10 November 2010
Techno Twins - Falling In Love Again & Karel Fialka - Armband
Year of Release: 1981
On the surface, there's no real connection between Karel Fialka and The Techno Twins, who I've lumped together for the benefit of this entry - to the best of my knowledge, they've never been on the same live bill, they probably don't attend each other's dinner parties, and it's entirely possible that they'd be insulted by the mere suggestion they had anything in common.
In my own lazy way, then, the main reason I've lumped them together is that for me, they represent a forgotten aspect of eighties electronic pop. The Human League, Soft Cell, and even OMD had a tenderness to their work which breathed human life into the electronic squall. The most timeless work of that period wasn't recently revived by many a Brit school contender and A&R department for no reason (although it's probably going off the boil again as we speak). Whilst there was a suspicion in some quarters around the late eighties that the earliest synthetic music would quickly become irrelevant, sounding like a decadent pop experiment from another era with no possible connection to the real 21st Century world, it's as strong as ever. In the same way that Joe Meek's earliest experiments with sound still resonate with a fragile hope, so does the work of most of the more mainstream eighties contenders.
Except... if you dig deep enough in the second hand store racks, oddities crop up all the time which seem to have no connection at all to the present. They invariably sound like relics, as far from "Open Your Heart" or "Tainted Love" is it's possible to get. They may as well have not even have been part of the same scene. The Techno Twins, for example, look strangely out of sorts in the picture above - almost like a fancy dress store approximation of Futurism or New Romanticism, the kind of blurred, misty photo you'd find on a party store package containing some novelty wigs. Their cover of "Falling in Love Again" is actually sweet enough, but what dates it is the way it uses electronics robotically and rigidly. It jitters and judders all over the place, sounding custom made for novelty robotic mime artists Tik and Tok. Instead of integrating the electronics smoothly into the melody and thinking about how the synthesisers might in the very near future be a crucial part of the pop story, it's led by the novelty of them. The Techno Twins have been credited with inventing the word "techno", but the way they used the instrumentation seemed bound by a "Tomorrow's World" past filled with awkward, jerky machinery. There is no humanity to be found here at all.
To me, this sounds fascinating purely because I can't think of a single artist making pop music remotely like this now. Bands like Stereolab may have looked backwards to a Moogy Wonderland past, but nobody at the moment seems to be mimicking the early eighties artists who had watched "Metropolis" rather too keenly.
Year of Release: 1979
And on to Karel Fialka, a man who would later hit the charts with "Hey Matthew", a song which some people have since claimed is a brilliant and perceptive pop song which juxtaposes the way children and adults watch the telly and view the world. I still find it bloody irritating myself.
Still, way before that he too sounded as if he existed in a futuristic dystopia, making singles like "Armband" which sounds simultaneously emotionally distant and also full of dread. Dramatic drums pound away from the very beginning, electronic seagulls screech away, and Karel has a good old rant about inflatable life-saving wear (which I think is almost certainly supposed to be a metaphor for the safety cushion of relationships). It has the same jerkiness and awkwardness as The Techno Twins record, and none of the gentle observations his later work would have. These days, it actually sounds faintly absurd, which is curious - he actually got on "Top of the Pops" with another single from this era ("The Eyes Have It") which achieved an enormous volume of airplay.
Flip side "Metal Urbane", on the other hand, focusses on the fact that we are all being watched by metal men. Poor Karel didn't realise that intelligent humanoid robots of the future might be made of silicon.
Beyond the aural evidence, it's worth noting that both these singles have another thing in common - they were flops marketed by the ailing Pye Records company (or Prelude Records and Tapes, to give the organisation its eighties name). Evidence would not suggest, however, that they had an entire roster filled with artists of this ilk.
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