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Is Frankie’s Pleasuredome the most important electronic album of all time?

Neil Mason thinks it might just be…

For the pop crowd, for those fed on a strict diet of Top 40 hits, the first side of Frankie Goes To Hollywood’s defining debut album, Welcome To The Pleasuredome, was a mind-blower. That Ron Hardy would open his eclectically electric Music Box sets by playing the whole damn thing, all 15 minutes of it, speaks volumes.

It was one movement, two tracks, ‘The World Is My Oyster’, a gentle string-plucker with the merest glimpse of those now distinctive Holly Johnson’s pipes that gives way to the album’s title track. Exotic bird song fades up, a gentle synth swells, Johnson appears again with a refrain from ‘Ferry Cross The Mersey’ – “life goes on day after day” – which disappears almost as soon as it arrives. And then out of nowhere, a chime ushers in a throbbing, warm bassline and we’re off. It is very much a case of enjoy this trip, because it is a trip.

But who on earth had the balls to make a pop music track that was 15 minutes long? It’s madness now, at the time the madness was off the scale. Those sort of shenanigans were the preserve of prog, acts who by the mid-1980s were going the way of the dinosaurs. At the controls was someone who was no stranger to progressive rock, producer Trevor Horn.

By the early 80s, he was following a trajectory that he didn’t much like. A jobbing session musician with an increasing interest in production throughout the 1970s, he was thrust into the limelight when The Buggles landed a Number One hit with ’ ‘Video Killed The Radio Star’ in September 1979. One thing led to another and before he knew it Horn had joined Yes, replacing Jon Anderson, with his Buggles wingman, Geoff Downes, taking Rick Wakeman’s place. As you do (they shared a manager who thought it’d be a good idea). In 1980, Yes released the Trevor Horn-fronted ‘Drama’ and the pair toured with the band across America and UK. But Horn wasn’t a performer in his heart. He had bigger plans, the seed of a lofty idea to produce glistening electronic pop that sounded like the past, present and future all rolled into one was forming.

“I always saw it in my head as Glen Campbell meets Kraftwerk,” Horn told Electronic Sound magazine. “A pop record, but with the sensibility of a techno record, and the rhythm section of a techno band. It seemed like the most incredibly exotic thing at the time.” 

In 1982, along with his late wife Jill Sinclair, Horn bought the SARM West recording studio from Island Records big cheese Chris Blackwell. The role call of artists who had worked there was dizzying – Bob Marley, Nick Drake, Roxy Music, Sparks, The Clash, The Stones, Zeppelin, Genesis, Yes and Pet Shop Boys. If the walls could talk. Under new ownership, it also became home to the ZTT label, which the couple set up with NME writer Paul Morley. The label’s first signing would drive a coach and horses through pop music, realising Horn’s vision and sweeping away everything in its path.

In February 1983, an unsigned Liverpool band called Frankie Goes To Hollywood appeared on Channels 4’s notorious Friday evening music show The Tube. To say they weren’t the finished article is something of an understatement. They debuted a song called called ‘Relax (In Heaven Everything Is Fine)’, a kind of jazz funk durge performed by a band clad in leather, brandishing hand guns, whips and handcuffs. It was memorable that’s for sure.

By May, Horn had signed them to ZTT and work began on their debut single. The first version of ‘Relax’ was recored live, which Horn later described as “pretty awful”. By version two, Frankie were a different band. They were, in fact, Ian Dury’s band The Blockheads whose version was also discarded for being too tame. By version three, Horn and keyboard player Andy Richard were toking the Nepalese dope and they stumbled on the now familiar pumping rhythm while mucking around with the studios new Fairlight. The £18,000 machine had arrived at SARM in 1982, just in time for use on Malcolm McLaren’s ‘Duck Rock’ album. The weaponary got progressively better very quickly and by the time they came to record ‘Welcome To The Pleasuredome’, kit was king. Did it show? It did.

Released on the 29 October 1984, Welcome To The Pleasuredome didn’t so much tap into the zeitgeist, it was the zeitgeist. At the time, the UK was in the thick end of Thatcherism. Off the back of a recession in the early 80s, her Tory government ran rougshod over the working classes. Sharp interest rate rises, brutal public spending cuts and mass coal pit closures sent employment soaring, peaking at over three million in 1984. Places like Liverpool were hit hard.

