacing drum machine driven cousin of ‘Murder’, layered with timpani samples to aid the apocalyptic drama. Of STOCKHOLM MONSTERS, the brassy new wave of ‘All At Once’ produced by Hooky is enjoyable but very much of its time.
Led by a vocoder, ROYAL FAMILY & THE POOR’s ‘Motherland’ is pure art angst, while completing a quartet of Hooky helmed studio creations on Disc 3 is AD INFINITUM’s cover of ‘Telstar’. Not exactly the greatest reinterpretation in the world, FAC93 was originally rumoured to be NEW ORDER in disguise and while this curio certainly had a number of distinct elements like Hooky’s bass and an Oberheim DMX, the exercise was actually a project fronted by Lindsay Reade, the former Mrs Tony Wilson. But her intended new original lyrics for ‘Telstar’ were vetoed by The Joe Meek Estate, so a version with more abstract vocals was released instead.
Not a NEW ORDER production but featuring percussive assistance from Stephen Morris, ‘Theoretical China’ by TUXEDOMOON’s Winston Tong had an all-star cast including ex-PUBLIC IMAGE LIMITED bassist Jah Wobble and MAGAZINE’s Dave Formula who also co-produced with ASSOCIATES’ Alan Rankine. Tong later recorded some more fully realised material for his excellent ‘Theoretically Chinese’ album, but this neo-title song is a good introduction to his electropop phase.
One nice surprise is RED TURNS TO ‘Deep Sleep’; produced by Stephen Morris, the song originally released as FAC 116 still sounds fresh and has dated better than a number of the offerings at the beginning of Disc 3.
With sequence programming by Sumner, ‘Sakura’ documents SECTION 25 entering the electronic world in 1982. Around this time, NEW ORDER went the full sequencer route having previously triggered synthetic pulses on ‘Everything’s Gone Green’ and ‘Temptation’.
The end result was the 20 minute ‘Video 5-8-6’, constructed using a home built a Powertran 1024 Sequencer to control a Powertran Transcendent 2000 synth while clocked off a Clef Master Rhythm, effectively an expanded Boss DR-55 Doctor Rhythm.
An ominous sign of the future, it was the first NEW ORDER recording not to feature Peter Hook but ultimately lay the blueprint for ‘Blue Monday’ and more…
Whether you are a fan of NEW ORDER and the legend of Factory Records or would like to discover some lesser known but brilliant electronic pop jewels, this terrific collection is a must.
Accompanied by comprehensive, well-researched liner notes from the ever reliable James Nice that include a quote from ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK’s 2011 interview with Stephen Morris, there really is something for everyone in this vast set documenting an adventurous period in music.
A Short Conversation with Adam Cresswell and Alice Hubley
Behind the persona of RODNEY CROMWELL is London based synth aficionado, Adam Cresswell.
His debut long player ‘Age Of Anxiety’ was a concept album chronicling his problems with depression and anxiety that had affected his life and creative muse.
It became an unexpected cult favourite in 2015, with a post-punk template echoing the spectre of acts such as SECTION 25 and NEW ORDER.
However, Cresswell is a seasoned hand, having been part of synth duo ARTHUR & MARTHA with Alice Hubley. They released an album ‘Navigation’ in 2009 but disbanded a year later; Hubley went on to form the indie band COSINES while Cresswell took a musical break.
Several of the RODNEY CROMWELL songs began as ARTHUR & MARTHA recordings, so it was wholly appropriate that the pair reunited for RODNEY CROMWELL’s inaugural gig last summer. One of the highlights of the set was ‘Black Dog’, a pulsing part duet with Hubley embellished with the beauty of Cresswell’s Hooky bass.
Performing together on several occasions since with guitarist Richard Salt, the band have even revived ‘Autovia’, a synthetically motorik soundtrack ideal for motorway journeys north of Watford Gap that was the key song on ARTHUR & MARTHA’s debut.
