John Foxx and The Maths – ‘The Machine’ reviewed

An evocative journey of dark electronica, wrapped up in a soundtrack.

Synth pop pioneer John Foxx is a name many may have heard of, but may not realise how prevalent and influential in the music scene he is.

Best known for being a fundamental pioneering artist in the synth world as the original lead singer of the band Ultravox!, before leaving to embark on a solo career; he has also pursued a parallel career in graphic design and education.  In his various musical guises and collaborations he has released more than fifty albums over the course of his career.

Foxx is one of those cult figures known more through the recordings of others rather than those of his own making, and this may be why his name and legacy are largely unknown to the record-buying public.  However his detached, jolting vocal style coupled with innovative soundscapes has inspired a plethora of both mainstream and underground/alternative artists alike, across the decades, from synth-pop godfather Gary Numan to more contemporary artists in the electro world such as techno duo Adult.

In more recent times an EP of cover versions of John Foxx tracks was released by I Speak Machine (For more on ISM see here).

Foxx (real name, Dennis Leigh) is a proud Lancashire lad – as all Lancastrians are, including myself! – and was born in Chorley.  He cut his teeth with synthesisers in the 1970s whilst on a scholarship at the RCA in London, where he formed his first band; Woolly Fish.  

Post-Ultravox, Foxx’s solo career yielded albums such as Metamatic and The Garden and he scored some commercial success at that time with the singles Underpass, No-one’s Driving and Europe after the Rain. 

In more modern times, Foxx has toured with his band The Maths, supporting long-time friend and peer, Gary Numan.

In June 2014, Foxx was award an Honorary degree from Edge Hill University as a Doctor of Philosophy, an award similarly awarded to Marc Almond, this year.

Foxx’s current offering with his band The Maths is The Machine.  The album’s eerily dystopian themes are inspired by  Neil Duffield’s adaptation of E.M. Forster’s chilling 1909 short story The Machine Stops, which featured a specially composed soundtrack by John Foxx and The Maths – John Foxx and Benge.

Published over a hundred years ago, The Machine Stops charted an apocalyptic foretelling of the planet Earth, which is incapable of sustaining any form of humankind. It explores our increasingly intricate and complex relationship with technology: Familiar territory for John Foxx, who once sang, “I Want To Be A Machine”.

Duffield’s adaptation of Forster’s short story , which opened in 2016 and toured again in 2017, saw Foxx and Benge develop the stage music into a fully fledged album.

John Foxx: “I first read E.M. Forster’s The Machine Stops in 1964, when I was at school. It struck me then as prescient and original. When I started discussing the music for this production with Benge, I read it again. In the intervening years the internet had happened, and of course the world had changed dramatically, yet the story was still ahead of it all – an amazing feat of predictive imagination for something written in 1909. I’m quietly pleased to be able to collaborate with such an astounding piece of seminal sci-fi.”

The album is an evocative journey of dark electronica, wrapped up in a soundtrack. The use of analogue synths throughout the whole of the album creates an authentic synth sound, and the metallic pure delivery takes the listener to other-worldly locations.  A couple of the tracks, Transworld Travelodge especially, transports fans of Foxx right back to the 1980s Metamatic era.

The album features new mixes created especially for The Machine with disjointed, streaky alluring abstract, yet atmospheric vocals by both John Foxx and Elizabeth Bernholz (Gazelle Twin).  As a soundtrack album there’s enough interest to satisfy fans of his work and of the electro genre, as well as intrigue the more general listener to explore more of his work.

John Foxx And The Maths have recorded new song-based material for an album due out in in autumn 2018.

❉ ‘The Machine’ is released on 22 September 2017 by Metamatic Records (META62)  on LP, CD and digital download with artwork by Jonathan Barnbrook, whose credits include the design for David Bowie’s The Next Day and Blackstar.

❉ In 1966, E.M. Forster’s 1909 short story The Machine Stops was dramatised by Kenneth Cavender and Clive Donner as the first episode of the second series of SF anthology series ‘Out of the Unknown’, broadcast on 6 October 1966 – one of the most peculiar pieces of television ever to go out under the BBC’s banner. Martin Ruddock writes about it here.

❉ Ange Chan is a poet and novelist. Her fourth poetry collection “Fame; What’s Your Name?” and her second novel “Baby, Can You Hear Me?” were both published in paperback and Kindle in 2016. Her third novel will be published in 2017.

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