New book on electronic pop: ‘Listening To The Music The Machines Make’ (Foreword by Vince Clarke)

Listening To The Music The Machines Make
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(By Janos Janurik) Temperatures are dropping, days are getting shorter and from now on the umbrella is a permanent accessory when you leave the house. Nevertheless, you can also love autumn. One reason for this can be a good book that you can pick up and read in front of the fireplace without a feeling guilty.

For us, lovers of electric music, the book by Richard Evans, published on 17th November, would be the perfect read.

Setting out to chart a unique chapter in the history of popular music, “Listening To The Music The Machines Make” tells the story of a single generation of post-punk musicians, mavericks, visionaries and opportunists tinkering with primitive synthesisers in bedrooms, bedsits and basements around Britain, who assembled a potent cocktail of ideas and influences, took them apart, mixed them up, and reassembled them in entirely new ways to create a genuine golden age of British pop, and along the way creating some of the most enduring, iconic and influential records in pop history.

Drawing from years of extensive research, as well as from conversations with many of the movement’s key movers and shakers, “Listening To The Music The Machines Make” sets out to examine the multitude of influences that led to the synthpop revolution that spanned 1978 to 1983; tell the definitive story of a true golden age of British pop through the careers, releases and stories of the movement’s pioneers, mavericks and superstars; and explores the era’s lasting musical impact and enduring influence, including it’s role in the development of hip-hop, house, techno and beyond.

Richard Evans has worked in the music industry for over thirty years in a variety of roles, including positions at London Records, Factory Records and MTV Europe. In 1998 he set up marketing consultancy The Fan Base and has been connecting musical artists with their audiences ever since. He is the founder of the This Is Not Retro website and record label and has worked for Andy Bell, Vince Clarke and Erasure since 2009. Richard is based in Dorset where he lives in perpetual fear of being asked what his favourite record is.

Richard Evans

I have known Richard for several years as a result of being an Erasure fan for many years. I emailed him a few questions about his upcoming book and you can read his answers here. Of course, I also asked him about his favourite record.

SL: Richard, you have been the leader of the international Erasure fan club (EIS) and the webmaster of Erasure’s homepage for several years. I think your name has become known to the general public through this activity. Did you make it to the top of your career?

It’s quite complicated to talk about my career as at any given time I’m usually working on a few different projects simultaneously and it’s always very likely that they are all shooting off in different directions. But you’re right that Richard from the EIS is much better known than the Richard Evans who wrote the book! I also think that having worked with Erasure for as many years as I have definitely represents a career peak.

SL: With a background like that, one would have thought that you would write a book about Vince and Andy, about Erasure. Have you ever thought about anything like that?

Vince and Andy get offers to write books every year, on their own or as part of Erasure, but at this point in time neither of them feel the time is right to tell their stories. However when the time is right I very much hope that I will be involved in some way.

SL: You must have a lot of funny or exciting stories about your collaboration with Erasure. Could you tell us a short story that you particularly like to think back to?

I think the best stories are the ones that I can’t tell…

SL: Have you always been a big fan of electro music? Where did your interest in this music genre come from?

I kind of have and I haven’t. My book covers the period 1978-1983 which coincides with the time I was starting to discover music for myself and I always  consider my musical tastes extremely varied. Looking back however and I can see that the music that I was drawn to often had a very noticeable electronic element even when it wasn’t electronic music as such, so although I would enjoy, for example, rock music, the actual songs I was listening to would be things like ‘Owner Of A Lonely Heart’ by Yes, or tracks from ZZ Top’s ‘Eliminator’ album. It turns out that those electronic elements run through a huge amount of my favourite music but I hadn’t really noticed it before. But I did always love ‘pure’ electronic music too. I can remember being blown away the first time I heard things like Donna Summer’s ‘I Feel Love’ and Kraftwerk’s ‘The Model’ for example.

SL: On 6th November there will be a special event in London to launch your book “Listening To The Music The Machines Make” where you will interview Andy Bell and Martyn Ware (The Human League, BEF, Heaven 17) about their lives in electronic music. We already know about your connection with Andy, but what about Martyn? Have you known him for a while too?

I first met Martyn through a website I used to run called This Is Not Retro and I interviewed him a few times for that website, but I got to know him better through Vince Clarke who has a side-project with Martyn called Illustrious. Illustrious released a boxset called ‘House Of Illustrious’ under the name The Clarke & Ware Experiment a few years go and I was involved on the periphery of that release and got to know Martyn a little better through doing that. Then Martyn was working on his book, ‘Electronically Yours Vol. 1’, at the same time I was working on mine and I was able to introduce him to some helpful publishing people and also to share some of my research with him. We’ve only met in real life a couple of times so I’m looking forward to doing that at my launch in London and then again when we’re doing a joint event at the Louder Than Words Festival in Manchester the following week.

SL: Both Martyn Ware and Vince Clarke have special podcasts and radio programmes where they talk about synthesizer music, play such tracks and talk to famous artists. Do you listen to these programmes regularly?

I always listen to The Synthesizer Show, Vince’s radio show with Reed Hays, for pleasure of course because it can be very entertaining, but also so I can talk about it in the Erasure newsletter. I try to keep up with Martyn’s podcast Electronically Yours but he does so many of them that I’m always a few episodes behind!

SL: The foreword in your book was written by Vince Clarke who has been a living legend in the music industry over the last 40 years. How did he like your book? Has he already read it?

I sent Vince the manuscript so he would have an idea about what was in my book and I know that he has dipped into it, but I don’t know if he’s actually read it all… the book is 528 pages long so it takes a lot of reading and Vince is a busy man with a lot on his plate. I was delighted that he agreed to do the foreword though, as you say he is a legend and I’m extremely lucky to be able to call him a friend.

SL: Could you please name artists you met during your research or with whom you had conversations on the topic? By the way, who is your biggest hero from the electro music scene?

When I first started work on the book I did intend to talk to as many people from that time as possible, but I actually changed direction quite early on in the process simply because a lot of those people don’t actually remember the details very well after all these years. Instead I went to the original music and popular culture media from 1978 to 1983 and collected as many interviews, reviews, features and news pieces as I could – literally thousands of them – from magazines and papers from the NME, Sounds and Melody Maker to Smash Hits, The Face and ZigZag and constructed the narrative of the book from those original materials. Where I was fortunate was in having access to a number of those people who were available to answer questions, join the dots and provide extra clarification when I needed it. Vince Clarke and Andy Bell of course but also people like Martyn Ware, Neil Arthur, Rusty Egan and Daniel Miller.

I don’t know that I have a biggest hero as such, but in the summer Karl Bartos from Kraftwerk published a book, ‘The Sound of the Machine’, with Omnibus Press, the same publishers who are putting out my book ‘Listening to the Music the Machines Make’, and I was able to go to one of Karl’s events and was introduced to him afterwards which was a huge thrill. He was absolutely lovely and very funny.

SL: You jokingly said about yourself that you live in constant fear that people will ask you about your favourite record. Is that really such a difficult question to answer? Could you name at least three records that have had a big impact on your life?

It really is a difficult question to answer. There are so many great records and my favourite one day might not be favourite the next day depending on what I’m listening to, how I’m feeling and what sort of a mood I’m in. So here are three electronic records which I absolutely love and which I never get tired of listening to: The League Unlimited Orchestra’s ‘Love & Dancing’, Propaganda’s ‘A Secret Wish’ and Depeche Mode’s ‘Ultra’… but it really is an impossible question. If you were to ask me again in half an hour I would probably choose three completely different records!

SL: In the last two years, the music industry has also been hit hard by the pandemic. Many tours had to be cancelled or postponed. Which band did you see live for the last time from the electro music scene? Are there still concerts on your personal wish list?

A few weeks ago I saw Front 242’s concert in London which I think I was supposed to see in 2020 and which had been rescheduled four or maybe five times before it finally happened. It was a great show though. And I’m off to see Blancmange next week which I’m looking forward to as I really like their new album. As for a concerts wish list, I never saw the Eurythmics so I think they would be top of the list for me.

SL: We, electro music fans, are already very excited about your upcoming book. And what are you reading right now when you have a little “me time”?

I’m currently reading Martyn Ware’s ‘Electronically Yours Vol. 1’ as I will be interviewing him about the book at my event in a few weeks time. It’s very good, he has done some extraordinary things and has been involved in some amazing projects, so I’m very much enjoying it.

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