BLEEP AND BOOSTER:
FUTURE SOUNDS OF SHEFFIELD
As part of ABC, Stephen Singleton helped write
‘The Lexicon Of Love’. He blames ‘LIVE AID’ for subsequently
burying innovation in Pop. Meanwhile – once upon a time
BLEEP AND BOOSTER were a boy and his robot companion
on TV. Stephen is Bleep. David Lewin is Booster.
‘The World Of Bleep And Booster’ represents the
Future Sounds of Sheffield with a major-label
album of Ambient Electro. This is Now…
There’s a Wurlitzer Jukebox in the kitchen. There’s a poster for Adam Faith’s 1960 movie ‘Beat Girl’
by the stairs – ‘it was the first soundtrack scored by John Barry’ he explains. And there’s a bendy-toy Topo Gigio beside the cooker, the saccharine-cute Italian mouse who caused a sensation on ‘Sunday Night At The London Palladium’
three or so decades ago.
There are Gold Disks on the wall too – an Australian award for ‘Lexicon Of Love’
, a UK one for ‘Beauty Stab’
, and an American one for “The Look Of Love” single. Stephen Singleton dismisses such ostentatious displays of his gilded past, ‘that’s for me Mum. THIS is the one that’s really important,’ and he digs out a carefully hoarded Gold Disk for “Jeepster’ by T Rex, and brandishes it with obvious pride.
A one-time member of ABC, Sheffield’s most opulent Popstrels, Stephen collects bric-a-brac of the past. Videos. Magazines. Memorabilia. But his music – the sound of Bleep And Booster, is here and now. Bleep And Booster are two Byte-Bonding Buddies who use synths as tinker-toys. To SF prophet JG Ballard ‘Sex times Technology equals the future’. He could have been talking about their first album, ‘The World Of Bleep And Booster’
. Stephen, and fellow electrophile David Lewin, create a unique product, without any of the obvious fake ingredients. “Find The Light” is a journey into the electrosphere on gigabytes of data-surge. Art, science and melting noise. “Electro City” visits Kraftwerk’s Electro Café, noodling with potions, notions and lotions somewhere deep inside rhythmic E-Space, and the stunning “Glock” is a cool chill-out autobahn to Sim City. But there’s no vocals – apart from treated voices and samples. Few heavy dance rhythms either.
‘Y-e-e-e-e-s’ he concedes. ‘That’s why I’m pleasantly surprised that we got a deal with a major record label. Because Bleep And Booster is an odd thing to pick up on.’
So, is it Chill-Out Music?
A careful pause. “Some people tell me they like to take drugs while they listen to it’ he laughs warily.
But, as Marc Bolan says on the Wurlitzer behind him, ‘Life’s A Gas…’
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It’s often forgotten that before the hits, ABC started out as part of Sheffield’s revolutionary electronics wave, the same movement that produced Human League and Cabaret Voltaire. ‘I suppose the change to ABC’s more Funky style, with strings and lush production, came about because we discovered that Martin (Fry) could sing’ he muses. ‘And going with that suited his voice more. Also we’d done a lot in the electronics field, and we’re the kind of people who always want to do different things. Not say ‘this is successful, we’re going to do this for ever and ever.’ We wanted to try something different. So we did that…’
But That Was Then. This Is Now.
‘Yes, I’ve gone right back to what I was doing when I first started. Partly because of the limitations – we don’t HAVE a singer anymore! So the way around that is to go back and do electronics. Now we make fairly complicated musical statements, but keep the voices really simple. We’ve not got a regular vocalist to work with, so we get friends to say a few words on a piece of tape. And chop them up. Or just write a few lines and get somebody to come in and speak them.’
