Fad Gadget – The Best Of Fad Gadget

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The Best Of Fad Gadget was originally released in 2001 to accompany Frank Tovey bringing his Fad Gadget alias out of retirement for a support slot with Depeche Mode. It was a moment of electronic music history repeating itself, albeit in reverse and on a massive, stadium-friendly scale: Depeche had supported Gadget in 1980, back when they were all a bunch of callow, synth-loving young chaps, Frank Tovey being the first artist to join Daniel Miller’s nascent Mute Records.

Twelve months after the compilation was issued, Tovey was dead from a heart attack. It’s hard not to listen to these tracks, hand-picked as they were by Fad himself, without mourning the fact that he left behind such a brief legacy – a clutch of singles, four Gadget albums and a challenging performance art repertoire that was already honed back when he was fighting over Leeds Polytechnic’s studio space with fellow students Dave Ball and Marc Almond.

Mute’s pressing of the album on vinyl for the first time coincides with the fortieth anniversary of ‘Back To Nature’, Fad Gadget’s first single. Recorded with Daniel Miller, ‘Back To Nature’ nodded to the Ballardian tropes of Miller’s own ‘Warm Leatherette’ statement, but also highlighted Tovey’s wry humour: while its gloomy industrial electronics sounded like a post-apocalyptic world of extreme temperatures, it was in fact Tovey ruminating on sun-loving folk enjoying the beach at Canvey Island.

Its B-side, ‘The Box’, was yet more subversive, its desperate lyrics reading like the stage directions for a macabre one-man show with a performer stuck in a box. After the dry ‘Ricky’s Hand’ single – the sinister counterpart to Depeche Mode’s similar-sounding ‘Photographic’ – Tovey gently moved Miller’s producer’s hand to one side and forged his own path, his 1980 debut album Fireside Favourites dealing with everything from cosy nights around the hearth during a nuclear meltdown on its memorable title track to bedroom frustration, each track a symbiosis of Tovey’s synths and whatever potential sound-making objects were lying around the studio at the time.

Through his ensuing albums – Incontinent (1981), Under The Flag (1982) and Gag (1984) – Tovey developed his songwriting craft, initially through getting to grips with kit like an MC-4 sequencer and then developing a full-band aesthetic at precisely the same time as pop music was dispensing with traditional instruments in favour of keyboards and drum machines. But even as his music matured, anticipating the series of folk and rock-inflected albums released under his own name with the band The Pyros, Tovey was still covering himself in tar and feathers on stage, or stripping off his clothes and spraying shaving foam all over his body, memorable images of which Anton Corbijn captured for Gag and the harrowing cover of this compilation.

His songs never once lost that slightly disturbing potency that had made his earliest singles so insistent. ‘Lady Shave’ made a song about the quotidian act of removing hair a seedy, voyeuristic, perverted show; ‘Saturday Night Special’ dealt with guns and the right to bear arms; ‘Love Parasite’s sleek electronic shapes detailed a sexual predator; ‘Life On The Line’ and ‘For Whom The Bells Toll’ were dour pop songs that betrayed Tovey’s paranoia at having become a father for the first time; ‘Collapsing New People’ took industrial percussion and the looped mechanical sound of a printing press to offer a vivid anthropological assessment of the dispossessed, wasted, vampiric youths he observed while recording the track in Berlin. The compilation ends with the leftfield proto-electro and howling baby sounds of ‘4M’, sounding somewhere between clinical fascination and the soundtrack to the end of the world, but was in fact a tender piece of sound art using the sampled voice of his baby daughter.

It would, perhaps, be too easy to look back on Frank’s wild Fad Gadget years as a kind of grim novelty cabaret sideshow schtick, a product of an anything-goes, disaffected, post-punk British society, his effect on the development of electronic music in the early 1980s easily dismissible in favour of dark-hued works by Cabaret Voltaire, Human League, Soft Cell and others. Observed in hindsight, no other musician managed to fuse art school theatrics and dystopian social commentary so fluidly within the emerging constructs of electronic technology as Frank Tovey did, and the likelihood of another artist like Fad Gadget emerging in these supposedly super-liberal times is unimaginable; we’re all trapped inside the metaphorical cage of ‘The Box’, and no one dares try – like he did – to break out.

Frank Tovey: 8 September 1956 – 3 April 2002

The Best Of Fad Gadget by Fad Gadget was originally released in 2001 by Mute, and reissued as a double vinyl LP in 2019.

Words: Mat Smith.

Note: this review originally appeared in Electronic Sound issue 57 and is used with the kind permission of the editors. Thanks to Neil, Zoe and Paul.

(c) 2019 Mat Smith for Electronic Sound

 

Erasure – Chorus : References & Influences

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To accompany the release of a deluxe reissue of Erasure’s 1991 monophonic analogue opus Chorus, I put together a series of additional short written pieces focussed on the album’s four distinctive single videos, along with Andy and Vince’s recollections of The Phantasmagorical Entertainment tour that followed in 1992.

For this final piece, we delve into the myriad influences and reference points that cropped up during the interviews I undertook to prepare the reissue’s liner notes.

Featuring remastered tracks, new remixes, rare session tracks, live recordings and an essay on the creation of the album by me, the deluxe reissue of Chorus is available from Lexer Music.

Deee-Lite – What Is Love? (1990)

Why, Vince Clarke, does Chorus sound the way it does?”

