A live Wire performance is always an exciting prospect. In this video, taken in London in 1985, the band is in one of its transitional phases; recreating itself on stage like a snake shedding its skin.

At this time, Wire were part of Mute Records, and their recordings were made with the help of the same producers who worked with acts like Depeche Mode. On stage, however, they were free to make their own sound, and they subverted pop conventions at every turn.

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LAIBACH
02 SHEPHERD’S BUSH EMPIRE
LONDON, 1 MARCH 2019

Photo: Marija Buljeta / AltVenger

Laibach might seem bonkers. They might even be bonkers. But there is a lot of method behind their staging of The Sound of Music.

To start with, it is in accordance with their plan that you will be seated. The band are playing theatres on this tour, so don’t get any funny ideas about moving your hips.

The evening will start with a film: in this case, a documentary about Laibach’s visit to the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea on the 70th anniversary of its liberation from Japanese militarism.

Liberation Day tracks the band as they prepare to present The Sound of Music in Pyongyang. It is the most internationalist thing in the world: a Slovenian art collective, travelling with some curious fans and their British label boss, putting on an American musical, written by the children of German Jews and set in Austria, for a film co-directed by a Latvian and Norwegian and financed by the Norwegian arts council, in the capital of North Korea.

Their visit in 2015 was not without controversy, either inside or outside of the DPRK. The right-wing press went nuts in the US and Europe. At their welcoming dinner, the representative of the official culture committee read the group some of the criticism received from his comrades. There were many, it seems, who couldn’t cope with the invitation given to Laibach to stage the country’s first Western “rock” show. Philistines raised the same arguments from both sides of the DMZ: Laibach make use of totalitarian imagery and styling; their music doesn’t fit into conventional “rock” forms; and no one can control them.

The culture committee representative, to his credit, appeared to understand that Laibach is like a fairground mirror – reflecting the viewer in ways that confound their expectations. Born in a pseudo-socialist environment, which collaborated with and confronted foreign systems in accordance with the whims of Marshall Tito, Laibach well understand how to select and position images to provoke a response.

Photo: Marija Buljeta / AltVenger

Even so, before it can be put on, the show has to be run through a number of filters: images from Korean culture that are insufficiently reverent have to go; translations have to be cleansed of South Korean idioms; the arrangement for “Arirang” must be normalised; and Nazi space ships have to give up their Maltese crosses.

The group accept these changes with good grace: the show must go on, so long as the power lines can be jerry-rigged and local busybodies can be pushed away. The collaboration works, and a sizeable but bemused audience takes in the performance politely.

The choice of the musical was to overcome the difficulty of selecting Western material that the North Korean audience would find acceptable. On paper, as one side of a cultural exchange, it makes sense. In the hands of Laibach, a band known for the low growl of Milan Fras’ vocals and martial rhythms, it sounds bonkers. In fact, it is brilliantly subversive.

The Sound of Music is one of the best known and loved musicals of all time. The film version, starring Julie Andrews, is one of the most viewed films globally. For Laibach to tackle the material makes sense on a number of grounds: they are more theatrical than “rock,” even if they make albums and appear with guitars and drums; the U-rated material invites repurposing just as readily as images from Christianity or Western political traditions; and the universal reach of the 1965 film means that the songs will be familiar wherever they go.

In fact, a careful balance is achieved between corruption and conformity: the performance is largely faithful to Rodgers & Hammerstein’s songs, while the use of propaganda graphics and Fras’ distinctive voice mine at the foundations of standard expectations. Idealisation of states, they seem to say, isn’t much different than idealisation of states of mind.

Photo: Marija Buljeta / AltVenger

The most significant change to the material is a tweak to ask, “How do you solve a problem like Korea?” Fras hasn’t changed his typical head-dress; but, in the context of this performance, it takes on the resemblance of a nun’s veil.

The band are joined for this performance by Boris Benko and Marina Mårtensson, who both performed on the album version of the show. They add striking vocals that contrast with and complement Fras’ own.

After the intermission (this is theatre and not a standard “rock” show, remember), the band returns to play a number of songs from the back catalogue. Mårtensson leads them onto the stage for a belting version of “Sympathy for the Devil,” her hair seemingly expanding as the song goes on.

There are some songs from their early days, which make good sense in the confines of a theatre. You can’t dance to them, but you would have fun trying.

The show comes to an end with some material from the Iron Sky movies, completing the conceptual arc from a film about music to music from films. Fras exchanges his head-gear for a cowboy hat, which he tips to hoots and hollers from the audience: for certain, subverting music genres is one of their favourite things.

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Nash the Slash was an original. Wrapped in bandages, like a mummified prog guitarist, Nash toured with Gary Numan and Iggy Pop and played along to silent films. With a drum box and electric violin, he fired up alternative music crowds with horror imagery and pulsating, processed riffs.

The man inside the mask, Jeff Plewman, died in 2014, aged just 66. He left behind a legacy of music that spanned film soundtracks and pop music, experimental works, and innovative songs from an alternative jukebox.

Nash is the subject of a forthcoming documentary film, And You Thought You Were Normal. The producers, Tim Kowalski and Kevan Byrne, took some time to speak with us about the details they have disinterred.


Nash was raised to prominence by Gary Numan, and he was loved by the electronic music scene, but he wasn’t a synthesizer artist. Why do you think that he was so adored by that scene?

