Tag: Sparks (Page 2 of 7)

SPARKS The Girl Is Crying In Her Latte

It’s still a Mael, Mael, Mael, Mael World!

Russell and Ron Mael have been plying their trade as SPARKS for over 50 years now and since the release of their 2021 documentary ‘The SPARKS Brothers’, their stock is as high as it has ever been with their film musical ‘Annette’ winning a César at France’s national film awards for best original music.

Always clever but never impenetrable, the sibling duo have surmised their new long player ‘The Girl Is Crying In Her Latte’ as being “as bold and uncompromising as anything we did back then or, for that matter, anytime throughout our career.”

The 26th studio album in the SPARKS discography, ‘The Girl Is Crying In Her Latte’ sees a homecoming of sorts to Island Records, the label that released their breakthrough 1974 hit single ‘This Town Ain’t Big Enough For Both Of Us’ and its iconic parent album ‘Kimono My House’.

As if to affirm the historic significance, the art rock of ‘Nothing Is As Good As They Say It Is’ recalls SPARKS’ previous Island sojourn with the surreal but poignant narrative of a 22-hour-old baby asking to be readmitted to the womb having had sight of the real world! But it all begins with the catchy title track commentary on First World problems which is rugged and enjoyable if a bit repetitive.

Named after the actress who inspired Phil Oakey’s lop-sided hairdo, ‘Veronica Lake’ has an exotic technologically-derived sequence while with a drumless electronica vibe, ‘Escalator’ could be OMD. Within a percussive glam rock cocoon, ‘The Mona Lisa’s Packing, Leaving Late Tonight’ is an avant-fling that delights in its oddness with synths, virtual brass and organ all competing for top billing.

Although sharp and buzzy, ‘You Were Meant For Me’ is classic SPARKS with a characteristically histrionic delivery from Russell and even throws in violin for good measure. Meanwhile ‘Not That Well-Defined’ takes a more orchestrated route to provide a dose of cinematic drama. Continuing on the orchestrated thinking, the Baroque overtures of ‘We Go Dancing’ recall the ‘Lil Beethoven’ album and ‘Take Me For A Ride’ takes an exhilarating tongue twisting journey into dramatic virtual strings, cascading woodwinds and timpanic romps before the rocking up half way.

‘When You Leave’ echoes the Anglophile influences that got The Mael Brothers into music in the first place but is less convincing compared to other material. “What should we do?” asks Russell and in a contradiction of its title, ‘It’s Sunny Today’ offers a more solemn string quartet shaped presentation.

Utilising a machine beat backbone, ‘A Love Story’ reveals more gothic overtones in its ominous austere and as ‘It Doesn’t Have To Be That Way’ strums its way towards the closing straight, ‘Gee, That Was Fun’ presents an amusing bittersweet lament to declare “still it was grand” as multiple harmonies in a wide spectrum of vocal ranges penetrate the psyche to reflect the confusion of relationship breakdown.

While not entering the disco territory of their Giorgio Moroder-produced days, ‘The Girl Is Crying In Her Latte’ is more electronic than recent SPARKS albums. Squeezing a lot in lyrically and musically, the backing band of Evan Weiss (guitar), Eli Pearl (guitar), Max Whipple (bass) and Stevie Nistor (drums) cope admirably for the variety of styles incorporated on this record.

SPARKS have doggedly continued their pursuit of the unconventional and remain as eccentric and fun as ever; their long standing supporters will be more than happy with this new offering.


‘The Girl Is Crying In Her Latte’ is released on 26 May 2023 via Island Records as a CD, cassette, black vinyl LP, clear vinyl LP and picture disc

SPARKS 2023 UK + European live dates include:

Oxford New Theatre (23 May), Liverpool Philharmonic Hall (24 May), Glasgow SEC Armadillo (26 May), Manchester Bridgewater Hall (27 May), London Royal Albert Hall (29 – 30 May), Barcelona, Primavera Sound (2 June), Nimes La Paloma (4 June), Marseille Espace Julien (5 June), Madrid Primavera Sound (8 June), Primavera Sound (10 June), Paris Le Grand Rex (13 June), Utrecht Tivoli Vredenburg Grote Zaal (14 June), Copenhagen Store Vega (16 June), Berlin Tempodrom (18 June), Brussels Cirque Royal (20 June), Wolverhampton Civic Hall (22 June), Glastonbury Festival (23 June)

http://allsparks.com/

https://www.facebook.com/sparksofficial/

https://twitter.com/sparksofficial

https://www.instagram.com/sparks_official/


Text by Chi Ming Lai
Photos by Munachi Osegbu
22nd May 2023

A Beginner’s Guide to DAN LACKSMAN

Born in 1950, German-born Belgian synth pioneer and producer Dan Lacksman began learning about music when he was 12.

Becoming proficient on piano and guitar, his first two loves were THE SHADOWS and THE BEATLES. Fascinated by the art of recording, he set-up the bones of his first home studio with a second hand tape recorder in his parents’ dining room and acquired more instruments along the way. After he left school, he went to study to become a professional recording engineer, but frustrated by the experience, he sought something more hands-on and found a job as a tape-op with Studio Madeleine in Brussels.

Established by Félix-Robert Faecq who was A&R at Decca Belgium, it saw Lacksman working with a number of the top hit making engineers and musicians in the Benelux region. Fascinated by the increasing use of electronics in music, Lacksman’s first synthesizer purchase was an EMS VCS 3 that still works today and in situ at his Synsound studios. But it was his investment in a Moog IIIP modular system that was to prove crucial as he made several albums under the name ELECTRONIC SYSTEM.

But Lacksman was to find fame when he formed the seminal electronic trio TELEX with noted jazz musician Marc Moulin and vocalist Michel Moers in 1978. Their aim was to make “something really European, different from rock, without guitar”. Their first single was a cover of ‘Twist à Saint Tropez’ which was made famous by LES CHATS SAUVAGES and developed around an electronic arrangement which Lacksman had blueprinted on ‘Rock Machine’, a track from his ‘Disco Machine’ album as ELECTRONIC SYSTEM.

The self-penned album opener ‘Moscow Diskow’ heralded a new phase in electronic dance music that had been seeded by the Giorgio Moroder produced ‘I Feel Love’ in 1977 and became a club favourite. But in 1979, TELEX unexpectedly found themselves on ‘Top Of The Pops’ when their deadpan funereal version of ‘Rock Around The Clock’ reached No34 in the UK singles charts. Meanwhile, Lacksman and Moulin found themselves at the top of the French charts when ‘Le Banana Split’, a track they produced for Belgian-based starlet Lio sold one million copies.

In 1980, Lacksman founded Synsound Studios in Brussels but TELEX were to get their 15 minutes of fame when they represented Belgium in the 1980 Eurovision Song Contest. Entering with a bouncy electropop tune entitled ‘Euro-Vision’, it had deliberately banal lyrics about the event highlighting that although the borders were open for one night with everyone well-dressed, after the contest, the borders would close and everyone would be back to square one. With Lacksman’s Moog modular behind them, TELEX’s amusing Situationist performance concluded with Moers stoically taking a photo of the bemused audience in The Hague.

While TELEX would release further albums and see SPARKS act as collaborators on their third long player ‘Sex’, Lacksman continued a parallel production and engineering career while also expanding his Synsound Studios into a second complex and having the likes of David Bowie, Harumi Hosono, Thomas Dolby, Youssou N’Dour, Etienne Daho and Florian Schneider use their facilities.

TELEX reunited in 2006 for the ‘How Do You Dance?’ album on Virgin Records and finding themselves welcomed back by the artists who had they had helped lay the electronic foundations for, the trio did remixes for DEPECHE MODE and PET SHOP BOYS. Sadly Marc Moulin passed away in 2008 and TELEX was retired. Fast forward to today and TELEX find themselves in a new partnership with Daniel Miller and Mute for the release of a new six disc box set containing the albums ‘Looking For Saint-Tropez’, ‘Neurovision’, ‘Sex’, ‘Wonderful World’, ‘Looney Tunes’ and ‘How Do You Dance?’.

With that in mind, it is fitting that Dan Lacksman should be more recognised for his trailblazing technical endeavours in the name of electronic music. ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK is proud to present a selection of 20 works which he had a hand in… listed in yearly and then alphabetical order, some of his many achievements will pleasantly surprise.


DAN LACKSMAN Happiness Is A Cold Beer (1973)

Releasing his first solo single ‘I Start A Dream To-Day’ in 1971, Dan Lackman’s eventual self-titled debut album was a eclectic mixture of banjo driven country rock, psychedelic folk, acoustic ballads and bluesy synth-flavoured rock ‘n’ roll. Possibly recorded while inebriated, ‘Happiness Is A Cold Beer’ was like an electronic Fats Domino using his Moog IIIP modular alongside Mellotron, piano and guitar. It was a sign of things to come.

Available on the DAN LACKSMAN album ‘Dan Lacksman’ via Real Gone Music

https://danlacksman.com/


ELECTRONIC SYSTEM Flight To Venus (1977) 

For more experimental but melodic instrumentals, Lacksman went out as THE ELECTRONIC SYSTEM with ‘Coconut’ being the first long playing release in 1973. As well as the jolly title track, it notably included covers of ‘La Bamba’ and Giorgio Moroder’s ‘Son Of My Father’. Taking the latter’s lead on the sixth album ‘Disco Machine’, ‘Flight To Venus’ was a magnificent slice of throbbing electronic disco which THE CHEMICAL BROTHERS later sampled for ‘Star Guitar’.

Available on the ELECTRONIC SYSTEM album ‘Disco Machine’ via Omega International

https://www.facebook.com/danlacksmanmusic


PLASTIC BERTRAND Tout Petit La Planète (1978)

Roger Jouret found fame in 1977 as Plastic Bertrand with ‘Ça Plane Pour Moi’ released by Belgian label RKM who TELEX also eventually signed to. Away from “plastique punk”, there was the smooth electronic disco of ‘Tout Petit La Planète’ on which Lackman’s performed synths and vocoder. In 2010, Jouret admitted he did not sing on any of the first four Plastic Bertrand albums and the vocals were by producer Lou Deprijck.

