First established as an exhibition in Greenock during the Autumn of 2018, ‘From The Port To The Bridge: The Story of Thomas Leer & Robert Rental’ recently made its London debut at The Horse Hospital in Russell Square.
Released at the end of 1979, ‘The Bridge’ was the only album by Port Glaswegians Thomas Leer and Robert Rental whose respective solo singles ‘Private Plane’ and ‘Paralysis’ were among 1978 pioneering electronic independent releases which also included THE HUMAN LEAGUE, THE NORMAL and CABARET VOLTAIRE.
To launch the London leg of the exhibition which was attended by luminaries such as John Foxx, Stephen Mallinder and Brian Griffin, a special event was held featuring talk by Daniel Miller who had toured in the guise of THE NORMAL with Robert Rental as a duo opening for Ulster punk bank STIFF LITTLE FINGERS in Spring 1979. As well as loaning his still-working Korg 700s with which he made ‘Warm Leatherette’ for display, his label Mute will be reissuing ‘The Bridge’ as a white vinyl LP edition and CD via their imprint The Grey Area.
Thomas Leer and Robert Rental had met working as gardeners and shared a love of TONTO’S EXPANDING HEAD BAND. Using just two EDP Wasp synthesizers, an EDP Spider sequencer, a guitar and recording equipment provided by THROBBING GRISTLE who originally released the album on their Industrial Records, ‘The Bridge’ is considered a landmark in DIY and experimental electronic music.
As stated on the back of the cover: ”This album was recorded at home on 8 track equipment, provided for us by Industrial Records. It was produced in two weeks dating 18th June to 2nd July. All blips clicks & unseemly noises were generated by refrigerators & other domestic appliances & are intrinsic to the music.”
Comprising of a side of five songs and a side with four ambient instrumentals, the best known track on ‘The Bridge’ is the pulsating dystopia of ‘Day Breaks, Night Heals’ which found itself playlisted regularly at The Blitz Club.
Other highlights included the appropriately titled ‘Attack Decay’ which undoubtedly influenced John Foxx in his ‘Metamatic’ period, the hopeless claustrophobia of ‘Connotations’ and the spacey Eno-inspired soundscape of ‘Interferon’.
The uneasy creative tension between Thomas Leer and Robert Rental revealed itself in the eventual recordings, especially with THROBBING GRISTLE deliberately withholding their best equipment. In a short film of interviews shown as part of the evening, Chris Carter and Cosey Fanni Tutti confirmed it was all part of their mind games to ensure the Scottish pair captured the spirit of their demos and retained their own unique sound, whilst gaining an improvement in sound quality. Carter set up the equipment in the shy and introverted Rental’s London flat and with minimal guidance, let them get on with their voyage of discovery with a deadline of a week (later extended by another week) to complete the album.
It was within the THROBBING GRISTLE axis that Robert Rental had met Daniel Miller, leading eventually to the release of the ‘Double Heart’ single as MUTE 010 but in-between, they played a number of shows together and it was this aspect of the story that the conversation with Daniel Miller hosted by exhibition curator Simon Dell focussed on.
Among the amusing stories, Miller talked of how due to the touch-sensitive membrane keyboard of the Wasp, it would play by itself when overheating under stage lights while with regards to the upcoming reissue of ‘The Bridge’, how important it was not to clean the album up too much although to make it sound good on Spotify, the trick was to “compress the f*ck out of it”.
After the release of the raw ‘Live at West Runton Pavilion, 6-3-79’ one-sided album on Rough Trade, Robert Rental went on to produce the soundtrack for The Comic Strip’s 1984 feature ‘A Fistful of Traveller’s Cheques’. But despite the support of Daniel Miller to continue in music, ever the perfectionist and concerned that Mute might release material that he felt was not of the required standard, Rental retired from the industry; he sadly passed away in 2000.
Thomas Leer went on to release the album ‘Scale Of Ten’ on Arista in 1985 and formed ACT with Claudia Brücken who recorded just one long player ‘Laughter Tears & Rage’ for ZTT in 1988. After a career break, he began releasing music again in 2001.
Photo by Chris Carter
Now living in Greenock and unable to attend the exhibition launch in person, Leer was represented by an insightful new interview filmed by his brother just a few weeks before.
One of the highlights in his forthright anecdotes was his dismay at how DIY was misperceived by the too cool for school crowd as his Fairlight programming was done at home before entering the studio, making it valid as a DIY product as much his 1982 album ‘Contradictions’ on Cherry Red Records.
With records, photographs, press cuttings, film and equipment including an EDP Wasp and Boss Dr Rhythm DR55 drum machine to tell one of the forgotten stories of Synth Britannia, the pioneering legacy of Thomas Leer & Robert Rental deserves greater recognition and this exhibition provides just that.
Dedicated to the female pioneers of electronic music Clara Rockmore, Wendy Carlos, Daphne Oram, Delia Derbyshire, Éliane Radigue, Laurie Spiegel, Suzanne Ciani, Johanna Beyer, Bebe Baron, Pauline Oliveros, Else Marie Pade and Beatriz Mercedes Ferreyra, ‘The Shock Of The Future’ or ‘Le Choc Du Futur’ is a wonderful independent French film celebrating the synthesizer.
Set in Paris 1978, ‘Le Choc Du Futur’ depicts a day in the life of a young fictional female synth musician Ana Klimova, following her fortunes as she struggles with creative blocks, networking, recognition and self-doubt, while also documenting the random happenings which spark her creativity.
A Bohemian elfin-like figure in the vein of Francoise Hardy or Jane Birkin, Ana Klimova is charmingly played by Alma Jodorowsky whose own family dynasty in cinema spans three generations. Her character uses electronics to make what she considers to be the music of the future, as she attempts to make herself heard in an ambivalent and lecherous male-dominated industry with its systemic patriarchy.