TIM: Nash crossed a lot of boundaries as an artist. He was classically trained, but he made new sounds with conventional instruments in a world infested with guitars – which was very unconventional and punk-as-fuck in spirit. Combine that with the dark imagery and the theatrics, and it’s no wonder Nash ended up meeting with artists like Gary Numan at the fork in the road between rock and futurism.

KEVAN: It’s true that he wasn’t an electronic musician in a pure sense. He played synths on many of his recordings – usually a Korg Poly 6 and Roland D-50 – but overwhelmingly his music centred on electric violin and mandolin which were heavily processed through fuzz boxes and tape delays. He also used drum machines extensively in the early days, and the only other musicians using those at the time were post-punk bands or bands that were entirely synth-based, like Human League, etc.

There were strong electronic music influences on his music. He was a big fan of Kraftwerk, as well as early Tangerine Dream and Hans-Joachim Roedelius, and very much influenced by Eno, as well. I think some of those elements must have resonated with electronic music audiences.

Like Fad Gadget, Nash was a bit of an outsider. What do we know about the man beneath the bandages? Was he like the character he created?

TIM: Nash was the definition of outsider. A proto-nerd, if you will. He had a deep fascination with the macabre, lived in a movie theatre, and wrote scores for silent films that were shown there. Like many great artists, Nash had a complex character with many contradictions. He had a duality in his day-to-day persona, which – oddly enough – I think was amplified with the bandages.

KEVAN: Nash was a real dichotomy. His inner life was volatile and chaotic, and he remained intensely private until his death. The bandages reflected the mystery of his personal life, which was in some ways unknown to his family and friends.

He was generous and patronly, acting as a mentor to some, but could also be vindictive and petulant. His individuality and fierce independence made him an outsider.

His music fell across genres. He rejected the music industry; and he combined performance art and popular culture, which put him at odds with the world.

Besides working with Gary Numan, Nash toured with Iggy Pop and recorded with Steve Hillage. Are you planning to capture their memories?

TIM: I interviewed Steve Hillage at his studio in London. He was very gracious and forthcoming. Gary Numan also did an excellent interview with us last year when he was in Toronto. We’ve tried getting Iggy but we haven’t been as lucky.

KEVAN: We’re still hopeful that we can get an interview with Iggy, as a big fan. We also want to interview Bill Nelson, Laurie Anderson and – at the top of the wish list – Brian Eno. Nash reportedly met Eno whole recording “Dance After Curfew” with Daniel Lanois.

What are your plans for the film, once it is completed?

TIM: We intend to shop for distribution and are looking at some festivals. We hope to have the film released late 2019.

KEVAN: Dream release date is Halloween 2019!

You have been provided with some one-of-a-kind Nash instruments to help raise funds for the film. What is the story behind them?

TIM: We have been very fortunate to work with Trevor Norris, Nash’s good friend and holder of his estate. Trevor believes in this project and wants Nash’s story to be told, so he’s donated some one-of-a-kind items to us to fund this film. We have Nash’s bat violin that can be seen on a late 70’s TV appearance. We also have one of Nash’s sawed-up violins. Neither are playable, but they really are beautiful. We had 3 bows but they were claimed immediately.

KEVAN: One of the most interesting rewards is a never-before release of Nash’s first live performance (as Nash The Slash) at the Roxy Theatre in 1975. He played a live accompaniment to the Brunel silent film Un Chien Andalou. This was pre bandaged Nash.

Nash had a keen interest in visual art. Is there any material that he created himself in the archives? Will we get to see it?

TIM: Very true. Nash was very visual, had a long history of working with great artists, was a photographer, and had a very hands-on approach to creating his live shows. This extended into his home life. He had a doorway to nowhere in his garden and he did start to paint later in life.

Nash’s early photos from his days at the Rockpile, like Toronto’s Filmore, are being featured at the Masonic Temple and may come out in a book.

KEVAN: The most notable visual archival materials are the photographs that Nash took in the late 60s at the Rockpile (later named The Concert Hall/ The Masonic Hall). There are pictures of blues artists like Howlin’ Wolf and Muddy Waters, as well as rock legends, such as Led Zeppelin, The Who and Jimi Hendrix, all of whom were playing for the first time in Toronto.

How can fans help to support the project?

TIM: Please support us at: https://igg.me/at/youwerenormal.

KEVAN: we are running a crowdfunding campaign, and we are about 28% of our way to our goal of $50,000. There’s time left to hit our goal, so anything towards that is enormously helpful. Apart from that, like and share our posts on social media!!

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Shine On: Colin Newman

by coldwarnightlife

Colin Newman describes himself as the spotty boy at school, who had trouble with the local Wiltshire bullies. His escapes were listening to Todd Rundgren’s “A Wizard, a True Star” in his bedroom and close-reading of the weekly NME with Desmond Simmons. Together with Simmons, he started a duo that never performed outside of his friend’s living room but gave him the confidence to start a life in music.

Newman left Salisbury for art school in Watford, where he fell in with a band led by George Gill. One day, the band had to rehearse without Gill, who had broken his leg, and discovered that they sounded a lot better without their principal songwriter. Gill’s leg recovered but his musical standing didn’t, so the band went on to become Wire (and, for a time, Wir). Newman’s role in the band has evolved from rhythm guitarist and lead vocalist to include production duties, leveraging the skills that he has honed working with other artists and making solo recordings during Wire’s periodic hiatuses.