Available on the PLASTIC BERTRAND album ‘Greatest Hits’ via Choice Of Music

https://www.plasticbertrand.com/


TRANS VOLTA Disco Computer (1978)

TRANS VOLTA was Dan Lacksman’s one-off collaboration with American trumpeter Douglas Lucas who released several albums on RKM as well as founding the Afro-jazz ensemble MOMBASA, ‘Disco Computer’ was another brilliant homage to Giorgio Moroder. Imagining the mind of a machine making dance music, the robotised lead prophetically announced “I am the future” aided by arcade game bleeps and Cerrone-influenced drums.

Available on the compilation album ‘The Sound Of Belgium’ (V/A) via La Musique Fait La Force

https://www.discogs.com/artist/144074-Transvolta


PATRICK HERNANDEZ Born To Be Alive (1979)

Working with Belgian producer Jean Vanloo, French singer Patrick Hernandez had a worldwide hit with ‘Born to Be Alive’; it was infectious but thanks to its unique vocal intonation, potentially very annoying. Throwing in the kitchen sink, it also featured a synthbass sequence from a Roland System 100 programmed by Dan Lacksman. A young Madonna was part of Hernandez’s touring dance troupe.

Available on the PATRICK HERNANDEZ album ‘Born To Be Alive’ via Cherry Pop

https://www.facebook.com/patrick.hernandez3


LIO Le Banana Split (1979)

Named after a ‘Barbarella’ character, Portugese-born Lio worked with songwriters Jacques Duvall and Jay Alanski while Dan Lacksman and TELEX bandmate Marc Moulin were recruited as the main producers for her premier Lio album. ‘Le Banana Split’ recalled the delightful coquettish yé-yé girls such as France Gall and was No1 in France. Meanwhile, the song found new life in the recent “Hello Yellow” iPhone 14 advert.

Available on the LIO album ‘Lio’ via ZE Records

https://www.instagram.com/lio_la_vraie/


TELEX Ça Plane Pour Moi (1979)

While TELEX caused a stir by covering the old classic ‘Rock Around The Clock’ at a funereal pace, reinterpreting a comparatively new Euro-punk number in ‘Ça Plane Pour Moi’ in the same fashion was more surprising… or was it? “Well, it was to please our producer as it was the same record company” laughed Michel Moers. “But we thought it would be funny to do as it was a very fast track, to make it slower and add vocoder…” Lacksman added.

Available on the TELEX album ‘Looking For Saint-Tropez’ as part of the boxed set via Mute Artists

https://mutebank.co.uk/collections/telex


SŒUR SOURIRE Dominque – Version 1982 (1982)

Jeannine Deckers, known as Sœur Sourire in French or The Singing Nun in English-speaking territories, shot to fame in 1963 with ‘Dominique’ although after leaving the church, she lived in poverty. Attempting to revive her fortunes, she was teamed with Dan Lacksman and Marc Moulin to rework her biggest hit. “We did an electronic version with Soeur Sourire, it was a complete flop!” said Lacksman. Deckers sadly took her own life in 1985.

Originally released as a single on Scalp Records, currently unavailable

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Singing_Nun


TELEX Haven’t We Met Somewhere Before? (1982)

‘Haven’t We Met Somewhere Before?’ was a TELEX collaboration with SPARKS which came about by accident. Russell Mael had met Lio on a French TV show and proposed writing English lyrics for her next album. They arranged to work at Dan Lacksman’s studio in Brussels but Lio never arrived. TELEX played the Maels some tapes so SPARKS remained in the city to work on the ‘Sex’ album, commuting by tram to the studio, enjoying the attention from fans recognising them.

Available on the TELEX album ‘Sex’ as part of the boxed set via Mute Artists

https://www.facebook.com/ThisIsTelex


MIHARU KOSHI L’Amour Toujours (1983)

TELEX and YELLOW MAGIC ORCHESTRA had much in common and Japanese trio’s leader Haruomi Hosono came over to Brussels to record a cover of TELEX’s ‘L’Amour Toujours’ with chanteuse Miharu Koshi whose album he was producing. ”It was fantastic” remembered Lacksman of the sessions at his studio which also featured Marc Moulin on synth, “we were very close technically, those three days were really incredible…”

Available on the MIHARU KOSHI album ‘Tutu’ via Great Tracks

https://www.miharukoshi.info/


THOMAS DOLBY Hyperactive! (1983)

Having had his first solo material appear on the compilation ‘From Brussels With Love’, Thomas Dolby ventured over to the Belgian capital to record his second album ‘The Flat Earth’ with Dan Lacksman engineering. Despite being labelled a “synth boffin”, Dolby aimed to make a much more organic sounding record despite the use of a Fairlight. One of the big surprises was the speedy art-funk of ‘Hyperactive!’ which had been pitched to Michael Jackson.

Available on the THOMAS DOLBY album ‘The Flat Earth’ via EMI Music

https://www.thomasdolby.com/


SPARKS Music You Can Dance To (1986)

When SPARKS returned to Brussels to record with Dan Lacksman, the release of ‘Change’ in 1985 had not been received well. In what turned out to be a one-off single on London Records, one A&R muttered to the Maels: “why can’t you make music that you can dance to?” – but from criticism comes inspiration and this led to ‘Music That You Can Dance To’. Making use of a Fairlight, Roland Jupiter 8 and Yamaha DX7, the energetic similarities to ERASURE’s ‘Oh L’Amour’ did not go unnoticed.

Available on the album ‘Music You Can Dance To’ via Repertoire Records

https://allsparks.com/


DEEP FOREST Sweet Lullaby (1992)

A French duo comprising of Eric Mouquet and Michel Sanchez, DEEP FOREST were along with ENIGMA, pioneers of “Global Pop”, a type of ambient dance music combined with ethnic sound samples. Spening over a year to craft the record, the producer of their self-titled first album was Dan Lacksman and with ‘Sweet Lullaby’, he found himself part of yet another worldwide hit.

Available on the DEEP FOREST album ‘Deep Forest’ via Columbia Records

https://www.deep-forest.fr/


CAMOUFLAGE In Your Ivory Tower (1993)

Dan Lacksman had been the main producer of the second CAMOUFLAGE album ‘Methods Of Silence’.  He returned in 1993 to helm ‘Bodega Bohemia’ and the end result was the Germans’ best album since their 1988 debut ‘Voices & Images’. While the album’s hit single came with the ‘Violator’-lite of ‘Suspicious Love’, the closing 9 minute Sylvian-esque drama of ‘In Your Ivory Tower’ was its crowning glory.

Available on the CAMOUFLAGE album ‘Bodega Bohemia’ via Universal Music

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


PANGEA Memories Of Pangea (1996)

Developing on the exotic new age of DEEP FOREST, Lacksman formed his own project PANGEA. Named after the ancient supercontinent that once comprised of Africa, India, South America, Antarctica and Australia, it told the story of “once upon a time at the beginning of earth”. ‘Memories Of Pangea’ was conceived with the idea of “one earth” and how technology was able to unite all like one continent.

Available on the PANGEA album ‘Pangea’ via EastWest

https://www.discogs.com/artist/71181-Pangea


SANDRINE COLLARD Cache-Cache Dans Le Noir (2002)

‘Cache-Cache Dans Le Noir’, the first single by Belgian singer Sandrine Collard recalled Lio. So it was no big surprise to learn that Dan Lacksman had produced it. Blippy electronic pop with wispy vocals, and translating as “hide and seek in the dark”, she saw her lyrics as parodies of her own life. A reluctant pop star, Collard had even suggested to Lacksman that his daughter Alice should record her songs; she was persuaded otherwise.

Available on the SANDRINE COLLARD album ‘Je Communique’ via Need Records

https://www.discogs.com/release/4037388-Sandrine-Collard-Je-Communique


DEPECHE MODE A Pain That I Am Used To – TELEX remix (2006)

Capturing “pain and suffering in various tempos”, ‘Playing The Angel’ was a return to form of sorts for DEPECHE MODE after the painfully lacklustre ‘Exciter’. Already a brooding epic in its original form, TELEX made ‘A Pain That I Am Used To’ more electronic and more metronomic with a deep throb and bass resonance. It tied in perfectly with the trio’s return with new recordings after a lengthy hiatus and began an association with Mute that would see fruition 15 years later.

Available on the DEPECHE MODE boxed set ‘Playing The Angel – The 12” Singles’ via Sony Music

https://www.depechemode.com/


TELEX La Bamba (2006)

While ‘Rock Around The Clock’ was TELEX’s only UK hit, it set the tone for their later cover versions which often saw the trio slow rock n’ roll classics right down “so that old people can even dance to it” as Michel Moers joked – Lacksman had already recorded a faster version for ELECTRONIC SYSTEM in 1973 that used acoustic guitar as well as synths, but he had been itching to realise a purer electronic vision.

Available on the TELEX album ‘This Is Telex’ via Mute Artists

https://www.instagram.com/this_is_telex/


DAN & ALICE LACKSMAN Bonjour Monsieur Hulot (2013)

Dan Lacksman released his first solo LP in nearly four decades to express his ‘Electric Dreams’. The sequencer heavy ‘I Want My Space’ harked back to ELECTRONIC SYSTEM and while the album was instrumental melodies, an interesting curio was ‘Bonjour Monsieur Hulot’. A sweet electro chanson duet with his producer daughter Alice, the song recalled TELEX in spirit with its sense of humour.

