Sacred Bones Records release the lost album from Alan Vega, entitled ‘Mutator’.
Vega was best known as a member of the trailblazing electronic-punk duo SUICIDE with Martin Rev who confused audiences with their lack of a drummer and would go on to influence the likes of SOFT CELL and SIGUE SIGUE SPUTNIK.
Vega sadly passed away in 2016 but he left a vault of previously unreleased work at his New York studio. ‘Mutator’ was recorded during 1995-1996 with Liz Lamere who became his wife and key collaborator in his solo career.
It wasn’t intentionally shelved but so prolific was Vega with his numerous projects that eventually included 11 solo albums he was already focussing on another work before this was completed. “Our primary purpose for going into the studio was to experiment with sound, not to ‘make records” remembered Lamere, “I was playing the machines with Alan manipulating sounds”
Given a final production treatment in partnership with fellow Vega collaborator Jared Artaud 25 years after the material was first put to tape, ‘Mutator’ will be the first in a series of previously unheard recordings to be made public. Influenced by the streets of New York, Vega makes his presence felt with a collection of moments that are at times uneasy, but also paradoxically beautiful.
As an introduction, the drone sound sculpture ‘Trinity’ is a ghostly séance as if Vega is communicating from the other side. Meanwhile the album starts formally with ‘Fist’ as its percussive variation shaped by repetitive rhythm construction, coming over suitably gothic and gloomy.
The rumble of ‘Muscles’ provides a sinister backdrop for Vega’s preaching but the gorgeous ‘Samurai’ is poignant with Vega giving a resonant speech before shouting “GOODBYE- GOODBYE- GOODBYE”, reflecting on life with a backdrop that could have come off the ‘Twin Peaks’ soundtrack.
The slow industrial of ‘Filthy’ utilises a combination of distorted mechanical noise and a nail bed of ice, with Vega stamping his wayward personality throughout while ‘Nike Soldier’ rises and reverberates in a manner akin to THE SISTERS OF MERCY reworking a DEPECHE MODE B-side.
Doing away with percussion, the sombre ‘Psalm 68’ relies on a bassline pulse and uncomfortable screeching ambience for its effect before ‘Mutator’ closes with the sustained synthesizer collage ‘Breathe’, with Vega eerily proclaiming “the show is now over”
“’Mutator’ bridges the gap between the past and present” Jared Artaud said, “It’s something we feel he would have been really proud of, seeing this lost album released today. In so many ways, his music is needed now more than ever.”
A fitting epitaph to the experimental spirit of Alan Vega, anyone who has ever enjoyed cult SUICIDE classics such as ‘Ghost Rider’ and ‘Frankie Teardrop’ will find much to savour on the eight tracks that form ‘Mutator’.
1977 is often seen as Year Zero for synthpop, thanks to hit singles by DONNA SUMMER, SPACE and JEAN-MICHEL JARRE.
But it was not until 1979 with TUBEWAY ARMY reaching No1 with ‘Are Friends Electric?’ that the sound of synth truly hit the mainstream.
Although ‘No1 Song In Heaven’ by SPARKS had actually been a hit a few months earlier, ‘Are Friends Electric?’ was the beginning of the synth being accepted as a worthy mode of expression, rather than as a novelty. But as synths became more affordable, they became the perfect tool of youthful expression.
The set starts appropriately with OMD and ‘Messages’, one of the first tunes showcasing the warmer side of electronics following the colder wave led by Messrs Numan and Foxx. But as if to counter this next generation of youngsters, ‘Messages’ is immediately followed by the collection’s vocoder laden title song ‘Musik Music Musique’ from Zeus B Held and the superb proto-industrial ode to loveless sex ‘Coitus Interruptus’ by the much missed FAD GADGET.
Zeus B Held was later to make his impression on popular culture remixing ALPHAVILLE and SIMPLE MINDS as well producing the likes of FASHION, DEAD OR ALIVE, SPEAR OF DESTINY and TRANSVISION VAMP, but his wider breakthrough came as part of GINA X PERFORMANCE in 1979 with The Blitz Club favourite ‘No GDM’; on this compendium, the lesser-known but just as worthy ‘Vendor’s Box’ from their second album ‘X-Traordinaire’ is deservedly provided a platform.
