2 weeks ago
Saturday, November 22, 2008
CHAPTER 26 : RAIDING THE 20TH CENTURY: ZTT AND FRANKIEMANIA
(Chapter 22 in the US edition)
> Ragbag of subversive concepts
Being McLaren, he had to cloud things further by throwing in yet another idea alongside the rediscovery of ethnic/tribal/folk dance notion: a celebration of the hobo, America’s train-hopping itinerants of the 1930s (conveniently forgetting that it was lack of work rather than wanderlust that made them up sticks during the Depression).
> McLaren… New Pop… edgeless and sexless
Malcolm McLaren (to Sounds, late 1982): “These groups who say, We Are Fun… [that’s] like a grey shadow on the East Berlin wall… Haircut 100 are closer to Dean Martin than the Sex Pistols, they’re pre-punk”.
McLaren railed against the fickle New Pop consumers who followed TV and radio’s bidding, rather than loyally following bands. Punk, hip hop, and, strangely, heavy metal, he approved of, because “they’re all tribal. It’s… this ‘new pop’ that says ‘Vote Reagan’.”
>Folk Dances of the world… rediscovery of the earth and ethnic… against 'cooked' pop
Writing a rambling manifesto for the Christmas 1982 edition of NME, McLaren hailed Africa as the motherlode for rock’n’roll’s pagan energies and decried the reigning New Pop paradigm in which video, packaging, and production dominated
Against a sparkling backdrop of African guitars and euphoric Soweto-diva vocals, McLaren rapped in his usual not-quite-on-the-beat way about the New York schoolgirl tradition of jump-rope contests -- skipping--which often involve sing-song rhymes chanted along with the skipping. Double Dutch is "a rope skipping exercise played when two ropes are turned in eggbeater fashion. While the ropes are turned, a third person jumps within". It seems to be an African-American thing judging by this site
McLaren standing in front of some girls doing the Double Dutch
The most square dancing tune. Indeed squaredancing was a big craze in Britain in the Fifties; one of my best friends at university, I found out her mother had been mad into squaredancing as a teenager and so she brought in a vintage guide to squaredancing (this is around the time McLaren's single was out) and there it was, the first page practically, the steps and the tune for "Buffalo Gals".
Where did it come from? In my interview Horn makes reference to a version by "Peyote Pet"e. Google turns up a solitary reference, in Dutch, to Peyote Pete & his Country Cousins, who appeared on a Folkways album called Square Dances! Bit more investigation, it turns out it's really Piute Pete & his Country Cousins, and the LP is Folkways FW02001 and came out in 1966. It also includes "Duck For the Oyster", another song on the Duck Rock album. Apparently square dance caller Piute Pete was a fixture on NBC and on various radio shows during the 1940s.
Apparently the song itself is much, much older, going back to 1844. Originally the "buffalo gal" was a term for a women of easy virtue as found in Canal Street, in Buffalo, New York state, at the end of the Erie Canal. It was a tune sung by the men on the canal boats for some while, then disappeared, only to be revived in the forties by a dance band and recorded as "Dance with The Dolly".
>An old skool hip hop classic
Electro-bass and massive programmed beats underpinned "Buffalo Gals", with synth-fanfares, primitive sampling effects, and so forth keeping it absolutely contemporary, indeed this was one of the first tracks you heard all this kind of stuff on--noise and FX that would be part of the vocabulary of Eighties dance music.
The exhilarating opening sound of McLaren yowling into an echo chamber at the start still crops up regularly as a sample. There is another sound in the track--hard to describe, a sort of synthetic quacking sound that seems to be a voice-sample played percussively on the Fairlight--that has an equally potent half-life in the sampladelic ecosystem; I heard it on a bassline house track from late 2007 only just the other day.
>a surfeit of inspired ideas but no real material… creatively scatty
Anne Dudley: "Malcolm Mclaren was very stimulating person. A completely bonkers, very odd man. Not quite the evil svengali he’s painted as. He’s so chock a block with ideas he can’t stick with one of them particularly long, and that’s his weakness.
>Opera and pop
Even before Duck Rock was finished, he came in with a Puccini album and said "let’s use this aria from Madame Butterfly"--which would have been one input too many for the already influence-and-idea overcrowded Duck Rock.
Vivienne Westwood had a Buffalo fashion collection lined up in tandem with Duck Rock, but there was no mad rush of youth eager to form a subculture around McLaren’s ideas (something he still seemed to believe would happen).
A formidable woman sometimes referred to as “the Iron Lady of the music business”. The gulf between Sinclair’s ruthless business head and Morley the aesthete-provocateur was only uneasily bridged by Trevor Horn (who combined aesthetic perfectionism AND the hitmaker’s lust for commercial success), with the result that Morley would often find himself at loggerheads with what he called ‘the Family’.
Morley's job at ZTT took on elements of publicist, A&R, design, strategy, brand manager, etc
These would fill the role of the old pre-punk imprints like Antilles and Obscure (both Island sub-labels, home to esoteric and experimental music, jazz or world flavored stuff)
>a piece for NME… Who Bridges the Gap Between the Record Executive and the Genius?
Morley mourned the way that “the Record Industry, instead of accepting that The Chart is a value, ensures that it becomes The Value”.
>“I was sick… aside”
Paul Morley MM October 1984. Art of Noise interview.
>“We hate videos… richer”
Paul Morley. Quoted in Hill, Dave. Designer Boys & Material Girls: Manufacturing the ‘80s Pop Dream. Dorset: Blandford Press, 1986.. P. 128.
lots anti-Duran/Wham rhetoric in this which I think is the first ever music paper feature on The Art of Noise / ZTT, by Chris Bohn in the NME
>engineer sensations… convulsed their way through the media…
"You cannot communicate without sensationalism because the entire nation’s media relies on sensationalism,” Morley told one interviewer. Post-Warhol and post-McLaren, publicity could be an art form in itself. The media had superceded the old rock-as-folk idea of community and counterculture, and that it was through the media you had to operate. C.f. McLaren’s comments about Led Zep existing outside the media/the industry, which seems more romantic, if naïve.
This was an example of parole in liberta or words-set-free: Futurist poetry using onomatopoeia to express the dynamic energies unleashed by industrialism, including the lethal clangour of mechanised warfare.
