When we look back at the history of electronic music, and more personally Softsynth’s own journey to embrace our shared genre, Daniel Miller’s record label played a larger, more significant role than any other entity. As a young lad in a small Canadian city in the pre-internet era there were only a few ways to discover new music. Mainstream radio was the big one and we’ve waxed on about how we discovered Depeche Mode in 1984 thanks to the then-ubiquitous “People Are People” which aired on MuchMusic, daily video shows like CBC’s Video Hits, and on radio programs like Dick Clark’s op 40 Countdown which aired on Halifax’s C-100.

While that song was ultimately forgettable it opened us up to a decades-long passionate relationship with the band. It was the first band this blogger “collected”. We went in search of everything we could find by DM. Then we came upon Erasure via DM when the former band emerged in 1985, buying the cassette version of their debut album after having listened to lead single “Who Needs Love Like That” just once. Our interest in these two bands led us to an alternative record store that sold obscure 12″ vinyl imports and we bought everything we could find.

Inside one of those sleeves, around 1986 we found an insert that would literally change everything. It was a Mute Records catalogue. We were just coming to a realization of what electronic music actually was – Gary Numan, OMD and others helped us down that path – and suddenly there was a bounty of music we could only have dreamed of. Fad Gadget. Yazoo. The Assembly. Liaisons Dangereuse. A.C. Marias. Nitzer Ebb. Renegade Soundwave. Duet Emmo. He Said. I Start Counting. Robert Gorl. We bought up everything we could and the landscape had indeed changed. Electronic music suddenly had a tangible reality. Going backwards Miller’s various personae like The Normal and the Silicon Teens were delightful discoveries and the story of how Miller built his company, standing on the back of an idea of the perfect pop group as one that used just synthesizers set the template.

While they later branched out into many different forms of music, the electronic output from the label was ever-important. Artists like Moby, Peach, Pink Grease, Maps, Recoil, Fortran 5, Add N to (X), and Goldfrapp kept the label as relevant as they had ever been.

After some drifting and some less inspiring output this listener started to drift more to labels like A Different Drum and Alfa Matrix for more consistent electronic output. Our obsessive Mute-collecting had faded away except for the old-school artists we still followed and the occasional newcomer like Polly Scattergood (and we have to think that on another label Scattergood, who sounded like a standard Amos-style piano chanteuse in demos would not have produced such an interesting electronic-infused album).

So why write this post now? Well, suddenly the output from our old favourite has become delightfully interesting again. The airy thoughtful drone of Apparat and their trippy new single “Black Water”; the sonic experimental weirdness of Yann Tiersen; the aggressive rock of S.C.U.M under a blanket of squelchy electronics (like the mind-blowing remixes of their new single “Amber Hands”); M83 breaking out big with “Midnight City”; and of particular note, folkie-using-cool-sounds Beth Jeans Houghton’s terrific “Dodecahedron”. All at once Mute output is cutting edge and meaningful in a way it hasn’t been in a long time. With the exception of M83 and Apparat, these newer artists aren’t traditional electronic, and none bring the synth pop in the Silicon Teens tradition by a long shot (for that we need to look beyond the Mute borders these days), but they each bring a piece of the electronic puzzle to the party, sometimes buried deeper, sometimes part of the background noise, but it’s there and it’s exercised judiciously and cleverly. We are ever-reminded of the role a label like this plays. More than the Kraftwerk team, more than Gary Numan, more than Vince Clarke, more than any who came before or since it’s Daniel Miller we look to as having Godfathered so much of the world of electronic music. If we were said to have a musical idol it would be him. He and his label – though in different ways than the early, golden era, to be sure – keep the torch aloft still…



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