Available on the DAN LACKSMAN album ‘Electric Dreams’ via 77 Recordings, listen at https://soundcloud.com/pickydan/sets/electric

https://www.facebook.com/danlacksmanmusic


FLORIAN SCHNEIDER & DAN LACKSMAN Stop Plastic Pollution (2015)

Having left KRAFTWERK in 2008, the late Florian Schneider was enjoying his retirement but while on holiday in Ghana, he observed the local fishermen were catching nothing but plastic rubbish in their nets. He teamed up with Dan Lacksman and environmental campaign group Parley For The Oceans, recording ‘Stop Plastic Pollution’ to raise awareness of the issue. The message was “Stop plastic pollution in the oceans… save the fish… keep your planet clean.”

Not officially released, listen at https://soundcloud.com/dazedandconfused/stop-plastic-pollution-florian-schneiderkraftwerk-co-founder-dan-lacksman-telex

https://www.parley.tv/updates/2016/1/6/stop-plastic-pollution-florian-schneider-for-the-oceans


Text by Chi Ming Lai
23rd April 2023

TELEX Interview

Photo by Frank Uyttenhove

Belgian synth trio TELEX are to release a new box set of their studio albums on Mute this Spring.

Their 1979 debut album ‘Looking For Saint-Tropez’ featured three unusual and striking electronic reinterpretations of rock ‘n’ roll through the ages including ‘Rock Around The Clock’, ‘Twist À St. Tropez’ and ‘Ça Plane Pour Moi’. Pre-dating SILICON TEENS, the fictional teen synth band devised by Daniel Miller, the new partnership with Mute is highly fitting with the one-time apprentice providing a new home for the sorcerer.

As well as ‘Looking For Saint-Tropez’, the ‘TELEX’ box set will also contain ‘Neurovision’ (1980), ‘Sex’ (1981), ‘Wonderful World’ (1984), ‘Looney Tunes’ (1988) and ‘How Do You Dance?’ (2006); all the albums have been remastered and newly mixed from the original tapes by band members Dan Lacksman and Michel Moers.

The Brussels-based threesome of Michel Moers, Dan Lacksman and Marc Moulin were already experienced hands when they formed TELEX in 1978. But they trailblazed and subverted during their imperial phase, crossing paths with SPARKS and YELLOW MAGIC ORCHESTRA along the way. Representing Belgium at the 1980 Eurovision Song Contest, their bouncy song ‘Eurovision’ with its deliberately banal lyrics sending up the whole charade featured a Situationist performance that puzzled most watching on TV but delighted many others.

Recognised as techno, house and synthpop pioneers thanks to seminal tracks such as ‘Moscow Diskow’ and ‘Haven’t We Met Somewhere Before?’, TELEX were to later remix DEPECHE MODE and PET SHOP BOYS. But after Marc Moulin sadly passed away in 2008, TELEX were formally retired.

Blessed with another opportunity to present their impressive legacy to a new generation and established music fans who may have missed them first time round, Michel Moers and Dan Lacksman spent a joyful hour chatting to ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK about their time as TELEX…

TELEX joining the Mute family is quite appropriate isn’t it, like it was meant to be?

Michel: It should have been earlier… *laughs*

We had a very long contract so when we could get out of it, the first thought was “Mute is the best”; so we tried and it was the right move, we didn’t ask anybody else. The next day, we received an email from Daniel Miller saying “yes OK, let’s talk”.

Dan: We couldn’t believe it because it was our dream. “What would be the best company to reissue the albums?” and of course it was Mute. It’s great.

Michel: We loved ‘Warm Leatherette’, it was like a punch! Then SILICON TEENS came after TELEX, but at the time I wasn’t aware it. KRAFTWERK were a big influence but as “The Belgian KRAFTWERK” (*laughs*) with Belgian humour and cartoons, it was more related to our environment and personalities. English humour is better known around the world.

Dan: Belgian humour quite is surreal, similar to Monty Python which was very popular here because it was completely absurd. Also there are two cultures in Belgium, the French one and the Dutch one. It’s a mixture of both. I am French speaking but my grandfather was Flemish so I can feel both sides in me and a lot of Belgian people, especially in Brussels, they are a mixture of cultures.

Michel: In Belgium, we are much closer to English humour than French humour.

There are new mixes of the albums but what do you mean by that, as that might ring alarm bells for some, like dance remixes etc? *laughs*

Dan: It’s not every title, it’s about 60%… when we first started to remaster, some of the mixes we were listening to and thinking “it’s a pity, there is too much reverb” or whatever. But then the idea came to try a new mix but sounding similar to the original. So we decided to try one and if we don’t like it, we don’t do it! But it worked very well, so well that finally we listened to every album and we decided which titles we thought were ok for mastering and which ones we should attempt a new mix. And so that’s what we did.

Michel: So it’s new mixes, NOT “remixes”, that is more related to dance… the main thing we did was to take tracks away…

Dan: …to simplify…

Michel: The first album was our main reference and we probably didn’t succeed after because there were so many new machines to try… so with these new mixes and less tracks, the six albums are more a whole, you can really feel more of a thread….

Dan: All the songs are original, we didn’t replace anything, the vocals are all the original ones and no cheating, well…

Michel: …sometimes calibrating my timing or my pitch! *laughs*

Dan: The bass was played manually in those days, no sequencer which is why it was grooving, Marc had an incredible groove but sometimes, there were parts we replaced but very few really…

How did ‘Moscow Diskow’ come together, the idea of going to a club behind The Iron Curtain?

Michel: The original idea was to make lyrics, French words that English or American people were using, like “fantastique”. It was putting all these words together, some more personal ones like my girlfriend was called a “French Garçon” and things like that. It came together with the idea of a train…

Dan: So I thought, what about the hi-hat, it would be the train, a steam train which would be a completely surrealistic concept. So I started from there and added a kick drum and claps, there is no snare and I did the “woo-woo” sound with two oscillators and an envelope controlling the pitch. It was done very fast. We didn’t specify a 130 tempo, it was just a knob, like “what about this?”. We had to first record the drums on three tracks before we could do the keyboards as always, it was very spontaneous. It came like this, et viola!

Michel: At the time, the Moscow graphics were very well used, we liked to play with clichés… if we were writing the song now, we would choose another town…

‘Rock Around The Clock’ is TELEX’s only UK hit and the ‘Top Of The Pops’ performance is still great performance art… but it crossed over, even my mother liked it!

Michel: We also did a cover of ‘La Bamba’ and it is also slower than the original like ‘Rock Around The Clock’ so that old people can even dance to it *laughs*

The idea was to show who TELEX were, as people would know the original and hear the difference. It was an easier way to show who we are and that the audience may like an original song of ours. TELEX were like making a “History of Music”, so ‘Rock Around The Clock’ is rock, ‘La Bamba’ is South America, ‘Dance To The Music was black music…

Were you surprised to get the call to be on ‘Top Of The Pops’?

Michel: No, because maybe the reason we were asked was because they had a new Quantel machine to make new kinds of images and special effects. We were probably the only band around at that time with electronics where they could make these images that had not been made before. So it was more for them to play with their machine *laughs*

Dan: The rule on ‘Top Of The Pops’ at that time for international artists was that everything had to be live, but they wanted to experiment with this machine. So the day before, we went to the BBC and they filmed us to prepare some effects that they would insert the next day when we were performing, they were running the effects in sync and then they would put the live image and some effects, so when we did the “da-da-da” and the picture swirling, it was great, it true that it fits with the music.

Was it your idea to read the newspaper or the ‘Top Of The Pops’ director? *laughs*

Michel: It wasn’t the director, his reaction was “Are they bored? They don’t want to be there” *laughs*

No, we liked sometimes to use the anti-cliché of pop music you know… in pop music, everybody is smiling and moving, so the idea was to do the contrary. One of the main comedy characters we liked was Buster Keaton…

Dan: …he never smiled!

Michel: So we thought, “what would he do?”… you didn’t dance, just *does swaying arm movement*

Dan: NO! *laughs*

PET SHOP BOYS did the newspaper thing in 2009, I don’t know if they got the idea from you?

Michel: They also don’t dance… at the end of ‘Eurovision’, I take a picture of the audience but now, everybody has an iPhone and is taking the picture so it’s funny. The idea was reversing the process.

So ‘Rock Around The Clock’ saw you covering an old song, you also covered an quite new song at the time ‘Ça Plane Pour Moi’ and Dan, you have a connection because you did the synths for Plastic Bertrand on ‘Tout Petit La Planète’? Was this cover deliberate because of your connections?

Michel: Well, it was to please our producer as it was the same record company *laughs*

Dan: But we thought it would be funny to do as it was a very fast track, to make it slower and add vocoder…

Michel: It was part of that “History of Music” idea, add some punk plus it was the only way you could make people understand the words! *laughs*

As the box set shows, TELEX became notable for their cover versions, which were your favourites and which songs do you wish you had recorded?

Michel: There are two that have not been released sung by me but they are probably not TELEX enough… my idea would be to keep the backing and have someone who sings well! *laughs*

With people who sing well, what they sing is usually boring to me. Maybe it’s not the same in England but over here, it’s for radio but the singers sound like…

Dan: …that’s maybe because of the voice program that is everywhere and it’s just physical performance, it’s not singing anymore… like why? Maybe people are just accustomed to it, even if it is out of tune, it doesn’t matter but when you stick Autotune on, you have no more feeling.

When you did ‘On The Road Again’ in 2006, had you been aware of ROCKETS’ version which similarly used vocoder?

Dan: I was not aware…

Michel: I was aware after… the idea of ‘On The Road Again’ was simply because we were making a new record after so many years of silence. Now I know the ROCKETS version but it was a few weeks after our version came out, Italian TELEX fans were sending me pictures of these guys full of blue. Often the same things can be produced all around the world without realising, like the invention of the telephone, we didn’t know.

So ‘Eurovision’, did the song come first or was it TELEX entering Eurovision that inspired it?

