Electronic Sound Issue 42 – Mute Cover Feature & The Normal Clear Vinyl 7″

ES42_BUNDLE-SQUARE

Electronic Sound have today announced their Mute-focussed latest issue, featuring a major new interview with Daniel Miller and an exclusive clear vinyl pressing of The Normal‘s ‘Warm Leatherette / T.V.O.D.’ 7″.

The issue also features a rundown of Mute’s 2018 artist roster and a new interview with the longest-serving member of the Mute community, Erasure‘s Vince Clarke, wherein he talks about joining the label with Depeche Mode, Miller’s influence on him as an electronic musician, and how he approaches running his own label, VeryRecords.

The full announcement from Electronic Sound is included below.

“I honestly didn’t think anybody would like it,” says Daniel Miller, talking about The Normal’s ‘TVOD’ / ‘Warm Leatherette’, which we are delighted to be reissuing with this issue of Electronic Sound. While The Normal was where Mute Records all started, this month’s cover story finds Daniel Miller discussing how his label is shaping up for the future. We also profile the artists that make up Mute’s Class of 2018, as well as catching up with Vince Clarke, a man who has only ever been signed to one label for his entire recording career. Click here to order now.

This issue also includes a rare interview with David Sylvian, discussing his soon-to-be reissued work with Can’s Holger Czukay, a chat with Finiflex, the artists formerly known as Finitribe, and a drinking session with post-punkers Sink Ya Teeth, who put us under the table. Elsewhere, we speak to Klaus Schulze, Claudia Brücken & Jerome Froese, The Orb, A Flock Of Seagulls and LUMP, a new project from indie folkster Laura Marling and Tunng’s Mike Lindsay. Plus there’s our usual bumper mix of tech, toys, books, gadgets and, of course, the very latest must-hear album releases.

This month’s exclusive music offer is a limited edition reissue of The Normal’s ‘TVOD’ and ‘Warm Leatherette’ seven-inch on crystal clear vinyl. Recorded by Daniel Miller using just a Korg 700S and a four-track tape machine, the single was the first release on Mute Records and is recognised as one of the most important electronic music records ever. Our reissue comes in a replica of the original 1978 picture sleeve. Click here to order now.

(c) 2018 Electronic Sound

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Electronic Sound 34

Issue 34 of Electronic Sound is now available. Focussing in on the world of soundtracks to coincide with the release of Blade Runner 2049, the latest issue includes an exclusive 7″ containing extracts from Louis and Bebe Barron’s genre-defining soundtrack to the sci-fi landmark Forbidden Planet.

My major contribution to the latest issue was an interview with Clint Mansell. Mansell was formerly a member of Pop Will Eat Itself, a band I got into in the mid-90s thanks to a friend at the after-school office jobs we both had, whereupon he plied me with each and every one of their releases up to that point. So smitten by PWEI was I that I did that very 90s thing of buying a t-shirt to show my allegiance, a lovely navy blue Designers Republic thing containing the cartoon band mascot. I was wearing that t-shirt the day I started university, which attracted the attention of another freshman who recognised the logo; we’ve been lifelong friends ever since.

This is a longwinded way of saying that Mansell’s music really matters to me, and so getting the chance to speak to him was a real privilege. Mansell’s inclusion in the Electronic Sound soundtrack issue arises because of his post-PWEI work as a composer for the films of Darren Aronofsky and Duncan Jones’s, developing scores for the harrowing Requiem For A Dream, Moon and the upcoming Mute. And speaking of Mute, which I often do of course, Mansell is pictured in a Mute ‘walking man’ logo in the photos accompanying my feature, and this issue includes a new interview with Mute founder Daniel Miller.

Elsewhere in this issue I wrote a short piece introducing the work of Lithuanian electronic producer Brokenchord, whose new album Endless Transmission is a robust, trip-hop embracing work of great weight. I also wrote short reviews of albums by livesampled piano duo Grandbrothers, the sexually-charged Blade Runner-inspired debut album from Parisian François X, a slinky 80s-inspired R&B album by Submerse, a thoughtful new LP from Aris Kindt and a grainy industrial / minimal release by Vanity Productions issued through Posh Isolation, one of my favourite small labels. To round the issue out, I reviewed the Front & Follow label’s fantastic ten year anniversary compilation Lessons, and surveyed the varied career of Auteurs founder Luke Haines through a new 4-disc box set. Having written the press release and an interview to support the release of Alka‘s The Colour Of Terrible Crystal on Vince Clarke‘s Very Records, it was pleasing to see the album get a deservedly positive review in the latest issue.