To hear Fillippo Tomasso Marinetti doing "La Battaglia di Adrianopoli" in 1935
go to this page of the great avant-garde sonix and cinema archive Ubu Web
How could a Yes drummer be so funky? Well check this from a review of a White solo album, Ramshackled, from 1976, by Sounds's Phil Sutcliffe:
"There have been murmurings about White doing a soul album and I guess if Bowie is accepted into that category then so should Ramshackled be. There's a lot of urban black roughness in the feel. How much of Alan White there is in it is another matter. He produced played drums and presumably gathered the band together. Aside from that the vocals are taken by ex-Zzebran Alan Marshall and guitarist Peter Kirtley while the songs are by combinations of Kirtley, Kenny Craddock (ex-Lindisfarne) and Colin Gibson (ex-Snafu) and a rather old-hat lyricist called William Blake. From which you can see that White has turned to his Newcastle roots and Cocker band experience rather than attempting a percussionist's angle on Yessongs. I'm sure that was wise and the outcome is certainly interesting and gets more appealing with every upward turn of the volume control. That was particularly true with the one specifically funky number 'Oh Baby'. At a civilised level I just thought 'Oh yes, that's the ritual funky one. Next!'; as the-neighbours-are-probably-complaining-but-the-music's-so-loud-I-can't-hear-them level I suddenly got it. The track actually features White driving the drums like a piston on the soul train through a long intro and middle break, and yet retaining a superbly light touch interworking with the guitar. The song itself comes across a touch too smoothely Peddlarish but the movement is a delight. However Marshall (I think) is responsible for the album's most identifying tracks 'Darkness', 'Everybody' and 'Giddy'. Their quality comes from the same cultural sympathy that made the Animals so fine – between black ghettoes and Geordie slums.
>Fairlight “sounded dreadful”… reproduced sampled sounds at low-resolution
8 bit, where today’s samplers are at least 16 bit
>“Veiled, indistinct quality”
Timothy Warner, in his Pop Music—Technology and Creativity: Trevor Horn and the Digital Revolution. Aldershot: Ashgate Publishing, 2003. P. 98.
On the "veiled" sound, Anne Dudley notes: "if you put a nice bright cymbal sound in the Fairlight, it would come out with all the treble shaved off. So it gives this muffled sound to everything.”
>“flung together… conflicting themes”
Anne Dudley, MM 10/19/85
>what made Art of Noise eccentric
“We don’t really have songs, so you have to find hook lines in drum sounds and construct different structures,” Dudley said in a mid-Eighties TV interview.
>“Moments In Love”
Kraftwerk’s “Neon Lights” fused with Laurie Anderson’s “O Superman’
>Dudley today is much more generous
Anne Dudley on Paul Morley: "He’s very bright and he makes all kinds of connections and allusions… We were almost a band by mistake."
>Taking the piss out a little of pop groups
“The Art of Noise comes from an early decision of mine, that I hate pop groups…,” Morley told NME in 1984 . “A lot of groups are well stupid, and yet they’re suddenly in this position of being able to talk a lot about life and the world and themselves, and they haven’t got a clue.
>Morley became Art of Noise's spokesperson in interviews
This was actually in the original spirit of “The Art of Noises”. Although Russolo would later build his famous intonorumori (machines for generating what he called “noise-sound”) when he composed the manifesto he was actually a non-musician: the tract is addressed to the composer Balilla Pratella as an appeal for him to unleash true Futurist music. Russolo was writing as a music theorist, a Morley-like figure--the critic whose ideas are so potent they actually influence the direction taken by bands in the process of forming.
Russolo with his Intonorumori
>“The children… Moroder”
Chris Bohn. Quoted in NME 10/13/84. ZTT profile.
>imposing pillars of percussion
In "Mabuse" these are the massive tympani rolls and snare crashes of Propaganda's Michael Mertens--whose day job was percussionist in the Dusseldorf Symphony Orchestra
>“Very bombastic… unreal production”
Ralp Dorper ZigZag June 1985.
>Dorper… fanatical cinephile
He’d once released a single inspired by David Lynch’s Eraserhead.
>“Cinema is… a soundtrack"
Ralf Dorper. NME interview 1985, quoted here
>ambition to be the biggest German group in the world
Dorper’s vision was Abba noir; a two girl, two boy format. Morley liked the lyrical hints of dark desires and kinky inclinations (his ear had originally been caught by the group’s cover of Throbbing Gristle’s “Discipline”) and saw them as ZTT’s riposte to The Thompson Twins (a group he especially loathed).
When will i be famous -- early attempt to be a pop star from Holly Johnson
>tube video… more than a jingle
As Horn notes, the song is just one repeated phrase, pretty much. In the video, Holly wears a pair of leather fetish briefs and not much else, along with a little leather bandeau; you can see his bare stomach. Paul Rutherford is wearing leather capri shorts that go down to his mid-thigh and a little leather cap. Also cavorting in the video are the Leatherpettes, female backing singers in kinky attire.
>“One week… punk”
Paul Rutherford. NME 11/4/83.
Holly Johnson. From a Frankie poster mag, quoted in Simon Frith’s “Frankie Said: But what did they mean?” In Consumption, Identity, & Style. Ed. Alan Tomlinson, (London: Routledge, 1990) P. 173
>1950s deal… recordings, publishing, studio
Holly Johnson, in his memoir, claims that somewhere between seventy to eighty percent of all the money made from Frankie’s records went to ZTT. Their publishing was held by Perfect Songs, Jill Sinclair’s publishing company; and the records were made at SARM studios, owned by Horn and Sinclair; the cost of making the records was then set against the group's royalties on record sales.
Of all of them, Johnson did and has done the best because he had money coming in from the publishing, having written or co-written the songs, which got insane amounts of radio play world-wide, and all the other uses that massive hit songs get in terms of cover versions, incidental music, muzak, soundtracks, compilations.