Michel: The song was written for Eurovision, but the idea was to make a photo of what it is, people being well-dressed and at that time there were borders… well, there are borders now! *laughs*

But the idea was all these borders were open for one night and after that, they would close and anyway, the image would go through armoured cables so it was like war. At that time, Peter Gabriel had written about something similar on ‘Games Without Frontiers’ and also Robin Scott as M with ‘Pop Musik’; in fact, we met him at Cannes before the contest and asked him whether he would be interested in making lyrics for us, but he said “I’ve done that already with ‘Pop Musik’”, so I finally did it myself.

Was there a selection competition back home?

Michel: Yes, we had one, there were 10 contestants and we won the competition… but when we were asked by the record company, we thought they were crazy, it was not what we really wanted to do, it was not our music. We thought about it for 2 weeks and said “let’s go for it” as it would be like the epitome of pop music.

So the country was behind you?

Michel: Maybe not the country, but the people at radio and TV on the jury liked it. But all the other competitors were very normal… *laughs*

Dan: Boring, nothing special… we were completely different…

So they were more like The Singing Nun, Dana or Nicole type of entry?

Dan: EXACTLY!

Michel: But The Singing Nun would have had a chance! *laughs*

I am already imagining in my head the idea of TELEX covering The Singing Nun song ‘Dominique’! *laughs*

Michel: In fact, Dan and Marc did it!!

Dan: We did an electronic version with Soeur Sourire, it was a complete flop! *laughs*

So back to Eurovision, how were you choreographing your performance and moves?

Michel: The moves began before because there were normally three rehearsals and we couldn’t achieve one. There was a rule that everything you hear had to be seen, so all the instruments. So if you hear a drum, there should be a drummer. But everything we had was in three Moog modules so there was nothing to see, that was the first argument in the first rehearsal. Then the other argument was about electricity!

Dan: Yes, they didn’t like us because everything was supposed to be live which was not correct, because they said we could come with a backing tape, but everything on tape must be on stage! Simple! So like with ABBA, it was a backing tape, they didn’t play for real but the voices were real. So for us, it was the same thing, we sent a tape but the “drums” I made with the Modular Moog, so you don’t see a drum, you just hear “drums”.

When we were starting rehearsals, the director says “STOP! I hear a drum, where is the drum?” So I had to explain the drum sound was made with this instrument. “OK, we don’t see anything” he said, but I asked if they gave us some electricity, we could push a button and see the sequencer going on… “OH NO! NOT POSSIBLE!” but the director asked if the singer could push a button and fake it. So Michel just pushed a button, nothing happens on the Moog, no wire, nothing so it was completely… and then the song went on and Michel couldn’t hear himself…

Michel: The real time, I couldn’t hear myself, I don’t know if they did it on purpose but I couldn’t hear the three backing singers so my voice is a bit stressed, that’s it! *laughs*

And then?

Michel: Just before our turn on stage, we met Johnny Logan…

Dan: He won by the way…

Michel: I said “I’m sure you are going to win” and he replied “If I win, it’s good for me but if you win, it will be good for music”, that was so nice.

So you wanted to win, or come last but how did you actually feel when Portugal gave you those points? *laughs*

Michel: It was very mixed in our mind… we were chosen to go and then our British and American record companies thought we would win! It was the 25th Anniversary of Eurovision and we heard they would like to change the rules… so they changed the rules to a public vote, so this was very difficult for us! At the same time, we could feel we couldn’t win and it took some years to recover some balance! *roars of laughter*

Dan: We didn’t take it especially seriously, but we were surprised that everybody else was so serious, it was almost a pity to see the two young girls Sophie & Magaly from Luxembourg completely destroyed and crying when they didn’t get points. We were sitting, we had nothing and understood “OK”, so we hoped we were last. And then suddenly Portugal gave us 10 points! WHY? And then Royaume-Uni give us one point (this is why the first box set is called ‘Belgium… One Point’) and Greece three points! We were not last and it was a poor group from Finland… everyone was very serious and we were a bit apart.

Michel: All the organisation was very strict, it was like being in an airport which I understand… we didn’t win but in the long run, people remember us and every year, we have 30 seconds of fame…

Dan: …because of the strange stuff that happened on Eurovision…

Yeah, I’m one of the guilty ones who keeps posting up the ‘Eurovision’ clip… *laughs*

Dan: You’re not the only one!

I don’t know if you are aware when ABBA won in 1974, the UK gave them nil point!

Michel: There’s a lot of politics now…

Dan: It’s more difficult than ever, you have the two semi-finals and then you have the final, it’s getting very completely crazy.

‘The Man With The Answer’ from ‘Sex’ seems to show an affinity with YELLOW MAGIC ORCHESTRA featuring the late Yukihiro Takahashi, did you feel a connection with any of the other electronic music acts?

Michel: At that time, no, we didn’t listen much to each other… it’s really funny but maybe we were a bit shy but we were on the same stage in Paris with YELLOW MAGIC ORCHESTRA on TV and we didn’t speak to each other which was stupid… but finally Harumi Hosono came to the studio to make a cover of our song ‘L’Amour Toujours’ with a Japanese singer Miharu Koshi.

Dan: Just an anecdote with Harumi Hosono, it was incredible because he could speak only Japanese, no English, no French; there was a French guy living in Tokyo to translate but he didn’t need him because for the work, we understood each other perfectly because it was the same equipment, the same way, it was fantastic, he would programme the sequencer and find the sounds, we were very close technically, those three days were really incredible.

Michel: It could be astonishing that we don’t really relate to your question because Belgium is so small and we were all working apart, we had other jobs, it’s not like having a success all around the world, we couldn’t live on just music. So we were not really part of an electronic scene like London where we would have to go out every night or even in Belgium because even if we were invited somewhere, we wouldn’t go. Also, we were a bit older than most people because we had done things before musically, so we didn’t have the same needs or same way to live. But Belgium is, well, was an island… *laughs*

But one act that you did connect up with was SPARKS. Was bringing them in to collaborate on lyrics on the ‘Sex’ album part of a conscious effort on TELEX’s part to be more international and accessible like on ‘Haven’t We Met Somewhere Before?’ and ‘Long Holiday’?

Dan: It was a coincidence because I was working with a Belgian singer called Lio with Marc Moulin at the same time as TELEX, she was an incredible big success and she was doing TV everywhere in the world. Once in Paris, she was on the same programme as SPARKS. Then Russell Mael proposed that she make her next album in English and offered to write the lyrics. So they arranged to work at my studio in Brussels but Lio never came! We were recording the ‘Sex’ album at the same time so we met, they listened to the album and proposed some English lyrics…

Michel: I had made some French lyrics that I couldn’t make work in English so it was ok.

Dan: So Russell and Ron stayed in Brussels, coached Michel with the singing and they liked the city and came back to make their own albums. They would take the tram to the studio and people would recognise them, so they would sign autographs and it was great, they really liked it *laughs*

Michel: The SPARKS tram! *laughs*

I always thought ‘Haven’t We Met Somewhere Before?’ should have been a hit single in the UK…

Michel: We didn’t write songs to be hits, it’s nice when it comes but we did things we wanted to hear.

In the UK, there was this strange thing of the ‘Sex’ album being released as ‘Birds & Bees’ with different tracks including a new single ‘L’ Amour Toujours’; you did two versions of ‘L’ Amour Toujours’ and I preferred the earlier one on ‘Birds & Bees’ over the reworked ‘Wonderful World’ version…

Michel: I think there are even more versions… *laughs*

At that time, we felt that song could be a hit and maybe we were searching for a way to make it more clear and that’s why there are different versions, maybe we didn’t make the right one. That’s the song Harumi Hosono made with Miharu Koshi. There are maybe 5 or 6 versions on the tapes… sometimes we lost our way because there were so many new machines… that was his fault! *laughs*

Dan: We experimented a lot…

Michel: So compared to KRAFTWERK, we didn’t make as many new songs and they made remixes… they also had a strong image, we didn’t really care about showing ourselves… someone once asked us after the 2006 album ‘How Do You Dance?’, “why do you make music like DAFT PUNK?”…

By ‘Wonderful World’, the digital technology had taken hold, how did you find working with it? ‘Raised By Snakes’ is good but it could be any variety of acts at the time?

Dan: It’s funny you mention ‘Raised By Snakes’ because it’s a pre-sampler track. I didn’t have the Fairlight yet there is this chord; I remember that we had the idea to put on this chord all the time so I put it manually into the multi-track. We put the chord on a quarter inch tape and I had a zero lock and a return button, so to record it, I played the multi-track, then I sent the chord “ding” and then I returned to zero ready for the next time. So it would have been more easier with a sampler but it was just before, it’s funny. Of course, the result is the same.

With the Fairlight from 1983 plus the Synclavier, these were the first digital synthesizers and it was impossible not to have one… on top of TELEX, I had my studio SYNSOUND and people came to me to put electronic sounds on their records so I had to have the whole palette. That’s why I kept buying these novelties at the desespoir of my wife *laughs*

Which were your favourite synths?

Dan: Well, I would say it’s the Oberheim OB6, it’s quite new but it’s the one I use the most because every time, the sound is so inspiring, it’s completely analogue and so it’s great. It’s polyphonic also so you can do almost anything. But of course if you want a real good bass, there is nothing like the Minimoog and if you want some more sophisticated analogue sounds, there is nothing like the Moog Modular, they are all complementary.

Michel: Don’t ask me! *laughs*

I made demos but I don’t go into the final thing, I must confess, I just use Logic now… I’m more interested in composing, but of course it is important to use the right sound.

Dan: I use plug-ins too.

And what was the synth or piece of equipment that was most disappointing, the one didn’t meet expectations?

Dan: It’s easy, the Simmons drums because I could do better sounds with the Moog Modular. It’s not good enough, you only had one envelope and with this envelope, you can control the pitch and the length of the sound. But you would need two envelopes to make it good, one for the pitch and the other for the filter for example which you can even do on a Minimoog! I bought a module and five pads because it was quite popular at the time. The pads are in the attic, they are beautiful by the way, but I almost never used it.