‘Le Choc Du Futur’ is the first film and screenplay by Marc Collin of NOUVELLE VAGUE, a musical project that has released five albums of new wave and synth covers rearranged in a continental longue bossa nova style; songs like ‘Just Can’t Get Enough’, ‘Don’t Go’, ‘Fade To Grey’, ‘A Forest’, ‘Say Hello Wave Goodbye’ and ‘Blue Monday’ have been amongst those getting the treatment. During that time, Collin has been notable for discovering female singing talent.
One of them has been Clara Luciani who sang on NOUVELLE VAGUE’s reinterpretation of ALTERED IMAGES’ ‘I Could Be Happy’ and she plays the role of the singer who is the voice of the film’s central tune ‘Future Shock’, composed by Collin himself.
In order to keep costs to a minimum, Collin directed ‘Le Choc Du Futur’ primarily as a chamber drama. Most of the scenes take place in a city apartment which is also the home studio of a famous musician Michel Manitovski who Ana appears to be housesitting for, with the benefit that she can use his collection of expensive synthesizers.
As two of France’s major electronic exponents of the period, the music of Jean-Michel Jarre and Cerrone feature prominently at the start of the film as historical context, with Ana innocently dancing along in just her T-shirt to ‘Supernature’ before chilling to ‘Oxygene 1’ as inspiration while getting down to work.
Working as a home masseuse to make ends meet, Ana however is focussed on making electronic music like a female Jean-Michel Jarre, much to the dismay of her manager Jean-Mi who has advanced her 1000 Francs to produce music for an advertising commission that he has got her.
As far as the acting is concerned in terms of playing synths and operating modulars or sequencers, Alma Jodorowsky is way more convincing than say Andy Fletcher of DEPECHE MODE. With her expressions and eye movements, she is compelling to watch as the viewer witnesses the start-stop-start nature of electronic composition. In these scenes, it is synth porn galore, with a Yamaha CS-80, ARP 2600, ARP 1601 sequencer and Moog modular units from the IIIP and Model 10 series figuring in the gear set-up.
But it’s when Ana finds one of the modules develops a glitch and calls an engineering boffin named Herve to help, that her Eureka moment happens. He has with him a Roland CR-78 Compurhythm and when it is demonstrated to her how it can sync with her ARP Sequencer, she can foresee her own future in electronic pop! Ana pleads with Herve to let her borrow the machine and he relents, despite his request for a kiss not being satisfied.
Jean-Mi is less convinced though and when Ana enthusiastically declares her vision of “dancing with atoms”, “moving with electronic circuits” and “a dance for oscillators”, her manager sceptically snorts “I know what a stupid beatbox is for. You think it’s going to replace a live drummer? The sound? The energy? You believe there won’t be studios anymore? Musicians? There’s just gonna be this poor guy alone doing music in his home?” – well, yes!
As Jean-Mi demands the return of his advance, Ana enters an existential crisis but her fortunes change with the arrival of a session singer played by Clara Luciani who turns up for the advertisement session that our heroine has forgotten about.
Together they collaborate on some chic disco synthpop that comes over rather like CHROMATICS meeting a deeper MARSHEAUX under the influence of Galouises smoke. While stoned, they talk about using the name CHAPI CHAPO, after a cartoon they are watching! The pair decide to premiere their track ‘Future Shock’ at a party that Ana is throwing, to which Dominic Giroux, a producer from the prestigious real-life label Barclay Records has been invited.
The party goes down a storm with its hip eclectic playlist, as does ‘Future Shock’ which has all of Ana’s friends and associates dancing and applauding. But as Giroux prepares to depart, Ana nervously asks the producer for feedback, although he seemingly becomes more interested in another lady present.
Despite being told “there’s something there”, Giroux shatters Ana by dismissing her potential, stating “I’m afraid there is no market for such music in France”. In despair, her friend Paul takes Ana for a walk to assure her that her work is valid and to maintain her artistic integrity while “what matters in life is not how many times you fall, it’s how many times you get back up”.
To this end, Paul uses his music industry contacts to arrange a visit to a recording session by Corine who complete with her trademark blonde curly mane, plays a character named and based on herself in a bit of timewarp dramatic licence. Here the real life pop starlet tells Ana that the producer from Barclay doesn’t know what he is talking about and gives her encouragement to persist. Loving Ana’s concept of electronic disco, the two swap contacts in anticipation that they might become future sisters in arms.
Nominated for ‘Best Feature Film’ at the Torino Film Festival 2019, ‘Le Choc Du Futur’ captures the beauty of the synthesizer, providing a seductive and uplifting 100 minutes that offers a snapshot of a developing popular culture, while also focussing on female empowerment and passion for music. Although the film’s storyline might be a bit too basic and niche for some, it is made with love and will be immensely appealing to synth enthusiasts for its observations on the creative process and the battles against the rockist real music fraternity.
Meanwhile the soundtrack presses all the right buttons. Most will be able relate to the scene when Ana’s seasoned New York mentor visits her for one of their regular new music listening sessions and plays THROBBING GRISTLE ‘United’, THE HUMAN LEAGUE ‘Dance Like A Star’ and the cosmic collage of AKSAK MABOUL ‘Saure Gurke’ to her for the first time. However, there will be amusement as Ana gives a muted response to ‘Frankie Teardrop’ by SUICIDE which she feels is “too rock”.
While ‘Le Choc Du Futur’ does not speculate as to how Ana Klimova’s musical career may have panned out, it her story is inspirational and although it is fictional, her electronic revolution inside her head did become real.
Influenced by the experimental side of Synth Britannia and the groundbreaking electronica of Warp Records, Bristol-based Finlay Shakespeare has presented one of the most impressive releases of 2020 in his second album ‘Solemnities’.
Passionate and intense in his vocal delivery, the music of Finlay Shakespeare is strangely pop, but his modular laden backdrop will satisfy those seeking more of a colder mechanised edge. He encapsulates the spirit of early Mute Records and that’s probably just as well because he has just been signed by Mute Song for publishing.