Add to that, The Cold War between America and Russia was reaching a crescendo and the threat of a nuclear war seemed very real. In August, during an unbroadcast microphone soundcheck, US President Ronald Regan quipped that “I’m pleased to tell you today that I’ve signed legislation that will outlaw Russia forever. We begin bombing in five minutes.” All merry hell let loose once that was leaked.

Add a good dose of hedonism, chuck in a heap of sex, and ‘Welcome To The Pleasuredome’ was an album that really spoke to its audience. The ‘I’m sorry I’ve left my card at home’ dole office exchange that follows ‘Fury’ (a delicious cover of Gerry And The Pacemaker’s ‘Ferry Across The Mersey’) can still be recited word for word by anyone who landed up on in the dole queues back then.

Nowhere was their finger more on the pulse than on their second single, the timely ‘Two Tribes’, which addressed the sheer terror and utter pointless of the impending mutually assured destruction, hitting the nail square on the head with the line “When two tribes go to war / A point is all that you can score”.

The 12-inches remixes, which introduced an entire generation to the idea of extended floorfillers, seemed almost endless. They shifted by the absolute shedload. Record shops would clear the decks to accommodate stock. For months, it seemed that the only act selling records in the UK was Frankie. And people were buying 12-inches at that. They exposed a whole new audience to the tools they would require when when acid house landed and smiley faces picked up the baton in 1988. Frankie were the breeding ground for eager teens whose rave adventures were yet come.

‘Welcome To The Pleasuredome’ shifted 250,000 copies in its first week of release, eventually going triple platinum moving in excess of 900,000 units. Nearly 40 years on, it remains a stone-cold classic. While it makes few of the greatest albums of all-time charts, it really should. While it isn’t obviously packed with dance music bangers, the repackaging of those songs as club remixes, and ringing endorsements from the likes of Ron Hardy, make a solid case for it living among once of the most important dance music albums of all-time. Sure, it would have been leaner and meaner as a gobsmacking single disc, but the ambition, the scale, the sheer balls of the thing earns it that rightful place at the very top table.

Neil Mason

Bang! The Greatest Hits Of Frankie Goes To Hollywood is out this week on UMC

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Dusted Down: Moodymann – Silence In The Secret Garden

The Detroit don’s fourth album gets its first vinyl reissue

Moodymann – Silence In The Secret Garden (Peacefrog)

Despite his genuine confidence and happy-go-lucky charm, the music of Kenny Dixon Jr. is never without a feeling of loss. Between his stop-start sampling, happy-sad instrumentals, and allusions to “silence” and “taking away”, there’s an uncertainty to Moodymann tunes. It’s the same kind of uncertainty we hear from hip-hop; sheer street confidence mixed with an insidious disaffection and desperation, that creeps along with growing up in a city like Detroit.

“Keep in mind, DJing back then was just putting the fuckin’ record on, shut the fuck up, you’re not gettin’ paid, do what you’re told,” the artist said in a 2019 interview. Such a statement might seem too humble for a personality like Moody’s, but behind his trademark fishnet mask and wildly huge shades, Moodymann’s sense of grandiosity does not feel entitled or unearned. Rather, at the time of his debut albums and EPs in the late 90s, Dixon Jr. was just doing what he knew – putting up and shutting up, having fun, and brazenly working with what he had, with ‘the way things were’ in Detroit. 

Silence In The Secret Garden, his fourth album, is seeing its first ever vinyl reissue this year via Peacefrog. And while it’s nowhere near as lauded as Silentintroduction or Forevernevermore, its every facet drips with the same feverish, unlikely jazz and beatdown moods you’d expect from Detroit’s trickster-prince. 

Here’s a lesser-known fact: the album’s cover, garnished loudly by a distinctive red rose, is inspired by a Temptations album released a decade earlier, ‘Special’, which features a near-identical rose on its own cover. Released on Motown in 1989, The Temptations were well into their confident twilight years by this time, and from the leading, slow-soul hit ‘Special’ to the driving new jack swinger ‘She’s Better Than Money’, it’s clear this music was the kind to inspire sheer loving confidence. It does well to remove the listener from any sense of struggle, and rather plunges them deep into the blissful cloud of Motown fame, success and glory. Likewise, the rose on the cover lies neatly on a lush green spread, devoid of anxiety or urgency – safe.

Now contrast that with Silence In The Secret Garden which sees its own red rose plunged in pitch blackness. Musically, it’s clear this isn’t your average garden. As we enter to the aptly-titled tune of ‘Entrance 2 The Garden’, Moody’s inspiration from live music rings truer than ever, with rushed and dragged hi-hats abruptly swaying the mood of a slap bass and pianojazz moodscape, barely scratching at its thick overgrowth. Whereas The Temptations’ sonic lawn was pristine and meticulously tended to, Moody’s is half-wild, and while sexily maintained, it teems with flytraps and the sultry stenches of carrion flowers. 

