Tag: Synth Britannia (Page 1 of 2)

Vintage Synth Trumps with FICTION STUDIOS

Fiction Studios is a boutique recording studio located right in the heart of London, fully equipped for recording, mixing and mastering while also available to hire for Voiceover and ADR recording.

The studio was set up by brothers Dominic and Nathan Cooper in 2016; Cooper is best known for his role in the film adaptation of ‘Mamma Mia’ while Nathan was a member of THE MODERN and today performs as KID KASIO.

Combining Dominic’s experience in the acting field and Nathan’s background in music production, the air conditioned studio caters for bands, musicians and voiceover artists. The studio also features an array of classic analogue gear which ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK decided would be a good reason to visit and challenge Nathan Cooper to a round of Vintage Synth Trumps…

First card today and it’s a Korg Mono/Poly…

I’ve got the plug-in! My friend’s got a Mono/Poly and he swears by it, we were in a band together when we were young…

…I thought you were young? 😉

Yeah! *coughs*

His name’s Gabriel Prokofiev, we both got into synths at primary school and we’ve both built up a collection over the years. I’m quite jealous of his collection, there’s a few he’s got that I haven’t and the Mono/Poly is one of them.

What was the first synth you owned?

It depends if you want the first good one or the first keyboard? My first keyboard was a Yamaha PSS-110, I found one again recently on eBay and thought I’d buy it on a whim… it’s awful! It’s got these samples of a dog bark and cat meow and what’s supposed to be a cuckoo! *laughs*

So it was more like a toy?

Yes, so I followed that up with a Casio SK1 when I was about 10-11 which had a sampling thing in it, so that you could burp into it and play ‘Happy Birthday’ out of burps! *laughs*

But my first proper synth was when I was 14, I begged my mum to buy me what I wanted, which was a Roland Juno 60. In those days, you went to ‘Loot’ magazine… this was at a time when they were really cheap because everyone wanted a Roland D50 or Korg M1.

I would say it’s the same one I own now, but it isn’t… sadly in the early 90s, I was recording in Ezee Studios with TOYAH and MARILLION’s producer Nick Tauber.

He told me to leave the synth there as we’d be back in a couple of weeks.

But the session got put back and put back and we didn’t go back for nearly a year, so when I finally returned it was gone! I was heartbroken!

A lot of people just stared blankly when I asked where it was, we couldn’t trace where it had gone. The one I replaced it with, I’ve had now for a fair amount of time.

The Juno 60 is a robust old thing isn’t it?

Every synth I have at Fiction Studios has at some point, needed to be completely refurbished, apart from the Juno. It never goes out of tune! The only thing that ever happened to it, was when I was touring with THE MODERN and I snapped one of the keys while I was loading it back onto the van. It was after a horrific gig at an indie venue called ‘Filthy McNasty’s’ which was where THE LIBERTINES were signed, so God knows what we were doing there! *laughs*

What I really wanted was an Oberheim or a Jupiter 8, but that was out of my range, so the Juno fitted in the budget for a birthday present. I know Howard Jones used one and it was analogue so that was it.

OK, next card!! What are the chances, it’s a Juno 60!!! *laughs*

When I set up Fiction Studios, I was lucky to be loaned some of my dream synths like the Oberheim OBXa.

I also have the Prophet 5 which I saved up for ages for, but having said that, the go-to synth is still the Juno 60, it’s still used in my KID KASIO stuff more than anything else.

Maybe it’s because I know it so well and all the patches on it were programmed by me, but there’s something about the interface on it, it’s just so easy to manipulate, it does what you want it to do, to fit into the track. Having said that, you get less happy mistakes with it though. I guess because I know all the sounds on it so well, so it rarely does anything that truly surprises.

Now, here’s a monster on the next card, a Yamaha CS80!!

That’s the dream isn’t it? I’d love one! I have the Arturia softsynth version. I always think of VANGELIS, the ‘Blade Runner’ soundtrack and Stevie Wonder who used it a lot. It’s one of those synths that’s got a ‘sound’ to it with that ribbon controller.

The ribbon controller is an interesting point as the Polymoog had one too and I’m assuming that kind of controllability is very difficult to simulate using software?

Yeah, totally! It’s why I use as much hardware stuff as I can because when I’m using mod wheels, pitch bends and stuff, I’ll programme the part in MIDI and then have the part playing through the synth while tweaking it and then I’ll record the sound onto the computer, adding any kind of modulation manually.

Because you’ve got that tiny bit of human touch to it, that is what people kind of connect to.

Although it’s still synths, it’s got some human authenticity to it. You can use pitch bend and stuff with softsynths but you don’t get that same interaction. And I think that can make or break a sound sometimes.

I remember on one of my KID KASIO tracks ‘Full Moon Blue’, I was using a harmonica sound from a Yamaha DX7 but it wasn’t quite sounding right, and everyone said I needed to use a breath control; so you put this thing in your mouth and plug it into the back of the synth and it will change the sound as you blow.

I love things being electronic and mechanical but sometimes if you add something like that, it adds that human element to it. There’s something about humans AND machines.

So why set up a studio when today, someone can grab hold of a laptop, get GarageBand and do everything there? Why does anyone out there need somewhere like Fiction Studios?

Good question… because many softsynths are now based on old analogue ones, it’s got people hankering after the authentic sound, even though softsynths do a really great job.

I think most people are aware the original sounds are better, but people can’t get their hands on them and they are expensive these days; a lot of people don’t have the room for them as well.

So in the current environment where synthpop is popular, there is a market for people coming in and wanting to play around with the old synths and run their ideas through some classic analogue flagship gear. It’s nice in that sense that people can do that. Some people often just want another pair of ears so if people want me to produce something, I can listen to what they’ve done and steer it in a certain direction.

Modern music has become very inward because of home recording…

Yes, it’s become very introspective. You can get something sounding good on GarageBand and get it up to a professional level but you always need someone else, that’s why all KID KASIO albums are mixed by Adrian Hall because I need that extra pair of ears, he can hear stuff that’s clogging up the track that I’ve been too entrenched in to notice.

So that’s why a studio with an in-house engineer or producer is great to make professional sounding tracks, or they can use the synths to produce their own stuff.

How did your most recent single ‘Drive (Some Kind Of Love)’ come about?

It was inspired by the film ‘Drive’ which came out in 2011; I’d just finished doing the ‘Tamara Drew’ soundtrack with Ben Todd and ‘Drive’ really blew us both away.

We thought it would be great to write a song that could stylistically fit into the film.

We performed it live and realised it went down pretty well. So that’s why I decided to release it.

When it was being mixed, I gave Adrian some reference points which were ‘The Boys Of Summer’ by Don Henley and ‘You’re The Voice’ by John Farnham. The track had this American vibe to it which a lot of my stuff doesn’t have, my sound is very Synth Britannia but for some reason, ‘Drive (Some Kind Of Love)’ just had this MISTER MISTER element to it!

I envisaged the video being filmed on an American highway in an open top car, but it ended up being done in London with me driving around in my Reliant Scimitar classic car and the video came out ok *laughs*

Looking at Fiction Studios, I’m amazed how spacious it is… what did you have in mind when you chose this location?

It is right in the heart of London, very few studios are now, normally you have to go to the East of London or the trendier parts, this is slap bang central.

I was looking for a space with my brother and his accountants have got a firm on the fifth floor of this building. He mentioned to them he was looking for a location to set up a studio and they suggested their store room in the basement.

We came down to have a look and it was not what you would expect an accountancy firm’s store room to look… there were boxes of files but because this firm looked after actors, models and people in the entertainment industry, there was all this weird stuff there.

I was looking around and there were MTV and Nickelodean Awards for ONE DIRECTION!! The firm represented them! So there was a pile of their tour clothes and what was really sad was all their stuff that fans had given them was here!

So there was this huge great portrait of Harry Styles staring at me that some fan had spent ages drawing! And it was down there gathering dust! *laughs*

Anyway, I noticed a library area that looked something out of Hogwarts from ‘Harry Potter’ and it was set up originally as a film set but never got round to being used. They offered to move it but I said not to as I could imagine bands hanging out in this bit because it had a really nice vibe.

The brickwork and features are all fake, but the 6000 old books are real! Occasionally you’ll pick a book out and it’ll be from the 1850s. So it’s great for inspiration, and what I’ve found I’ve done recently is I’ve been tidying up, looked up at the shelves and see the spine of a book that has the title of a song I’ve just written! It’s very weird!

And there’s no curfew or restrictions on the time of day an act can use the studio?

No, people have booked Fiction Studios until very late at night and it has 24 hour concierge so you can come and go when you please.

You have your synths but you are equipped to record acoustically as well, was this important in the viability of the studio?

Yes, the drum kit has been put near the library area. I would happily just set it up as a synth studio but I was looking into this as a business, so I didn’t want to close it off and make it accessible to everyone. And it’s worked the other way, I haven’t really had enough synth acts in here! I’ve had indie bands, opera singers and everything here so it’s been really interesting *laughs*

So, time for another card, an Oberheim 2 Voice…

I haven’t got a 2 Voice but I’ve been really lucky recently to accquire an OBXa, which was one of my dream wants because I’m a big fan of Richard Barbieri from JAPAN, where they used the similar OBX and Prophet 5.

There’s just a sound about the OB series; since getting one I’ve actually come to really respect Richard Barbieri’s work because it’s not as easy as turning it on and having those sounds.

You can find them when you tweak but it’s hard, and makes me realise he was a bit of a genius when it came to that stuff. How I came to acquire it is one of those funny things, I was at a party and I got chatting to a guy called Ian Merrylees who is a TV Editor.

He said “I’ve got a few synths at home”. Now nine times out of ten with these types of conversations, it turns out the synth is a Casiotone… so I asked him what they were and he said “one’s an Oberheim” and I’m like “WHAT?”

It had been in his loft for fifteen years… so I went round to his house to have a look, and not only did he have an OBXa, but he had a Prophet T8 as well! He wanted to see them used, and he very kindly loaned them to Fiction Studios, although they needed loads of servicing… I needed about four people to carry the T8 into the car, it’s a real monster! *laughs*

What other synths do you have here at Fiction Studios?

