Record Review: Trans-X – “Living On Video” GER 12″

Polydor | GER | 12″ | 1983 | 811 997-1

Trans-X: Living On Video – GER – 12″ [1983]

  1. Living On Video [full length] 5:55
  2. 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.

trans-x promo shot 1983
Pascal Languirand and Laurie Ann Gill [not the actual singer on disc, but hired for shows and PAs]

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.

The band’s label even licensed Horn’s first big hit for a mind boggling split 12″ in 1986

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.

  1. Vivre Sur Vidéo [original French version] 1983
  2. Living On Video [English ver.] 1983
  3. Living On Video [remix] 1985
  4. Living On Video 2003
  5. Living On Video 2K6
  6. L.O.V. 2011 [a mind-wilting 15 remixes…]
  7. 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.”

-30-

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13 Responses to Record Review: Trans-X – “Living On Video” GER 12″

  1. slur says:

    I’m not sure if it would stand listening to a whole album of them, some acts are just hitting my focus with one perticular song and in the best cases with a single – like this one. The B-Side is instantly forgettable but “Living On Video” with it’s as you called fittingly “dub space disco” part and the brilliant synth hookline was just perfect for the early 80’s clubs when Video was the next big thing but it still keeps brighten the day whenever I hear it.

    This 12″ is exact the one I have btw. but if the remixes are worth checking out I can’t tell..

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    • postpunkmonk says:

      slur – Yeah, I can vouch that a whole album is just too much! One of my first posts here was a review of the “Living On Video” album where Unidisc reissued the first Canadian album and added extra tracks. Apart from that and “Message On The Radio” it’s a tough slog!

      Like

    • JT says:

      >I’m not sure if it would stand listening to a whole album of them, some acts are just hitting my focus with one perticular song

      Yes, as someone who once owned both the the EBN-OZN album, and the Toto Coelo album, I can agree! Maybe the only thing worse would be trying to sit through an entire Hayzi Fantayzee record. Some artists are one hit wonders for a reason, haha.

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      • postpunkmonk says:

        JT – Toto Coelo? Wow! Hardcore. Very astute list you named there. And you’re right! The Hayzi Fantayzee record, which I listened to once, was unmitigated aural torture! The biggest “??!!” in Tony Visconti’s career, for sure. But I do have the 7″ of “John Wayne Is Big Leggy.” There’s no shame in having a band sum everything up into a succinct single and leave it at that.

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  2. KeithC says:

    I agree that this song still makes for a great listen but it appears it will never stop being updated; a new CD from Cleopatra was released in Feb-2021 with 1 new song and remixes of previously released songs. The new song ‘Dreams are Made of Fantasies’ had a nice drum intro and synth line but not so fond of the lyric/vocal treatment. It and the ‘Living on Video 2021 mix’ are on youtube.

    I have two late 80s CD releases and a digital comp from 2015 that has the ‘Living on Video 2012 mix’ but find other than the singles noted above, the full length stuff mostly runs together with no other memorable tracks. They have a few covers that I think are worth a listen though; Men Without Hat’s ‘The Safety Dance’ and, surprisingly enough, Joy Division’s ‘Transmission’. [yep, not a typo]

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    • postpunkmonk says:

      KeithC – I simply cannot imagine this band performing “Transmission.” But you intrigue me, sir. (Checks iTunes) Leiber Gott! Not bad!! He managed to find the Space Disco lurking in the subterrania of the song quite effectively!

      Like

  3. uofsc93 says:

    L.O.V. was huge in So Cal, played at clubs during disco/Hi NRG or New Wave sets. It just mixed so well into Blue Monday…

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    • postpunkmonk says:

      uofsc93 – Welcome to the comments! I can certainly see LOV being a KROQ jam and probably as popular there as in Canada or Europe. And mixing that into “Blue Monday?” That makes perfect sense. The ridiculous and the sublime meet on the dancefloor, thanks to beat matching.

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  4. Bridget Moorman says:

    Wow – I had forgotten about that song but upon re-listening to it today realized I had really liked it … a lot. I didn’t know who the band was back then, but yes, it was a big dance tune in the 80’s and as uofsc93 said was mixed with Blue Monday.