You can pick up a copy of the new issue at www.electronicsound.co.uk

(c) 2017 Mat Smith / Documentary Evidence for Electronic Sound

Alan Burnham – Music To Save The World By (Cherry Red single, 1981)

Alan Burnham 'Music To Save The World By' artwork

cherry red | cherry15 | 16/01/1981

Alan Burnham’s ‘Music To Save The World By’ was released by indie stalwart Cherry Red in 1981. As well as being something of an electropop obscurity, its interest to Mute fans is that it was produced by Daniel Miller and engineered by early Mute studio guy, Assembly member and Blackwing Studio owner Eric Radcliffe. The two tracks on this solitary release from Burnham were recorded at Blackwing, Mute’s studio basecamp for a good few years, which was based in All Hallows Church in South London. Hold on, apologies… I called this an electropop track didn’t I? Apparently we call that minimal wave these days, proof yet again that I’m not down with the kids these days at all.

Around this time, Miller was to be found producing the odd track here and there for non-Mute acts like Soft Cell, Missing Scientists and Alex Fergusson. I like to think that it was for aesthetic reasons or to help promote his nascent label, but the reality it was probably to make ends meet. Until Depeche Mode signed to Mute, the label nursed a small roster of acts and one-off singles that were unlikely to make Miller much money, so picking up the odd production job might well have helped pay some of the bills.

Could synth music save the world? Somewhat unlikely, but Alan Burnham’s single suggests it could. His vocal has a subtle, whispered quality that sits somewhere between completely captivated and slightly saddened, as if the observations catalogued on the lead track both intrigued and depressed him. Around his quiet delivery is wrapped a backdrop of ponderous bass synths, atmospheric whooshes and echoing bleeps that recall satellite signals being broadcast into space. In a blind listening test you might consider ‘Music To Save The World By’ to be a very early I Start Counting track. With distinct echoes of Miller and Radcliffe’s later work, this is a Mute record in all but name, aiming toward the radio-friendly pop that early Depeche Mode and later Yazoo would call their own, mixed in with a sci-fi sensibility that had inevitably surrounded music made with synths the decade before.

B-side ‘Science Fiction’ continues the spacey vibe with an enquiring bassline that gently nudges its way through the track. Hissing synths, bleeping melodies and live drums from Cam Findlay give this a more organic feel than ‘Music To Save The World By’, a throwback to a slightly proggier vibe with vaguely apocalyptic portents of a technologically-driven life on the horizon in Burnham’s lyrics. ‘Are we living at all?’ asks Burnham of a populous living in fibreglass domes. Maybe he hoped synth music would save us from that fate rather than being a contributing factor to the decline of mankind.

First published 2013; re-edited 2014.

(c) 2015 Mat Smith / Documentary Evidence

A Different Daniel Miller

A different Daniel Miller. Still from 'Take The Money And Run' (1969, dir. Woody Allen)

A different Daniel Miller: still taken from Woody Allen’s madcap 1969 comedy Take The Money And Run.

(c) 2014 Mat Smith / Documentary Evidence

Richard X – Into You (Virgin, 2003)

Richard X 'Richard X Presents His X-Factor Vol. 1' CD artwork

Richard X Presents His X-Factor Vol. 1 album | Virgin | 2003

Richard Hawley added subtle, discrete slide guitar and backing vocals to this pretty ballad from Richard X’s solitary album, with his old Pulp bandmate Jarvis Cocker on strangely maudlin lead vocals. ‘Into U’ has the disctinction of being one of the only tracks on X-Factor that doesn’t feature X cheekily sampling and mashing up bits of other pop songs, but the chiming melody sounds like it’s copying the sound of well-known bells peeling. Richard X thanks Daniel Miller in the liner notes. The track was co-written with Mazzy Star’s Hope Sandoval.

Richard X produced the new Erasure album The Violet Flame which will be released in September 2014.

First published 2013; re-posted 2014

(c) 2014 Mat Smith / Documentary Evidence

Alex Fergusson – Stay With Me Tonight (Red Records single, 1980)

Alex Fergusson 'Stay With Me Tonight' 7" artwork

red records | 7″ rs003 | 1980

There appears to be a television theme running through Daniel Miller‘s work between 1978 and 1980. First (of course) there was Mute‘s first move, his single ‘T.V.O.D.’ as The Normal; Silicon Teens, his fake synth group, had a track called ‘TV Playtime’ and Missing Scientists, who Miller produced for their single ‘Bright Lights Big City’ were better known as The Television Personalities. Alex Fergusson, whose ‘Stay With Me Tonight’ Miller produced under his Larry Least alias in 1980, was a founder member of Alternative TV. If nothing else, this release proves that too much TV is not necessarily a bad thing, despite what the health professionals might say.