Reference points range from THE HUMAN LEAGUE and THROBBING GRISTLE to AUTECHRE and THE FAINT, while the socially conscious lyrics recall Paul Weller during his time in THE JAM.
Also an independent musical device manufacturer via his Future Sound Systems umbrella, ‘Solemnities’ captures the balance of melody and freaky angst that was showcased live to BLANCMANGE fans who arrived early when Shakespeare opened for Neil Arthur & Co in 2019.
Finlay Shakespeare kindly took time out and spoke about the making of ‘Solemnities’, its lyrical inspiration and gave a fascinating insight into the equipment involved in the album’s realisation.
Your new album ‘Solemnities’ is rather on point in the current situation, but what had been your original concept?
The majority of material that I write, at least lyrically speaking, tends to come from improvisation, and in the case of ‘Solemnities’, recording many iterations and honing in on a finished version. I’ve always tried to capture a sense of the present when writing and recording too – I like the idea that music can form a time capsule to be listened back to. Much of the subject matter across ‘Solemnities’ is politically motivated, and how I see the UK’s current political situation affecting me and others around me.
While you have said ‘Solemnities’ has a rawer approach, it appears to be a lot more focussed and disciplined than your debut album ‘Domestic Economy’?
Hugely – this predominantly came from returning to a more conventional writing form. The base material of ‘Domestic Economy’ comes from the total improvisation of the ‘Housediet’ sessions – no re-takes, simple edits, etc. – which was then fleshed out and reworked slightly for the album.
For ‘Solemnities’, it’s been more a case of overdubbing each individual element as a track comes together. These elements may be rather spontaneously recorded, but through allowing myself to edit and arrange more deeply, the songs became more rigidly structured.
‘Solemnities’ does capture more of what you’re like on stage, how did you find opening for BLANCMANGE?
The BLANCMANGE shows were a great experience – I had been hankering for more live appearances for a while, and was lucky to be given the chance through, not only Neil Arthur, but also Jez Bernholz and Steve Malins. Playing those support slots definitely made me focus more on my live practice. How do I get this modular synth to do what I want it to do? How do I make these songs come to life on stage?
Trying to answer those questions also informs the writing and recording process to a degree. It was also fantastic to spend some time with Neil, Liam Hutton, Oogoo Maia and Adam Fuest – they’re a great bunch of people and I hope to see them all again soon.
What had got you interested in making music with synthesizers? What was your first electronic instrument?
A childhood fascination with my parents’ record collection is really what kicked all this off. LPs and CDs by JEAN-MICHEL JARRE, VANGELIS, KRAFTWERK – I wanted to know where all these sounds came from. I remember staring at photographs of their studios, intrigued by all the equipment that surrounded these pioneers.
I took keyboard lessons from a young age and was lucky enough to be entering my early teens at the height of the ‘virtual analogue’ synth boom. My first synth was a Korg Electribe EA-1 – I have very fond memories of it, but sadly sold it a while ago to buy other gear!
You founded Future Sound Systems, so would you describe yourself as electronic musician first or second, or is it all embroiled and co-dependent?
It’s very much a co-dependent thing in my eyes – I got into designing and building equipment because I felt that might be a cheaper way of acquiring more gear. On one hand, that was very much incorrect, but the learning curve (which I’m still very much following) gave me some degree of knowledge that led to the day job I have now. Many of the designs that come from FSS are dreamt up whilst I’m playing music myself, and that music often incorporates some of the equipment we design and build, so it’s very much a feedback loop.
How did you develop musically as you sound like post-punk acts such as THROBBING GRISTLE and THE NORMAL meeting Warp Records?
By the time I had exhausted my parents’ LPs, I started getting into the acts that were recording and releasing at the time – I feel lucky to have been growing up when acts like ORBITAL, THE CHEMICAL BROTHERS, DAFT PUNK etc were at their prime.
I’d drag my family to record fairs and such, buying up what I could save with pocket money and going between various artist recommendations that we’d typically get from the stall holders.
I remember hearing APHEX TWIN’s ‘Come To Daddy’ and ‘Windowlicker’ amidst all this, and those were pretty monumental in terms of showing me that electronic music still had the potential to be very different. We also had a music library local to us, which proved to be a huge resource of harder-to-find music. I’ve still got a cassette of avant-garde works by Mimaroglu, Cage and Berio which I bought at one of their sales – that was ‘really’ eye-opening stuff to hear as a kid!
You also have been very vocal about your love of the ASSOCIATES album ‘Sulk’, why do you think this record is so special?
I’ve got a great deal of respect for artists and bands who really are totally unique, and ASSOCIATES are high up on that list, particularly the partnership between Alan Rankine and Billy Mackenzie. Typically, I find myself listening to ‘Fourth Drawer Down’ more so than ‘Sulk’, but ‘Sulk’ deserves legendary status simply because there’s no other record like it. It’s truly manic in every aspect – its musicianship is frantic, the lyrics are all over the shop, and the mix sounds like nothing else. There’s also the more archival aspect where seemingly no two issues of the album are the same!
So how did your intense fraught vocal style emerge?
I’ve never really thought that much about how I sing.
What I try to do is use my vocal as a way of expressing emotion, almost to bolster the atmosphere of a track, and I guess a lot of what I’m singing about is rather intense!
There’s always the aim of doing something a little bit calmer in the future, but I’m not sure that it’ll ever happen.
The ‘Solemnities’ opener ‘Occupation’ makes a real musical as well as lyrical statement and appears to recall THE FAINT, was it inspired by personal experience?
‘Occupation’ draws from various imagined scenarios given the UK’s withdrawal from the EU, particularly how the exit has been pushed by self-serving politicians, but also how it will prevent citizens of the UK from enjoying various freedoms and privileges that are about to be removed from them. The track began life exactly how it’s heard on the album – the drums came from a really aggressive patch I had going on an ARP 2600 clone and some Serge modular equipment, so vocally and lyrically it needed to reflect that.
