Here’s my audio and visual reinterpretation of Erasure’s “why can’t we all just get along” opus. For this clip I have mangled the song’s original rather excellent video, with hopes that my liberties will be excused by those involved.
The remix was done almost exactly 30 years ago at the dawn of 1987, around the same time as Daniel Miller’s legendary lost Laibach mix, which would account for the presence of his EMS Vocoder 2000 in the studio.
The edit of this mix is unusual in that there is no edit at all for the first couple of minutes. Having looped a few bars of backing vocal over the rhythm section I enjoyed the resulting chord inversions so much I just let it run, even though the results were a tad dissonant for an Erasure track. In fact I got a phone call from Flood after delivering the mix, to warn me that this one “might not fly”, as he could imagine Vince Clarke gagging somewhat on the jazzy chord shapes. But it did fly, Vince didn’t gag…and here it is, pop pickers!
Sometime late in ’89 Laibach asked me to join them in Paris, where they were working on new material with French songsmith Bertrand Burgalat. This was too intriguing to pass up and I hopped over La Manche without further ado.
What I heard there was a most interesting hybrid of the Laibach vibe and French chanson. That may sound like a complete contradiction, but I happened to know about this propensity of theirs from a francophile mix tape they had given me a few years earlier while preparing the Opus Dei album. For their new work, to be titled Kapital, they wanted this French influence to help underline the album’s theme of the seductive language of capitalism.
Unfortunately the proximity and intensity of their work in Paris caused some tensions to arise between Bertrand and the lads from Ljubljana, and by the time we convened at Mute headquarters to mix the album they were having severe problems working together. Although I thought the mixes were sounding good, these tensions worsened to the point that the work was abandoned. I was gutted, although after my earlier experience with their rejection of the fabulous The Normal remix of Life is Life it wasn’t the biggest surprise.
I thought all of the work lost forever. The CD of Kapital I eventually heard didn’t include any of it; I recently discovered that this one song was included on the vinyl version, which makes that edition something of an industrial Smiley Smile in my book.
After that I stopped paying any attention to Laibach until earlier this year when I began this blog, and I found a heartening and inspiring performance they did just a few months ago in Sweden. Just like me, maybe their “silver fox” years will be their best!
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.
Enter the Slovenians, striding down Blomfield Road in their…alpine hunting outfits, right? Isn’t that what they said?
Laibach came in to mix their Nova Akropola album and everywhere they went heads were scratched in befuddlement. They’d turn up bleeding in their lederhosen or whatever, having just been beat up on the tube ride over, and you were tempted to say, well what did you expect? But these boys really did have the balls to live their art, having survived the suicide of their first singer, the imprisonment of their manager, and a lot of general harassment at the hands of the authorities in the dying years of Tito’s communist republic.
The audio collages of Nova Akropola were some of the most striking and beautiful I’d heard. I often think of this as their last “pure” album before they got Mute’s legal team and the cultural appropriation began in earnest.
Anyway we got on well and somehow I got to mix this track. I think it still sounds pretty damn good. There was also a rather lovely “female version” called Germania that was later released as the B-side of the Life is Life single. This was a collaboration with Graeme Revell of SPK and his wife Sinan Leong, with more vocals subsequently added by a local Slovenian girl, I think her name was Melania…