>“Morley had… all the sex"
Paul Rutherford. From a Frankie poster mag quoted in Simon Frith’s “Frankie Said: But what did they mean?” In Consumption, Identity, & Style. Ed. Alan Tomlinson, (London: Routledge, 1990) P. 173
One of Frankie's early songs was actually called “Love’s Got A Gun”
>Donna Summer’s ‘I Feel Love’
At one point Patrick Cowley, the gay disco producer who worked with Sylvester and who brilliantly remixed Summer's “I Feel Love” in the early 80s, was set to produce Frankie. Horn says the crude kernel of a sound he’d heard in Frankie on The Tube was “Donna Summer meets heavy metal”.
>“Whatever he said… act”
Holly Johnson, in Johnson, Holly. A Bone in My Flute (London: Arrow Books, 1995). P. 164
> Blockheads … not sufficiently modern sounding
Their "Relax" was in fact too close to their biggest hit with Ian Dury, “Hit Me With Your Rhythm Stick
>“I could never… band”
Trevor Horn. in Johnson, Holly. A Bone in My Flute (London: Arrow Books, 1995). . P. 266
>“melodic, straightforward… funky”
Ian Levine, quoted in Dave Hill’s “Boystown Nights” The Face, 9/ 1984. Reprinted in Richard Benson (ed). Night Fever: Club Writing in The Face 1980-1997. London: Boxtree, 1997. P. 64
interview with Ian Levine at DJhistory.com
>'rock edge' with Hi-NRG
Johnson described 'Relax' as “a hybrid of the kind of disco records I had heard in the gay clubs, but with a significant rock edge to it.”
Hi-NRG was a UK-based sound, uptempo and metronomic with its precise drum machine beats and sequencer pulses, that was originally created because the supply of American club tracks dried up after disco was officially decreed dead. The genre’s pioneer producer Ian Levine--resident DJ at Heaven, Europe’s largest gay club, and creator of Miquel Brown’s “So Many Men, So Little Time”--defined gay taste as preferring “melodic, straightforward dance music that’s not too funky… zingy and pretty, but powerful"
>Non-funkiness.. bass-twangs at the end of each bar
This gave the rhythm an almost polka-like choppiness
>Remorseless metronomic precision
‘Relax’'s relentlessness also sounds like a prototype for house music, another form of gay postdisco made in defiance of disco’s decease. “Frankie Goes to Hollywood were soooo big here,” Chicago DJ Frankie Knuckles told the Face in 1986.
>amyl nitrite rush
The inhalant known as poppers, liquid gold (name of a disco act at that time, am I right?), rush, ram, thrust, rock hard… Originally used medically to ease chest pains (angina) and then became a disco drug and a sex drug (an orgasm amplifier). A sniff of this acridly artificial liquid in a small bottle, gives you an intense but short rush (two or three minutes) but can also make you feel faint, dizzy, lose consciousness. Not good for people with heart problems or high blood pressure. No addictive but psychological/emotional dependence is possible, as activities normally enjoyed "straight" (sex) can seem boring once you've got used to the amyl enhancement. More information here
>“was ‘if you wanna… later”
Holly Johnson. Quoted in East Village Eye December 1984/January 1985.
>Top of the pops January 1984
The first edition of the year, setting up the Year of Frankie rather well
I quote from somewhere or other: "BBC Radio 1 disc jockey Mike Read was playing the record on his show when he noticed the mild sexual imagery used as a design on the front cover, including one of the more salacious quotes from the lyrics. This prompted him to listen more intently to the words, and his reaction was such that he removed the disc from the turntable live on air, snapped it in two and branded it "disgusting"."
"Allegedly the expression '...when you want to suck it to it..'. which appeared on the sleeve and caused Read's outrage was, in fact, a deliberate inaccuracy placed on the sleeve to cause extra interest and intrigue. The real words were, in fact, '...when you want to SOCK it to it....'"
the Radio One deejays at some point in the early Eighties. Mike Read is the younger guy with glasses to the North East of John Peel (the scowling bearded one)
>Divided into chapters
One “chapter” of the sleevenote's abbreviated porno novel declared “Frankie was a monster. No one could imagine what he demanded of his nephew”. Rather than this incest/child abuse reference, it was the shit-licking Chapter Two that tipped off Mike Read that there was something not wholly wholesome about Frankie Goes To Hollywood
>lick that shit off my shoes
And she, or he, does: “Excited and half terrified, Peta began to lick the shit from his shoes.”
>Taxi Zum Klo
Erratum: it is Frank Ripploh, not Zipploh. (Freudian slip?). The film came out in 1981 so would have been very much in the air in 82/83 when Morley was formulating the Frankie campaign. I remember seeing it at a cinema in Jericho, Oxford. One or two patrons walked out.
In addition to the cottaging, water sports, etc, there is a hilarious “romantic” moment when one of the lovers pisses a valentine’s heart into the snow.
“slimy, steamy… S.E.X.”
Paul Morley. NME 11/21/81. DAF album review
Morley's review celebrated DAF in terms of reminiscent of the Futurist’s unsentimental celebration of “lust as a force”, as penned by Valentine de Saint-Point:
We must strip lust of all the sentimental veils that disfigure it. These veils were thrown over it out of mere cowardice, because smug sentimentality is so satisfying. Sentimentality is comfortable and therefore demeaning.
In one who is young and healthy, when lust clashes with sentimentality, lust is victorious. Sentiment is a creature of fashion, lust is eternal. Lust triumphs, because it is the joyous exaltation that drives one beyond oneself, the delight in posession and domination, the perpetual victory from which the perpetual battle is born anew, the headiest and surest intoxication of conquest. And as this certain conquest is temporary, it must be constantly won anew.
Lust is a force, in that it refines the spirit by bringing to white heat the excitement of the flesh. The spirit burns bright and clear from a healthy, strong flesh, purified in the embrace. Only the weak and sick sink into the mire and are diminished. And lust is a force in that it kills the weak and exalts the strong, aiding natural selection.
Lust is a force, finally, in that it never leads to the insipidity of the definite and the secure, doled out by soothing sentimentality. Lust is the eternal battle, never finally won. After the fleeting triumph, even during the ephemeral triumph itself, reawakening dissatisfaction spurs a human being, driven by an orgiastic will, to expand and surpass himself.
(Go here for the manifestoin full).
Morley's review came with his own high-cultural garnishings, however: it started with a quote from D.H. Lawrence and ended with one from Sixties anti-psychiatrist David Cooper, hymning orgasm as “a timeless moment” that shattered the ego and liberated the vital energies of the body, opening the way to renewed life.”