‘The Information’ really showcases your love of the early period of THE HUMAN LEAGUE? It undergoes a few structural changes within its four and a half minutes, how would you have constructed this in the studio?
‘The Information’ dates back to tracks I was writing back when I was finishing school, so the majority of elements here are at least ten years old! When putting ‘Solemnities’ together, I wanted to revisit some old work of mine that was never really finished, so I loaded up ‘The Information’ and wanted to see where I could take it. It’s funny how it can take more than a decade to finish off a four-minute track!
What are your preferred tools at the moment? Is it modular all the way for you?
I’m in no way a purist – I end up making a lot of hybrid configurations of synths and other gear at the studio, which I like to think lends itself to finding new sounds and getting to a place that’s a little different from using separate pieces of gear stand-alone. For example, I have a Korg MS-20 and MS-10 which I often chain together to create, what I often label, an MS-30. There’s a lot of that on the album, as well as the aforementioned ARP / Serge combo. Since running the majority of the studio’s equipment into a patchbay, I can treat the entire studio as a patchable modular-esque set-up.
At the moment, I’m trying to get deeper into the Nord G2X that I’ve had for a while – it’s a digital modular environment which is still really powerful and flexible despite being a little old now! Again, there’s a lot of G2X on the new album, but used mainly to process other sounds.
‘Second Try’ appears to play homage to both THROBBING GRISTLE and KRAFTWERK?
‘Second Try’ actually came from powering the G2X up with a ‘mad’ patch on it – that’s what’s heard at the intro, then a couple of passes of that patch get looped to form the drums. ‘Second Try’ came together really quickly, and is actually a great example of how I try to work now – still working very quickly and not spending a lot of time on things, but managing to get a lot done in that session.
The poignant ‘Crisis’ features a range of fantastic textures, one set being the impactful spacey synthetic voices, how you set about sound designing those?
‘Crisis’ came almost completely from my Elektron Digitakt sampler/sequencer. I had been booked to play a show in Nantes and was terrified about checking my modular rig in to the hold in case it never made the connecting flight. The Digitakt was coming in my hand luggage, so I had prepared this back-up improvisatory set using that and the Mutable Shruthi synth that I also use live now. ‘Crisis’ was born out of that set, using the Shruthi for the bass then the Digitakt for almost all the other melodic elements, including that pitched Mellotron choir sample.
You may be pleased to know that the modular never disappeared, but ‘Crisis’ made an impromptu premiere as the encore to that Nantes show!
You show more of your understated side on ‘Fantasy’, had this been a conscious move as part of the album’s journey?
I was definitely trying to form more of an ‘arc’ for this album – two sides of vinyl that feel they have some degree of flow to both – and ‘Fantasy’ felt right in between two relatively more energetic tracks. This track was born out of two sessions coming together – powering up the studio after the recording of ‘Occupation’ and the drum patch falling over itself, hence the pounding bass drum that runs throughout, and a long take of overdubbed feedback guitars I had recorded a few years prior. I also wanted to experiment with building up a small choir of myself, making many overdubs of the same vocal with different harmonies.
You go for an extended banging adventure on ‘She Says / Nothing Ends’ to finish, was it originally two songs that morphed into one epic track?
Almost – it was always treated as one track, but I wanted the feel of two distinct sections to it, both of which would crescendo as much as they do, almost as though they ‘could’ be two individual tracks. However, the fluttery, glitchy chords of the latter half, and the distorted vocals ‘were’ recorded as part of another separate session, and brought in on top of the near-gabber that already existed.
Who do you hope ‘Solemnities’ might appeal to?
I’ve always wanted my music to be a bridge between what I’m influenced by and something more present, perhaps even futuristic. Therefore, I’m hoping ‘Solemnities’ would appeal to fans of the late 70s / early 80s greats who may have been there at the time, as well as younger electronic music fans who perhaps aren’t so aware of all those albums approaching their 40th anniversaries.
If my work puts people on to acts like THE HUMAN LEAGUE, CABARET VOLTAIRE, SEVERED HEADS, FAD GADGET etc, then I feel that I’ve definitely done my job.
Your music is released by Editions Mego in Austria, is it still important for modern independent artists to have some kind of label support in your opinion?
Very much so. Whilst self-releasing online is easier than ever, there are more and more people doing it, and with the lack of any curation, it can be really difficult to be found as an artist. I have huge respect for what Peter Rehberg at Mego does – he releases whatever he wants to put out on Mego, there are no stylistic boundaries that he’s following, so the label is truly in line with his tastes. There’s no nonsense.
If you’re into what is on Mego, it’s likely you’ll enjoy whatever the next release is. It’s that curation that is really important for being an artist released by a label – your work becomes part of a stream that can be followed by the label’s fans.
You recently signed to Mute Song, joining a renowned family, what does that bring to you which perhaps you were unable to do when handling your own publishing?
It’s still early days at the moment, but even talking to the Mute Song team has been hugely reinvigorating. It’s a similar story with getting to know Peter at Mego better – it’s really helpful being able to send people music and get an honest response back that you know you can trust. It’s akin to the whole Bowie-ism of never being truly comfortable in what you’re doing – there were things on ‘Solemnities’ that I wanted Peter’s thoughts on, simply because I wasn’t so sure of them at first.
Having a wider net of ‘primary ears’ can only be a good thing, particularly when those ears are working with the roster of artists that are with Mute Song. From an industry point of view, I’d say I still don’t really know what I’m doing, and being able to ask for advice from such an experienced team is a huge benefit.
Where do you think you might like to take your next album?
There are already some initial sketches, but it seems that I’m trying to push the studio further, incorporating more guitars and drums into the mix, but taking the synths into more abstract territory – trying to do weirder things but perhaps make them poppy. I’ve started trying to listen to how musicians whose work I love have played their instrument, and whether I can map any of that to completely different practices. I still want to be able to play a synth the way that Andy Gill played guitar, but conversely, what happens if you have a guitar made to sound like what Ian Craig Marsh was doing in THE HUMAN LEAGUE?