    Break – I ‘Livestreamed’ the YOUME & OMD concert last night. I will agree with your assessment before that the Livestream is not optimal. Once I got the proper set up (sort of), if was great, however, the logistics and obvious integration issues between the agent, ticketing company and livestream company left a lot to be desired. My career has been in technology integration across platforms with concomitant communication – serious flaws in their current model for sure.

    OMD themselves – excellent – Andy looks *great* for being a 60+ year old man; the band is tight (the drummer (Kershaw) didn’t miss a beat and stayed in rhythm (I did not consciously realize how much the drum beat *made* so many of the OMD songs until listening and watching this concert), the keyboard/sax player (Cooper) was excellent and Paul was be-bopping around with his keyboards and knobs obviously enjoying himself) – that band looked *happy* and in their element with the wisdom of age – all in all I am really looking forward to seeing them next March in London at the Royal Albert Hall and may trot up to Brighton this November to see them, Blondie (2 days before hand) and then if I’m in FL by next April, see OMD in St Petersburg – definitely trying to make up for lost time in my youth :-) Now if they would only release that Maid of Orleans T-shirt again so I can buy it, I’d be set :-).

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    • postpunkmonk says:

      Bridget Moorman – I was unable to livestream the OMD last night due to plans that have popped up in the interim, but thankfully, they gave the stream a 48 hour window, so it could have been a lot worse! They didn’t say that going into it. Which would have been helpful. I thought I was going to miss it after my wife surprised me with tickets as a gift. We just watched it together just this afternoon [and had no technical issues].

      Aside from sneaking “Georgia” into the set, not too many surprises, but this was a fund raiser so I get it. With Andy’s high kick at the onset of the gig, I can only hope that he had the knee replacement he’s sorely needed for years now in the Covid-19 downtime. In recent years, he’s said that he needed a cortisone shot before a gig to get through it. Yikes. But the songs and band remain enjoyable to me. My spouse always enjoys an OMD show. I’d like to see more than two songs of post 2010 vintage though. I loved their last concert for “Punishment Of Luxury” best of all but I’ll be sitting out the US 40th Anniversary “Souvenir” tour as I expect that it won’t differ terribly from this one. Even as I stand agog at how after I leave Orlando, OMD now will not only play there, but will start the US tour there. And at a venue walking distance down the road from our former home. As far as the gorgeous “Maid Of Orleans” T-shirt goes, if it sold that well, expect to see it return to their merch. These guys don’t miss a trick. Enjoy the Royal Albert Hall gig! With Scritti Politti opening, I am already deeply envious. If they were coming across the Atlantic for the US tour, I would be on those tix in a heartbeat. But the US leg will probably have one of their typical gawdawful opening acts.

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  5. Vlad says:

    To me “Living on video” is probably the apex of the 1980s synth studio production. Such a rich powerful sound – and that “middle eight” (or whatever it is) with the riot of electronic effects is simply head-spinning, I’ve never heard anything like it on other records of the era. The hook is irresistible – simple but such an earworm! The only weak thing are the lead vocals – but they’re reigned in and more than tolerable. In fact, it’s the vocal department that lets Trans-X down in general – too flat and mannered, spoiling the very effective music and production. I find their songs would hugely improve being instrumentals or at least keeping vocals to a minimum. By the way, being initially thrown by the vocals, I recently warmed to the project a bit – at least on their first album there are some cool tracks like “Nitelife” or “Digital world”. Still, nothing close to “Living on video”, so the ultimate one-hit wonder – but what a hit it was!

    Like

    • postpunkmonk says:

      Vlad – I still prefer “Message On The Radio” even though it’s poppier and less synth-riff dynamic. It heard that one first and it’ll always be #1 with me.

      Have you heard “Vivre Su Vidéo?” The original Quebeçois version? The vocal is in a completely different, darker style and far less mannered and “cutesy” in its delivery.

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      • Vlad says:

        Haven’t heard this version (or if I did, I completely forgot about it). Not bad at all! And only highlights the similarities with RY as they also released “City of night” in a French-language version (which, by the way, received a Razormaid remix for some reason!).

        It always seems to be about which one you heard first – this feeling of discovery never leaves and however much you may like the other songs or versions the first one you heard is still “that one” :)

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