>Herbert Marcuse… Norman O. Brown
Also Wilhelm Reich, the original Freudian Marxist… All those Sixties ideas about Eros versus Thanatos, saw sexual desire as essentially revolutionary and anarchic; whereas repression, self-denial, prudishness, frigidity were all as counter-revolutionary. Brown was a left-wing but essentially academic and mystical-poetic dude who saw Freud's work as a visionary text rather than science. But Marcuse, like Reich, was a Marxist; in fact he was a junior member of the Frankfurt School, if I remember right. So the idea at the time was that industrial capitalism depends on the repression and sublimation of libidinal energy. A very widespread, Sixties-into-Seventies type of idea that seems now totally wrong, given how sex is exploited by capitalism to sell commodities and keep us all in a slathering state of craving and dissatisfaction. And to be fair Marcuse did also come up with the idea of "repressive desublimation", which is looking at how capitalism who work very well with certain kinds of contained forms of permissiveness.
See also the softcore Freudian Marxist, Erich Fromm--who actually got a nod in one of the quarter page “Relax” ads.
>“there’s no pussy-footing… open”
Holly Johnson. Him. January 1984
In the interview, Holly Johnson described Frankie’s immediate precursor Boy George as the softcore option: like Bowie, he coyly and craftily stayed “in a grey area” of ambiguity and androgyny. “But we’re black and white.” In Jamming, Rutherford was bitchier: ““the only people interested in Culture Club now are middle-aged women. He’s not upsetting anyone. He’s not breaking down any barriers.”
The video was filmed in a Liverpool nightclub near where Holly Johnson lived at the time, called The Coconut Grove
The Nero figure wears a toga and is surrounded by minions with fans. He gets shaved by his servants. There’s a tiger onstage and holly has a cuddle with the tiger. There's people in cages, gay moshers; it's like a gay rock gig. Totally orgiastic . At the end Holly and Paul are in the midst of this madly frotting moshpit and they're doing this fluttering eye-lid, eyes rolling back in the head as if the ultimate orgasm is spasming through them. The final image makes it looks like Holly is buttfucking Paul. Or is it the other way round? Go check on youtube why don't you.
In some ways, though, even more subversive than the steamy promo was the 7 inch single’s B-Side “One September Monday”: an interview with Holly and Paul conducted by Morley and dubbed-out into a delirium of delay FX and treated vocal. Listen to the flirty, mocking way Holly teases Morley about his highbrow pretensions (“Da-da, you’re into Da-da, aren’cha? Zang Tuum Tumb ‘n’ all that!”; check the delicious combination of impishness and defiance in his voice when he defends Frankie as “entertaining nonsense” or confesses that as a performer “you’ve got to enjoy it first … and it’s a buuuuuuuuuz if other people enjoy it”; revel in the saucy, self-intoxicated way he utters the Frankie catchphrase “give it loads”. What you hear is the forbidden fruitiness that gave real scandalous breath to ZTT’s machinations.
The interview transcript of "One September Monday" (someone else did this, not me!)
Holly Johnson: mmmmm
Paul Morley: What was the danger about Paul, Holly?
Holly Johnson: The danger about, Paul?
Paul Morley: I mean what made you realise that here was someone you could work with?
Holly Johnson: I didn't until (pause) sometime this year in fact
Paul Morley: Really?
Holly Johnson: It didn't seem possible (pause) up to that point (pause) because we both shot off in different directions. I was heavily into the Big In Japan thing and he was like (pause) visiting London, giving it loads in that direction. So we had a big break (pause) from each other, and then he did this Hambi tour giving it much dance ooops
Paul Rutherford: (laughs) Holly Johnson: ergh, and he gave it loads right.
Paul Morley: yeah
Holly Johnson: and we were just starting, we got a few support dates with Hambi, through knowing Hambi
Paul Morley: That's Frankie
Holly Johnson: That's Frankie Goes To Hollywood, in fact. Which was (pause) you know (laughs) woooah (laughs)
Paul Rutherford: (laughs)
Holly Johnson: Oh yeah. Which was Mark, Ped and Ged and Sonia
Paul Rutherford: Sonia
Holly Johnson: Sonia Mazonda
Paul Morley: Why did you choose the name?
Holly Johnson: Ohh, not, it's not a too much of an exciting story, ahm (laugh). There was this old this, this old, this band I was in, I was just jamming with, in the reheasal room
Paul Morley: Jamming?
Holly Johnson: Yeah you know kind of learning, learning period. Erm we needed a name quick cos we had to get a gig you know and all that stuff and there was a (pause) a picture, a piece of the New Yorker magazine stuck to the wall in the reheasal room that said Frankie goes to Hollywood, and a picture of Frank Sinatra, getting ahh, mobbed (laughs) by, what were they called, what were they called (pause) oh you know Teenie Boppers or something like that (laughs)
Paul Rutherford: That's it (laughs)
Holly Johnson: Frankie Goes To Hollywood
Holly Johnson: We used to give it loads of 'Hey it's a movie' (laughs) and this is your audition, well that was it at the time.
Paul Morley: At this time it was complete nonsense really, weren't it?
Holly Johnson: Sorry?
Paul Morley: Complete nonsense really?
Holly Johnson: Yeah it was but it was entertaining nonsense, we thought. And that's whatcha got it good.
Paul Morley: Entertaining nonsense.
Holly Johnson: Well yeah. (pause) Dada! (laughs) No need to Dada. Zang Tuum Tumb an' all that. Oh when are we gonna have these parties then? (laughs) We've been promised parties.
Paul Rutherford: Where's these parties you've promised us?
Holly Johnson: You've promised us parties.
Paul Morley: I promised you four parties.
Paul Rutherford: Four? Ahh love.
Holly Johnson: I'm ahh (cut off).
Paul Morley: Why do you sing?
Holly Johnson: Sing?
Paul Morley: Yeah.
Holly Johnson: Why do? I could give it loads of 'it's something that comes from within' but, youknow, it's just not that?
Paul Morley: So why do you sing?
Holly Johnson: It's just something I've always wanted to do.