As well at the Oberheim OBXa, Prophet 5 and Prophet T8, there’s a Crumar Performer which after the Juno 60 is my most used synth, the SH101, Yamaha DX7, Korg MS2000, Korg DS8 and a Korg Poly 800 which my band mate Chi in THE MODERN found in a skip!

My most recent addition to the synth armoury was from when Roland came down to the studio and were impressed with the look. So the deal is they will lend us anything if they can film in here every now and then, so I have been lent a Roland JDXa which Nick Rhodes of DURAN DURAN spearheads the campaign for. It has a really nice interface, it looks amazing.

It’s great for live because unlike the old analogues where you need a torch because you can’t see the controls, this has everything lit up really nicely and there are in-built effects so everything sounds nice straight out of the box.

You have two mixing desks here?

One is for bands to use when they rehearse in the live area, it’s an old Datum series made by Hill Audio who provided the desks for Live Aid.

I was keen on having an old analogue desk, so I got this Soundtracs IL36 32 channel mixer from a friend of mine who was downsizing. That’s the thing about these desks nowadays, no-one wants them, my friend just wanted it taken away, it took five people to lift it! But I love it because it’s got a great sound to the EQs, I run all my synths through it. I have a nice Focusrite pre-amp so that it sounds like those old Neve desks, it’s got a beautiful analogue sound.

I use Logic to record but if people want to use Pro-Tools, they can. I have a nice Neumann U87 microphone and an Avalon pre-amp so you can get a good vocal chain. The monitoring uses Genelec speakers so it’s all here for people if they want it.

Another card, an ARP Odyssey…

I was this close to getting the Korg remake last year and then the studio came up. So when there was the offer of these other synths and I was getting the studio set-up, I had to spend my money on other things. I’d like to get one because ULTRAVOX used it…

…you know Billy Currie’s just sold his?

Did he? Why would you sell it?

He did sell it for £8500!

Ah! That’s why you’d sell it! *laughs*

How much is the remake by Korg?

Don’t quote me on this, but I think it’s about £700 so it’s a lot cheaper than buying an old one and it’s got MIDI.

Now I see here you have a tape recorder AND a drum machine… *laughs*

The tape recorder is all rigged up and came into use recently. Dave Ball from SOFT CELL came in with some old ¼ inch tapes of demos recorded when he and Marc Almond were at Leeds Polytechnic. He wanted to find out what was on them in case there was any other stuff that hadn’t been heard before, and there was!

That was a great experience, he’s such a nice guy and one of my idols, so to sit there and go through this stuff first hand was amazing, This early stuff was almost punk and really out there lyrically, it was amazing how simplistic some of the synth lines were, that’s the beauty of them.

The Oberheim DMX was kindly donated by a friend, I must give it back to him soon as I’ve had it for about ten years *laughs*

It’s got a brilliant kick drum, snare and clap sound which I use in almost everything I do but I tend to sample it rather than use it as a drum machine.

There are modern drum machines like the Roland TR8, but most people just use software, so is there a place for drum machines in recording today?

I think there probably is, but I still use loops quite a lot. Most people will use a programme in Logic for drum sounds called Battery where you can load up whatever vintage drum machine you want and play it on the keys of a synth, layering up the percussion framework into the computer.

I like the inspiration you can get from loops, I use a company that supplies them and you can pick one out by year. When you buy a particular year like say 1982, they send you a pack of a hundred loops played on the popular drum machines of that year in various tempos and stuff. So what I invariably do is use that as a basis and layer the sounds up with real ones from the DMX or a sample from a 12 inch single. The great thing about the DMX is that you can open it up and tune up each drum to the song via the dials inside.

When it comes to using a drum machine to programme, it’s quite fiddly and you end up recording it back into the computer anyway, so it’s a bit pointless. But it is nice to have it hands on.

Final card, it’s the Polymoog…

People say I haven’t got any Moogs in the studio but they’re one of those makes that I never got into.

I want one, partly because Howard Jones had a Moog Prodigy but when I was young, I always associated Moog with the more proggy end of music and it sort of put me off *laughs*

It’s funny because RODNEY CROMWELL admits he’s “a Moog Snob”

I guess it’s the difference between 1977-1980 which is more the lo-fi era of electronics where he comes from musically, while my stuff fits more into the more later end of synthpop 1982-1983…

Ah, the digitally stabilised analogue period…

Yeah, exactly *laughs*

Having said that, if anyone wants to donate a Moog synth? I do have all the Moog plug-ins but it’s just been one of those things.

So what are you up to at the moment musically?

Apart from producing an array of acts here at Fiction, I’m planning the video to the final release from my KID KASIO ‘Sit & Wait’ album. It’s going to be made up of old footage of me in bands from the 90s.

Also I’m putting the final touches to an EP of cover versions I’m releasing next year. And busy writing and recording for my third KID KASIO album.


ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK gives its warmest thanks to Nathan Cooper and Fiction Studios

Fiction Studios is based at 22-24 Ely Place, London EC1N 6TE United Kingdom – for further information, please phone +44(0) 207 831 8177 or visit their website at http://www.fictionstudioslondon.com/

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Vintage Synth Trumps is a card game by GForce that features 52 classic synthesizers


Text and Interview by Chi Ming Lai
18th August 2017, updated 11th February 2021

5 Years of ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK – WHILE MY SYNTH GENTLY BLEEPS

ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK celebrates its fifth anniversary and it has been a glorious journey.

The site came into being on 15th March 2010 after the founding team discussed having an online platform to feature the best in new and classic electronic pop music. After weeks of deliberation, the decision to finally launch the site came at the HEAVEN 17 aftershow party for their triumphant gig at The Magna Science Park on 6th March 2010.

That evening, ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK met and chatted with HEAVEN 17’s Glenn Gregory and Martyn Ware, OMD’s Paul Humphreys and Claudia Brücken, best known as the singer of PROPAGANDA… by the end of the year, all four had given insightful interviews to the site.

ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK received a major boost in profile in May 2010 when its interview with Paul Humphreys was quoted by The Guardian as part of a news item announcing the release of OMD’s comeback album ‘History Of Modern’.

Key interviews with DUBSTAR and CLIENT’s Sarah Blackwood, LANDSCAPE’s Richard James Burgess, THE ART OF NOISE’s Gary Langan and ULTRAVOX’s Warren Cann also followed. Later in the year, ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK featured promising new act VILE ELECTRODES for the very first time; they were soon to become a stalwart of the UK independent electronic scene.

But the first act to formally be reviewed was MARINA & THE DIAMONDS, reflecting the kooky female fronted keyboard based pop like LA ROUX, LITTLE BOOTS, LADYHAWKE and LADY GAGA that was prevalent at the time.

However, there was a changing of the guard on the horizon as new astute male fronted electronic based acts such as HURTS, VILLA NAH and MIRRORS appeared which the site took a keen interest in.

ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK has always prided itself in asking the questions that have never usually been asked, but which fans want to know the answers to. And it was with this reputation for intelligent and well researched interviewing that the site was granted its biggest coup yet when it spoke to NEW ORDER’s Stephen Morris. In the ensuing chat, Morris cryptically hinted that Manchester’s finest would return… and that is exactly what happened in Autumn of that year when concerts in aid of the band’s late friend Michael Shamberg were announced.

ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK was on a roll in 2011 as OMD’s Andy McCluskey, RECOIL mainman Alan Wilder, BLANCMANGE’s Neil Arthur, Mira Aroyo of LADYTRON, HOWARD JONES, THOMAS DOLBY and DRAMATIS’ Chris Payne all gave interviews. And in rather bizarre throwback to 1981, DURAN DURAN, THE HUMAN LEAGUE and JOHN FOXX released new albums on the same day in March. Meanwhile, up-and-coming acts such as AUSTRA, SOFT METALS, ELEVEN: ELEVEN and QUEEN OF HEARTS made a good first impression.

Events like ‘Return To The Blitz Club’, ‘Short Circuit Presents Mute’, ‘Back To The Phuture – Tomorrow Is Today’, ‘The Electronic Phuture Revue’ and the BEF Weekender reinforced the new found profile for music seeded from the Synth Britannia era and kept the team busy. ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK even found time to curate its own live event featuring VILE ELECTRODES.

2012 paled in comparison after such a fruitful year and several acts who were featured probably would not have gained as much coverage in more competitive periods.

But the year did unearth talents such as CHVRCHES, GAZELLE TWIN, GRIMES, KARIN PARK, TRUST, METROLAND and IAMAMIWHOAMI who were eventually make a lasting impact. During this time though, MIRRORS sadly lost momentum and appeared to wind down after the departure of founder member Ally Young while VILLA NAH mutated into SIN COS TAN.

Ahead of ULTRAVOX’s recorded return with ‘Brilliant’, Billy Currie spoke to ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK and MARSHEAUX headlined a sold out second event with The Blitz Club’s legendary DJ Rusty Egan as its special guest. EDM was also becoming big news internationally. But ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK stood its ground and showed little interest in this largely repetitive sub-genre as parties within the industry desperately tried to centralise synthpop and dance music with misguided promotional campaigns such as ‘Electrospective’.

It was quite obvious the industry was struggling to come to terms with a changing marketplace, as well as failing to distinguish between dance music and electronic pop.

Contrary to general perception that music using synthesizers was 80s, ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK maintained a stance that electronic pop music didn’t start in that decade and certainly didn’t end there either. In fact, there was even an editorial diktat that banned its writers from using that horrific and lazy term of reference.

80s is neither an instrumentation style or a genre of music… tellingly, several PR representatives told ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK that one of the site’s main appeals was that it avoided the whole nostalgia bent as represented by events such as ‘Here & Now’ and other media, both virtual and physical.

What ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK did in 2013 would take up a whole article in itself… 2013 turned out to be one of the best years for electronic pop since 1981.  Interviews with ALISON MOYET, GARY NUMAN, KARL BARTOS, MARNIE, ADULT. and MISS KITTIN confirmed the site’s impact. There was even a radio show with Rusty Egan which ran for 25 programmes on dance station Mi-Soul.