Like “Genki”? The album – courtesy of London Records, is ignited by what resembles the soundtrack to a Japanese Manga animation, ‘Yes, I know all that ‘Akira’
stuff’ he grins. It’s a trapped memory of the future, with weird percussive effects, the cries of electronic birds. And her voice. Hard-Line meets Soft Focus. ‘But no, it came about when a Japanese girl sent me a tape through the post’ he explains across the kitchen, making coffee for us with ‘Aquapura’ designer water. ‘She’d put a little greeting message on the end of it. We’d already created an original track by writing a hi-hat pattern, then accidentally the computer transposed it into a ‘bell’ sound, and it created this really odd rhythmic and melodic… thing! So we started using that as a basis, and we thought ‘this sounds a bit oriental, where’s that tape with the Japanese girl on it?’
It works so brilliantly it’s haunting.
‘I suppose there’s an influence from things like Brian Eno’ he admits. ‘I’ve always been a big fan of his work. It’s like – every week there’s hundreds and hundreds of Dance records, Pop records or Rock records. But if you say ‘ambient’, there’s not really many people who work well in that particular area. Aphex Twin get a lot of publicity because he’s doing it – Richard Dean James, and there’s not a lot of other people that ARE doing it. Or if they are doing it, they’re doing it on such a small scale that it’s only their friends who find out about it.’
|Stephen Singleton at the foot of this early studio shot of Vice Versa|
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Following ABC, Stephen – with David, set up their own studio in Sheffield, while all around them the innovations of the early eighties atrophied. ‘‘Live Aid’ brought back a load of old bands’ he accuses. ‘Suddenly everybody rediscovered things that were popular ten years earlier. And that’s never really gone away. Elton John, Queen, Status Quo, and all those kind of people created a renewed Stadium Rock by doing that one gig. And people have stayed with that. While electronic music is back where it started, in a way…’
It mutated into House, Rave and Techno?
‘Yes’, with some satisfaction. ‘It became a mutation.’
Stephen and David’s studio, producing and remixing for a host of musicians, also became the launch-pad for the new adventure. For Bleep And Booster.
David Ball of Soft Cell is back in the Top Ten with Grid’s Techno Hoedown. Ex-Style Councillor Mick Talbot is also there as part of Galliano. Hype is where the Art is. The future is here, it’s hard, hot, and it’s media-jamming. There might yet be more awards to hang on the wall to delight Stephen’s Mum.
But wait… wasn’t ‘Bleep And Booster’ originally a kids TV programme – like ‘Button Moon’
and ‘The Clangers’
‘In a way’ says Stephen Singleton, who hoards memorabilia. ‘Bleep And Booster were a boy and his robot companion. They went to the Moon. It wasn’t a puppet thing, it was drawings and a story voice-over on ‘Blue Peter’
.’ ‘Blue Peter’? I think he’s wrong. Did ‘Blue Peter’
ever run cartoon strips? I think not. Evidence on a postcard please.
‘It’s a slightly silly name as well. We didn’t want to be Electrolux 3000 – a ‘serious’ electronic band. We wanted to be apart from all that. So I’m Bleep. And David’s Booster.’
As I leave, Sheffield is laid out beneath us. Like the Bleep And Booster title which dances Giorgio Moroder-hooks as addictive as Crack, the city has again become a kind of “Technotropolis”. Stephen Singleton lives here, just across the tracks from where he grew up.
‘When I was at school I used to have a newspaper-round, and I delivered papers to this house’ he smiles. ‘And now – I OWN it!’ He also owns a Wurlitzer Jukebox, a T Rex Gold Disk, a flexible Top Gigio – and an album you’re going to want to hear.
BLEEP AND BOOSTER:
Bleep And Booster: As easy as ABC.
Bleep And Booster know there are ten glands that control your destiny. It’s the secretion of these glands that insinuates through the bloodstream, fine-tuning all your energies.
YOU ARE ONLY AS HIP AS YOUR GLANDS.
Now modern digital audiophonics through the medium of Stephen Singleton and David Lewin has laid its hand on that kernel of all human life, and through this unique programme of sonic glandular regeneration, the application of rejuvenation opens up new horizons to all organic activity – sexual, cerebral, neural, bacteriological, pharmaceutical, and sub-atomic.