Paul Morley: Yeah?
Holly Johnson: One of the things I've always wanted to do.
Paul Morley: Since when?
Holly Johnson: Since I was about four, I used to sing to the pigeons (laughs)
Paul Morley: Who do you sing to now?
Holly Johnson: Eh?
Paul Morley: Who do you sing to now?
Holly Johnson: ergh? I think it's dead important to sing to yourself really. You know what I mean?
Paul Morley: Yeah?
Holly Johnson: You gotta enjoy it firstly (pause) and it's a buzz if other people enjoy it.
Paul Morley: It's a what?
Holly Johnson: A buzz
Paul Morley: Yeah?
Holly Johnson: Do you ever think about who's gonna enjoy it?(pause)
Holly Johnson: I think about the people.
Paul Rutherford: Yes they crossed my mind once (laughs)
Paul Morley: I mean do you care about (muffled)
Holly Johnson: Do we really, do we really care?
Paul Morley: I mean do you (pause) like think about like competition?
Holly Johnson: Occasionally, occasionally, occasionally.
Paul Morley: like Culture Club or ABC or anything like that?
Paul Rutherford: No, no not like, erm, no not them
Holly Johnson: I don't them as competition 'cos it a completely different thing what we're doing
Paul Morley: What are you doing them?
Holly Johnson: oooh, well you'll just have to flip it over and see. (laughs)
There was a follow-up B-side interview/soundscape thing with "The Lads" for "Two Tribes" called "One February Friday".
>Into battle with the Art of Noise had minimal impact in Britain
Partly because its length created confusion about whether it was an EP or mini-LP
>car as musical instrument
The remix 12 inch “Close-Up” featured an abandoned automobile on its cover and a dedication to Crash author J.G. Ballard, a favorite of Trevor Horn’s as well as Morley's, obviously
>“Two Tribes” lyrics
Another one of the handful of lines is “switch off your shield/switch off and feel”
>Horn’s supercharged production
“like sticking your head inside a car's engine,” as someone memorably put it at the time, I can't remember who
>the Evil Empire
Reagan had only recently had been caught on tape making his infamous “we start bombing Russia in five minutes” joke
>Christopher Barrie as Reagan
One of his lines: “Condemn me. History will absolve me. Singing this’ll be the day that I die.”
>tabulated the number of deaths
In millions and tens of millions; also noted each syndrome’s duration of lethality.
here is a scan of the table from Two Tribes back cover but you'll need to squint to see what each category is
Two pop hits about nuclear war that are more effective than "Two Tribes"
Kate Bush, "Breathing"
UB40 "The Earth Dies Screaming"
>“It’s not… glorious, I think”
Holly Johnson. Quoted in Hill, Dave. Designer Boys & Material Girls: Manufacturing the ‘80s Pop Dream. Dorset: Blandford Press, 1986. P. 130.
>Eros versus Thanatos again
This time the echo is of Jeff Nuttall’s Bomb Culture notion that the 1960s’s orgiastic hedonism and explosive creativity constituted Eros’s retaliation against living with the perpetual impending threat of Armageddon. “It’s dead hippy really”, Johnson said of “Two Tribes”. Together “Relax” and “Two Tribes” combined carried the twin message: inhibition, caution, deferral of gratification, make absolutely no sense. Nuclear annihilation justifies nihilistic hedonism, gives license to anything-goes and give-it-loads.
There is an echo also of the Sex Pistols: "'when there's no future how can there be sin?". Frankie Goes To Hollywood: God Save the Queens?
>"sex and horror are the new gods"
Steve Beeho writes (8/20/08) with this delicious nugget of serendipitously stumbled-upon data:
"A few weeks ago on BBC4 there was a documentary on British b-movies which included a clip from Cover Girl Killer, a 1959 film which was basically a forerunner for Peeping Tom, starring Harry H Corbett [of Steptoe and Son fame]as a serial killer murdering, er, cover girls (you probably guessed that). In the clip he looked like THE SPIT of Philip Larkin and the whole thing seemed so odd that I taped it when it was on a bit later... I nearly fainted when the HHC psycho character suddenly spoke darkly of a world where "sex and horror are the new gods" (!!!!) Whoever would've guessed that this film was the source for that line..."
>biggest selling singles of all time
More information at
>The Power of Love
>a vague quest
The key line is: “we’re a long way from home”--both "look at me ma, on top of the world/we've made it out of Liverpool", and idea of the pleasure seeker as rolling stone, pursuing a pagan existence of barbarian joy and perpetual motion.
The idea is recapitulated by way of a cheeky cover of Bruce Springsteen’s “Born To Run”. Frankie’s version is prefaced by dialogue from a scene at the dole office, taken from the Liverpool-based soap opera Brookside, and reminding listeners that Holly, Paul and the Lads had plenty of reasons to leave the U.K’s most unemployment-scarred city.
>Krisco/Crisco… pre-AIDS days
A cheap lubricant ideal for the more unusual penetrations, apparently, but corrosive to the latex condoms are made of, hence dropping out of favour once AIDS's mode of transmission was discovered.
Chris Barrie reappears on the record itself pretending to be Prince Charles discussing the Orgasm.
>Copies didn’t exactly fly out of the stores
And when a condensed single version of “Welcome To The Pleasuredome” peaked at #2 in early 1985, you knew it was all over.
>Art of Noise… eclipsed by Frankiemania
Intended to be the flagship of the deep-listening oriented Incidental Series, Art of Noise ironically proved to be a great singles group rather than an albums band. Then they became a novelty singles group
>Propaganda… Out from Frankie’s shadow
The group got frustrated because Horn was too busy with Frankie to work on their debut album, and in the end shunted the task wholesale into the hands of his assistant producer Steve Lipson.
>A Secret Wish
Morley’s packaging was arty in the usual scattershot ZTT manner, echoing the Futurists one minute (“for those who heed the call of the machine, we salute you…”), the Existentialists the next (the cover of Josef K’s “Sorry For Laughing” was tagged with the comment “always two strangers uniting in the interests of torment”). For all the song’s themes of beauty-as-cruelty and cruelty-as-beauty, the lyrical tints of darkness and perversity, A Secret Wish suffered from its over-bright, clinical, terribly mid-Eighties production.