We prefer to take ‘People’ – the album’s lead single and fan favourite – not as the laid-back, minimal jazz-house instrumental it sounds to be in isolation, but a surrealist intro to a slow-burning LP, the subtlety of which isn’t immediately obvious. Meandering through styles, there are rugged techno allusions, like the pulsing acid line of ‘LiveInLa 1998’, made famous for its inclusion in Richie Hawtin’s hybrid live set in 2003. And tying in with Moody’s desire to reclaim a lost, haphazard confidence, it’s filled with emotional longing. The tracks are fittingly lengthy: ‘Shine’ is an eight minute house bit tinged with the doubled-up ghost of R&B (it’s “yeah” vocal sample reverberates in and out like a ghost), while the title track combines a new wave bass plod with street ambience and glistening windchimes. 

On every tune, the beats are whomping and substantial, retaining a raw, not glossy, beauty. That might make Silence In The Secret Garden a challenge for many potential listeners, but this isn’t an instantly gratifying album; in fact, patient punters will make it to ‘Sweet Yesterday’, where Moody appears on vocals under his Pitch Black City alias. Between indiscernible croonings, “your love is so good…” and “oooh, wow, wow, yesterday” peek through the mix’s haze, proving it to be a loving ode to the past’s better days. We realise in retrospect, though, that ‘Silence…’ is tinged with a gritty realness only Detroit can pull off. 

Jude Iago James

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Dennis Cruz ‘Roots’ Interview – “keeping those traditional qualities was something I really wanted to achieve”

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Speaking on his life-defining upcoming release ‘Roots’, Spanish tech pioneer Dennis Cruz is heartfelt and earnest. 

“I wanted to work on a broader project, the cornerstone of my artist career… from music that I’ve been listening to all my life, from funk, salsa, and flamenco to house and disco.” Such a broad fusion of styles with house and tech might be considered a difficult task by many. But as such a longstanding producer and DJ, Cruz should be trusted more than anyone. 

Paying homage to one’s own roots is sure to result in a happy fusion project. In this case, it’s Cruz’s Spanishness that inherently permeates every aspect of his music. The MÜSE co-founder has had a decade-spanning career, and for that reason, we’re overjoyed to have caught up with the man for a brain-picking over this latest Crosstown Rebels release…

Your output has solely centred on EPs up until now. This being your debut album, how does it feel to branch out? Why release an album now?

When Damian (Crosstown Rebels boss Damian Lazarus) asked me to make an album I was a bit nervous as I’d only released EPs before, but I think this was the right moment to release an album project because my sound is more mature now. I feel more comfortable with my music and experimenting within my sound. 2020 also afforded me way more time than usual to work on the project, so it gave me plenty of freedom to focus on producing an album without as much pressure and with less limitations.

The influences on Roots cover many Spanish musical traditions, from Flamenco to Salsa. Growing up, which of these styles were you exposed to most? What were some of your earliest musical memories related to them?

Roots as a body of work represents both myself and my influences from all of my years making music and listening to it while I was younger. The project takes cues from Salsa and Flamenco to electronic genres such as house, techno, and even hip-hop. It fuses all of these influences and inspirations to showcase a project that shows exactly who I am as an artist and an individual. 

My earliest memories of when I was a kid are definitely linked to music. My parents always had music playing at home, so I grew up with all the 80’s sounds. I remember dancing in front of the TV, trying to copy the dance moves in Michael Jackson’s ‘Thriller’ video. I was obsessed with him!

Can you name any singles/albums in these styles that you grew with which are particularly special to you, and why?

It’s difficult to name specific singles and albums when it comes to this project in particular, as the album spans so many different genres when it comes to sources of inspiration. As an artist and across Roots, I’ve taken influences from a wide range of different artists and bands – from Fania All Stars and Michael Jackson to Daft Punk, various Motown artists to The Police, Cypress Hill and Tupac to Camarón de la Isla… the list goes on! 

The ‘roots’ traditions you’re drawing on are very different to tech house. By fusing the genres, are you shedding light on a prominent lineage between the two, or are you traversing untrodden ground?

