What do you mean by Electronic Music?
Well, Richard Evans, who has been immersed in the music biz through work with Factory Records, MTV Europe and more, which would the work he is doing currently with Erasure, asks that question too. That’s what this great book, ‘Listening To The Music The Machines Make’ from Omnibus, is all about.
He answers the question quietly, which is a feature of his rather entertaining book. The answer? To cover a lot of it from
Phew, that’s a big ask. The book a big ‘un, but it never bores.
How Does He Do It?
He firstly contextualises but never in a ‘remember the 1920’s?’ Way, he picks a few icons, one in particular and here he has some help.
From David Bowie, esq. You see, he covered Soul with the ‘Young Americans’ album and his trio of ‘Low’, ‘Heroes’ and ‘Lodger’ are a great influence on all sorts of Electronic Music. And then of course, he was around in the New Romantic band picture, even attending the epicentre, Blitz and using people from the club, Steve Strange included, on his ‘Ashes To Ashes’ video.
So that’s the context covered.
And then Evans picks a fairly small selection of bands and sticks to them, adding as he needs. All of the big players are here, the ones who superceded the movement;
Human League, Duran Duran, Ultravox, Spandau Ballet, Depeche Mode and many more.
But he also drops in bands and artistes who were very large in Electronic Music;
OMD, Heaven 17, Gary Numan, Japan and many others.
He doesn’t forget Indie/Pop/Rock bands like Simple Minds though, Devo or grandaddies of Electronic Music, Kraftwerk.
This book is very specifically about 1978-1983, it’s there in the second title and although he takes it a little further (to 1993 and beyond), that’s limited to one chapter and always checks back.
The chapters, each named after a year and sometimes subdivided, always listing the bands covered in that chapter, keep us on track. We know what will be covered and that is always delivered.
Evans also gives himself a good template too; albums, tours, people’s views of said albums, travails in recording and some inter band stuff. But never salacious detail, Evans isn’t interested in that, he allows other people to tell us anyway (more of that later on) and that keeps us focused on what he feels are the important releases.
And Evans really knows his stuff. He seems immersed in Electronic Music, of all kinds and sounds, which sometimes becomes a little like a treadmill – that’s due mostly to the album/tour/reviews template a little because of a lack of authorial voice – but considering there’s a focus on a few bands, this books seems to possess a broad aspiration.
The Lack Of Voice
Evans isn’t opinionated. His love of Electronic Music is worn lightly and as such, he would never do anything so vulgar as to state a preference or malign musical hopes. That’s one of the very neat tricks here.
Well, it isn’t a trick, it’s an excellence. Evans replaces his views with reviews; each album and live jaunt is covered by reviewers from the music mags of the time, Paul Morley is here, Gary Bushell (remember him?), Julie Birchall and many others, some of the views we’ll thought out, some of them acerbic and surface, some of them designed to please a reading public.
This serves to take Evans out of any discussions of favourite Electronic Music and sees him as a voiceless reporter, a curator perhaps of historical data. It’s not objective of course, he chose the bands, the quotes and there is no such thing as objectivity anyway…
Insights Are Apparent Too
Yes, insights are here, but never in an ‘I know something you don’t know’ kind of way. They are always just mentioned, sometimes by other people, so that they seem to arrive naturally, OMD’s worry, Gary Numan’s trailblazing, Japan’s struggles and the Human League/Heaven 17 and Depeche Mode/Yazoo splits.
‘Drawing from years of extensive research, as well as from conversations with many of the movement’s key movers and shakers, Listening To The Music The Machines Make sets out to examine the multitude of influences that led to the synthpop revolution that spanned 1978 to 1983…’
This is a page turner shining a light onto a music era which isn’t often seen. Electronic Music is much more than ‘Vienna’ or ‘Rio’, this Evan’s book made me revisit so much music and that’s the sign of success. Still can’t stomach Gary Numan’s ‘Warriors’ album though…