Alternative TV were formed by Mark ‘Sniffin’ Glue’ Perry and Fergusson, a Scottish guitarist. The debut release by the nascent ATV was a flexi (‘Love Lives Limp’) given away with the last issue of Perry’s Sniffin’ Glue punk fanzine in 1977. Shortly after, following a couple of 7″ singles, Perry sacked Fergusson and cast his original collaborator aside. Fergusson went on to join Sid Vicious biographers Fred and Judy Vermorel’s brainchild, the band Cash Pussies (with Alan Gruner, model Diana Rich and Ray Weston); Cash Pussies released one single, ‘99% Is Shit’ which featured clips of Sid Vicious being interviewed, and withered away like the Vermorel-constructed act they were. In 1981, Fergusson formed Psychic TV (aka Psychick TV) with Genesis P. Orridge (who had been a sometime ATV percussionist) and Peter ‘Sleazy’ Christopherson, after the initial demise of Throbbing Gristle. TG had contacted Fergusson when they were working on the soundtrack to the Vermorels’ Millions Like Us movie, asking him to assist with the music they were creating.

1980’s solo Fergusson 7″ on Red, ‘Stay With Me Tonight’, sounds a million miles from those punk / industrial roots. Featuring Fergusson on vocals and Gruner on synths, the track is a pretty, out-and-out synthpop track that provides no clue whatsoever to the harsh cerebral onslaught that Psychic TV would create. Quite how Daniel / Larry got on board is hard to understand, but it perhaps serves to highlight how intertwined the punk / post-punk landscape in the UK was. (Gruner would go on to work with Bonnie Tyler; we won’t talk about that.) The synths on both tracks distinctly sound Miller-esque, both from Fad Gadget and Depeche Mode records; it wouldn’t surprise me if perhaps they were Miller’s synths. No details are provided on where this was recorded or who else worked with Miller / Fergusson / Gruner on this, but it’s feasible that this is a Blackwing / Eric Radcliffe / John Fryer affair like the Missing Scientists 7″.

‘Stay With Me Tonight’ (copyrighted to 1979) has a steady, thudding beat and some brilliant arpeggiating synths plus a beat on the chorus that Depeche Mode would definitely borrow for ‘Dreaming Of Me’. The way some of the synths get filtered from subtle background noises to foreground flashes is good too; it’s an effect that acid house and techno would repeat ad infinitum, but it’s nice to hear it deployed on a synth pop track. Fergusson’s vocal has a certain naivety, an unpolished, nasal youthfulness which is about the only ‘punk’ quality this song has; punk in the sense that it sounds like he’s not a singer in the trained sense. Overall, it’s a nice, upbeat and forgotten synth pop track and I really like the transition from flat-out verses to sparse choruses, which sounds like a Miller trick to me.

The less we say about the name of the B-side, ‘Brushing Your Hair’, the better. The track is a too-short synth instrumental, co-written by Fergusson, Gruner and Miller. The drums have a Krautrock quality while electronic squiggles reminiscent of the percussion on Depeche Mode’s ‘Nodisco’ have prominence in the foreground. Meanwhile, a wavering keyboard riff that was appropriated and expanded for Fad Gadget’s ‘Ricky’s Hand’ makes a brief appearance. This track has Daniel Miller’s handiwork in major evidence, and it’s worth tracking this down for the B-side alone.

Track listing:

7″:
A. Stay With Me Tonight
B. Brushing Your Hair

First published 2011; edited 2014

(c) 2014 Mat Smith / Documentary Evidence

S.C.U.M – Again Into Eyes (Mute Records album, 2011)

S.C.U.M 'Again Into Eyes' LP+CD artwork

mute artists | lp+cd/cd/i stumm327 | 12/09/2011

Things I’m reminded of when listening to S.C.U.M‘s Again Into Eyes – Joy Division, Gary Numan, Sheep On Drugs, early OMD; when I look at the layered, intertwined half-naked bodies on the sleeve of the gatefold LP, I’m reminded of the film adaptation of the Bret Easton Ellis novel The Informers. In fact I’m reminded of most of Bret Easton Ellis novels when I look at that sleeve. Plus, for some reason the pastel colouring reminds me of fruit Mentos.

But those synaptic connections are not intended to imply that this debut album for Mute makes me think I’ve heard (and seen) this all before. Far from it. Again Into Eyes is a truly original suite of ten tracks, and none of them sound anything like Joy Division, Gary Numan or Sheep On Drugs – it’s just that I hear an essence of Joy Division’s flatline pulse and restlessness, the robotic detachment of Gary Numan’s vocal entwined with the cynical snarl of Sheep On Drugs’ Duncan X / King Duncan and the synths – especially on the second single ‘Whitechapel’ – of OMD. Meanwhile, the effect, the personal impact if you like, of listening to these obliquely nihilistic tracks is similar to how listening to Interpol always affects me, namely nudging my mood in negative directions and making me want to pick up the pieces of my as-yet-uncompleted novel. But again, S.C.U.M are nothing like Interpol. They are like S.C.U.M.