What’s next for you? Is there anything interesting coming out from Future Sound Systems?
There are some really exciting collaborations in the works right now, both new and old, and I’m always striving to bring people together in the studio.
As I hinted at above, I’m really interested to see what happens when different styles and practices are brought together, and I hope I can continue that this year.
Meanwhile, at FSS, we are designing plenty of new equipment which I hope will pique other producers’ interest – there’s certainly a lot of it that I want to spend more creative time with! Watch this space!
ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK gives its warmest thanks to Finlay Shakespeare
For Bristol-based Finlay Shakespeare, his interest in synthesizers came from his parents’ record collection, with iconic music from the likes of JEAN-MICHEL JARRE, KRAFTWERK, THE HUMAN LEAGUE and JAPAN.
An independent musical device manufacturer, he founded Future Sound Systems, building modular synthesizer components, predominantly for the Eurorack format.
But with his own music, his complex modular construction and anxious theatrics were inspired by Warp Records stalwarts AUTECHRE.
With a crystal clear modular synth sound coupled to claustrophobic vocals like they were buried in a box in the manner of FAD GADGET, among those impressed was Neil Arthur who invited Shakespeare to tour with BLANCMANGE in 2019. Live, he possessed the persona of a restless IT technician, delivering a hybrid of THE FAINT, THE KILLERS and THE BRAVERY dreaming of wires rather than guitars.
The material on his debut album ‘Domestic Economy’ was initiated by improvisation whilst being recorded live, with one of its highlights ‘Amsterdam’ being an example in modern Motorik. But ‘Solemnities’ is a definite progression, offering more shape and structure than its predecessor, but maintaining a distinct post-punk anguish.
Finlay Shakespeare said on Twitter: “Many of these tracks are becoming weirdly prescient with the current situation. I hope it’ll bring some degree of comfort, but simultaneously bring about some kind of call to arms. Things have to change and soon.”
The opening track ‘Occupation’ is superb, a metronomic squelch fest about social injustice which sees an angry and impassioned Shakespeare conduct a raucous avant noise experiment in song with penetrating noise percussion and icy retro-futuristic string machines.
The following ‘Fortune’ sounds almost synthpop in comparison; rather like Daniel Miller, Eric Random, Chris Carter, Thomas Leer and Robert Rental morphed into one, it is cold enough to be credible but melodic enough to have been in the charts back in the day alongside John Foxx, Gary Numan and Dindisc-era OMD.
‘The Information’ recalls THE HUMAN LEAGUE when Martyn Ware and Ian Craig Marsh were helming the instrumentation, particularly ‘The Path Of Least Resistance’ although with more of a percussive groove.
However, as the synths starting ringing, it steadily mutates into Da League MkII with echoes of ‘Love Action’.
Moving at a more energetic pace and with Shakespeare’s honest vocals complimenting the backdrop, ‘Second Try’ makes good use of a tight pulsating bassline and synth generated rhythms like THROBBING GRISTLE reworking KRAFTWERK’s ‘The Robots’.
The banging techno punk of ‘Crisis’ is hypnotic and poignant to the current world health emergency, embroiled in a wall of thrusting energy, electronic voice approximations and screeching synths for something oddly euphoric. Its urgent on-message vocal charge isn’t far off from being an electronic take on THE JAM; an odd comment maybe but what’s not widely known is that Paul Weller was a fan of the John Foxx-led ULTRAVOX!
‘Fantasy’ is less shouty and more haunted vocally for what could only be described as an industrial ballad. The eerie electronic texturing and a multi-tracked choir of himself then mutates into a crystalline passage driven by heavy militaristic drum samples and ending with the blast of a deep synthetic kazoo section!
The metallic shiver of the frantic ‘She Says / Nothing Ends’ closes with a sub-eight minute epic. At times, it does sound like a range of crockery is being bashed in the manner of DEPECHE MODE’s ‘Shout’, but as the track builds with layers of sequenced electronics and Shakespeare’s snarling voices, it verges on being almost trippy like a banging trance version of THE FAINT.
Wrapped in a marvellous dynamic tension with a balance of melody and freaky angst, Finlay Shakespeare delivers a fresh take on the experimental side of Synth Britannia that is strangely pop, but will satisfy those seeking more of a colder mechanised edge.
‘Solemnities’ contains a captivating mixture of flavours that work well together, capturing the intense spirit of his live performances.
There are a number of acts being hailed as the new saviours of electronic pop, but Finlay Shakespeare is the real deal, a gloriously wayward soul who simultaneously is also intriguingly disciplined.
The soundtrack of The Blitz Club was provided by its resident DJ Rusty Egan and its story is more than well documented.
This vibrant post-punk scene had a flamboyant clientele who were dubbed ‘Blitz Kids’, ‘The Cult With No Name’ and ‘New Romantics’.
It became the catalyst for several bands including VISAGE, SPANDAU BALLET and CULTURE CLUB, as well as assorted fashion designers, visual artists and writers.
Rusty Egan told ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK: “I just played as much as I could fit in, it was not all disco. It was a bar and opened after work. I’d arrive 8.30–9.00pm and played all my faves till it was packed, then I got them dancing and at the end, I slowed down”.
The dancing style at The Blitz Club often involved the swaying of arms at a distance from the face like slow motion maraca shaking so as not to spoil any carefully hairsprayed styles. Meanwhile, feet movements were often impossible as the small dancefloor was often overcrowded!
With Steve Strange as doorman and fashion gatekeeper, the concept for what was initially a “Bowie Night” came together at Billy’s nightclub in Soho in Autumn 1978 in an effort to find something new and colourful to escape the oncoming drabness in the Winter Of Discontent. After a disagreement with the owners of Billy’s, the pair moved their venture to The Blitz Club.