Wire has never been a monoline undertaking. Although originally pigeon-holed as a punk/new wave act by the press, the band’s intellectual genealogy owes as much to Marcel Duchamp as Malcolm McLaren: its art school roots occasionally break through the surface as experimental composition and performance art. However, while other band members tested the limits of sound and the subversion of expectations, Newman often found himself exploring the practical side of the industry, including independent distribution (Post Everything), recording (Swim~) and performance (Drill Festivals). Besides Wire, Newman maintains a separate recording project, Githead, together with his partner, Malka Spigel (ex-Minimal Compact), composer Robin Rimbaud (aka Scanner) and Max Franken (also ex-Minimal Compact).


10. Colin Newman – Alone

Newman’s “Alone,” a track from his first solo album, 1980’s A-Z, made a high-profile appearance in the movie, Silence of the Lambs, where it served to set the atmosphere for a scene showing the house occupied by the crazed Buffalo Bill. The brooding, dark tone of the song was drawn out for a cover on This Mortal Coil’s Filigree & Shadow, but the original track still sets the bar for nervous anxiety.


9. Wire – Dot Dash

Written together with Graham Lewis, “Dot Dash” captures Wire’s early aesthetic: short, sometimes snarled, but entirely infectious and hovering on the border between pop and punk. Released as a single in 1978, its chorus is a Morse code message from the future. The single filled the gap between the Pink Flag and Chairs Missing albums, acting as a bridge between the taught, Spartan style of the former and more open, expansive leanings of the latter.


8. Colin Newman – & Jury

Newman’s solo work yielded three albums between 1980 and 1983. The first of these, A-Z, has been characterised as the Wire album that would have followed 154, but for Bruce Gilbert putting the band on ice. While Newman’s songs could have slotted into the Wire groove, there is a question whether the band could have agreed on them. 154 reflected a growing tension within the group, reinforced by the need to subvert expectations, and the songs on A-Z are leftfield art/pop held within a relatively conventional framework. They remain strong compositions – much stronger than some of the material on 154 – and there is something to be said for them having been aired in Newman’s own space.


7. Parade Ground – Moans

Newman helmed Parade Ground’s “Moans,” and the sound of this track clearly owes something to his studio performance. Part of the Brussels scene of the 1980s, in which Newman became immersed, Parade Ground crossed Joy Division with Fad Gadget, maintaining a po-faced look and sound that contrasted with the commercial excesses of the times. Newman adds vocals, keyboards and guitars here, and the result is a certified indietronica gem.


6. Virgin Prunes – Decline and Fall

After Wire hit the wall, following a disastrous tour supporting Roxy Music in 1979, Newman turned to his solo work, but the lure of production and the need to make a living led him into a studio chair for the first album from Virgin Prunes. Rough Trade had talent-spotted the Irish post-punk outfit and wanted something quite specific and quite general: “A pop record,” is what Rough Trade boss Geoff Travis asked of Newman. He found the task challenging, as the Prunes were desperate to avoid any comparisons to another Dublin outfit then gaining attention: U2. It didn’t help that one of the guitarists was The Edge’s brother. Newman described himself “bludgeoning” the Prunes into releasing “Baby Turns Blue” as a single, but the song he has expressed the most appreciation for was “Decline and Fall,” an album track.


5. Wire – Drill

Poor Suzanne Summers didn’t know what had hit her when Wire performed on NBC’s The Tonight Show in 1987. The most Establishment entertainment programme on American television was usually hosted by the comedian, Johnny Carson. On the night Wire played a musical slot, Summers was in the host’s chair and Wire were touring “Drill” – so that’s what they played. Based on a riff from early punk-tinged hit, “12XU,” which had been abstracted into a repetitive framework that could stretch to 30 minutes in performance, a key vocal element was the onomatopoeic, “Dugga dugga dugga.” Summers was complimentary, but she would have known that the audience at home, watching from their Sealy Posturepedic beds, must have thought that the band had landed from outer space.


4. Minimal Compact – My Will

Brussels has played an interesting role as the cradle for a lot of alternative music. For a long time the home to Tuxedomoon, the birthplace of New Beat and the centre for many EBM artists, such as Front 242, the city was also the base for the Crammed record label. Minimal Compact were part of that scene when they wrote off to Newman – legend has it, at the suggestion of Daniel Miller of Mute Records – to ask him to produce them. They had already hit the US college radio sweet spot with “Next One Is Real,” and Newman found he had a number of shared interests with the band. One thing led to another, as they say, and Malka Spigel became his life and musical partner.


3. Githead – Take Off

The Githead project was intended as a one-off live arrangement, for the tenth anniversary of Newman’s Swim~ label, but it sparked an interest that has kept it going for four albums. Although part of its work will sit comfortably to Wire fans, Githead has its own sound and feel, and the sense of familiarity comes from Newman’s voice rather than from a derivative style.


2. Immersion – Metal Sea

In the 1990s, Newman became interested in the prospects of electronic dance music and home recording. One of his projects was Immersion, which became an avenue for exploring ambient and dancefloor-oriented tracks together with Malka Spigel. The time spent working on this material helped to refine his recording skills, which led to a critical reappraisal of the production of Wire’s 1980s recordings and set the stage for Newman to exercise greater control over the band’s future studio sound.


1. Wire – Pink Flag

If Wire has a signature song, it is “Pink Flag.” The title track from their first album is an apocalyptic vision for the New World, rendered in two chords, with lyrics that read like a late-twentieth century Book of Relevations. Like a club track, it breaks down and builds up to an ecstatic release, but one that is delayed for as long as the band keep hitting E. “Pink Flag” has been performed as a minimalist composition and a wall-of-sound with a massed guitar collective, but the anchor is always Newman’s vocal contribution, imbued with more determination than menace.