With RODNEY CROMWELL’s upcoming appearance on SATURDAY 5TH NOVEMBER alongside MARSHEAUX and KID KASIO, both Adam Cresswell and Alice Hubley kindly chatted to ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK during a break in rehearsals.
‘Black Dog’ started as an ARTHUR & MARTHA track, is it the best song NEW ORDER never recorded?
Adam: Oh! I wouldn’t go that far, the best song NEW ORDER never recorded was ‘Let’s Go’, but they did finish it in the end…
Alice: …maybe some of THE KILLERS songs as well! *laughs*
Adam: ‘Black Dog’ is knowingly NEW ORDER-ish anyway… it was about my safe space, it was about going through a bad period but wanting to be reminded of the music that made me feel good about things.
Alice: I can’t remember recording the vocal!
Adam: It was one of those one-take wonder jobs!
Alice: I’m such a pro! But there so many records today that are over produced, having something that’s a little bit rough around the edges is kind of nice now.
The acclaim for ‘Age Of Anxiety’s means you’ve toured together as RODNEY CROMWELL, how have the dates you’ve played gone so far? Any strange occurrences you can report?
Alice: You got to learn about the joys of Justin Bieber!
Adam: Yes, we watched a lot of Justin Bieber videos with some bad wine in Liverpool! *laughs*
Alice: It’s just been nice hanging out with Adam; we had not really seen each other since we stopped doing ARTHUR & MARTHA. Before when we toured, he only had a Smart car so we couldn’t take friends with us. Now he’s upgraded and has four seats in his car.
Adam: The RODNEY CROMWELL gigs now feel much less pressured than with ARTHUR & MARTHA.
How do you think the live environment has changed?
Adam: I think it’s harder to get gigs now… maybe that’s because electronic music’s not as fashionable, because back in the mid-noughties, it was on the back of Electroclash and that hipster thing!
Alice: We did lot of good shows in Shoreditch at the Old Blue Last and stuff in that electro scene alongside cool acts like LO-FI FNK and PLASTIC OPERATOR. In the last year we’ve mostly played indie scene events, we’ve not really had the chance to play with other synth bands.
What advice would you give to anyone aspiring to use vintage synths live in the 21st century?
Adam: Get a tuner Alice! *laughs*
Alice: I have a Korg MS10 and a Roland Juno 60… we used to use MicroKorgs in ARTHUR & MARTHA, but I look at them and shudder! I can’t deal with them anymore!
Adam: When we did ARTHUR & MARTHA, we were rocking up with the Moog and a MicroKorg because it was more convenient. But other every other band seemed to be using MicroKorgs too, but just the presets! I hate it! I wiped all the sounds!
Alice: YES! We can’t play ARTHUR & MARTHA stuff because Adam wiped all the sounds, I spent ages programming that sh*tty little instrument! He had obviously forgotten the blood, sweat and tears I went through! That was like an end of an era! *laughs*
Adam: We would upgrade if we ever did ARTHUR & MARTHA again.
So how do you perform ‘Autovia’ in RODNEY CROMWELL now?
Adam: Oh, we do it totally differently because Alice used to play the clarinet while I played the Moog. But now we’ve dropped the clarinet and we do it with MS10, Moog and guitar to give it that added HARMONIA feel.
Alice: It’s a bit more of a synth jam, more droney… I like to make the most awful sound I can on the MS10 which is always a lot of fun.
Adam: It’s become our experimental track in this live set. For the last 2-3 minutes of that song, we just wig out!
Sort of like STEREOLAB meets NEU! ?
Adam: TOTALLY! Maybe it’s a reaction to bands whose synths aren’t even plugged in where there’s nothing improvised and they don’t add anything new to what they do… we go the opposite and take it as far away from the record as we can…
Alice: I really like it when bands do that, like HOT CHIP always reinvent their songs…they’ll still be playing ‘Boy From School’ but they’ll do it in a different kind of feel every time you go and see them.
Adam: With RODNEY CROMWELL as opposed to ARTHUR & MARTHA, we’ve tried to bring something of the live band back to the sound, it’s about us enjoying it. Using analogue synths and a load of effects pedals brings in all these variables, things wobbling in and out.