>"Slave to the Rhythm”
It began life as a song that initially struck Horn as not-there-yet but suggestive, pregnant with potential.
>An album about the making of a single
In fact the 7 inch version appears only at the very end of Side Two
Ian McShane also huskily intoned fragments from the sleevenotes, written by Morley’s NME comrade Ian Penman, the paper’s most impassioned Grace Jones champion, who celebrated the fusion of post-Roxy perversity and dub-funk riddim on her Island album Nightclubbing. Cribbing from Bataille, Penman wrote of “annihilating rhythm” as simultaneously “song’s manacle and its demonic charge… the original breath… the whisper of unremitting demand.” "Annihilating rhythm" would go on to enjoy a half-life as a recurrently used sample in house music and its descendant genres.
>Subjugating and stupefying western youth
An “enslavement” that Western youth found liberating of course.
>Horn and Lipson
“I was acting almost like the artist and [Steve Lipson] was almost like the producer,” Horn has said. “I was having all the mad ideas and he was executing them.”
>didn’t mind being manipulated
Grace Jones was perplexingly androgynous, not just in terms of her monumental physique and hard-angled features but the way she was at once intimidating yet pliable.
> Art of Noise… extricated themselves from their contracts [with ZTT]
Morley was devastated, but J.J. Jeczalik was defiant, telling Melody Maker “all that has happened is that Gary [Langan] and I started something, it was taken away, and we have taken steps to get it back.”
The ( partially) reformed Art of Noise of the late 90s, with Lol Crème (ex-10 CC), Anne Dudley, Paul Morley and Trevor Horn, circa their drum'n'bass infused concept album The Seduction of Claude Debussy.
>Propaganda and their contract
Ralf Dorper on Propaganda's contract and experience with ZTT, source unknown
"The contract was based on English law and included plenty of clauses. To say it in plain English, it was crap. The contract guaranteed us ridiculous fees. We understood perfectly that we could hardly afford Trevor Horn as a producer. It was clearly our own naivety, but we really wanted Trevor as our producer. We didn't have a clue about all the clauses, the only thing that was absolutely clear to us was that we've been exploited. We have signed and had the moral backing but we didn't have any start appointment for a single or an LP. Plenty of time passed again without anything happening and because of this we also experienced finnacial problems. Although we've been the first band which signed with ZTT, the label preferred Art Of Noise and we had to wait in the second row in the brand new studio. A whole year passed from the very first contact till it really started. Because of the waiting period no real band feeling developed. Michael wasn't officially a member of the band yet, because only four of us, a kind of ABBA formation, has signed the contract."
And on the loooong gap between "Mabuse" and "Duel"
"At a certain point Trevor Horn became overstrained with too much work. He couldn't properly plan the projects anymore, and that's also why Mabuse already took almost one year. The release was the third version of Mabuse, where we had to start from scratch each time. Apart from that, Frankie definately still had priority since they were extremely successful. Due to the mega success of Relax, a decision had been made to push on ahead with FGTH, and both studios were exclusively used for FGTH. At that time Trevor was very busy with remixes for FGTH and he's been totally overloaded. They said, he wouldn't have time for us, and so we had an experimental phase during which Steve Lipson was supposed to pre-produce and Trevor Horn would finish the whole production subsequently. In the end only Mabuse was done by Trevor Horn; on "A Secret Wish" he only had a consulting role. He had overestimated himself with that. Regarding marketing plans, ZTT were only focussing on England all the time. Everything else wasn't approached with any strategy. Although Europe, and especially Germany, had already become very interested in us, the record company didn't really take advantage of that.
The ZTT ideology was vague in that respect, and left little role for the pop consumer except to be a consumer; a wowed fan, rather than a participant. Trevor Horn talked of kicking everybody else up the arse, forcing the competition to make better records, “we’ve got to make the marketplace a more exciting place for everyone to be”.
Morley’s rhetoric dramatized ZTT as opposed to the mind-dulling conspiracy of competence and complacency that was the record industry, recalling the Futurist Pratella’s contempt for “that absurd swindle that is called well-made music”. Morley also talked of "choice" and "value" in a way that echoed ABC's rhetoric of a few years earlier. "I think at ZTT we wanted to sell millions of records but feel that there was a reason why we wanted such a thing,” he wrote in 1984. “Even if we couldn’t quite articulate that reason, even if it was just some kind of oldfashioned belief that the quality of the product counts.”
> Frankie's attempt to conquer America
You could say they semi-succeeded in America, doing very well if they'd been an unknown band, but unfortunately they were the biggest thing in the UK so it was anti-climatic. Frankie’s failure to match its UK success in America, the world’s largest pop market, meant that Pleasuredome’s global sales were relatively disappointing: two and a half million compared with the five million for “Relax”.
>brilliantly engineered controversy … marketing-driven phenomenon
ZTT’s buzz-creating strategies worked in Eighties Britain with its concentration of tabloid newspapers, handful of musicTV programmes and teen pop mags, and one national pop radio station.
In 1984, you could still detect the reverberations of what punk and the Pistols unleashed all across the cultural landscape, from the Pogues to Goth to Jesus and Mary Chain and the new noisy indie, a good eight years after punk; you even could see ZTT itself as a a final flare-up of that spirit,. By the middle of 1985, though, just one year to eighteen months after “Relax” and “Two Tribes”, the Frankie sensation had barely left an after-ripple.
Which even its protagonists couldn’t ignore: Morley recalls a sense of post-cataclysmic tristesse in the wake of “Two Tribes”: “For nine weeks I was in the whirlwind of my life, then I woke up and George Michael was #1 with ‘Careless Whispers’. Fucking hell, what was all that for then? You wanted to feel you’d hand over and John Coltrane would be #1, but that was just a personal fantasy.”
