With the dawn of the New Year it was back to Paris to prepare the first solo album of Arnold Turboust, then on to Belgium to record it.
Arnold had put together an excellent collection of songs and arranged them with the help of then sideman, the late great Jacques “8 Ball” Bally. By this time I had a large library of Akai S900 sounds to augment the percussion tracks. I’d used some of them the previous year on the solo debut of Tess, a lovely song called Les Rizières.
Brussels must be one of the most comfortable cities in Europe and I found working there very pleasant. I remember running into Alan Rankine, I think he was living and working out there at the time. The indispensable Xavier “Tox” Geronimi joined us to fill out the sound. I even played drums on the exquisite A La Frontière de Ton Beau Pays.
All in all I was happy with it. Maybe we’d have been better off mixing in London, as the one track we did there, Margarita, came out very well. But I like the Belgium mix. Right now I’m working on a sequel of sorts, Arnold’s latest solo album, and it’s sounding fab.
Second single from the album was Francine’ Song. Etienne Daho wrote the lyrics to that one. I’m also including a link to an earlier remix of Arnold’s debut single Adelaide. This remix was done on the night of 26th April 1986, as Chenobyl melted down.
2018 update: this album has just been reissued in a sumptuous and unmissable new edition.
Imagine you could book The Normal to come and play a gig at your house. At the appointed hour Dan would turn up in a black London cab packed to the gills with all of the more portable items from his enormous synth collection, still enough to make the average analogue enthusiast weep tears of joy.
He’d get to work and before long a drum beat made of purely customized synth sounds would start up. The ARP Odyssey would spit out a bass sequence. The impossibly exotic Synton Syrinx would weave some strange mercurial sounds through the groove. Then he’d break out the EMS Suitcase Synthi and things would really start to take off.
That, dear reader, is what it was like doing a remix with Daniel Miller…plus I would get to join in and record the whole thing. The mixes I did with Daniel were the first truly radical remixes I worked on, in that we’d jettison major elements of the track and make new ones, as opposed to working with the existing track elements as I had previously. Making new backing track elements was something I hadn’t really felt the authority to do up to that point, but if Daniel Miller said it was OK, then fuck yeah it was OK.
The first remix we did together was Laibach’s Life is Life, soon after the Opus Dei album was completed. It was fantastic, it was brilliant, it was pure electronic beauty, pure The Normal. I wish I could play it to you but it has disappeared from history due to the fact that, as if to underline their perversity, the band rejected it.
The second remix I did with Daniel was this thumping version of Erasure’s steamy hit. The most radical thing about this mix was the enormous speed bump we gave it, from a grinding 110 BPM to an almost hi-energy 124. I wasn’t sure she could take it, Cap’n, and we nearly careened into twin planets Pinky and Perky, but she held steady, the dilithium crystals in my Akai S900 having been put through their paces as never before.
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.
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.