Meanwhile new releases from OMD, NINE INCH NAILS, BEF, PET SHOP BOYS, GOLDFRAPP, MESH, MARSHEAUX, SIN COS TAN, POLLY SCATTERGOOD and VISAGE reflected the vibrancy of the modern electronic scene.

But the biggest recognition of how influential the site had become was when VILE ELECTRODES were chosen to support OMD after being spotted by Andy McCluskey while he was perusing the site’s webpages.

Over the years, ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK has written about a number of talents whose promise was never fully realised despite producing great music… THE SOUND OF ARROWS, SUNDAY GIRL, KATJA VON KASSEL and THE VANITY CLAUSE all featured several times, but timing and in the cases of the first three, record company interference stifled potential. Whether signed or independent, nothing can be guaranteed in the today’s music world.

Although the year started tremendously with an invitation to ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK to meet KARL BARTOS and WOLFGANG FLÜR in Cologne, 2014 suffered next to quality of 2013.

But  more key figures from the Synth Britannia era were  interviewed including MIDGE URE, ex-CABARET VOLTAIRE frontman Stephen Mallinder and the often forgotten man of the period JO CALLIS, who was a key member of THE HUMAN LEAGUE during their imperial phase.

For the 25th Anniversary of DEPECHE MODE’s ‘101’, Alan Wilder spoke exclusively to ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK about how that live document became a major game changer for the band. And at his autobiography launch in London, Bernard Sumner revealed that NEW ORDER’s next album would be more electronic than the band’s last couple of offerings. Meanwhile, SUSANNE SUNDFØR’s various collaborations with RÖYKSOPP and KLEERUP enhanced her profile in readiness for ‘Ten Love Songs’, her most accomplished work yet. Also riding high were Glasgow’s ANALOG ANGEL with their third album ‘Trinity’ and a support tour with Swedish veterans COVENANT in 2015 was their reward.

The live circuit was vibrant and there was a third event which had a DEPECHE MODE flavour thanks to tribute band SPEAK & SPELL playing ‘Speak & Spell’ and ‘101’ sets. There was also a DJ set by Sarah Blackwood plus a special memorabilia exhibition curated by Deb Danahay, co-founder of the first official DM Information Service. At the same event VILE ELECTRODES celebrated the first anniversary of their debut album ‘The future through a lens’ having snapped up two Schallwelle awards in Germany for ‘Best International Album’ and ‘Best International Artist’.

As 2015 settles in, highly regarded acts within the electronic community continue to engage with The Electricity Club. German trio CAMOUFLAGE used an edit of ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK’s career retrospective on the band as liner notes for their CD ‘The Singles’. Meanwhile studio legend John Fryer, who worked with FAD GADGET, DEPECHE MODE, COCTEAU TWINS and NINE INCH NAILS, also stopped by for a chat as did BLANCMANGE’s Neil Arthur, securing a site record with his fourth interview for the site.

Newer artists over the last few years as varied as FEATHERS, KID MOXIE, HANNAH PEEL, I AM SNOW ANGEL, TWINS NATALIA, NIGHT CLUB, PAWWS, MACHINISTA, QUIETER THAN SPIDERS, PRIEST and TRAIN TO SPAIN have proved that electronic music is still very much alive. ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK appears to have reflected the interests of people who love the Synth Britannia era and have a desire to hear new music rooted in that ilk. 🙂

While things cannot carry on for ever, there is a belief that there is much more excellent music still to be created and discovered.

ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK gives its warmest thanks to all who have contributed over the last five years, be they writers, musicians, commentators, photographers, artists or models And a big thank you to everyone who has taken the time read an article on the site


Text by Chi Ming Lai
14th March 2015

25 FAVOURITE VINTAGE DRUM MACHINES and ELECTRONIC PERCUSSION SETS

Electronics gave musicians the opportunity to experiment outside the confines of the traditional four or five piece live band.

Synthesizers meant to an extent that ensembles of instruments could be replaced and led to the formation of more streamlined combos who could exert a greater degree of artistic control.

And with the simultaneous advent of the drum machine, there came the elimination of the most unpredictable element of any band… the drummer! With one of these electronic units, precise and metronomic rhythm could be provided without the annoying desire of a human to egotistically add fills or breaks!

Hence came the joke: “What is the difference between a drummer and a drum machine? With a drum machine, you only have to punch the instructions in once!”

However, if a drummer was willing to join in on the minimal electronic adventure, an array of hand triggered synthetic devices could be used to replace parts of the conventional drum kit while syncopating along to a precise machine rhythm. KRAFTWERK’s Wolfgang Flür was one of the first musicians to be widely seen playing a self-built electronic percussion set on German TV Station ZDF in 1973.

He said in his autobiography ‘I Was A Robot’: “It’s the eternal dilemma of percussionists in many bands I’ve seen, who like to see themselves as the dominant artists and therefore play those wearing, extravagant drum solos…”.

So here are the drum machines and electronic percussion sets that ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK has the most affection for. As with TEC’s 25 Favourite Vintage Synthesizers list, they are not necessarily the most technically accomplished of machines, but each have their place in electronic music history. This list is purely for fun and not a product endorsement, presented chronologically by year of production origin and then alphabetically.

But before ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK proceeds with its list, here’s another joke: “How many drummers does it take to change a lightbulb? None, because there are machines that can do exactly what drummers do, and so much better!” 😉


KEIO MINIPOPS 7 (1967)

Minipops7Made by Japanese company Keio who eventually morphed into Korg, this rhythm unit had 2 banks of 10 rhythms which were selected by a flip switch. With its distinctive snakey guiro sound, although not credited, it appeared on JEAN MICHEL JARRE’s first two albums ‘Oxygène’ and ‘Equinoxe’. The mournful Factory act MINNY POPS derived their name from this machine while it was also used by BLANCMANGE on the ‘Some Bizzare Album’ version of ‘Sad Day’.

Iconic Example Of Use: JEAN MICHEL JARRE ‘Equinoxe V’


ELKA DRUMMER ONE (1969)

Elka Drummer OneLooking a bit like a Hi-Fi Receiver, this simple preset rhythm box from the Italian organ manufacturer was much loved by kosmische bands such as CLUSTER and HARMONIA. It was one of the first machines to have individual volume level control for each of its 9 percussion sounds and by pressing two separate preset rhythm buttons, a whole new pattern could be generated. The limitations of such devices often led musicians to making other worldly music with these source sounds.

Iconic Example Of Use: HARMONIA ‘Dino’


FARFISA RHYTHM UNIT 10 (1969)

farfisa-rhythm-10-drum-machine2An early preset drum machine designed as a home organ accompaniment, this was the first such unit owned by Ralf Hütter and Florian Schneider who used it on early KRAFTWERK recordings like the sub-17 minute ‘Kling Klang’ and the studio take of ‘Tanzmusik’. While limited in its capability, the duo’s curiosity led to the unit being customised for their own ends so that the sounds could be hand triggered, and thus leading to the investigation of the electronic rhythms that KRAFTWERK were later to become famous for.

Iconic Example Of Use: KRAFTWERK ‘Kling Klang’


EKO RHYTHMAKER (1972)

EKO-RhythmakerAn Italian drum box that although wasn’t programmable, had separate fader controls for each of its sounds. It made a prominent appearance on ASHRA’s cult ambient classic ‘New Age Of Earth’. Will Sergeant from ECHO & THE BUNNYMEN also acquired one and named it ‘Echo’ after the manufacturer and inspiring the band name; it was used on their debut 45 ‘Pictures On My Wall’. ‘Echo’ was later replaced by a Doctor Rhythm DR55, but is believed to have ended up moonlighting on OMD’s debut album.

Iconic Example Of Use: OMD ‘Julia’s Song’


ROLAND TR77 (1972)

rolandTR77The first rhythm machine used by Warren Cann of ULTRAVOX, its debut appearance was on ‘Hiroshima Mon Amour’. Using a sub-bossa nova preset with buttons pushed in assorted combinations to achieve variation, it provided the spacey backbone to the chilling highlight of the ‘Ha! Ha! Ha!’ album. The ‘TR’ prefix stood for ‘Transistor Rhythm’. Critically, the TR77 had separate faders for the kick, snare, guiro, hi-hat, cymbal and maracas sounds, thereby making it a very flexible machine for use in the studio.

Iconic Example Of Use: ULTRAVOX ‘Hiroshima Mon Amour’


PAiA PROGRAMMABLE DRUM SET (1975)

PAiA Electronics Programmable Drum SetOften credited as the first programmable drum machine, sounds were produced using a technique called ringing oscillators. A filter that was very close to oscillating on its own was hit with a short pulse so that it rang the way a drum did! Designed in Oklahoma, it was sold as a kit with instructions for the buyer to build the machine themselves. PETER GABRIEL was one of its first exponents.

Iconic Example Of Use: PETER GABRIEL ‘Games Without Frontiers’


POLLARD SYNDRUM QUAD (1976)

pollard syndrum quadThe first commercially available electronic drum was devised by Joe Pollard, a drummer who played with THE BEACH BOYS. Although the Syndrum had many different sounds, the one most commonly used was a sine wave that pitch-bent downwards… hence the ubiquitous and some would say annoying “doooo-oo” sound of the disco era! Despite the Syndrum being heard everywhere, Pollard had financial problems, leaving rivals Star and Simmons to take up the mantle for hand operated electronic percussion.

Iconic Example Of Use: THE CARS ‘Good Times Roll’


ROLAND CR78 COMPURHYTHM (1978)

roland_cr78One of the most distinctive sounding drum machines ever made, it was the first device of its kind to use integrated circuits. The CR78 had an accent control knob which increased the loudness of certain steps, plus there were useful mute buttons for four of the sounds including bass and snare to give further variation while in operation. This programmable unit with 15 sounds and 34 different preset rhythms was used by most of the Synth Britannia innovators including GARY NUMAN, OMD, JOHN FOXX and ULTRAVOX.