Who came up with ‘Autovia’?
Adam: That was me! I was on tour with my previous band SALOON in Spain and I saw the word ‘Autovia’ on the road; it sounded a bit like ‘Autobahn’ and so I wrote a song called that. Most of it was recorded in the downstairs toilet of my house! I did the first half of it with SALOON and it was going to be a B-side to a single that never happened, so I took it to ARTHUR & MARTHA.
The ex-SALOON members call it my ‘Ceremony’, in that it’s a song I took from one band into the next. It was just a 4 minute ploddy pop song, but Alice came along and added the last three minutes to it with the clarinet and it mutated into something more epic.
How did Alice end up singing on it?
Alice: I just like singing, I was listening to a lot of OMD, SECTION 25 and SAINT ETIENNE… originally, I was meant to join SALOON…we met when we were 12 when our bands at the time were on the same bill! My band were called THE SEVEN INCHES!
We kept in touch and was moving to London but SALOON broke up before I moved. So me and Adam talked about doing a two-piece, Adam had more of a bank of songs ready and ‘Autovia’ was in the first set we did live.
Adam: She connected with the song straightaway.
Alice: Adam didn’t really sing much initially. ‘Kasparov’ on ‘Navigation’ was the first song Adam did sing, I kind of had to talk him into it, partly because he made it sound more like THE POSTAL SERVICE. He was always in the background with SALOON even though he wrote a lot of the songs.
Adam: For the video, we borrowed my mum’s car so that we could take the film director down. We had no plan whatsoever! We just drove to the Isle of Sheppey, set-up in this playground and stuck a green sheet in the back of the car. These kids were kicking a ball at it while we were filming! *laughs*
What’s next for each of you with your various projects?
Adam: There’s a new RODNEY CROMWELL single ‘Fax Message Breakup’ which has some really cool remixes on it by HOLOGRAM TEEN, CHRIS FRAIN, AUW and THE LEAF LIBRARY. We’re doing a London warm-up gig with RÉMI PARSON. And next year will see if I can actually write another album.
Alice: COSINES have just released an EP called ‘Transitions’ and are finishing the second album. If you like RODNEY CROMWELL and ARTHUR & MARTHA, you may like COSINES… it’s guitary but there’s still a lot of synthesizers and keyboards on it. I think with the new album, we’re experimenting with new sounds and doing things a bit differently.
The scene COSINES play in is a lot more guitar based and a lot of it is people that I’ve known for the last 15-20 years. I don’t really know enough about the electronic music scene at the underground level, but everyone I’ve met has been very nice and whenever we play gigs, I get people coming up to me and saying nice things about ARTHUR & MARTHA.
Adam: In the indie scene, nobody says nice things! They just look at their shoes! *laughs*
Alice: It’s kind of passive / aggressive… they’ll smile at you and then say something nasty about you online *laughs*
Is an ARTHUR & MARTHA release possible?
Adam: I’ve got the concept of an album in my head *laughs*
Alice: Every so often, Adam tries to get me to do something, I don’t know… never say never!
RODNEY CROMWELL ‘Fax Message Breakup’ EP is released on 11th November 2016
James Nice is a music publisher and writer whose acclaimed 2010 book ‘Shadowplayers: The Rise and Fall of Factory Records’ provided a detailed and objective account of the legendary label. He also worked for the prestigious Belgian label Les Disques du Crépuscule in Brussels between 1987-91.
More recently, James has resurrected Les Disques du Crépuscule along with its sister Factory Benelux offshoot as platforms to reissue a vast catalogue of experimental and artistically driven music, in addition to releasing newer material from acts such as MARSHEAUX, MARNIE and DEUX FILLES. Back in the day, Les Disques du Crépuscule and Factory Benelux operated as separate entities, although the two labels shared the same premises and staff.