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yazooBorn in the suburb of South Woodford and raised in Basildon, Vince Clarke could have ended up as a cab driver or worked at Ford’s Essex plant, but instead he founded three of the world’s most successful pop groups: Depeche Mode, Yazoo and Erasure.

It was his charismatic, blue-eyed friend, Robert Marlow, who was expected to make it big amongst their Basildon contemporaries, but Simon & Garfunkel fan Clarke proved to be more adept at writing sparkly pop songs. He turned underemployment to his advantage during the early days of Depeche Mode, programming future hits into a sequencer on the sofa or practicing keyboard riffs with headphones on (to avoid annoying his mum).

Today, he lives and works in New York, surrounded by one of the world’s greatest collections of vintage synthesizers, and is revered as the musical genius behind more than three decades of chart-bothering electronic pop hits – from Depeche Mode’s “Dreaming of Me” in 1981 to the latest Erasure album, The Violet Flame.

Along the way, Clarke’s interests have broadened into ambient soundscapes, soundtracks and remixing work. In 2012, he released Ssss, an album of techno-driven instrumentals, with his former Depeche Mode bandmate, Martin Gore. The same year saw a 10 CD box set, The House of Illustrious, compiling more instrumental works – many of them designed for art galleries and dance companies – with Heaven 17’s Martyn Ware.

vinceandericHaving settled into the Erasure groove thirty years ago, it is almost forgotten how the ambitious but impatient Clarke left Depeche Mode just as they were on the cusp of world domination, or that his working relationship with Alison Moyet was so difficult that Yazoo’s second album was recorded in separate studio sessions. Of the latter experience, Clarke told an interviewer from Songfacts, “It was sad, but I don’t think we could have continued working together without probably strangling each other.”

A natural collaborator who likes to work alone; a synthesizer master who composes on acoustic instruments (guitar or piano) – Clarke is a man of contradictions, and some of his best work arguably has been generated by the tension between his pop instincts and the contrasting styles of his musical partners.

 

10. West India Company – Ave Maria

Blancmange was a duo that came to prominence about the same time as Depeche Mode. They became friendly with Clarke through supporting Depeche on their Speak & Spell tour. In the summer of 1984, Blancmange’s Stephen Luscombe put together this East-meets-West fusion track under the name, West India Company, with vocals being provided by the popular Bollywood singer, Asha Bhosle (who was later name-checked in a popular song by Cornershop). It was recorded at Splendid Studios, set up with Eric Radcliffe on the site of Blackwing Studios, where he worked following the break-up of Yazoo. Clarke set to work with his Fairlight CMI synthesizer, getting credit on the sleeve for “pyrotechnics.”

For the technically-minded, it will be of interest that, in the same year, Clarke showed off the capabilities of his Fairlight CMI for Electronic Soundmaker and Computer Music magazine. His presentation included samples of tablas recorded with percussionist Pandit Dinesh, who had contributed to West India Company’s recording.

 

9. Billy Ray Martin – Sweet Suburban Disco (Vince Clarke Mix)

Former S-Express and Electribe 101 vocalist, Billy Ray Martin, pulled in Clarke for a remix of her 2011 solo single, “Sweet Suburban Disco.” With Erasure, Clarke has perfected the adaptation of the disco template to contemporary danceable pop, so he would have been an apparent candidate for remixing duties. Less obvious was his match-up with Happy Mondays, for whom he provided one of the remixes of “Wrote for Luck” (the other coming from Paul Oakenfold) that signaled the transformation of Manchester indie into the Madchester rave scene. Clarke has been selective about his remixing assignments, but he almost always finds the sweet spot that infuses a great song with dancefloor magic.

 

8. Dome – To Speak

Dome was the experimental project of Bruce Gilbert and Graham Lewis, on hiatus from their roles in Wire. Their output features little by way of melody or traditional song structure, but Clarke appeared on their fourth album, Will You Speak This Word, as the operator of his rare and expensive Fairlight CMI synthesizer. The story goes that Clarke didn’t feel comfortable turning over his Fairlight CMI to Gilbert and Lewis, fearing it could be messed up by inexperienced operators, so he found himself on the album as a manipulator of sounds. This track also features the voice of his then-girlfriend, Deb, who was one of the prime movers behind the Depeche Mode and Yazoo Information Services.

 

7. Absolute – T.V. Glare

After the break-up of Yazoo, Clarke set up his own record label, Reset Records, together with the owner of Blackwing Studios, Eric Radcliffe. The artists released on Reset included Robert Marlow, Peter Hewson, Hardware and Absolute. Robert Marlow was the best-known of the Reset stable, but his Clarke-produced album, The Peter Pan Effect, didn’t see commercial release until 1999. Absolute’s effort is in a similar vein, and is interesting for the recognisable sounds and accents that were extracted from Clarke’s equipment.

 

6. Vince Clarke & Paul Quinn – One Day

“One Day” veered from Clarke’s usual formula. It was sung by Paul Quinn, the singer from Bourgie Bourgie, and incorporated a synthetic string sound that is a rare reminder of Clarke’s childhood violin training. The Cold War-influenced video featured the unlikely image of Clarke holding a semi-automatic rifle and manning a border post. The single just dented the Top 100 on its release in 1985, but its moody, brooding feeling has made it an enduring favourite for fans of Clarke’s music.