The best producers often earn their spurs as artists and realising their limitations, use their accumulated studio nous to subvert the mainstream via pop. ‘Astroboy’ by BUGGLES sees Trevor Horn develop his sonic architecture to prove that he had another song that wasn’t ‘Video Killed The Radio Star’. Meanwhile the welcome inclusion of NEW MUSIK’s other hit ‘This World Of Water’ allows Tony Mansfield to showcase the crafted sparkle that would later go on to adorn records by CAPTAIN SENSIBLE, VICIOUS PINK, A-HA and NAKED EYES.
It may seem strange to see SPANDAU BALLET as part of this package but when they first appeared, they were considered a synthesizer band; ‘Glow’ was a UK double A side single with ‘Musclebound’ in 1981 and while it was the last synth-led track they did, their funk soul aspirations were there for all to hear. In fact, songwriter Gary Kemp had conceived ‘Glow’ with a brass section in mind, so it is now something of a curio that could be seen as a precursor to ‘Chant No1’.
SPANDAU BALLET were produced by Richard James Burgess who co-designed the Simmons SDSV; his electro-jazz combo LANDSCAPE figure with the Colin Thurston helmed ‘European Man’ which was actually designated “electronic dance music” on its single artwork some three decades before it was appropriated and abbreviated to become EDM…
Many of the usual suspects from the period like VISAGE, JAPAN, JOHN FOXX, THE HUMAN LEAGUE and OUR DAUGHTER’S WEDDING are all present and correct with familiar recordings, but interestingly (although not for the better), it’s the original version of PHIL LYNOTT’s ‘Yellow Pearl’ without the Rusty Egan drums or the Midge Ure remix that gets the nod!
One of the main beauties of these thoughtfully curated collections is to be able sway away from the obvious and feature a known-name with a lesser-known work; in the case of ULTRAVOX, it’s the occasionally Eno-inspired and Conny Plank produced ‘Waiting’ which was the B-side to their first Midge Ure fronted single ‘Sleepwalk’. Meanwhile, SUICIDE are represented by the excellent Ric Ocasek produced ‘Diamonds, Fur Coat, Champagne’ and YELLO with ‘Bimbo’, the oddball opener of the Swiss trailblazers’ debut long player ‘Solid Pleasure’.
SILICON TEENS get to feature with something other than ‘Memphis Tennessee’ and it’s the Daniel Miller‘s self-penned instrumental ‘Chip N Roll’ that has the honour, while the Mute Records founder gets another track in with ‘Brushing Your Hair’, a gloriously vibrant instrumental production and co-write for Alex Fergusson of ALTERNATIVE TV.
There’s additionally tracks by lesser known international acts or those bands that faded from view after effectively being one hit wonders. The entire career of M may have been overshadowed by the ubiquitous ‘Pop Muzik’ but Robin Scott did go on to release three albums and work with Ryuichi Sakamoto; the sombre ‘Official Secrets’ may not really have much of a hook but it contains some percolating bleepy sections that pre-date KRAFTWERK’s ‘Home Computer’ by one year.
‘A Circuit Like Me’ from Australian combo, THE METRONOMES actually sounds very 21st century with its detached female vocal and charming monosynths, while the gallop of ‘Drawn & Quartered’ by THE KORGIS is a worthy find. Now while ROCKETS found fame with a catchy robotic flavoured cover of ‘On The Road Again’ with the help of Zeus B Held, the silver faced Italians found that the vocoder suited their performance art poise and reapplied it for the self-penned space rocker ‘Galactica’.
Also possessing a bit of a gallop is LORI & THE CHAMELEONS’ wispy Morricone-influenced single ‘The Lonely Spy’ although with its acoustic strum, it is quite different from the understated electronic disco of their best known track ‘Touch’. Cut from a similar melodic post-punk cloth, the Martin Hannett produced ‘Sympathy’ from PAULINE MURRAY & THE INVISIBLE GIRLS is a reminder of how women were coming to the fore after punk in synth-assisted new wave, a fact borne out on ‘Musik Music Musique’ by the inclusion of more obscure works from TOYAH, KIM WILDE and HAZEL O’CONNOR.
