Saturday, August 07, 2010

Synth Britannia

I love movies but I'm also a huge music fan. I was buying albums, hiding in my room listening to them loudly for hours on end and seeing concerts while in elementary school. For me, the decade from 1975-1984 had it all--classic, prog, disco, punk, post-punk, electronic, kraut, hip-hop, etc, etc. This era was unbelievably vibrant, creative and groundbreaking to the point that these groups are mimicked relentlessly by younger bands today. Of all those styles from that period, I loved synth-pop music the most.

When I first became aware of all-synthesizer bands in 1983 I was never the same regarding music. To hear songs made with nothing but machines was so mind-blowingly futuristic that it was like nothing I'd ever imagined. I just couldn't believe what I was hearing and seeing. Men standing behind a bank of synthesizers? Yes! Guitars were in the background; the machine was the focus. Electronic music was completely revolutionary to me. Synthesizer were the "real" punk rock--how truly original were all those bands using the same old instruments, the same old chords, the same old everything that had been used by bands for decades? Synthesizers were modern and the men who crafted songs from their knobs, keys and circuitry were the ultimate modernists. Virtually all my favorite bands from that time in my life were English.

When I stumbled across BBC Four's 2009 documentary Synth Britannia recently I was floored by its quality. Not available in America, I watched it in eight ten minute segments on You Tube (there is a part nine but it's been removed from You Tube; it can be found elsewhere online if you search for it). The synth-pop genre has been roundly mocked by the English music press since the bands first came onto the scene. The attacks on these bands were often vicious and without mercy. It's always gotten more honest appraisal in the rest of Europe and America. So to see a documentary from the UK that is not only respectful but glowing in its appreciation of this music was pretty surprising to me. Shocking actually, if you are familiar with how the fickle press has treated the bands from the late '70s and early '80s.

Starting in the mid 1970s, Synth Britannia includes most of the big bands from the period: Kraftwerk, Depeche Mode, Daniel Miller of Mute Records, The Human League, New Order, Cabaret Voltaire, Gary Numan, Orchestral Manoeuvres In the Dark, John Foxx, Soft Cell, Yazoo and many others. There's great interviews from members from these groups and tons of wonderful footage from concerts or videos. You really get a feel of why these people were attracted to making electronic music--whether inspired by a hopeless urban environment, science fiction or the magical notion of what the "future" is. If you like music and want to get a detailed version of a genre of music not covered much in mainstream press, check out Synth Britannia online. All hail the synthesizer!

No comments: