Tuesday, 5 June 2007

Originally Published in One Week To Live June 07

808 State: 90

It’s hard to imagine now, but there was a time when decent dance music was relatively hard to get hold of without buying expensive 12 inches from obscure record shops. Before DJ mixed comps and tri-annual superstar DJ radio show cash ins, those of us living outside of London had to survive on fourth hand pirate radio tapes or dodgy chart pop house hits.

Enter then 808 State with Ninety, the breakthrough album that saw the previously obscure Manchester four piece rise from northern acid house heroes to Top of The Pops and fifteen minutes of fame.

Since the acid house wave broke on English shores in 87/88 British techno had a proud and distinctive history of innovation. One man with his ear to the techno ground was Gerald Simpson working in a virtual vacuum to produce maybe the first genuine UK acid and techno sounds. Long before the London fashion press jumped on the band wagon, ‘A Guy called Gerald’ was already fashioning his own version of the crazy computer music drifting from across the pond.

Looking for an outlet for this burst of creativity Gerald hooked up with experienced electronic experimentalist Graham Massey and Eastern Bloc records boss Martin Price, to form 808 State. Named after iconic Roland 808 drum machine, the group scored local hits with the albums Newbuild and Quadrastate; slabs of drawing inspiration both from classic American house mixed with UK industrial pioneers.

During this period the rave scene had hit big in the UK and Manchester in particular was surfing the wave of the so called second summer of Love and the newly emerging ecstasy scene. The loved up and laid back vibe of the E scene, changed the direction of 808 State, and in the summer of 88 Gerald laid down the haunting sax melody of Pacific State.

However was all my have been peace and love in the clubs, the band were growing further apart, causing Gerald to leave in late 89 to pursue a solo groove, whilst the remaining members drafted in local upstart DJ’s the Spinmasters. Despite this, the energy and enthusiasm of the Manchester club scene could not be contained any longer resulting in the ‘Madchester’ scene of 89/90. Swept along on this tide of enthusiasm were 808 State who saw the re-released Pacific State climb to number 10 in the charts.

On the back of this success and at the height of the Manchester Scene, 808 State released 90, an album that had little in common with the rest of the genre, but was snapped up by ravers all over the country, eager to buy into the energy of the E fuelled revolution.

In many ways 90 is inconsistent with the scene of the time, the pulsing industrial rhythms foresaw the boom in electronic listening music from the likes of Warp that was around the corner, more than the sweaty hedonism of the times. Alongside the sublime Pacific, tracks such as ‘Magical Dream’ combine a superb combination of melodic bass & synth with crisp breakbeats and polished vocals, adding to the ethereal vibe of the record. More traditional dancefloor moments such as Donkey Doctor with its liberal use of Cybotron’s ‘Techno City’ and Anacodia with its Hip Hop influence, point more into the experimental direction 808 State took into the nineties. The album ends with ravers comedown delight Sunrise, a sinister but compelling mixture of tone and rhythm that preceded the bubble of rave bursting in the early 1990’s.

808:90 was not as flawless musically as many later British electronic albums, but its timing was impeccable. To all those who saw acid house as their time and the moment that changed their lives forever, the record managed to bridge the gap between the full on laser and strobe environment of the club and the back to mine chill out session.

To many, like me though it was a chance to get our hands on a long player of this new music that was actually ours, hailing from rainy Manchester and not Middle America gave 808 State a homegrown resonance we could identify with, along with a collection of killer grooves. Whilst some of it feels a bit dated today, if you have any interest in the evolution of British music 90 is a must, if only to experience the comedown bliss of Pacific State at least once.

If you like this try

LFO: Frequencies. Warp
Various: Retro Techno. Network
DJ: Pierre: Phuture and Other Classics. Trax
Nightmares on wax: A World of Science. Warp
Baby Ford: Ford Trax. Rhythm King
Various: Pioneers of the Warped Groove. Warp
Various: The Hacienda Classics. Virgin

Friday, 27 April 2007

The Klaxons and New Rave

Of course it was just a joke, but with the Klaxons actually releasing records that bother the charts and glowstick makers turning a profit for the first time this millennium, New Rave somehow stuck.

Neatly disowned by its instigators, (stand forward Shit Disco and the before mentioned Klaxons) new (or nu) rave has like every scene ‘discovered’ by the NME before it , filtered down from the slightly ironic London trendies to suburban kids looking for something to piss their parents off with. And for this reason and the factual evidence of teenagers sporting yellow plastic fila boots and smiley badges it’s worth at least a cursory glance.

Supposedly the newest incarnation of disco and punk, new rave has unlike its predecessors (punk funk, indie dance, big beat, electro-clash etc…) the acclaim of not actually having any connection whatsoever with its readily quotable title. The Klaxons derivative student rock, vaguely backed up by a mis-firing drum machine has little relation to any form of ‘repetitive beats’.