It was definitely an adventure and a new experience. Mixing traditional Spanish music styles with modern house was tricky initially, especially ‘La Ratonera’, which takes inspiration from Flamenco. That track took me around two months to finish, trying to find a beat that worked with the Flamenco sounds and more conventional instruments and elements that I’m used to working with – claps and vocals, for example.

On ‘Los Tamales’, which has heavy Salsa influences, we recorded most of the instruments and vocals live, so all of the piano, bass, congas, and brass. As a result, the track was challenging to make work in an electronic music format initially. The first drafts and versions of the track sounded too similar to your traditional Salsa record. I kept working and working on it until one day it all fit into place and all of the extra work to keep hold of the natural and organic feel of recording the elements live was instantly worth it. This process ended up meaning that the album was a continuous challenge but one that was fun and interesting, so it never felt like hard work but more of a journey and an adventure. Hopefully you’ll be able to discover and uncover the traditional elements and sounds, some obvious and some less so, across each of the tracks on the project, as keeping those traditional qualities was something I really wanted to achieve.

The album also captures the life milestones that have made up your career. Can you recall any specific examples? How do you distill a lived moment into the sound of an album?

This is a tricky one as, in my opinion, my career doesn’t have a significant milestone or one moment in particular that stands out above the rest. It’s been more like many small steps combined, constantly working hard, making music and chasing my dream non-stop.

That said, the album definitely contains influences from a collection of experiences from all of my years touring. Travelling around the world has opened my eyes and my mind a lot, South America in particular. Whether that’s sharing moments with friends while travelling to unique places like Macha Picchu in Peru, the Atacama Desert in Chile or Teotihuacan in Mexico, or simply experiencing new food, cultures, lifestyles and ways of living. These combined will have certainly contributed to some of the sounds, elements, and influences found within the album, adding to those traditional Spanish foundations we touched on earlier. 

What was it like working with your various album collaborators, including Lee’ Scratch’ Perry? How do you feel about releasing a posthumous track with him?

It was so much fun. I had the opportunity to work with amazing artists, but working with Lee Scratch Perry was an immense honour and a pleasure that I’m fortunate to have been able to experience. Initially, I was a little apprehensive as I didn’t know if the elements would mix, but Damian helped set it up, and everything flowed naturally from there. I had an idea in mind that I had worked on, and we sent it to Lee. He then listened to the draft, shaped his vocals, and sent them back. When I received them I had some initial doubts and second thoughts about making the whole track more dubs and club-orientated. However, we got to work with the original idea, and it worked out well – hopefully, we made a great record.

As I say, it was an amazing experience to work with such a revered figure and an icon of modern-day music before his unfortunate passing, and it’s something I’ll always treasure the experience, only as an artist but also as a fan and as a human being in general. Lee was a truly extraordinary artist.

Jude Iago James

Dennis Cruz – Roots LP is out now on Crosstown Rebels – buy it on 2xLP here or check here for streaming and other options.

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Eris Drew interview – “if someone says ’you shouldn’t do that’ then I do it.”

Meet the goddess of chaos – or globetrotting DJ Eris Drew, as she’s more commonly known

In many ways, lockdown came at just the right time for Eris Drew.

“I look at pictures from that time and I was, like, grey,” she says from a hotel room in New York, where her and partner Octo Octa are preparing themselves for an all night back to back session at the city’s Good Room club.

During the 18 months leading up to the shutdown, the pair – a romantic as well as DJ couple – had seen their reputations snowballing.  Having come out as transgender some years before, they were already icons in the LGBTQ+ scene.  But their renown was spreading far beyond that and well into the mainstream, with a bulging set of bookings to match it.

“The acceleration that Octa and I had during the 18 months before that was just so intense,” Drew says.  “I’m not going to say burnt out like we didn’t want to do it, but we were so tired.  Playing on those big systems, too, you get tinnitus and if you don’t sleep it gets worse.”  As well as sheer fatigue, another issue was weighing on Drew’s mind – her long overdue debut album.   “ I was thinking when am I going to have a chance to do this thing I want to do?  It’d be hard to do even a single a year with that kind of schedule.  It’s hard.”

They arrived back at Octo’s isolated house in New Hampshire, about a five hour drive north from New York, right before the first curfew was imposed.   For Drew, a native of Chicago – the pair met when she picked Octa up to drive her to a DJ gig in the city – it was quite a culture shock to be so far away from civilisation, with mainly – Octa aside – the wild turkeys that roam the area for company.  “They’re so sweet,” Drew laughs, “They’re wild ones – I mean, they’re survivors, but they’re very different to the agriculturally raised ones.  They’re cool.  They’re around all the time in the backyard you know.  I always lived in Chicago where so much of the outside world imposes itself on you, so it was real nice to be surrounded by nature.  But it did get to me after a while.”