Among Crépuscule’s roster were Blaine L Reininger and Winston Tong from TUXEDOMOON, ASSOCIATES instrumentalist Alan Rankine and former JOSEF K leader Paul Haig. The first music release on Crépuscule came in 1980; ‘From Brussels With Love’ was a carefully curated cassette compilation which included music from John Foxx, Bill Nelson, Harold Budd and Thomas Dolby as well as spoken recordings by Brian Eno and Richard Jobson.
Meanwhile Factory Benelux notably released the 12 inch extended remix of NEW ORDER’s ‘Everything’s Gone Green’ in 1981 and spare recordings from Factory affiliated artists such as A CERTAIN RATIO, SECTION 25, THE WAKE and THE DURUTTI COLUMN.
The latter’s beautiful instrumental ‘For Belgian Friends’ was written in honour of the two labels’ founders Michel Duval and the late Annik Honoré. James Nice kindly chatted to ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK about his various endeavours, past and present.
You wrote the book ‘Shadowplayers’ on the history of Factory Records. There have been several books about the label, what do you think your account gave that hadn’t been provided before?
Well, reliable facts properly researched! I did ‘Shadowplayers’ as a DVD first, in 2006, but I didn’t do the book until after Tony Wilson passed away the following year.
One of the books which influenced the approach I took was an excellent Creation Records history by Dave Cavanagh, which Alan McGee slated as the accountant’s version of Creation when it first appeared (though he changed his mind later).
I feared Tony might say the same thing about a Factory history written by me. He was more into myths and legends than truth.
I also wanted to include all the bands and artists, not just JOY DIVISION, NEW ORDER, HAPPY MONDAYS and The Hacienda; THE STOCKHOM MONSTERS have a tale to tell too. The French edition won a prize, actually. They sent me a leather jacket – which was a bit too small.
How do you see the public’s continued fascination with Factory Records?
I just glance at it in passing these days, because ‘Shadowplayers’ came out in 2010 and I’ve long since moved on. The entire story of Factory was hugely dramatic, genuine tragic in places, and populated by larger than life characters. You can’t really say the same of, for example, 4AD or Domino. I’m not sure you’ll see it repeated either, because music no longer produces the kind of revenue stream that would allow radical mavericks like Tony Wilson and Rob Gretton to build another Hacienda, and Peter Saville is a complete one-off.
Factory was a classic example of do the right thing, and the money will follow. Unfortunately, they then blew all the money on big recording projects and ill-judged property investments. Let’s leave it at that.
Factory Benelux and Les Disques du Crépuscule have common roots, but were quite different entities in their original ethos?
Both labels started in 1980. Factory Benelux was intended as an outlet for spare Factory recordings, hence a lot of the early releases like ‘Shack Up’ by ACR, ‘The Plateau Phase’ by CRISPY AMBULANCE and ‘Key of Dreams’ by SECTION 25 were exclusive to FBN. As time went on it became more like a normal licensee.
Crépuscule was something else entirely – a cosmopolitan boutique label, with an international roster and aspirations to kick start some kind of art movement in Brussels. In truth Factory were a little suspicious of Crepuscule early on, although later some Crépuscule albums appeared on Factory in the UK eg Anna Domino and Wim Mertens.
You worked for Les Disques du Crépuscule back in the day and lived in Brussels for five years. What are your particular memories of that time?
Way too many to mention. A couple of days after I quit Crépuscule (an argument about a 23 SKIDOO contract, not that anyone will be interested), I took a train to Amsterdam to meet William S. Burroughs.
He was holding court in a hotel with his manager, James Grauerholz. I took along some books to sign, as well as the Burroughs album I’d released on LTM, ‘The Doctor Is On the Market’. I don’t think WSB had even seen a copy before, but he scribbled “Good Work” on it. There was another guy there who was a Lufthansa pilot by day and wrote experimental cut-up novels in his spare time. I remember thinking at the time, I’d like to be that guy.
What are the aims of Factory Benelux and Les Disques du Crépuscule under your direction now?
Heritage curation, and new recordings where appropriate. Michel Duval is quite interested again, and we collaborated on the ‘Ni D’Eve, Ni D’Adam’ compilation at the end of 2015.