“I tell you why,” he answers. “It was because of the B-side of ‘Groove Is In The Heart’ by Deee-Lite, a remix of a track called ‘What Is Love?’. I was thinking that the timing on that was so incredible. I’d been pissed off with the timing of MIDI sequencers for a long time, because they just weren’t very good, and I thought, ‘You know what? I’m going to try and make a track with an MC-4’. The Roland MC-4 is a basic analogue sequencer. But the MC-4 could only trigger one monophonic synth at a time, it couldn’t do chords, really.”

And so that’s why Chorus was an exclusively monophonic, analogue synth-heavy album. Thanks Deee-Lite.

Londonbeat – I’ve Been Thinking About You (1990)

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Martyn Phillips came to produce Chorus thanks to two previous projects. The first was The Beloved’s Happiness from 1990, and the use of electronics on that album was a major draw for Daniel Miller. What clinched it though was his work on a much more pop-oriented LP.

“I was also riding high because I’d produced Londonbeat’s first album,” recalls Phillips. “We had a very big hit off that called ‘I’ve Been Thinking About You’, which got to number one in over 20 countries. It was an enormous record. It’s the most heavily-played record on German radio ever, I think. So Daniel, obviously being a sensible businessman, thought ‘Maybe he could do something with my lot?’”

“That song struck me,” says Daniel. “It was quite a catchy song, and I liked the sound of it very much. It was kind of minimal and quite chunky sounding, to my ears, and I thought that would be interesting to apply to Erasure.”

Phillips’ nous with analogue synths gelled nicely with Vince Clarke, and both brought their own ARP 2600 into the three studios where Chorus was recorded. “He’s a nice bloke,” says Vince, ever the man of few words.

Inspiral Carpets – Please Be Cruel (1991)

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Dave Bascombe was no stranger to Daniel Miller and Mute, and his biggest contribution to the label by 1991 had been his work on Depeche Mode’s transformational Music For The Masses LP a few years earlier. He specifically joined the Chorus project thanks to the single remix he was commissioned to undertake of Inspiral Carpets’ ‘Please Be Cruel’, taken from the group’s second album The Beast Inside.

“I was in the studio doing the mix of Inspiral Carpets, and Daniel played me the ‘Chorus’ single,” Bascombe recalls. “I think he just wanted my opinion on it and whether I thought it would make a good first single. I mean, obviously I hadn’t heard anything else, but I immediately fell in love with it, and was gushing about it, and said it was absolutely great. So that’s how I got involved.”

Of his mix of the Chorus LP, Bascombe is straight to the point. “I just brought some balls to it.”

Charlie Rich – The Most Beautiful Girl (1973)

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When I spoke to Andy Bell for an Electronic Sound Under The Influence feature back in 2015, he called out three things that had left a lasting impression on his younger self. One was the singing lessons and confidence-boosting performance techniques he was given by his choirmaster Mr. Morris as a child, and another was his enduring love of steam engines. Yes, steam engines.

The final one was the song ‘The Most Beautiful Girl’ by US ‘countrypolitan’ singer-songwriter Charlie Rich from 1973 that he used to hear playing every Saturday morning at his local Peterborough roller rink. “I was a bit of a country and western fan,” he confessed at the time. “My parents had a lot of those records, and this song seemed to have a bit of a country twang to it. I took it as one of those songs that was very truthful.”

A country influence had crept into Erasure’s music in fairly subtle ways prior to Chorus, in tracks like the banjo-led ‘Don’t Suppose’ from the ‘Chains Of Love’ single. On Chorus, Andy’s love of country music and Charlie Rich’s smash hit single was a direct influence on the yearning, bitter ‘Waiting For The Day’ from the album. On The Phantasmagorical Entertainment tour in 1992, the band covered Tammy Wynette’s ‘Stand By Your Man’ while Andy was dressed as a rhinestone-clad cowboy, a country influence was pretty self-evident on the Cowboy LP from 1997, and the band worked up countrified versions of their back catalogue for the charming Union Street in 2006. It can all be traced back to ‘The Most Beautiful Girl‘.

ABBA – The Day Before You Came (1982)

‘The Day Before You Came’ was taken from the abortive sessions that followed ABBA’s final studio album, The Visitors, a record that was to Agnetha, Anni-Frid, Benny and Björn what Let It Be was for The Beatles – namely the sound of a band bitterly falling apart. This unlikely single, presented as an almost exclusively electronic pop song, was delivered in a flat, diaristic fashion by Agnetha. It documents the quotidian events of a perfectly humdrum day, which turns out to be the day before someone important comes into her life and turns everything upside down.

This was the group of ‘Dancing Queen’ and ‘Gimme Gimme Gimme’ and ‘Voulez-Vous’, upbeat disco-tinged songs that might have a sense of longing within them, but which were broadly upbeat and positive. We never find out who the person is that arrives the following day, but something about the tone of this song, its emotionless, near-spoken delivery and the minor chords of its chorus suggest it wasn’t someone positive. Written by Björn, it documented, in relatively shrouded terms, his feelings as he went through his divorce from the singer.

Andy Bell acknowledges that the song was an influence on ‘Am I Right?’, and you can hear that same sense of mystery – and of never quite knowing what tragic event has occurred – in the lyrics and presentation of the album’s third single.