 

5. The Clarke & Ware Experiment – House of Illustrious (Extract Three)

In 1999, Clarke released Pretentious with Martyn Ware. A second collaboration appeared in 2001, Spectrum Pursuit Vehicle. In 2012, a box set of their joint work appeared, gathering both albums and adding to them no less than eight CDs of material accumulated from commissioned works. Clarke has described the early Human League albums, before Ware left to start Heaven 17, as key influences on him, which showed how electronic music didn’t have to be emotionally cold.

 

4. Erasure – Stop!

The project with which Clarke has been most closely associated for three decades, Erasure, was not initially a great success. Andy Bell, a women’s shoe salesman, auditioned for Clarke, producer Flood and Mute Records boss, Daniel Miller, after dozens of other singers had been rejected. Their first album together, Wonderland, made it into the lower rungs of the Top 100 in the UK, but the band’s first three singles failed to achieve the commercial success or reap the critical praise that Yazoo had won. Touring and refinement of their sound built up Erasure’s profile, and a string of chart-topping releases firmly established them as a world-class act.

The Crackers International EP came out in time for Christmas in 1988, sporting a sleeve inspired by a Soviet propaganda poster and led by a high energy track that has become a crowd favourite. With its bright, synthetic brass and seasonal bells, pulsing synths and layered vocals, it’s iconic Erasure.

 

3. The Assembly – Never Never

Clarke’s original plan for The Assembly was to record an album of songs with different vocalists – a concept that doesn’t sound dissimilar to the British Electric Foundation project of future collaborator, Martyn Ware. Together with Eric Radcliffe, Clarke worked out a scheme for the album, but they were reportedly defeated by the complex licensing and exclusivity practices of the recording industry. The only material to make it to release was 1983’s “Never Never,” which featured The Undertones’ vocalist, Feargal Sharkey, and the instrumental B-side, “Start Stop.”

2. Depeche Mode – Puppets

Everyone has their own view on Clarke’s work with Depeche Mode, which makes it difficult to pick out just one song. While “Just Can’t Get Enough” has become a mainstream classic, more experimental works from Clarke’s time with the band, like “Shout” and “Any Second Now,” have their own appeal. There are some who would argue that “Ice Machine” should have been the A-side of their first single, instead of “Dreaming of Me,” while debate continues whether the version of “Photographic” that appeared on the Some Bizarre compilation was better than the one on Speak & Spell. We selected “Puppets” because it captures the essence of the sound that Clarke designed for the band: simple, repetitive phrases building into elegant, interlocking sections, allowing room for Dave Gahan’s vocals to breathe. They took a different direction when he left, leaving fans to dream of what might have happened if he had stayed.

 

1. Yazoo – Softly Over

Given the fractious relationship between Clarke and Alison Moyet during the recording of You and Me Both, one might think that there is a reference to their working arrangements behind the opening line: “It’s over, there’s nothing more to say.” Actually, this song is a sweet story of love passing beyond reach, in which the warmth of the electronics contrasts with Moyet’s pained, blues-tinged vocals – just the combination that made an ex-punk and a Simon & Garfunkel fan such a potent combination.

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Daniel Miller is best known as the owner of Mute Artists (formerly Mute Records, but the original name didn’t come with the sale by EMI) and as The Normal, the artist name used for the release of “TVOD”/”Warm Leatherette.”

The son of Austrian refugees, Miller grew up in North London with a love of Kraftwerk, Can and Neu! and worked as a DJ before buying a Korg 700s and recording his first single. Modest and uncomfortable in the limelight, Miller performed as The Normal with Scottish electronics pioneer, Robert Rental, but found himself happier in the studio and working behind the scenes with his record label than standing on the stage himself.

He discovered and propelled the careers of Depeche Mode and others, but over the years has also been seen lending a technical hand to Thomas Dolby and Soft Cell or producing The House of Love. Miller still records as Sunroof! with his close friend and Mute producer, Gareth Jones.

To launch our new feature, Shine On, we’ve picked out a number of songs to reflect the breadth of Miller’s work as a producer, composer and performer. The constants are a well-developed sense of arrangement, an instinct for unique sounds that are often detuned or shaped in unexpected ways, and a feeling for driving rhythms. These reflect his Krautrock influences but also the effort that comes with closely reading the manuals to his collected synthesizers and then throwing them away.

10. Missing Scientists – Big City Bright Lights

The synthesizer credit on this 1980 release is granted to one “Jacki” and a co-production credit on the A-side goes to “Larry Least,” but both are pseudonyms for Miller. “Jacki” was one of the mythical players in Miller’s Silicon Teens fantasy pop group, while “Larry Least” was a name he adopted as a reference to the producer, Mickey Most.

The reggaetronica style is one that is not commonly associated with Miller, though he was later to contribute to On-U Sounds’ legendary Pay It All Back compilation a few years later.

9. Voice of Authority – Fuh Fuh

When On-U Sound released their first sampler album, Pay It All Back, in 1985, it cost the same as a single and was packed with the juiciest reggae/experimental tracks from Adrian Sherwood’s burgeoning stable of artists. It also contained this short and peculiar composition by Miller, featuring early sampling technology.

8. Thomas Dolby – Radio Silence

In the early 1980s, it was known that, if an artist needed help with some complicated synthesizer set-ups, or the use of a Synclavier, Miller was the go-to person. He did production work with Soft Cell, but less well known is his contribution to this 1982 Thomas Dolby song.

