What does it sound like?:
Noise Reduction System is Cherry Red’s follow up to last year’s excellent Close To The Noise Floor, the subject of a very thorough Nights In by Metalmickey. That compilation focussed on the formative years of electronica in the UK. This one spreads its wings to travel across the whole of Europe, as its subtitle, Formative European Electronica 1974-1984, states. Artists from Germany, France, Netherlands, Italy, Spain, Austria, Switzerland, Belgium, Portugal, Russia, Finland, Sweden and Norway are included, 64 tracks over four CDs. It as comprehensive a collection of early techno, electro, synth-pop, industrial, ambient and noise experiments as you could wish to find, from obscurities to bigger names, such as Cluster, DAF, Yello and Vangelis.
As microchips were improved and increasingly mass produced, the synthesiser became within the financial reach of many a budding musician. The promise of ‘an orchestra at your fingertips’ was extremely attractive and when the cost was set against the price of a drum kit, bass and guitars, with the added bonus of easy portability, its popularity quickly rose. Of course, the noise it made was nothing like as sumptuous as a whole orchestra but was interesting and varied enough to stimulate a creative mind. Still, there is a rudimentary, DIY quality about most of these tracks. Kids all over Europe were coming up with a sound that was greasy, urban, buckled, rusty and smelling of diesel, more like the Arnold Schwarzenegger terminator than the sleek, shiny Robert Patrick T-1000. As such, electronica was initially imbued with a punk attitude, a tearing up of rule books, coming up with something defiant and exciting, but whereas the music of punk retained a basic rock structure, electronica was a new sound entirely. All bets were off.
It was an underground movement. Artists had no real outlet to sell their product other than ones they made themselves. They might emerge, blinking from their bedrooms with a cassette tape to share with friends. A number of like-minded souls might gather in a basement and share their material. Fortunately, they had Dave Henderson to champion their cause. He wrote a column in Sounds, called Wild Planet, documenting the rise of electronica as it grew from niche to mainstream. Sounds was very popular at the time and his easy writing style attracted welcome attention for these bands. He writes the comprehensive booklet for this collection, including potted histories of each band and details of how each track came into being.
There is a darkness at the heart of most of these tracks. Europe was in turmoil. The Eastern European acts sound especially spirited and were literally brave making records at all. The sound is generally bleak, even on an uptempo number, such as TV Treated by The Neon Judgement the vocalist seems desperate. There are relatively few vocals. Some are ‘found’ recordings, predating sampling, a lot is distorted beyond humanity but most of the rest is in a ripe baritone reminiscent of Phil Oakey. The lyrics are generally cautionary tales. Romantic by Cosmic Overdose starts with the cheery line ‘In a life of hypocrisy’ delivered by a voice spookily similar to Howard Devoto. Sleek ambience, as typified by Cluster’s Caramel, is at least a little disturbing and a lot of the industrial tracks feature squeals, squelches, screams and sirens. Some of the noise experiments sound like a toddler drawn to a bright on light and stumbling over an empty keyboard. However, throughout the set, there is a sense of exploring new musical territory. It’s as though this is abstract pop and dance music, with some of the warmth of Lowry’s matchstick men, the mischief of a Matisse painting with scissors and the depth of Rothko, all brought together in a Warhol factory.
Soon, these sounds would become ubiquitous, even more commonly heard than the electric guitar in the music of the 21st Century.
The last words go to Dave Henderson, describing Noise Reduction System as “Further Ruminations On The History Of Uneasy Listening.”
What does it all *mean*?
Cherry Red Records have done it again. A beautifully collated and packaged four CD set at a competitive price.
Goes well with…
This is solitary music, even when experienced in a basement mingle.
Might suit people who like…
Electronica of any kind. Neither Kraftwerk nor Neu are represented. They cast a big shadow of influence over many of these bands, but anyone interested in Noise Reduction System will already have their albums.
If you enjoyed Close To The Noise Floor, you’ll certainly like this.