Their often quoted love of nineties dance music actually boils down to piss poor interpretations of Graces ‘Not over Yet’, not actually a rave tune, but a pop handbag crossover remixed by the nemesis of underground dance music Paul Oakenfold, and ‘The Bouncer’ by Kicks like a Mule, one of many novelty hardcore tracks that helped to kill the original scene.

The indifference to any original rave scene was highlighted by the NME who famously described original ravers as “twats in baggy trousers” All very clever but actually a round up of NME’s pop picks from the early nineties uncovers such gems as Carter USM and Ned’s Atomic Dustbin, in light of this I wonder in which context the word twat was actually used.

Whilst there is no benefit to be had by reminiscing about 25,000 people watching the sun rise in a field etc. etc. but what is worth noting is that Acid house and its offspring rave is the only genuine post punk youth culture to actually make a difference. Its year zero made it alright for white people to dance, show some emotions and successfully for a few years at least managed to sidestep the last twenty years of guitar led hegemony, notably somewhere punk failed.

What new rave has done is simply added a fluorescent paint job to the tedium of four lads on stage being worshipped by many. Pop music in 2007 bears a distinct relationship to the sound of the mid eighties where blandness and a total lack of danger were celebrated above all else. New rave is actually only a sub genre of something that, if possible is even more dreary, i.e. the back end of what was once termed ‘indie’

If it’s possible in hindsight to learn from history, surely the acclaim given this substandard rock is the obvious signal of a last stand by the current cultural shift. Hopefully there is something genuinely new and exciting being brewed up in a teenager’s bedroom somewhere in suburbia. What ever is it cannot come too soon, and I hope to god its more interesting than a bass/drums/guitar band trying desperately to reference a deceased musical legacy in order to court controversy.

Classic Album- League Unlimited Orchestra- Love and Dancing

Originally published in 'One Week To Live' Magazine - May 2007

Classic Albums

League Unlimited Orchestra -Love and Dancing

The Human League? Don’t you want me Baby? Dancing round handbags in backstreet suburban nightclubs?

Well, actually yes and no; before The Human League descended into a haircut induced parody of themselves they started life as a credible and experimental electronic dance outfit that owed as much to electro-funk and disco as Top of The Pops.

Created from the ashes of punk, the Human League rejected the standard three chord chaos of punk’s year zero and instead utilised emerging synthesiser technology, funded by mundane day jobs as computer programmers. These electronic experiments were a world away from the new wave of punk bands then sweeping Britain, making The League not only unpopular, but also hugely controversial in their native Sheffield.

Flying in the face of their detractors, the group began flogging their experimental demos around record companies to near total indifference. The only spark of interest came from Island records supremo Chris Blackwell who suggested the group try a more pop orientated direction.

Armed with this new inspiration they returned to Yorkshire and enlisted the talents of Phil Oakey, a local ‘face’ whose only real credentials for the role was his asymmetric haircut and his pop star bravado. This new line up comprised a different Human League and resulted in the breakthrough album ‘Dare’ a pop smash that went on to break the group worldwide and seal their reputation at the vanguard of the emerging new romantic scene. However the bands success was not totally down to foppish hairstyles and catchy chart friendly compositions, an instrumental part of their success lay with their producer Martin Rushent.

Rushent, a veteran UK producer who had worked with artists as diverse as T Rex and The Buzzcocks, fed the groups elements of pop hooks and synthesiser experimentation into his desk, and came out with the classic Human League sound of Dare. Featuring the hit singles Don’t You Want Me and Love Action. The rest of course is history.

However Rushent was more than a journeyman producer, his innovative and futuristic production style led him to take the bare bones of Dare and remodel it in his studio to create something quite different and in many ways much more significant.

Released under the name "The League Unlimited Orchestra" as a tribute to Barry White's Love Unlimited Orchestra, Rushent crafted an instrumental dub version of the album aimed squarely at the dancefloor. This new ‘version’ contained songs from Dare along with a version of the track "Hard Times", which was originally the B-side of Love Action.

Finally released in 1982 “Love and Dancing” is one of the most underrated and influential British albums of the decade. Listening to it now it’s hard to believe it is not a modern creation. The rock hard beats and mammoth synth sounds of tracks like Hard Times or Love action sound more like tracks created in a sweaty Berlin basement in 2007, than the product of a suburban British record producer in 1981. As the tracks effortlessly glide into one another with a funk fuelled groove and pulse, snatches of the pop hits we all know and love slide in and out of the mix to create genuine moments of brilliance. Its safe to say that this is not only the best dancefloor album by a White British band in the 1980’s but the best dancefloor album created in the eighties full stop.

