Before their absurdly huge pop success, Human League had two albums of just being a cool outfit mucking around with synthesizers, drum machines, other weird gear, exploring all the mysterious regions that the new technology was opening up. Dreams of Leaving, found on their second album Travelogue, gets downright epic before it’s done, something to do with closed borders, grudges, maybe just paranoia. It was 1980. There was a lot to worry about.
“I first heard Kraftwerk‘s Computer World at Michael’s place. A sort of slimy guy that we used to buy dope from back in the late 70s, early 80s. He lived in a high rise near English Bay, always had the stereo on loud, usually playing shitty soft rock. Except this one time, a beautiful day, sun glowing in off the bay – it was this cool machine music. Kraftwerk, I would’ve guessed, except Kraftwerk weren’t around anymore, were they? A couple of gimmicky robot records back in the mid-70s and then back to Germany. I was right. It was indeed Kraftwerk, still cranking out the future. I was wrong. They were anything but a gimmick. Suddenly, I had a pile of exploring to do.”
In which Keith Leblanc, straight outa Connecticut, and by way of outfits like Sugarhill Records, Tackhead, Little Axe (and a bunch more) reminds us of exactly what 1986 felt like – the best part anyway. Big beats (bigger than man had ever heard before), cool noise, strange new technologies alchemizing, boiling over, eager to smash the planet, change everything forever. And they would. Planet smashing was definitely what it was all about in the 80s. The planet needed smashing, musically speaking, that is.
It took samplers a while to get cheap enough to fall into the hands of sort of folks who could figure out how to truly make them sing, with Greater Than One (mostly long forgotten now) one of the first to get what now seems bloody obvious. That is, take Martin Luther King’s I Have A Dream speech, add an opera sample or two, plus various odd ball sound effects, even some Sandinista era Clash and Brain Salad Surgery Emerson Lake + Palmer, then just lay everything over some cool grooves and call it a song. And the thing is, it worked brilliantly, it humanized the machinery, and it abruptly reinvented the music of the near future as an impossibly odd and yet beautiful Frankenstein’s monster of possibilities wherein the entirety of recorded history was just lying there, waiting to be treated, twisted, appropriated, manipulated, abused and exploited. But then, of course, the f***ing lawyers got involved.