Nick Cave + Warren Ellis Taking “Carnage” Across North America Next Year With Tickets On Sale Tomorrow

Cave + Ellis journey across North America next year – will you be there?

This was a fast happening story, but we received an email this week from the Nick Cave mailing list and stating that he and the stalwart Warren Ellis are touring across North America next year with tickets on sale tomorrow morning at 10 AM EST. We had tickets for Nick cave + The Bad Seeds “Ghosteen” tour in 2020 that did not happen. We were planning on seeing them in Atlanta.

This time, the action is very close to home in our town, Asheville. The site of a 2017 Bad Seeds tour which was my transcendent entree to Nick Cave fandom after decades of watching [even The Birthday Party] from the sidelines. We are currently sitting on a quartet of orchestra floor tickets that were not painfully expensive at $97 + [modest] fees, thanks to the mailing list presale. If you are a big enough fan to subscribe to the mailing list, then you will also have access. The dates are only seventeen in number, and our show will be the only one in the Southeast US; the same as in 2017. If you have an interest [and you should] then the button below is your friend.

Nick Cave + Warren Ellis – North American Tour – 2022

March 1 – Asheville, NC – Thomas Wolfe Auditorium
March 4 – Dallas, TX – Majestic Theatre
March 5 – Austin, TX – ACL Live at Moody Theater
March 6 – Austin, TX – ACL Live at Moody Theater
March 9 – Los Angeles, CA – Shrine Auditorium
March 13 & 14 – Oakland, CA – Paramount Theatre
March 17 – Seattle, WA – Paramount Theatre
March 20 – Chicago, IL – Auditorium Theatre
March 22 – Boston, MA – Wang Theatre
March 24 & 25 – Brooklyn, NY – Kings Theatre
March 27 & 28 – New York, NY – Beacon Theatre
March 31 – Toronto, ON – Massey Hall
April 2 & 3 – Montreal, QC – Salle Wilfrid-Pelletier

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This is not today’s posting, by the way. This is a public service announcement [with guitar].

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Rock G.P.A.: The Blow Monkeys [part 2]

Parasol Records | UK | 7″ | 1981 | PAR 1

The Blow Monkeys: Live Today, Love Tomorrow – UK – 7″ [1981]

  1. Live Today, Love Tomorrow
  2. In Cold Blood

Every story begins with a first step and the one that matters here is the one that happened when Robert Howard moved back to the UK after spending his late teenage years in Australia. Having missed the explosion of Punk in the UK, he nonetheless found inspiration in the music that Australia was generating on its own. The Saints were one of the few Antipodean bands making a splash in that arena with “I’m Stranded” turning heads on both sides of The Atlantic in the Northern hemisphere.

But it was what Ed Keupper did after leaving The Saints that had serious impact on the young Dr. Robert. It was the forward thinking Punk Jazz of Ed’s band Laughing Clowns that gave the good Doctor the impetus to move on from his T-Rex fandom to something less well established. he must have gotten quite intimate with The Laughing Clowns camp since he returned to London married to Linda Nolte; who was a photographer for the Laughing Clowns sleeves prior to her move to London with her then-husband Dr. Robert in 1981.After consulting the band ads, The Blow Monkeys began to coalesce. Ultimately forming a combo with Angus Hines [drums], Mick Anker [bass] and Neville Henry [saxophone]. A local label, Parasol Records, got the band in the studio and issued the debut single in the dawning days of 1982. A listen reveals a band just out of the eggshell and still moist and a little unformed.

Less so on the A-side, “Live Today, Love Tomorrow” which managed to belie a jangly, Orange Juice influence with Howard’s singing managing not to encroach on Edwyn Collin’s distinctive tones in the slightest. It began with acoustic guitar before the rhythm section and electric guitars kicked in vividly, propelling the pop tune into high gear. Neville Hanry’s sax interjections were far more rudimentary that we would hear by the time they were signed to RCA; proffering breezy, if insubstantial support until the song’s coda, where he finally let loose with a solo as Dr. Robert’s multitracked “nah-nah-nahs” brought the song to a spirited end.

It was not the “Punk Jazz” heavily influenced by The Laughing Clowns just yet. But it did offer a lively, effervescent two minutes and forty one seconds of Indie pop that managed to move more than a half step forward on the path to its own identity.

