Formative Euro electronica compiled
by Andrew Mason
Following up last year’s epic Close to the Noise Floor compilation of early British electronica, Noise Reduction System crosses the channel to delve into the primal European electronica cassette-only label underground, alongside early vinyl releases by slightly more established yet equally ground-breaking innovators.
The inexpensive synthesizer was supplanting the guitar as the angst-y bedroom musician’s weapon of choice, but the DIY ethos of punk was still in full effect across Europe in the late 1970s and early 1980s. From Norway to Greece, in home studios and art spaces across the continent, electronic musicians began to stretch the boundaries of sonic experimentation. Some wanted to dance, others to confuse and confront, some attempted to channel all of these impulses in one track. Over the course of 62 magnificently bizarre and unreasonably catchy tunes spread over four discs, compiler Dave Henderson has provided a weighty testament to these pioneers that is not inaccurately described by label Cherry Red as “part primitive rave, part synthesizer porn, part history lesson.”
“Mainland Europe had always been a hotbed of experimentation,” Henderson notes in his extensive and witty essay that accompanies the set. As a columnist for Sounds magazine in the early ’80s, he was, with some trepidation, given leeway to explore the new electronic sounds of such far-flung locales as Slovenia, Latvia, Estonia and the closer underbellies of Spain, Italy, Portugal, France, Germany and the Netherlands. “These people were indeed embracing new technology,” he recalls, “but they also had time for toy instruments, prehistoric voice computers and Casio’s tinniest keyboard. There were rudimentary drum machines and notes that confessed, ‘that’s my voice through a Korg.'” Despite the widely disparate places of origin, there is, as he notes, a “unifying leftfield wonkiness” to the music. Listening back in 2017, these creations are no less bizarre, no less captivating and perhaps even more charming in their faith in the just-born technology that would ultimately swamp the planet as the millennium progressed.
Below are five favorites from the set, an absolutely essential addition to the library of the electronic music historian and simply tremendous fun for anyone with an open ear and a taste for the unusual. Accompanying each are notes from the artists themselves, another noteworthy example of the extreme care and love that has gone into this box set, surely a contender for any best-of-the-year list.
Noise Reduction System is available at all fine music retailers and directly from Cherry Red themselves.
Andre DeKonig – Party Talk
“Recorded fall/winter 1982 using a Roland Drumatix, a Korg MS-20 and a Casio VL-1, and using ping-pong recording between a reel to reel tape machine and cassette deck. The unintelligible noise you hear is my voice processed through the Korg.”
Daniele Ciullini – Marbles in the Garden
“Daniele is an Italian musician active from 1980 to 1986 in the area of independent self-productions with concrete music works and minimal electronica. After a long pause, I resumed my activity in 2011 with multiple electronic works in the dark ambient and industrial fields.”
Christina Kubisch – Speak & Spell
“The main instrument in Speak & Spell was a small ‘voice computer’ for children made by Texas Instruments and named the ‘Speak & Spell.’ It was very colorful and nice to look at. As far as I remember it was made for children to learn English. It was difficult to ‘loop’ sounds (seems so easy today) so I recorded sounds on a tape deck, playing them back and repeating the same thing for as long as I could. I also used an early Casio synthesiser borrowed from a friend, even though I did not own one myself.”
Saal 2 – Die Internationale
Saal 2 (“Hall 2”) was formed in Hamburg in 1980. Original member Jens Kraft recalls a conversation with his bandmate Godke Ilse: “Originally we were called The Seahorses. But when [a magazine] wanted to publish something about our recordings, that name was not good enough. I called Godeke, we were brainstorming, and he said ‘Saal 2.’ I asked him how he had come to this stupid name and he said, ‘I’m sitting at my father’s desk and there are two Dave Brubeck tickets in front of me, Dave Brubeck in Saal 2!’ I called [the magazine] and gave them our new name.”
Malaria! – Geld
Gudrun Gut of Malaria! recalls: “We had the most intense time with Malaria! We were constantly touring. We performed in New York with Nina Hagen at Studio 54 and with John Cale at the Mudd Club, and we played with New Order and The Birthday Party. We shared the Malaria! rehearsal room in Berlin with Die Haut, who lived in an apartment in Dresdner Straße together with Birthday Party. Everything was wildly mixed up there as well. We were forever swapping musicians among each other. We were strong women, not delicate fairies, not flute players. We wanted to make a point of that.”
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