Various Artists - Musik, Music, Musique – 1980: The Dawn Of Synth Pop

Various Artists – Musik, Music, Musique – 1980: The Dawn Of Synth Pop

Another one of Cherry Red’s magnificently curated boxed sets, Musik, Music, Musique (taking it’s name from the single by Zeus – included in this set) gathers together, across three discs, the moment when synth pop transitioned from the underground to the mainstream, when pop went electric.

Influenced by the electronic ‘musique concrete’ coming from organisations like the BBC Radiophonic Workshop, and the nebulous amorphous sounds emanating from the krautrock genre, and emboldened by the DIY ethos of punk and the introduction of cheaper synthesizers, this collection pulls together a diverse and eclectic collection of tracks from synth pop pioneers like Orchestral Manoeuvres In The Dark (opening with Messages) and is a snap shot of the post punk era.

These bands took keyboards out of the traditional rock band format and utilising the new sampling and proto industrial sound placed electronic sounds at the forefront of their music making.

A lot has already been written about the synth pop pioneers from Sheffield (The Human League – featured here in the dark and sinister Only After Dark – where the sound of industrial Sheffield is reflected in the music, similar to how the heavy metal bands of the Midlands reflected the manufacturing industry through their music a decade earlier) and of course across the moors bands like OMD were channelling their own brand of industrial music.

However, there were lots more bands making music of this nature, and the well known names included here are Ultravox (ironically in a track included from their second incarnation) whilst former member John Foxx’s seminal No One Driving from the masterclass in minimalist electronica that is Metamatic.

This genre was also incredibly democratic and you get some classic tracks on here from Toyah with the brilliant and bonkers Victims of the Riddle, Sons and Lovers from Hazel O’Connor and Tuning In Tuning On from Kim Wilde, and the act of a strong female vocal married to an electronic driven metronomic beat breathes real soul into what could be a soulless sound (a trick that Vince Clarke pulled off to perfection with Alison Moyet in Yazoo). You also get lesser known, but incredibly talented pieces from tracks like Gina X Performance’s Vendor’s Box and Sympathy from Pauline Murray and the Invisible Girls.

There’s the wonderful Astroboy (and the Proles on Parade) from the Buggles, proving they were more than a one hit wonder, and of course the template for electronic pop was refined to perfection by Trevor Horn. It’s not an exaggeration to say that his production work sound tracked the ’80s.

The selection of lesser known songs from bigger names is also great and so you get the driving mix of funk and electropop that is Glow by Spandau Ballet with the juxtaposition of the harsher electronic sounds and the soulful emotive vocals of Tony Hadley. You then get the wonderfully arch Official Secrets by M, which is a far cleverer and better example of their output than the ubiquitous Pop Muzik.

Visage (of course) are featured with the Mind of A Toy, with Steve Strange, a striking frontman and with pre-Ultravox Midge Ure and Billie Currie as part of the band, they were probably the first electropop supergroup.

This mixture of harsh sounds and emotive vocals almost became the template for synth pop dues (a la Soft Cell, The Pet Shop Boys, Erasure) whilst into the mix you then throw bands where the vocals are processed electronically, like Zeus or Galactica by Rockets, where the big riffs bounce between the processed vocals.

Whilst there’s instrumental driven tracks that now sound like they could have soundtracked a computer game, like Chip ‘n’ Roll from the Silicon Teens with its relentless pounding beat and driving beeps and melodies, it’s an interesting vision of where they saw the musical future going, and if you upped the BPM’s you have the template for late ’80s dance and house music.

With the continental influence that runs through electronic music, via Krautrock amongst others, you get tracks like the shimmering and pounding European Man by Landscape (with minimalist vocals) and the sound of an early ’80s film soundtrack.

Even the old rockers got in on the act, and the wonderful Yellow Pearl by Phillip Lynott is included here, for many of us of a certain age the definitive Top of the Pops theme tune (covered sublimely by musical connoisseur Matt Berry on his TV Themes album) and sees Phil mixing his vocals with the new electronic technique to great effect.

Whilst you get Drawn and Quartered by the Korgis (formed from the ashes of West Country proggers Stackridge), taking their songwriting skills and blending it with the smooth electronic sounds of the time (and sounding very much like Squeeze).

There are also nods of humour from Bimbo by Yello, or Doctor? by Blood Donor (an homage to TV’s favourite Time Lord, unable to use Doctor Who of course as it’s a registered trademark!). With the Radiophonic Workshop and their brand of home grown electronics soundtracking a generation of TV viewing, it’s no wonder there’s also a band on here called Dalek I Love You (The Human League also recorded a song called Tom Baker – and I’m sure it’s no coincidence that the classic 1980s version of the theme tune by Phillip Howells was a fully synthesised electronic version, moving with the times and the sounds).