La Belle et la Bête (Dir. Jean Cocteau, 1946)

Jean Cocteau’s movie version of the Jeanne-Marie Leprince de Beaumont’s 1757 Beauty And The Beast story was a strange mix of cinematic flourishes designed to evoke the art of Gustave Doré and Jan Vermeer, presented with an air of grim, sinister foreboding not dissimilar to early horror flicks.

Andy Bell remembers trying to capture some of La Belle et la Bête’s distinctive essence in two tracks on Chorus – ‘Home’ and ‘Siren Song’ – but not necessarily the sense of turbulent love and mournful longing that Belle displays in Cocteau’s film, which might have been a more obvious reference point. Instead it was some of Cocteau’s film effects that particularly inspired Andy. “There’s a scene where they show this kind of backwards segment of flames being blown out,” he recalls. By modern film-making standards, reversing some tape seems pretty basic, but in 1946 this – and scenes of hands poking through walls holding lights – were what gave La Belle et la Bête its distinctive presence.

To achieve something similar to the visual effect he admired so much, Andy turned to producer Martyn Phillips to create a suite of evocative vocal equivalents. “We loved turning the tape round and doing backwards singing,” says Andy. “There are quite a few backwards harmonies on songs like ‘Siren Song’. It’s just a trick, really, but I just loved that idea of just turning it around and singing on top of the backwards noise.”

Das singende, klingende Bäumchen (Dir. Francesco Stefani, 1957)

Beauty And The Beast wasn’t the only weird fairytale whose influence crept into Chorus. Another was the obscure Grimm Brothers story ‘Hurleburlebutz’, filmed as Das singende, klingende Bäumchen by the East German state-owned film studio DEFA in 1957. A remarkable success at home, Britain’s BBC picked up the film and sliced it into three episodes, forming part of a 1964 series called Tales From Europe.

The Singing Ringing Tree’s weird, freaky, fantastical edge left an indelible mark on anyone growing up in the Sixties that happened to find themselves watching it at teatime. Two of those children were Martyn Phillips and Andy Bell.

“We’d trade visual images,” says Martyn of Andy’s process of writing the lyrics for Chorus. “One image that cropped up a lot was The Singing Ringing Tree. It was one that seemed to capture what Andy and I remembered from watching that film, as kids, on TV. It was black and white, set in this hobbit land with all these strange, magical creatures wandering around. So we’d discuss the energy and the feelings of that, and then hone in on what the words might be saying and what sort of backing vocal blocks we could stick in the background.”

The film’s influence can be most felt again in ‘Siren Song’. “Andy kind of chipped away at that song like a sculpture,” continues Martyn. “Everyone sort of chipped away at it from different ends, but everyone was seeing something quite similar and so you eventually come up with something nice. The influence of The Singing Ringing Tree is definitely there in that song.”

I mentioned the film to Andy a short while after I spoke with Martyn. He had, coincidentally, just bought a DVD of the film for a friend and confessed to still being a little freaked out by it. Sticking with foliage-related matters, Andy then went on to tell me that he’d always wanted to own one of The Music Trees from The Clangers, undoubtedly a relative of the enchanted tree in Stefani’s film. One of the B-sides on ‘Am I Right?’ was, of course, ‘Carry On Clangers’.

C. S. Lewis – The Lion, The Witch And The Wardrobe (1950)

I grew up with the Narnia books. The idea of finding another world lurking at the back of a wardrobe seemed to have a major sway over my imagination as a young boy, a long time before the realities of real life fully set in. I’ve re-read the books countless times into adulthood and watched my two daughters see the magic in The Lion, The Witch And The Wardrobe when they themselves pulled the book down from the shelves of their school library.

In spite of that familiarity, the obvious influence of the most famous of the Narnia stories on ‘Home’, the final track on Chorus and a song originally intended as the album’s first single, had never occurred to me until Andy pointed it out. Yet it’s all there, hiding in plain sight: the child who doesn’t want to go home because he thinks he’s ‘having a good time’ (Edmund Pevensie, a boy forever trapped in his brother’s shadow), the cold wintery landscape, a mystical force that ‘ices over and freezes life’, the roar of the lion (Aslan). It’s pretty obvious when you know where it came from.

Another fantastical literary reference point would come with the Alice In Wonderland-themed video for the album’s final single, Breath Of Life.

The Tornados – Telstar (1962)

Joe Meek was fascinated with electronics from an early age, becoming an obvious fit for the role of radar operator during his National Service, that experience honing his understanding of nascent technology and allowing him to secure a job as an engineer for Radio Luxembourg. From there it was a short hop to engineering records and producing groups, his progressive techniques rightly giving him the acclaim as being the first to use the studio as an instrument itself.

1962’s instrumental ‘Telstar’ by his group The Tornados was electronic pop before electronic pop had even been dreamt of (although Meek probably had dreamt of it, if we’re completely honest). The track was loaded with joyous ahead-of-its-time phasing, giving it the astral effect that Meek wanted to encapsulate for a song celebrating the first TV satellite. However, it was the lead instrument that was totally out of this world – the Clavioline, first heard in a pop context on Del Shannon’s ‘Runaway’, and a predecessor to the monophonic synthesizers that Vince Clarke used to give Chorus its distinctive sound.