Take a listen to the album, and it’s easy to see the connection between German Krautrock, New York Electro and ultimately the house and Techno sounds that captivated British Youth in the late 80’s. The reason that house and rave culture overtook the country so comprehensively was that the funky electronic sound was already familiar to many. Love and Dancing is one of the reasons behind this recognition, and for that it truly deserves the ‘classic’ status; in addition it sounds bloody great today and genuinely stands up against today’s electro house soundtrack.

If you need any further proof of how ahead of its time this album was Richard X's saw no harm in sampling 'Things That Dreams Are Made Of' in it's entirety for his 'Finest Dreams' single. Also George Michael's 'Shoot the Dog' samples large chunks of 'Love Action' to brilliant effect.

If you like this try:

Soft Cell- Non Stop Ecstatic Dancing

A Certain Ratio- Early

Cyberton -Clear

Georgio Moroder – Best of

Blondie- Parallel Lines

New Order Substance

Yello - 1980-1985 The New Mix in One Go

Kano- Kano

Thursday, 5 April 2007

April Update

So this is my blog- new to all this stuff, but wholeheartedly expect that no one will ever read it !

I have been asked by One Week To Live Magazine to write some classic album reviews so I thought I would archive them here. Who knows, could be the start of the book one day........

Classic Album Kraftwerk The Man Machine

First Published April 2007- One Week To Live Magazine

Classic Album

Kraftwerk The Man Machine

Capitol 1978
(Re-released 1995)

In the all encompassing universe of electronic music that now surrounds us, it was the unlikely combination of four synthesisers experts from German called Kraftwerk who provided the big bang. In fact Kraftwerk were so far ahead of their time that the rest of the world has spent twenty five years inventing new musical genres in an attempt to catch up. House, techno, hip-hop, trip-hop, synth-pop, Hi NRG, trance, electroclash: Kraftwerk's influence looms over all of them. In fact it's impossible to imagine what popular music would sound like today if Kraftwerk had never existed.

By the time they released The Man Machine in 1978 the band had already unleashed the metallic funk of Trans Europe Express on an unsuspecting world, and the sound of Kraftwerk had already made the world sit up and take notice. Years ahead of any so called contemporaries, Trans Europe Express melded synthesized melodies to rigid precision beats, that were picked up and wholeheartedly embraced everywhere from the hip hop godfathers of the Bronx to, the insipid English boys in the back bedrooms of Sheffield.

With its Russian modernist El Lissitzky cover design and songs about robots and dehumanized cities, Man Machine cappitalised on this early success, and delivered a concept for the band that represented the next step in world domination, whilst manufacturing a landmark for modern music.

Opening single ‘The Robots’ is probably Kraftwerk at their most self referential, featuring mechanised bleeps over a punchy rhythm, the band set out their stall early, declaring themselves as Robots, and in the process creating a blue print for electro- hip hop. This robot concept was taken even further by Robot dummies taking the bands place on stage, a strange concept at first, but one that ideally represents the ideas surrounding melding of man and machine that the album was trying to represent.

Alongside The Robots Kraftwerk biggest and perhaps best know track is ‘The Model’; a strange tribute to high fashion and glamour, delivered here in a deadpan German monotone. This is a track that would be rendered a ludicrous novelty by any band other than this. Charting at number One in the UK at the height of the New Romantic era over two years later ‘The Model’ managed to ignite another whole genre of pop single-handedly, simply by being light years ahead of its time.

The beauty of this album however lies not in its leftfield pop hits but the intelligence and sophistication of the remaining tracks, to discover ‘The Man Machine’ at any stage of your music listening career is to open a whole new perspective on electronic music and its place in modern culture.
The polished sophistication and intense electronic concentration of the rest of tracks such as ‘Spacelab’, ‘Metropolis’ and particularly the sublime ‘Neon Lights’, combine rhythm, emotion and melody in a way which has yet to be bettered. Kraftwerk were not working in an experimental avant garde bubble when producing this album. Dispelling the stereotypical German coldness, the band managed to immerse themselves in contemporary funk and disco, producing the groove and rhythm that give the synthetic textures and chords their pulsing charm. To produce a landmark record of this quality of breadth today would be an extraordinary feat, but to virtually rewire the DNA of pop music nearly thirty years ago in a way that manages to sound contemporary and relevant today, is truly an amazing accomplishment.

If you have even a passing interest in electronic music of any genre, this album is an absolute necessity. The electronic sound Kraftwerk pioneered has become so embedded in our culture that it remains a template for the majority of today’s dance, pop and experimental music; despite this Kraftwerks music manages to remain fun and hugely listenable. Many so called ‘influential’ bands music today just sounds primitive and jaded; Man Machine however remains the benchmark for future electro pop disco and is as electrifying and essential as ever.

