1984 was one of the weirdest years in music that I can think of. In addition to Ricky Martin joining Menudo for Menudomania, we saw Michael Jackson’s scalp catch fire during a Pepsi commercial, and the launch of the Parents Music Resource Center (PMRC). As dire as the situation was in the mainstream, there was a wealth of great stuff happening in the nascent digital underground though.
With his Bustin’ Out: New Wave To New Beat series, DJ Mike Maguire is chronicling the rise of electronic dance music. The fourth edition has just been released, and focuses on 1984. One wonders what George Orwell would have thought of such willing sublimation of the individual to the machine. Would he have decried it, or recognized such songs as Severed Heads’ “Dead Eyes Opened” as the good, clean fun they are?
Maguire has collected a diverse roster of artists to represent the bleeding edge of electronic music for the year in question. Many of the musical movements that became dominant at the end of the decade were in their infancy at the time, and this set deftly weaves the various strands together.
The Flowerpot Men kick start things with “Jo’s So Mean To Josephine.” This is a heavily Cabaret Voltaire-damaged slab of proto industrial/ futuristic disco that still sounds great. Speaking of the Cabs, they are up next with “Sensoria,” from the classic Micro Phonies album. As always, the band were miles ahead of their contemporaries. Their early industrial roots had been left behind long before, and we find them now deeply immersed in rhythm.
Carrying on the industrial torch, and pointing the way to the sounds it would ultimately be associated with are Skinny Puppy and Front 242, Front’s “Commando Mix” is nine minutes of revolutionary mind-fucking that proved to be hugely influential. Canada’s Skinny Puppy and their track “Smothered Hope” would also have a major impact on bands such as Nine Inch Nails and Ministry.
The dance floor reigns supreme throughout this set, and Strafe’s “Set It Off” is a killer example of classic electro-funk. The Chicago house music scene was gestating at this point in time also. In fact, many cite Jesse Saunders’ “On & On” as the opening shot for this soon-to-be sub cultural phenomenon. Another high point is found during a journey into the unknown, courtesy of former Yello keyboardist Carlos Peron’s “Et.” Factory Records franchise New Order were probably the most successful electronic group of the era with “Blue Monday.” Label-mates Section 25 mine a similar territory with their mesmerizing “Looking From A Hilltop.”
Maguire does not stick strictly to dance music however. The advances in dub music are highlighted with “The Show Is Coming” from Adrian Sherwood’s Dub Syndicate. There is even something of an unholy electronic/goth hybrid represented by Anne Clark’s “Our Darkness.”
Bustin’ Out 1984: From New Wave To New Beat Volume 4 is a wild mix of electronic fun, and much of it is most likely unknown to a large segment of the public. This is more than an archaeological dig through the recent past however, as all of this material still sounds magnificent. Thorough liner notes from former Trouser Press editor Kris Needs complete the package.