Joe Meek recording hit records in his rented residence, equipment and cables strewn across the landing and with instruments, tape machines and microphones set up in every room, provided ‘Love To Hate You’ director David Mallet with the inspiration for Vince’s manic, driven character in that video. The inference was that the singular vision that Vince brought to the studio for Chorus was comparable to Meek’s own genius, and its hard to disagree with that.

In Mute-related Meek matters, Daniel Miller recorded a cover of ‘Just Like Eddie’ for his 1980 Silicon Teens LP Music For Parties. The track had originally been recorded by the singer Heinz in 1963 and was produced by Joe Meek.

Frank Sinatra – Songs For Swingin’ Lovers! (1956)

Sticking with Mallet’s ‘Love To Hate You’ video, if you look very carefully, within the opening moments of the film, you see a brief glimpse of a Frank Sinatra CD among a pile of detritus. Songs For Swingin’ Lovers!, Frank’s 1956 album, was a collection of standards recorded in a hip, jazzy style which directly appealed to the tastes of pop music buyers at the time.

Including that CD was a cheeky in-joke by Mallet. Joe Meek routinely admitted his love of Sinatra’s music, and the inclusion of his crossover pop LP in the environs of Vince’s portrayal of pop producer Meek was entirely deliberate.

Speculation is rife that Meek was involved in the recording of Frank’s 1962 TV performance at London’s Royal Festival Hall – the same year that ‘Telstar’ secured him a massive hit – but if he was, he took that with him to his untimely and tragic grave. That said, Meek believed you could use electronics to communicate with the dead, so someone in the modular synth community might be able to ask him.

Words: Mat Smith

Interviews conducted as part of the BMG / Mute Erasure Chorus reissue project, November 2018 to February 2019 in London, New York, my dining room, a hotel room in Edinburgh and a taxi back from Heathrow. Thanks to Zoe, Shaun and Richard.

(c) 2020 Documentary Evidence for BMG / Mute

hackedepicciotto – The Current

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I have three experiences of Blackpool, the town in which the ever-wandering duo of Danielle de Picciotto and Alexander Hacke recorded The Current.

The first is, I am told, a brief trip there as a child in the way home from Scotland, of which I remember absolutely nothing. My mother advises me that I was eighteen months old. The only memento I have of this is a small black and white photo-booth strip.

Then, almost thirty years later I watched an episode of a show called The Hotel Inspector, one of several programmes scheduled in the wake of Gordon Ramsay’s Kitchen Nightmares in which some egotistical know-it-all pokes around in an establishment, shows just how utterly disgusting it is, and then comprises a strategy for how they will radically improve it. The thing that stuck with me about this show was not a very dubious establishment managed by a very colourful character, but the statistic that the average room rate for one of the 1800 hotels in Blackpool was £20 – and lest we forget that an average suggests there were many rooms available for substantially less. Hotel room rates act as a barometer for the economic prospects of a location, and on that measure alone, Blackpool was woeful. I mean, I’ve paid more than that for an hotel in Lincoln, Nebraska and that place didn’t have a ballroom, tower or a beach to improve its appeal.

Finally, maybe around the same time as that, I hauled myself up to Blackpool at some ungodly hour in the morning to support a colleague who was presenting at one of the significantly more expensive hotels in the town. As he came off the stage and legged it to the exit, he whipped off his microphone and whispered to me, ‘Get me the fuck out of here – this town makes me want to kill myself.’

But some of this is precisely why de Picciotto and Hacke chose to move to Blackpool for The Current. It is a town, as they put it, left behind by gentrification, a forgotten relic of Victorian-era tourism, a place dominated by sickly, E-number-heavy boiled sweets, faded seaside grandeur and an unlikely landmark – the Tower – forever destined to be unfairly seen as a poor architectural cousin to M. Eiffel’s more famous example, despite being arguably almost as impressive.

All of this, plus the presence of the Irish Sea the couple could see from their window, gives tracks like ‘Petty Silver’ – replete with its creepy melodic tones reminiscent of ‘The Carny’ by The Bad Seeds, grubby, fuzzy electronic rhythm and sub-bass slowed down to a unnerving prowl – an unexpected, if turbulent and utterly skewed, symphonic edge. It would be glib to say that such a track carries a sense of mystery as Danielle de Picciotto intones an especially bleak poetry, but there is nevertheless a sinister, Old Testament good vs evil thing going on here.

Elsewhere, opening track ‘Defiance’ is nudged onward by a gloomy bluesy guitar, bass and violin formation that might as well have blown in from the sand of a sun-bleached Nevadan desert rather than the brown sand of Blackpool. Here we find overheard voices, strangely celebratory and yet weirdly affecting when taken outside of their context, bells, snarling electronics and a vocal from de Picciotto that emphasises we are all made equal despite Blackpool’s economic fortunes suggesting that this is anything but the case.

It is an effect that plays out across The Current, in a fashion not wholly dissimilar to the sound of the Detroit-centred Crime & The City Solution album American Twilight (2013) that both contributed to. On the standout ‘Onwards’, that manifests itself as a violin section that is enough to cause claustrophobia and panic, the beautiful harmonies between Hacke and de Picciotto never quite offsetting the churning urgency of the strings, sounding not unlike the end of the world as we know it. The album’s title track begins with a soundfield of unplaceable, hissing, droning sounds evoking comparisons with Hacke’s role in Einstürzende Neubauten, though even that band never quite managed to sound this bleak; ‘The Banishing’ carries a strained, muted edge courtesy of a rich, undulating, thunderous rhythm, chanted vocals and vaguely optimistic strings; ‘Third From The Sun’ begins with rich otherworldly sounds intended to remind us that our very existence owes itself to accidents and astral coincidence, before descending into a ominous wall of beautiful, ugly sound laced with psychedelic motifs.

