When I worked in the record department of WH Smith in the late 70s there were a few records which we were guaranteed to sell a copy of if we played them. Giorgio Moroder’s soundtrack to Midnight Express was one, it’s haunting electronics inevitably bringing an entranced customer to the counter to ask what it was. I’m reminded of it now because it’s just been reissued on vinyl after many years out of print.
Director Alan Parker hired Moroder after hearing “I Feel Love” and asked him to do something similar, so while the album is mostly slow mood pieces he fully answered that brief with the pulsing opening track “Chase” which turned out to be just as influential as the Donna Summer record. The version on the album is over 8 minutes long but it was also issued as a 12″ single that clocked in at a whopping 13 minutes, and that’s the version I’m giving you here. At this length it moves beyond electronic disco into more trancey territory, sounding at times like a proto-Rave tune.
The new London-based label PC Music (it stands for Personal Computer) puts out primitive, glitchy synthpop that often sounds like it’s been thrown together by kids who’ve eaten too much candyfloss (though they did also put out this great House tune).
The star of their roster is Hannah Diamond who has released two singles so far which a lot of people (most, even) might think are kitschy and sugary bubblegum, but I think have a real off-kilter pop charm. If the thought of a helium-drunk Clare Grogan singing with a bunch of Japanese teenagers playing Casios sounds like your bag you might enjoy these.
Not sure which of the two I like best but “Attachment” seems like a perfectly 21st century love song for the smartphone generation. “Now I’ve saved you as a picture on my phone” is about as modern a declaration of love as you can get.
Their debut 1612 Underture is a concept album (a “sound poem” they call it — well, la-di-da) about the Pendle Witches, twelve young girls who were executed for being witches in 17th century Lancashire. The primitive electronics have the same haunted, weird-old-England vibe as Broadcast and the Ghost Box record label, and with Peake talking over the eerie bleeps and beats in her thick-as-gravy Bolton accent it sounds like the BBC Radiophonic Workshop playing with Gracie Fields — which I hope you think sounds like a very good thing.
Seeing as what goes around in pop music usually comes around again, you’d think we were about due a Trip Hop revival of some kind given the length of time since it first started. But maybe for a genre to be revived it has to sound dated and a bit cheesy at some point and it still sounds new and fresh out of the wrapper to me.
Apart from a brief Britpop blip when I bought a couple of Oasis and Blur CDs I spent most of the mid- to late 1990s listening to Trip Hop or its mutant offspring Downtempo, Chill-Out, and Electronica. It was the soundtrack when I was dating my wife, and on our honeymoon in New York I bought a copy of Felt Mountain which I heard for the first time in our hotel room so it definitely defined an era for me. Though some of it was derided as trendy background music for designer boutique shopping and middle-class dinner parties, I thought it was the best thing to come out of Bristol since Cary Grant.
I had to pick myself up off the floor when I realized that it’s been over 20 years (20!) since Massive Attack released Blue Lines which, along with Portishead’s Dummy a few years later, pretty much defined Trip Hop and opened the gates to a flood of bands mixing up stoned beats with moody electronics, crackly samples, and cinematic strings. But my favourite Trip Hop album was by another mob from Bristol, the gloriously woozy Come From Heaven by Alpha. I have no idea how well known the album is (probably not much) but it’s felt like my precious secret love since it came out in 1997.
Alpha sloooowed their beats and samples down to a crawl to make hypnotic, somnabulent music that sounded so dosed up on cough mixture it didn’t have the energy to get out of bed — there’s even a track on it called “Nyquil” which I assume is meant to be a joke. With the two lead singers’ emotionally-bruised fragility it drifts along in the most beautiful, foggy haze, like comedown music for the mother of all hangovers (or drug highs, whatever turns you on.) Not that I have those sort of nights anymore, but this first track especially still sets me adrift on memory bliss.
The great Delia Derbyshire at work. Maybe I’m weird but there’s something vaguely erotic about seeing such a well-spoken young lady playing with heavy audio equipment like this. JG Ballard could write a novel about that.
This is Delia’s most famous production. An obvious choice but it’s still fab. Composer Ron Grainer was so amazed by what Delia had done to his tune he said to her “Did I really write this?” to which she replied “Most of it.”