That can’t be said for the B-side, “In Cold Blood,” which started with a bald-faced rip from “Children Of the Revolution” and then proceeded to take every move it made from the Marc Bolan playbook. It almost sounded like Tyrannosaurus Rex trying to make a Reggae tune. Which is the obtuse way of saying that it sounded pretty lacking.

The biggest obstacle this track had to surmount was the Bolanesque delivery that Dr. Robert delivered in full, tremulous bleat. In the interview in the DLX RM of “Limping For A Generation,” Dr. Robert cited the track as an unparalleled “Beard Of Stars” rip-off, and as I’ve only got two tracks from that on a compilation, I’ll take his word on it.

The second hand Bolanisms of “In Cold Blood” may be the reason why this single exists only in its indie cocoon and has not been used on any Blow Monkeys reissues, in spite of the historical interest. For that reason, the 7″ disc now regularly skirts three figures. Making me glad that I secured a copy fairly early into my Blow Monkeys fandom for what seemed to be certainly no more than $10-20 at the time.

Next: …Limping Towards RCA

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Rock G.P.A.: The Blow Monkeys [part 1]

It’s hard to believe, but I’ve been pining to dive into a Rock G.P.A. for The Blow Monkeys since day one here at PPM. I started this site in 2010, and the fact that there was that live album from 2009, “Travelin’ Souls: Live! At The Legendary 100 Club” always stayed my hand in the early days here. Then 2010 turned into 2011, and a new Blow Monkeys album [“Staring At The Sea”] manifested…and resisted my grasp until 2016. By then the albums that came after that one [“Feels Like A New Morning” – 2013, “If Not Now, When?” – 2015] were also non events in my Record Cell owing to periods of release coinciding with intense travel periods and the desire to save money for travel expenses and remote shopping in exotic environs.

By 2016, I managed to keep up with the more recent albums and crowdsource campaigns again since I was staying put for a change. 2017’s “The Wild River” was just stunning and I’ve just received the band’s 40th anniversary opus, “Journey To You” recently and it maintains the band’s extremely high caliber of achievement and after hearing it I was annoyed that “If Not Now , When?” had been so difficult to buy. I had missed the Pledge Music campaign and that seemed to be the only point of buy-in. Fortunately, the band have embraced Bandcamp now and have a store where their copies of that CD can now be easily obtained, so I threw caution to the wind and finally ordered that missing link in my Blow Monkeys collection last weekend and am wasting no time in starting this long-simmering paean to the works of this band. A group that have never disappointed in their long and rambling journey.


blow monkeys monktone
The Blow Monkeys in their Imperial Phase ca. 1985

I vaguely remember seeing a bit of, or maybe the whole video for “Forbidden Fruit” somewhere along the line in 1985. It might have been MTV’s “London Calling” program or perhaps even the dawn of 120 Minutes on MTV. Where “college radio” music got stuck in the Sunday at midnight time slot. But exposure to “Forbidden Fruit” once did not trip my alarms. What alerted me to The Blow Monkeys was probably the same thing that almost any of their fans would point to as their vector of infection: the video for “Digging Your Scene” getting MTV airplay and sticking in the charts until the song nearly scraped into the Top 10 at number fourteen.

The pop-soul sound of the band was not a typical Monk-magnet thing for me. Even in 1986, I was still aimed toward more synthetic musical targets. But the Post-Punk era was over…I just didn’t know it at the time. Outside of Propaganda, the most I could hope for in the musical environment of the day was Generation C synthpop like Pet Shop Boys and Erasure. And I’d be lying if I said that the musical merits of “Digging Your Scene” was what caught my attention.

No… what caught my attention was the indelibly crass music video for the song that was climaxed by lead singer Dr. Roberts; his outfits changing as if by magic, crooning to an elderly lady in the audience who went all twinkle-eyed at the lip glossed rent boy of her dreams. Even now, 35 years later, I am astonished at its boldness. It quickly became a lightning rod for me and my friend’s eyes. One such friend [he occasionally posts commentary here as The RAHB] beat me to the punch and went out and bought the “Animal Magic” album” first and got the opportunity to appleseed me this time.