Key to the mood here is the grinding, itchy drone-punk track ‘Summon The Sound’, which was in circulation much earlier this year and which featured on the Mute Artists compilation Vorwärts. ‘Summon The Sound’ is the connective tissue that binds this LP together; it sent out a very clear signal (pun intended) that S.C.U.M are anything but cheerful optimists with its beautifully cloying stop-start rhythm, urgent low-end and mysterious, sneering vocal. Then again, naming your band after Valerie ‘I shot Warhol’ Solanis’s feminist manifesto – her Society for Cutting Up Men – was never likely to produce anything remotely upbeat. Just a glance at the lyric sheet reveals the elusive, poetic depth of these songs. The spiky ‘Amber Hands’, the first single proper from Again Into Eyes, likewise pointed to a richly bleak outlook for the album. In fact, it’s only the second single ‘Whitechapel’ that has anywhere near a sense of positivity attached to it.

Again Into Eyes, metaphorically speaking, is an album of two sides. The first five tracks are uniformly dark. ‘Faith Unfolds’ opens with some shimmering, elegiac keyboard patterns from Bradley Baker – cf OMD’s ‘Joan Of Arc’ / ‘Maid Of Orleans’ – which remain throughout the song but soon get subsumed by whining guitar textures from Samuel Kilcoyne (son of Add N To (X)‘s Barry 7 and also credited with keyboards), Psychocandydrumming from the elfin Melissa Rigby and a powerful bass undertow from Huw Webb. Meanwhile vocalistThomas Cohen sings an elliptical tale of faith and fate and love. There’s barely a pause before the colour washes away into ‘Days Untrue’, all icy synths, twitchy drums and heavily-reverbed vocals. ‘Cast Into Season’ begins with those ‘Joan Of Arc’ / ‘Maid Of Orleans’ textures and appends cello sounds, ‘Atmosphere’-esque funereal drums and a prominent vocal in the mix from Cohen; it feels like a ritual or a sacrifice or an alternative soundtrack to Eyes Wide Shut. Or The Informers‘ vampiric passages. It’s also my favourite track on Again Into Eyes.

The second half of Again Into Eyes is less obviously dark, but nevertheless retains a seam of black colour. ‘Sentinal Drift’ starts with subtle drumming and gentle, polite synth melodies a la Yazoo‘s Upstairs At Eric’s, but in the end – almost inevitably – the song becomes dominated by swathes of droning noise and pounded drums; the brief ‘Requiem’ may have beautiful piano passages from Huw Webb, but those notes are submerged under hissing distortion and reverberating processed noise in the foreground. ‘Paris’ was previously available in far simpler form as part of the Signals series and was originally produced by Gareth Jones. It is a poignant, reflective ballad – again dominated by Webb’s piano and still containing plenty of gritty noises – which seems to strain toward the light but alas never quite reaches it. ‘I will never bear my skin for you,‘ sings Cohen in one of the most evocative lyrics on the album. ‘Water’, in contrast, is just harmonically-interwoven droning noise, but it makes complete sense after the emotional ‘Paris’.

Again Into Eyes was produced and mixed by Ken and Veryon Thomas, with additional mixing by Mute MD Daniel Miller. Keeping it in the (Mute) family even more, the album was pre-produced by Jim Sclavunos, he of recent Bad Seeds / Grinderman fame.

Note
Thomas Cohen & Peaches Geldof (c) Getty Images

I listened to Again Into Eyes today in the wake of the death of the death of Peaches Geldof, wife of S.C.U.M’s Thomas Cohen and the mother of their two sons. Cohen and Geldof married in 2012, by which time S.C.U.M had either already split up or were on their way to being so.

The news sites quoted Cohen’s heartfelt statement about his wife’s passing: ‘My beloved wife Peaches was adored by myself and her two sons. I shall bring them up with their mother in their hearts everyday. We shall love her forever.’

Track listing:

lp+cd/cd/i:
1. Faith Unfolds
2. Days Untrue
3. Cast Into Seasons
4. Amber Hands
5. Summon The Sound
6. Sentinal Bloom
7. Requiem
8. Paris
9. Water
10. Whitechapel

First published 2011; edited 2014

(c) 2014 Mat Smith / Documentary Evidence