Iconic Example Of Use: OMD ‘Enola Gay’


STAR SYNARE 3 (1978)

synare3-02The earlier Synares 1 and 2 had several drum pads built into a suitcase, but the Synare 3 was a standalone drum synthesizer that looked like a flying saucer, triggered by hitting the pressure sensitive rubber pad. There was a noise generator with a tune function and a low-pass filter with cut-off, resonance and decay controls. It was used by Warren Cann for the thunder sound on ULTRAVOX’s ‘Vienna’ and Stephen Morris for the “tschak-tschak” noise on JOY DIVISION’s ‘She’s Lost Control’.

Iconic Example Of Use: ULTRAVOX ‘Vienna’


KORG RHYTHM 55 (1979)

Korg-r55With 48 preset patterns with 16 intros / fill-ins and 10 drum voices, this was Daniel Miller’s first drum machine and used on his early productions such as ‘Lady Shave’ by FAD GADGET, ‘Memorabilia’ by SOFT CELL and DEPECHE MODE’s first recorded version of ‘Photographic’ for the ‘Some Bizzare Album’. The Korg Rhythm 55 had a characteristically klanky percussive sound which JEAN MICHEL JARRE also used as the metronomic bed for his third long player ‘Magnetic Fields’.

Iconic Example Of Use: DEPECHE MODE ‘Photographic (Some Bizzare Version)’


PEARL SYNCUSSION SY1 (1979)

pearl SY1 topThis was a two channel drum synth where each section had an oscillator that could produce different basic waveforms which were then shaped by a simple envelope generator. Usually triggered from two bongo-like drums fitted with transducers, it could also be activated via a synth with a gate output. It was extensively used by Mal Holmes for OMD’s crunchy electronic percussion sounds to replace conventional hi-hat and cymbals.

Iconic Example Of Use: OMD ‘Joan Of Arc’


BOSS DOCTOR RHYTHM DR55 (1980)

boss dr rhythmDR55Not to be confused with the Korg Rhythm 55, this basic ‘step-write’ drum machine was produced by Roland’s musical accessory sub-division and one of the first truly affordable programmable drum machines. With just primitive analogue generated kick, snare, hi-hat and rimshot sounds available, it possessed a unique character of its own. Its successor, the DR110 featured a novel LCD rhythm pattern display and manual fill capability with sounds similar to the Roland TR606 Drumatix.

Iconic Example Of Use: NEW ORDER ‘Truth’


LINN LM-1 (1980)

LinnLM-1Using digital samples of real drum sounds, Roger Linn’s drum computer changed pop music with its logical programming capability. It gained prominence on THE HUMAN LEAGUE’s ‘Dare’ and HEAVEN 17’s ‘Penthouse & Pavement’. It was also used hand triggered by Steve Jansen for the clap and bass drum sounds on JAPAN’s ‘Tin Drum’. The first Linn did not actually have a crash cymbal sound because there was not enough memory in the chips. When it came out, it cost the same as a Renault 5!

Iconic Example Of Use: THE HUMAN LEAGUE ‘Don’t You Want Me?’


ROLAND TR808 RHYTHM COMPOSER (1980)

Roland-TR-808Probably one of the most popular analogue drum machines, it had distinctive sounds such as its handclap and bongos that while sounding nothing like what they were supposed to represent, possessed a unique character that appealed particularly within urban dance culture. First used on YELLOW MAGIC ORCHESTRA’s ‘BGM’ album in 1981, it was also used by SOFT CELL and YAZOO but gained prominence on a variety of Arthur Baker’s classic New York electro crossover productions with AFRIKA BAMBAATA.

Iconic Example Of Use: AFRIKA BAMBAATA & THE SOUL SONIC FORCE ‘Planet Rock’


SOUND MASTER MEMORY RHYTHM SR88 (1980)

Soundmastersr88aThis was an entry level ‘step-write’ drum machine that was owned by ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK! It provided hours of fun with just four really thin analogue drum sounds (kick / snare / hi-hat / cymbal) by tapping the keys like Morse Code!! It had a useful clock output for synching to basic sequencers while an output pulse could also be synched with the cymbal sound to trigger synths for more varied effects. It was the rhythm box that COCTEAU TWINS used when they first formed.

Iconic Example Of Use: CRY ‘Looking To The Future’


MOVEMENT SYSTEMS DRUM COMPUTER MKI (1981)

movement_drum_computer_mk1This was the British-built hybrid drum computer used by EURYTHMICS which appeared in their ‘Sweet Dreams (Are Made Of This)’ video. Its nine analogue synthesized drum sounds were similar to Simmons SDSV while the five digital ones were 8 bit samples. A monitor came separately to display the drum notes and sequencing graphically in a similar fashion to page R on the Fairlight CMI. The MKII had a built-in monitor and was used by THOMPSON TWINS, but was bulky when compared with the LinnDrum.

Iconic Example Of Use: EURYTHMICS ‘Sweet Dreams (Are Made Of This)’


OBERHEIM DMX (1981)

OberheimDMXThe digital drum machine on NEW ORDER’s ‘Blue Monday’ as programmed by Stephen Morris. This was a direct competitor to the Linn Drum but much cheaper, offering more options and crucially, allowed tuning of sounds. It was designed to work in tandem with the OB8 synth and DSX sequencer using the ‘Oberheim Parallel Bus’ system pre-MIDI. Also used by SOFT CELL, THE CURE, MATT FRETTON, HERBIE HANCOCK and RUN DMC.

Iconic Example Of Use: NEW ORDER ‘Blue Monday’


ROLAND TR606 DRUMATIX (1981)

drumatix tr-606The Roland TR-606 Drumatix was a portable programmable analogue drum machine designed to tandem with the TB303 Bassline synth to provide solo artists with rhythm accompaniment. While the squelchy oddness of the TB303 later became synonymous with Acid House, the TR606 was almost dated by the time it was released, thanks to the advent of digital drum machines. It was used as a demo tool by acts like HEAVEN 17, while OMD were one of the few to use it in its own right on the ‘Dazzle Ships’ album.

Iconic Example Of Use: OMD ‘Silent Running’


SIMMONS SDS-V (1981)

Simmons-sds5_pads_01One of the first electronic percussion kits, it was designed by Dave Simmons and Richard James Burgess of LANDSCAPE. The electronics were based on the ARP 2600 synth and the material for the drum sets was similar to that used in police riot shields. Meanwhile, the shape was inspired by honeycomb. Its sound soon became characteristic of the era and drummers from all genres got in on using it. But the lack of give in the drum material caused physical problems for players due to the dead shock to the arms!

Iconic Example Of Use: TALK TALK ‘Today’


LINNDRUM (1982)

LinnDrumOfficially known as the LM-2, the LinnDrum was an upgraded, more efficiently packaged version of the original LM-1 drum computer with added crash and ride cymbals which were not possible on the first machine due to restricted memory size of the integrated circuits used. It also had some innovative features for the time such as swing, quantizing and memory storage. It became the studio drum machine of choice for many including OMD, HEAVEN 17, GARY NUMAN, JOHN FOXX and ULTRAVOX.

Iconic Example Of Use: HEAVEN 17 ‘Temptation’


E-MU SYSTEMS DRUMULATOR (1983)

drumulatorFollowing the success of their affordable Emulator sampler, E-MU Systems developed a programmable rhythm unit that featured 12 bit samples. At just $1000, it opened up digital drum sounds to many more musicians unwilling to shell out for a LinnDrum or DMX. Used by TEARS FOR FEARS on ‘Shout’ and DEPECHE MODE on their ‘Construction Time Again’ opus, it was also the first digital drum machine of choice for COCTEAU TWINS.

Iconic Example Of Use: DEPECHE MODE ‘Everything Counts’


ROLAND TR909 RHYTHM COMPOSER (1984)

Roland-TR-909An analogue / sample hybrid drum machine with MIDI compatibility and editable analogue sounds, it was originally a poor seller on its release due to a hefty £1000 price tag for its apparently dated credentials. However, it was later picked up on by American dance DJs and is now considered to be the link between Detroit Techno and Chicago House with its recognisable kicks, hi-hats and snares plus tweakable attack, tone, tuning, decay, snap and accent functions.

Iconic Example Of Use: INNER CITY ‘Big Fun’


SEQUENTIAL CIRCUITS DRUMTRAKS (1984)

sci_drumtraksThe Drumtraks was the first digital drum machine to feature the MIDI interface proposed by Sequential Circuits’ Dave Smith. But with a standard clock output as well, it was also compatible with older analogue synths. There were 13 sounds, each with programmable tuning and level control while editing was straightforward. It was used extensively by ULTRAVOX’s Warren Cann on the ‘Lament’ album and the standalone single ‘Loves Great Adventure’. Other users included PRINCE, GARY NUMAN and ORBITAL.

Iconic Example Of Use: ULTRAVOX ‘White China’


YAMAHA RX5 (1986)

Yamaha-rx5The RX5 was a versatile and affordable digital MIDI drum machine used by NEW ORDER and CAMEO. It had many editable parameters such as attack, decay, reverse and damp for each sound plus two levels of accent. The sounds could even be pitch-bent across several octaves while the bizarre time signatures that could be programmed ranged from 1/32 to 99/2! Also available were ROM Cartridges with further genre based percussive sets, while created sounds could be stored on RAM cartridges.

Iconic Example Of Use: NEW ORDER ‘Bizarre Love Triangle’


ALESIS HR16 (1987)

ALESIS HR16A 16 pad MIDI drum machine with 49 sounds including 10 kicks, 7 snares and a complete set of ethnic percussion which all came as 16 bit samples, this was a low-cost digital rhythm unit that survived an era when most producers were sampling live drumming performances into Akai S1000s. Patterns could be programmed in either step or real-time, while up to 16 drum tones could be used within a pattern. The key to its success was its value for money and it was used by ORBITAL, THE GRID and OMD.