I quickly followed suit and discovered that this band were a lot more interesting than the music of “Digging Your scene” led me to expect. The album proffered a compelling blend of jazz, soul, pop, barbershop quartet [!], and even a touch of Dub in its splendid mix of songs. In short order, all of my friends were listening to The Blow Monkeys and I quickly pivoted to buying everything under the sun. Good thing, too.

Their career would travel widely into areas that were not my main concerns, but the quality of the songwriting and playing insured my rapt attention until the fateful day when The Blow Monkeys were no more. By that time in 1991, I had a large collection that has only gotten larger over the years. For the next dozen or so years, lead singer Dr. Robert [Howard] had a solo career that was challenging to follow in the early web era, but I managed to get many of the albums and even some of the singles. Then, in 2008, the band reconvened and have stuck together ever since; having recorded even more albums since then that point then had been recorded at the start of their career. The band had its origins in a vision of “Punk Jazz” but had always had Soul music as one of their main touchstones. Tomorrow we’ll cast our gaze at their earliest recordings.

Next: …Of Parasols And Punk Jazz

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Want List: Midge Ure Delivers Mystic + Soulful Photos “In A Picture Frame”

Midge Ure - "In A Picture Frame" cover art
Chrysalis | 240 pp. | hardcover | 2021

Word of this came over the transom just days after our last posting on Midge Ure’s new single and US tour. Not wanting to double dip so heedlessly, I waited until we were closer to publication day to mention the new book he was also getting ready to publish. This is a project that had its roots about seven years earlier when he attempted to strike up interest in a photographic book of his many archival images the peripatetic Scotsman had committed to film in his Ultravox heyday while traveling the world and working ceaselessly with others as both a producer and video director.

The notion was tabled back then, but today is another story as the book is due to be published by a renewed Chrysalis Records; the label who brought us Ultravox Mk II, if the logo on the spine is any indication. Midge Ure always had a Canon A-1 SLR at the ready and had visually documented both his tours with Ultravox around the world as well as his work with other artists like Bananarama, Phil Lynott, Visage both behind the mixing board as well as the 16mm camera as a video director with his partner from Ultravox, Chris Cross.

Midge Ure - "In A Picture Frame" the Ultravox years
Lots of B+W imagery will undoubtedly feature in the book featuring his bandmates from Ultravox as well as ringers like Messengers [middle right]

The hardcover book will feature 240 pages of images culled from the 1980-1985 period where Ure was a fixture in the charts. The landscape-oriented book is 11.75″ x 8.75″ with both monochrome and color images. Ure is selling merch bundles with signed postcards and T-shirt options on his webstore, but this book, which is published on November 18th, 2021, will be available widely with numerous retailers carrying it, since it’s not one of those elitist publications with a commensurate price tag that taunt me and my wallet. Ure’s own webstore is moving the book for $55; a fair price for an art book.

Midge Ure - "In A Picture Frame" color
There was no point in shooting Tri-X Pan in Monserrat…

Especially considering that all of the images were scanned and retouched from the artist’s negatives. Mr. Ure’s webstore is not selling signed copies, unusually, but his store did also offer an option for a signed folio of postcards featuring all four members of Ultravox for $17, or $9 more if you are buying the book.

Artists’s Webstore

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But there is an option for a signed copy of the book out there if we dig diligently enough! The Flood Gallery is offering signed copies on pre-order for £40/$53.70. Keeping in mind that international shipping on a hefty tome figures into each of these options. If that’s a budget buster, chances are a local bookseller wherever you live is carrying the book so look both ways before clicking either button.

Signed Copy

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REDUX: Scarcity vs. Ubiquity: The Rise And Fall Of Synthpop [part 5]

depeche mode 1981 monktone
Fresh faced young lads from Basildon…and Vince Clarke [L]

By 1981, with The Human League transitioning to a completely different type of synthpop band, the UK charts began to get crowded with synthesizers as the goldrush to capitalize on the beachhead that Gary Numan established in 1979 led to what I’ve come to call the Generation B of technopop; at this point I’d call it synthpop. It was all machines; the latest generations, with the early drum machines and no live drummers in the band. By that time, it was beginning to be an established career path.

silicon teens - musicforpartiesUKCDA

In 1980, Mute prime mover Daniel Miller famously made a synthpop album by a fake teenaged band who didn’t really exist as The Silicon Teens. He hired actors for interviews and sent out completely fraudulent press releases as if the group really existed. Basically, they were the synthpop Archies. By the next year, he must have been in seventh heaven, because he began releasing synthpop records by actual teenagers who wrote and played their own songs and with whom Mute released records by; Depeche Mode. And Miller didn’t have to lift a finger. Prophesy had become reality in no time at all.

