Category: 1980s

If you’re a child of the 80s like me, you’d likely remember Kate Bush collaborating with Peter Gabriel on “Don’t Give Up,” as well as her solo career — in particular her smash-hit “Running Up That Hill.” Now, if you’ve been frequenting this site since it’s inception 6 years ago, you’d likely know that I’m frequently multi-multi-multitasking while working on blog posts so it’s not uncommon for me to be watching a ballgame, listening to tracks and writing emails. And as a result, I’ve stumbled upon a number of singles that caught my attention — including Vancouver, BC-based electro pop duo Mu’s gorgeous and fair faithful cover of “Running Up That Hill.”

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Currently based in New Orleans, Kate Fagan is a ska, punk and new wave musician, who first emerged to local and regional attention as the founding member and frontwoman of Chicago-based ska act Heavy Manners, an act that once opened for the The Clash and The English Beat; but interestingly enough before that Fagan released a cult-favorited New Wave single “I Don’t Wanna Be Too Cool” through local imprint Disturbing Records that was immediately embraced by local club DJs, radio stations and taste-making record stores like Chicago’s Wax Trax, where it became the best-selling release by a local artist ever.  The B-side single “Waiting for the Crisis” also received attention for its politically charged, Reagan-era lyrics, which manage to still resonate today.

 

As the story goes, Fagan wrote the title track after moving from New York to Chicago in the late 70s. “I pretty much came to visit Chicago and fell in love with the scene and never left,” Fagan recalled in press notes. “At the time I’d been working at New York magazine and was getting dismayed watching the CBGB scene give way to the whole Studio 54/velvet rope thing. So I spontaneously moved to Chicago, which was much more inclusive and everyone wasn’t standing around peering at each other from behind their shades. But eventually I saw that same kind of divisive hipster culture start to creep in. ‘Too Cool’ was my reaction to that.” Along with “Too Cool,” Fagan wrote many of her earliest songs as a solo artist and with Heavy Manners in an intuitive fashion, recording them at Chicago’s Acme Studios, where she’d meet the fellow artists with whom she’d form Disturbing Records.

Although the “Too Cool” single was a cult favorite back in the early 80s, sadly it was thought to be long lost, as the second printing of the album was lost in a house fire that destroyed almost everything Fagan had owned at the time — that is until Manufactured Recordings stumbled upon the original single, along with two unreleased bonus tracks that Fagan recorded with members of My Life With The Thrill Kill Kult and Scarlet Architect. Interestingly, when you listen to the four tracks off the re-issued 7 inch, the songs manage to sound both of its time and incredibly contemporary — in some way you can imagine acts like Colleen Green, Courtney Barnett, Karen O. and several others citing Fagan as an influence, as Fagan’s lyrics possess a wry irony at at their core, as you’ll hear on the aforementioned “Too Cool,” a song that’s reminiscent of both The B52s and Go-Gos. “Waiting for the Crisis” sounds as though it were influenced by Sandinista! and Combat Rock-era The Clash. However, “Master of Passion” and “Come Over” are the most dance floor-friendly, New Order-like songs of the re-issue, featuring shimmering undulating synths, propulsive drum programming paired with Fagan’s sultry and coquettish delivery.

Of course, each track reveals a songwriter, who had an uncanny knack at writing an infectiously catchy hook that you could imagine kids bouncing up and down to in a sweaty club — and does so with a cool, swaggering self-assuredness.

 

The Internet can be a wonderful and thrilling place as it can inspire the sort of serendipitous discovery that’s necessary if you’re an audiophile or a music blogger; however, the Internet can also be a powerful reminder of the relentless passing of time — and that no matter what, you’re not getting any younger.  Now, as a child of the 80s, Nena‘s “99 Red Balloons” or if you preferred the original German version, “99 Luftballoons” was a mega-hit back in 1984 as it captured and evoked everyone’s fear of nuclear annihilation.

Back in 2013, I wrote quite a bit about Anika Henderson, best known under the mononym that she writes, records and performs under, Anika . Initially, Henderson spent her professional career as a political journalist, who split time between Berlin and Bristol, UK when she was introduced to Geoff Barrow, who’s best known for his work with Portishead. At the time Barrow was looking for a vocalist, who would work with his band Beak> for what would be a side project. And as the story goes, Henderson and Barrow bonded over a mutual love of punk, dub and 60s girl groups. About a week later, Barrow, Henderson and the members of Beak> went into the studio to record what would eventually turn out to be Henderson’s 2010 self-titled full-length debut, completely live with Henderson and the band in the same room without overdubs — and in 12 days.

