JOHN FOXX Gives Evidence

Unique Interplay – The Pleasures of Electricity

There has never been a more extraordinary time for John Foxx. He remains an innovator of hard electro composition; illuminated by retro frameworks and technological genius. A somewhat purist pairing that multiplies to the sum of futuristic enlightenment. It’s a definition that’s never been more evident than it is right now. And that is by no means a bad thing. John Foxx & The Maths have not only delivered noteworthy contributions in the form of Interplay, The Shape Of Things and now Evidence – all combining to form a labyrinth of weaving sonic elements, 2013 sees them joining OMD as special guests on their forthcoming English Electric Tour.

Many will of course note John Foxx for his role as the original Ultravox frontman, where punk morphed into the electronic, appearing on 1977’s self-titled Ultravox! as well as Ha!-Ha!-Ha! (1977) and Systems Of Romance (1978), before eventually leaving the band in 1979 and achieving minor chart success under his own steam with his first solo single ‘Underpass’. Metamatic was the enigmatic template that launched John Foxx’s solo career; a body of work that has spanned a total output of 26 studio albums to date. Since those days, he has touched his peers with his unique, understated influence and is held in high esteem by a good number of mainstream artists – so much so, Foxx is a musician that will always flag up on the radar of all those who cherish the tingle-flooded moments of technological electromagnetic art form.

A lot happened over the years, including Foxx taking a hiatus from the music industry – in danger of disappearing off the grid altogether. Still, in recent times, far from being the hidden man, his analogue synthesizer roots have become a mainstay, sometimes positioned alongside the haunting Evidence of traditional instrumentation, courtesy of violinist Hannah Peel. And with John Foxx & The Maths going on to win Best Electro Act of 2011 at the Artrocker Magazine Awards of that year, he continues to receive huge critical acclaim.

His strengths remain palpable – evident to this day in the form of Sci-fi vocal work built around experimental electronics, positively charged to deliver a pioneering mix of innovatively fashioned beat maps and cinematic imagery – staggeringly confident and self-aware. The Electricity Club talks to the man himself as he reveals modern music’s finest hour and not least his making of the world’s first post-digital band.


Evidence is the latest release from John Foxx & The Maths, produced by yourself and Benge. What are the important factors from a production point of view with a new record?

Benge and his synths…

You’ve likened Benge to Conny Plank in the past?

He’s the same animal, it must be some sort of stray international gene; same intelligence, perception, patience and haircut. A no-mercy attitude to getting sounds. Complete psychoerotic involvement with technology and art. Also endearingly capable of being daft as a brush and utterly sensible, all at the same time.

There’s a cover of Pink Floyd’s ‘Have a Cigar’ on Evidence – how did that come about?

By accident, like most good things. Mojo asked us to choose a track to cover for a project they were doing. It provided an excuse to go electro-psychedelic again, but with archaic material. Always loved The Floyd from the around the 60’s. They were the Brit Velvets then – experimental, edgy, unpredictable, and chemically efflorescent. Wonderful. The premise of ‘Have A Cigar’ is daft, really. Hip band whinges about massive success – truly of another era. We did it with utter respect and irony.

Of course, there are no men with cigars any more. They have Apple logos burnt into their foreheads instead – and they do not offer you a bite of the fruit. It’s the Garden Of Eden in reverse. Wait outside in the rain. No, you can’t come in. Take this Mac and bugger off. I guess we’re all Cybersurfs now. Get back to your workstation.

The John Foxx & The Maths projects – how have they been different to each other and what boundaries do you feel you’ve pushed?

Our own, mostly. Trying to honour whatever arrives with long-term involvement, good and bad, without falling prey to nostalgia or too much knowingness, complacency, desire to please or self-delusion…

Who am I trying to kid? – All completely impossible. Of course we fell for the lot and came out reasonably well by guidance from Malins – he’s the guide dog. Nips your ankles when you’re heading for the busy road.

When looking to put together an album length narrative, what inspires your lyrics?

Mostly observing your own frailty and inadequacy. Plus wandering around the streets, bumping into things and watching all the little momentary dramas and comedies.

I tend to do a lot of listening in to conversations in pubs and trains, Glimpsing other lives in lighted windows as you pass by – 5pm in winter, when the lights are just going on. If you have enough cheek to make random, seemingly senseless connections, you find they occasionally turn out to be seriously apt… or not.

And how have those concepts matured over the years?

Increase in urgency – I can see the other side of the hill, now.

You’ve been successful in portraying a very individual style along with a distinguished sound – one that utilizes vintage sounds and technology taking on that a degree of purity, yet manages to sound fresh and current. For you, what is the essential ingredient that morphs the two?

Did we really do that? If you have to blame anything – it’s simple excitement, allied to foolish pride. Dash of self-delusion and vanity… immature desire to impress, together with a naïve compulsion to communicate. Basic equipment for any aspiring artist.

You’ve produced a large body of work over the years, in collaboration with some very interesting younger musicians – who would you most like to collaborate with in the future and why?

Beautiful, desirable and intelligent women – because they may not otherwise wish to collaborate with me.

What do you think inspired musicians to use electronics and synths to create their music rather than guitars?

They make interesting noises that other instruments can’t make.

Did any particular soundtrack styled compositions that were perhaps born out of the experimental use of synthesizers ever influence you?

Oh yes.

Is it true you established some interest in the Acid House music scene?

Absolutely; modern music’s finest hour. Sound turned into a Luscious Liquid Language.

How and why did this catch your attention?

I first heard acid at James Pinker’s house in Vauxhall around 1988. It was all on cassette then – the 12 inch versions hadn’t arrived. Recognised the DNA instantly and got right on board. Psychedelic electronic dance music made by 808/909/303. Out of the speakers came these beautiful, multicoloured, 3D, feathered snake monsters of sheer sonic beauty. How could you not subscribe? You’d have to be daft, deaf and dim.

Can you give us some insight of your favourite albums and have they influenced your music in anyway?

I’ll try to be brief.
Neu! 75 was a big one – they had European Punk Electro down years before the rest of the world got there. ‘Isi’ is the track. Gorgeous.

Phaedra by Tangerine Dream was another – Psychedelia under the floorboards. Grabs your ankles with chilly hands before you can get into bed.

All Conny Plank’s recordings of Kraftwerk – he invented the sound. Genius meets vision. The future got realized and Conny recorded it all. No Conny would have meant no German scene and therefore modern music would now have a totally different shape. Kraftwerk would have joined The Shadows.

Donna Summer/Giorgio Moroder – When ‘I Feel Love’ first swayed out of the speakers, I thought Kraftwerk had got a black woman singer – total ecstatic, genius combination – and a pulse that replaced the one in your heart.

The Velvet Underground – Lou Reed stole Dylan’s entire 1968 New York routine and mixed it up with Warhol, suicidal model girls, drugs, distortion and feedback. Nick Kent was one of the first Brits to spot what was going on and wrote about it all with flair and accuracy. It will never die or age.

Harold Budd & Brian Eno The Pearl – Purity and intelligence moving in entirely the opposite direction to everything else. We had to build an entirely new weather system to accommodate this particular stream.

Switched On Bach – Great slabs of Inevitable Music from WENDY CARLOS. First illustration of the power of Modular Logic.

Dark Side Of The Moon – Complete world in a bit of vinyl. Like the Sistine Chapel, it’s too expensive to build on this scale anymore. The era has gone and we don’t have the craftsmen.

Thomas Tallis – True British, transcendent incandescence. I went to Rome, heard ‘Palastrina’, brought it back here and exceeded it all. Incredible. Play ‘Spem In Alium’ loud at night. Luminous structures multiply in the room. You can walk around in it.

Keith Jarrett – ’70s Live European Concerts. Brought the delight of improvisation – and the simple complexity of piano lyricism without Jazz cliché – to life, in public, all over the world. I’m endlessly grateful for that. Only bit I didn’t like was the gratuitous ivory thumping at the end.

You’ve always made a huge effort to take analogue synths out as part of your stage show and sound. How important is that aspect to you given the soft versions that are now available? Is it a purist thing?

Yes. We are Purist, Puritan – Puritanical. And now the world’s first post-digital band. These instruments absolutely do sound unique and different. Visually, they also inspire confidence and announce your intentions. They are capable of destabilizing all materials, from large concrete and steel structure to the synapses of cockroaches. You can also hide behind them. We recently recruited Professor Stephen Dawkins as Head of Certainty, to do an Ayatollah Tour of stadiums and bookshops. With his PR skills, our rise will be inexorable…

What piece of equipment excites you most and why?