Although Rusty Egan had been a soul boy and an active participant in punk through a stint rehearsing with THE CLASH and then as a member of THE RICH KIDS with Midge Ure, the two friends became fascinated with electronic dance music though the Giorgio Moroder produced ‘I Feel Love’ by Donna Summer and KRAFTWERK’s ‘Trans Europe Express’ album which had been a surprise favourite in New York discos and whose title track referenced David Bowie.
“There was a couple of years of punk which Midge Ure and myself weren’t too impressed with in terms of the clubs and the environment in Thatcherite Britain, it was horrible in Manchester, Birmingham and Liverpool!” recalled Egan, “So we were just trying basically to grasp the good in life, trying to be positive in a very negative time.”
Photo by Gabor Scott
Although Egan curated an eclectic playlist of available synth works supplemented with soundtracks and relatable art rock tunes, tracks were comparatively scarce in this new innovative electronic form.
So with studio time available following the split of THE RICH KIDS, Ure and Egan hit upon the idea of making their own electronic dance music for The Blitz Club, fronted by Steve Strange. Ure came up with the name VISAGE for the project and presented the demo to his then employers at EMI Records, but it was rejected!
Undeterred, the pair recruited Billy Currie from a then-in hiatus ULTRAVOX plus MAGAZINE’s Dave Formula, John McGeoch and Barry Adamson to record the first VISAGE album at the-then newly constructed Genetic Studios of Martin Rushent.
When Billy Currie toured with Gary Numan in 1979, he and fellow keyboardist Chris Payne composed what was to become ‘Fade To Grey’; it was included on the eventual ‘Visage’ album released by Polydor Records in 1980 and the rest is history, reaching No1 in West Germany!
VISAGE was the beauty of the synthesizer played with symphonic classical overtones fused to the electronic dance beat of Neu Europa and visually styled like a cross between the Edwardian dandies and Weimar Cabaret. Midge Ure remembered “it was a major part of my life and Steve was a major part of that period”.
The meeting of Ure and Currie in VISAGE led to the diminutive Glaswegian joining a relaunched ULTRAVOX who released the iconic ‘Vienna’ album in 1980. Co-produced by Conny Plank, the German always thought in terms of sound and on the title song, he imagined an old man at a piano in a desolate theatre who had been playing the same tune for forty years.
And when Billy Currie came to record his ivory parts, that was exactly the feel which Plank had engineered. It was to become a ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’ for the New Romantic movement when it was released as a single, stalling at No2 despite being one of the best selling singles of 1981, gracing the UK charts at the same time as ‘Fade To Grey’.
Having started as a “Bowie Night”, the man himself became fascinated by this emergent cult with no name that he had inspired. In 1980, Jacqueline Bucknell, an assistant from his label RCA who was also a Blitz Kid, had taken Bowie down to The Blitz Club to cast extras to appear in a video for his new single ‘Ashes To Ashes’; among the chosen ones was Steve Strange.
Utilising Roland guitar synths and an ARP string machine with a final burst of ARP Odyssey, David Bowie saw ‘Ashes To Ashes’ as an epitaph for his artistic past as he lyrically revisited the Major Tom character from ‘Space Oddity’ over a decade on.
With this, The Blitz Club had now become a mainstream phenomenon as the BBC’s ‘Nationwide’ programme sent an investigative team in, signalling a changing of the guard in popular culture with parallel scenes going on at The Rum Runner in Birmingham, The Warehouse in Leeds and Crocs in Rayleigh from which DURAN DURAN, SOFT CELL and DEPECHE MODE were to respectively gain their fledgling followings.
The perceived elitist exclusivity of The Blitz Club had partly become legend as a result of Steve Strange refusing entry to Mick Jagger for his sporting of blue jeans. Playing on this and adopting its electronic aesthetic to attract attention, five lads from Islington formed SPANDAU BALLET and initially only performed at special events which were by invitation only. Essentially becoming The Blitz Club’s house band, the quintet later scored worldwide success with a less radical sanitised pop soul sound.
Singer Tony Hadley said to ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK: “Our first album The ‘Journeys To Glory’ will always be one of my favourite Spandau albums, we were just young excited lads trying to make our mark on the world. There’s a rawness and energy on that album that is impossible to recreate. I love synthpop and still one of my favourite songs is SPANDAU BALLET’s first release ‘ To Cut A Long Story Short’.”
Not all enjoyed their visits to The Blitz Club; Billy MacKenzie notably highlighted the vapid nature of the scene in ASSOCIATES’ second hit single ‘Club Country’. But buoyed by its success, Steve Strange and Rusty Egan eventually vacated The Blitz Club and took over The Music Machine in 1982 and relaunched it as The Camden Palace, making it one of the UK’s first modern superclubs.
But the spirit of The Blitz Club still lives on and recently, there came the surprise announcement that Zaine Griff was to join Rusty Egan and ‘Fade To Grey’ co-writer Chris Payne to perform the songs of VISAGE in an audio-visual presentation at a number of events across Europe including W-Festival in Belgium.
Using Dave Rimmer’s 2003 book ‘New Romantics: The Look’ as an initial reference point and calling on the memories of Rusty Egan himself to verify whether he had actually played these songs in his DJ sets, here are 25 Songs Of The Blitz Club selected by ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK to celebrate the flamboyant legacy of that Blitz Spirit.
ROXY MUSIC Both Ends Burning (1975)
Following-up the hit single ‘Love In The Drug’, ‘Both Ends Burning’ was ROXY MUSIC’s second ‘Siren’ call. With Bryan Ferry’s stylised but anguished vocals, it was a track which laid down the sophisticated art pop trail that JAPAN and DURAN DURAN would later be pursuing. Featuring a prominent coating of ARP Solina string machine sweetened by hypnotic bass and squawky sax, ‘Both Ends Burning’ is probably the most under rated single in the Roxy canon.
