First let’s hear somebody sing me a record
That cries pure and true
No, not those guitars
They’re too noisy and crude
(Let’s Make This Precious, Dexys Midnight Runners)
Viddy well little brothers and devotchka’s, viddy well. If you are a sophisto then you already know, only too well, that one of the most important moments in British musical history was not, despite what some of your droogs may tell you, the mop tops shaking their heads and loving you, yeah, yeah, yeah and nor was it what took place in a field in England in 1996.
Indeed, this most significant of moments in British pop music was not even the work of a little Englander. This vital moment was, indeed, the work of a woman from Rhode Island in the United States of America. Her name was Wendy Carlos and, in 1971, she contributed the score for “A Clockwork Orange” by Stanley Kubrick.
Bowie, Blur, Madonna, Slipknot…pick your genre, pick your hero and the influence of that film is there. But the most significant influence of Carlos’s work for Kubrick was its impact on Philip Oakey and Richard H. Kirk of Human League and Cabaret Voltaire respectively. The unfamiliar, other-worldly, peculiar noises of that score left a lasting impression on both men and within a decade that same sound would be top of the pops across the world.
In 1977 Cat Stevens released “Izitso” and with “Was Dog a Doughnut”, in particular, he was responsible for one of the first explicitly electronic pop records by a mainstream artist. This was a changing of the guard, not the sort of “revolution” that punk claims to have instigated…which really amounted to just more guitars but with spiky hair and some naughty words. The birth of electronica, synth-pop was the starting point for an entirely new musical form. Nobody involved was thinking about The Beatles or The Rolling Stones, they were modernists, futurists and artists. They were the surrealists to rock ’n’ rolls stuckists.
Even The Beach Boys were beginning to dig this new breed. Their album “Love You”, also released in 1977, was a synth-pop record with Moog and ARP synthesizers driving things into strange, and wonderful, new territory for the former surf poppers. It is impossible to listen to it and not hear Wendy Carlos…again.
By the time the eighties arrived electronica was front and centre of the most exciting new musical from since…ever. The Blitz kids and New Romantics like Duran Duran, Visage and Spandau Ballet were all beguiled by the possibilities offered by synths. “To Cut a Long Story Short”, “Fade to Grey”, “To The Shore” are all fabulous examples of how young musicians were embracing something exciting and experimental, in ways that the trad rockers wouldn’t ever dare.
Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark, Thompson Twins, Thomas Dolby, Erasure, Yazoo, Depeche Mode, Communards, Bronski Beat, Tears for Fears, Pet Shop Boys as well as Human League and Cabaret Voltaire were all acts who took electronica from the fringes and put them right at the heart of British pop music. The legacy of those acts has been felt in almost every new musical movement that has followed…acid house, techno, baggy, drum ’n’ bass, trip-hop and even Britpop with the likes of Saint Etienne, Republica, Dubstar and others.
Right now in the world of indie the focus is all on music made by people with guitars and a Beatles songbook. Nothing wrong with that, I like guitars and I like rock ’n’ roll. But, if we were being honest, very few of the bands that are prompting the most noise are anything other than nostalgia acts. Nothing new to say and saying it in ways that we have all heard before. Of course there are exceptions…but they simply prove my point.
But something more exciting, something more interesting and something less familiar is bubbling away in the corners of the indie room. A New British Electronica…building on the foundations of electronica’s past but determined to do something new. Bedroom composers producing songs to dance to, songs to soothe your aching heart, songs to thrill you.
Lines of Flight, Moth Effect, Amongst the Pigeons, Veryan, Penfriend, Post Coal Prom Queen… and so many others. With nods to the origins of electronica running through everything they do but also drawing on the likes of Goldfrapp, Portishead, St. Vincent, Cocteau Twins, Mogwai and Radiohead at their most experimental. These are artists, sculpting and crafting incredible soundscapes, memorable melodies and block rocking beats.
New British Electronica.
The revolution is here.