I really enjoyed that process, as a matter of fact. The new tracks and artists he brought to the project really added to it, and the artwork by Clou was great too.
I do a lot of boring back office stuff as well as making records, chiefly rights administration. You have to have all your ducks in a row when, for instance, Kanye West decides to sample a SECTION 25 track from 1981.
As well as reissues, Factory Benelux and Les Disques du Crépuscule have released new albums by SECTION 25, MARNIE, DEUX FILLES and others. What attracted you to back these recordings?
In the case of new albums by heritage groups like SECTION 25, THE NAMES and CRISPY AMBULANCE, as long as fresh studio projects are financially viable, and the music is good, then of course we want to be involved. Any label can simply recycle back catalogue, but I like to think we’re a little more committed.
The MARNIE album came to Crépuscule because I’m a LADYTRON fan and it was a perfect fit for the label. It worked for her too as she’d successfully funded ‘Crystal World’ via Pledge Music, but was less sure about how to actually deliver the CD version.
It’s important to back new music, and I’m delighted to be releasing ‘Cold Science’ by LES PANTIES later in 2016. They’re a young band from Brussels – terrible name, but great music!
Les Disques du Crépuscule also released ‘Odyssey’ in 2014, a career spanning compilation of MARSHEAUX. What do you find appealing about their music and which are your favourite songs?
I liked MARSHEAUX anyway, even before we began Crépuscule again back in 2013. Like MARNIE, they seemed like a good fit with the label’s heritage, much of which was modern electronic pop music. The focus was on original songs though rather than covers.
The title is a riff on Homer’s ‘Odyssey’, and the idea of a chronological story, and of course the old ARP Odyssey analogue synth. I’m quite good at coming up with album titles, if I say so myself. ‘Retrofit’ by SECTION 25 is probably the best – it popped into my head while I was watching a documentary about the making of ‘Blade Runner’. Perfect for a remix / reboot album.
Yes, very clever of you. But what’s your favourite MARSHEAUX song?
Well, the ‘Ghost/Hammer’ mash-up is the one we keep putting on LDDC compilations.
You maintain a close relationship with Paul Haig. Is he one of the unsung heroes of post-punk in your opinion?
I wouldn’t say unsung because Paul’s always attracted a lot of press and remains well liked by music writers, but I suppose he’s ‘unsung’ in the sense that he never had a proper chart hit. Ironically, his most popular album – on reissue anyway – is ‘Rhythm of Life’, which was considered far too mainstream at the time.
Paul just did things his way and wasn’t prepared to jump through all the hoops required of a mainstream pop star. For a start he was – and remains – far too shy.
Since you mention post-punk in the question, I’ll take this opportunity to plug a forthcoming Paul project for later in 2016, which is a 1982-based double archive CD including his early pop material (‘Justice’, ‘Running Away’), the Sinatra-styled ‘Swing In 82’ EP, the experimental electronica cassette ‘Drama’, and loads of odd singles and sessions.
He’d just left JOSEF K but had not yet signed to Island, and I’m not sure anyone else was quite that diverse and experimental at the time. It’ll be called ‘Metamorphosis’ – another Kafka reference. Told you I was clever with titles. Paul’s quite nervous about it, I have to say!
You’ve also worked closely with Alan Rankine in his post-ASSOCIATES career?
Well, not so much me personally. Back in the 1980s, Alan was married to Belinda Pearse, who was a Crépuscule director at the time, and so for a while he pretty much became the in-house producer at the label, working with Paul Haig, Anna Domino, Winston Tong, Ludus and his own solo material.
My time at LDDC in Brussels did overlap with his, but I didn’t work on any of those projects. He did three solo albums under the auspices of Crépuscule, and some of the music is the equal of anything he did with Billy Mackenzie. Unfortunately Alan isn’t quite as good a singer, though he is a brilliant writer, arranger, producer, guitarist and keys player. The instrumentals he did for Crépuscule work best, I think. We’ve spoken a couple of times this year. Once was to return some master tapes to him, and I also suggested him as a producer / collaborator for MARNIE.