As much as I was in on the ground floor with Depeche Mode, I can’t say that I ever held the band in the sort of esteem that the earlier generation of technopop artists like Ultravox/John Foxx, Gary Numan, or Orchestral Manoeuvres In The Dark carried with me. The music seemed more facile; less groundbreaking. The songs didn’t reflect any left-field, outsider sentiments as did the works of Generation A. But Depeche Mode weren’t the half of it in 1981.

soft cell 1981 monktone
Soft Cell: Empathetic…kinky…but not geeky

Other synthpop newcomers that year included Soft Cell from Leeds, who had their earliest singles produced by Daniel Miller [small world], though they signed with the Some Bizzare label instead. Like The Human League, they also managed a worldwide hit single, albeit with a cover this time. Sure, the music used a synthesizer palette, but the songs were more traditional in their artistic point of view. Singer Marc Almond was a perceptive writer; you don’t write “Bedsitter” without having a strong sense of empathy and perception, but as pure content, even that fine song was worlds apart from primevally strange material like “Being Boiled.”

And that’s what happened as synthesizers became more prevalent in the UK pop scene. The earlier technopop music had been made by weirdos and social outcasts who had been drawn to electronics as a means of self-expression by people who could have made music no other way. Once they began having success, that attracted the larger wave that followed in their path. By 1981, synthesizers wee no longer a fringe element in British pop music, and once that happened, the professionals came in and cleaned up house. Once Martin Rushent could codify how to make music electronically with synths, it was only a matter of time before other bands came to him for “that sound.” That sound got watered down, thinner, and thinner with each trip to the well. It speaks volumes that the second Altered Images album that he produced sounds much more like The Human League’s “Dare” than anything by Siouxsie + The Banshees. As far as I can tell, the actual band may not have played anything but guitars on “Pinky Blue,” by the sound of it.

hojo

So, by my perspective, the show was over by 1981. All of the crucial moves had been made before, and it was diminishing returns on the now burgeoning synthpop front. I bought records by Generation B but few of these bands made it to core collection status. Generation C of synthpop happened by the middle of the 80s and included bands like Erasure, Pet Shop Boys, and Howard Jones. I ignored Erasure for years before a chance hearing of their fourth album finally managed to turn my head. Pet Shop Boys wrote smart songs with fantastic lyrics, but they were musically conservative. Howard Jones? A former progrocker who changed his spots to sell records in the intensely anti-prog environment of the mid-80s.

Even worse, the computerization of recording as analog gear became replaced by digital hardware meant that the whole of pop music production was transformed by techniques originally used for the likes of The Human League in 1981. What had been fringe was now mainstream. Banalized through association with garden variety pop music looking to gain an “edge” through synthpop production techniques. Always the canary in a coal mine, The Human League managed to take their devolution all the way to its conclusion by 1986, when they obtained the services of Jam + Lewis to produce their “Crash” album.

By the mid-80s, mainstream pop was just like what had started out as weird synthpop five years earlier. But a style can be considered fringe only in the context of the mainstream values contrasting with it. The difference was that people like Phil Oakey once had very different things to say with their content than perhaps Taylor Dayne, but in terms of form, the end products were becoming very similar. When The Human League got Jam + Lewis to write their album, they, in effect, became Taylor Dayne!! Any firewalls segregating the two artists had summarily vanished.

The social conditions that led to the emergence of technopop in the late 70s won’t ever repeat themselves. Whatever it was in the water of the UK that led to introverted young men attracted to synthesizers will only play out once more as a stylistic fad. New New Wave. Electroclash. Fill-in-the-bank. Once that actually succeeded in the marketplace it became codified and the wild west period of technopop got swept away to be replaced by settlers moving in to set up the ranch and raise their families. All of the first generation stars who had first heard Kraftwerk five years earlier and went off to do their watered down version of it, were now the source for further generations to do the same with the raw materials that they in turn pioneered. As Ultravox begat Numan, who begat Duran Duran, and so on.

