’86 and ’87 were hella busy years, and I’m going to need to backpedal a few times ere the full story be told. Let’s return to the summer of ’86, when Irmin Schmidt flew me out to Zurich to help mix his album Musk at Dusk.
Can. Was there ever a more perfect band? Supremely intelligent, endlessly grooving, infinitely spacious…for me they ticked all the boxes. All of their pre-Virgin albums are masterpieces, but my personal fave is Soon Over Babaluma, 40 minutes of effortless and timeless beauty, made by the core 4-piece of Irmin Schmidt, Holger Czukay, Jaki Liebezeit and the late great Michael Karoli. On this album Karoli takes lead vocals, except for one revelatory track, Come Sta, La Luna, which is voiced by Irmin. Imagine Albert Einstein floating in an orbiting recording studio, doing bong hits and working the mic; that’s what this amazing song sounds like.
Irmin was looking for a fresh pair of ears for the mix of his new album, and of course it was our ubiquitous mate Jah Wobble who put me onto Irmin’s wife Hildegaard, who is basically the boss of Can. So it was with enormous excitement that I journeyed down to their home in the South of France to meet up with them. I felt like a complete idiot next to Irmin but he seemed to like me well enough, and not too long after I found myself in a gorgeous studio in Zurich, marking up Jaki Liebezeit’s drum kit on the SSL with my chinagraph pencil, and slapping myself across the face periodically, lest it all turn out to be a dream.
If any Can fanatics out there have yet to check out Musk at Dusk I would urge you to do so, because all of the core members are represented on this album, and all of them together on the completely Can-like The Child in History. Meanwhile the track Love has the Dizzy Dizzy snare sound that puts my head in a different place every time I hear it.
So began my incredible “winter of darkness” (as I remember it) in which I co-produced the albums Opus Dei by Laibach and Children of God by Swans. The first of these projects began in November 1986 when I flew to Ljubljana, Slovenia (then still part of Yugoslavia) with my trusty Akai S900 and a big wad of cash to pay for studio sessions.
I’d been expecting to further refine the montage techniques used on Nova Akropola, and I suppose we did in a way. Laibach love to nonpluss, though, and they evidently enjoyed my reaction when breaking the news that they wanted to do a version of the Queen track One Vision in German, and versions of the cheesy euro hit Life is Life in both English and German.
As it turned out these songs were the centerpiece of the album and represented the future for Laibach. The more familiarly collaged tracks, good as they were, served as “entr’actes” to the main programme.
Laibach had the benefit of a wide pool of local talent at their disposal, and when I say that, I have honestly never seen anything like it: superb musicians, technical staff, cooks, growers of a certain smoking mixture favoured by your devoted auteur, you name it. A gifted orchestrator (code name Nightingale) who wished to remain anonymous for fear of reprisal did a truly spectacular job on the cover versions, and played a lot of the parts himself on an Emulator III. The local working men’s choir came down to sing on the German Life is Life (Leben Heißt Leben) which may be the single most glorious session I have ever conducted.
When I referred to this as my “winter of darkness” I’m certainly not referring to the mood of the sessions. Laibach were a particularly uproarious bunch, completely entertained by what they were doing, and my main memory of them is the sound of laughter.
One day two of the lads took me and a visiting Japanese girl up to the mountains to enjoy the spectacular scenery. We came upon a four-seater sleigh and without thinking twice jumped into it and plummeted down the mountainside with no idea of where we’d end up.
Another dream assignment, to do an alternative remix of Depeche’s rockingest (at that time) track, a personal fave of mine. I thought that Martin Gore’s song captured the claustrophobia of small town life particularly well with its motorik beat and cynical lyrics.
I determined to rough it up as much as I could, and I was immeasurably aided by a rack mounted ring modulator, a highly unusual item to come across. This was down at Britannia Row Studios in Islington; no doubt it was the plaything of one of the Pink Floyds or their crew.
Anyway I stuck it across a cue send and was soon happily turning synth leads into death rays and making Martin Gore sound like a dalek. Daniel Miller came down for an earful and I’ve always treasured his comment: “…it ain’t Hi Fi, but I like it”. Got me sussed there Dan.
My next Mute assignment was to mix two tracks in one night, the Erasure single Sometimes backed with Sexuality. This was Vince and Andy’s first big hit as a duo, and an important record for Mute.
What a fantastic gig, although I had to work like the devil, as an “alternative” mixer I wasn’t so much bound by the strictures of the dance floor or the need for radio play. My main job was to try to give a new spin on the track, to come up with something different. I was being paid to mess around with the multitracks of the gods.
On this occasion I had a new toy to help me out, an Akai S900 sampler, which I was still getting to know at this point. Here I mainly used it to loop and effect vocals.
As soon as you hear that undulating noise gate matrix, you know it’s a Rico joint.
After the previous year’s YoungbloodI guess everyone thought Torch Song were dying to score another sports movie. It was all a bit much for Laurie Mayer though, and she begged off of this one. I therefore took up the slack and helped William finish the score. We were so pressed for time that for years afterwards, “hotshot mode” meant we weren’t getting any sleep for a few days.
In fact this film has a lot going for it, not least the legendary Pelé. I’m sure a lot of young soccer enthusiasts really enjoyed it. William did some good work; four minutes into the movie the score kicks in rather nicely as our hero takes off in his car.