Monday, May 23, 2011

New Wave for the New Week #124

Since the earliest days of rock and roll music being pressed into vinyl, there has existed the bands that, well, don't actually exist.  One of my favorite examples of this phenomenon happened during the late-60s/early-70s bubblegum era, when a session musician by the name of Tony Burrows was actually the lead vocalist on four contemporary top-ten records: The Edison Lighthouse's "Love Grows (Where My Rosemary Goes)," White Plains' "My Baby Loves Lovin'," The Pipkins' "Gimme Dat Ding" and The Brotherhood of Man's "United We Stand."  One guy, four simultaneous hit records, four bands that didn't really exist! (He'd add a fifth a few years later with "Beach Baby" by The First Class.)

The New Wave equivalent to Tony Burrows may not have been quite so prolific or successful, but the influence Daniel Miller had on hundreds upon hundreds of musicians to follow his lead and go make a record is hard to understate.  After all, his initial studio project needed a record label, so Miller created Mute Records, which would go on to introduce the world to bands like Depeche Mode, Yazoo and Fad Gadget among many others.

Miller was a bored film editor who, in 1978, discovered the two muses that would propel him into the music world: a synthesizer and the novel Crash by J.G. Ballard.  Miller was taken by Ballard's description of characters whose sexual fetish centers around purposefully caused automobile accidents and the injuries caused by them, and sought to translate that theme into music.  The cold, electronic sounds of the synthesizers of the day were a perfect aural analogy for the cold technology that propelled Ballard's story, and in short order Miller had written and recorded "Warm Leatherette."  A stark, minimalist piece that involves two chords and virtually no melody, "Warm Leatherette" is nonetheless insidiously, almost hypnotically catchy.  Miller succeeds in his effort to use sound to mimic driving through city streets and tunnels at high speed.  The music may be primitive and almost laughably simple, but it does suggest motion.  You can almost hear the buildings whizzing past in a blur as the car continues forward intent on its target.  Miller's utterly emotionless vocal creates an otherworldly aura that renders his final request of his target to "make love before you die" as nothing more than the completion of a task as opposed to a final romantic gesture.  It's a stunning record even by today's standards; in 1978 it was startling. Miller credited his work to a fictional band called The Normal, and "Warm Leatherette" (b/w "T.V.O.D.") became the first single released on the Mute label. 

For his next trick, Miller went to the opposite end of the emotional spectrum.  If The Normal was cold and feelingless synth art, them The Silicon Teens would be downright giddy throwaway pop product! With a wink and a nod to another non-existent band, The Flying Lizards, Miller's Silicon Teens project took well-known hits of the previous generation and reinterpreted them in a new medium and not without a full dose of snarky irony.  Where The Flying Lizards deconstructed and minimalized the familiar, The Silicon Teens left their source material relatively unwarped.  Imagined as a futuristic cover band, these fictional Teens breezed through plinky, bleepy covers of  "Judy In Disguise (With Glasses)," "Memphis, Tennessee," and "You Really Got Me," among several others, on their lone album, 1980's Music For Parties.  Once again, this was all Daniel Miller, but this time he had to do more than invent a band name: he had to invent a band!  After all, in 1980 the music video era was starting to pick up steam, and Miller needed some Silicon Teens to make a clip of their own.  So he went out and hired a group of actors to portray The Silicon Teens in a video for "Memphis."  His newly cast band also made the tours of UK pop music shows and radio station interviews.

After this, Miller began to focus more on studio work for the bands he was beginning to sign to the Mute label, although over the years he would occasionally collaborate with other artists on different projects.  Nothing quite captured people's attention like The Normal and The Silicon Teens, however.  So, for this week's NW4NW entry, let's hear from each! First up, The Normal's "Warm Leatherette," and then The Silicon Teens' "Memphis, Tennessee."  Enjoy!

Silicon Teens - Memphis Tennessee by Rikardo1980

Enhanced by Zemanta