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REDUX: Scarcity vs. Ubiquity: The Rise And Fall Of Synthpop [part 4]

post punk monk blast from the past

July 7, 2015

The Human League in 1981: the inflection point of modern synthpop

The Human League entered 1981 with a handicap. Manager Bob Last had engineered a split between the actual musical portions of the group [who went on to form the British Electric Foundation and Heaven 17] and its singer and visual artist [Phil Oakey and Philip Adrian Wright]. Virgin and Last had enough faith in them to issue a single in the early weeks of 1981 that was made under the aegis of Richard Manwaring, who had produced their earlier music. To these ears, it sounded not terribly different from the material on the first two Human League albums. Stark electronic pop with darkly foreboding lyrics about… I’m not sure what, actually.

human league - boys+girlsUK7B

Tellingly, the song’s B-side was a full on geek-fest with the instrumental track “Tom Baker.” Philip Adrian Wright made slides for the band’s shows and curated the A/V aspect of their stage presence. He was their visual designer who was obsessed with Doctor Who… is there anything more geeky than that? The B-side was a very fair pastiche/homage to the BBC Radiophonic Workshop sounds that could be heard on the soundtrack to the infinitely long running sci-fi program. It would be the last time that their roots were showing in public quite so boldly. It failed to trouble the charts.

martin rushent

Everything changed for the band when the decision was made to work with noted producer Martin Rushent. He had come up the studio system and had quite a number of successful jobs on his CV by 1981. He was particularly known for a run of fine singles/albums by The Stranglers and The Buzzcocks in the early phases of their careers. For reasons we’ll see later, he crucially produced last single by The Rezillos [“Destination Venus”] before their breakup and re-emergence as The Revillos.  All of this was guitar based New Wave, more or less. But by 1980, he had fallen in with the Blitz house band, Visage, and he had given them a boost by giving them studio space and helping them to issue their 1979 debut 7″ “Tar.” He was struck by the new electronic toys that the band and Midge Ure had brought with them to play with.

human league - thesoundofthecrowdCAN12A

The next year, he found himself working with Jo Callis’ new band he was in after leaving The Rezillos. Both bands were managed by Bob Last and Bob thought that Jo’s songwriting might be handy in a group now consisting of a singer and visual artist. Callis became an important contributor to The Human League Mk II that issued their follow up single to the d.o.a. “Boys + Girls” single just two months later. The difference in the records was noticeable. Much of the sonic palette was similar, but the track was a much poppier dance track. Almost funky, albeit stiffly so. It had a hard beat but featured a much more comprehensible lyric that at least had a chorus one could sing along to about the inclusionary aspects of youth cults… or some such. The verses were more typical of The League in that I’m not sure exactly what they are about. But the difference was enough to give the band their first top 20 chart hit in the year that everyone was ready for them, finally.

What happened next was nothing less than a blueprint for all modern pop music production. After producing that single, Rushent latched onto the recently released Linn Drum computer and rhythm tracks, up until now, the bane of The Human League’s existence, were summarily conquered while still [technically] hewing to their “synthesizers and voices only” manifesto, which would soon get tossed out of the window, for what’s it’s worth. Thusly armed with this drum machine full of digital percussion samples and his trusty Roland Microcomposer MC-4, Mr. Rushent could now construct the band’s music programmatically. The Linn kept the beat and the MC-4, which was designed by Roland as a composing tool, sequenced all of the spidery synth lines that came together to make the mega-selling “Dare” album.

human league - dontyouwantmeUK12A

The sound was fresh at the time and all of the three remaining singles from the album were hits, with “Don’t You Want Me” becoming their signature tune. It was the fourth single from the album, yet a month-long Christmas #1 smash in the UK and, six months later, number one in America for three weeks in a row. This single, more than anything, was the harbinger of things to come for synthpop. The transformation of The Human League from cult electronic weirdos [barely] slumming in pop to Smash Hits heroes on walls everywhere for a few years, had everything to do with the excising of their underground element [Ware and Marsh] by their manager, and the subsequent surrounding of singer Oakey with experienced musicians like Ian Burden and especially Jo Callis. With Rushent in the producer’s chair, the left-field technopop beast was by now yoked and domesticated down to the more commercially acceptable synthpop variety. With that, The Human League had the rare distinction of being both an example of Generation A and the leading edge of Generation B of the emergent synthpop genre. At the end of 1981, they were set to rule the roost but they had some younger, hungrier competition.

