The Second coming of Sigue Sigue Sputnik

This post has very little to do with anything currently happening in the music world but it’s come about because I’ve had my head buried in a huge pile of Melody Maker papers from ’88 and ’89 recently. They’re a fascinating snapshot of particular music scenes as they happened, at a time when current political events were also included alongside the music features although this had largely been phased out since the early 80’s. Anyway, onto the subject matter in the title, the return of Sigue Sigue Sputnik for that difficult second album and what was, effectively, the death of the band’s original run even though they’ve resurrected themselves several times since in different forms.

The original hype had died down, they’d hit big with ‘Love Missile F1-11’ but the singles had seen diminishing returns. Their look was a love it or loathe it mix of cyberpunked up futuristic sloganeering with band leader Tony James playing the media game as best he could with both sides winning and grabbing headlines until the first album dropped. With Giorgio Moroder‘s name firmly back on everyone’s lips these days, his finest moment (‘I Feel Love’ aside) is still the Sput’s debut album in my opinion. It dazzles as an example of a multi-layed, sample smogasboard, throwing everything AND the kitchen sink into the mix, dubbing the life out of it and to hell with the song arrangements.

But that was ’86 and now, as Acid House had bought us the second Summer of Love in ’88, we find the unthinkable on page 2 of the November 12th issue of the Melody Maker:

For me, this killed any anticipation or will to listen to the band in a single one page advert. Not that there were hoards of fans anticipating a come back, by this time the press had long since turned on them and James and lead singer Martin Degville were regularly ripped to pieces in the weeklies.

Firstly, the photo of the band. So wrong. This wasn’t ‘The 5th Generation of Rock n Roll’, nor was it ‘High-tech Sex and Rockets (baby)’. It certainly didn’t look like ‘T-Rex cuts Disco at the roots of Dub’ either. This was a bunch of pasty holiday makers jumping on the Acid bandwagon, laughing it up by the pool in Ibiza. To add insult to injury the words ‘Produced by Stock Aitken Waterman rolled across the bottom of the ad. How could this have happened? The unthinkable. SAW stood for everything that was wrong with the latter half of the 80’s chart slide into cheese, chintz and manufactured, identikit Pop pap.

You almost have to admire the balls of a band who had any prior cred even dreaming of getting into bed with the trio, especially with Sputnik’s previous rep. Sex, Violence, Designer Drugs and Video Games were definitely not on SAW’s remit. Theirs was love, love, love all the way to the bank, dripping with a sugar sweet innocence that would barely even dream of intercourse before marriage. All thoughts of being taken seriously were out the window at the sight of this ad although they’d taken the precaution to pre-empt the backlash. ‘The group you hate to love’ is bigger than the single title and the multiple format ‘products’ are ‘flogged to death’. James knew exactly what he was doing and was launching some damage limitation before they were shot down.

And shot down they were, despite the Hit Factory’s incredible run of hits in the 80’s, the combination of SAW and SSS could only manage no.31 in the UK charts. It didn’t help that the song, ‘Success’, was an out and out stinker, an unashamed piece of commercial crap that screamed, ‘Love us!’ in a desperate attempt at attention seeking without a whiff of their previous danger. Coupled with the blatant Acid House iconography and mixes, at least six months too late (even Bros had Acid remixes by this time) – it just felt so wrong. The image said summer holidays and here we were nearly at Xmas, they were back but already four months too late. This unfortunate review appeared in the same issue of the Melody Maker as the ad above, it was custom on the weekly singles review page to place single of the week in the top left hand corner of the page.

They were following where they had led before and they’d let down their guard with their image, something James has even admitted to in his excellent breakdown of the group’s career on “What you see is as far removed from those original first photos of the band in the subway at midnight as you could possibly get. We had looked like no other band on the planet. Now when I look at the Brazilian footage, I see exactly what we had become – five blokes by the swimming pool in our swimming shorts having a laugh.”

The album followed six months later and – ‘Success’ aside – it’s actually pretty decent. Thankfully that was the only SAW production on the album and they largely mined the same vein of Suicide-meets-Eddy Cochran-plus-samples of their debut. Unfortunately it lacked ‘the shock of the new’, rather ‘more of the same’ only minus Moroder this time. That’s a bit unfair actually, there were some changes, the singles, ‘Dancerama’ and ‘Albinoni vs Star Wars’ were different and the closing track, ‘Is This The Future’, a ballad that is probably Degville’s finest moment. The genius tagline of ‘…this time it’s music’ on the ad always makes me laugh.

