Trans-X: Living On Video – GER – 12″ 
- Living On Video [full length] 5:55
- Digital World 3:30
All of this deep diving into Rational Youth has got me thinking about other Québecois Synthpop in Ye Olde Record Cell. Specifically, Montreal’s Trans-X! The middle eight of Rational Youth’s” City Of Night” really made me think of Trans-X, whose One Big Hit, “Living On Video” had a certain similarity.
I first heard Trans-X on college radio in 1983, when the irresistible synthpop of “Message On The Radio” got a play and hooked me, but hard. I was constantly on the lookout for that 12′ single but it took me some years to finally buy a copy. I had much greater success locating a single that had not gotten airplay called “Living On Video.” It was in the bins at Crunchy Armadillo, so I probably paid no more than $1.50-$2.00 for the privilege.
The track got the bass hooks in right away with a sprinkling of glissandos as the drum machines kicked in. The some outrageous space disco wooshes and melodic rondos pulled me into the stroboscopic world it had created. Vocalist Pascal Languirand sang in wryly enunciated English in a petulant tone just shy of Russell Mael. The chorus is where the venn diagram of this song and “City Of Night” overlap the greatest.
The vocoder hook in particular recalled the Rational Youth track, but the sub-bass overloads and Anne Brosseau’s bilingual backing vocals go a long way to giving the track its own charm. I also liked the use of roto-tom fills in much the same way that the 12″ of Rational Youth’s “Saturdays In Silesia” juxtaposed the live and cybernetic drums.
The ecstatic synth loops that erupted throughout the song were an obvious callback to the space disco roots of Languirand, but I had no idea of that at the time. It’s only in recent years in researching his background that his obvious origins became known to me. By the song’s midpoint, the sound began to veer into dub space disco, with the rubbery synth lead lines flanged within an inch of their life.
Then the classical inspired dual synth solos [split binaurally for maximum impact] kept our interest up in the surprisingly well arranged track. The score for this might look dead simple on paper, but Languirand [or producer Daniel Bernier] were canny enough to take a page from the Trevor C. Horn playbook; make sure some new sonic developments were happening every few bars and you can get away with murder on a dance record.
Even as the track began to break down near the coda, the drop where a dinky rhythm box took the spotlight seemed like a shoutout to the technopop portions of “Funkytown.” The weird synthpop/disco crossover that I’m certain Languirand paid a lot of attention to. He was aiming for a hit and with “Living On Video” he certainly got one. The song was an immediate smash in his native Canada and I was astonished to find the song had a lifespan that eventually found the cut finding audiences in Europe as well as The States up to a few years later!
America got the “Trans-X” album [which I used to have] as a 1985 release and I was shocked to hear the track being played on college radio many years after I had snagged my German 12″ single of it. In a different recording of it. The one produced by Richard Buck [a.k.a. Richard Dubuc] in 1985. And a landslide of post-modern versions followed. As far as I can tell here are the versions of “Living On Video,” but I’ve got limited time to compile this list. Your mileage may vary.
- Vivre Sur Vidéo [original French version] 1983
- Living On Video [English ver.] 1983
- Living On Video [remix] 1985
- Living On Video 2003
- Living On Video 2K6
- L.O.V. 2011 [a mind-wilting 15 remixes…]
- Living On Video [Betoko Vs. Trans-X] 2019
There’s probably a few more hiding in some label’s closet that we don’t know about. Suffice to say, that there have been many chances for the song to reach ears through several generations of pop music fans thus far. All I really need is the 1983 version. English will do.
The B-side was another story entirely. It was a chipper little synthpop near-instrumental [the sole lyric was the title or the phrase “computer controlled”] that the just-passing-through member Steve Wyatt wrote and played in its entirety. It was less a dance number than a brief little example of ProgPop crossover. Charming but brief.
So in 1983 when I found this 12″ single, I was rewarded nicely for my interest in the song “Message On The Radio” even though I had not yet heard “Living On Video.” Even though at the end of the day my heart belongs to Message On The Radio,” there’s a reason why this brash and slightly crass dancefloor number has stuck around for so long. In the immortal words of some anonymous Philadelphia teenager, “it’s got a good beat and you can dance to it.”