Iconic Example Of Use: OMD ‘Sailing On The Seven Seas’


Text by Chi Ming Lai
16th September 2014, updated 23rd October 2017

25 FAVOURITE VINTAGE SYNTHS

Synthesizers are ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK’s first love and their impact on modern popular music cannot be underestimated.

However, this was only made possible once the synthesizer became affordable and inspired an artistic revolution. From the moment these futuristic contraptions were spotted on ‘Top Of The Pops’ or ‘Old Grey Whistle Test’, regardless of whether they were used on the actual song.

They sparked fascination and passion from interested observers in the same way that Stingray, Thunderbird 2, Shado 2,  the Spectrum Pursuit Vehicle or Eagle Transporter from the Gerry Anderson TV shows did.

Inspired by Martyn Ware’s talk ‘A Journey In 20 Synths’, here are the 25 synthesizers that ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK has the most affection for. They are not necessarily the most technically accomplished, or even the most interesting sounding of machines, but each have their place in electronic music history. This list is purely for fun and not a product endorsement, presented chronologically by year of production origin and then alphabetically.

Note that the majority of these machines were developed between 1969-79… this alone should dispel the public and press notion, once and for all, that if a song features a synthesizer, then it must be “80s”… now here’s the proof!


MINIMOOG (1970)

Costing over £1000 when first made available in the UK, this classic monosynth had three voltage controlled oscillators for that famous fat sound. Its distinctive solid bass pulse was made possible by the rapid attack times that its contour generators were capable of, plus the comfortable feel of its controls and keyboard. Used by KRAFTWERK, BRIAN ENO, KLAUS SCHULZE, VANGELIS, ULTRAVOX and GARY NUMAN, it is probably the one synth that most people actually know the name of!

Iconic example of use: KRAFTWERK ‘Autobahn’


ARP 2600 (1971)

This semi-modular synth had hard wired and patch-cord routing capabilities while it could also be triggered using the ARP 1613 Sequencer. With three oscillators and a variety of waveforms, it was favoured by Daniel Miller and Martin Hannett to make synthetic percussive sounds for FAD GADGET, DEPECHE MODE, THE DURUTTI COLUMN and JOY DIVISION. Its circuitry later formed the basis of the Simmons SDSV. But the ARP 2600 could do gentle as well, as on DEPECHE MODE’s ‘Waiting For The Night’.

Iconic example of use: DEPECHE MODE ‘Waiting For The Night’


ARP ODYSSEY (1972)

This two oscillator duophonic synth was effectively a scaled down version of the ARP 2600. All its parameters were editable via sliders and buttons on the front panel instead of knobs which made it very player friendly. It also had a sample-and-hold function and in a later version, three pressure sensitive pads to bend pitch or induce vibrato. This was the distinctive sound of ULTRAVOX’s synth solos as played by Billy Currie. It has also been used by KRAFTWERK, TANGERINE DREAM, JOHN FOXX and GARY NUMAN.

Iconic example of use: ULTRAVOX ‘Hymn’


EMS Synthi AKS (1972)

The Synthi AKS was essentially the electronic guts of the earlier VCS3 and suitcased with a touch sensitive keyboard and a 256 step on-board monophonic digital sequencer. Costing £450 on launch, it had three oscillators and a matrix-based patch system which made it very good for generating sci-fi type sounds. It featured heavily on ‘Dark Side Of The Moon’ by PINK FLOYD and was also used by KLAUS SCHULZE, BRIAN ENO, JEAN MICHEL JARRE and ULTRAVOX.

Iconic example of use: PINK FLOYD ‘On The Run’


KORG 700s (1974)

Also known as the mini-Korg, this was purchased by Martyn Ware in 1977 to cheer himself up to splitting up with his then-girlfriend; it was subsequently used in his recordings as a founder member of THE HUMAN LEAGUE. It was an affordable £200 at that time when compared with the £1000 asking price for the Minimoog. The 700s differed from the earlier 700 model in that it had two oscillators. It was also Daniel Miller’s first synth and he used it recording as THE NORMAL, simultaneously launching Mute Records.

Iconic example of use: THE NORMAL ‘Warm Leatherette’


POLYMOOG (1975)

Released in 1975, this was Moog’s first polyphonic instrument and unlike the Minimoog which was all made up of transistors, the Polymoog used silicon chips under each key. GARY NUMAN used the Vox Humana preset to such great success on ‘Cars’ that it effectively killed off this machine because no-one else wanted to buy it! JAPAN and BUGGLES also used it, but it was ultimately overshadowed by the release of the Yamaha CS80. A simpler Polymoog Keyboard variant with fewer features did little to help sway sales.

Iconic example of use: GARY NUMAN ‘M.E.’


ROLAND SYSTEM 100 (1975)

Not to be confused with the very different System 100M, this was a semi-modular monophonic standalone synth that could be expanded. Having all the component parts made it into a two-oscillator monosynth with sequencing, monitoring and effects capabilities. It had the most amazing bass sound and could get quite an interesting choral sound. Notable for its industrial sounding percussive capabilities, it was used extensively by Martyn Ware in THE HUMAN LEAGUE and HEAVEN 17.

Iconic example of use: THE HUMAN LEAGUE ‘Being Boiled (Fast Version)’


ARP OMNI (1976)

A more complex, but compact development of the classic but cumbersome ARP Solina string machine, this brilliant string synthesizer had polyphonic Violin and Viola waveforms as well as monophonic Bass and Cello waveforms. There were also Strings, Synthesizer, and Bass synth sections which were all simultaneously available. When passed through Martin Hannett’s Marshall Time Modular, it produced the really claustrophobic Mellotron type sounds on JOY DIVISION’s ‘Closer’ LP.

Iconic example of use: JOY DIVISION ‘Heart & Soul’


KORG 770 (1976)

A monophonic with dual oscillators and unique features such as two ring modulator modes, pitched noise and a chorus waveform, this synth was also known as the MaxiKorg. This was the first synth of both SIMPLE MINDS’ Mick McNeil and THE HUMAN LEAGUE’s Phil Oakey. Subsequently, it was used on ‘Dare’ for its distinctive solid basslines as on ‘The Sound Of The Crowd’ and ‘Love Action’. It also had a place in more guitar oriented bands such as THE ICICLE WORKS.

Iconic example of use: THE HUMAN LEAGUE ‘The Sound Of The Crowd’


ROLAND SYSTEM 700 (1976)

A beast of a modular synth, a complete system had 47 modules, options including sequencer, keyboard controller and additional soundbanks which could be controlled by the Roland’s MC8 Micro-composer. The system was used to great effect by GIORGIO MORODER, YELLOW MAGIC ORCHESTRA, HANS ZIMMER and THE HUMAN LEAGUE. Later superceded by the System 100M, Flood used it to construct the bassline for DEPECHE MODE’s ‘Enjoy The Silence’.

Iconic example of use: DEPECHE MODE ‘Enjoy The Silence’


YAMAHA CS80 (1976)

This almighty polysynth with symphonic prog rock associations had features such as a piano weighted keyboard and touch sensitivity. One popular function it had was a ribbon controller that allowed for polyphonic pitch-bends and glissandos. It had an incredible, complex richness to its sound that meant it was a favourite of many musicians such as EMERSON LAKE & PALMER, PETER GABRIEL, KATE BUSH, VANGELIS, KLAUS SCHULZE, BRIAN ENO and ULTRAVOX.

Iconic example of use: VANGELIS ‘To The Unknown Man’


KORG M500 MICRO-PRESET (1977)

Actually the most basic of devices with only 30 different sounds and limited variant control, the Micro-Preset was the main synth on OMD’s early work. The small pockets of both Andy McCluskey and Paul Humphreys meant the instrument had to be explored and pushed out of necessity… and without it, the repeating octave shifting blips on ‘Messages’ or the pulsing bass on ‘Stanlow’ couldn’t have happened ! Thanks to its functional limitations, these experiments became distinctive components of inventive pop songs.

Iconic example of use: OMD ‘Messages’


YAMAHA CS10 (1977)

The CS10 sat between the single oscillator / envelope CS5 which was Martin Gore of DEPECHE MODE’s first synth, and the two VCO CS15 favoured by THE HUMAN LEAGUE. This relatively inexpensive monophonic used by SPANDAU BALLET and CHINA CRISIS had one oscillator and VCF / VCO envelopes, as well as a one octave portamento and CV / Gate. Unlike Roland and Korg, Yamaha’s synths were designed with players in mind rather than programmers, something that would haunt their later digital DX7.

Iconic example of use: SPANDAU BALLET ‘To Cut A Long Story Short’


YAMAHA SS30 (1977)

This wood encased, multiphonic string synthesizer employed a divide-down, electric organ type of architecture on its two master oscillators for tone generation. These could be detuned to create chorus and phasing effects. The SS30’s distinctive sounds can be heard on ULTRAVOX’s ‘The Voice’ and ‘Vienna’ as well as SIMPLE MINDS’ Life In A Day’. It was also a keyboard of choice for Dave Formula from MAGAZINE and VISAGE.

Iconic example of use: ULTRAVOX’s ‘The Voice’


EDP WASP (1978)

Cheap at just under £200 when launched, this had a 25 note electrostatic touch sensitive yellow / black keyboard, two digital oscillators supported by analogue filters and its own speaker. It was DURAN DURAN’s Nick Rhodes first synth while OMD’s Paul Humphreys owned one but didn’t like it. The deluxe variant had a proper keyboard. Its companion Spider sequencer used EDP’s pre-MIDI connection system and exploited by DEPECHE MODE for the bass sequence on the Aggro Mix of ‘Never Let Me Down Again’.

Iconic example of use: DEPECHE MODE ‘Never Let Me Down Again (Aggro Mix)’


KORG MS20 (1978)

An analogue two oscillator monophonic with hard wired and patchable connections, the circuitry came from one of the original modules on the chunky PS3300; the hard-wiring could be overridden using patch-cords. The MS20 could be triggered by external inputs such as percussion or vocals for strange effects; one of its best uses was on GOLDFRAPP’s ‘Felt Mountain’ album where it processed assorted screaming voice sounds. Also been used by FAD GADGET, BLANCMANGE, ADD N TO (X) and LADYTRON.