What are your own TELEX career highlights?

Michel: To me, it’s really the first album ‘Looking For Saint Tropez’ because we made music that was really fitting with what was on the market, the idea was so simple, not many things were polyphonic. So for me it was the best period, discovering things and after, it was trying to find the same enthusiasm with new things. But our first album and single ‘Twist A Saint Tropez’…

Dan: … it was very spontaneous… Marc asked me one day “what about making an electronic group together?” and it was great idea. And then we needed a singer, and Marc reminded me of this singer Michel Moers who we worked together with. So we had a rendez-vous in my studio to try something, what can we do? And then Marc and Michel said “Maybe let’s take a French song and make it completely electronic? Oh what about ‘Twist A Saint Tropez’ by LES CHATS SAUVAGES?”; so we switched on everything and then in one day, we finished the track. I did a quick rough mix and put it on a cassette because Marc was seeing a friend who was working for RKM Records. It was played to the boss Roland Kluger and the next day we had a contract! It was so quick!

Michel: The nice thing about all this is that although we made a cover, we prevented ourselves from listening to the original, it was a cover made from our memory. That’s why it’s so different. This is why it’s important for me, it was an exciting period.

What are the highlights of your career Dan?

Dan: What career? *laughs*

It was always great to work… in the beginning, we were discovering, then we were experimenting so some days were a bit, I would say, disappointing but the next, we would listen back and think “that’s great” because sometimes you would be thinking too much or whatever. Before TELEX, I did some records on my own but I never liked it frankly, I am not extrovert so I prefer to be in the studio. TELEX was perfect as it was something we did together, but it was something made in the studio so that we don’t have to make concerts. Later, I had a lot of work with other artists at my studio, synthesizers were really popular so I was working every day.


Dedicated to the memory of Marc Moulin 1942-2008

ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK gives its warmest thanks to Michel Moers and Dan Lacksman

Special thanks to Zoe Miller at Zopf PR

The ‘EP3’ playlist featuring ‘We Are All Getting Old’, ‘Spike Jones’ and more can be heard at https://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=OLAK5uy_n6rRiB3JzRz_QRBSuil91EYmczVfjGiMA

The ‘TELEX’ box set is released by Mute as a 6 piece set in coloured vinyl LP and CD variants on 14th April 2023, pre-order from https://mute.ffm.to/telex_boxset

https://mutebank.co.uk/collections/telex

https://www.facebook.com/ThisIsTelex

https://www.instagram.com/this_is_telex/

http://danlacksman.be/

https://www.facebook.com/danlacksmanmusic

https://www.facebook.com/explusguests

http://www.marcmoulin.com/

https://open.spotify.com/artist/6PzO2zYVuLxLwhZJfnP1Wj


Text and Interview by Chi Ming Lai
3rd February 2023

2021 END OF YEAR REVIEW


As the world steadily emerged from a painful pandemic that put many lives on hold, nostalgia appeared to be the commodity most in demand as the music industry took steps to recover.

No matter which era, anything musically from the past was more desirable that anything that reminded the public of the past 20 or so months. The first escape destination in the summer for many restricted to staying on their own shores were the established retro festivals.

Meanwhile television provided an array of documentaries ranging from chart rundowns of past decades and informative classic song analysis on Channel 5 to Dylan Jones’ look at ‘Music’s Greatest Decade’ on BBC2 and Sky Arts’ ‘Blitzed’ with all the usual suspects such as Boy George, Philip Sallon, Marilyn, Gary Kemp and Rusty Egan.

SPARKS had their own comprehensive if slightly overlong film ‘The SPARKS Brothers’ directed by Edgar Wright, but the Maels’ musical ‘Annette’ starring Adam Driver was a step too far. Meanwhile the acclaimed ‘Sisters With Transistors’ presented the largely untold story of electronic music’s female pioneers.

It was big business for 40th anniversary live celebrations from the likes of HEAVEN 17, THE HUMAN LEAGUE, OMD and SOFT CELL, while other veterans such as NEW ORDER and ERASURE returned to the live circuit with the biggest indoor headlining shows of their career.

Meanwhile for 2022, Midge Ure announced an extensive ‘Voices & Visions’ tour to present material from the 1981-82 phase of ULTRAVOX.

Also next year and all being well, GOLDFRAPP will finally get their belated 20th Anniversary tour for their marvellous debut ‘Felt Mountain’ underway while there are rescheduled ‘Greatest Hits’ live presentations for PET SHOP BOYS and SIMPLE MINDS.

Always money for old rope, but also giving audiences who missed them at their pioneering height an opportunity to catch up, ‘best of’ collections were issued by YELLO and TELEX while JAPAN had their 1979 breakthrough album ‘Quiet Life’ given the lavish boxed set treatment. Meanwhile, while many labels were still doing their best to kill off CD, there was the puzzling wide scale return of the compact cassette, a poor quality carrier even at the zenith of its popularity.

“Reissue! Repackage! Repackage! Re-evaluate the songs! Double-pack with a photograph, extra track and a tacky badge!” a disgraced Northern English philosopher once bemoaned.

The boosted market for deluxe boxed sets and the repackaging of classic albums in coloured vinyl meant that the major corporations such as Universal, Sony and Warners hogged the pressing plants, leaving independent artists with lead times of nearly a year for delivery if they were lucky.

But there was new music in 2021. Having achieved the milestone of four decades as a recording act, DURAN DURAN worked with Giorgio Moroder on the appropriately titled ‘Future Past’ while not far behind, BLANCMANGE took a ‘Commercial Break’ and FIAT LUX explored ‘Twisted Culture’. David Cicero made his belated return to music with a mature second album that was about ‘Today’ as Steven Jones & Logan Sky focussed on the monochromatic mood of ‘European Lovers’. Continuing the European theme but towards the former Eastern Bloc, Mark Reeder gave a reminder that he was once declared ‘Subversiv-Dekadent’ and fellow Mancunians UNE became inspired by the ‘Spomenik’ monoliths commissioned by Marshal Tito in the former Yugoslavia.

For those who preferred to immerse themselves in the darker present, Gary Numan presented ‘Intruder’, a poignant concept album produced by Ade Fenton about Mother Earth creating a virus to teach mankind a lesson! Meanwhile ITALOCONNECTION, the project of Italo veterans Fred Ventura and Paolo Gozzetti teamed up with French superstar Etienne Daho to tell the story of ‘Virus X’! The video of the year came from UNIFY SEPARATE whose motivation message to ‘Embrace The Fear’ despite the uncertainty reflected the thoughts of many.

Despite the general appetite for nostalgia, there was some excellent new music released from less established artists with the album of the year coming from Jorja Chalmers and her ‘Midnight Train’ released on Italians Do It Better. The critical acclaim for the UK based Aussie’s second long playing solo offering made up for the disbandment of the label’s biggest act CHROMATICS, as it went into its most prolific release schedule in its history with albums by GLÜME, JOON, DLINA VOLNY and LOVE OBJECT as well as its own self-titled compilation of in-house Madonna covers.

As Kat Von D teamed up with Dan Haigh of GUNSHIP for her debut solo record ‘Love Made Me Do It’, acts like DANZ CM, CLASS ACTRESS, GLITBITER, PRIMO THE ALIEN, PARALLELS, KANGA, R.MISSING, I AM SNOW ANGEL, XENO & OAKLANDER, HELIX and DAWN TO DAWN showed that North America was still the creative hub as far as electronically derived pop songs went.

Attracting a lot of attention in 2021 were NATION OF LANGUAGE, who with their catchy blend of angst, melody and motorik beats welcomed synths as family in their evolving sound while also providing the song of the year in ‘This Fractured Mind’, reflecting the anxieties of these strange times. At the other end of the spectrum, DIAMOND FIELD went full pop with an optimistic multi-vocalist collection that captured the spirit of early MTV while BUNNY X looked back on their high school days with ‘Young & In Love’.

ACTORS delivered their most synthy album yet while as LEATHERS, they keyboardist Shannon Hamment went the full hog for her debut solo effort ‘Reckless’. FRONT LINE ASSEMBLY released a new album and some of that ‘Mechanical Soul’ was brought by their Rhys Fulber into his productions this year for AESTHETIC PERFECTION.

In Europe, long playing debuts came from PISTON DAMP and WE ARE REPLICA while NORTHERN LITE released their first album completely in German and FRAGRANCE. presented their second album ‘Salt Air’. There was also the welcome return of SIN COS TAN, KID KASIO, GUSGUS, MARVA VON THEO, TINY MAGNETIC PETS and MAN WITHOUT COUNTRY.

Featuring second generation members of NEW ORDER and SECTION 25, SEA FEVER released their eclectic debut ‘Folding Lines’ as fellow Mancunian LONELADY added sequencers and drum machines to her post-punk funk template. But Glasgow’s CHVRCHES disappointed with their fourth long player ‘Screen Violence’ by opting to sound like every other tired hipster band infesting the land.

The most promising artist to breakthrough in 2021 was Hattie Cooke whose application of traditional songwriting nous to self-production and arrangement techniques using comparatively basic tools such as GarageBand found a wider audience via her third album ‘Bliss Land’. In all, it was a strong year for female synth-friendly artists with impressive albums from Karin My, Laura Dre, Alina Valentina, Robin Hatch and Catherine Moan while comparative veterans like Fifi Rong, Alice Hubble, Brigitte Handley and Alison Lewis as ZANIAS maintained their cult popularity.

In 2021, sometimes words were very unnecessary and there were fine instrumental synth albums from BETAMAXX, WAVESHAPER, КЛЕТ and Richard Barbieri, with a Mercury nomination received by Hannah Peel for ‘Fir Wave’. But for those who preferred Italo Noir, popwave, post-punk techno and progressive pop, Tobias Bernstrup, Michael Oakley, Eric Random and Steven Wilson delivered the goods respectively.