‘Musik Music Musique’ is also an opportunity to become reacquainted with lost tunes of yore and ‘The Eyes Have It’ by KAREL FIALKA will be remembered by those who owned the 1980 Virgin Records compilation ‘Machines’, as will the octave driven ‘Destiny’ by DALEK I LOVE YOU. Some enjoyably avant pop adventures come courtesy of XYNN’s ‘Computed Man’ and SCIENCE’s ‘Tokyo’, while one of the more bizarre but successful experiments included is ‘I’m A Computer’ by THE GOO-Q.
One of the lesser known acts featuring with the eccentric ‘Money’ is MOEBIUS, not the member of German duo CLUSTER but an American art rock band with a penchant for DEVO. ‘Doctor …?’ by BLOOD DONOR is another wonderful discovery while of the more experimental art pieces included, NINI RAVIOLETTE’s ‘Suis-Je Normale’ delightfully comes over like a collaboration between Jane Birkin and Laurie Anderson.
Düsseldorf is often seen as the spiritual home of electronic music and there is worthy representation from DER PLAN and ‘Da Vorne Steht Ne Ampel’ illustrating how there were other dimensions to German electronic music other than that engineered by KRAFTWERK. But closing the set is the band named after the Electri_City itself, LA DÜSSELDORF with the light-hearted ‘Dampfriemen’; a quirky slice of synth “Oompah” with comedic chants and a kazoo section, it sums up the manic oddball nature of the former NEU! drummer Klaus Dinger.
There are many other tracks that have merit, but textures which reoccur on ‘Musik Music Musique’ to date stamp the period are the icy chill of the affordable ARP Quartet string machine and squawky sax, although not in an overblown jazz funk way.
Despite ‘Musik Music Musique’ comprising of a carefully researched tracklisting, a few errors do slip through; as well as the SPANDAU BALLET track being released in 1981 as already mentioned (although it was available on a very scarce Japanese-only promo sampler in late 1980), the version of ‘Kebabträume’ by DAF is the 1982 Conny Plank version from the Virgin album ‘Für Immer’ and not the Bob Giddens produced Mute Records five piece band recording which actually came out in 1980.
Then in the booklet, the Foxx fronted 1977 line-up of ULTRAVOX! gets illustrated as opposed to the New Romantic suited Midge Ure one, while LA DÜSSELDORF’s Hans Lampe is referred to as a “Keyboard Whizz” when he is actually a drummer and now performs with Michael Rother who was Klaus Dinger’s partner in NEU!; in fact Dinger handled keyboards himself under the pseudonym of Nikolaus Van Rhein.
Those are minor quibbles though, because this set is very good value and acts as a great music history lesson as well as offering the chance to hear some new vintage synth. While many may have heard of BERLIN BLONDES, THE PASSAGE, THE FALLOUT CLUB and EYELESS IN GAZA, only a few will have heard their music.
‘Musik Music Musique’ offers something of a low risk opportunity to make some new friends while becoming reacquainted with a few old and lost ones. Here’s to the 1981 follow-up set…
‘Third Noise Principle’ is the latest instalment of the ‘Close To The Noise Floor’ compilations and follows the two previous Cherry Red releases, which rather wonderfully rounded up collections of rare, formative and experimental electronic music from both the UK and Europe.
Helpfully described as “Part primitive rave, part synthesiser porn, part history lesson”, this time round sees the location moving across the Atlantic to explore the North American and Canadian electronic music scene.
As with the past two releases the album has well-known artists like SUICIDE, THE RESIDENTS, PHILIP GLASS, MINISTRY, PSYCHE and RATIONAL YOUTH rubbing shoulders with some acts who (for a variety of reasons) didn’t quite gain the same amount of exposure and musical notoriety.
Kickstarting CD1 is short-lived Arizona synth duo TONE SET with ‘The Devil Makes The Loudest Noise’; almost a leftfield lo-fi cousin of LIPPS INC’s ‘Funky Town’ with a sample recording from a religious radio phone-in over some multi-layered synth bass. The second half of the track goes on a more funky excursion of improvised synth and a completely new progression, but the aforementioned sample ties everything together.
