❉ Journey into the origins of electronica in Europe – from early techno and electro to synth-pop, industrial, ambient and noise experiments.
When it comes to rock critics, electronic pop music seems to barely be on their radar. Granted they’ll often acknowledge Kraftwerk as ‘the electronic Beatles’ or something similar, but rather like the token jazz album (hello A Kind Of Blue) that’ll appear on their Best Album EVER lists, their appreciation of the genre seems to be begin with Autobahn and end with The Man Machine.
Whilst the punk revolution was occupying the weekly music press another non-guitar based musical revolution was happening in the margins, spawning synth pop, industrial and other electronic delights. One benefit of this revolution largely happening away from the mainstream is that such music has not really been over-plundered for reissue. Thankfully the people at Cherry Red have recognised the value of this genre.. Last year they issued the wonderful 4CD set ‘Beyond the Noise Floor’ that offered wider exposure to early electronic pop pioneers from Britain. A lot of that featured bedroom musicians who would issue and swap their music on cassette, inspired by the likes of Cabaret Voltaire, the first version of the Human League and the BBC Radiophonic Workshop. The follow up, Noise Reduction System casts it’s net to the rest of Europe, which many would regard as the spiritual home of electronic music, and highlights the parallels happening there. Or as the sleeve notes from Davey Henderson calls it ‘an alternative Eurovision’.
Britain has always had a, shall we say, troubled relationship with (mainland) Europe and that closed-mindedness extends to popular music too. Whilst the likes of ABBA dominated the singles charts in the 1970s it was rare for non-English language (pop) music to make much an impact in the UK, and the odd occasion when it did happen the song (and it is usually was just one song) was often dismissed as a mere novelty. However there are strong followings for the likes of Italian electro disco and Belgian EBM. That over-looking of non-British music means that many of the artists on this set will be unknown, even to hardcore aficionados. But anyone with a passing interest in electronic music of this era should recognise the likes of Cluster, Klaus Schulze Vangelis, Yello, DAF or Front 242. I’ve never found much pleasure in greatest hits albums, and if you’re a fan of the culty side of things then I hope that like me you share the joy of discovering gems you didn’t know existed. And this set is full of them.
Expertly curated by Richard Anderson, Noise Reduction System covers the years 1974-1984, when synths were analogue, home computers were first appearing and imagination was in great supply. Don’t for a moment imagine that this compilation features synth pop similar to that which dominated the British charts of 1981. Whilst some of the music strays into that territory the majority is harder and more experimental; there are proto-techo, industrial and noise artists to be found here. The music here was also created against a different post-WW2 pop cultural backdrop than you’d find in Britain. The sounds and ideologies here set themselves up against the schlocky middle of the road Euro-pop traditions that critics and music fans often dismiss out of hand. Highlights that were previously unknown to me include Pseudo Code’s brilliantly titled ‘She’s Got Blue Eyes, Wow’ which sounds like Can’s Damo Sukuzi jamming with Eno-era Roxy Music; Christina Kubish’s ‘Speak & Spell’ which utilises the popular learning toy of the same name. ‘Principles’ by Front 242 is more poppy than the harder works for which they are better known, musically it could be a Depeche Mode b-side circa 1983, and the fact it comes from 1981 shows how ahead of the game a lot of these artists were.
The recordings vary from the low-fi to those backed by major labels with a recording budget to match but all carry the excitement of forging new ways to express oneself without resorting the cliches of rock music. The third, largely instrumental disc was the most challenging for me, though some may find it the more rewarding. It’s a personal prejudice but I prefer my music with vocals and melodies. Industrial fans though will lap this up. The mixing the obscure with the well known is sound in that you should be drawn in by the names you know and if you like them you’ll like what else is on offer here. You won’t find much here to bop along to next to ‘Don’t You Want Me’ or ‘Bedsitter’ but if you know and like the same band’s Dignity Of Labour or Mutant Moments EPs you’ll find plenty of treasures. Very highly recommended, and I hope for a 3rd volume maybe covering the Americas or Australasia.
❉ ‘Noise Reduction System: Formative European Electronica 1974-1984’ is out now from Cherry Red Records, RRP £24.99