This is not an album for the faint-hearted. By the time you reach the mournful ‘Upon Departure’, with its proggy, thick Violinksi tonalities, insistent strings and impenetrably savage drums, or the damning social commentary of ‘The Black Pool’, you might be forgiven for wanting to say, like my former colleague, ‘Get me the fuck out of here.’ Break through the gloom and a strangely human, hopeful, elegiac dimension appears. It is the sound of an unexpected optimism and a spirit of unity and of being in this together in spite of the state we’re in.

That de Picciotto and Hacke were able to freely up sticks and pitch up in Blackpool, with an album released on the very day where the UK is expected to sever its ties from Europe, and where such freedom of movement will be once again restricted, is perhaps the most overtly political statement of all those enshrined in The Current.

Words: Mat Smith

(c) 2020 Documentary Evidence

SavFrost – Cuckoo Head Cool Dog

Cuckoo Head Cool Dog by SavFrost is a unique collaboration between long-standing friends Barbara Frost and Savage Pencil (Edwin Pouncey), issued by The Tapeworm’s Bookworm offshoot in two editions – ‘Germolene Pink’ and ‘Papal Purple’ – and described by The Tapeworm’s Philip Marshall as nothing less than a “bodice-ripping page-turner”.

Neither Frost or Pouncey will be unfamiliar to Mute collectors, Frost through her association with partner Frank Tovey / Fad Gadget as songwriter, singer, photographer, tour manager and occasional book-keeper, and SavX through his distinctive sleeve illustrations for Sonic Youth, Big Black and many other Blast First releases.

The volume consists of twenty visceral and engaging short pieces by Frost, each one written in a single draft in direct response to an image supplied in an email from Savage Pencil the night before. The image would remain unopened until Frost was ready to start writing the following day, beginning the process of developing either a short story, poem, collection of haikus or some other written reaction to Pouncey’s distinctive (and generally unfathomable, often disturbing) illustrations by accumulating ‘word banks’, clusters of words that occurred to her as she looked at what had been supplied. Those word banks, and Pouncey’s drawings, are all included in the book, and it’s illuminating to see precisely Frost’s responses as they were developing, the word banks being necessarily individualistic, spontaneous gestures that often appear only tangentially linked to the drawing and the written piece that would then be formed.

The results are predictably unpredictable, and frequently dark. One piece (Reap What You Sow) appears to document the quotidian ministrations of a garden-obsessed pensioner, only to unfold into something much more sinister; New Neighbour begins by detailing the interactions between a resident of a maisonette and her new upstairs neighbour, all of which begin with somewhat overbearing pleasantries before opening out into a jaw-dropping tale of extreme and nauseating criminality.

Other stories concern themselves with sleepless nights, fumbled romance and macabre goings on in dolls houses orchestrated by a disturbed young girl, and the inner turmoil of the Beast from Jean Cocteau’s La Belle Et La Bête (definitely Cocteau; not Disney). The poetic gestures throughout the book are similarly oblique, ranging from naturalistic moments to outpourings of adoration to more harrowing concerns, each one deployed with an unvarnished economy of language and a raw emotional directness.

Cuckoo Head Cool Dog by SavFrost was issued by The Bookworm on September 27 2019 in a limited edition of 250 copies (125 pink, 125 purple). Copies can be purchased from The Tapeworm’s Bandcamp page.

Thanks to Barbara, Philip, Fortitude, Sagar and Café Below.

Related:

Interview with Philip Marshall from The Tapeworm about the label’s formation, ethos and ongoing exploration of the cassette format over at my other blog, Further.

(c) 2020 Documentary Evidence

MixBus With Kevin Paul

On January 10 2020, producer Kevin Paul begins a series of podcast interviews with fellow studio stalwarts including fellow former Konk resident Dave Eringa and other names familiar to Mute collectors such as Dave Bascombe, Flood, Danny Briottet, Pascal Gabriel and Gareth Jones.

“It came out of listening to podcasts about the recording studio and music production,” explains Kevin. “I could hardly find anyone talking about people from the UK. I thought, ‘I know a few people, so I’ll call them and ask if they want to speak to me and if I get 5/6 then I’ll start a series.’ Incredibly, everyone said ‘Yes’ and I thought ‘Oh my god, I’d better get going!”

Key to the format of the podcast is a relaxed, accessible tone distinct from similar podcasts which go heavy on technical detail. “It’s just me and my guest talking informally about their career and their approach to music,” continues Kevin. “It’s designed to let the guest just talk openly about whatever they want, really. There’s plenty of people who do super technical podcasts already and they do that very well. I’m hoping anyone interested in how records are made can enjoy my podcasts.”