From here though it’s a free fall of bad management, estrangement and apathy as the money and momentum runs out and so does the band’s interest. They had some success in Brazil and a final, fourth, single was pulled from the album in the form of ‘Rio Rocks’. ‘A slogan free advertisement’, reads the bottom of the advert – even James was admitting defeat here, the band split shortly afterwards, less than a year after the comeback.

Sigue Sigue Sputnik – ‘Flaunt it’ ad from i-D

From an issue of i-D magazine dated Aug ’86, this recently turned up in an expedition in the Secret Oranges archive (incidentally it’s Steve Cook‘s birthday today). A rather risqué ad for Sigue Sigue Sputnik‘s debut album, ‘Flaunt It’, which I seem to remember got banned from most publications at the time. I’m a big fan of Sputnik, especially this Giorgio Moroder-produced album and its surrounding singles, so you’ll occasionally see posts about them featured here.

Tony James, band leader and general mastermind behind them recently wrote up their history at length on their newly-launched website and it’s a candid, no-holds-barred read. As with any history, it’s his version of events and I’m sure there’s another side to it but he’s very forthcoming about the failings of the second album and the record industry crap that went with it. There are also all sorts of outtakes and demos up online under the heading ‘Demobomb’ which are pretty illuminating in terms of how they got their sound.

Also below is the news piece from Sounds the week the band signed their ‘million pound’ deal. This was quite something at the time as the band had a lot of hype surrounding them without a recording to their name but had managed to get the sort of double page features in the music press usually reserved for established artists. Also if anyone has a sealed copy of the cassette on card version of this album, (see above) packaged to look like a toy, then I’m still looking for a copy.

Posted in Design, Magazines. | 3 Comments |

Classic Pop magazine – 4 pg XLZTT design article

Just out is issue 3 of Classic Pop magazine with a 4 page article I co-wrote with editor Ian Peel about the 80’s music design work of the XL design studio. You don’t hear much about them but they’re a big passion of mine because they largely defined the look of the Zang Tuum Tumb label from 1983 through to the end of the decade, greatly influencing myself in the process.

Whereas some had Saul Bass, Hipgnosis, Peter Saville or Vaughn Oliver, I had XL who, in conjunction with press officer Paul Morley and another group, The London Design Partnership, created the look of my favourite record label of the 80’s. They did many other sleeves for pop acts on other labels as well but the combination of their work with design briefs from Morley (collectively XLZTT) really stands out from the pack and it’s this that we focus on.

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Kraftweek 5 – by Andy Dog

I found this on the web recently – a Record Mirror cover from 1978 featuring Kraftwerk by Andy Johnson. Some may know Andy by his other pen name: Andy Dog, he’s also the brother of Matt Johnson (The The).

He had this to say about it: “Blimey, what a find! Yes that is one of mine. For your information it was originally commissioned by (the now acknowledged literary expert and renowned author) Tim Lott and was completed with a certain technical difficulty (because the gouache paint kept bubbling instead of laying flat) in my tiny bedroom (shared with Matt) above the pub in Loughton where we lived at the time. I think I got paid about £95 for it. When it came out I was so pleased I walked into Hipgnosis on Denmark Street and showed it to Peter Christopherson and said “how about giving me a job?” He was v. polite but declined….”

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Kraftweek 2 – Influences in dance music and beyond

Last month I was asked to write my thoughts about how Kraftwerk had influenced modern day DJ and Dance Music Culture by Jude Rogers for a piece for The Observer. I got a bit carried away and here’s an extended version of the full piece I submitted:
Everyone knows Derrick May‘s proclamation that Techno was the fusion of Kraftwerk and George Clinton meeting in an elevator’ but the band had a stake in the Hip Hop community many years before. As soon as Afrika Bambaataa and Arthur Baker took the beat from ‘Numbers’ and the melody from ‘Trans Europe Express’ to form the classic ‘Planet Rock’, Kraftwerk became part of the foundation of Hip Hop. Even before that, Grandmaster Flash would play ‘Trans Europe Express’ in it’s entirety in his infamous DJ sets, using its side-long length as one of his ‘bathroom break’ records.

