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Synth Brittania

Description from official site:

Documentary following a generation of post-punk musicians who took the synthesiser from the experimental fringes to the centre of the pop stage.

In the late 1970s, small pockets of electronic artists including the Human League, Daniel Miller and Cabaret Volatire were inspired by Kraftwerk and JG Ballard and dreamt of the sound of the future against the backdrop of bleak, high-rise Britain.

The crossover moment came in 1979 when Gary Numan’s appearance on Top of the Pops with Tubeway Army’s Are Friends Electric heralded the arrival of synthpop. Four lads from Basildon known as Depeche Mode would come to own the new sound whilst post-punk bands like Ultravox, Soft Cell, OMD and Yazoo took the synth out of the pages of the NME and onto the front page of Smash Hits.

By 1983, acts like Pet Shop Boys and New Order were showing that the future of electronic music would lie in dance music.

Contributors include Philip Oakey, Vince Clarke, Martin Gore, Bernard Sumner, Gary Numan and Neil Tennant.

First broadcast on BBC in 2009. 87 minutes long. A full version is available on vimeo.

If you are not willing to sit through the entire film, here is my brief bullet-point summary for quick digestion:

Influences and factors:

  • Kubrick’s Clockwork Orange (and Wendy Carlos’ soundtrack)
  • Kraftwerk
  • ELP (E
  • J.G. Ballard’ Crash book (the David Cronenberg movie would appear 20 years later)
  • Roxy Music & David Bowie
  • Giorgio Moroder
  • High-rises (ask the writers)
  • Industrial landscape and noises
  • Punk rocks DIY attitude
  • Synthesizers got cheap (could cost as much as a “small house” in the Prog Rock era)
  • Synthetizers are easier to play than other instruments
  • Indie record labels: Factory, MUTE
  • Thatcher era (new themes of prosperity, success wealth, “greed” etc.)
  • [No one bothers to mention the economical/political mood prior to that, but we can add Late 70’s “British malaise” theme to this list
  • Mainstream press absolutely hated the genre

Major events/acts:

  • Human League (name taken from Starforce: Alpha Centauri board game)
  • Cabaret Voltaire – Shetfield industrial landscape
  • OMD
  • Joy Division
  • John Foxx
  • Ultravox – Vienna
  • Throbbing Gristle
  • Silicon Teens (appears on John Peel)
  • Gary Numam – 1st hit
  • Visage
  • Depeche Mode (Vince Clark quits because is a control freak and star Yax. Erasure does not get mentioned)
  • Heaven 17 (named from Clockwork Orange, members from Human League. Some really cool videos you should google)
  • Yaz (mentioned as template of the synthpop duo – fire & ice)
  • New Order releases Blue Monday and dance music is born
  • Eurythmics
  • Pet Shop Boys
  • By 1983 there is an overdose of diluters. Instead of experimental, genre becomes overly commercial

Comments:

  • Some artists that are not mentioned: Duran Duran and rest of New Romantics. Tears for Fears. Gary Wright (as an U.S. early pioneer?)
  • Music writer Simon Reynolds comments a lot

That’s it, basically. I highly enjoyed it. Thank you, BBC (and British tax payers.)