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Two Albums, Four Singles: Everything you need to know about cult electronic synth band Yazoo

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Thirty-five years ago a band called Yazoo (Yaz in the US for legal reasons) released their debut single “Only You.” It was a big hit reaching #2 in the UK charts. The song could be heard everywhere that spring. Unfortunately, I first heard it being tunelessly whistled by a friend over breakfast at a local cafe. Still, his lack of musical ability didn’t disguise the song’s immediate hook and I asked him the title of the tune he was murdering? He wasn’t sure, but whatever it was, he liked it. He liked it a lot. Then when I heard it on the radio an hour later, I understood why. Here was an utterly compelling mix of a powerful blues singer with a synthpop backbeat. It should never have worked—but somehow it did, it did exceedingly well.

Yazoo/Yaz consisted of Alison “Alf” Moyet on vocals and Vince Clarke on synthesizer. The band formed in late 1981 after Clarke replied to an advert Moyet posted in Melody Maker looking for a “rootsy blues band.” Clarke had been the founder and chief songwriter at Depeche Mode. He quit that band because he was “fed up.” What with isn’t clear. What’s probable is that Clarke wanted to spend more time in the studio and develop his own unique electronic sound. For whatever reason, Clarke left Depeche Mode after writing most of the band’s first album and their first three hits “Dreaming of Me,” “New Life,” and “I Just Can’t Get Enough.”

It’s a good PR story that Moyet and Clarke didn’t know each other until that fateful ad in Melody Maker, but the truth was they had known of knew each other for quite some time. They both lived in Basildon and had both attended the same weekend music school as kids. Clarke had heard Moyet sing. He was more than impressed. Moyet has an incredible voice. And he was the keyboard wizard who wanted to do something different.

Clarke had the song “Only You.” He had offered it Depeche Mode as a farewell present but his ex-bandmates thought it wasn’t quite right as it sounded like something they’d already heard. They were wrong but it didn’t hamper their meteoric career. Moyet didn’t really like synthpop. Clarke was undeterred. He played her the track. Moyet sang the lyrics. Yazoo was formed.

According to Clarke, when they played “Only You” to Daniel Miller, the head of Mute Records, he seemed disinterested. But when the publishing company gave it a listen, they knew they had a hit. Yazoo was signed. Now a B-side was required. The only track Clarke and Moyet had was “Don’t Go” which was too good a song to fill out a B-side. They quickly recorded “Situation,” which was the first club hit by which Yaz/Yazoo became known in America.

“Only You” was released in spring 1982. It was the first of four singles released by the band over two years. Thousands of doe-eyed lovers swooned. Nightclubbers grooved. Friends tunelessly whistled it. “Don’t Go” followed and then their classic debut album Upstairs at Eric’s which is still one of the best albums of the decade.

Yazoo became Yaz in the States after Blues label Yazoo Records threatened a multi-million dollar lawsuit. They toured North America where they became better known after their 1983 split.

In an interview with Smash Hits in 1982, Moyet said she didn’t really know Clarke. He was uncommunicative and spent most of his time with his girlfriend or in the studio.

“We don’t really see each other until five minutes before the gig…Vincent and I are just basically different people, but we’re very alike in a way. We’re both very set in our ways, in our own beliefs. We get on fine but that doesn’t warrant an out-of-work relationship. He wouldn’t choose me as a friend if we weren’t working together, and I wouldn’t choose him as a friend. We’ve just got different likes and dislikes.”

More on synthpop’s ‘Odd Couple,’ after the jump…

Posted by Paul Gallagher | Leave a comment
1980s footage from a California new wave synthpop club is mesmerizing and awesome
09.20.2016
12:47 pm

Topics:
Dance
Music

Tags:
new wave
synthpop


 
Isabella Ibarra at the Southeast Career Technical Academy deserves a big round of applause for these excellent compilations she put together featuring the patrons of the Stratus Dance Club in the San Diego area (actually Spring Valley) in 1986 and 1987 dancing their asses off.