Available on the ROXY MUSIC album ‘The Best Of’ via Virgin Records
With a title that was an anagram of TALKING HEADS, the New York art school combo were the inspiration for the frantic metallic romp of ‘Kings Lead Hat’ which became a favourite at The Blitz Club. Brian Eno aped David Byrne in his vocal delivery, while he was later to produce three of the band’s albums as he moved further away from art rock as a solo artist. The song was later covered by ULTRAVOX in their live sets during the early phase their Midge Ure-fronted incarnation.
KRAFTWERK reacted as they generally did to negative criticism by writing a song. A response to a review that said their motionless persona at live performances was like ‘Showroom Dummies’, the sparse eerie atmosphere was punctuated by a tight and rigid electronic drum sound that was completely new and alien, something Rusty Egan was looking to emulate. Incidentally, the count-in of “eins zwei drei vier” was a deadpan Germanic parody of THE RAMONES!
An Iggy Pop collaboration with David Bowie, the Vampiric glam of ‘Nightclubbing’ was the former James Osterberg’s commentary on what it was like hanging out with him every night. Utilising a simple piano melody and a cold Schaffel rhythm via the mechanical precision of a Roland drum machine, legend has it that Iggy insisted on keeping it, saying “it kicks ass, it’s better than a drummer”. Alongside ‘Lust For Life’, ‘Nightclubbing’ also featured in the soundtrack of ‘Trainspotting’.
Available on the IGGY POP album ‘The Idiot’ via Virgin Records
Utilising Warren Cann’s modified Roland TR77 rhythm machine, this was John Foxx moving ULTRAVOX! into the moody ambience pioneered by CLUSTER, away from the art rock of the self-titled first album and the punky interim single ‘Young Savage’. ‘Hiroshima Mon Amour’ had initially been premiered as a far spikier uptempo number for the B-side of ‘ROckWrok’. Incidentally, the ‘CC’ credited on saxophone is not Chris Cross, but a member of the art collective GLORIA MUNDI.
Available on the ULTRAVOX! album ‘Ha! Ha! Ha!’ via Island Records
LA DÜSSELDORF’s second long player ‘Viva’ was their most successful album and the title track was a regular staple at The Blitz Club. An oddball slice of cosmic space rock sung in French and German by Klaus Dinger, proceedings were aided by the dual motorik thud of Hans Lampe and Thomas Dinger. Performed with the same group of musicians, ‘E-Musik’ by Dinger’s previous band NEU! had also been a favourite at The Blitz Club, influencing the intro of the ULTRAVOX B-side ‘Face To Face’.
Commissioned by Alan Parker for the graphic prison drama ‘Midnight Express’, the noted director wanted some electronic accompaniment to the crucial chase scene of the film in the style of ‘I Feel Love’. The bassline from Giorgio Moroder’s own 1976 cover of ‘Knights In White Satin’ was reappropriated. The fruit of their labours was this Oscar winning Hi-NRG romp bursting with VANGELIS-like keyboard melodies, driven by an intense slamming and syncopated by popping pulses.
Already a fan of German music and ‘Autobahn’ by KRAFTWERK in particular, Daniel Miller’s sense of experimentation and an adoption of punk’s DIY ethic led him to buying a Korg 700s synthesizer. Wanting to make a punk single with electronics, he wrote and recorded the stark JG Ballard influenced ‘Warm Leatherette’ as an independent single release on his own Mute Records. Meanwhile, The Blitz Kids came up with their own bizarre twisting and turning dance entering a human arch to accompany it…
The late Wolfgang Riechmann is the forgotten man in the Düsseldorf axis having been in SPIRITS OF SOUND with Michael Rother and Wolfgang Flür; had his life not been tragically cut short, he certainly had the potential to become a revered and respected cult musical figure. The opening title track of his only album chimed like a Cold War spy drama before the beautifully almost oriental melodic piece imagined PINK FLOYD meeting CLUSTER over a delicate Schaffel beat.
ZAGER & EVANS’ pessimistic ditty was perfect fodder for the first VISAGE demo. Steered by Midge Ure using his freshly acquired Yamaha synths and punctuated by Rusty Egan’s incessant Roland drum machine and synthetic percussion, ‘In The Year 2525’ was perfectly resigned aural dystopia from its vocodered intro onwards. Steve Strange’s deadpan fronted the sombre tone perfectly but Ure’s vocal backing and counterpoints added that extra slice of musicality.
Available on the VISAGE album ‘The Face’ via Universal Records
One of first Japanese bands to have a Top 20 hit single in the UK was YELLOW MAGIC ORCHESTRA in 1980. ‘Firecracker’ was a cover of a 1959 composition by Martin Denny but actually released as ‘Computer Game (Theme From The Invader)’. Recorded in 1978, the parent self-titled album was noted for its use of the then brand new Roland MC8 Micro-Composer to control the synthesizers. The result was a clean, exotic pop sound that was unusual, even in the synthpop heartland of Europe.
Produced by Zeus B Held, ‘No GDM’ was written by androgynous art history student Gina Kikoine in honour of the “great dark man” Quentin Crisp and featured an array of ARP and Moog synths to signal the birth of a new European Underground. Unsurprisingly, the song gained heavy rotation at The Blitz Club. The nonchalant, detached vocal influence of GINA X PERFORMANCE went on to be heard in the music of LADYTRON, CLIENT and MISS KITTIN.
Working with Giorgio Moroder, David Sylvian submitted ‘European Son’ for the session in Los Angeles but it was rejected by the producer. Instead, the Italian offered several of his demos, of which, Sylvian picked the one he considered to be the worst so that he could stamp more of his own vision for the developing synthesized sound of JAPAN. Considered to be too avant-garde at its inception but ahead of its time, unbeknown to Moroder and Sylvian, they had just conceived DURAN DURAN!
