New Order Play “Blue Monday”

New OrderListen to this track by dance floor-ready Manchester-based post-punk-meets-techno foursome New Order. It’s “Blue Monday”, a single put out originally in 1983 as a forerunner to their second full-length album; Power, Corruption, and Lies. The song would be re-mixed later in the decade and in decades to follow.

The band would be one that grew out of the ashes of another one, namely Joy Division. That former band would be blessed and cursed, laying down a template which is still followed today with any band interested in minimalist, subterranean, darkly textured guitar music. But with lead singer in Ian Curtis gone too soon as the result of illness and self-destruction, their body of work, potent though it is, would remain small.

In the aftermath, guitarist and singer Bernard Sumner took Curtis’ place up front, flanked by bassist Peter Hook, drummer and keyboardist and programmer Stephen Morris, and the addition of keyboardist and guitarist Gillian Gilbert. This track was penned by the whole band, and represented both a turning point for them, and for what would become known as “alternative dance” culture as well for the rest of the ’80s and beyond. But, how did they get from guitar-based post punk to electronic dance music in such a relative short span of time? Read more

Moby Performs ‘We Are All Made of Stars’

we_are_all_made_of_starsListen to this track by diminutive techno-nerd, DJ, multi-instrumentalist, and songwriter Richard Melville Hall, more famously known as Moby, that name taken from a character in the novel of his ancestor, Herman Melville author of Moby Dick. It’s his 2002 hit “We Are All Made Of Stars” as taken from his album 18.

When I first heard this song, with its Bowie-in-Berlin textures, and straight-ahead songwriting, I was both delighted as well as surprised.  Moby had put out his defining record in Play a few years earlier.  It was defined by its sample-based material, pulling from field recordings of blues and worksong performers, mixed with beats and pads, but also guitars.

I suppose I shouldn’t have been surprised that Moby would drift even further away from his pure-dance roots with this tune.  He’d hinted at it with songs like “South Side”, and of course his 1996 Animal Rights album which was a straight-ahead punk-metal record right on the heels of his early techno heyday.  He’d always held the rock world and the techno world in balance.  But, with Play,  his 1999 album, he managed to bring them together, and generate momentum for the follow-up record and this song, too.

Needless to say, despite the fact that it looked as though Moby had embraced commercialism by licensing so many tracks off of Play to various ad campaigns and movie soundtracks, it seems that he was still interested in exploring different sounds, and building upon what had come before.  And this effort paid off , with this song reaching #11 on the UK charts, and #4 on the billboard charts.  I love all of the phasing Robert Fripp-esque guitar, gauzy electronic textures, and Moby’s monotone and detached lead vocal that suits it perfectly.

Whether or not Moby actually pulled from David Bowie’s work as mentioned earlier, the two managed to strike up a friendship by the early 2000s, first by being neighbours in New York City, and later by touring together.  Who knows how these things develop, whether Bowie and Moby referenced each other’s styles on their songs before or after they had a neighbourly chat over the fence in their bathrobes.

For more information about Moby, investigate


Orbital re-mix the Doctor Who Theme

Here’s a clip of British techno-geeks Phil and Paul Hartnoll, AKA Orbital with their take on a British musical institution – the Doctor Who Theme.  The original theme was composed by Ron Grainer and realized in the studio by Delia Derbyshire in 1963 using electronics in the BBC Radiophonic workshop.  The tape machines are not unlike the ones used by the Beatles to create their 1966 track “Tomorrow Never Knows”, also revered among 90s turntablists.

Delia Derbyshire
The first British techno sampling wizard? Delia Derbyshire at work in the BBC Radiophonic workshop created music from sound effects both manually as well as with sine wave oscillators. The Doctor Who Theme composed by Ron Grainer and realized by Derbyshire was made into a whole piece through tape loop editing technology, with each note literally sampled from raw source material. She would go on to create themes for many British television shows, including the Doctor Who Theme in 1963, as well as working with techno-boffins The Aphex Twin and Sonic Boom before her death in July, 2001.

I’ve been a fan of the original show since I was a kid, the show being broadcast in Canada first on provincial TV, and then by American public television, beamed across the border.  I was always struck by the theme song – kind of ghostly, otherworldly – and I’d always wondered what instruments they were using to create it.  Basically, the original Doctor Who Theme is a series of sound affects moulded into a piece of music, including a middle-eight section.  To me, it’s a towering achievement in sound.  And the original piece, although translated by modern technology, is also the theme to the more recent version of the show, which picks up where the original show left off.  Geeks like continuity, you see.

The first time I’d seen Orbital perform this one was live at the 1999 Glastonbury festival.  They’d released their version of the theme on 2001’s the Altogether entitled “Doctor?”, but it was known to be a set favourite a few years earlier.  This is more of an affectionate tribute than it is a serious take on making a viable single.  And they would have been hard pressed to make this a representative piece.  But, it’s the affection that makes this piece so charming.  It reveals a funloving spirit, and a humanity that is often not associated with the genre. It’s also something of a tribute to Delia Derbyshire, who was able to find music in everyday objects, with the skill of being able to translate those sounds in accessible ways by using technology.  So, the affection is also about what she created; music as organized chaos, pulling as it does from unlikely sources while being appealing and enduring too.

For more about this band, check out the Orbital MySpace page.

Read more about Delia Derbyshire and the BBC Radiophonic Workshop.

And for more about Doctor Who, check out these fine websites too:

BBC – Original Doctor Who Series

BBC – New Doctor Who Series