With ‘The Never Ending’ being billed as the final FM ATTACK album and PERTURBATOR incorrectly paraphrased by Metal Hammer in a controversial “synthwave is dead” declaration, the community got itself in a pickle by simultaneously attacking THE WEEKND for “stealing from synthwave”, yet wanting to ride on the coat tails of Abel Tesfaye, misguidedly sensing an opportunity to snare new fans for their own music projects.

With THE WEEKND’s most recent single ‘Take My Breath’, there was the outcry over the use of a four note arpeggio allegedly sampled from MAKEUP & VANITY SET’s ‘The Last City’. But as one online observer put it, “Wow, an arpeggiated minor chord. Hate to break it to you but you might want to check out what Giorgio Moroder was doing 50 years ago. We’re ALL just rippin’ him off if that’s how you think creativity works”. Another added “If a four note minor key arpeggiated chord can go to court on the basis of copyright law, we are in for a hell of a few years my synthy friends”. It outlined once again that there are some who are still under the impression that music using synths was invented by Ryan Gosling in 2011 for ‘Drive’ soundtrack ??

There were also belated complaints that 2019’s A-HA inspired ‘Blinding Lights’ had a simple melody and needed five writers to realise it… but then, so did UTRAVOX’s ‘Slow Motion’ and DURAN DURAN’s ‘Rio’! Collaboration, whether in bands, with producers or even outsiders has always been a key aspect of the compositional process. If it is THAT simple, do it yourself! As Andy McCluskey of OMD said on ‘Synth Britannia’ in 2009 about the pioneering era when Ryan Gosling was still in nappies: “The number of people who thought that the equipment wrote the song for you: ‘well anybody can do it with the equipment you’ve got!’ “F*** OFF!!”

Over the last two years, THE WEEKND has become the biggest mainstream pop act on the planet, thanks to spectacles such as the impressive gothic theatre of the Super Bowl LV half time showcase while in a special performance on the BRITS, there was a charming presentation of the ERASURE-ish ‘Save Your Tears’ where he played air synth in a moment relatable to many. But everything is ultimately down to catchy songs, regardless of synth usage.

So ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK would like to present a hypothetical case to consider… if someone uses the arpeggio function with a sparkling patch from a Juno 6 synth in a recording, does Cyndi Lauper sue for infringing the copyright of ‘All Through The Night’ or the original songwriter Jules Shear or even the Roland Corporation themselves as they created it? More than one producer has suggested that THE WEEKND’s soundbite came from a hardware preset or more than likely, a software sample pack, of which there are now many.

However, sample culture had hit another new low when Tracklib marketed a package as “A real game-changer for sample based music. Now everyone can afford to clear samples” with rapper and producer Erick Sermon declaring “Yo, this is incredible. They’re trying to put creativity back into music again. By having samples you can actually pay for and afford”.

Err creativity? How about writing your own songs and playing or even programming YOUR OWN instrumentation??!? One sampling enthusiast even declared “I might go as far as to say you don’t really like dance music if you’ve got a problem with adding a beat to a huge (even instantly recognizable) sample”… well guess what? ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK LOATHES IT!!! ?

In 2021, music promotion became a bit strange with publicists at all levels keen more than ever to have their clients’ press releases just cut ‘n’ pasted onto online platforms, but very reluctant to allow albums to be reviewed in advance in the event of a potential negative prognosis.

While cut ‘n’ paste journalism has been a disease that has always afflicted online media, in a sad sign of the times, one long established international website moved to a “pay to get your press release featured” business model.

The emergence of reaction vloggers was another bizarre development while the “Mention your favourite artist and see if they respond to you” posts on social media only added more wood to the dumbing down bonfire already existing within audience engagement.

It was as if the wider public was no longer interested in more in-depth analysis while many artists turned their publicity into a reliance on others doing “big ups” via Twitter and Facebook. But then, if artists are being successfully crowdfunded with subscriptions via Patreon, Kickstarter, Bandcamp and the like, do they need a media intermediary any longer as they are dealing direct with their fanbases?

However, it wasn’t all bad in the media with ‘Electronically Yours With Martyn Ware’ providing insightful artist interviews and the largely entertaining ‘Beyond Synth’ podcast celebrating its 300th show. Due to their own music commitments, Steven Wilson and Tim Bowness were less prolific with their discussion show ‘The Album Years’ but it was still refreshing for commentators to be able to say that a record was sh*t when it actually was, rather than conform to the modern day adage that all music is good but not always to the listener’s taste!  And while various programmes came and went, other such as ‘Operating//Generating’, ‘KZL Live’ and ‘Absynth’ came to prominence.

Post-pandemic, interesting if uncertain times are ahead within the music industry. But as live performance returns, while the mainstream is likely to hit the crowd walking, will there be enough cost effective venues to host independent artists? Things have been tough but for some, but things might be about to get even tougher.

However, music was what got many through the last 18 months and as times are still uncertain, music in its live variant will help to get everyone through the next year and a half and beyond.


ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK’s year in music is gathered in its 2021 Playlist – Missing U at
https://open.spotify.com/playlist/4rlJgJhiGkOw8q2JcunJfw


Text by Chi Ming Lai
17th December 2021

Change: The Legacy of SPARKS

Photo by Richard Creamer

“Change – I don’t care what other people say, I know everything will be okay…”

The legacy of American sibling duo SPARKS has been celebrated in ‘The SPARKS Brothers’, a new documentary film directed by Edgar Wright. As can be expected from the man behind ‘Shaun Of The Dead’, ‘Hot Fuzz’ and ‘The World’s End’, Wright’s delightful film captures the deadpan wit and sarcasm of the Mael Brothers, while illustrating their serious but artistic pursuit of fun.

Born in Los Angeles of Austro-Russian Jewish heritage, Ron and Russell Mael excelled at sports but opted for more artistic studies at UCLA while harbouring ambitions in music, driven by their love of British bands such as THE BEATLES, THE KINKS and THE WHO.

In a 50 year recording career that has taken in art rock, operatic glam, nouveau swing, electronic disco, new wave, Eurodance, orchestrated pop, theatrical indie and soundtracks, SPARKS have an array of musicians who cite them as an influence. So it is no surprise that the cast of contributors to ‘The SPARKS Brothers’ include Vince Clarke, Andy Bell, Rusty Egan, John Taylor, Nick Rhodes, Stephen Morris, Gillian Gilbert, Martyn Ware, Nick Heyward, Steve Jones, Alex Kapranos, Bernard Butler, Jack Antonoff, Thurston Moore, Björk, Flea, Beck, Jane Wiedlin, Weird Al Yankovic and many more

Featuring the Maels themselves and previous producers Todd Rundgren, Muff Winwood, Tony Visconti and Giorgio Moroder alongside former bandmates like Christi Haydon, Ian Hampton, Earle Mankey, David Kendrick, Les Boheme, Tammy Glover and Steve Nistor, humorous animations by Joseph Wallace visualise the stories not captured in the magnificent archive footage assembled for the documentary.

SPARKS had originally been HALFNELSON whose Todd Rundgren produced debut was released on the Warners subsidiary Bearsville Records, founded by Bob Dylan’s former manager Albert Grossman. Despite containing the lyrically prophetic ‘Computer Girl’, the album had not sold well but keen to exploit the Maels image, Grossman suggested they should rename themselves ‘The SPARKS Brothers’ after the comedy siblings Marx. Ron and Russell hated the idea but compromised and changed their name to SPARKS.

The HALFNELSON album was repackaged and reissued in 1972, with ‘Wonder Girl’ lifted as a single and gaining a prestigious TV slot on ‘American Bandstand’. This led to interest from UK promoters and a Warners sponsored tour which included a residency at The Marquee in London.

But following an appearance on BBC2’s ‘Old Grey Whistle Test’ performing ‘Wonder Girl’, presenter Bob Harris was unimpressed and said SPARKS were the worst thing he had ever seen… this was the same esteemed music expert who had poured scorn on ROXY MUSIC a few months earlier and later called NEW YORK DOLLS “mock rock”!

However, this ultimately provoked even more fascination in the quirky brothers among British youth with queues around the block for their shows at The Marquee. One of the support acts was QUEEN who were undoubtedly taking notes from the side of the stage, particularly with Russell Mael’s bursts of falsetto within a traditional rock format.

The first SPARKS album proper was 1973’s ‘A Woofer in Tweeter’s Clothing’ and included ‘Girl From Germany’ with its narrative about a Jewish boy taking his new Mädchen to meet his shocked parents, perhaps reflecting the brothers’ own lives and conflicts. But the continuing indifference towards Ron’s Dadaist expressionism and Russell’s unusual vocal articulation in their homeland led to the Maels leaving America and uprooting to the UK to find fame and fortune after extracting themselves from the Bearsville deal.

Signing almost immediately to Island Records thanks to championing by Muff Winwood (brother of Steve), SPARKS recruited a new British backing band where the audition adverts required: “a really good face that isn’t covered by a beard”; one of those who did not pass the audition was Warren Cann, later to join ULTRAVOX. But eventually recruiting Dinky Diamond (drums), Adrian Fisher (guitars) and Martin Gordon (bass), the newly configured quintet recorded the now classic album ‘Kimono My House’ which included ‘Here In Heaven’ and ‘Falling In Love With Myself Again’ among its highlights.

Inspired by Ron Mael’s love of Westerns and playing out the breakdown of a relationship as a histrionic Bach-driven gunfight, ‘This Town Ain’t Big Enough For Both Of Us’ was chosen as the album’s launch single and a now iconic appearance on ‘Top Of The Pops’ in May 1974 sent the single stratospheric.

