Monday, 21 April 2014


When we listen to music we to go to a place, different music takes us through different landscapes, different emotional topography, dwellings and ornaments. We invest ourselves in these imaginative places and when we listen to the music again across the space of decades we discover ourselves again although through a sea change.

I recently watched this documentary synth Brittania on the rise of electro pop in the 80's

This doco took me on a trip, showed me cityscapes and political currents that the music grew in that it reflected informed and responded to.

There is alienation in this music as there was in Brittania and much of the Western world in the late 70's 80's and beyond. Much of this music is also described as new romantic set against the political landscape of the rise of the extreme right with Margaret Thatcher.

J G Ballard's work was mentioned by a lot of the artists on the documentary I linked to. Ballard was a science fiction writer, who delved in modern symbolism and very near futures, he seemed to psychoanalyse modern life through its urban symbolism; Car crashes, Diaphragms, Bill Boards, Underpass, Mirror Glass buildings, drained swimming pools, abandoned factories etc. There is some beauty in his novels & some surrealism, they exist within an amoral space and have little heart but are possibly an intense mirror on modern mind. I still feel some attraction to his novels the Crystal World and the unlimited Dream Company, but this is mixed with wariness. I believe we are what we eat and what the mind dwells upon it moves towards and do I want to move towards bleak industrial landscapes?

My relationship to this music started with the album Systems of Romance by Ultravox. This was the third and last Ultravox album by the John Foxx led version of the band. Ultravox would later become much more popular when Midge Ure fronted the band and they produced the hit single and album Vienna.  But the work of John Foxx both within and without Ultravox is for me the most captivating work to emerge from the Synthpop genre.

Mr Foxx's work is influenced by J G Ballard's writing their are underpasses and I think crashing cars but it seems more romantic and beautiful, after all two of my favourite works of his are called The Garden and the Golden Section, Foxx appreciates Ballard but he maps his own territory.

Here are some lyrics from the opening track of Systems of Romance

No reply
I'm trying hard to somehow frame a reply
Pictures, I've got pictures, and I run them in my head
When I can't sleep at night
Looking out at the white world and the Moon
I feel a soft exchange taking place
Merging with the people on the trains
Whirling my face in conversation

Slow motion
Slow motion

There is surrealism here, sleeplessness but also the moon, there seems to be a hint of alchemy which lurks in much of surrealism.

Soon after I listened to this album I remember distant friends, even more distant now, speaking of taking drugs and understanding what the song "just for a moment" meant,  this seemed to have resonance for me, drugs are a whole other discussion that i can't deal seriously with here, but what that says to me in retrospect is that this music or art serves as a lens for seeing things differently, music is a way of altering our consciousness and going within:

Talking in the window as the light fades
I heard my voice break just for a moment
Talking by the window as the light fades
I felt the floor change into an ocean

We'll never leave here, never
Let's stay in here forever
And when the streets are quiet
We'll walk out in the silence

I am very happy for the floor to change into an ocean. Foxx has done a set of 3 ambient albums "Cathedral Oceans" possibly referencing Debussy's gorgeous piano piece "La cath├ędrale engloutie"

Later in Foxx's album the Garden he had a song Europe after the Rain named after a Max Ernst painting:

In Europe after the rain
When the nights are warm and the summer sways
The stained glass echoing
The blossomed balconies and voices blow
On a shining wind

This music pierces me, it takes me to a seductive place from which I never want to leave, Tennyson's Temple of Art or Lotus Eaters.

Urban landscapes can be ugly and degrading, but if we live there we can either learn to cast a glamour over them and love them or dream of distant places that can feed our hunger for beauty and I feel both of these elements crystalise in John Foxx's work and lurk through the electro-pop genre as a whole.

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