Tobold Hemming

Thursday, 29 March 2007

Classic Albums New Order Techique

This review originally published in 'One Week To Live' Magazine in April 2007

Classic Albums
New Order- Technique
Factory 1989

The rise of acid house and Balearic culture caught New Order at a difficult time, having shrugged off their indie roots as Joy Division in the aftermath of Ian Curtis’ suicide; they had taken their beat back to the street whilst rewriting the future of electronic music.

However by 87 the climate was changing and the rise of ‘new pop’ acts they had influenced, led New Order to strike out in a more chart friendly vein. Poaching Stephen Hague, the producer who led the Pet Shop Boys to massive success, they produced the classic ‘True Faith’ bringing their sound to a far wider audience, but ultimately leaving them lacking direction. Meanwhile however the world had been listening to New Orders early synth led sequenced tracks, and the huge impact of Acid house in 1997/8 left New Order lagging behind the very music they were instrumental in creating.

Having struggled through problematic personal problems, the band decamped to Ibiza at the beginning of 88 to immerse themselves in the new Balearic sound that was emerging from the White Island. Here clubs such as Space were mixing house, hip hop, pop and rock in a revolutionary fashion that mirrored the bands own musical journey over the past decade.

Renting a villa in the hills New Order threw themselves wholeheartedly into the hedonistic party lifestyle of the island and began work on a new album. Inspirited by the enthusiasm and energy of the scene they were the spiritual predecessors of, the band created what is believed by many to be their finest album ‘Technique’

Surprising critics and fans alike, the opener ‘Fine Time’ took the classic New Order blueprint, united it with the driving rhythms of house and created a bass led pulsating monster of a track; ultimately their greatest dancefloor statement since Blue Monday.

Released in Nov 88 two months ahead of the album, Fine Time signalled the return of the band to the clubs whilst scoring them a chart hit. Featuring a bleating sheep and Barney Sumner’s sleazy Barry White-esque drawl, the single clearly saw the band rightfully reclaiming their techno crown.

Whilst the album retains a rare uniform quality throughout, Standout tracks include the energetic “Round and Round”, a tense and minimal number that sees Sumner’s soul laid bare over a relentless precision bass groove, and Run, the jewel in the albums crown.

In many eyes Run remains New Orders finest moment; more melodic and guitar-led than many of the tracks on the album, Run is a sublime paean to love lost, underpinned by startlingly beautiful melodic interplay, that captures the wedding of acid house and traditional British pop in its purest form. Extraordinarily the single release was subsequently pulled from the shelves due to a lawsuit by MOR rocker John Denver who claimed a theft of his hit ‘Leaving on a Jet Plane’, the similarity is hard to distinguish, however the resulting settlement left the release a collectors item.

Technique is not all Ibiza rave madness however as there are sufficient ‘classic’ New Order moments (Guilty Partner and the atmospheric Loveless) to retain a bridge to their earlier, more introspective compositions. This eclecticism means the strength of this album lies not in a collection of DJ fodder tracks, but its ability to stand up solely on the quality of its songs. Lead singer Sumner had recently come through an acrimonious divorce and the combination of his melancholic vocals, and the sunshine and party vibe of Ibiza give this record its masterpiece status

Technique came at a time for New Order when they needed it most, and performed the task of ensuring them a reliantly seamless transition across the decades. To come was the football terrace brilliance of ‘World in Motion’ (probably the last straw for Joy division fans’), and a domination of the house sound.

Indie Dance was a term bandied around without abandon at the beginning of the 1990’s, the fusion of house music with rock heralded as the new punk. In hindsight it was only New Order who really got it right, whilst the other bands grappled to meld funky drummer beats to their traditional rock staples, New Order the band that started it all, effortlessly pulled off the only real marriage of disco and punk, and in the process created the first great album of the nineties.

Tobold Hemming


Friday, 9 March 2007


This is a story about electronic music, how it started, where its been and maybe a little peek into where its going. Its not a story about dance music, or hip hop, rock, pop, funk, jazz or electro; its a story about all of these and more.

Electronic music has been the core strand that has run through all popular music of the last fourty years, sometimes in vogue, sometimes not. Its the sinsiter sister of rock, having as much or more of an influence as the guitar but consigned to the novelty or bin of music writing by the supposed 'significance' of white boys with guitars.

Shaping the cultural landscape of our generation, the synthesiser and its components have changed the way we think about 'music', how its created, and importantly the ways in which we listen to it. From experimental electronic engineers to wigged out funk, brothers in the Bronx, sci fi obsessives, English boys with eyeliner, sweaty ravers, basement rockers and beard stroking critics, the electronic pulse has run strong through our record collections.

Now is the time for the story to be told......