One of those enthralled was Glenn Gregory of HEAVEN 17: “Obviously ‘This Town Ain’t Big Enough For The Both Of Us’ was and still remains one of the quirkiest and best songs ever… and the 1974 Top Of The Pops appearance was truly sublime, Russell, preening and looking beautiful, his older brother Ron looking like it was his first trip outside his bedroom in several years, it was mesmerising and I loved it”.

Rob Dean, guitarist of JAPAN recalled: “I first saw SPARKS on OGWT in ’72. They were interesting, quirky and certainly different but it wasn’t until ‘This Town Ain’t Big Enough For Both Of Us’ was on TOTP that their true focus and talent shone through. Here was a song (and a band) so unique and undeniably fresh that it was just irresistible-it still is. It just exploded out of the TV”

Who wasn’t frightened to death by the snarling stares of Ron Mael with his Charlie Chaplain moustache sitting motionless behind his RMI Electra-piano? But while his facial hair had been a feature for a number of years, the cutting of his naturally curly locks, now greased back, presented something a lot more sinister with possible references to The Third Reich. With the Maels being of Jewish descent, this was unlikely to have been a deliberate act of provocation; Ron Mael was to state his naivety in adopting such a look and years later would reshape his moustache accordingly.

But with stories circulating that John Lennon phoned Ringo Starr to tell him that “Marc Bolan is playing a song with Adolf Hitler!”, they surely would have been aware of the outrage that had been caused with 15 million people watching on that Thursday evening. However, with Russell’s good looks and animated stage presence, SPARKS gained themselves a screaming teenybopper audience and the appealing ‘Amateur Hour’ followed ‘This Town Ain’t Big Enough For Both Of Us’ into the UK Top10.

To maintain the upward momentum, SPARKS were quickly despatched to record the next album ‘Propaganda’, but discontent was already brewing with Adrian Fisher and Martin Gordon leaving the band. Brian May was invited to join but with QUEEN making progress having had a hit with ‘Killer Queen’, he declined and the void was filled by Trevor White and Ian Hampton from the band JOOK.

From ‘Propaganda’, ‘Something For The Girl With Everything’ and ‘BC’ provided thrilling staccato stomps, but the beautiful synth laden ballad ‘Never Turn Your Back On Mother Earth’ pointed to environmental concerns and was later covered by Mary Hopkin, Martin Gore and Billy MacKenzie.

This was all at the height of SPARKS-mania and superbly documented at what was to be the final British concert of their Island period at Croydon Fairfield Halls in September 1975. The show turned into exuberant chaos when girls rushed the stage and tackled Russell to the ground while Ron, who trying his best to maintain his stoic stance, was even accorded an embrace.

This was undoubtedly the end of an era as the Tony Visconti-produced ‘Indiscreet’ released in October 1975 proved. Those girls who had rushed the stage in Croydon were undoubtedly peeling their posters off the wall as they were treated to this bizarre collection of songs such as the strident marches of ‘Hospitality On Parade’ and ‘Get In The Swing’. Meanwhile ‘Looks Looks Looks’ with its backing by elderly jazz swing musicians and the string quartet laden ‘Under The Table With Her’ may have been the final straw.

Getting homesick, the Maels dissolved their British band to move back to the US in 1976 and delivered the AOR focussed ‘Big Beat’. Working with Rupert Holmes, he of ‘The Pina Colada Song’ and producer of Barbra Streisand, it was largely met with indifference. This period in the artistic doldrums was summed up by SPARKS’ appearance performing ‘Fill-Er-Up’ and ‘Big Boy’ in 1977’s ‘Rollercoaster’, a disaster movie starring George Segal. It was a disaster in more ways than one and the ironically titled ‘Introducing’ album did little to change fortunes.

In a creative rut and seeking a new direction, the Maels opened their ears to the burgeoning electro-disco sound as heard on Donna Summer’s ‘I Feel Love’ and were put into contact with its producer Giorgio Moroder by a journalist in Los Angeles.

The idea of fusing electronics with the neo-operatic songs of SPARKS was intriguing, so Moroder set to work with them immediately, the tremendous propulsive result being ‘The No1 Song In Heaven’. Released in March 1979, it reached No14 in the UK charts, actually a few months before TUBEWAY ARMY’s ‘Are Friends Electric?’ which is often been seen as the cultural turning point for the synthesizer.

Having worked with Moroder himself, Rob Dean recollected: “After two disappointing albums, hearing that they had recorded with Giorgio Moroder was welcome news as I was already a fan through the brilliant ‘I Feel Love’ and the ‘Midnight Express’ soundtrack. When I heard ‘The No1 Song In Heaven’, it was gratifying to hear that the band’s integrity had been left completely intact, and it was another high watermark in their career. It was a more successful collaboration both commercially and artistically than JAPAN’s own ‘Life In Tokyo’ I think.”

Featuring just six tracks, the parent album ‘No1 in Heaven’ released on Virgin Records featured an embarrassment of riches including an even bigger hit in ‘Beat The Clock’ and the cosmic ‘Tryouts For The Human Race’, while ‘Academy Award Winning Performance’ would have made a great single.

“My favourite SPARKS track is, well actually, two songs together really, ‘My Other Voice’ segued into ‘The No1 Song In Heaven’” said Glenn Gregory, “I have a fantastic memory of a bonfire night in 1979. Martyn Ware and I had taken some magic mushrooms and walked around a fairground immersed in colour and light, embraced by voices and sounds, a wonderful experience. Then as the fireworks climaxed, we were stood by the waltzer and ‘The No1 Song In Heaven’ was blaring out through the speakers… we both saw God at the same time, we went back to Martyn’s flat and had that album on repeat for the rest of the night.”

“The ‘No.1 In Heaven’ period is my SPARKS” explained Peter Fitzpatrick of CIRCUIT3, “They’re like Doctor Who aren’t they? Everyone has their version of them. Pirate radio in Dublin played SPARKS constantly in the spring and summer of 1979. With Gary Numan appearing around the same time, it became normal to have these odd looking people on TOTP playing electronic keyboards”

It was during their TV appearances promoting singles from ‘No1 In Heaven’ that SPARKS invented the synth duo. While Russell’s flamboyant falsetto fitted in well with the electro-disco sound and inspired movement, the throbbing programmed backing meant Ron could maintain the impression he was “doing nothing” and appearing unhappy about it. As Vince Clarke put it in ‘The SPARKS Brothers’: “There’s myself, the guy from the PET SHOP BOYS, and DURAN DURAN… we’re all miserable f*ckers; it’s a look which we just stole from SPARKS!”

Virgin Records pulled out all the stops with releases pressed in different colour variations. But despite the artistic rejuvenation and chart hits for SPARKS, the ‘No1 In Heaven’ album did not sell well. The Maels had perhaps been overshadowed by the success of Gary Numan, but it was possible that the singles focussed disco audience who had crossed over felt those were enough. To add salt to the wound, SPARKS were branded as “disco traitors” by the music press which now seems bizarre in hindsight for such a pioneering work.

Undeterred, SPARKS were despatched by Virgin Records to record the follow-up ‘Terminal Jive’. Although Moroder was still nominally at the helm, it was Harold Faltermeyer who took up most of the production duties as the Italian started to lose interest, distracted by more lucrative soundtrack work such as ‘American Gigolo’ which hit paydirt with the BLONDIE collaboration ‘Call Me’.

With Ron forbidden from actually playing his own keyboard parts, the ‘Terminal Jive’ songs featured more guitar and less of the throbbing sequencer magic with ‘Rock ‘N’ Roll People In A Disco World’ reflecting the confused state of mind on a record that was lacking the Maels’ personality.

Intended to appeal more to American ears, ‘Terminal Jive’ was not actually issued in the US on its eventual release in January 1980. Paradoxically, ‘When I’m With You’ was a massive hit in France and even covered by NEW ORDER in concert.

During this period, the brothers relocated there for a few years, appearing on ‘L’Académie Des Neuf’ (the French equivalent of ‘Celebrity Squares’) as “LES SPARKS” and writing with Belgian neighbours TELEX during their sojourn.

Licensed to RCA in the US via a deal brokered by Moroder and recruiting Californian combo BATES MOTEL as a backing band, SPARKS recorded their 1981 album ‘Whomp That Sucker’ with QUEEN producer Reinhold Mack in Munich as a much more rock orientated affair.

Channelling a cathartic aggression, the ‘Whomp That Sucker’ cover depicted Russell and Ron as boxers. “I went to a SPARKS album launch party at the Grosvenor Hotel on Park Lane where they had a full size boxing ring” remembered Glenn Gregory amusingly, “they came out and fought a few rounds, I stood talking to Vivian Stanshall of BONZO DOG DOO-DAH BAND… or maybe I was tripping!”

Songs from ‘Whomp That Sucker’ and their next two long players on Atlantic Records ‘Angst In My Pants’ and ‘In Outer Space’ like ‘Funny Face’, ‘I Predict’ and ‘Cool Places’ with Jane Wiedlin from THE GO GO’S were playlisted by KROQ-FM. An influential Pasedena-based radio station, it specialised in what Americans termed New Wave with acts such as DEPECHE MODE, YAZOO, NEW ORDER, OMD, THE PYSCHEDLEIC FURS, BERLIN, DURAN DURAN, PET SHOP BOYS, SIMPLE MINDS, THE CURE, ABC and A-HA on regular rotation during its imperial phase.

This support from KROQ-FM assured SPARKS of some West Coast success for a period, although 1984’s ‘Pulling Rabbits Out Of A Hat’ with DURAN DURAN producer Ian Little saw SPARKS become too immersed in new digital technology, with the album’s lead single ‘With All My Might’ sounding more like HEAVEN 17.

The Mael Brothers had another rethink and used the Fairlight to accentuate their more eccentric and provocative side again with ‘Change’ on what turned out to be a one-off single with London Records in July 1985. Returning to Europe to record with Dan Lacksman of TELEX, the middle eight featured a sonic passage that would have made Trevor Horn proud and reminded audiences of how enthralling SPARKS could be.