7. Alex Fergusson – Stay with Me Tonight

Another 1980 production effort credited to “Larry Least,” this single from Alex Fergusson (Alternative TV, Psychic TV) is clearly programmed/performed by Miller. At the time, Ferguson was experimenting with the move from punk to electro-pop, a path charted by Mute Records. This single appeared on the Red Records label.

6. Silicon Teens – Sun Flight

Miller’s Silicon Teens project was, for the most part, a series of covers of rock standards, like “Memphis, Tennessee” and “Just Like Eddie,” but it also yielded a couple of original Miller compositions. “Sun Flight” is the one that gets remembered best, as it combines themes of space travel and synths in a way that was not totally dissimilar to a later Mute release, “Fred vom Jupiter” by Die Doraus und Die Marinas.

5. Fad Gadget – Lady Shave

The strength of Miller’s songwriting and production work came out most strongly in his work with Frank Tovey (aka Fad Gadget). Miller took songs written by Tovey and turned them into brooding electronic classics with the menace of punk but a style of their own. The early Fad Gadget singles became an outlet for Miller’s creativity, where he could stretch his one-fingered compositional style to the limits.

“Lady Shave” is an exceptional song from a number of standpoints: the sequenced bassline that carries the song is electro-minimalism incarnate; the studio itself is played to generate tones based on an electric shaver; and the unconventional top line is distinctively Miller.

4. Duet Emmo – Or So It Seems

The most achingly beautiful pop song ever made, we’ve called “Or So It Seems” before, and this collaboration between Miller and Wire refugees, B.C. Gilbert and Graham Lewis, shows Miller at his one-fingered best. Lewis’ vocals are like threads of glass spun around the core of a grumbling bass-line and bells, but the build-up and release of tension in the song is 1982 shot-through.

3. Sunroof – Hero

Miller’s occasional project with Gareth Jones, Sunroof has largely been responsible for covers of Krautrock classics, like this legendary Neu! track. The vocals here are provided by the extraordinarily beautiful Alison Conway, who has appeared as A.C. Marias on Mute and made a number of videos for the label.

2. The Normal – TVOD

If you put out a record by yourself, while living in your mum’s house, the last thing you’d expect is for it to be covered by Grace Jones and adopted as the title for her album. Such was Miller’s luck with “Warm Leatherette,” which Jones’ producer probably heard played by DJ Rusty Egan at the Blitz club.

An attempt to make punk music with synthesizers, “TVOD”/”Warm Leatherette” came out in 1979, while the DIY spirit was still strong, and it is the springboard for everything that followed. We’ve picked “TVOD” for this list, because it gets less attention but shows off techniques like tape cut-up that link the single to the industrial scene that was taking shape at the time.

1. Depeche Mode – Shout

The influence of Miller on early Depeche Mode is very clear from their recordings. While a major label would have polished their sound and image beyond recognition, Mute and Miller brought out the experimental side of the band and gave them room to explore sounds and rhythms that were less obviously commercial. One of the best examples is on this B-side to 1981’s “New Life,” which is driven by sequenced drum-like sounds and the simplest synth line ever.

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Claes Bang will be immediately familiar to television viewers from his role in the series, Bad Sisters. In that context, he played an abusive douche who managed to insult everyone around him. The Danish actor also starred in The Square, Ruben Östlund’s Oscar-nominated film about a thoughtless curator. The problem-ridden characters played by Bang might not generate much sympathy, but his musical side-line is more endearing.

This Is Not America is Bang’s studio project. He has recorded a number of tracks together with Marina Schiptjenko (Page, BWO, Vacuum), with whom he worked on The Square. A real-life gallerist at Stockholm’s prestigious Andrehn-Schiptjenko, she also has some musical side-projects, including the Riviera-tronica duo, Julian & Marina. The two clicked, and Schiptjenko joined Bang to record several tracks in a Danish studio.

(Photo: Lis Kasper Bang)

The latest EP from This Is Not America includes one solo track from Bang and two together with Schiptjenko. This one is not a million miles from the Pet Shop Boys; particularly in the chorus.

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Sweden’s legendary act, Twice a Man, have released a tour of their output between the years 1982 and 2022. The material is collected on Songs of Future Memories, a 3-CD compilation from Germany’s Dependent label, with two new songs and thirty-two from the band’s extensive back catalogue. The physical edition also includes a 72-page hardcover book with notes from Ecki Stieg.

The importance of Twice a Man to Swedish and European pop and theatrical music cannot be overstated. From the point at which they transformed from Cosmic Overdose, at the insistence of New Order’s promoter, the band has led from the front; both in terms of their styling and in their messages about the social and natural environment. They might have changed their name, but the group – organised around the core of Karl Gasleben and Dan Söderqvist – didn’t give up their affinity for psychedelic soundscapes or explosions of surrealistic energy. Instead, they set up structures within which new sounds could be formed and social concerns could be channelled.

As this compilation shows, Twice a Man have taken a much wider perspective than many of their peers; adapting to the shifting sands of fashion while maintaining a Brechtian distance that prevents them from being pigeon-holed. Are they prog or new wave? For the theatre or the dancefloor? Do they look at internal psychology or social movements? The answer is: any and all of the above, depending on the moment. There is no one truth about Twice a Man, but there is an organising principle to their material: it isn’t like anything else.

From the proto-techno of “Russian Tractors” to the pulsing symphonic movements of “High in the Clouds,” this collection is a master-class in European electronic music. Spanning forty years of work, Songs of Future Memories draws on an exceptional tradition of experimentation and composition. The two new songs presented here, “Lotus” and “Dahlia,” emerge from that crib impressed with a unique inheritance. Twice a Man remain a work in progress.