Next: …Generation B Strikes Back!

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REDUX: Scarcity vs. Ubiquity: The Rise And Fall Of Synthpop [part 3]

post punk monk blast from the past

July 1, 2015

Bank clerks on top of the world: OMD in 1981

With UK technopop experiencing a meteoric rise in the years 1979-80, the next year was a watershed for the sound. Big changes were underfoot. OMD dropped their third album and it was filled with experimental elements like choral tapes played out of synch [on “Souvenir,” their biggest hit yet], musique concrete, and most shockingly of all, the rehabilitation of the Mellotron; an instrument heretofore indelibly linked to Prog Rock. They had the temerity to write and release two songs about Joan Of Arc a back to back singles and both of them were hits; even with virtually the same name! One of these [a personal favorite – “Joan Of Arc [Maid Of Orleans]” became the number one selling single in all of 1982 in West Germany.

Their album was named [by sleeve designer Peter Saville’s girlfriend] after architectural historian David Watkin’s 1977 tome “Morality and Architecture: The Development of a Theme in Architectural History and Theory from the Gothic Revival to the Modern Movement.” Could there be anything more geekily insular and intellectual than that selling millions of records throughout Europe? Watkin decried the idea of a zeitgeist, but what else could account for the bubble that propelled technopop upward from humble beginnings to the top of the charts by 1981?

Ultravox ca. 1981: right place + time

Even more interestingly, as 1981 saw Gary Numan begin to fall from the perch he had on the charts for a good year or two, the ’80-81 period saw his inspiration, Ultravox, regroup and record a new fourth album that exploded their career all over the world [except America]. Karma now balanced, they rode a wave of success that lasted a good five years filled with synthesizers in a rock context that expanded musically to take in pop and dance elements.

For a change, a band that had stuck their necks out for years of ridicule were in the position to reap the rewards after the zeitgeist finally caught up with them. But Ultravox were only geeks in the technical sense of the word. They were first musicians who wanted a certain sound, then they worked hard to achieve it with the technology at hand. Perhaps the biggest geek element in the band was drummer Warren Cann, who, far from being cowed by drum machines and rhythm boxes, gravitated to them to push boundaries and go where neither machines nor just drummers could go back then. It gave their records a certain rhythmic quality that no others had. Cann would think nothing of getting the rudimental Roland Compurhythm boxes of the day modified by wire heads even geekier than him. But the music of Ultravox never touched on topics or imagery that had what I’d call “geek appeal.” It was, under the aegis of Midge Ure, mostly vague atmospherics, lyrically. No sci-fi, hard science, or intellectual fringe theories for them.

Kraftwerk: They were 1981 in 1978!

The zeitgeist kicked into overdrive in the case of Kraftwerk, who managed to get a number one single in the UK with a song that was three years old! “The Model” was issued as the B-side to “Computer Love,” which got into the UK top 30. Imagine the Düsseldorfer’s shock and dismay when DJs began playing this embarrassing older song when their new music was filled to the brim with the bleeding edge of experimental sound technique…and it got to number one. Fair is fair, and it’s no overstatement to say that every one of these bands discussed were all deeply in debt in one way or another to the technopop pioneers. Heck, even I’m indebted to them! I can’t say that I’d be the person that I am today were it not for hearing “Autobahn” in 1974.

But as things seemed to plateau in 1981 with technopop ascendant in the charts, there were revolutionary changes in hardware and attitude that threatened to shake up the status quo. First and foremost, rhythm boxes ceded ground to drum machines that were actually programmable without chip modding. These offered bands the ability to bypass the rhythm element of their music when performing entirely. OMD had started out with drums on tape, but they incorporated a live drummer as soon as they were able. Newer bands might have never had drummers.

The computerization of musical instruments was happening as digital synths incorporated circuits that made it relatively simple to program sequences of music or to save synth patches digitally; no more calibrating knobs and sliders to achieve the sounds to play on their synths. Finally, digital sampling made the full digital reproduction of analog sounds possible, and it added a programmability that was new to the musician’s toolbox. All of these trends came home to roost on everyone discussed here, but never so profoundly than for one band in particular that we have already discussed earlier.

Next: …Digital Killed The Analog Star

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