‘Creators’ by DATA-BANK-A is an unashamedly Foxx / League-inspired instrumental combining an Oberheim TVS-1 synth, primitive Maestro Rhythm King beatbox and overlaid synth percussion. Wonderfully quirky and melodic, this is certainly one of the gems of CD1 and the guy behind it, Andrew Szava-Kovats, is still recording under the DATA-BANK-A moniker, having released three albums last year on Bandcamp.
Atlanta’s RICHARD BONE is arguably a little better known over this side of the pond, having signed to the UK’s Survival Records; ‘Mambopolis’ is full of sharp as a knife hi-hats and another funky synth bass and vocal which recalls that man Foxx again.
Things start to wind their way down the rabbit hole with ‘Logarithms’ by GEOFFREY LANDERS; full of stop-start Roland CR78 and junkyard percussion, the track seemingly takes its cues from the pioneering work of tape-loop innovators like DELIA DERBYSHIRE with its found-sound overlays.
After working with Brian Eno, Robin Crutchfield formed DARK BOY and their featured track on ‘Third Noise Principle’ is ‘The Metal Benders’; a glorious hybrid of the original ‘Being Boiled’ and ULTRAVOX’s ‘Mr X’, this is another absolute proto-synth gem.
SUICIDE’s ‘Rocket USA’ is one of the better known tracks here; featured on their classic eponymous 1977 album which was recorded in four days, it helped set the template for their sound with Martin Rev’s minimalist electronics, scratchy organ and drum machine attached to Alan Vega’s classic rock ‘n’ roll-inspired vocal delivery.
Of all of the tracks on CD1, CRAIG LEON’s wonderfully titled ‘Donkeys Bearing Cups’ is comfortably the most contemporary sounding one here. Whereas most of the works on this compilation are easily dateable via their drum machine and synth sounds, this one certainly isn’t. It’s the kind of track you could imagine The Quietus going bonkers for if it was released this year by somebody like AUTECHRE or APHEX TWIN; incredibly ahead of its time and another superb find.
The second CD of Third Noise Principle’ is arguably more eclectic. ‘Ange Des Orages’ by PHILIP GLASS (which originally appeared on the 1977 album ‘North Star’) features his signature hypnotic hand-played arpeggios with Farfisa / Yamaha / Hammond organ textures which spiral up and down and get progressively more dense throughout the track.
PATRICK COWLEY (who is best known for his pioneering HI-NRG disco work) features next with one of his earlier more experimental works; ‘Primordial Landscape’ (which was released on the album ‘School Daze’) is an intriguing piece, almost TANGERINE DREAM-like in places, slowly evolving with white noise shot percussion and a clavinet bass part. For those familiar with his later work including his remix of Donna Summer’s seminal ‘I Feel Love’, the musical aesthetic of this piece will come as a quite pleasant surprise!
Mute Records artist NON (which was a collaboration between Boyd Rice and Robert Turman) make an appearance with their track ‘Modes of Infection’; owners of the ‘Mute Audio Documents’ compilation will recognise this piece which takes a four note synth riff and hammers it out for the entirety of the track over a simplistic hi-hat pattern.In terms of production values and melodic content, ‘Oreo Strut’ by MARC BARRECA is head shoulders above most of the pieces on CD2; the synth programming and sequencer work here is certainly ahead of its time. Barreca continues to produce now and has some of his work included in the collection of The British Library.
LAURIE SPIEGEL is now rightly acknowledged as one of the pioneers of female electronic music; ‘Drums’ (which ironically doesn’t actually feature any percussion) is one of the tracks she created using early interactive computer systems. Put together using a Bell Labs GROOVE (“Generating Realtime Operations On Voltage-controlled Equipment”) computer system, which in Spiegel’s words “… was used to make sudden sharp electrical transients, simply the sound of individual bits being turned on and off, which were wired out to pulse high-Q resonant filters”. The end result is a hypnotic, polyrhythmic piece; although lacking in much in the way of melody, ‘Drums’ is a fascinating polyrhythmic work which could be seen as sowing the seeds of the Minimal Techno genre.