 

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Kanga – Home

by coldwarnightlife

The latest album from Kanga, You and I Will Never Die, comes out on 26 March 2023. Until then, we have this to dance to: a charged, sleek-but-dirty electronic instrumental and vocals that remind one of Curve at their best.

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The departure of Ian Craig Marsh and Martin Ware from the Human League was engineered by their record company and manager to allow the act to develop in more commercial directions. The first two albums from the Sheffield-based electro pioneers had been received with enthusiasm by the cool crowd, but they weren’t paying the bills back at Virgin HQ by themselves. A plan was cooked up, therefore, to kick Ware out of the band he had created and have it continue based around the singer he had brought in.

Let me glow

To his credit, Marsh was prepared to follow Ware out of the door. Instead of creating a new version of the League, they diversified. First, they went into music production, setting up the British Electric Foundation as a vehicle for working with other artists. They also founded their first “client.” Heaven 17, with a mate of theirs who was working as a snapper in London, but that is a story for another day. For our purposes, what matters is that the BEF production team released a cassette of electronic music that continued the lineage that had started with The Future, moved into the Human League, and emerged with the ambition to take synth music into the mainstream.

Music for Stowaways was specifically created for the compact cassette tape. Sony had given their portable music players the name, Stowaway, before settling on the genre-defining Walkman. Ware and Marsh loved the idea of the device, and they went into the studio with some friends – including Adi Newton and Glenn Gregory – to create a single-format release with early adopters in mind. With eight tracks, the original March 1981 release was a glimpse into the future.

In 2023, Music for Stowaways is getting an expanded edition release on two other formats: vinyl and CD. The track listing is set out below.

MUSIC FOR STOWAWAYS
LP | CD REISSUE
TRACKLISTING
A1 | 1 B.E.F. Ident
A2 | 2 The Optimum Chant
A3 | 3 Uptown Apocalypse
A4 | 4 Wipe The Board Clean
A5 | 5 Groove Thang
A6 | 6 Music To Kill Your Parents By
B1 | 7 The Old At Rest
B2 | 8 Rise Of The East
B3 | 9 Decline Of The West
B4 | 10 A Baby Called Billy
B5 | 11 Honeymoon In New York
B6 | 12 B.E.F. Ident

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Jean-Marc Lederman’s concept albums are a diverse set. Experimentation is at their core, but so is a cinematic sense of space and time. Whether exploiting the unpredictable qualities of The Bad Tempered Synthesizer or exploring the aquatic world of Night Music for Seahorses and Manatees, Lederman creates collections of stories in sound.

Soul Music for Zombies is the latest project from Lederman (Fad Gadget, The Weathermen, Kid Montana). Over eleven songs, it mines a rich vein of soul and blues; testing their elements in combinations with industrial, electronic and ambient tracks. If Screaming Jay Hawkins had access to a bank of synths, he might have come up with a take on “I Put a Spell on You” like Lederman’s, but only if he had spent decades absorbing the back catalogue of Front 242. Laurie Anderson is name-checked in “O Super​(​wo​)​man (nod to Laurie),” but Lederman hasn’t left the tracks: the song features a loop over a dance beat that belongs more to Soul Train than the Barbican.

Emileigh Rohn (Chiasma), Lederman’s partner on the recent Rage! album, appears for “The Music Walks Again.” Subtitled “The Robert Johnson Story,” the track features guitar samples and a take on the Faustian transaction undertaken by the influential guitarist. The Johnson origin story has a strong pull that reaches through the decades, but does the Dark Prince do similar deals for VSTs? Has Lederman met him at the intersection of Leopold II and Rue de Ribaucourt? That has been left to legend.

Soul Music for Zombies isn’t another version of Moby’s Play or Recoil’s Bloodline, but it shares their respect for the sounds of the original American underground. It also tests combinations of other styles, in a very European collision designed for both the undead and the living.

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What is the point of pain, if not to lead to healing? Andra Day’s “Rise Up” is about dispersing the clouds of doubt and despair; finding the fighter inside who gets you back on your feet and ready for another round. It is an inspirational and stirring song, which helped win a Grammy for its creators.

It has been given an adrenalin shot by John Fryer’s Black Needle Noise project. Lisa Kekaula (The Bellfrays, Basement Jaxx) takes lead vocals; shaking the foundations with an uplifting, gospel-infused turn that is full of confidence and drive. Fryer’s instrumentation is perfectly-formed scaffolding for Kekaula’s performance; allowing her voice to ascend to heights of power and emotional clarity. The Pixies made a career of the quiet-LOUD template, but Fryer has repurposed it for piano, strings and hand-claps with a joyousness that will move hearts.

Fryer’s history (This Mortal Coil, Fad Gadget, Nine Inch Nails, Cocteau Twins) proves that this is not just a happy accident. “Rise Up” is part of a long line of songs that the legendary producer has invested with a delicate power, balancing on a knife’s edge between the energetic and the ethereal. The tension is electrifying, and in the chorus Kekaula’s voice floats and winds like the arc from a Tesla coil. Fryer’s magic box harnesses the power, but make no mistake: it is inside you, too.

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Vaughty – 1984

by coldwarnightlife

Mistaken as an instruction manual by governments from America to Zimbabwe, George Orwell’s 1984 has a lot to say about the import of words. Music gets less of a look-in, but Orwell’s reflections on the power of propaganda raise important questions about control. The tools of the trade keep getting refined – facial recognition, Big Data surveillance, targeted political disinformation – without regard to ideology. Although written as a caricature of the Soviet Union, in order to discredit the socialists in Britain, 1984 has come to life in countries governed by social-democrats and conservatives alike.

