After the ‘Canonical Six’, the electronic flood gates slowly began to open in 1979, the landmark British album of that year being the highly commercially successful Replicas by Tubeway Army. the second release by a duo who rapidly slimmed down to just Gary Numan himself. However influenced it was by David Bowie and Kraftwerk, Replicas remains an integrated, coherent and highly individual statement by a musician who has been unfairly maligned by the music press and fashionistas in general. The Human League followed Being Boiled and The Dignity of Labour (7″ and 12″ respectively) with their first album Reproduction, with Travelogue in 1980 and finally the massively popular, epoch-defining Dare in the following year, which cemented electronic pop in the public (and the record companies) mind as the ‘futuristic’ way forward for the music.
A duo who started off with a 1979 Factory single Electricity (first as FAC 6, and eventually released two further times), released their first full-length disc in February 1980, and Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark duly became far too huge to retain their brief cult status. Many other small scale (in size) groups hit pay dirt over those years of 1979 - 1982: Ultravox, John Foxx, Visage, Soft Cell, Depeche Mode. Germany took up the Kraftwerk mantle, and increased it’s critical stock, with DAF (their debut single, the great Kebabtraume came out on Mute Records), Der Plan, Einsturzende Neubaten - these acts linked up more, however, with the more avant-garde, experimental likes of Cabaret Voltaire and Jim Thirlwell’s various Foetus incarnations. Interestingly, these two types sometimes overlapped and integrated - for example, Cabaret Voltaire ‘softened’ their approach over time, becoming more dance-friendly, to the point of having a minor hit with 1984′s funky Sensoria. Soft Cell and Depeche Mode retained their ‘edge’ over time, but managed to be huge unit-shifters, especially the latter, who have managed to hold the respect of both pop kids and their hipper older siblings.
Books have been written about the ‘second wave industrial’ bands (the first being our 1978 series of 7-inchers described in the last blog) - Charles Neal’s very early (1987) ‘Tape Delay’, Simon Ford’s biography of Throbbing Gristle, ‘Wreckers of Civilisation’ and, to repeat, Simon Reynolds’ ‘Rip It Up and Start Again’, which covers both wings of electronic popular music suggested above, the commercial and the not-so commercial. By 1984, the concluding year of Reynolds’ narrative, the ‘electronic’ genre has split into many and various sub-’scenes’: the ‘Mutant Disco’ manifestations on the Ze label in America (WasNotWas, etc); the ‘Hidden Reverse’ bands discussed by David Keenan in his book on Coil, Current 93 and Nurse With Wound; the developments in the clubs of Chicago, New York and Detroit, that would influence the ‘leisure activities’ of hundreds of thousands of young people all over the world.
I have always held the period of 1978-1982 in particularly high affection for many personal reasons, and for the music produced in popular music over those few years. Mark E.Smith, an important contributor to this treasure trove of innovations, described a plethora of “miserable songs synthesised”, on The Fall’s 1980 album Grotesque. There is some truth in this, of course, but the incredible number of recordings 7″ format, many of the beautifully presented in picture sleeves, did put some fun into it all (even if it was at times a rather po-faced scene), and it’s great to see that the electronica of those times has a distant relative in the music and presentation (mostly through an exemplary series of 10″ and 12″ singles) of today’s William Bevan, aka Burial. Here is the true keeper of the flame. of Thomas Leer and Robert Rental and The Normal?