The tracks which make up most of CD3 are (depending upon preference) either works of leftfield genius or the kind you’d pigeonhole as CABARET VOLTAIRE-style B-sides or experiments, to be listened to once and then never again. The artists which fall under this category include the pieces by GIRLS ON FIRE, XX COMMITTEE, DOG AS MASTER, CONTROLLED BLEEDING and SMERSH.
Moving onto CD4 and an early highlight is ‘Geomancy’ by JOEL GRAHAM, recorded live on primarily Korg gear including an MS10, MS20, VC10, SQ sequencer and an SH101. Once you get past the slow build minimal 2 minute intro, the track bursts into life with a chordal synth part and what you have is a piece which pre-dates ORBITAL by several years that is brilliant stuff…
’Thirty Years’ by EXECUTIVE SLACKS is another gem, one of the few works on the compilation to feature vocals, this song is almost EBM-like or a combo of DAF with added guitars. In the accompanying album booklet, there is a rather wonderful recounting of some the band’s early live performances, including ones which were more art project than actual gig. This including hosting a cheese and wine house party, putting the refreshments in the corner and then subjecting the audience to a pathway of noise experiments before they got to their food and refreshments.
In terms of the more higher profile artists here, TUXEDOMOON feature with their lo-fi twisted cover of Cole Porter’s ‘Night & Day’ whilst Canadian trailblazers RATIONAL YOUTH are represented with a demo of their KRAFTWERK-inspired ‘Dancing On The Berlin Wall’. The latter’s album ‘Cold War Night Life’ deservedly went onto become one of Canada’s best-selling independent albums of the era with support opening for OMD to follow.
When NASH THE SLASH toured the UK supporting Gary Numan, he was exposed to THE WOMBLES animated kids TV series and wrote ‘Womble’ as a result. Although it is hard to see the connection between the track, which is a dark industrial piece, and the furry animal featuring TV show, NASH THE SLASH remains an underappreciated and influential artist who never really got the acclaim he deserved.
STEVE ROACH’s ‘Worlds’ takes things back to TANGERINE DREAM-style ambience; beautifully produced with interlocking Berlin School style sequencers, this 1983 track has hardly dated one iota. YOUNG SCIENTIST continues on in the same vein with ‘Ice Flow’, a collaboration between artists featured elsewhere on this compilation and channels the sound of TD’s ‘Rubycon’ yet still sounds original…
This sixty track compilation deserves to be held in the same kind of reverence as the ‘Mute Audio Documents’ one; it pulls together a superb mixture of hard to find tracks and more established tracks from the US synth scene and does it exceptionally well.
If you are looking for an album which helps reinforce and define the importance of the US on electronic music, then this is definitely the one.
With thanks to Matt Ingham at Cherry Record Records
SONNY ERIK$$ON is the Teddy Boy Timelord who fuses rockabilly with the futuristic electronic sounds of today and beyond…
Armed with a laptop and a Gretsch guitar, this Cyberbilly template on this debut album inevitably comes over like a quirky blend of SUICIDE, SIGUE SIGUE SPUTNIK and BILLY IDOL.
‘Pleasurama’ is a superb opening number, like Gene Vincent gigging in an outer space jungle as interpreted by the one-time William Michael Albert Broad if he had joined THE SILICON TEENS.
‘1stcrushadrenalinerush’ follows a similar direction, but this speedier number utilises vocoders and detuned metallic textures within its unusual mix.
‘Creating A Memory’ throws in some ravey blips to accompany the rhythmic guitar while ‘C’Mon America’ crosses Henry Mancini with Leonard Bernstein and Stephen Sondheim as ‘America’ from ‘West Side Story’ is pitch manipulated in a frantic and frankly bonkers slice of pyschobilly.
‘Dreams Are Made In Outer Space’ is paradoxically a more acoustically driven romp while the waltzy ‘Boom Bang Bang’ borrows from the hit made famous by the Glaswegian lass born Marie Lawrie.
Closing with the timpani laden ‘Sing A Song’, ‘The Sound of SONNY ERIK$$ON’ will not be for everyone.
But as a modern electronic pop record, it stands out in 2017 just for being that bit different.
Overall, this album is good fun and perhaps should be experienced live to attain its full conceptual effect.