A miserable Friday night can only be recovered, in my eyes, by the indulgence in some 80’s new-wave synthpop. As an avid 80’s fan, I was like a kid on Christmas Eve, eager to see two underground greats of the 80’s. The queue was a mixture of old and young, though on entering the grandiose Arts Club, the segregation of ‘the young-ones’ became apparent as they were led upstairs to see the hip, raucous upstarts The Struts, and the rest of us (predominantly those over the age of 40 – not including myself) led to a theatrical strobe-lit stage to witness the joys of Blancmange and Heaven 17.
The Arts Club venue was packed full to the rafters, highlighting the credibility of both acts, and the impact they had on the synth scene of the 80’s. Blancmange entered the stage in white forensic-style jumpsuits, instrumentalist Luscombe taking his place behind the keyboard, and Arthurs – having stripped out of his jumpsuit to a sleek suit, along with garish tie – took his place behind the microphone. ‘God’s Kitchen’ started off the proceedings, its repetitive synth riff, and chorus of “ain’t over here, ain’t over there” opened the night perfectly. Following from the courteous meet and greets, Arthurs settled on dedicating the next song to a ballsy John (who was able to shout the loudest) as the interaction of audience and artist continued throughout the evening. The strobe lights, smoke and Byrne-esque dance moves transported those who could remember back to their teenage years and me to an 80’s dreamland.
‘Living on the Ceiling’ resulted in audience participation on a scale unprecedented throughout all my gig and festival going experiences. Chanting, figurative dancing and crooning of the Egyptian influenced loop erupted, with the music cut and Blancmange genuinely touched by the crowd’s devotion to a timeless tune. Speakerphone was brandished in the brilliant ‘Ultraviolet’ – mastering the space-age sound Blancmange is famous for. Finishing the set with the great ‘Blind Vision’, Blancmange truly excelled themselves, as pioneers of experimentation, technological innovators and synth greats, sounding as fresh today as they did on the release of their first album in 1982. This certainly wasn’t some kind of tribute, past-it, ‘dad’ act; Blancmange re-established themselves as electronic masterminds, without the unnecessary gimmicks that we are often so bombarded with.
Up next were Sheffield legends Martyn Ware and Ian Craig Marsh, founders of Heaven 17 and former members of The Human League. The original electronic geniuses who established the British Electric Foundation production company, leaders in synthesisers and LinnDrums and godfathers of new-wave and synthpop. Showcasing new material (only available in vinyl) and older classics, Heaven 17 seamlessly blended old and new, markedly emphasising the agelessness of their tracks. ‘(We Don’t Need This) Fascist Groove Thang’ – had Marsh anecdotal of its original title ‘Brothers and Sisters We Need Your Help Against…’ and declare to the audience “now is the time more than ever!” Its mix of tribal, jazz and bass beats, a real dance-party starter, yet executed so as not to undermine the moral message.
New tracks of ‘Illumination’ and ‘Pray’ were exhibited, as well as an otherworldly solo by Professor Ware on the synth – his hands controlling sounds of space-age, thunderous waves – a master of his craft. A Ware-Marsh duet of (ironically) The Human League’s ‘You’ve Lost That Loving Feeling’ was particularly inspiring, though did reveal the continued unresolved tension between the two and Phil Oakey. The grand finale of ‘Temptation’ caused eruptions throughout the audience and as I watched the older lady getting on down next to me, revelling in the pure synth delights, a much-sought after spirit that exuberated youthfulness was encapsulated in her moves… and my aging-anxieties once and for all, laid to rest. I left the gig longing for a band that I too would hold in such admiration in years to come. Both acts highlighted that age is not a limit; their 80’s pioneering sounds continue to hold resonance to this day. I raise the banner for the 80’s as a decade that didn’t just exude excess, consumerism and ‘cheese’ but as one that should be upheld for its innovation, intellectualism and promotion of the do-it-yourself rhetoric left vacant following punk.
WORDS: Katie Tysoe