Iconic example of use: GOLDFRAPP ‘Lovely Head’


ROLAND JUPITER 4 (1978)

One of the first affordable polyphonic synths, its four individual polyphonic voices could be synced together for one monophonic lead. It also featured a useful arpeggiator as heard on ‘Dreams Of Leaving’ by THE HUMAN LEAGUE. This 49 key instrument however lacked a CV / Gate and was prone to tuning difficulties. But it became a workhorse polysynth for GARY NUMAN, DURAN DURAN, SIMPLE MINDS and HEAVEN 17. However, its dated styling has meant it is not as well remembered as the Jupiter 8.

Iconic example of use: SIMPLE MINDS ‘Theme For Great Cities’


CRUMAR PERFORMER (1979)

This versatile Italian string and brass machine was best known for its distinctive swimmy sound as used extensively by Nick Rhodes on the first two DURAN DURAN albums. A simple three band equalizer with high, mid and low sliders was used to give the strings shimmering sparkle or moody dark timbres. A fully polyphonic 49 note keyboard, its brass capability was apparently much less impressive.

Iconic example of use: DURAN DURAN ‘Girls On Film (Night Version)’


OBERHEIM OBX (1979)

For years, QUEEN declared “No Synthesizers” on their albums before finally relenting in 1980 by using an OBX on their album ‘The Game’. Also used by JAPAN’s Richard Barbieri and ULTRAVOX’s Billy Currie, this polyphonic was the first to use individual voice cards. Available in four or eight voice configurations, this was the start of the series that would later include the OBXa and OB8. This family of instruments eventually became known for a fat, raunchy brass sound that was ubiquitous in the era.

Iconic example of use: ULTRAVOX ‘We Stand Alone’


SEQUENTIAL CIRCUITS PROPHET 5 (1979)

With five voice polyphony, two oscillators per voice and a white noise generator, this synth became very popular with acts such as OMD, SOFT CELL, NEW ORDER, GARY NUMAN and DURAN DURAN. But it suffered from notorious unreliability, due to frequent overheating issues. However, it was David Sylvian’s favourite synth as heard on JAPAN’s ‘Tin Drum’  album while his brother Steve Jansen also used it for keyboard percussion sounds on songs like ‘Visions Of China’.

Iconic example of use: JAPAN ‘Ghosts’


CASIO VL-TONE (1981)

Who could forget this? The VL-Tone had 29 little calculator-type button keys, five presets, a built-in rhythm machine (with waltz, swing, rock, samba, etc) and a 100-note sequencer. There was an LFO with vibrato and tremolo effects plus an ADSR envelope. Used on ‘Bandwagon Tango’ by TESTCARD F and unforgettably ‘Da Da Da!’ by TRIO, Phil Oakey even dragged one out to perform ‘Get Carter’ during THE HUMAN LEAGUE’s retrospective ‘Dare’ tour in 2007.

Iconic example of use: THE HUMAN LEAGUE ‘Open Your Heart’


ROLAND JUPITER 8 (1981)

Released in Autumn 1981 at a price of £3395, this was an eight voice, sixteen oscillator programmable polysynth capable of deep bass, vibrant brass and sparkling string sounds. It could also be considered Roland’s first truly high end professional instrument. Its versatile arpegiator was used by Nick Rhodes of DURAN DURAN throughout the ‘Rio’ album while it was also a favourite synth of HEAVEN 17, DEPECHE MODE, HOWARD JONES, THE HUMAN LEAGUE, OMD, CHINA CRISIS and BLANCMANGE.

Iconic example of use: DURAN DURAN ‘Save A Prayer’


SEQUENTIAL CIRCUITS PRO-ONE (1981)

The Pro-One was basically a monophonic version of the Prophet 5. There was also a simple onboard sequencer for up to 40 notes and an arpeggiator, both of which were very handy for one man bands such as HOWARD JONES. Good value at £499, as well as appearing on a number of YAZOO recordings, particularly for the bassline of ‘Don’t Go’, it also formed part of NEW ORDER’s synth armoury. It was later used by moden synth acts such as LADYTRON.

Iconic example of use: YAZOO ‘Don’t Go’


ROLAND JUNO 60 (1982)

An analogue polyphonic with digital enhancements for clocking oscillators and 56 patches of memory storage, its success lay in being able to make grand Jupiter-like sounds for just under £1000 as FAD GADET showed on ‘Under The Flag’ while A-HA made good use of it on their debut long player ‘Hunting High & Low’. And as with Roland’s other noted polysynths, it featured a great arpeggiator. Built to last, it has been a very popular live keyboard with modern acts such as MIRRORS and AU REVOIR SIMONE.

Iconic example of use: A-HA ‘Take On Me’


ROLAND SH101 (1982)

This ubiquitous single oscillator monosynth with its own digital sequencer was marketed as an entry level synth at £250. It was portable and its pitch bender could be played with via an optional handle in a keytar stylee. However, it tended to be seen as a prop in promo videos rather than actually used for real! Part of A FLOCK OF SEAGULLS’ live keyboard set-up, the SH101’s robust construction has enabled it to be carried into the modern era by XENO & OAKLANDER and VILE ELECTRODES.

Iconic example of use: OMD ‘Locomotion’


Text by Chi Ming Lai
15th August 2014, updated 9th January 2019

MAD WORLD: An Interview with co-author LORI MAJEWSKI

‘Mad World: An Oral History of New Wave Artists and Songs That Defined the 1980s’ is a brand new book that covers the music of the MTV Generation.

Written by New Jersey born Duranie Lori Majewski and LA based Glaswegian Jonathan Bernstein, ‘Mad World’ includes many of the bands that formed part of the post-punk British Invasion of the US which the Americans later referred to as New Wave. Very different from the British definition of New Wave which included acts such as BLONDIE, THE PRETENDERS, X-RAY SPEX and THE POLICE, the Stateside classification threw in Synth Britannia, New Romantics, Young Soul Rebels, Goths, Antipodean funk rockers and refugees from The Bromley Contingent!

Regardless of the seemingly incongruous acts being lumped together, what New Wave in the US did was enlighten a whole group of impressionable teenagers about a musical world that artistically and stylistically had more to offer than the turgid home grown rock of bands like BOSTON, REO SPEEDWAGON, STYX, TOTO and JOURNEY.

‘Mad World: An Oral History of New Wave Artists and Songs That Defined the 1980s’ features a foreword by DURAN DURAN’s Nick Rhodes and while not definitive, ‘Mad World’ delves into the spirit, the politics and the heartache behind some of the greatest songs in popular culture, regardless of genre.

With the publication of the book in North America and a UK edition scheduled for Autumn 2014, co-author Lori Majewski kindly spoke to ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK to give a fascinating American viewpoint on Synth Britannia and much more…

I understand that this book was partly inspired by the advent of Grunge?

Jonathan Bernstein and I met during Grunge when we both worked at Spin Magazine which in the US, used to be a real competitor to Rolling Stone, although how it’s evolved now as Rolling Stone is more of a veteran magazine while Spin is more indie.

But back then, it was neck-and-neck, a bit like how NME and Melody Maker were in the UK. I was just starting out in the business and wanted to work on a music magazine.

Unfortunately for me who grew up an Anglophile and liked electronic music, by the early 90s, electronic music was no longer in vogue and even a dirty word; it was really gauche to use synthesizers! Grunge with its guitars and feedback, it was dirty compared with the pretty electronic sound that we loved in New Wave.

I kept it to myself because I was at Spin, but then I heard Jonathan talking about ‘The Lexicon Of Love’ by ABC being his favourite record… it was like I could hear angels singing because I thought “OH MY GOD! Somebody understands that time in music!” because nobody wanted to talk about it anymore. We were kinda nerdy for even liking it, we weren’t cool at Spin. So we became best friends.

So how long has ‘Mad World’ been in the making and what has the journey been like?

It wasn’t until 18 months ago when we read an article with Gary Kemp from SPANDAU BALLET. He was talking about the song ‘True’, the story behind it, all the different influences and what the lyrics meant.

We called each other and thought “Wow! Imagine if we could do this kind of article with all of our favourite songs?” That’s how ‘Mad World’ really evolved.

We were going to do the stories behind the songs but as we interviewed the artists, it turned into so much more… it was about the songs, the journeys to making those seminal tracks, how those tracks changed their lives and how sometimes the success strangled artists. Take A-HA; when I interviewed Mags, he said “everyone knows ‘Take On Me’ but I’m like a dad with lots of kids, don’t just like one of my kids, you have to like all of them!”

We also had a cultural conversation with these artists because they talked about The Cold War and Thatcherism. There were some bands like DURAN DURAN who said they “wanted to be the band that you danced to when the bomb drops”. Others like TEARS FOR FEARS wanted to explore that darker side and the psychological melancholy, which is why our book is called ‘Mad World’.

We wanted to do it decades ago, but we could only have done ‘Mad World’ now when these artists were ready to tell their stories of their careers. Plus we had to wait until a time when this kind of music was back in vogue, because no-one would have bought it even five years ago.

How would describe the way you and Jonathan’s very different dynamics combined to produce ‘Mad World’?

Jonathan is 10 years older… he’s 52, I’m 43; he’s Scottish so he was raised on the critical British music press so he’s much more curmudgeonly while during New Wave, I was a wide-eyed American teen who couldn’t get enough of MTV. So I was a fan and he was a critic… but where we meet is we both LOVE this stuff! He loves it from a critical view and he was like “Gosh, it took me a long time to realise it but this stuff is good and influential!” whereas I just bathe in it; I love DURAN DURAN and DEPECHE MODE and built my entire life around that *laughs*

I’m particularly fascinated about how Americans regarded the synthesizer as an instrument and this frequent reference to it being a keyboard, as if there was some kind of denial about it being a real instrument?

From where I sit, I think the synthesizer is essential to my favourite records. The first big record that used the synthesizer I ever heard was GARY NUMAN’s ‘Cars’.