Kevin is himself no stranger to Mute, having worked on countless records for the label between 1992 and 2012. His association with the label began with work on the Pro-gross Three remix of Nitzer Ebb’s ‘Ascend’ and Phil Kelsey’s expansive remix of ‘Take A Chance On Me’ from Erasure’s chart-topping ABBA-Esque EP. “I ended up at Mute through my time at Konk studios,” he recalls. “‘Ascend’ was actually the first record I’m credited on so carries a special place in my career. Mute was such a creative place to be that there are too many highlights to list: I worked with pretty much every artist on Mute and its subsidiaries at one point, including The KLF, Appliance, and Paul Smith’s Blast First. I mixed Goldfrapp’s first album, Lovely Head. I met and worked with Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds and David Bowie, who spent time at Worldwide Studios recording some of his Hours… album, and I worked on the 5.1 remixes of the Depeche Mode back catalogue. That’s just a few of the things I’m really proud of.”

Nitzer Ebb – Ascend (cdmute145, 1992) featuring Kevin Paul’s first credit (track 2).

Kevin’s series arrives at a time where the ease with which artists can make music without relying on expensive studio time potentially puts the traditional roles of producer, mixer and engineer under threat. Nevertheless, he still sees the value that a good quality studio team can provide. “Studio people are there to help artists make the best music they can make, in whatever form that takes,” he says. “In order to achieve that, we must do whatever that entails.”

The KP MixBus podcasts will be available from January 10 2020 on your favourite podcast app on iOS and Android, and from www.kpmixbus.com. The first in the series finds Kevin chatting with Catherine Marks (St. Vincent, Local Natives, Wolf Alice, White Lies, PJ Harvey, Frank Turner and many others).

(c) 2019 Documentary Evidence

It’s A Wonderful Serious Of Snakes

Every Christmas I sit down to watch It’s A Wonderful Life, normally accompanied by two sleeping cats and usually while my family is off doing something else. I’ve tried to encourage them to watch it with me, but Freya just insists that it’s “boring” and Seren says she’ll happily watch it but makes that teenage face that basically says “I’d rather be doing anything”.

For the first hour or so I find myself offering an alternative soundtrack to Dimitri Tiomkin’s score with the Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds track ‘Wonderful Life’ that opens 2002’s Nocturama. You can probably see why. As far as I can tell, Cave’s song takes no inspiration whatsoever from Frank Capra’s classic movie, instead being a rumination on some sort of love affair taking place in secret and its uncertain chorus suggesting that life isn’t necessarily wonderful unless you’ve found a way to locate its meaning. But that doesn’t stop me humming that song to myself on repeat while the film’s George Bailey, like Job in the Old Testament, seems to be continually deviated away from his intended path through life while his brother Harry gets all the breaks.

This year, for reasons I can’t quite fathom, I found myself paying more attention to the script than I have in previous years. In the scene where Harry arrived back in Bedford Falls from college, bringing with him his wife Ruth, I caught a snatch of dialogue that seemed vaguely familiar.

RUTH: Harry’s a genius at research. My father fell in love with him.

– It’s A Wonderful Life by Frances Goodrich, Albert Hackett, Frank Capra & Jo Swerling, 1946

It took me a while to figure out where I’d heard the last two lines before. After a bit of maddening rewinding, replaying and memory bank scouring, I finally twigged the similarity to a pairing from Wire’s ‘A Serious Of Snakes’, whose seemingly nonsensical lyrics I once asked Colin Newman about only to be told with a shrug, “I dunno – ask Graham Lewis.”

He’s a genius in research / I simply fell in love.

– A Serious Of Snakes by Wire from Snakedrill (1986). Lyrics by Graham Lewis.

Surely this was no coincidence?

Taking Colin’s advice from over twenty years ago, I asked Graham if the key to unlocking the secrets held in that song’s lyrics required you to scour through black and white films, and at first that seemed to be the case – he told me that the line about losing a ship at the very end of the song was derived from the Jack Hawkins film The Cruel Sea (1953) – but elsewhere in the song you hear a raft of insults offered by barman Tony ‘Skibb O’D’Oak’ from Lewis’ local boozer, The Royal Oak, in Vauxhall with the lines “you tulip, you pea-brained earwig, you punk, you silver tongued snake”. “It’s a classic Gysin-esque cut-up collage,” offered Lewis, matter-of-factly.

Just as it seemed the song’s meaning – if there indeed was one – was going to elude me further, Graham unexpectedly brought it back round to the time of year with which It’s A Wonderful Life is synonymous. “‘A Serious Of Snakes’ was my stab at a Christmas lyric,” he volunteers, suddenly making the lines “baby returns, baby kills Mary and Joseph” make a whole lot more sense.

Look closely and you can see references to Joseph’s carpentry, the Christmas Eve tradition of midnight mass, various other familiar (though obfuscated) subjects from the New Testament, along with other tangential topics like the creation of Israel. The Snakedrill EP was released in November 1986, right on cue for the clamour to grab the coveted number one chart slot, only to be thwarted that year by a re-release of Jackie Wikson’s ‘Reet Petite’ – which isn’t even remotely festive.

And so there you have it – ‘A Serious Of Snakes’, the unlikeliest of Christmas songs, buried deep within an artsy, obliquely crafted series of seemingly inconsequential non sequiturs and riddle-like lyrics. It really is a wonderful life.

The full lyrics from ‘A Serious Of Snakes’ are available at pinkflag.com

Words: Mat Smith

(c) 2019 Documentary Evidence

Moby – Move

‘Move’ was Moby‘s first single for Mute, and I still think that it could be argued as the best dance track – aside from ‘Go’, of course. 1993 was a time when Richard Hall’s focus was entirely on housey, uplifting dance music, without any of the guitars and hip|hop beats that pervaded his subsequent work on albums like Play.

