I really don’t like all these convenience product edits of rare or popular Disco and Synthpop material. With a bit of experience and practice you can learn the skills necessary to handle the original irregularities of drummers or sloppy rhythm programming, and maintain the already well executed aspects of the original arrangement over the DJ service straightness of most edits. I like people who deconstruct the source material and turn it into something else, even if it is only a respectful variation. I just do not see much merit in keeping the original and just streamlining it for better mixing. I am perfectly aware that this criticism may seem pointless, as most of today’s club setups for mixing are designed to have the choice what to play next as the only task left for the DJ, if at all. I have Zager and Evans’ In The Year 2525 in my head, predicting “some machine is doing that for you”.
When DJs began to make their own edits of tracks they liked to play in the late 70s, better mixing purposes admittedly played a role. But mostly the editing process was determined by personal preferences concerning the arrangement of a track, not determined by the aim to reduce every track to the same groove and functionality, regardless of arrangement. So they took out tape and scissors, and made intros end up in a kick drum in time, extended or cut breaks and other parts, dropped instruments or vocals they did not like, and often improved the source with individual versions and interpretations.
Many daring edits of that era were officially released, but the most radical approaches were to be found in the catalogues of the remix services. Disconet led the way in 1977, and soon all over the US and Europe DJs and producers were splicing reel-to-reels to let a certain track shine in the best possible way, and the remix services like hot Tracks, Razormaid, Ultimix, Art Of Mix, C.S., Landspeed and countless others gathered the results and distributed them back to the clubs. The records compiling the edits often contained original tracks and medleys as well, and tracks were segued to make the work for the DJ easier, who often played for hours on end in those days, several nights a week. The selection of the tracks per release was often frustrating. With a few sublime reworks there were also tracks included that were well cheesy to begin with, and did not get better after being worked on. Eurodance cheese, weird rock songs trying to cross over to the dance market, and lots of one hit wonders, with questionable hits. There was no other reason for the tracklisting than songs being pushed regardless of quality, and of course the individual taste of the editor at work. The edits also varied in quality, a lot were even rather crude, or as forgettable as the original material. But there were also a lot of edits that reconstructed what they were given to work with to a whole new level. Take Razormaid’s edit of the Pet Shop Boys’ West End Girls for example. The intro is easier to mix in their version, but were the official Shep Pettibone remix arguably sacrifices the song’s special appeal for dancefloor credentials, Razormaid manage to keep the tension by rearranging the elements and still achieve a track that works a treat in a club context.
I’ve been collecting remix service records for quite some time now, and starting with Hot Wax 026, I would like to dedicate an irregular series of shows to my personal favourites in that field.
Wie kamst Du erstmalig mit den Pet Shop Boys in Kontakt? “West End Girls” im Radio, in jungen Jahren?
Ich habe eine zwei Jahre ältere Schwester, deren beste Freundin hatte auch wiederum eine zwei Jahre ältere Schwester, und über diese zähe Nahrungskette gelangte einiges an kredibler Popkultur schließlich zu mir. Das waren zwar auch mal Sachen wie Wham! oder so, aber auch Depeche Mode, The Smiths, und eben Pet Shop Boys. Da muss ich etwa zehn Jahre alt gewesen sein. Ein eigenes Kassettenradio hatte ich erst gegen Ende der 80er. Die Mitschnitt-Zeit fing für mich also erst etwas später an.
Hattest Du generell eine Schwäche für den Synthpop dieser Zeit, und die Pet Shop Boys waren eine Facette davon, die Dir besonders gut gefiel?
Auch davor schon, auf diversen NDW-Compilations, die in unserer Familie kursierten, übten die Synthie- und Drummachine-geprägten Lieder eine große Faszination auf mich aus. Irgendwie Knöpfe drücken und Sachen bedienen erschien mir weitaus reizvoller als das handwerkliche Beherrschen eines Musikinstruments. Der Synthpop der 80er traf also ebenfalls diesen Nerv, auch wenn mein Fanverhalten da wenig systematisch war, geschweige denn von irgendwelchem Wissen gekennzeichnet. Ein eigenes Radio besaß ich wie gesagt nicht, das elterliche hochwertige HiFi-Equipment war tabu, und ich durfte auch eigenartigerweise ziemlich lang keine Bravo lesen. Mir kamen also nur einzelne Songs gelegentlich zugeflogen – wenn nicht von Freunden, dann etwa im Supermarkt, oder aus einem vorbeifahrenden, sportlich lackierten Ascona. Da gab es so ein paar schnauzbärtige Jungs in Netzhemden einige Straßen weiter, die schraubten an ihren Autos rum und hörten dabei Sachen wie Trans-X “Living On Video” oder Shannon “Let The Music Play”. Meistens wusste man aber natürlich nie wer/was/woher das jetzt war. Welches Lied nun von Bronski Beat, und welches von Kim Wilde war, das erfuhr ich oft erst Jahre später.