This was East County, and Stratus was an all-ages club that catered heavily to the new romantic and goth crowds—these videos are all labeled “The Metro Beat and Club Sanctuary Nights” which was surely a regular rendezvous for the new wavers in the area. Jane’s Addiction actually played Stratus right during this period, in the spring of 1987.

This reminds me of the footage taken at the Xclusiv nightclub in Batley in 1984 we posted a while back. So what’s on the turntable—or CD player? Well, the clips start us off with the Cult’s “She Sells Sanctuary,” there’s a good deal of Divine (I caught both “Shake It Up” and “Native Love (Step by Step)”) and Sexual Harassment (”I Need a Freak”) and Strawberry Switchblade’s version of “Jolene” and Trans-X (”Living on Video”) alongside more enduring faves like Blondie and New Order.

Spot the folks with chewing gum, it’s a sure sign of ecstasy use….

Continues after the jump, including a surprise appearance by Pee-wee Herman…...

Posted by Martin Schneider | Leave a comment
A young Depeche Mode perform a slice of synthpop perfection on Swedish TV, 1982

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A few years ago there was a theory that Kraftwerk was the “most influential group in pop history.” The pitch goes something like this: The Beatles’ influence lasted about thirty-plus years while the electronica heralded by Kraftwerk continues to be of influence to this day. One of the chief proposers of this argument was Andy McCluskey from Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark who said:

When you listen to pop now, do you hear the Beatles, or do you hear electronic, synthetic, computer-based grooves?

It’s a moot point as nearly everything is electronic today. McCluskey clearly remembers the day he first heard the future of music—when Kraftwerk played the Liverpool Empire on September 11th, 1975. Though the venue was about half-full, this gig had far-reaching consequences. It was a starting pistol announcing the launch of bands like OMD, the Human League and Cabaret Voltaire who were to pioneer electronic music in Britain.

When OMD signed to Factory Records, McCluskey was utterly horrified when label supremo Tony Wilson said their music was the future of pop. OMD saw themselves (quite rightly in many respects) as creating serious artistic music. Though McCluskey vehemently disagreed at the time, Wilson has been proven right. Yet it wasn’t until Gary Numan, Visage, Soft Cell, and in particular Depeche Mode, could synthpop be said to have truly arrived.

Depeche Mode was originally a guitar band from Basildon, Essex called No Romance in China. It was formed by two schoolmates Vince Clarke and Andy Fletcher in 1977. The line-up changed as different members came and went until the band morphed into Composition of Sound with the arrival of Martin Gore on guitar.

When Clarke saw OMD in concert in 1980, he reinvented the group as wholly synthesizer-based band. With the addition of Dave Gahan on vocals, Depeche Mode were complete.

Clarke was the principal songwriter and main driving force behind the band. At the time he was working as a delivery driver for a lemonade company to pay for his synthesizer. They recorded a demo and hawked it around to different labels, yet, it wasn’t until Daniel Miller—head of the newly formed electronic record label Mute—saw Depeche Mode play a gig in London that he offered them a deal on the spot

Miller was one of the pioneers of electronic music. As The Normal he released two seminal singles “T.V.O.D.” and the J.G. Ballard-inspired “Warm Leatherette.” One of the reasons he offered Depeche Mode a contract—apart from the obvious synthpop association—was the fact people at the gig weren’t watching the band play, but dancing joyously to their songs.

Watch Depeche Mode perform, after the jump…

Posted by Paul Gallagher | Leave a comment
‘Viking Angel’: Hollywood Babylonia

Actually Huizenga in
 
If God is in the Hills and the Devil is in the details, then where does that land the glitz of Hollywood? The glitter is there, sure, sparkly, pretty but often masking layers of blood, semen and tears. But isn’t that glamorous too? The grime and soot are as much a part of the picture as the pretty polish and all this and more are explored in post-pop musician/video artist extraordinaire Actually Huizenga’s most epic creation to date, Viking Angel.

Auditioning beautiful, unsure but ambitious aspiring starlets, Mr. Bailey (Louis Oberlander), a blue eyed, bearded Russ Tamblyn-charismatic agent, greets the latest girl. Blonde, lovely and dressed in a sexy approximation of virgin white, the actress (Actually) shows up in his office. A weird tableau of superimposition hell plays on a TV behind her, displaying the legs of basketball players, a neon cross with the words “Jesus Saves” and a future version of herself, naked, bloody and crawling.