At that time during the turn of the decade, ’79 going into ’80 here in America, I was listening to AIR SUPPLY, OLIVIA NEWTON-JOHN and the ‘Grease’ soundtrack! My father was into WARREN ZEVON. The thing is, Americans really hated disco after a while so when I first heard ‘Cars’, it was unlike anything I’d ever heard. It sounded like the future, it sounded like the space age. You have to remember not everyone was that open and a lot of people I went to school with went “that’s not music”. And just the fact that it was called a synthesizer… it’s synthesized, it’s not real!

They thought it had no skill whereas the stuff we came up on like JOURNEY and FOREIGNER, they were bands that played guitars and it was real masculine stuff! So someone like GARY NUMAN comes along, he’s a one-man band thanks to a synthesizer and he’s wearing make-up!

You see, DAVID BOWIE was not as big in the US as he was in the UK at the time. So you put all that together and no-one here really knew Numan was pretty much born of the rib of Bowie. So people thought it was sissy stuff and uncool… and he’s wearing make-up and making synthesized sounds! So Americans were very suspicious of it.

How would you describe the impact of GARY NUMAN and THE HUMAN LEAGUE in the US during the first wave of UK synth artists?

In the Europe, you also had ULTRAVOX, OMD plus of course KRAFTWERK. GARY NUMAN was the first to really make it big and mainstream so in the US, he opened the door for all that.

But when THE HUMAN LEAGUE and EURYTHMICS came on the scene with ‘Don’t You Want Me?’ and ‘Sweet Dreams (Are Made Of This)’, I just felt “WOW! THINGS ARE CHANGING!”.

The reason we cover ‘Being Boiled’ in the book is an inconvenience of the fact that Phil Oakey didn’t want to talk to us, that was really disappointing. I was thinking “Do we even have a book without ‘Don’t You Want Me?’…?”; but then talking to Martyn Ware, he chatted about his beginnings with THE HUMAN LEAGUE. I realised ‘Being Boiled’ was the boiler plate for so many of the records that came afterwards; DURAN DURAN, OMD and Vince Clarke all talk about ‘Being Boiled’. So we may not have the story you expect with ‘Don’t You Want Me?’, but we have one of the beginning stories of the entire era.

There was still a very macho rockist attitude at the time… I recall John Cougar making some quite homophobic comments about SOFT CELL in Smash Hits!

Really? It’s interesting, as a young girl I didn’t think straight or gay, I was just thinking love. Music has such an emotional impact on you anyway but especially if you are a young person.

I just felt that music opened up my eyes and heart to things that I hadn’t previously been exposed to. And that’s why I fell in love with DURAN DURAN… yes, it helped that they were good looking but they dressed so well and they were so interesting.

But you compare that to the guy at school who may be the equivalent of a John Cougar in the jeans and T-shirt. That may work on some girls but that’s your average guy to me, whereas you had DURAN DURAN on these exotic beaches, wearing these fantastic clothes and having these great accents. And BOY GEORGE, I didn’t think if he was straight or gay, I just thought he was beautiful. At the time, boys looked like girls and girls looked like boys but it didn’t necessarily mean they were gay. SPANDAU BALLET dressed up and sometime wore as much make-up as LIMAHL did. But he said at that time, you just didn’t talk about… but he was not in the closet either.

I think we were so much more progressive back then we are now. During the Grammys this year, we had MACKLEMORE standing up for gay rights. But back in the 80s, you didn’t need a straight white rapper to do that because you had gay pop stars in the charts.

OMD are an interesting conundrum as they were part of that first wave yet didn’t make it at the time, but they then made progress later when they supported THOMPSON TWINS and THE POWER STATION before ‘If You Leave’ was a hit?

OMD are a good example of where the difference between me and Jonathan is vast. Jonathan loved them right from the beginning and really understood their KRAFTWERK pedigree.

Me? I happened by accident to get into OMD because I had tickets to see THE POWER STATION.

SPANDAU BALLET who were due to support had to pull out of the tour as Steve Norman had broken his leg! So I saw OMD with them instead and they played this song from a new movie called ‘Pretty In Pink’. I was thinking “who is this guy with the crazy dance moves?”, but I could see he was really into it and I loved the music.

So I went backwards from ‘If You Leave’ and discovered ‘Architecture & Morality’; I fell in love with the pair of love songs about Joan Of Arc and I was like “THIS IS JUST INCREDIBLE!”. To this day, OMD are definitely in my top three favourite bands. I saw them in concert this past summer and they were my favourite of the year. I still think record after record, they make fantastic music and I say in the book, if no other band existed in the genre of New Wave, I’d be happy to hang my hat entirely on just OMD and say they are a genre unto themselves because I think they are that spectacular a group!

Now, with OMD’s early stuff compared with the later stuff, I think it’s apples and oranges because with ‘If You Leave’, it’s from ‘Pretty In Pink’ which is my favourite of the John Hughes films. I have a soft spot for Ducky… which girl who grew up in the 80s didn’t? I grew up with freckles so I really loved the fact that Molly Ringwald was considered a really beautiful girl.

Until her, there were no pretty teenage girls I could look up to, so all of that is wrapped up in ‘If You Leave’. It’s definitely a part of the whole John Hughes nostalgia thing. But when I think of early OMD, I think of ground breaking seminal electronic music.

It’s interesting you feature THE NORMAL in the book, but not KRAFTWERK. KRAFTWERK seem to have made more of a cultural impact on the US urban dance scene rather than New Wave pop?

We look at KRAFTWERK as being a parent figure to this era rather then being a part of it itself. So when I think about who inspired all of these artists, it’s KRAFTWERK, DAVID BOWIE, ROXY MUSIC, T-REX and CHIC. Then you put it through the punk blender because none of these New Wave artists would have picked up an instrument if it wasn’t for punk. Bowie, Roxy and Bolan were too much on a pedestal, you could never imagine emulating them because they were true rock stars.

But when punk and KRAFTWERK came around, two things happened; punk made you feel you could do it with just three chords while KRAFTWERK taught you that you didn’t even need a band, just one piece of equipment which was the synthesizer. So that’s why there isn’t a chapter on KRAFTWERK, but they are mentioned many times throughout the book.

The chat with Peter Hook must have been quite revealing considering his Joyless Division with NEW ORDER?

Peter Hook was one of my first interviews for the book actually and he is one of my favourites, I probably talked to him about five times. He was very generous with his time, his memories and he was very candid. Some people think he’s overly angry about the situation but as he says in the book, he gave 30 years of his life to the band and he feels really burnt by it. He said it’s a divorce and as someone who’s been through one, I wasn’t married for over 30 years but I can’t imagine what it must feel like; he calls the new version of NEW ORDER “New Odour”. I really liked talking to Peter and one of the reasons is because he is proud of his legacy and loves his own music, both as JOY DIVISION and NEW ORDER.

Now, when I talked to like Vince Clarke, it was really hard to get him to talk about his own music. But once I started asking him about his heroes, he completely opened up about people like SIMON & GARFUNKEL and THE CURE. So he had no problem talking about that, but had a problem talking about his own music because it’s too close to him. Peter Hook is not like that, he is enjoying preserving his legacy and you can see that; he’s written two books on his career so far and has another on the way about NEW ORDER. I think he’s a great storyteller.

Photo by Donald Christie

Did you talk to Bernard Sumner as well?

Yes, I also interviewed Bernard but he really avoided as much as possible talking about Peter Hook and the problems they had. He said NEW ORDER’s music, particularly ‘Blue Monday’ has been passed down through the family like a gold watch, meaning people who are in their 40s and 50s have passed the music down to their teenage kids who now find it cool. The JOY DIVISION and NEW ORDER chapters are two of my favourites.

My heart hurts for Peter because I’m a very sensitive person too and I can tell that this whole situation with Bernard has broken his heart. However, this is not something that happened recently, this has been a slow boil for many years. Peter said they only shared one phone call over 35 years and that was because Bernard’s car had a flat battery and he need a lift to a gig!

This first wave paved the way for prettier bands like DURAN DURAN and DEPECHE MODE plus electro-soul hybrids like HEAVEN 17, EURYTHMICS and YAZOO in the US. Was there a big difference in these acts that made them more appealing to Americans? Was it really just down to videos and MTV?

A good video is a good video, but a great video can’t rescue a crappy song! So it was much more than that… the truth of the matter is, DURAN DURAN became as big as they are in the United States because they spent many months touring here. In 1984 on their biggest tour, they spent half the year here. So America got used to these bands whereas HEAVEN 17 never set foot here.

Martyn Ware talks about HEAVEN 17 never coming to the US and thinks that hurt them. HEAVEN 17, YAZOO and a few of the others, they appeared on video and it was so new, it got them all around the world at once. So they thought “MTV in America play videos, why do they have to see us live? We don’t need to go to Australia, we’ll send them the video!”

If HEAVEN 17 had toured and put in the time, they had the songs that would have made them big here… ‘Temptation’ had a lot of potential in the US. YAZOO were sizeable here and not just with ‘Only You’. When I was in High School, everyone loved ‘Upstairs at Eric’s’ and they played ‘Situation’ to death.

Photo by Deb Danahay

What about DEPECHE MODE?

DEPECHE MODE are interesting in that they’re really two bands… in this book, we talk about the early Vince Clarke Depeche that was really, a different group to the one that came over towards the end of the decade and sold out the Rose Bowl.

And when Vince Clarke left, they really didn’t know what was going to happen because he wrote all the songs and produced.

It took Martin Gore a few albums to step up; ‘People Are People’ was a slight hit here but it wasn’t until they really put the time in to breaking in America that they made it. In fact, their first huge hit here wasn’t until ‘Enjoy The Silence’ in 1990. To me, DEPECHE MODE and THE CURE are the Holy pair of New Wave graduates who then went into the alternative music scene and started playing stadiums. I believe if THE SMITHS has stuck it out, they would have been doing so too.

With DURAN DURAN and their sound particularly, were their disco and rock elements also a factor in their American appeal in that they were not a pure synthesizer group?

