Various Artists - Bustin' Out 1982: New Wave to New Beat Volume 2

by Rich Morris Rating:8 Release Date:2010-06-07

A sequel to Bustin' Out: The Post Punk Era 1979-1981, Bustin' Out 1982 is an esoteric grab-bag from a world waking up to the power and potential of electronic music. However, unlike its predecessor, this new compilation has a harder time telling the full story of what was happening during its allotted timescale. Its big brother for the most part eschewed tracks by synthpop's big hitters and acts that spearheaded the synthpop revolution. Only Gary Numan got a look in, as he does here and his inclusion makes sense within the remit of these compilations. Although he achieved genuine pop star status in the UK, Numan was too odd, too otherworldly and too withdrawn from his audience (he was diagnosed with Asperger's syndrome) to remain a pin-up for long. On Bustin' Out 1982 he is represented by 'Music for Chameleons (LP Version)', whose serpentine, depressed funk represented a step away from the clunky, new wavey synthpop which had made him famous. It sounds remarkably like proto-new romantic posers Japan, a band who, while not featured on either compilation, were massively influential on their immediate successors.

This is the problem with Bustin' Out 1982. Whereas the period covered by the first collection traced a musical form which remained largely underground, making occasional forays into the upper echelons of UK charts, where its practitioners usually glowered or struck art-house poses next to more conventional fair, by 1982, thanks to the Top of the Pops-conquering trio of The Human League, Duran Duran and Depeche Mode, electronic music dominated the turntables of the nation's youth, it's newly smiley stars taking up space on their bedroom walls. By ignoring these acts, Bustin' Out 1982 (which like its predecessor was put together by DJ Mike Maguire) also ignores a parallel but linked story about electronic music's rise to dominance.

That second story is, however, one that has been told many times, in TV documentaries and dramas, and in endless nostalgic magazine features. It is also a very Anglo-centric story, one that culminated in what was christened the Second English Invasion, as the colourful likes of Culture Club and Frankie Goes to Hollywood stormed the US charts in the mid-80s. With all that in mind, Maguire is wise to turn his attention to the electronic sounds which emerged from Europe and the US in 1982. The compilation kicks off with Dusseldorf industrial band Die Krupps and the 12 inch version of their clanging, pulsing 'Goldfinger' (not a cover of the Bond theme - if you want that, search out Magazine's gloriously unhinged rendition). We're also treated to the squelchy robo-pop of Belgium's Front 242, a rarity which apparently changes hands for a much as £300. Hard to see why; with its squelchy bass, clunky beat and moody vocals, it's early electro-industrial in excelsis and not terribly memorable for that.

More interesting are the examples of American electro, including Afrika Bambaataa and the Soulsonic Force's legendary 'Planet Rock', a hip hop track which took the pop and hiss of Kraftwerk and used it to define the sound of electro for the rest of the decade. Elsewhere, post-punk keeps its end up thanks to two US groups. Hailing from the Bronx, just like Bambaataa, ESG specialised in a kind of stripped-down, constantly trembling soul. Their 'Moody', which features here, is a thing of tense, artfully controlled wonder. Meanwhile, Pylon, from Athens, Georgia, ploughed a more dissonant, confrontational furrow. 'Four Minutes', originally the b-side to their 'Bleep' single, is full of industrial clangs, sped up voices, squawking violins and stalking dub bass.

 

Happily, dub - the long-unsung hero of electronic and post-punk music - gets some attention here too. First with ex-Pop Group vocalist Mark Stewart's fractured, doom-laden but still swaying 'Liberty City', and then on Dub Syndicate's more conventional 'Pounding System'. Jazz, world music and avant-garde experimentation also get a look-in, combined into one seething, head-pounding whole on Benjamin Lew & Steven Brown's 'Dans le Jardins', hands down the weirdest thing here and a real undiscovered gem.

Not everything is as great. Shriekback, formed by ex-members of XTC and Gang of Four, locate a likeable white funk groove on 'My Spine is the Bassline' but, across four minutes, fail to find anywhere particularly interesting to take it. Chris & Cosey, refugees from Throbbing Gristle, deliver passable minimalist electro on 'Impulse'. Portion Control's 'Friends', meanwhile, sounds like proto-electro played by a gang of marauding Klingons. Interestingly, all three groups hailed from the UK.

Ultimately, Colourbox's 'Breakdown' sums up what electronic music in 1982 was all about, in the UK at least. With its unreservedly emotional, soulful female vocals and beat adapted from the dance music popular in New York gay clubs of the time, it also pointed the way forward to the coming third (or perhaps fourth) wave of synth groups, such as Eurythmics, Erasure and The Pet Shop Boys, who would rule to roost until acid house appeared at the decade's end to comprehensively shake things up. All in all, Bustin' Out 1982 is a fantastic compilation for synthpop lovers looking for more beyond the well-known groups taking up space on La Roux's iPod. If you're looking for a starting point to explore the pleasures of early-80s electronic music, however, this is probably not the place to begin.

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