Eric Random‘s role in alternative music is sometimes lost in the liner notes: here he is playing tablas on Cabaret Voltaire’s Micro-Phonies; there he is adding adding texture on the Cabs’ 2×45. He pops up as a percussionist on Psychic TV’s “Love, War, Riot,” producing and playing on the feted Some Bizarre compilation, and standing next to Nico on her tour of Eastern Europe.
That’s a resume of distinction, but the limelight hasn’t shone directly on Random very often. After some dabbling in a band and being a roadie for local heroes, Buzzcocks, he started his recording career in The Tiller Boys, a post-punk incubator that played on the same bill as Joy Division and also counted Peter Shelley as a member. Needless to say, it was Shelley, on his way from being a Buzzcock to a Homosapien, who got most of the attention.
Random’s first solo release, an EP called That’s What I Like About Me (reversing a line from a hit by The Knack that was then in the charts), was named Single of the Week by the NME in 1980. It was a promising start, but critical acclaim and commercial achievement took divergent paths. Random’s style was deeply underground, and what success he enjoyed was entirely subterranean. Subsequent releases included albums on New Hormones, Cabaret Voltaire’s Doublevision imprint and FON, as well as a smattering of tracks for Plurex and Touch. The people he connected with were more ACR than A&R, and after travels abroad his interest veered from the industrial to the Indian; the trail of recordings never leading towards the charts aimed for by label-mates like Chakk or Krush.
That isn’t to say that Random didn’t have an eye on the dancefloor. The proto-acid 12″ single, “Mad as Mankind,” recorded with Richard H. Kirk and Stephen Mallinder in 1984, was as funky as it was ahead of its time. A synthetic bass sequence and basic drum pattern provided a pulsing framework around which Random erected layers of keyboards, bass guitar, tabla and processed vocals. It was never designed to sit next to Heaven 17’s “Let Me Go,” but it was no less sophisticated.
Fast forward to 2016, skipping over tales of compilations and live work only for brevity, and Random has again set his sights on the alternative dancefloor. Words Made Flesh provides a dozen slices of exceptional dance material. The real reason Avicii retired might be that he decided he couldn’t do anything as groovy as “Phobic,” and William Orbit would probably find affinity with “Arc Light.”
The year isn’t half over, but Words Made Flesh is a serious contender for the album of the year. The acid bites of “Let It Go” are a reminder of the power of the accent in an 8-step sequence, while there is real magic in the more sinister “Go Figure” – the latter a collaboration with Stephen Mallinder. There are Eastern influences in “Conspiracy Complete” that represent a complete update of the experimental sound that came from the Cabs camp back in the 80s. Will this break Random’s pattern of excellent material being given more recognition from peers than the public? Only if there is any justice left.