14 September 2003

Ahhh...Electronic Music From The North Of England. I've always had a keen interest in such matters. Sheffield, in particular, is England's premier music city as far as I'm concerned. From the first wave of independently produced electro-noise (Cabs, League) through to the bleep 'n' bass of Warp records, it's been Just Fascinating to see what the Steel City can come up with. Not far behind (just over the Pennines actually) comes Manchester, which brought us New Order and later 808 State, A Guy Called Gerald etc. So of course I was curious to hear "NORTHERN ELECTRONIC", a compilation of material by the new wave of Sheffield & Manchester outfits using "some broken down synthesizers salvaged from the dustbins of The Human League, Cabaret Voltaire and New Order".
The opening track by Kings Have Long Arms is called "Rock And Roll Is Dead", though, judging by what I'm hearing on this CD, rock 'n' roll is very much alive, albeit in some new synthesized mutant form. It's what modern rock (and pop) music would sound like if Suicide had taken over the world! Indeed, I'd say that the main precedent for most of this material stems from Vega and Rev's unique vision of electro-boogie (as if to confirm this, Prinz Bambi weighs in with a fairly faithful rendition of Vega's "Goodbye Darling") along with the song-based experiments of the Oakey/Marsh/Ware line-up of the Human league. I think I detect several wanna-be Phil Oakey's here, or maybe that's just the accents. 'Song-based' is the key - there isn't one single instrumental, which surprised me. But whilst the League insisted on pursuing those queer, arty lyrical themes, the new generation like things much more direct. They're not afraid to sing about love and sex, or to gently take the piss.
There's some extremely odd things going on here, like Hiem's 'Chelsea' which sounds like Jarvis Cocker impersonating Arab Strap's Aiden Moffat (with a vague Jilted John vibe) over a minimal, no nonsense electro-pulse backing track that recalls the economy of expression best exemplified by The Normal's 'Warm Leatherette'.
The only name I'm familiar with is Fat Truckers, although close inspection of the credits reveals that Add N To (X) cohort Dean Honer is behind I Monster. The Truckers' "Superbike" kicks off with a keyboard riff straight outta the Martin Rev songbook, whilst "Down In Motion" appears to have been sung in a thick West Country accent (my territory!) suggesting a synth version of The Wurzels or even a particularly obtuse Andy 'XTC' Partridge composition.
If this review sound a bit confused, that's because it is! I still can't make up my mind if this stuff is the biz or just plain daft. I guess over the last couple of decades I've got used to electronica being a bit more hi-brow, or at leastfunky but this ain't club music or chin-stroker music. It's certainly head-scratcher music. Perhaps I should live with it for a few weeks....