Archive for Human League

On reunions

Posted in Commentary with tags , , , , , on September 15, 2011 by softsynth

Softsynth made a total spectacle of itself in the lead-up to the release of Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark’s reunion album, History of Modern, last year. We talked about it in such giddy anticipation that “History of Modern” still ranks in the cloud next to this post as one of the most used keywords on the blog in all three years of our existence. See, O.M.D. was so crazy-influential on a young Softsynth and such a gateway drug to the hard stuff in the world of electronic music that their back catalogue isn’t just loved in memorium, it’s downright revered. Such is what happens with the passage of time after the demise of a much-loved band. Our “Bands We Miss” series speaks directly to this nostalgic longing (and also points to just how badly this blogger lives in the past).

But we digress. Continue reading

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Wasn’t there this guy who blogged electronic music…?

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , , , , , on May 21, 2011 by softsynth

First off, apologies for the extended absence from this space. Your humble blogger was sick with the pneumonia for quite some time which kept him away from the electronic music discourse. As it happened this absence coincided with a peculiar dearth of meaningful developments within the electronic music world. Made it easier to ease back into the process. A few things percolating though: Continue reading

The Human League – Trolling the prehistoric era of electronic music

Posted in Commentary with tags on October 5, 2010 by softsynth

With new albums from O.M.D. and The Human League hitting this year we’ve observed some of the old debate resurfacing – which was the greater influence on the electronic movement. As we noted in our recent review of History of Modern we were on the O.M.D. side of the divide, but seeing folks discussing the issue again we were reminded of when we first discovered the first two Human League albums and the revelatory moment we experienced upon hearing them for the first time. If there was any doubt about the power of this band one need not look to the more obvious Dare or “Don’t You Want Me”, but dare to cast your eyes back a couple of years earlier to a pair of the most important electronic albums ever recorded.

Before the Human League most folks know (with the omnipresent female back-up singers), the band was a four-piece traditional electronic outfit. In addition to singer Phil Oakey, the original line up consisted of Adrian Wright, Martyn Ware and Ian Craig Marsh. The material was dark, experimental, supremely odd, confused as to sound, direction and tone, utterly unsuccessful commercially and totally brilliant. These two albums are as important to the history of electronic music as any other and deserve a few moments’ attention.

Continue reading

The synthesizer was the ultimate punk instrument

Posted in Commentary with tags , , , , , , , , , , on July 23, 2010 by softsynth

We recently alluded to the fact that we believe the synthesizer was the ultimate realization of the punk movement. This is an idea we’ve embraced for decades and as time passes it becomes more clear the early, pioneer electronic bands carried the spirit of the punk scene, if not in attitude, definitely in the democratization of music-making.

The entire punk ethic was built around the populist democratization of music. It was in part a rebellion against the bloated, technically efficient but emotionally void prog rock supergroups, your YES, your Supertramp, your Genesis, your ELP, your Chicago, your Rush. These bands were big, blowsy, splashy, proficient to a fault and oh-so-controlled. To the youth of, especially the US and Europe this wasn’t music that connected to them emotionally. At all. Witness a movement that said, “prodigious proficiency is not what makes music connect, it’s heart and guts and a message that matters most.” Continue reading

Electronic cover versions

Posted in Commentary, Uncategorized with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on February 23, 2010 by softsynth

While listening to the new Collide album (which we were pretty hard on in our review, it still stands but some of these tracks have held up better than we would have thought…) Softsynth was struck by the number of songs that seemed like odd matches with a predominantly electronic band (John Lennon?) Got us to thinking about some of the great cover versions given new life by electronic bands over the years (and some of the noble failures. And some of the just plain shitty treatments).

Some of the early great electronic recordings were cover versions, none more notable than Daniel Miller’s 1979/80 Silicon Teens project which was mostly synthpop covers of classic rock songs from the 50s and early 60s.

It didn’t always work (like the too-twee-by-half “Judy in Disguise”) but sometimes, like the fantastic version of the Kinks’ “You Really Got Me” it made for really refreshing takes on the classics.

Bands like Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark and The Human League diddled about with covers (Velvet Underground’s “Waiting for the Man”, the “Nightclubbing/Rock n Roll” amalgam, respectively) in the early days of their careers and the likes of Depeche Mode messed about with classics like “The Price of Love” before becoming full-fledged recording artists.

Perhaps the most successful well-known electronic cover was Soft Cell’s monster 1981 hit single, their version of the Northern Soul classic “Tainted Love” (which for decades had the distinction of being the song to log the most weeks on billboard’s Hot 100 Singles chart). Continue reading

BBC’s Synth Britania makes it to youtube

Posted in Commentary, News with tags , , on November 7, 2009 by softsynth

BBC’s brilliant, brilliant multi-part documentary on the British synth pop movement of the 80s is finally on youtube in its entirely. For any fan of this kind of music this is a revelation and brings it all home, and most importantly it makes the clear, unabashed causal link between punk and electronic music, and how its roots lay in disaffected, poor, lower class British youth, of which Softsynth has written extensively. Watching it was so exciting it made your humble blogger’s heart beat faster and actually gave us a new appreciation for Donna Summer’s “I Feel Love” in the history of the movement and shows vintage live footage of bands like Human League that will blow you away. We’ve gone over an awful of this history in previous posts here but to see it laid out so beautifully and to have gotten interviews with *all* of the key players of the day is breathtaking. A must see:

Part one:

Continue reading

Phil Oakey making the rounds

Posted in News with tags , , on June 4, 2009 by softsynth

Things have been pretty quiet on the Phil Oakey/Human League front but suddenly he’s utterly ubiquitous. First he shows up on a bonus track on Pet Shop Boys’ new album (“This Used to be the Future”), and now he guests on the aforementioned Little Boots album, Hands, on a track called Symmetry (album to drop next week). Nice to see ‘ol Phil out and about. Human League’s input became less and less meaningful over the years (and they never fully recovered artistically from the debacle that was “Human”), but one can never forget the band released two of the most important electronic albums of all time (Reproduction and Travelogue), and pumped out classics from “Don’t You Want Me” to “The Lebanon” to my favourite, “(Keep Feeling) Fascination” throughout the 80s. Softsynth is already pumped for the Little Boots album, now even more so…

Listen: