Saturday, October 09, 2004

Heaven 17
Sunset Now 5-song Maxi-EP
Virgin Records, 1984

To every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction. And so it seems for every movement. Just as punk was a reaction to the excesses of corporate rock, the synth-pop of the late '70s and '80s was a reaction to the anti-intellectualism of punk. On a recent VH1's "Bands Reunited", the singer of
ABC, for instance, confirmed exactly this. Martyn Ware and Ian Craig Marsh never really said the same, so much as I can find, but given that they were emerging (as The Human League) in the same timeframe as the Sex Pistols and The Clash, they were trying to do something different. The fact that one of their first big breakthrough gigs was with Siouxsie and the Banshees is ironic even though they were reportedly well-received. When things in the Human League started going bad, Ware and Marsh retreated into something nebulously called the British Electronic Foundation and announced that one of their projects would be to team with singer (and longtime friend) Glenn Gregory to form the all-synth Heaven 17 and make pop music. Their goal was to create pop songs in the vein of Giorgio Morodor and Donna Summer mixed with Kraftwerk and Tangerine Dream, their long-time heroes. Their earlier stuff includes the banned-by-the-BBC "We Don't Need No Fascist Groove Thing" (I always wondered if this was directed at the remainder of The Human League with their Aryan style looks) and the classic Penthouse and Pavement album. It was pure funk for now people. Their later stuff got more of a Broadway feel, perhaps this was Gregor's influence - instead of love songs, typically they are vague story songs. "Sunset Now," for instance, the title track of this EP (and the accompanying so-so remix) seems to be about some sort of dancing gambling gangsters. I wanted to make a joke about "I got the Horse right here" but I have no reason to believe that these guys were drug users.

Whatever... the results were still pretty sonic - even if synth bands like this caused their own opposite and equal reaction, the birth of lo-fi music, a reaction not to the intellectualism of the music but back to the over-production and phoniness.

My selection below isn't one of the two hits on here (the other top-40 songs being the excellent "Flamedown") but an all instrumental reinterpretation of "Counterforce". The latter is perhaps the lamest song on here illustrating the weakest link, in my opinion, (their singer Glenn Gregory) so it's nice that Martyn and Ian got their Linndrum and Fairlight (Greg Walsh actually is listed as the Fairlight programmer) cranking and I wonder what their all-instrumental sessions sound like. You can hear echoes of Tangerine Dream and some of their contemporaries in here but with a much more pronounced dance groove.

"Counterforce II"

Heaven 17 are still ostensibly together, releasing music and played some shows several years ago. Here's the official website, although its short on details and requires a login account for most of the access.
Here's a biography of the band.

MP3 Extra:
Here's a decent remix of "Penthouse and Pavement" (Referring page)

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