Whilst pushing the boundaries and changing the face of pop, some bands went further out than others, and the version of D’Ya Think I’m Sexy by British Standard Unit is absolutely bonkers in its performance, interpretation and execution (and I’m sure I Monster must have been listening if you have a listen to their cover of (Simply) The Best from 2008).

You get a pre-Matthew Karel Fialka with The Eyes Have It, with a great synth sound, and of course you can’t have a set of this magnitude without the brooding electronic magnificence of Japan, here in all their glory on Quiet Life.

The introduction of the cheaper synths and rise in musical and sampling techniques were liberating, and, if you look longer term, foreshadowed the rise of the Myspace and YouTube generation of performers creating content from their computers in their bedrooms.

Legendary cult artists like Suicide, who always ploughed their own furrow, and The Residents also stake their claim on this mighty set, which really covers as many bases as it can.

You can hear the sound of modernism throughout this set, and this really does seem to be the soundtrack of the brutalist architectural movement, a futurist manifesto that was truly of its time.

You can feel the vibe of cruising the endless motorways passing countless brutalist tower blocks, linked by promenades of concrete and harsh halogen lighting, and nothing sums this up better than John Foxx’s No-One Driving (and if this tickles, your fancy you need to own Metamatic).

This is a fantastic set and one that any connoisseur of electronica, and indeed shiny modernist pop should have on their shelves, and the joy of this triple set is that it pulls out rarer tracks from the bigger names, and some real belters from those bubbling under the surface.

Disc One

01. Messages – Orchestral Manoeuvres In The Dark (4:47)
02. Musik, Music, Musique – Zeus (3:40)
03. Coitus Interruptus – Fad Gadget (4:34)
04. Computed Man – Xynn (5:27)
05. Metal Love – Rod Vey (3:09)
06. Vendor’s Box – Gina X Performance (4:49)
07. Lawnchairs – Our Daughter’s Wedding (3:29)
08. Tokyo – Science (3:48)
09. Only After Dark – The Human League (3:48)
10. Victims Of The Riddle – Toyah (3:38)
11. DCT Dreams – Nick Nicely (3:21)
12. Diamonds, Fur Coat, Champagne – Suicide (4:47)
13. Waiting – Ultravox (3:54)
14. Money – Moebius (5:34)
15. Falling Years – The Fallout Club (2:19)
16. Da Vorne Steht Ne Ampel – Der Plan (2:33)
17. No, Nothing, Never – Dark Day (6:28)
18. Sons And Lovers – Hazel O’Connor (4:42)
19. Sympathy – Pauline Murray And The Invisible Girls (2:53)

Disc Two
01. Glow – Spandau Ballet (3:50)
02. Official Secrets – M (5:49)
03. Chip ‘N’ Roll – Silicon Teens (3:17)
04. Galactica – Rockets (4:41)
05. Tuning In Tuning On – Kim Wilde (4:33)
06. European Man – Landscape (4:21)
07. Can’t You Take a Joke? Ha Ha Hi Hi! – Henriette Coulouvrat (3:50)
08. A Circuit Like Me – the Metronomes (3:55)
09. No One Driving – John Foxx (3:47)
10. Kebabträume – D.A.F (4:02)
11. Harmonitalk – Gary Sloan And Clone (4:45)
12. Yellow Pearl – Philip Lynott (4:07)
13. Dalek I Love You (Destiny) – Dalek I (3:42)
14. Mannequin – Taxi Girl (4:49)
15. This World Of Water – New Musik (3:40)
16. Quiet Life – Japan (4:52)
17. Chase The Dragon – Kevin Harrison (4:07)
18. Diskomo – The Residents (4:35)

Disc Three
01. Astroboy (And The Proles On Parade) – The Buggles (4:49)
02. Mannequin – Berlin Blondes (4:57)
03. A Certain Way To Go – The Passage (2:54)
04. Between – Sic (3:29)
05. Bimbo – Yello (3:37)
06. Images of Delusion – Genocide (4:12)
07. The Lonely Spy – Lori & The Chameleons (3:28)
08. Lucy – Craze (3:06)
09. I’m A Computer – The Goo-Q (3:22)
10. Doctor…? – Blood Donor (4:39)
11. Brushing Your Hair – Alex Fergusson (2:50)
12. Drawn And Quartered – the Korgis (3:20)
13. Mind Of A Toy – Visage (3:35)
14. D’Ya Think I’m Sexy – British Standard Unit (2:27)
15. Living Wild – Mataya Clifford (4:13)
16. Private Lives – Systems (4:27)
17. The Eyes Have It – Karel Fialka (3:23)
18. Suis-Je Normale – Nini Raviolette (4:05)
19. China Blue Vision – Eyeless In Gaza (2:52)
20. The Russians Are Coming – The Red Squares (1:51)
21. Dampfriemen – La Düsseldorf (3:38)


Record Label: Cherry Red Records
Catalogue#: CDTRED815
Date of Release: 18th September 2020

Musik, Music, Musique – Cherry Red Records Product Page