Various Artists - Close to the Noise Floor - Formative UK Electronica 1975 - 1984

by Rob Taylor Rating:9 Release Date:2016-04-29
In 1980, Al Robertson, a proponent of DIY electronica, advertised for someone with similar interests to join him: “Synthetic Person seeks synthetic persons, for synthetic music”. The response was underwhelming - only one, in fact, and from a guy who didn’t even own a synth.
 
The United Kingdom was in the midst of a quiet revolution; the underground being inundated with so-called ‘bedroom artists’ deploying electronica in all its myriad forms, claims being made with varying degrees of earnestness upon the underground. Mail order cassette sales were the usual mode of distribution of this ‘outsider’ music.
 
The industry in 1980 wasn’t exactly overcome by eagerness to pitch the battle on their behalf. Robertson (who appears on Close to the Noise Floor) sent a demo tape to Postcard Records, and received a response along these lines .. “We like your music, and we’d love to record a single, as long as you re-record using guitars !” 
 
An exquisite anecdote.
 
Advances in musical technology in the late 1960s and 1970s saw the development of miniaturised components enabling synthesisers to become portable, and even modestly priced. This, and the development of MIDI made composition on a smaller scale possible. The synthesiser was now out of the hands of prog-rock’s dinosaur potentates (thanks Lester), and into the hands of the subversive minority. A lawless new landscape of sonic experimentation emerged.
 
Close to the Noise Floor provides a four hour appraisal of Britain’s contribution to the world of electronica between 1975 and 1984. It's tempting of course to embrace the old chestnut that German Komische artists, and progressive rock, provided all the inspiration for mainstream electronica in the U.K, but really the investments of the the BBC Radiophonic Workshop and its large scale laboratory experimentations were already yielding interest as far back as the 1960s. Who doesn’t know the Dr Who theme the instant they hear it ? Just recently, John Foxx confirmed with Soundblab just how much of an influence Delia Derbyshire, and the BBC’s development of soundtracking, was on aspirant electronic musicians in the U.K.  
 
I don’t know that it's possible for such a fragmented group of individuals, so incongruously varied as the artists that appear on Close to the Noise Floor, to have well defined global influences. I like the theory that British film and television music contributed all the imagination that British artists required. Some influences clearly arise from elsewhere on the globe, but the mission was largely home-grown. 
 
As a teenager, the appearance of electro-pop over the reeking vestiges of punk, was a shot to the arm. Finally I could dance and rid myself of those morbid introversions, and pull some chicks in the process. Far from being cold and impersonal, my own experience of electronic music at this time was that it opened up new social horizons. It was actually a fun, and very human music in my experience. 
 
Human League’s ‘Being Boiled’, released here in its original form, with its funky rhythms and punchy drums was, for all its reputation as ‘ice-cold synth’, a bloody great club number, and I for one fought for my postage stamp sized bit of dance-floor, to flick my embarrassingly long copper fringe up and over my forehead.  Same goes for John Foxx, and Blancmange and its clacking faux middle-eastern percussion. 
 
Close to the Noise Floor however goes well beyond a retrospective of artists that became darlings of the Top 40, or the underground. It presents a wildly heterogeneous survey of artists, from the brutal industry of Throbbing Gristle’s ‘What a Day’, to the gentle ambience of Mark Shreeve’s ‘Embryo’, the laboratory bound wave-form generators employed by Alien Brains, early psychedelia/electronica hybrid, The Legendary Pink Dots, and uncomfortable squawking dissonance resembling free jazz at its most incendiary courtesy of Malcolm Brown. 
 
There’s the unstructured soundtrack themes of Boubonese Quark, minimal synth presaging   Vangelis’s Blade Runner. There’s the fascinating inclusion of Gerry and the Holgram’s ‘Gerry and the Holograms’. If these guys had any money, they might have sued New Order for what surely laid the groove for ‘Blue Monday’. Diplo has remixed the Holograms’ track, available on YouTube, and I defy anyone to take a contrary view. Spoon Fazer’s ‘Back to the Beginning’ I think predates Marc Almond’s Non-Stop Erotic Cabaret, and the similarity, whilst not in the same category, is palpable.
 
The musicians on Close to the Noise Floor may never have been united as a community, but this box-set brings all the orphaned loose-ends of the U.K’s electronica movement together for the first time as a defiantly proud family.

 

Overall Rating (0)

0 out of 5 stars