Another unsung hero of the era is Mark Reeder and the release of his remix collection ‘Collaborator’ on Factory Benelux was a fitting acknowledgement of that. What was the process like to select the tracklisting?
Hmm. We tried to avoid replicating too many tracks that were on the earlier ‘Five Point One’ collection, and having Bernard Sumner singing on quite a few of the tracks should have made it seem more like an artist album than just a compilation.
Not sure the concept really gelled though. Mark isn’t easy to label – a lot of people think he’s a DJ, which is the one thing he isn’t (but probably should be). ‘Collaborator’ is a great album and should have sold a lot more than it did. In fact Mark regularly reminds me of that!
As a label manager, how do you decide on the formats that releases will be issued in? When do you know one format will be more viable than another, eg some are CD only, others are vinyl only?
Vinyl tends to be reserved for prestige items, and / or where you can fashion an art object from it, like THE DURUTTI COLUMN album with the die-cut glasspaper sleeve, which I’ll talk about later.
The recent JOSEF K singles collection ‘It’s Kinda Funny’ was vinyl only because there have been several JOSEF K CD compilations already, and because a 12” matt board sleeve was a great way of exhibiting the original artwork by Jean-François Octave.
I still prefer CDs because the sound is better, you can fit more material on them, plus they are easier to keep in print over a long period of time. In an era of declining physical sales, the increasing fragmentation of formats isn’t too helpful, at least as far as labels are concerned.
Vinyl retains cultural clout though. Releasing albums used to be like publishing books, whereas once the market became saturated with releases, it’s kind of become degraded and often feels as if you’re just publishing magazine articles. But a vinyl album still has the heft of a book.
Factory Benelux and Les Disques du Crépuscule were both known for tasteful artwork and you have maintained this aesthetic. The vinyl reissue of ‘The Return Of The Durutti Column’ had an interesting genesis?
With the Benelux reissue in 2013, the original intention was to replicate Fact 14 from 1980, with coarse sandpaper front and back and a flexi-disc.
Back then Tony Wilson was able to source 12-inch square sheets from a local company called Naylors Abrasives in Bredbury, near Stockport. They still exist, but they don’t manufacture sandpaper any more, and when I got in touch in 2012 to explain the project, they clearly thought I was a lunatic.
I’m not sure that glasspaper is even manufactured anywhere in Western Europe now. In the end we had to go to a company in China, whose minimum order was 10,000 sheets. What was a cheap and (relatively) easy package for Factory in 1980 turned out to be pretty much impossible to copy three decades later. It’s probably easier to source glasspaper in lurid colours rather than plain old beige, and the biggest rolls were only 11 inches wide. You can still source flexi-discs from one plant in the States, but they end up costing more per unit than a 12-inch vinyl album. Fortunately, however, not being able to do a straight copy served to liberate the project somewhat, so that we began to think in terms of a new edition which referenced the original, but offered something different.
The flexi became a hard vinyl 7”, which sounds far better, and we were now able to add an inner sleeve with period images and explanatory text. The 11-inch glasspaper squares took about eight months to arrive from China, and while we were twiddling our thumbs the designer, Carl Glover, came up with the idea of seating the glasspaper sheet on the front in a recessed deboss. A bit like a frame, thereby underlining the ‘art’ credentials.
Somewhat to my surprise the pressing plant in Germany agreed to assemble the finished package from start to finish, which was fortunate since I couldn’t imagine NEW ORDER agreeing to help out. I didn’t much fancy the idea of doing it myself. Like the building trade people we had to go through en route to China, the pressing plant just couldn’t understand why we’d want to release a record in a glasspaper sleeve. Someone suggested a photo of some sandpaper might be better…
Then, when the sheets finally arrived, some of the cutting was pretty rough, and the pressing plant insisted on a 3mm tolerance between each side of the sheet and the deboss. That would just look as though we’d fluffed the measurements, besides which even with a deboss, the glasspaper sheets simply stuck on the cover just didn’t have that ‘wow’ factor.