I think you’re right. I’m the world’s biggest Duranie and I have to say, I think the magic is that the five members made incredible music and were the best at what they did. Nick Rhodes was a great synthesizer player and a producer behind the scenes in putting these records together; Simon Le Bon has an interesting and unique voice;  John Taylor is a hell of a bassist who many contemporary artists look up to; you had Roger Taylor who Mark Ronson and Nile Rodgers both talk about what a strong drummer he is; and then there’s Andy Taylor who Mark Ronson says gave “a Steve Jones element” to the band. So you have this confluence of disco and synth sound with the crazy rock guitar element, it was a unique combination. With DURAN DURAN, you had the best of all worlds. You didn’t have that in SPANDAU BALLET!

Photo by Virginia Turbett

It’s interesting you say that, I briefly spoke to John Taylor once and asked him when he realised DURAN DURAN were going to trump SPANDAU BALLET and he replied “To Cut A Long Story Short”…

…he said to me that he ran out and bought that record, listened to it and was like “alright, nothing to worry about”. A thing that come across in the book is how competitive all of these groups were. Duran were super competitive with Spandau and that gets a lot of ink.

But also, DURAN DURAN were worried about ABC and John Taylor says in the book how nervous he was when ‘The Lexicon Of Love’ came out. And ABC were looking over their shoulder at THE HUMAN LEAGUE. And GARY NUMAN was competing with OMD. Back then, there was a race and ABC’s Martin Fry talks a lot about that race to put out the freshest, coolest, newest sounding record. And they were all competing in it.

They were all very much trying to come up with the next sound. So it’s interesting with ‘To Cut A Long Story Short’; SPANDAU BALLET started as a New Romantic band, then they come out with this funk dancefloor hit ‘Chant No1’, AND THEN became much more of a ballads band with ‘True’.

Look at today’s music scene… no bands are blowing up the formula between records like they did then! That’s what made it so exciting and so interesting. John Taylor went rushing out to buy ‘To Cut A Long Story Short’ because he had no idea what it was going to sound like; whereas today, when KATY PERRY puts out a record, you kinda know how it’s going to sound! And so many of today’s artists use the same producer so they do sound the same! *laughs*

ULTRAVOX who are in the book never made it in America despite their cinematic videos. Were they just too European and too old for the MTV Generation?

It’s funny, with ULTRAVOX, I think Americans had no idea where Vienna even was, so they couldn’t get into it! *laughs*

But for us Anglophiles who understood and liked DURAN DURAN and SPANDAU BALLET, it opened up Europe to us. The first time I ever went to England was to see a DURAN DURAN concert.

Nick Rhodes said the same thing about Bowie, he had never even left the country but through Bowie, he felt he could understand what it could be like to go to Berlin or Paris. In general, only 2 out of 10 Americans even had a passport and that’s true to this day. Andrew Farriss of INXS said that people in America were getting them confused and thinking they were Austrian instead of Australian! The accents couldn’t be more different! *laughs*

But Midge Ure is one of those really important driving forces of the entire movement because not only was he in ULTRAVOX, but he was a big part of VISAGE and co-wrote ‘Do They Know It’s Christmas?’ so he had to be in this book 🙂

How do you subscribe to the thought that a number of these British acts that made it huge in America were effectively softened versions of acts that came before eg DURAN DURAN with JAPAN, and PET SHOP BOYS with SOFT CELL?

I’ve never thought of PET SHOP BOYS ever as a softened version of SOFT CELL, but I can see where you’re coming from.

The first time I heard ‘West End Girls’, it blew my mind, I’d never heard anything like it before and I still haven’t. SOFT CELL’s ‘Tainted Love’ was a tremendous hit here, it’s up there with ‘Sweet Dreams’, ‘Cars’ and ‘Don’t You Want Me?’ but SOFT CELL never really followed it up here.

As far as DURAN DURAN and JAPAN went, it’s like GARY NUMAN and DAVID BOWIE. I didn’t know until years later about JAPAN because they weren’t big here. But I remember listening to them and thinking “Wow! I can really hear DURAN DURAN in this”.

Now Duran may have started out with that influence but let’s not forget about SPANDAU BALLET. DURAN DURAN may have blown them out of the water eventually, but they have Spandau to thank. If there wasn’t a Blitz Club, there wouldn’t have been a Rum Runner so if there wasn’t a SPANDAU BALLET, there wouldn’t have been a DURAN DURAN. But Duran kept it going and they’re the elder statesmen of the entire era.

I loved JAPAN but they were too bloody minded and David Sylvian was too arty to want to become pop stars…

DURAN DURAN never minded and wanted to embrace the mainstream. They were huge and maximised every opportunity whether it was videos or their good looks or the fact that they were good songwriters and musicians. They were a team and shared songwriting credits on every song.

SPANDAU BALLET broke in two because Gary Kemp was being sued by three members of the band for royalties.

DURAN DURAN never had to worry about that kind of thing. I’m really proud to be a Duranie because they’re survivors. Have you seen DURAN DURAN live?

Oh yes, several times. I didn’t see them until 1988 unfortunately, but I went to one of the 2004 shows at Wembley Arena and it is still one of the best concerts I’ve ever been to!

I was at every single one, I loved those Wembley shows! OH MY GOD! They blew me away!

This will make you laugh, one of the things about being a male DURAN DURAN fan, you didn’t admit it when you were younger. But you don’t have a problem with it when you’re older. So when me and my mate got to the Wembley gig, we thought “where shall we stand? Oh, let’s stand towards the left” because of course, that was where all the girls were… waiting for John Taylor! 😉

You’re right, guys did not admit to liking them when they were younger but now you go to a Duran concert and there tons of guys there… and they’re not just there to hold the wife’s handbag! *laughs*

Who’d have thought the majority of the acts that feature in ‘Mad World’ are still active as brands and live performers. So should these artists keep touring and how do you feel about them recording new material?

When we interviewed Andy McCluskey, he feels that a lot of bands from this era shouldn’t be doing new music because they have nothing new to say. He felt that when OMD made the last two albums, they had to dig deep to really challenge themselves to say it was not to make a quick buck off the audience. That’s why Tom Bailey has to this day not done an acoustic album of THOMPSON TWINS hits or a reunion tour because he feels he doesn’t have it in him… although for the first time, he’s going to be touring solo in the US with Midge Ure and Howard Jones.

But I look at a band like DURAN DURAN; Simon Le Bon said to me that they are “career musicians”, they would not know what to do with themselves if they did not have a tour to do or a studio to go into… they are driven to make new music.

Some people think the record ‘Red Carpet Massacre’ with Timbaland was a mistake, but it’s one of my favourites… I’m really look up to Duran because they take chances. I always say hats off to acts like them and U2 for trying new things.

Of course, I see why Duranies were so excited about the Mark Ronson produced ‘All You Need Is Now’ album because it brought them back to ‘Rio’ and that sound. As long as bands are inspired to keep going and can, they should. INXS cannot keep going; they called it a day last year and Andrew Farriss said he has a hard time writing with someone who isn’t Michael Hutchence. Imagine working with someone for so long and suddenly they’re not there anymore?

So the bands that do continue, by and large, none of them disappoint me. I like some records better than others but even if I don’t like what they produce, I love the spirit with which they produce it.

I guess the end result of this New Wave legacy in America is that there’s great cinema like ‘Donnie Darko’, but also terrible new bands like FUTURE ISLANDS…

…I’m not a huge fan of FUTURE ISLANDS either… I was on my way to do a radio interview and I could not remember what they were called, I was thinking “Fantasy Islands? No, that’s not right!” *laughs*

The thing is, when I saw FUTURE ISLANDS on ‘The David Letterman Show’, I thought it was a comedian doing a skit on what they thought an 80s New Wave band was like…

…really? That’s so funny, I can see that! *laughs*

So how do you view the long term cultural significance of New Wave?

What I do like is that the sound continues… I like CHVRCHES, I think they’re good. On ‘American Idol’ the other evening, it was ‘80s Night’ and they had DURAN DURAN on there. Even a lot of this EDM is really a direct descendant of New Wave and electronica. Daniel Miller of Mute said that he can’t stand that term EDM aka Electronic Dance Music, but it’s what New Wave sort of was.

So it continues and it’s cool that the artists we love are finally getting recognition for really paving the way 30 years ago. I mean, there was the 90s when nobody would give OMD or GARY NUMAN a record deal because people thought no-one wanted to hear that music. John Taylor said he would have crawled into a hole in the ground if it wasn’t for Nick Rhodes keeping DURAN DURAN together, because they felt so shunned by popular culture.

What’s nice, whether or not you like EDM, FUTURE ISLANDS or CHVRCHES, is they’re continuing the tradition of the artists we love and allowing them to get their proper due finally. I really hope that in the next few years, DEPECHE MODE get inducted into The Rock ‘N’ Roll Hall Of Fame. It’s about time one of these bands gets properly recognised for ushering in an entire era of amazing electronic music.

MOBY, who does the afterword in ‘Mad World’, said to you he’d have liked to have been in DURAN DURAN. I always wanted to be in OMD and still dress like Paul Humphreys circa 1981! Which New Wave band would you have liked to have been in?

This is a hard question… to me DURAN DURAN are so good at what they do, I can’t even imagine being a part of it. Do you know what I mean?

Whereas I look at a band like BOW WOW WOW, they had a female singer Annabella Lwin and I talk a lot in the book about how she was my first girl crush.

She had a Mohican and she was so freaking cool! It seems like it was a party to be part of BOW WOW WOW although you learn from the book that it was nowhere near a party and that she barely hung out with the guys! But from a distance, it looked really fun to be in BOW WOW WOW ?


ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK gives its warmest thanks to Lori Majewski

‘Mad World: An Oral History of New Wave Artists and Songs That Defined the 1980s’ by Lori Majewski and Jonathan Bernstein is published by Abrams Books

http://madworldbook.com

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Text and Interview by Chi Ming Lai
19th April 2014, updated 3rd February 2019

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