I’ve been trying to find a music scene to stick my nose into at home in Vancouver. It seems to be that if you want anything electronic – it’s going to be dance music. If you want *songs* – well that comes along with guitars. Only.
That’s why I was excited when I came across the video from this local act called Humans. Did I just hear arpeggiated synth accents over someone singing a song? Yes I did! Drum machine? That too!
So when I saw that they had a show coming up at the Imperial to kick off their tour and brand new album I grabbed tickets.
I went to the show, made a couple of new friends, and generally had a good time. But as for the music – Humans and their 3 openers were all dance music. Beats without vocals. And the few songs that the lads from Humans did sing over didn’t make up most of the set.
Back to the drawing board in my coastal search.
A documentary called Synth Britannia gave me an unusual kind of hope. It’s a BBC thing on the explosion of synth music in the 80’s UK.
It turns out there was never any unified music scene. People were experimenting in isolated in pockets all around the country, Liverpool, Manchester, London, you name it.. but they didn’t have each other. A genre was brewing in basements, bedrooms, and garages, hundreds of miles apart.
That makes me feel a little less lonely about my lack of colleagues here on the west coast.
Martyn Ware of The Human League (“Don’t You Want Me”, “Fascination” etc.) said that they were all about punk music back then. 3 chords and the truth. They loved the songs and the attitude and the shows, but guitars and drums just felt old fashioned. They wanted to write good songs, but they also wanted to make something no one had ever heard before.
As electronic risk takers felt like they were all in their own world, a guy named Gary Numan came out of nowhere to hit number 1 on the charts. Breaking the floodgates open for everything that had been building. Uniting the network of basement synthists as a new north star to aspire to.
Numan never meant to make electronic music. He didn’t know what it was when he went into the studio to record his next punk album with songs he had written on guitar.. but fate smiled on him when he found a Moog synth keyboard sitting in the corner of the control booth from a previous session.
He had no idea what it was, but when he pressed and held one of the keys it made a swelling analogue tone that shook the building. It sounded like.. the future. His eyes went wide. Couldn’t believe what he was hearing.
Today he credits whoever left the Moog on that particular sound preset for his career, and quite possibly for the entire genre of synth pop.
Naturally, the label hated the album. They wanted loud guitars. What they got was.. strange electronic noises they wouldn’t be able to sell to the public. Through sheer determination he would finally break through with his cold and robotic future punk. In North America we probably all know him best for this one:
New Wave and Synth Pop were globally successful genres that started without a home. No scene or support system for the bands within it. Acts like Depeche Mode were laughed at by critics in the UK for not being “real music”. They would never really find an audience in England, instead they broke into the US market where fans were captivated by the “Britishness” of it all, going on to play stadiums.
What I’m saying is.. electronic music has always been a mess. Dance music has Berlin. Pop is almost exclusively electronic now, sure. But there’s a divide between that and what doesn’t want to be pop. And it can be hard to convince anyone to stand in the middle.
So when I find middle standers… I pick them up where I find them. And I may just have to accept that I’ll never find a local “scene” of people that like the same stuff I do. But I can certainly put together a show, and cram it onto bills with other bands.
Ahhh the ‘ol cram n slam. The only mullet at an afro convention. The only waffle in a pancake stack. Bring on the blueberry maple syrup.
Here are two of the artists I’ve been nerding out on lately. First would be Robert Delong, a midi device mad scientist! My hat goes off to anyone who plays an old gaming joystick like an instrument for a solo like he does in this Jam in the Van video. Plus, he’s in a van.
Second is Rachel K Collier. She’s less about bouncing around between instruments and more about triggering different sequences in Ableton and layering vocals in real time. Her earlier videos inspired me to get my own APC-40 MK II which she used to play (the light up coloured button thingy she keeps pressing, except her old version).
I loooooove me some Paper Tiger. The Mini Brute bass in the “oooooh’s” chorus gets me every time.