I spent a few days arguing with the plant about tolerances, and agonising generally, then decided that a die-cut would be just as impressive, with the glasspaper underneath, as if you were seeking it through a window. This scheme also overcame the issues about imperfect size and cutting of the glasspaper.
The only obvious, practical shape for the die-cut was Peter Saville’s original ‘bar chart’ logo, which appeared on the labels of most Factory releases between 1979 and 1980, Fact 14 included. It just looks right, and is also suggestive of a graphic equalizer, which I suppose is a bit Hannett. The pressing plant had already printed 2000 copies of the original inner bag though, so we had to throw those away. All the problems and changes also mean that the release date was late. Very Factory, I suppose.
The finished package looked even better than anyone dared to imagine, and housed in the polythene bag it has a fantastic 3D quality, plus the glasspaper catches the light beautifully. I was particularly delighted that Vini Reilly liked it. All the various headaches and reverses improved the design no end, and the addition of the die-cut means that you now have this unique Reid/Saville hybrid. Truly a happy accident.
Your CD reissues on Factory Benelux and Les Disques du Crépuscule are known for their comprehensive sleeve notes which are written by you. What is your philosophy and style regarding this?
I tend to focus on facts, and direct quotation from the people involved.
Creative writing I leave to experts like Paul Morley, Simon Reynolds and Kevin Pierce. My notes tend to be honest rather than gushing or pseudo-academic, and that’s probably why I rarely get commissioned to write liner notes for other releases! I think the last time was an ELECTRONIC retrospective. Johnny Marr just wanted a hagiography in which everything and everyone was, like, amazing and brilliant, all the time. Buyers aren’t stupid and don’t really want that. Then again, I probably have been a bit too glass half empty at times.
What are your thoughts on modern music, particularly the synthpop and electronic variety, having worked with a number of the original pioneers?
I really like EDM, it’s probably my favourite genre for blasting out loud in the car, annoying my daughter etc; RIHANNA, MISS KITTIN, TODD TERJE, electroclash, Xenomania productions.
A lot of what Crépuscule released during the golden years – the 80s, basically – was either very poppy (Paul Haig, Anna Domino, Isabelle Antena, Kid Montana), or pretty abstract (Wim Mertens, Glenn Branca, Gavin Bryars). That’s probably why my taste in music remains similarly schizophrenic.
If you’re asking who my current / recent favourites are then its TEGAN & SARA, ROBYN, M83, some NINE INCH NAILS, and the last NEW ORDER album. That was a spectacular return to form. Hats off to them, and to Mute.
Which have been your favourite reissues or products on Les Disques du Crépuscule and Factory Benelux over the years?
I can answer that in a heartbeat. My all-time favourite LDDC album is ‘Night Air’ by Blaine L Reininger, which came out in 1984 and was his first proper solo album during the time he was absent from TUXEDOMOON.
It’s a magical album about exile in Brussels and was a key influence on my relocating to the city a couple of years later. Expertly recorded and engineered by Gareth Jones, I might add. I’d love him to tour the whole album – maybe there will be an opportunity after TUXEDOMOON are done touring ‘Half Mute’ during 2016.
My favourite FBN reissues would be the glasspaper Durutti, or the pochette 2xCD edition of ‘Always Now’ by SECTION 25. Both presented considerable challenges, and both came off.
Are there any upcoming releases on Factory Benelux or Les Disques du Crépuscule you can tell us about?
I’ve been talking to a group from Brussels called LES PANTIES for a couple of years. I love their music – poised, sophisticated cold wave, with a hint of shoegaze – they have a great aesthetic sense, and Sophie Frison is an excellent singer. We just couldn’t agree about the name though. It might work in a French speaking country, but elsewhere it sounds like a novelty band. Eventually I just gave in and collected all their singles on an album, ‘Cold Science’, which is coming out on Crépuscule in September. It’s a bit of a passion project for me, I suppose. But it’s also one in the eye for people who carp we do nothing but reissues.
ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK gives its grateful thanks to James Nice