ZTT fan site Zang Tuum Tumb and all that, with "articles, discographies, photos and other info covering artists who’ve appeared on the label over the past 26+ years"
very detailed Paul Morley interview (by Andrew Harrison) on the conception of Propaganda and A Secret Wish but also on his role at ZTT in general
ZTT official archive, with highlights including extract from "The Dream Department", Paul Morley's memoir of being at the label (full length version in the ZTT box set), his "biography" of Art of Noise,
and --especially cool--the archive of artwork including records sleeves, magazines ads, sleevenotes, posters, ephemera etc etc
Piece celebrating the importance of "Buffalo Gals" in hip hop history.
interview with Paul Morley on ZTT at The Quietus, pegged to the ZTT box set
Frankie Say T-shirts
Art of Noise fan site
Stuff on Grace Jones from The Sex Revolts
A closer parallel to Siouxsie's forbidding sangfroid vocals and hard-edged
androgyny is Grace Jones. After early cult stardom as a disco diva, Jones
recorded Warm Leatherette (1980) and Nightclubbing (1981). On these albums, the camp artifice inherent in disco (with its Tin Pan Alley/ showbiz ancestry and its links to gay club culture) is developed into a full-blown postmodern theatre of role-play. Indeed, her live performance, elaborately staged and with multiple costume changes, was called One Man Show, punning on both her androgynous looks and on the fact that there was no single, no real, Grace Jones. Interiority is abolished in favour of impenetrable but mesmerising facades.
On record too, each song sees Jones playing a different character, especially when they're cover versions of songs made famous by other singers.In 'Love Is the Drug' she takes on Bryan Ferry's persona of the lounge lizard cruising the singles bars looking for another fix. In Smokey Robinson's 'The Hunter Gets Captured by the Game', the gender reversal is complicated: as diva-dominatrix, Jones is playing the role of a man who is himself the victim of reversed roles and turned tables. 'Walking in the Rain' seems more 'autobiographical': Jones wanders listlessly, a member of a third sex (she feels like a woman and looks like a man), and thus an exile on Main Street. But 'Demolition Man' (a song written for her by Sting) is pure metamorphosis: here Jones is a demon-lover death-machine wreaking havoc wherever (s)he goes. Like Iggy's A-bomb kid in 'Search and Destroy', Jones is 'a walking nightmare', a disaster waiting to happen, with a deadly magnetic allure that draws victims to her like moths to flame.
More than an artist expressing herself, the Grace Jones of Warm Leatherette and Nightclubbing is the focus for, and figment of, a team of specialists: her designer/mentor Jean-Paul Goude, producers Chris Blackwell and Alex Sadkin, and a troupe of expert musicians like the dub-funk rhythm section Sly & Robbie. On the two albums, Jones only co-wrote three songs and wrote one other ('Feel Up', in which she's a thirty-two year old seducing a teenage Jamaican rude boy)--not unusual in disco. An obvious parallel is with Donna Summer, protégé of producer Giorgio Moroder and songwriter Pete Bellote. Summer also played a series of characters: pornotopian siren from the age of the orgasmatron ('I Feel Love'), hooker ('Bad Girls'), torch-singer ('Macarthur Park'), ordinary working girl as fairy tale princess (the concept album Once Upon A Time). After seizing control of her career and becoming a born-again Christian, she unveiled the 'real' Donna Summer with her cover version of the New Age-y 'State of Independence'. Clearly, she felt that her former image--a weird mix of Ice Queen and Porn-Dream--was both an unliberating role model for women and an oppressive mask for herself.
Grace Jones' career raises a host of questions about masquerade as strategy: is she agent or actor (inserted in a screenplay scripted by others)? Her cover version of Joy Division's 'She's Lost Control' assumes a special irony in this light. The contradictions were deliberately heightened with her one-off Slave to the Rhythm project (1985), masterminded by ZTT, the label who had previously stagemanaged the sensational phenomenon of Frankie Goes To Hollywood. The Slave to the Rhythm album was tantamount to an essay on the constructed nature of pop stardom. To what extent was Jones alienated from the production of her image as an alien, dominated even as she came across as a dominatrix?
So much of Jones' aesthetic seems bound up with the eroticisation of alienation: witness the fetishistic sex of 'Warm Leatherette', her version of the Daniel Miller song inspired by J.G. Ballard's ideas about the eroticism of car-crashes, or the disconnected femme fatale of 'Private Life' (written by Chrissie Hynde) who scorns a man for his wimpy notions of attachment and intimacy, and boasts 'I'm very superficial'. Writing about Nightclubbing, Ian Penman celebrated Jones for the way she'd 'turned the commodity into a body, rather than the usual vice versa'. Years later, Penman's paradox was literalised and folded into a sort of pretzel of contradictions, with Jones' appearance in an ad campaign for a motor car. Working from Jones' androgyne-as-automaton aura, the commercials played havoc with the metaphors of woman-as-car and car-as-woman, and left you wondering who was selling whom.
My reviews of Futurist and Dadaist music for Emusic, 2005
Futurism & Dada Reviewed
By Simon Reynolds
This compilation is a time capsule from early Twentieth Century Europe, when the continent swarmed with -isms: not just famous ones such as Cubism and Constructivism, but nutty lesser-knowns like the Nunists and Rayonists too. Although they differed on the precise details, these manifesto-brandishing movements typically called for an utter overhaul of established ideas of art, arguing that Western Civilisation, enervated and sagging into decadence, needed an invigorating injection of barbarian iconoclasm to renew itself. The material from the Italian Futurists on this anthology overlaps somewhat with LTM’s Musica Futurista collection, but includes a much longer version of “Risveglio di una Citta,” a symphony of scrapes and whirs woven by Luigi Russolo, the movement’s chief musical theoretician and coiner of the enduring buzz-concept “the art of noises.” His brother Antonio’s “Chorale” sounds like a conventional classical overture, except there’s this roar of turbulence that intermittently rears up, as though’s there’s a gale raging outside the concert hall. Wyndham Lewis, British futurist sympathizer and leader of his very own -ism Vorticism, recites a poem that once probably seemed audaciously “free” with its run-on stanzas, but now positively creaks with starchy quaintness. The Dadaist material, however, retains a good portion of its originally scandalous shock of the new. On the noise-poem “L’Amiral Cherche Une Maison A Louer”, Tristan Tzara, Marcel Janco and Richard Huelsenbeck unleash a polyphonic babble of multilingual nonsense, punctuated with circus-clown irruptions of rude noise, enough to get your blood boiling with excitement almost a century later. Huelsenbeck also contributes a great reminiscence of the genesis of Dada, incongruously backed with a Indian raga drone. Kurt Schwitters’ life-long work-in-process “Die Sonate in Urlauten”, captured for posterity in 1938, is a tour de force of phonetic poetry, peppering your ears with flurries of phonemes and scattering consonants like confetti around your head. It’s oddly reassuring that works by the Socialist-leaning Dadaists have aged far better than the efforts of the Futurists, Mussolini fans almost to a man.