However, London Records were not happy with one A&R muttering “why can’t you make music that you can dance to?” – from criticism comes inspiration and this led to the next SPARKS album ‘Music That You Can Dance To’ released on MCA in September 1986, although the energetic similarities of the title song to ERASURE’s ‘Oh L’Amour’ did not go unnoticed while Russell got to impersonate Gene Pitney on ‘Rosebud’.

1988’s ‘Interior Design’ did not halt the downward trajectory although a French version of the album closer ‘Madonna’ possessed some Gallic charm and this ongoing affinity with the country saw a superb collaboration with the Parisian avant pop couple LES RITA MITSOUKO with ‘Singing In The Shower’, a track later used in the 1989 film ‘Black Rain’ starring Michael Douglas and Andy Garcia.

With ambitions in cinema, SPARKS turned their attention to an adaptation on the Japanese anime comic ‘Mai The Psychic Girl’ to be directed by Tim Burton. The lead was to have been played by Christi Haydon who had been a regular extra on ‘Star Trek: The Next Generation’. But when the film project floundered, she became an important aspect of their video and live presentations for their next album ‘Gratuitous Sax & Senseless Violins’ released in November 1994.

Now working as a duo, SPARKS’ new material was picked up by the German based Logic label, then home to trendy dance acts like COSMIC BABY and SNAP! And just when people least expected it, Russell and Ron Mael returned like a phoenix from the flames.

With a superb vintage styled sibling rivalry video directed by Sophie Muller, the brilliant ‘When Do I Get To Sing My Way’ became a smash in Germany and gave them an unexpected career renaissance with a brand new young audience. The song had everything; atmospherics, subtle rhythmical infections and an anthemic uplifting chorus. And as if to repay their debt for SPARKS paving that path for synth duos, Vince Clarke and Dave Ball of SOFT CELL (in his new guise of THE GRID with Richard Norris) provided remixes.

Meanwhile ‘(When I Kiss You) I Hear Charlie Parker Playing’ was very much in the frantic Eurodance vein of the period, sounding like PET SHOP BOYS ‘Yesterday When I Was Mad’ being covered by Freddie Mercury! Russell Mael brought his obviously more quizzical character into the cutting ‘I Thought I Told You To Wait In The Car’ with its Arabic overtones and unsettling multi-tracked chants. ‘Now That I Own The BBC’ humorously imagined the Maels returning to the fame game, but best of all was the chilling ballad ‘Hear No Evil, See No Evil, Speak No Evil’, now with the passage of time sounding like MUSE gone synthpop!

However, the Maels lost it all again with the rather pointless 1997 reworkings collection ‘Plagiarism’ featuring special guests ERASURE and FAITH NO MORE, and then capped it all with the poorly received ‘Balls’ in 2000. After the lush synths of ‘Gratuitous Sax and Senseless Violins’, ‘Balls’ was more jagged with the title track and ‘Bullet Train’ rhythmically attempting to ape THE PRODIGY, although songs such as ‘More Than A Sex Machine’ and ‘The Calm Before The Storm’ showed SPARKS could still do catchy electronic pop when it took their fancy. But ‘Balls’ was the Maels trying to emulate others rather than being themselves.

As always, SPARKS bounced back again in 2002 with the acclaimed classical concept album ‘Lil Beethoven’, described in the original CD booklet as “Nine scintillating works of seduction and self-delusion…” – the bookends ‘The Rhythm Thief’ and ‘Suburban Homeboy were immediate highlights while ‘What Are All These Bands So Angry About?’ was a wry baroque observation on self-destructive egos in the music biz.

‘Hello Young Lovers’ in 2004 developed on the template further but adding conventional band augmentation with the prog pop opus ‘Dick Around’ and the orchestrated swing rock of ‘Perfume’ released as singles, although the former earned itself a BBC radio ban.

Using photos featuring Susie the baby chimpanzee on the cover, 2008’s ‘Exotic Creatures Of The Deep’ with songs like the buzzy ‘I Can’t Believe That You Would Fall For All the Cr*p In This Song’ and the playful dig ‘Lighten Up, Morrissey’ showed SPARKS still had it as far as sardonic lyricism went. To launch the new album, they undertook their ‘21×21’ adventure, performing each of their 20 previous albums in full during a London residency at Islington Academy over 20 nights, before culminating in the live premiere of ‘Exotic Creatures Of The Deep’ at Shepherds Bush Empire.

But there were signs that another jolt was needed creatively. First came the radio musical ‘The Seduction of Ingmar Bergman’ in 2009 while the Maels undertook two stripped down duo tours under the ‘Two Hands, One Mouth’ banner.

The 2015 union of FRANZ FERDINAND and SPARKS was a visceral project centred around a six piece band together in a room, unlike many modern collaborations which are distant and detached. The resultant FFS album could easily have been titled ‘Art School Musical’ with the Glasgow art rockers particularly invigorated by their spiritual godfathers. Snatching back the intellectual artistic high ground, the Mael brothers found themselves in the mainstream again for the fourth time in their multi-decade career.

From ‘FFS’, ‘Call Girl’ and ‘So Desu Ne’ revisited SPARKS’ past electronic adventures while ‘P*ss Off’ was the ultimate two fingered anthem, grabbing the vibrancy of the ‘Kimono My House’ and ‘Propaganda’ era with its joyful multi-track phrasing and vitality. Contradicting its title, ‘Collaborations Don’t Work’ combined operatic rants and country with buzzy synthpop, spacey jazz, a showtune and a classical mini-symphony! It was bonkers and brilliant with the sorcerer and the apprentice working in unison to double the magical power!

SPARKS returned as themselves in September 2017 and it was zoo time again on ‘Hippopotamus’ with the Maels are waxing lyrical about amphibious mammals, French culture, flat pack furniture, presidential widows and The Scottish Play. Featuring a whopping 15 tracks, there was the orchestrated rock eccentricity of ‘What The Hell Is It This Time?’, the frantic electronically assisted storm of ‘The Amazing Mr Repeat’ and the poperatic ‘Life With The Macbeths’. Meanwhile the fascination for all things Gallic continued with ‘Edith Piaf (Said It Better Than Me)’ and ‘When You’re a French Director’ featuring Leos Carax on guest vocals and accordion.

Heading into the fifth decade of their career and with their weird and wonderful sense of humour still intact, SPARKS showed no signs of waning in their zest for idiosyncratic adventure on 2020’s ‘A Steady Drip, Drip, Drip’. If the album had a key track, then it was the glorious ‘One For The Ages’ with its narrative about craving artistic longevity.

The baroque synth classical of ‘Stravinsky’s Only Hit’ was a light hearted reflection on serious artistes while paradoxically ‘Self-Effacing’ was an anthemic song about modesty in the ‘Kimono My House’ vein but sans Ron’s electric piano. Returning to the lyrical gist of their 1975 hit ‘Never Turn Your Back On Mother Earth’, there was the profound closing plea of ‘Please Don’t F*ck Up My World’.

Still remaining as enjoyably oddball as ever, after numerous aborted film projects, Russell and Ron Mael recently fulfilled their cinematic dream with the musical film ‘Annette’ starring Adam Driver and directed by Leos Carax.

After watching ‘The SPARKS Brothers’, Rob Dean said: “This is a well-deserved, successful and exhaustive overview of the brothers’ chequered career so far that somehow manages to still keep their enigma intact. Undoubtedly a must see for any fan such as myself, anyone else with the curiosity to explore can expect to be richly rewarded and surprised too.”

“The documentary reminded me I wish I’d been an art school boy. SPARKS let you in on the joke, never too smart for their own good and not excluding the listener” Peter Fitzpatrick thought, “Reviewers comment on the humour of course but the message it’s sending to artists is choose your own path and don’t follow convention; stick it out because what you create is all that matters. I dove back into their catalogue before the documentary came out and rediscovered how similar to XTC they are in that sheer bloody mindedness, but in a good way. Some current bands are like that for dumb reasons with notions about themselves. Artistic bloody mindedness is an admirable trait. SPARKS have it in spades.”

As far as legacy is concerned, apart from synth duos and any act with a static keyboard player, bands such as SIMPLE MINDS and ASSOCIATES mined the poise of SPARKS’ glam period for their earlier post-punk records, while the eccentric sound of SPARKS continues to be heard in modern female-fronted acts such as MARINA & THE DIAMONDS and GOLDFRAPP. But Paul McCartney choosing to impersonate Ron Mael in the ‘Coming Up’ video in 1980 was the ultimate symbol of worldwide cultural impact.

“I have some very happy memories of SPARKS” Glenn Gregory surmised, “genuinely one of the most innovative, interesting bands ever”, but as Taylor Swift producer Jack Antonoff put it succinctly in the documentary: “All modern pop music is rearranged Vince Clarke and rearranged SPARKS, that’s the truth…”

While SPARKS were not easy task masters in their pursuit of the unconventional, their unwillingness to compromise and determination to remain accessibly intelligent has to be admired in a world that has lowered itself to ignorance and complacency over the past few years.

“They’re clever but not impenetrable” concluded Peter Fitzpatrick.


With thanks to Glenn Gregory, Rob Dean and Peter Fitzpatrick for their contributions

‘The SPARKS Brothers’ is on general release in selected cinemas, more information at http://thesparksbrothers.co.ukBlu-ray and DVD released on 22nd October 2021

‘The SPARKS Brothers (Original Motion Picture Soundtrack)’ will be released by Waxwork Records as a quadruple marbled vinyl LP boxed set on 22nd January 2022

‘Past Tense – The Best of SPARKS’ is available as a 2CD, 3CD and triple vinyl set via BMG

http://www.allsparks.com/

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Text by Chi Ming Lai
3rd August 2021, updated 23rd September 2021

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