Quivering In Time is just that – an album that captures the moment when time sort of stood still, or more accurately was suspended in motion.  It’s a universally positive sounding album, one that blends elements of old skool dance music, such as well worn vocal snippets or breakbeats, with Drew’s distinctive production and writing skills.  There’s a connection to the spiritual, unifying force of dance music’s roots, for sure, but also a postmodern view of looking back on those days with fond but knowing distance.

Part of that vibe might be down to the huge haul of 90s dance records the pair, both prolific record buyers, found upstairs at a barn shop in New Hampshire.  Drew admits that in quite a few cases, she’s sampled tunes of that era for breakbeats and samples – which have a wonderfully spontaneous, spun-in feel – although some are from original sources.  But the truth lies a bit deeper than that.

While she’s pleased that the positivity and sense of freedom – she talks about the album’s ultimate message being that people should be able to be who they want to be – radiates out of the grooves, it’s not a case of a blissfully relaxed Drew getting to work.  “People think I’m this happy person but really I was writing to keep myself happy.”  The process of making her debut album, as so often is the case, was one of looking back.  “Memory was definitely a big thing – making the album I found that I was accessing memories and thinking about things that had happened in the past, even way back.“

Nor is there any adherence to puritanism going on – not the kind of music preservation that some proponents of Chicago house might want a native of that city to stick to.   Much as she loves the music, she feels no need to continue in that vein too closely, even though she feels the city at large should have a bit more pride in the global phenomenon it started.

“There is a Frankie Knuckles Way now,” she says, “and there is a bit of public acknowledgment of the fact it comes from there, but not much.  The average person in Chicago, they don’t give a fuck about that.   They’re like what do you mean house music, that’s Spanish isn’t it?!  That’s from Europe, right?  I mean, if you go to Minneapolis there’s a Prince store at the airport – it’s not like that in Chicago!”

I play guitar on one song on the album “Loving Clav”. I think I told him I didn’t play much guitar on the album, the interview quotes me as playing none. 

There are even – shock, horror – guitars on the album.  Does she play them?  “Well, I play guitar on one song (‘Loving Clav’) but I love guitars, so there are a lot sampled on the album, a lot of synthesised guitar tones as well.  I love guitar pedals, I use all these tremolo and overdrive pedals.

“Guitars are the last taboo.  I won’t name names but there are people who’ve said ‘you can’t have guitar on dance music’  But what about disco?!!”

A bit of rebellion, in any case, is very much part of the Eris Drew deal.  “Eris was the Greek goddess of chaos,” she explains, “and that’s me too. There’s always a bit of chaos in the air.  So, if someone says ’you shouldn’t do that’ then I do it.  I like things to be beautiful but also fully chaotic, full of life and energy.”

With lockdown over – for now, at least – Eris and Octo have been busy catching up for lost time, with shows in the US, Canada and the UK in the first few weeks and plenty more to follow.   And she is already noticing the effect.

“I’ve realised in the past few weeks that my mood has changed, even my physical appearance has changed.  It’s happiness.  I realized there’s a whole load of drama and trauma and bullshit inside me, but if anything, this album is trying to do something about it.”

The one track from Quivering In Time she’s been proudly playing in her set is the moody mid-paced ‘Pick ‘Em Up’ “because it’s such a good chaotic rager”.  She’s not one for chucking in large sections of the album into her sets, even if it might shift a few extra copies  “ I’ve never been one of those DJs who is into playing their own music though.  I think in my heart, as a DJ I‘m a collage artist, the way I think about it is ‘I already created that collage’.“

She’s noticed that after lockdown. people are playing faster.  “I’m playing 130-133bpm, and that’s like slow for a house DJ at the moment.”

But there’s no doubt that what she lacks in speediness, she and Octo are more than capable than making up for in endurance.  Their back to back sets often go for eight and a half or even nine hours at a time.  That’s made them popular with punters –  but perhaps a little less so with some of technical staff, as a recent experience in the US demonstrated.

“We came on at 4-30am and played through to 12:30 pm,” she grins, “and the lights guy was so angry with us he snapped his laptop in half. “

She may have been locked down for over a year, but what more proof do you need that Eris, the goddess of chaos, is well and truly back in business.  Long may it continue.

Ben Willmott

Pre-order your Quivering In Time on double gatefold vinyl here

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