Available on the JAPAN album ‘Assemblage’ via Sony BMG Records
THOMAS LEER & ROBERT RENTAL Day Breaks Night Heals (1979)
Originally released on THROBBING GRISTLE’s Industrial Records, ‘The Bridge’ album saw Scottish duo Thomas Leer and Robert Rental trading vocal and instrumental duties. With an air of FAD GADGET, ‘Day Breaks Night Heals’ showcased some of Leer’s pop sensibility that was later apparent in his Arista solo period and in ACT with Claudia Brücken, while Rental maintained a dark experimental presence in this slice of artful electronic blues. Robert Rental sadly passed away in 2000.
Available on the album ‘The Bridge’ via The Grey Area
Manipulating their influences like SPARKS and MAGAZINE with a very European austere, Glasgow’s SIMPLE MINDS were “underground, pulsating through” thanks to the rhythmic interplay of Derek Forbes’ bass with Mick McNeil’s synths. Charlie Burchill was now thinking beyond the sound of a conventional electric guitar while the precision of under rated drummer Brian McGee locked the glue. That just left Jim Kerr to throw his bizarre shapes and pontificate over this dark avant disco.
Having graced the UK Top 20 again with the tremendous ‘No1 Song In Heaven’, SPARKS continued their Giorgio Moroder produced rejuvenation and had an even bigger hit with ‘Beat The Clock’. Percussively augmented by Keith Forsey who was later to produce Billy Idol, Russell Mael’s flamboyant falsetto more than suited the electronic disco sound while the programmed backing meant that Ron Mael could stoically maintain his image of doing nothing.
Belgian trio TELEX comprised of Marc Moulin, Dan Lacksman and Michel Moers, with the intention of “making something really European, different from rock, without guitar”. Opening their debut album ‘Looking for Saint Tropez’ which also contained their funeral robotic cover of ‘Rock Around The Clock’, ‘Moscow Diskow’ took the Trans-Siberian Express to Moscow, adding a funkier groove compared with KRAFTWERK’s ‘Trans Europe Express’ excursion for what was to become a cult international club favourite.
From their third album ’20 Jazz Funk Greats’, the uncompromising THROBBING GRISTLE led by the late Genesis P-Orridge were neither jazzy or funky! Gloriously sequenced by Chris Carter via a Roland System-100M modular, ‘Hot On The Heels Of Love’ was mutant dystopian disco lento with a hypnotic rhythm punctuated by a synthetic whip-crack for that S&M twist as Cosey Fanni Tutti’s whispered vocals competed with pentatonic melodies and electronic drill noises!
Zaine Griff had a Bowie-esque poise was tailor made for The Blitz Club and Tony Visconti saw enough in him to produce his debut solo album ‘Ashes & Diamonds’. Featuring Hans Zimmer on synths, the title song was sitting just outside the Top 40 and earned a performance on ‘Top Of The Pops’ but the episode was pulled thanks to a Musicians Union strike. Demonstrating the song’s longevity despite it not being a major hit, it was recently covered live by American alternative rockers MGMT.
‘Being Boiled’ was the first song Philip Oakey wrote with Martyn Ware and Ian Craig Marsh for THE HUMAN LEAGUE, his bizarre lyrics being the result of a confusion between Buddhism and Hinduism while highlighting the plight of silk worms. Intended to reimagine FUNKADELIC’s funky overtones as synthetic horns, this brassier re-recorded version with fatter electronic beats was included on the ‘Holiday 80’ EP and the ‘Travelogue’ album, becoming a dance staple of The Blitz Club.
Available as a bonus track on THE HUMAN LEAGUE album ‘Travelogue’ via Virgin Records
Didier Marouani wrote the worldwide hit ‘Magic Fly’ but having left the band, Roland Romanelli and Jannick Top continued as SPACE. The rousing thrust of ‘Tender Force’ was, like ‘Magic Fly’, produced by Jean-Philippe Iliesco who later invited Rusty Egan to contribute a timbale heavy remix of this synth disco tune; he was later to begin an ill-fated business relationship with Iliesco who was named by Midge Ure in his ‘If I Was’ autobiography as responsible for putting a wedge between him and Egan in VISAGE…
Although now known as a duo, eccentric Swiss pioneers YELLO actually began as a trio of Dieter Meier, Boris Blank and Carlos Peron. Later remixed and extended, the military drum tattoo at the start of ‘Bostich’ was deceiving as an electronic throb quickly set in. This was perfect avant garde disco for The Blitz Club with a quirky range of vocal pitches from Meier while the track also included a style of speedy European rap later that was repeated on their only major UK hit ‘The Race’ in 1988.
Available on the YELLO album ‘Essential’ via Mercury Records
Electronic pop music was often seen as pretentious, LANDSCAPE had their tongues firmly in their cheeks as evidenced by ‘Einstein A Go-Go’. “The song is a cautionary tale about the apocalyptic possibilities of nuclear weapons falling into the hands of theocratic dictators and religious extremists.” said the band’s Richard Burgess, “We talked about the track conceptually before we wrote it and our objective was to make a very simple, cartoon-like track with a strong hook that would belie the meaning of the lyrics!”
Written as a B-side instrumental for The Blitz Club’s resident dance troupe SHOCK to work a routine to, ‘R.E.R.B.’ was constructed by Rusty Egan and Richard Burgess, hence the title. Burgess had been doing the linking interludes with a Fairlight on the first VISAGE album and brought in a Roland System 700 modular driven by the Micro-composer while Egan triggered the brain of the synthesized drum system that Burgess had been working on with Dave Simmons for its punchy drum fills.
Available on the SHOCK single ‘R.E.R.B.’ via Blitz Club Records
Produced by Daniel Miller, one of the first SOFT CELL recordings on signing to Phonogram was the seminal ‘Memorabilia’. While not a hit, it was critically acclaimed and become a favourite at The Blitz Club. Dave Ball’s deep Roland Synthe-Bass and klanky Korg Rhythm KR55 provided a distinctive danceable backbone to accompany Marc Almond’s souvenir collecting metaphors about sexual promiscuity. After this, SOFT CELL were signed by Rusty Egan to Metropolis Music for publishing.