No matter that the new wave and post punk groups had already claimed a stake with their synth and indie pop, the group became one of the building blocks of the Electro sounds coming out of New York, even more gleefully championed by the west coast who liked their tempos faster. That ‘Tour De France’ soundtracked the best scene in the film ‘Breakin’ shows how much their uptempo beats appealed to the crews back when breakdancing was as strong an element of the culture as the DJ and MC.

After this the band would be sampled endlessly, if not as obviously as ‘Planet Rock’. The group sued Bambaataa’s label, Tommy Boy, for thousands of dollars and Techno soon arrived, claiming its stake in the band. The 80’s generation that were inspired by Hip Hop and Techno to start DJing and beat making grew up to be the producers and ‘superstar DJs’ of today.
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Check the intro to ‘Leave Home’ by The Chemical Brothers for their clever appropriation of ‘Ohm Sweet Ohm’ from the ‘Radio-Activity’ LP or Jay-Z‘s backing track on ‘Sunshine’ for his take on ‘Man Machine‘. LCD Soundsystem‘s Disco Infiltrator’ owes a big debt to ‘Home Computer’ and even Coldplay got in on the act by asking for permission to interpolate the melody of ‘Computer Love’ into ‘Talk’. In more contemporary dance scenes – hear dubstep producer 6Blocc’s cheeky reinterpretation of ‘Numbers/Computer World 2’ disguised under the title, ‘Digits’.

Across the pond Juke/Footstep producers like DJ Clent and Traxman have also been shoe-horning Kraftwerk samples into some of their songs, guess which track they sampled on ‘The Robot’?” Kraftwerk have been part of the lineage of dance music culture since the late 70’s, approaching it without them is like taking the ‘Apache’ break out of Hip Hop and the 808 drum machine out of Techno.

But it goes even further than that, the band lurk in some of the most unlikely corners outside of the music industry too, ingrained in people’s lives as much as any band like The Beatles or The Stones. Soda Jerk – a duo from Australia who make video cut ups and installations – have an on going project called ‘Astro Black’ which features the quartet amongst many heroes of black music. In their own words. “Astro Black is a multi-channel video cycle informed by cultural theories of Afrofuturism. Taking the cosmic jazz musician Sun Ra as a point of departure, this ongoing speculative history seeks to draw out the nexus of science fiction and social politics in Black Atlantic culture.” One excerpt called ‘We Are The Robots’ features Kraftwerk playing sequences from their own music in a jam session with the mothership from ‘Close Encounters of the Third Kind’ which responds with fragments of tracks that have sampled the group (!)

Astro Black Ep 0: We Are The Robots (Excerpt), 2010 from Soda_Jerk on Vimeo.

I’m frequently asked how I find all the various cover version in my Kover Kollection mixes (vol. 8 debuts tomorrow) but the truth is, once you start looking, they are everywhere, just not always in plain site. A quick web search for a title + ‘cover version’ is much like turning over a stone in a rock pool, teeming with life you can’t immediately see. Another example, I received a magazine by my friend Sarah Coleman just before Xmas, she had a feature on the back page about her favourite design classic – the 45 adaptor. Which record was the dink pushed into?

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Inkymole does Playboy

My good friend Sarah Coleman, aka Inkymole, who recently put on an exhibition of mine and Henry Flint‘s work, has done the cover for the new US edition of Playboy!

No, she hasn’t given up the pen to strip off and become a bunnygirl but that’s her hand drawn type all over the cover. The mag has recently gained a new art director who is keen to get back to the days of old when it had some genuinely original designs fronting it.

For more info, and a look at past designs sourced from the ever-handy Secret Oranges blog, go to Sarah’s Inkymole site.

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Worldwide mag design article extras

When I did the interview on design for music in the digital age for Gilles Peterson‘s Worldwide + magazine I submitted a lot of extra images that weren’t able to be used for space reasons. I thought I’d put them up here as I love them all and they illustrate some of the people I talk about who didn’t get featured visually.

The mag is now available on iTunes to download for the iPad.

Top to bottom, left to right:

Julian House / Ghost Box label,

The Designers Republic / Emigre magazine cover,

Michael C. Place / Build poster,

Vaughn Oliver & Chris Bigg – V23 / Lonely Is An Eyesore deluxe LP,

Pete Fowler / The Magic Numbers LP,

Mr Krum / The Simonsound mp3.


Vintage kids magazines from Italy

Steve Cook and I went on a scavenge for old magazines on my birthday earlier this year and, whilst in a well known West London basement, Steve found dozens of kids magazines from the 60’s and 70’s.

I’ve only had time to scan a few pieces but they are riddled with beautiful illustrations and typography from back in the day, check the Mini 22 logo on the toy gun ad for instance (there’s a telling amount of adverts for toy guns in each issue). Absolutely LOVE the robot cover and spread, which Steve graciously gave up for me from the pile, see also the ad for a vintage Lego train set.

These scans are primarly from an Italian mag called Corriere dei Piccoli (Italian for “Courier of the Little Ones”) and Steve has some from French ‘Lissette’ over on his Secret Oranges blog today. There’s plenty more from both mags to come from both of us so stay tuned and click images for larger versions.

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DJ Food in Record Collector magazine

After months of ‘will it be in this issue?’, I’m finally in the Christmas issue of Record Collector magazine (with Led Zeppelin on the cover), in ‘The Collector’ article and it was worth the wait. For the first time I can remember they’ve gone from the usual two pages to three to accommodate the ‘Wall of Sound’ photograph Steve Cook took specially (full image above).

I’m so pleased with this and I get a chance to show off some prize pieces from my collection. Several items mentioned aren’t shown because of space but I’ll be posting some of them in the ‘Originals’ posts on this site all week.

Secret Oranges blogspot

My good friend Steve Cook has been going through his drawers and cupboards (and believe me he has a lot) and finding loads of ephemera from his days working as a designer for 2000ad, Dr Who, Starburst and many more. I know for a fact that he’s got tons of other interesting bits and bobs in his collection so take a look if the miscellania of comic history is your bag. The Secret Oranges title is a play on the Secret Origins series’ so beloved by comics publishers.

Posted in Art, Comics, Design, Magazines. | 1 Comment |

70’s Sci-Fi logos and magazine design

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Going through a couple of recently acquired Mediascene magazines today from the late 70’s and I was struck by how much more imaginatively designed the headers on some of the articles were. A lot of them riffed off of film or comic logo design of the age but were mini works of art in themselves. I’ve included various shots of comic logos from ads in the mags too.


Smash Hits & The Kraftwerk Kollection

I’ve been waiting for this issue to crop up on Brian McClosekey‘s excellent ‘Like Punk Never Happened’ blog – the 1981 issue with Adam Ant on the cover –  one that I strongly remember, being mad about anything with an Ant attachment at the time. Brian posts complete issues of Smash Hits, every two weeks, 30 years to the day they were first published and he’ll continue until his collection stops. The pages are viewable via Flickr and are slowly forming an excellent time capsule of late 70’s and 80’s pop, in context, as it happened. I was eleven when this was published and 1981 was Adam Ant’s year, he was everywhere, from the pop charts to TV to the daily newspapers. He looked and sounded great, gave good copy and they couldn’t get enough of him.

Another page in this issue caught my eye later on though, a half page advert for five Kraftwerk albums. They had a freak number one in the UK with ‘The Model’ in February 1982 – a traditional post-Xmas quiet spot for record releases. It seems Phonogram were eagerly flooding the market with reissues of their back catalogue at this point though because they’d just released the Computer World album. When I first saw the ad (obviously, re-reading the mag later) I thought, “What? how can they have five albums?”, little knowing that there were another four at least to add to this list. Unfortunately none of these made it to my local record shop but I did manage to get copies of ‘Computer World’, ‘The Man Machine’ and ‘Trans Europe Express’ – all on cassette – the latter of which I took back to the shop, complaining to them that the tape only had one track on side 2 when it listed four. Again, little did I realise all four tracks segued into one so there weren’t any breaks in between (!) I love the way they’ve spelt picture with a ‘k’ in the text and my god do I wish I’d been old enough to see them on that tour.

Posted in Kraftwerk, Magazines, Music. | 2 Comments |