Various Artists - Bustin' Out 1983 - Albums - Reviews - Soundblab

Various Artists - Bustin' Out 1983

by Rich Morris Rating:7 Release Date:2010-10-04

By 1983, electronic music was no longer a novelty. Just a couple of years before, it had been the plucky underdog, a subversive cult which drew in aesthetes and art house experimenters keen to discover something which was an alternative to everything, even the vicious din of punk. Now, however, electronic pop was the new hegemony, ruling the UK (and, increasingly, the US) airwaves as a seemingly endless wave of pretty boys and the odd girl flounced into the charts and into the hearts of music buying teens.

Underneath the mainstream's radar, electronic music was diversifying, branching and splintering off into ever more diverse sub-genres and niche markets. Most of this music was anything but chart friendly, although it's hard from today's vantage point to spot exactly what barred it from chart success. For example, the icy dystopian vision of 'Sleeper in Metropolis' by Croydon's Anne Clarke could sit quite happily on La Roux's next album. Like the previous two compilations in this series, Bustin'Out 1983 makes room for a couple of synth-pop's big hitters, in this case New Order and The Cocteau Twins. The former's 'Your Silent Face', with its synth fanfare and incongruous yet utterly right harmonica solo, is still a sparkling gem. The latter's Sugar Hiccup', however, has not aged so well, its bombastic drum sound in particular too redolent of 80s over-production.

Many of the most exciting electronic sounds in the early 80s where coming not from the UK, where synthpop ruled the roost, but from the US, especially New York. Thanks to Afrika Bambaataa's groundbreaking 'Planet Rock', released the previous year (and featured on Bustin' Out 1982), forward-thinking mix-masters where looking to the sounds of Kraftwerk, Gary Numan and post-punk for their breaks. The city's electro scene, while still underground, was burgeoning in 1983, and both Special Request's 'Salsa Smurf' and The Jonzun Crew's 'We Are the Jonzun Crew' testify to its virility. The former is a minimalist, insinuating track which presages the spacey sounds of acid house; the latter is a full-on electro-funk work out. Downtown, post-punk and mutant disco where also thriving. Liquid Liquid's surging, twitching 'Optimo' was blasting out of the very clubs which influenced UK groups like New Order.

Meanwhile, over in San Francisco, Twilight 22's 'Electronic Kingdom (Kingdom Version)' took 'Planet Rock's Kraftwerk-indebted funk and stretched it out until it was nothing but an endless sinewy, popping beat. While all this was happening, one old master of the electro beat kept his hand in thanks to a remix of an earlier work. Auteur John Carpenter's self-composed theme to his film Assault on Precinct 13 sounded like the future in 1976. By 1983, his creepy but funky sounds were everywhere, and 'The End (Sound Version)' beefs up the original into a club-friendly track, although it loses the original's sparse and spooky majesty.

Across the pond, many of the sounds coming out of Europe at this time were perhaps more consistent with what we now think of as the typical early 80s synth sound, and less interesting for it. Belgium's Front 242 are represented by the underwhelming 'Take One', which takes a long time to do very little with a standard menacing electro beat, something which also applies to Xmal Deutschland's dirgey 'Qual (12 Inch Remix)'.

This is the one problem with the Bustin Out series: in exhuming and dusting down so many obscurities, it inevitably presents us with some chunks of coal among the diamonds. Tracks such as these have no intrinsic value just because they are obscure. Does either one of them come close to the invention and sophistication of Eurhythmics' 'Love is a Stranger' or Depeche Mode's 'Everything Counts'? Do they produce anything comparable to the joyous synth bassline which powered Madonna's 'Holiday' and gave the future star her first hit in 1983? The simple answer is no.

However, as before, the good outweighs the bad here, and means that these compilations (put together by Mike Maguire) are definitely worth the time of any electronic music lover, who will be overjoyed to welcome 'White Horse', a witty, funky oddity by Denmark's Laid Back and the writhing Afro-electro of 'Masimba Bele' by Germany's The Unknown Cases into their lives. Once again, the Bustin Out series has produced a must-have compilation for anyone with a passion for electronic sounds.

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