Vaughty’s latest EP, named for the book, follows its story closely with a warning for our times. The title track is a nicely-constructed slice of pop, which brings to mind the Frankie remixes with their apocalyptic voice-overs. It’s a reminder that Big Brother isn’t just a game show in a house with a pool.

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Norfolk’s best-loved industrial musicians have announced a series of remastered limited edition vinyl releases. Chris & Cosey, the influential duo who split from Throbbing Gristle, have revealed that Elemental 7 will appear on green vinyl. It will be accompanied by Muzik Fantastique! on pink vinyl and Feral Vapours of the Silver Ether on yellow vinyl. Their own CTI label will handle the releases, which are marked for 24 March 2023.

With its grid of video monitors on the cover, Elemental 7 is instantly recognisable as the soundtrack for the film by John Lacy and CTI. It was originally released on the Doublevision, the label set up by Cabaret Voltaire. Truth be told, the visuals were of their time, but the extraordinary soundtrack had more life on the LP. “Dancing Ghosts” is particularly notable for its combination of the Roland TB303 bass sequencer and TR808 drum machine in combination – one of the first tracks to use the gear and one of Chris & Cosey’s best loved songs.

Muzik Fantastique! is an extraordinary album. First released in 1992, it put to shame the acid house pretenders of the day with their newly discovered synth tools. The lead track, “Fantastique,” features one of Cosey’s most iconic vocal performances, while Chris Carter’s instrumentation is in top form. Songs like “Afrakira” and “Apocalypso” venture into world music, while sounding innovative throughout.

The last release in this series, Feral Vapours of the Silver Ether, was the second studio album by Carter Tutti, the act that followed Chris & Cosey. The Carter Tutti material is typically more ambient and down-tempo, compared to the duo’s previous work, and Feral Vapours… marks a step change from the other two albums being pressed by CTI. Not previously available on vinyl, it weaves filigree electro-acoustic sounds with thoroughly sensitive – organic – compositions.

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Improvising in a group, you have to accept not only the frailties of your fellow musicians, but also your own.

— Cornelius Cardew, “Towards an Ethic of Improvisation” (1971)

Sunroof, the collaboration between Daniel Miller and Gareth Jones, was originally a name for a series of occasional remixes and cover versions. The two legendary producers have worked together for nearly forty years, coming together under that name for one-off projects; particularly, with a nod to their krautrock influences. The first album together, Electronic Music Improvisions, Volume 1, took them in a different direction: sat together in a comfortable place, they developed material by playing modular synthesisers against each other. Instead of the programmed material they had shown their mastery of in tracks like their version of Can’s “Hero,” they developed an improvised approach that relied on hearing and responding to the sounds made as parallel operators.

This style is more familiar from the worlds of jazz and experimental acoustic music. Improvisational groups like AMM – the British experimental ensemble that has included John Tilbury, Cornelius Cardew, Keith Rowe, and Eddie Prevost – were an influence on the work of Pink Floyd and Paul McCartney. Cardew’s early experimental compositions (which drew in a young Brian Eno) were based on the responses of performers to each others’ actions. What he had observed was that people come into alignment through participation, but also that care needs to be taken to avoid any one voice dominating. In that respect, an improvised performance is a social act that requires presence and humility to succeed. Respecting the decay of other participants’ sounds is as important as introducing new ones.

Informal ‘sound’ has a power over our emotional responses that formal ‘music’ does not, in that it acts subliminally rather than on a cultural level. […] We are searching for sounds and for the responses that attach to them, rather than thinking them up, preparing them and producing them. The search is conducted in the medium of sound and the musician himself is at the heart of the experiment.
— Cornelius Cardew, “Towards an Ethic of Improvisation” (1971)

Sunroof

Sunroof (Photo: Paul Heartfield)

Miller and Jones appear to have come to a similar understanding. The conditions they set themselves for their second album, Electronic Music Improvisations, Volume 2, included beginning with unpatched modular systems. They would then begin to tease the machines into producing sounds, apply effects, and choose or dismiss the results in real time. To make this successful, they needed to be mindful of the ways that sounds combine and collide. To maintain balance, they needed to exercise restraint and be prepared to lean in at the right moments. The nature of the machines meant that they also had to accept the logic of electrical circuitry: the hand of chance cannot be forced entirely by the operator.

The eight tracks on the album have been subjected to minimal editing. Each traces a different path; the sounds blurring into each other like the colours of Jones’ cover painting. The growls of machines in “September” blend with gentle, sensitively-wrought signals that tease the listener. “January #2” finds a throbbing groove, providing a spine around which rhythms coalesce and dissolve. There are echoes of Miller’s work in Duet Emmo, and Jones’ solo work around the time of his recovery from cancer, but the improvisations reflect unique moments. From the standpoint of the listener, these are rich, layered works that reveal their textures through repeated listening. The man-machine interface produces sounds and effects that exist only for a moment – something that Cardew valued highly – but this recording brings us into the experience as best it can.

Of the release, Jones says, “I suppose this is the difficult second album. It took 40 years to make the first album and just nine months to create this one!” Miller adds, “We got on a roll and didn’t really stop recording once we had that momentum.” Electronic Music Improvisations, Volume 2, comes out on the Parallel Series of Mute on 17 February 2023 on limited edition white vinyl and digitally.

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