Die Pet Shop Boys aber weckten schon beim ersten Kontakt mein ganzheitliches Interesse. Neben der Musik gefiel mir auch einfach diese seltsame Unnahbarkeit und ihr nüchternes Auftreten. Gott weiß wie bunt auftoupierte Haare und komische Anziehsachen fand ich dagegen als Kleinstadt-Kind eher verstörend – damit wollte ich lieber nichts zu tun haben. Die Perücken- und Hut-Eskapaden der Pet Shop Boys kamen ja dann erst später, in den 90ern.
Was mich ebenfalls von Beginn an reizte, war das ganze Setup der Band, bzw. dass es eben gar keine richtige Band war, sondern nur zwei Leute, von denen der eine sogar nur sang. Denn das hieß ja, dass der andere Typ da hinten die ganze Musik quasi ganz alleine macht mit seinen Keyboards, von denen er teilweise sogar mehrere um sich stehen hatte. Ich nahm an, dass diese Geräte unglaubliche Komplexität und Leistungsumfang besitzen mussten, und dass derjenige ein Genie sein muss, der all das beherrscht und dabei auch noch so lässig rüberkommt. Von technischen Errungenschaften wie Playback ahnte ich also nichts. Read the rest of this entry »
In discussion with Philip Marshall about the album “Introspective” by the Pet Shop Boys (1988).
There is plenty to choose from in the history of the Pet Shop Boys, why did you pick this album? It’s all about time, and my personal trajectory. In late 88 I was 16, going on 17… And life was unfurling before me. No longer trapped in suburbia, I was spending increasing times in London Town, growing up, and learning all about myself – clubbing and all that entails included. I dug deep into London’s rich vein of “equity culture”, and quickly discovered my late teenage was perfectly in sync with the most exciting of explosions in music culture since post-punk. At this time, lines were blurred. I made a commitment to myself, and sold off hundreds of indie vinyl down the Notting Hill record & tape exchange in order to fund my new-found love of nightlife and the music coupled to it. No mop-headed moaning guitar drivel would ever sully my collection again (or, so I thought back then…). An end to teenage angst, sold by the crate-load. Out with the gloom. In with 808 State, Electribe 101 and never ending weekends… But, the electronic pop I had loved when young stayed with me…
I think it is safe to say that they wanted to do something different from their first two albums. How do you place this in the output of the Pet Shop Boys?
It’s all about timing – “Introspective” was released that November, when my introspection first ended. A thread – from a pop past, to a future life. For them, it was a definite embrace of the then fresh house culture that Europe had plunged into – a relatively brave move for an established pop act and before others, such as ABC, jumped that train… As far as placing in their personal timeline, well one of the things I love about this album is its single-minded stance. Although the songwriting and lyricism is as strong as what went before and what was to come, its formatting, arrangement and structure was wilfully, almost arrogantly, other. Here was a group having number one hits in Europe and the USA, coming off the back of two consecutive number ones, and returning with a release that 1.) was six tracks long, 2.) comprised of extended mixes, 3.) didn’t have their image on the cover, 4.) was oblique, lyrically, in parts… The confidence and, presumably, freedom from EMI’s meddling that their earlier success lent them, afforded them the space to make an other statement. A few weeks ago, I was tearing through the English countryside with Jon Wozencroft , on our way to a Suffolk performance. His car had a cassette player, and we were rifling through his old tape collection. “Introspective” was played. We agreed; it is the “Sgt. Pepper” of house – the sound of a band at the peak of its popularity stretching and flexing its remit without fear of a crash. Read the rest of this entry »