My friend Eli (who needs to do an Italo Disco installment of Synth Pioneers) put me onto this documentary, which is likely the best exploration of the English synth-pop moment. With great interviews from heroes like Daniel Miller, Vince Clark and Martin Gore, it really got my blood pumping so I wanted to write about a few other acts who were originators of the international electronic pop sound.
Kraftwerk – Computer Love[audio:computerlove.mp3]
Talking about the greatness of Kraftwerk is like talking about the necessity of air, so I’ll keep it short. They just released all of their most well-known albums, remastered and with original artwork. “Computer Love” is one of my al time favorite songs. The way the lead seems to phase shift at the end always takes my breath away. Let’s get this straight: A song about loneliness and computers, made before the internet was invented which glides like classical music? Sounds like a plan.
Yellow Magic Orchestra – Technopolis[audio:technopolis.mp3]
Yellow Magic Orchestra have been called the Japanese Kraftwerk, in that they were both pop innovators and an awesomely stoic synth band. Ryuichi Sakamoto has since gone on to collaborate with Fennesz and Christopher Willits amongst others. Their work may pre-date synth-pop but it’s surely in the canon of influential works. I often play their hit “Computer Games” if transitioning between sounds in a DJ set. When the beat drops at 1:50, it always lights up the room.
Japan – Gentlemen Take Polaroids[audio:gentlementakepolaroids.mp3]
A band that is sorely overlooked is David Sylvian’s Japan project, which married glam and (some would say, invented) new romantic aesthetics to synth austerity and elegant arrangements. Their full sound was more complex than their peers and more sinister by a long shot. Recently, Sylvian has also collaborated with aritsts like Fennesz and covered acts like Blonde Redhead with stunning vocal clarity.
Simple Minds – Glittering Prize[audio:glitteringprize.mp3]
Scotland’s Simple Minds were another band not included in this documentary, probably because they are more associated with the New Wave movement, but like labelmates the Human League, they’re example of a band moving from experimental work to pop success. Their work became increasing U2-like and less electronic, but this track captures them at the peak of a rewardingly sweeping sound, with pitch-perfect production to boot.
Parts 1, 2, and 3 of the Synth Pioneers series can be found here.