MONDAY, JULY 6, 2015
WEEK 27: ELECTRONICA
The idea of harmony between man and machine and the attitude of making music that screamed ‘The Future’ had proliferated within the avant-garde for most of the twentieth century. In 1977, Kraftwerk found themselves bang in the middle of the bridge between those bygone European experimentalists and modern music culture. Their long awaited breakthrough, and the new concept of electronic dance music, arrived with ‘Trans Europe Express’. Released as a 12 inch disco single in the States, it coincided with Giorgio Moroder’s mesmeric, sequenced synth undulations on Donna Summer’s ‘I Feel Love’. Together they transformed the dancefloor.
The first to fall under Kraftwerk’s considerable influence were a generation of punks disenchanted with the gobbing, cartoon strip their movement had become. Given its dodgy prog connection, adding a synth to their armory may have been diametrically opposed to punk, but as a statement it was even more radical; the perfect blueprint for rejection, not only of rock but the foundations of all Anglo-American music.
The perpetually ignored first incarnation of Ultravox! were crucial harbingers of the eighties electro pop explosion. Unlike Suicide who put their short, catchy American rock’n’roll songs through the electronic mincer, with their cold, European aura and visions of dehumanisation and decadence, groups like Ultravox!, the Human League, Cabaret Voltaire, Throbbing Gristle and remarkable one offs like Daniel Miller’s The Normal rejected rocks standard language completely. And they were just the tip of an increasingly big iceberg awaiting the unwieldy hulk of the trad rock Titanic.
Even with all this activity, post punk electronica failed to infiltrate the mainstream before Gary Numan’s Tubeway Army hit the charts in June 1979. Reviled by critics as an inauthentic interloper, Numan went supernova, adored by legions of teens and a handful of futurist genre creators as far afield as Detroit, Chicago and the Bronx who all identified with his immaculate machine tooled songs. The precursor to a first phase of electro pop exploring feelings of urban instability, Ballardian desolation and an overriding sense of paranoia, Numan was joined in the overground by John Foxx and Blitz kid Steve Strange’s Visage. Paradoxically, electro pop’s second phase then reacted against the first by following the new pop aesthetic of a bright, clean future.
Whereas Kraftwerk’s influence on the punk generation could have been predicted, the impact they and other pioneers like Belgium’s Telex and Japan’s Yellow Magic Orchestra had on black dance music came out of nowhere. Afrika Bambaata, Frankie Knuckles, Larry Heard and Juan Atkin’s were the most prominent game changers, but there were also a handful of equally influential if obscure one offs who all played a part in building the framework for everything we now take for granted. They confounded the fear and distrust of synthphobic rockers by proving how there could be real emotion within technology and real spirituality within machines. The electronic music virus had finally been unleashed.
01 KRAFTWERK ‘Trans Europe Express’ (Trans Europe Express LP April 1977)
02 DONNA SUMMER ‘I Feel Love’ (A Side July 1977)
03 ULTRAVOX! ‘Hiroshima Mon Amour’ (Ha! Ha! Ha! LP October 1977)
04 SUICIDE ‘Cheree’ (Suicide LP November 1977)
05 THE NORMAL ‘Warm Leatherette’ (A Side February 1978)
06 HUMAN LEAGUE ‘Being Boiled’ (A Side June 1978)
07 YELLOW MAGIC ORCHESTRA ‘Computer Game’ (YMO LP June 1978)
08 CABARET VOLTAIRE ‘Do The Mussolini/Headkick’ (Extended Play EP November 1978)
09 TELEX ‘Moskow Diskow’ (A Side May 1979)
10 GARY NUMAN ‘Metal’ (The Pleasure Principle LP September 1979)
11 VISAGE ‘Frequency 7’ (B Side September 1979)
12 THROBBING GRISTLE ‘Hot On The Heels Of Love’ (20 Jazz Funk Greats LP October 1979)
13 JOHN FOXX ‘He’s A Liquid’ (Metamatic LP January 1980)
14 RYUICHI SAKAMOTO ‘Riot In Lagos’ (A Side June 1980)
15 A NUMBER OF NAMES ‘Shari Vari’ (A Side February 1981)
16 CYBOTRON ‘Cosmic Cars’ (A Side June 1982)
17 SEXUAL HARASSMENT ‘I Need A Freak’ (A Side 1983)
18 ALEXANDER ROBOTNIK ‘Problems D‘Amore’ (A Side 1983)