I dare not reply.

I think many would find it an interesting collaboration if you were to team up with any of your ex-band mates from Ultravox on a track and/or project. I have to ask if you’ve ever had the urge or inclination to do so?

Oh yes – Rob Simon and I will make an album soon. He’s the best guitarist I’ve ever heard – and I’ve heard them all.

What can you recall as the most significant from the early days with Ultravox? And have any of those experiences in particular brought you to the place you are now?

The effect of working in a band as it begins to wake up to the fact that it’s a swarm organism and beginning to play in concert with itself. That’s always brief moment, but a peak experience for any participant. Of course, you later realize the chemistry is easily shattered and utterly non-retrievable…

Was there a point within your various works where you had felt that you’d found your ultimate voice, or communicated something significant?

Several times. Mostly you’re kidding yourself. Still, I guess it supplies a reasonably honourable motive for continuing…

Jonathan Barnbrook made some amazing animated projections at the Roundhouse show back in 2010 – how much input do you have with regards the visual aspects? Is there a typical brief?

Agreed – I hate to admit but it’s all Jonathan – I’m constantly astounded at his inventiveness and accuracy. He’s a first rate image maker. Those visuals actually expand the songs. Exponentialism of the first order.

Karborn, too – he does great visuals and we work together all the time.

Some people are capable of making the material bigger – often you see how inappropriate imagery will diminish the songs. We are fortunate to have found people who do the opposite.

In recent times, synthpop has continued to make its mark given some of the high-impact releases that have emerged in recent times. Are there any recent releases in the genre that stand out for you?

Oh, lots of it. I find I particularly enjoy lots of those abstracted synthbleep moments you find even in the most generic dance records. The downside is lots of bands are sticking a temporary synth bit on while the fashion’s going. Decorative, not structural.

I especially love the way Skrillex makes everyone jump in the taste trials at the moment – Bart Simpson got a computer. America calls it Dubstep, that’s a misnomer – nowt to do with it – more like nice, cheap rave with Big Lights and all possible generic elements pasted together. What I like about it is – it’s completely independent of our intricate tribal snobbery – great whoosh of fresh air in the dark cathedral of UK/Europa taste.

You’re touring the UK with OMD this spring. How did this come about?

We’re seizing an opportunity to expand our audience on the back of someone else’s success.

What approach are you likely to take with the shows?

Head on. Lights Off. No Mercy.


The Electricity Club gives its warmest thanks to John Foxx.

Special thanks to Steve Malins at Random PR. Header photo by Ed Fielding.

Evidence is released by Metamatic Records and available now as a CD and download

John Foxx & The Maths play as special guests of OMD on their 2013 English Electric UK tour which includes:

Margate Winter Gardens (28th April), Birmingham Symphony Hall (29th April), Nottingham Royal Centre (1st May), Ipswich Regent Theatre (2nd May), London Roundhouse (3rd May), Bristol Colston Hall (5th May), Oxford New Theatre (6th May), Sheffield City Hall (8th May), Leeds Academy (9th May), Manchester Academy (10th May), Glasgow Royal Concert Hall (12th May), Gateshead Sage (13th May), Liverpool Empire (14th May)

John Foxx & The Maths play a headline show at Brighton’s Concorde 2 on 7th June with support from Vile Electrodes. Tickets can be purchased from the Concorde 2 online box office.

John Foxx & The Maths also play The Playground Festival at London’s Brixton Academy on 8th June with Gary Numan and a host of DJ guests including ex-Kraftwerk percussionist Wolfgang Flür. A special offer for Foxx and Numan fans offering a discounted ticket of £27.50 is available for a limited period at: https://www.trackitdown.net/event/the-playground-festival-gary-numan-special-offer/401.html

http://www.johnfoxxandthemaths.com/

http://www.metamatic.com/


EVERGREEN Why Synth Britannia Still Rules

Featuring Duran Duran, John Foxx, Gary Numan and Ultravox

The Synthpop Phenomenon Re-emerges

Some three decades ago witnessed fine electrical currents of post-punk experimental playback; an all-new generation of musicians who pumped new blood into the heart of pop culture, embracing the synthesizer as a creative art form and blended to give an alternative voice to our musical youth.