‘Move (You Make Me Feel So Good)’ was designated as the single mix, and is everything you’d want from a Moby dance track – solid beats (with a bit of a hardcore break feel), atmospheric / euphoric strings, melodic piano and soulful vocals. ‘All That I Need Is To Be Loved’ was re-recorded as a thrash metal dirge for ‘Hymn’ and his debut Mute album Everything Is Wrong, but on the 12″ we get the seminal original, while the CD includes an edited mix. It’s an aggressive but trancey acid cut, with a central synth hook and heavy 4/4 beats, an impassioned Moby largely shouting the lyrics.

‘Unloved Symphony’ is proper ‘ardcore – frantic beats, headcleaner noises etc, but Moby tempers this aggression with piano motifs and some queasily moving string sounds. ‘The Rain Falls And The Sky Shudders’ points to his soundtrack work – beautiful piano heard in the middle distance, while the sound of a torrential downpour provides the foreground. Various noises filter through, and overall this is a seminal treat tucked away on this single. Over on the 12″, ‘Morning Dove’ is a repetitive percussive tribal house cut with a riff like a Moroccan snake charmer, and apparently named after a particularly potent ecstacy tablet.

The second 12″ includes four remixes – three by Moby himself including a full-length version of the single mix and one by Mark ‘MK’ Kinchin. MK’s mix is pure ’90s house, his layering of the scant vocals and new sax riffs over a steady house beat echoing his work with Nightcrawlers. Moby’s two mixes on the B-side are aggressive and fast (Sub) and deep and relaxed (Xtra), the lattering featuring what sounds like a double bass. A further mix by Moby, his Disco Threat mix, is exclusively available on the cassette and two-track CD single.

First published 2006; edited 2019.

Catref: mute158
Words: Mat Smith

(c) 2006 – 19 Documentary Evidence

Can – Silent Night

can_silentnightgermany

Can released this twee synthpop version of ‘Silent Night’ as a single in the UK, France and Germany in December 1976.

Whenever Can turned their hand to more ostensibly pop structures, they proved themselves highly capable of pulling it off, and ‘Silent Night’ carries those sensibilities with it. Michael Karoli‘s droning guitar, interlaced with Irmin Schmidt‘s dense synth chords and bells, provides the carol’s instantly recognisable melody, even if it’s played at half the speed of the jaunty rhythm with its typically clever drumming from Jaki Liebezeit (possibly with an early drum machine alongside him) and funky bassline from Holger Czukay. Okay so perhaps it’s a little bit novelty at times, but in its own way it’s pretty cute. It’s also the closest I think Can ever got to the early, pre-Autobahn Kraftwerk sound.

Johnny Mathis secured the UK number one slot in 1976, the year I was born, with ‘When A Star Is Born’ as my parents often remind me; in an alternative universe, Can would take this song to the top of the charts and bring forward the development of synthpop by a couple of years.

The original 7″ single was backed with ‘Cascade Waltz’ from the Flow Motion album. The track ‘Silent Night’ would later appear on the B-side of a single of ‘Spoon’ in 1980, as well as on a couple of Can compilations. Mute issued the track as a free festive download a few years ago.

Originally posted 2012; edited and re-posted 2019 (cos it’s Christmas, innit).

Catref: vs166
Words: Mat Smith

(c) 2012 – 2019 Documentary Evidence

Komputer: Live At TEC006, 30.11.2019

David Baker. Photo (c) 2019 Andy Sturmey / Bright Lights Pix

Simon Leonard. Photo (c) 2019 Andy Sturmey / Bright Lights Pix

In the history of Mute Records, David Baker and Simon Leonard are legends. From their early releases as alternative synthpop unit I Start Counting, through the weird sampleadelic techno hinterlands of Fortran 5 and onward through the retrofuturist electronics of Komputer, Baker and Leonard have been a consistent presence on the label’s roster since 1984.

The duo performed a rare live date on Saturday 30 November at Electrowerkz in London as part of TEC006, curated by our friends at The Electricity Club and Cold War Night Life. Their set covered some choice, classic moments from across their entire back catalogue.

Setlist

Komputer Intro
Looking Down On London
Letters To A Friend
Heart On The Line
Time To Dream
Lose Him
Million Headed Monster
We Are Komputer
Still Smiling
Valentina
Bill Gates

Photos and setlist courtesy of Andy Sturmey / Bright Lights Pix

Related:

AK-47 – Stop! Dance! (review)

Komputer – 2011 Interview

(c) 2019 Documentary Evidence

Connect Until Connected: An Interview With Komputer (2011)

Komputer – Simon Leonard & David Baker. Credit: Angela Hayward

In the history of Mute Records, David Baker and Simon Leonard are legends. From their early releases as alternative synthpop unit I Start Counting, through the weird sampleadelic techno hinterlands of Fortran 5 and onward through the retrofuturist electronics of Komputer, Baker and Leonard have been a consistent presence on the label’s roster since 1984.

The duo will perform a rare live date on Saturday 30 November at Electrowerkz in London as part of TEC006, curated by our friends at The Electricity Club and Cold War Night Life. Ahead of their return to the stage, we are reposting a 2011 Documentary Evidence interview with David Baker that’s been offline for years, and which was originally published to coincide with the release of their compilation album, Konnecting.