The audition, involving lines like “ordinary morality is only for ordinary people,” goes so well that she gets the part and is promptly put through the casting couch process. The film shifts into music video mode with “Male Fantasy” coming on as a Lisa Frank color palette scheme kicks in. A photo of the dismembered body of Elizabeth Short, the infamous “Black Dahlia,” is seen in the background as Bailey soldiers on with his humping. 

Soon, she is being made up and prepped for her big scene, as a newscast comes on a nearby TV. Real newscasts should take a cue from Viking Angel. Animated bats, smoking on the set and dialogue like, “Whatever Ryan, why can’t you just be happy about it?” and “They should be really helping. Not throwing children in the closet with demons.” makes real life news even more mediocre and borderline unbearable. It’s a sick, sad world, with six escaped muscle-bound, sex-starved convicts running around raping and killing innocent families. The newscasters bring on Officer Short (Socrates Mitsios) to discuss the series of new unsolved murders with a matching MO. All of the victims, beautiful and struggling actresses, who have been quartered and drained of blood, Dahlia-style.
 
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As they cue to the weather, the actress gets tied up for her “scene,” as an occult procession starts to roll in, complete with topless women asserting themselves into a fleshy Jesus Christ pose and a ritual sacrifice. Realizing that this is not part of the script, she starts to freak and as the blade starts to pierce her skin, Officer Short arrives and manages to rescue her before the wound gets fatal. Simultaneously, an Insane Viking Warrior (Daniel Pierce) shows up, complete with crazed eyes, ripped six pack and chain mail loincloth, as well as a sexy version of the goddess Freya who looks identical to the actress.

The Officer manages to grab the actress and they crawl out of a hole in the ground, which is flanked by a grinning, dancing gentleman (Gerald) twirling a cardboard sign stating “Sacrifice Here.” They run away, while being unknowingly followed by the Viking Warrior, who lets out a scream of the ages before going on the chase. Down the rabbit hole they go, encountering an S&M bar with whipped businessmen and masturbating Santas, coitus interruptus thanks to vivisection via electric guitar, mass stabbings, watermelon being pierced by a high heel and an ethereal pope figure. 
 
This is all gonna end in blood.
 
Viking Angel is a fluid ride into a universe that intertwines the harsh realities of a violent, superficial world and the dreamy, love-lorn paganism of mythology. The music is a terrific mix of electro-sex-pop with metal undertones, thanks to some stellar guitar work courtesy of Gabriel Tanaka. With Huizenga’s background being music videos and the experimental film work of the SoftRock series, Viking Angel is a seamless blend of these twin formats. There is Huizenga’s brilliant editing style, working superimposition like a well-oiled-acid-laced-machine. The visual layering that is utilized here is like the world’s most stunning pastiche, with the tone of sensuality, bloodletting and the occult playing out like the art-child of Kenneth Anger.

Performance wise, Actually is pitch perfect both as the beautiful starlet who spends ¾ of the film caked in blood during her infernal journey, as well as the strong Freya-type doppelganger. As Mr. Bailey, Louis Oberlander is the epitome of blue-eyed Hollywood sleaze as he leads the sex & death show. Mitsios is charismatic as Officer Short and speaking of which, Gabriel Tanaka is equally striking as both the literally killer guitarist and the ghostly, androgynous Pope.
 
Glitter & Grue
 
The biggest challenge about Viking Angel has nothing to do with the film itself, but the multi-boundary pushing going on. Art crowds will get fussy about the blood and pop music. Horror fans could grouse about the art and pop music. Pop music fans will recoil from the grue and metal undertones, but you know what? That’s why this work is so wonderful and so needed. If your own boundaries are not pushed, then someone is not doing their job. Playing it safe is the last thing any artist should do, while playing it true to their work and vision is the absolute first thing they should do. Actually Huizenga is the real deal and has created a world that is striking, beautiful, nightmarish and complex with Viking Angel. Lucky for both fans and the curious, Huizenga has an upcoming multi-media tour highlighting both the film, the new tunes, as well as an additional performance by cult music wunderkind Ssion. Dates are not yet confirmed but will be posted on her website as soon as they are set.
 