In recent times, the synthpop boom that we came to identify with, has since re-presented itself in the form of several high impact releases from those original innovators of the genre. The Electricity Club investigates the possible contributing factors behind the mainstay of the synthpop phenomenon, as it continues its refined, yet hugely contrasted take on musical fashion.

“The mid-70s synth based music created for films and soundtracks like Dr Who, The Man Who Fell To Earth, Blade Runner, Serpico, Music For Airports plus Moebius, Cluster, Can, Neu! and Kraftwerk inspired musicians to use electronics and synths to create their music, rather than guitars. The sounds available were also inspiring lyrics such as ‘I’m In Love With A German Film Star’, or ‘The Man Who Dies Every Day’. Songs were written in the third person in a film noir style or even as a soundtrack.” – Rusty Egan (Visage)


Duran Duran


Circa 1978 saw the formation of British band Duran Duran. Initially given the harsh cold shoulder by the British music press, they soon refused to disperse quietly and promptly exploded into the ranks of worldwide pop mainstream, earning an equally enthusiastic cross section of devoted followers. At one time, it seemed that there wasn’t anyone who didn’t have a soft spot for at least one member of the trendsetting five – and don’t say you never thought about those luxury yachts or the scenic Sri Lanka coast line; the songs delivered everything short of actually being on location. Such was the strength of the new era that heralded the pop video.

The waters often brought exhilarating sun-soaked excitement, but later, as the years marched on, the ocean had at times been reported as choppy, with a distant darkness looming on the horizon. It’s been a somewhat long voyage for them since; it wasn’t all cocktails and supermodels but thankfully, nobody got washed up.

2011 dawned, and unfolded to become what was clearly a year of definition for Duran Duran, not least down to the incredible success of their All You Need Is Now album. The once ‘ever so pretty boys’ had exceeded way beyond pin-up friendly, and matured into a tight unit that would put out some fine examples of decadent song crafting. They showed us how to take that tentative step over the strict boundaries that are so often put in place by some box-ticking social architect, one who seemingly goes on to define each genre and supposed fan model. They delivered an arena tour which would take the wind right out of 2011’s sails, and they proved their music gave birth to more than just a nostalgia trip for the over-indulgent recycled teenager.

Filling the large arenas worldwide is no mean feat by any stretch of the imagination. But not only that, their biggest strength, it would seem, now lies with new material; perhaps another phenomenon that escapes the general rulebook. ‘All You Need Is Now’ and ‘Blame the Machines’ are present-day cuts that unexpectedly merged so seamlessly when they were played live alongside the older staples. It’s as if there were merely years, rather than decades, between them. Technically, their sense of beat and overall rhythmic agility was nothing short of impressive; a winning formula that underpins so very tightly. Another key defining ingredient: think intricate and creative percussive embellishments drawn together with John Taylor’s funk-driven, precise bass. Their latest single, ‘Girl Panic!’, proves the point entirely; pumping out the adrenalin with its energetic Latino groove and striking percussive character. This perhaps goes some way to demonstrate exactly why they are a band that has reinvented themselves, only to emerge way ahead of the game yet again.

With the ‘Girl Panic’ video boasting nearly five million hits in just a short time and which sees the industry’s most respected supermodels feature, Duran Duran are without a doubt heading back into vogue as we bring in 2012. Granted, it’s not always been plain sailing for the Duran boys, but for now, this particular machine is free of blame and heading in the right direction.

“What happens with music is, it’s cyclical. It’s getting more like the fashion industry in that in some seasons certain beats sound right—then next season it changes. Right now we have all converged on what we were doing quite early on—merging dance beats with rock music and electronics—it seems to feel right. Fresh and vibrant again…” – Nick Rhodes (Duran Duran) via vanityfair.com


John Foxx

“John Foxx? Class cannot be erased.” – John Taylor (Duran Duran).

John Foxx, as an artist, portrays complete contrast against the massive PR machine that has carried the likes of Duran Duran through the course of the decades. Still, John Foxx & The Maths went on to win ‘Best Electro Act of 2011’ at the recent Artrocker Magazine Awards, and Interplay continues to receive huge critical acclaim.

