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This Weekend I’ll Mostly Be Listening to… “Modern Dance”, a futurist/New Romantic/Synthpop compilation, 1981 February 14, 2015

Posted by WorldbyStorm in This Weekend I'll Mostly Be Listening to....
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The week that’s in it, obviously. It’s odd, I hadn’t thought of this album in years, though the death of Steve Strange of Visage brought it right back. A K-Tel compilation, probably lashed out as quickly as possible to cash in on the brief popularity of what was sometimes called ‘futurist’, better known as New Romantic, or that area of synth pop. Somehow it found its way to my house where it was played exhaustively.

I can still remember listening to individual cuts from it. John Foxx and ‘Europe After the Rain’, ‘She’s Got Claws’, ‘Quiet Life’. And the materiality of it, that great garish airbrushed cover with androgynous faces on front and back. Even the typography sticks in the memory, though I hadn’t seen it probably in a quarter century until this week.

It was a reasonably broad ranging selection of music, OMD, Japan, Human League, Heaven 17, Depeche Mode, Simple Minds, John Foxx, even a Cure track. Gary Numan had to be there, Landscape (natch!), the aforementioned Visage. A couple of jokers in the pack. The News – which I do not remember at this remove, and Fashion.

Here’s the tracklist…

Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark – Joan of Arc

Japan – Quiet Life

The Human League – Love Action

Heaven 17 – Penthouse and Pavement

Depeche Mode – New Life

Simple Minds – Sweat in Bullet

John Foxx – Europe After the Rain

The Cure – Charlotte Sometimes

Gary Numan – She’s Got Claws

Visage – Fade to Grey

Landscape – Einstein a Go-Go

Fashion – Move On

Japan – Visions of China

The News – A World Without Love

Simple Minds – Love Song

Heaven 17 – Play to Win

Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark – Enola Gay

The Human League – Open Your Heart

Who is not there, Spandau Ballet or Ultravox – thank God. Adam Ant – sort of kind of new romantic, Duran Duran (I have to admit to still liking their first album), A Flock of Seagulls, Soft Cell (who to my mind are quite brilliant and really should be on it). That’s about it, no? There was a bit of a plague of such groups – anyone recall Our Daughters Wedding and their ‘hit’ (and for my money only good track) Lawnchairs are Everywhere. A lot of stuff like that.

But then the album wasn’t exactly futurist or even new romantic, but really synth driven pop/rock/synthpop.

Watching some of the videos one wishes they’d just taken the budgets and drunk them, or whatever. Landscape in particular. Why? That Numan video below is problematic too. That said, some definitely benefit from Top of the Pops appearances, but then, wasn’t this in part what they were designed for?

I’m a bit puzzled because I seem to recall one of the Heaven 17 tracks being (We Don’t Need This) Fascist Groove Thang with its at that point non more contemporary anti-Reagan lyrics. But according to online databases of various kinds it was Penthouse and Pavement and Play to Win. Which in a way would fit better with the aesthetic of Futurist music, which was all surface and sheen.

I think the interesting thing about this album for me is how at a time when I was listening to a lot of heavy rock and metal it was a firm favourite as were Joy Division and the first New Order album. All that crap about only sticking to one category or another never held any appeal to me, and stuff like this cemented that. I also suspect it fired, or supported more likely, a continuing love for all things electronic. In that way it was an important album, and while the record itself – remember them? – got lost along the way years it influenced the acquisition of albums by many, indeed most, of the individual groups. The one’s that really stay with me even now? Japan, of course. Numan in his weird way. Heaven 17, Simple Minds (early to mid period, still remarkably difficult in its own way), OMD, John Foxx and on a good day early to mid Human League. And relistening to Visage is oddly satisfying – despite or perhaps because of its avowed superficiality.

One thing though, it’s all so male, isn’t it? For all the fluid sexuality that some of the groups portrayed it’s a pity there weren’t more women involved. And one could argue that for all the glam and glitter it was remarkably traditional in how it applied to the women who were involved.

Interesting too the longevity of some of these tracks more broadly, and the groups too and the varying degrees of critical credibility and popularity attaching to them. Was this in a way the part of post-punk, because it was very firmly of post-punk, that had the greatest longevity more broadly – particularly when you rope in the more well known chancers, albeit in different forms? Listening to Visage and those pulsing baselines (courtesy of Barry Adamson and Dave Formula) or even Numan it’s difficult not to think that they wore reasonably well on their own terms and in respect of their explicit and implicit influence subsequently.

One last thought, 1981 is 34 years ago, the equivalent in 1981 was – gulp! – 1947.

This should have been on it, if it wasn’t:

Heaven 17 – “(We Don’t Need This) Fascist Groove Thang”

John Foxx – Europe After the Rain

Simple Minds – Sweat in Bullet

Human League – Love Action (Live – allegedly) on Top of the Pops

Visage – Fade to Grey

OMD – Enola Gay

Landscape – Einstein A Go A Go

Japan – Quiet Life

Gary Numan – She’s Got Claws

Comments»

1. Ramzi Nohra - February 15, 2015

Good stuff. May check it out even though the lack of DD is a crying shame.

Interesting point on the promo video. It was a new medium at that point, which seemed to cause a huge amount of extravagance. I don’t really watch promo videos now, but my instinct is that budgets have gone down significantly in the last thirty years.

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WorldbyStorm - February 15, 2015

How very true re budgets going down! 🙂

I’m being entirely serious re the first DD album. Now that had some extremely gruesome (for which read sexist) videos. But the music was pretty great. Completely synth driven.

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2. nlgbbbblth - August 7, 2016

Great compilation, one of K-Tel’s best. I am ripping a load of K-Tel and Ronco compilations from the 1980-1983 period and reviewing them on my blog. Somebody has done a recreation of the tracklisting on YouTube but has included the full versions (K-Tel faded some of the tracks early to get them on one LP) so it lacks authentic charm.

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WorldbyStorm - August 7, 2016

That’s a great project. Love the idea. It’s strange isn’t it how fades and so on added to these, or to our memories of them. I still find myself caught by full versions in some instances when my memory says, ‘hey, that’s not right, it wasn’t that long a track’.

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nlgbbbblth - August 7, 2016

Totally – the edits are part of the charm. Those compilations – in many instances – were my introductions to those songs so I’ll always remember them the way they were first heard.

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WorldbyStorm - August 7, 2016

Likewise, compilations were a great way to get a varied selection. The free ones with music mags, NME, MM, Vox, etc were great and the record label ones too. Great site you’ve got btw, I’ve added it onto the blog roll.

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nlgbbbblth - August 7, 2016

Thanks very much, have done likewise.

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3. nlgbbbblth - October 8, 2016

Here’s my review of Modern Dance.

https://apopfansdream.wordpress.com/2016/10/08/modern-dance-k-tel-1981/

And you can relive it on Mixcloud – a straight rip of my original LP.

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WorldbyStorm - October 8, 2016

Great review. Really does justice to it.

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