Posted by Heather Drain | Leave a comment
New Gary Numan video: ‘I Am Dust’
04.07.2014
06:57 pm

Topics:
Music

Tags:
Gary Numan
synthpop


 
Gary Numan‘s star has been on the rise again in recent years as the pioneering electro pop musician’s back catalog has come to the attention of younger fans via the enthusiasms of Trent Reznor, Prince (who calls him a “genius”) and even Kanye West, whose minimalist 808s & Heartbreak album was profoundly influenced by Numan’s cold, sleek sound. In 2008 West said “I was listening to Gary Numan and I ended becoming more polished as a designer. I started to design my tracks.”

Now that is what you might call a sincere compliment from one musician to another.

An even better compliment is when you have your first top 20 album chart entry in thirty years and can mount a world tour after decades in the record store “has bins.”

Numan’s latest, Splinter (Songs From A Broken Mind) is an inspired, dark and heavy piece of work and the new single “I Am Dust” has a uniquely low tech new music video made with an old Hi-8 video camera. Utilizing modified vintage video gear by Tachyons+, a video glitch synth designing team, it was directed by Logan Owlbeemoth with effects by Omebi Velouria.

Like Numan himself, it’s oddly timeless. And… analog.
 

 
More Gary Numan after the jump…

Posted by Richard Metzger | Leave a comment
Synth Britannia: One Nation Under a Moog

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Synth Britannia, the latest in BBC4’s (excellent) Britannia series airs on Friday October 16. Covering the synthpop explosion of the late seventies and early 80s, Synth Britannia features interviews with John Foxx, MUTE Record’s Daniel Miller, Gary Numan, Neil Tennant, Phil Oakey, Martin Gore, Bernard Sumner, Cabaret Voltaire, Vince Clarke, Martyn Ware, Midge Ure, Soft Cell, Kraftwerk, Throbbing Gristle and Orchestral Manoeuvres In The Dark. What a great line-up!

“In the late Seventies small pockets of electronic artists such as The Human League, Cabaret Voltaire and Throbbing Gristle were inspired by Kraftwerk and J G Ballard to dream of the sound of the future against the backdrop of bleak, high-rise Britain.

Gary Numan’s 1979 appearance on Top Of The Pops heralded the invention of synthpop, which would provide the soundtrack as Britain entered a new, ruthless era in the Eighties.

Depeche Mode, four lads from Basildon, came to embody the new sound, while post-punk bands such as Ultravox, Soft Cell, Orchestral Manoeuvres In The Dark and Yazoo took the synth from the pages of the NME and onto the front cover of Smash Hits.

By 1983 the Pet Shop Boys and New Order were pointing to where the future of electronic music lay—in dance.”

I’m looking forward to see this and glad to see that they included John Foxx. I’ve always felt he was unfairly obscure. Despite making some of the most vital electronic music of that time period, few know his music. The first three Ultravox albums, with Foxx on lead vocals, are some of the finest albums of the punk era, yet they weren’t strictly a punk band (violins? synthesizers?) and so undeservedly fell through the cultural cracks. I think Ultravox’s Ha!-Ha!-Ha! is THE great lost album of the punk years and I tell everyone who’ll listen to me they should hear it. It’s nothing short of amazing. When Foxx left the band, his sound became more stripped, down, colder, synthetic—more European than English, if you take my point.

Maybe I say this because Foxx’s solo album Metamatic was in my Walkman as I took a long train journey across Europe in 1983. It was the perfect soundtrack to looking out of a train window. Every time I hear his music it takes me right back to that time, especially this song, Underpass:


One group who probably won’t make it into Synth Britannia for obvious reasons, is Japan’s Yellow Magic Orchestra, although they were most certainly working on a parallel track. Here’s their video for Computer Games, from 1980:

Posted by Richard Metzger | Leave a comment