‘Understated’ is a word that very much defines the original Ultravox front man, and that is where the thrill lies – a larger than life creation that somehow emerges from stripped down, hard electro compositions, leaving only a superbly pure attack of synth magic. Nothing is diluted in the slightest, there’s a brave thrust of analogue technology ­the appeal being that, yes, John Foxx is a purist. Not afraid to go against the grain; forgotten is the immaculate sequencing or the perfect production music and in comes a lovable retro feel that embraces futuristic trance. An untamed edge that once again surrounds itself by the common denominator of high class musicianship – given the ripened skills of Benge, Serafina Steer and not least, violinist extraordinaire Hannah Peel.

“Everyone should own the first three Ultravox albums with John Foxx…” – Nick Rhodes (Duran Duran)


Gary Numan


Gary Numan, recently graced with the honour of picking up 2011’s Artrocker Legend Award, has been a long-standing pioneer of electronic music, being amongst the first to hit commercial highs since his 1979 breakthrough album Replicas.

An innovator with a distinct sense of individualism, he’s consistently maintained control over his sound. His latest release Dead Son Rising has shifted successfully into contrasting areas of his former identity; a shining experimentation en route to the dark, often metallic soundtrack that leans towards a science-fictional entrée, with some tracks even slanting in the direction of industrial rock anthems. Without doubt, Gary Numan has endeavored to create new dimensions with his unique blends that drive the synthesizer towards fresh pasture, while maintaining artistic vision; an optimistic outlook rather than repetitive recycling of formulae ­such that can only ensure additional longevity of our beloved Synth Britannia.

“…Gary Numan has a devoted lifelong fan base for his crafted songs and appeals to the iPod more than the dance floor. He just sticks to what he is good at and delivers and that requires a strong will and talent…” – Rusty Egan (Visage).


Ultravox


It seems Ultravox have always been noted for their significant step into the mainstream, following the appointment of Midge Ure as front man. They scored strong hit-making ingredients that would give them more than just a brief flirtation with Top Of The Pops. Hits such as ‘Vienna’ and ‘Dancing With Tears In My Eyes’ have become anchored mainstays; providing a point of identity for even the most casual of listeners, and hit on by many a radio station to this day.

“The group’s big success probably came from a dynamic between the members at the time of that success. When the members changed, the dynamic wasn’t there. Happens with most groups. But not all.” – Simon Napier-Bell (Ultravox manager, 1992-94)

Essentially very much a live band, their musical virtuosity took them beyond the quintessential pop record. With a clever combination of subtle classical inflections set against the integration of electronic percussion – not to mention some of the most expressive synth solos ever encountered – the fruits of experimentation were definitely on their side and ultimately set them apart as a band. Consider the growth of the pop video; Ultravox embraced visual artistic form. From great stage sets to iconic videos, such futuristic visuals bound tightly to touch emotions and create strong ambience, and produced a very dramatic and theatrical aspect that has endured a lasting effect, now synonymous with the band.

Today, Ultravox, remain a true synergy, showing strength in the fact that the band as a whole, have always presented an entity that is much greater than the sum of its parts. And now, nearly four years after reforming, they are about to release their first album featuring the classic line-up, in twenty eight years.

“I await with bated breath for Ultravox’s album. I believe they have retained their own sound and style. Midge has written many solo songs that I believe would have been amazing in the hands of Billy and co. They need each other and together they are truly amazing.” – Rusty Egan (Visage)

At this moment in time, it’s no surprise that Ultravox’s planned release has been one of the most debated throughout various online fan communities. Their foundations of course, were always rooted much deeper than mainstream medley and indefinitely provided the means to grow, which is why 2012 presents such an interesting and exhilarating prospect for both the band and fans alike. So, what can we anticipate from the forthcoming record?

“If Ultravox have strong songs (as I believe they do), Billy’s piano and ARP, Midge’s guitars and vocals, along with that amazing Moog synth bass and power drumming from Warren Cann , I can only expect an Ultravox who will carry on where they left off…as we saw with the Return To Eden tour.” – Rusty Egan (Visage)


In terms of what to expect, thanks to Midge Ure’s Twitter presence, there is evidence that the creative juices really are simmering nicely. January 2011 saw the band cocooned somewhere deep within the winter wilderness of Canada, equipped with Macbooks and guitars while Billy cradled what looked to be (and don’t quote me) his Frank Georg Rost viola. Without any whisper of a doubt, it looked promising. Shortly afterwards, Midge, Billy and Chris made their way to Los Angeles and we were subsequently furnished with more pictorial treasures – this time the mighty Warren Cann was caught tracking his drums at Studio City Sound. It was later revealed that the band would work with award-winning producer Steve Lipson; he produced Propaganda’s A Secret Wish as well as albums by Simple Minds and Annie Lennox. During this time, one particularly thrilling piece of news was the fact that Billy had dug out his old ARP Odyssey and got it fixed up ready for use on some tracks. Given his distinct ARP soloing sound had in some ways been the very essence of Ultravox in their heyday, such news would do nothing to contain the anticipation bubbling amongst the fans.

“It’s got Ultravox’s DNA all over it…” Midge Ure quoting record producer Chris Hughes’ comments on the new Ultravox material in a recent interview with Rockerrazzi

Throughout 2011, any sustained periods of silence were hard going for fans. However, anxious rumblings were promptly traded for excitement once again when cheeky audio teasers were released via Midge’s Twitter account. The tiniest insight into what was to come, yet perhaps too miniscule to portray any of the architectonic character we may have become accustomed to looking for. That said, the first audio snapshot still sent enthusiasm ratings into red with its style of electro rhythmic drive and a percussive persuasion that conjured a hypnotic reverie, decorated with an elevating vocal. There was more to come and the next sample was an obscure object of desire, roughly mapped against the likes of Lament. Definitely the ambient impressionist of the three we heard, with its evocative sense of space weaving a dose of relaxation. The final offering, on the visual side, was rather amusing and featured an upside down video. Click track aside, this short insight was a luminous construction, articulated by those previous melodic concepts that were so prominent in the past; intensified with a euphoric synth tapestry that went some way to create an intoxicating nostalgic touch, before edging towards a change in tonal direction. All short, but most definitely exploited in the most charming way.

Following the reunion tours of 2009/10, there was a time when we were very unsure as to what the next chapter would be as far as Ultravox were concerned, but that uncertainty now appears to be a thing of the past. It would seem the Ultravox revolution is definitely still growing, and let’s hope that when we finally turn that page, the fruits ripen and we experience the full bloom, not least in our headphones.


Conclusion

As far as the evergreens of Synth Britannia go, we can certainly underpin a no compromise creative policy as a common denominator when it comes to their pioneering stature as heritage acts, coupled with a slice of current production technique. Yet in their own contrasting ways, Duran Duran, John Foxx, Gary Numan and Ultravox are each able to offer something that is so uniquely identifiable with their own brands. They are soon to be joined by Visage who are currently in the demo stages with regards to working on a record, with the participation of Steve Strange and Rusty Egan plus contributions from Midge Ure (Ultravox), Mick MacNeil (Simple Minds), Chris Payne (Gary Numan/Dramatis), Dave Formula (Magazine) and Robin Simon (John Foxx/Ultravox).

“Duran have worked with the best current producers, as has Madonna. They write great songs and Nick Rhodes adds great synth hooks – the producers can take this and deliver a Duran record with all the right sounds. John Foxx has delivered a classic John Foxx album – by that I mean he has his own style and it’s still unique. I am a lifelong fan.” – Rusty Egan (Visage)

The rebirth of such finely tuned legacy brings forth a refreshing take on the shaping of our popular music culture ­ certainly with the likes of Duran Duran, yet, more importantly, all play a pivotal role in the anchoring of synthpop. All too often, in this day and age, the ranks of reality TV have perhaps driven pop music towards the world of auto-tuned, over produced landfill, conveniently disguised as a karaoke freak show at best.

Long may Synth Britannia ‘waive the rules’ by ruling the waves.


Special thanks to Rusty Egan, Simon Napier-Bell and Gerard Franklin of Frequency Media.

Duran Duran All You Need Is Now is released by Tape Modern.

John Foxx & The Maths Interplay is released by Metamatic Records

Gary Numan Dead Son Rising is released by Mortal Records.

Ultravox’s new album is to be released in 2012.

www.DuranDuran.com
http://blog.johnfoxxandthemaths.com/
www.numan.co.uk
www.Ultravox.org.uk
www.Visage.cc
www.theblitzclub.com
www.rememberingeden.co.uk

Live photos by Jus Forrest. John Foxx photo by Ed Fielding.