2013 saw the release of Henderson’s self-titled EP, a collection of covers and remixes that included Henderson’s murky, Portishead and The Velvet Underground and Nico-inspired cover of Chromatics’ “In the City.” And what the self-titled EP revealed is that Henderson, Barrow and company have a way of covering a song with a unique take that makes a song their own — and in the case of Chromatics’ “In The City,” their cover feels as though it was always their song. That’s a rare thing, indeed.

Recently Invada Records, run by Barrow released an icy, lo-tech analog synth electro pop and dub-leaning cover of Nena’s “99 Red Balloons” by the mysterious Invada All Stars featuring Anika on vocals as part of this weekend’s Stop Trident National anti-nukes demonstration in London, a demonstration protesting the renewal of Britain’s nuclear weapons system. Proceeds from the digital single will go to the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament (CND).

Additionally Henderson is part of a new project Exploded View which will release their debut single in March and play SXSW. The project’s debut effort is slated for release later this year through Sacred Bones Records.

 

 

 

 

 

Currently comprised of Jon Davison (vocals), Steve Howe (guitar), Billy Sherwood (bass), Geoff Downes (keys) and Alan White (drums), the London, UK-based prog rock quintet Yes can trace their origins to when founding members Chris Squire (bass) and Jon Anderson (vocals) formed the band back in 1968. Much ink has been spilled throughout the band’s nearly 50 year run but what I will say that the legendary act has not only been pioneers of prog rock but they’ve also managed to be remarkably successful — 9 of the band’s 22 full-length albums have reached the top 10 in either the UK or US with two reaching number 1 in the UK. And the band has sold 13.5 million albums in the US alone. In the early 80s, Yes’ “Owner of a Lonely Heart” was a mega-hit song — and a song that I remember quite fondly as a child.

Now, if you’ve been frequenting this site over the past 13 months or so, you may recall that I’ve written about Berlin, Germany-based producer, electronic music artist and DJ Lennart Richter. Prolifically releasing a series of singles through renowned electronic music labels Sleazy G, East Project, G-Mafia Records, GUN PWDR, Ensis RecordsBlue Dye, Mondal Recordings and others, Richter quickly developed a reputation across his native Germany and internationally for exploring the gamut of electronic music subgenres including deep house, G house, nu-disco and several others with a slick, crowd-pleasing, club-rocking production. And as a result, Richter can claim several Beatport Top 25 releases under his belt, and his last EP, Berlin Brawling landed at #10 on the Beatport Indie Dance/Nu Disco Charts.

The Berlin-based electronic music artist, producer and DJ closed out 2015 with the release of “Hold Up,” a nu-disco and house track comprised of layers of shimmering and cascading synths, propulsive drum programming led by explosive cymbal shots and a looped vocal sample that comes in and out of the haze. Sonically, the song reminded me quite a bit of Octo Octa’s “His Kiss” an “Please Don’t Leave” off his fantastic Between Two Selves — or in other words, it manages to possess both a bracing iciness and a thoughtful soulfulness. Richter builds on the success of the past year with the release of a remix of Yes’ “Owner of a Lonely Heart” that retains the vocal sample but pairs it with what sounds like ukulele, handclap-led percussion, swirling electronics and slowly cascading synths, which essentially turns the electro rock song into a slickly produced, densely layered, mid-tempo club banger — while retaining something of the song’s original feel and spirit.

 

As an unabashed child of the 80s, Depeche Mode holds as much of a place in my heart as New Order; after all, so much of their material has managed to be part of my life’s soundtrack. More than enough ink has been spilled throughout the act’s influential career, so delving into their biography is largely unnecessary. Interestingly, over the past 20 years, an in impressive and growing number of artists have covered, remixed and reworked Depeche Mode including Smashing Pumpkins, Deftones, A-ha, Monster Magnet, Scott Weiland, The Cure (yes, seriously, The Cure!), Tori Amos, Nada Surf, Linkin Park‘s Mike Shinoda, Breaking Benjamin, Royskopp, Placebo and more.

Comprised of Paris-born and London-based duo Axel Basquiat (composer, vocals, bass) and Vincent T. (production, sound engineering and keys), The Penelopes are an indie electro pop act, production and DJ duo who have developed a reputation for propulsive, Giorgio Moroder-like remixes of Lana Del RayPet Shop BoysWe Have BandNight DriveThe Ting TingsAlt J  and a growing list of others, and for their own original material — which critics internationally have compared to Daft Punk, M83 and Air, among others. The Parisian-born, London-based duo add their names to a growing list of artists, who have covered Depeche Mode with their rendition of “Never Let Me Down Again,” which turns the slow-burning and moody industrial/goth song into a shimmering and anthemic, club-banger with a sinuous bass line and propulsive drum programming with Basquiat’s breathy baritone.  And although The Penelopes uptempo rendition is warmer and dance floor friendly, it retains the original’s sense of longing and desire.

 

Check out how The Penelopes cover compares to Depeche Mode’s original below.