Simon Leonard and David Baker have been associated with Daniel Miller and Mute Records since 1984, releasing their first two albums – My Translucent Hands and Fused – on the label under the name I Start Counting. They would then move in a more dancefloor-oriented direction for their next project, Fortran 5, before, as Komputer, releasing some of the most spine-tinglingly original retro electronica. Selections from the duo’s various Mute releases have been compiled on Konnecting, released as part of Mute’s new An Introduction To series. This interview was conducted by email with Baker, but all answers were received in the third person.

The duo met at Middlesex University when Leonard overheard Baker singing one of his own songs, ‘Playboy Girl’. ‘This led to chats about pop music,’ recalls Baker, ‘and soon the two were DJing at the college disco and doing the pogo occasionally.’ On one occasion, a particular selection, ‘Incendiary Device’ by Johnny Moped, earned Leonard a bottle of Newcastle Brown ale in the mouth and several broken teeth. I’m not personally aware of any similar incidents on their own future tours, but I guess there’s still time.

‘The name I Start Counting came from a book by Audrey Erskine Lindop,’ writes Baker. Lindop’s novel would be turned into the 1969 film of the same name which starred a sixteen year old Jenny Agutter. Agutter’s portrayal of a fourteen year old with sexual fantasies toward her far older stepbrother earned the film a moderate level of controversy. ‘It also relates to the punk habit of introducing songs with “1, 2, 3,4”,’ Baker continues.

Despite their friendship, Baker and Leonard didn’t form I Start Counting until the demise of Leonard’s earlier music project, File Under Pop, who released a solitary single (‘Heathrow’) on the Rough Trade label in 1979. ‘Daniel Miller had his address on the sleeve of The Normal’s ‘Warm Leatherette’ single,’ Baker remembers. ‘File Under Pop contacted Daniel and met up with him in a pub in Hampstead. Simon and he became friends and Daniel recorded some songs with them which never saw the light of day. One was called ‘Connect Until Connected’. Another was ‘Small Hut’.’

The dissolution of File Under Pop led to Leonard and Baker working together and recording demos which they passed to Miller; I Start Counting signed to Mute in 1984, going on to produce a small but significant body of work starting with the subdued joy of ‘Letters To A Friend’ and concluding with 1989’s ‘Million Headed Monster’.

As they began to record demos for what may have become the third I Start Counting album, a growing dancefloor influence led to forming Fortran 5. Fortran was even then a defunct programming language, now more or less as lost as vestigial regional English dialects. Over their first two exceptionally diverse albums, 1991’s Blues and 1993’s Bad Head Park, Fortran 5 found themselves collaborating with all manner of unexpected contributors to produce quirky club-friendly fodder. ‘Rod Slater was one of our collaborators on Bad Head Park,’ Baker tells me when I ask him about Fortran 5’s ‘fun’ dimension. ‘He was originally a member of the Bonzo Dog Doo Dah Band. He’s related to a friend of David’s.’

‘We did some work with Neil Arthur on his solo material, and he did some vocals for us in return,’ explains Baker of Arthur’s contribution to the standout ‘Persian Blues’ from Bad Head Park. ‘Thrash and Colin Faver were introduced to us through Mute. We wanted Derek Nimmo to do vocals on the Derek And The Dominos song ‘Layla’ [on Bad Head Park] as the follow up to Sid (James) singing Syd (Barrett) on our first LP, Blues, and he kindly obliged. Miranda Sex Garden were going to be our stage dancers but when the tour fell through we found out that they could also sing.’

I ask Baker about the leftfield move into electronica’s nether regions with Fortran 5’s third album, 1995’s Avocado Suite. ‘We were given permission to be as experimental as we liked, so we were,’ is Baker’s simple response. When I ask about the dreadful bathroom suite the pair are seen relaxing in, he tells me that it was Leonard’s bathroom in Muswell Hill. ‘It’s now in the London Bathroom Museum,’ he quips.

Reacting against the musical Emperor’s New Clothes that was Britpop and its still blander entrails, Leonard and Baker went back in time to electronic music’s pivotal point, namely a certain ground-breaking band from Düsseldorf for Komputer. ‘We got as close as we could to doing Kraftwerk cover versions on The World Of Tomorrow,’ says Baker, referring to the first of Komputer’s three albums, release by Mute in 1997. I wax lyrical about ‘Looking Down On London’, its almost folksy wistfulness for the city balanced out by the more icy, clinical electronic backdrop. When asked about the origins of that track, the response is typically understated. ‘We both lived on hills in London,’ says Baker. It makes complete sense when you think about it.

The World Of Tomorrow was followed by 2002’s Market Led and 2007’s Synthetik, before the duo mostly disappeared from view, returning with a celebrated live set at Mute’s Short Circuit festival in May 2011. Selections of their extensive tenure with the label were presented together in the August of that year as Konnecting, one of a brief series of artist compilations that saw the newly-independent Mute licensing tracks back from EMI.

I ask Baker what’s next for the duo following the release of Konnecting. ‘We have a live set ready to go,’ Baker tells me. ‘If someone will give us a gig,’ he adds. The prospect of a career-spanning series of concerts similar to their set at Short Circuit is an exciting prospect to say the least, so if there are any promoters reading this please, please, please make this happen.

Tickets for TEC006 can be purchased here.

Originally published 2011; edited 2019.

Interview: Mat Smith

(c) 2019 Documentary Evidence