Musica Futurista: The Art of Noises
by Simon Reynolds
As their name suggests, the Italian Futurists worshipped technology and urban life, while stridently despising the romanticisation of the pastoral and the pre-industrial past. They proposed a stringent program of modernism that would radically reinvent everything from from painting to politics to pasta (which their leader Filippo Tommaso Marinetti proposed replacing with an entrée of perfumed sand!). Music was not left unscathed. To put into practice his theories about a new form of composition called “the art of noises” that would abandon tonality and the traditional orchestral palette of timbres, Luigi Russolo invented brand-new instruments, the famous Intonarumori (which roughly translates as “noise-intoning machines”). On Musica Futurista, the most exciting tracks are test-tone showcases for Russolo contraptions like the Gorgogliatore (“gurgler”), which generates a sproing-ing metallic rustle, and the Ululatore, which supposedly translates as “hooter” but sounds more like a peevish vacuum cleaner with a piece of sandpaper stuck in its craw. When the Futurists relied on conventional instruments, their efforts suffered from being, well, not futuristic enough, such that you can you can see why Russolo went to the bother of building the Intonarumori. On Musica Futurista, there’s rather too much clunky piano bombast, heavy on left-hand basso profundo chordings, from figures like Francesco Balilla Pratella, who supplies a series of etudes entitled “La Guerra”. Apart from the Intonarumori offerings, the best tracks come from the non-musician Marinetti. His prose poem “La Battaglia Di Adrianopoli” uses onomatopoeia to recreate the siege cannons and machine guns of the Balkan Wars, and like “La Guerra” showcases the Futurists’ highly suspect exaltation of modern mechanised warfare. Also relying solely on that most ancient instrument, the human voice, his “Parole in Liberta” offers more abstract sound-poetry, although if you don’t understand Italian most of the liberties Marinetti takes with sense and syntax will necessarily be lost on you. Composed in the 1930s and constructed out of found sounds (water splashes, motor cars, weeping babies, birdsong, etc) and protracted stretches of near-silence, the 13 minute “Cinque Sintesi Radiofoniche” anticipates and preempts the post-WW2 musique concrete of Pierres Schaeffer and Henry. Bravo, F.T., bravo: this time at least, you reached the future way ahead of the pack.
Me on Frankie's second album Liverpool, 1986
FRANKIE GOES TO HOLLYWOOD
Melody Maker, October 25th 1986
By Simon Reynolds
"Relax" was perhaps the least sexy record in pop history. What could be more coldly, hideously chaste than the "orgasm" near the end, that ludicrously amplified simulation of ejaculation.
No, "Relax" was driven by something far stronger than sensuality--by an idea of sex. Sex as threat, sex as shock, sex as subversion. Like striptease, "Relax" was all about fear.
Hence the bombast, the brazen exposure. Like "Love Missile" and "High Priest of Love", everything goes into flouting/flaunting, nothing is held back, and so there's no teasing intermittence, no intimacy. "Relax" didn't give us flesh or delight, it reveled in the Word, in saying the unsayable.
That pyrotechnic stretch from "Relax" through "Two Tribes" to "The Power of Love", from disobedience to schmaltz, still stands as one of the superlative pop essays, a glorious charade. The combined brilliance of Morley and Horn managed somehow to overcome the manifest fallibility of their human software -- for Frankie were sadly and severely unsexy, devoid of charisma or presence, so small next to the MUSIC and the GESTURES.
Back then, we could ignore all this in the fracas. But the Frankie assault was meant to be apocalyptic in its perfection. How could there be a Day After, let alone anything as ignominious as a follow-up? Without that sense of turmoil or Event, there is only a pained awareness that there is nothing intrinsically fascinating about Holly and the lads, nothing voluptuous about his voice.
But the orgy must pick up where it left off. Back in Frankie's perfumed boudoir, the air hangs heavy like a dulling wine. Listening to this record I don't think of Nietzche or Huysmans, de Sade or Blake, I think of… Cityboy, "A Total Eclipse of the Heart", Arcadia, "She Loves Like Diamond", Mott… ""Warriors of the Wasteland" is like Iron Maiden trampling their way through the backdrops and setpieces of Lexicon of Love, "Kill the Pain" is like jobs trying on Dollar's stage costumes and bursting them at the seams.
The production is verbose rather than vivacious, no expense spared in the process of cramming every space with thousands of fiddly frills or dollops of mellotronic goo. "Maximum Joy" is the only mildly exhilarating fake here, the only time the wedding cake edifice of sound doesn't sag under its own soggy weight. Stephen Lipson directs with all the restraint of Cecil B. de Mille, making choirs of massed angels dance about the mix. He's Horn's protégé, (an) adept at taking the most wafer-thin "songs" and hysterically exaggerating them.
Every second of this record crassly simulates orgasm or its afterglow. But there's two reasons why Liverpool fails as an aphrodisiacal proposition. First, its airy, trebley sound, where every beat seems veiled in dry ice, lacks bottom, and so can't interfere with your biology. Second, like all ZTT music, it's overlit. How can there be arousal under these brazen spotlights?
The lyrics are the ripest gibberish, dotted with words like "sun", "moon", "oceans", "hell", "heaven", "sailboats of ice on desert sands", presumably to evoke the grandeur of Frankie's vision. Frankie would convince us they're possessed by a barbarian insatiability: there seems to be some kind of quest for a nebulous glory, a pagan existence of perpetual joy, perpetual motion.
At one point a Scouse voice muses "in the coming Age of Automation… Man might be forced to confront himself with the true spiritual problems of living." Frankie's solution to this quandary appears to be a mystical investment in pleasure. Like Prince, they are saying "party up, before we all die". Unlike Prince, though, they make the pleasure principle seem incredibly boring.
All non-pictorial contents copyright Simon Reynolds unless otherwise indicated