- by Rob Taylor Release Date: Label:
Former Ultravox frontman, and premier solo electronic artist, John Foxx, spoke with Soundblab about the release of Close to the Noise Floor, a survey of electronic music during the period 1975-1984.
Was there a community that existed amongst electronic artists in the United Kingdom in the 1970s to 1980s, and was there an epicentre of activity from which a movement grew?
John Foxx: No community at all that I was aware of – everyone was working alone and seemed surprised to find there were others doing it too. It was a spontaneous, unconnected thing at first.
I can appreciate the influence that German artists such as Tangerine Dream and Cluster had on electronica in the UK, but what about artists such as the BBC’s Radiophonic Workshop’s Delia Derbyshire? Was the UK’s own history in electronica sufficiently catalogued to be an influence?
John Foxx: Delia Derbyshire was a huge inspiration to everyone I’ve ever spoken to about that period. Everyone acknowledges how the BBC’s imaginative inception of the Radiophonic Workshop opened the way. Truly significant, and truly wonderful. Just played The Shock of the New theme full blast – the power!
Some of the music on Close to the Noise Floor is quite inorganic and experimental in nature, and some of it heralds the beginnings of as more radio friendly era of electronica. Your own contribution ‘A New Kind of Man’ seems to nod playfully at the theme to Peter Gunn. Was there a sense in the late 1970s of putting a human face to electronic music to make it more accessible?
John Foxx: I think there was a need for a new kind of popular music – something more adventurous. I like the way electronics has the full spectrum unlike other forms – it can accommodate wild experimentalism and wild pop simultaneously. Daft and deep, wide and wild. A proper people’s music.
How did the politics of the day, like the Cold War, inform the emotional content of electronic music ? I can see an evolution from Final Program’s ‘Protect and Survive’ in 1979 to The Sound’s ‘Missiles’ (not on Close to the Noise Floor) a couple of years later both in terms of Cold War paranoia, but also a change in social attitude, a anti-establishment bent brought by the new wave, and their injection of punk and dance into the music?
John Foxx: The cold war was always the monster in the corner. Everyone had to live with the knowledge that we could all be fried five minutes from now. Punk was dead the second Donna Summer and Moroder hit the sound systems. All the energy and angst of Punk didn’t go away, though – it got transmuted into the detached cool of electronics. A cruel sort of cool. Still furious, but compressed into a stare. It was a natural evolution. You can only shout at the wall for a short time – cold fury is much more efficient. You can go on forever with that.
Was the club element important in bringing electronica to the mainstream? It certainly made it possible for bands like The Human League to give their hits like ‘Being Boiled’ a second shot at commercial success?
John Foxx: Absolutely - clubs and underground scenes are the hothouses of development - always. Without that, the music dies.
Does Close to the Noise Floor represent to you a decent attempt at appraising electronic music between 1975 and 1984, and your place as one if its better known exponents?
John Foxx: I’m so pleased its being done – it was an important period in the development of Brit music - fun, adventure, exploration, self-made tragic magic and a lot of identity blagging - good title too.
Thanks for speaking with Soundblab, John.