BLEEP AND BOOSTER BEGIN WHERE WORDS END.
Bleep And Booster hit the vital synapses with a VROOOM!!!, with the pure swirling song of hydrogen. Their music haunts with the odours of time stimulating your every senses, while propelled by its own integrated rhythmic chassis design.
Bleep And Booster know that those important glands include:
(1) Endocrinal Hydraulic Suspension: ‘GENKI’ – inaugurating this revolutionary audiophile program with scintillating cyborgasms of sound.
(2) Glandular Atomic: ‘SEXY’ – a nourishing miscegenation skilfully textured.
(3) Orchis Lysergic Acid Diethylamide: ‘FIND THE LIGHT’ – patenting a cure for a big disease with a little name.
(4) Endorphins: ‘ELECTRO CITY’ – a simulated landscape dislocating three-minute Pop heroics to infinity.
(5) Pituitary Adrenal: ‘BELLS’ – tones textually nodding, rejuvenating as they thrill.
(6) Thyroid: ‘GLOCK’ – regenerating as it startles, with Bizarre True-Life Adventures and Daring Investigations Into The Unknown.
(7) Incendiary Parathyroid: ‘AMBER TO ATOMS’ – no artful thefts here, but original ingredients especially formulated to seduce the listener into its slipstream.
(8) Pineal: ‘BOOSTERDROME’ – a stretch Cadillac of cut and slash, motorvating from the Academy Of Art Violence.
(9) Harmonic Hormonal: ‘TECHNOTROPOLIS’ – augmented with beatbox and jive to tickle the eardrum and twitter the imagination.
(10) Testosterone Sotto Voce: ‘WONDERS OF THE WORLD’ – this is the sound of your future, broadcasting from Sheffield to the world. ‘The shapes of things, their colours, lights and shades’
At the industry’s commercial core, and at millennia’s end, the vital pulse beats more slowly, declines into safe self-conscious self-referential style larceny, contrived and knowing. Even its so-called extremes are well-charted repetitions.
Bleep And Booster exist to pump up its vocabulary. To further the art of MORE.
Bleep And Booster know there are ten glands that control your destiny, and offer you this unique digital therapy in convenient easy-to-ingest CD form. Tuned in to the glandular and way on down through to the cellular. They drink at the Bars that go from here to the stars. They prefer to take the trans-Sirian by-pass using maps of Ganymede to warp-out past the S-Bend at gravity’s rim.
Bleep And Booster are the ten glands that Particle Accelerate your destiny by insinuating electro-secretions through the bloodstream, fine-tuning all your energies.
Through the magic of sonic digital therapy, they are making the world a purer place.
SPEND THAT CASH*BREAK THAT GRAVE*ONLY SUCKERS SAVE.
Bleep And Booster is a psychic diagram that lays its hand on the kernel of all human life.
SO KEEP SPLITTING THOSE QUARKS FELLA’S, OR WE’LL ALL FREEZE!
Bleep And Booster: as easy as ABC.
TEXT PREPARED BY ANDREW DARLINGTON
BLEEP AND BOOSTER:
OF A BOY AND HIS ROBOT
Sheffield is the home of British electronic music.
With VICE VERSA Stephen Singleton was part of its first wave,
alongside HUMAN LEAGUE and CABARET VOLTAIRE.
Then, as part of ABC, he helped write ‘The Lexicon Of Love’.
Now – with fellow electrophile David Lewin, he’s gone back to his
first love. And BLEEP AND BOOSTER’s first album
advances Ambient Electro into the future…
He inches the picture forward. Almost frame by frame. Elvis Presley. ‘Roustabout’
(1964). Above the funfair there’s a burst of coloured balloons bright against a blueness of sky. At that exact moment Stephen Singleton – former ABC founder member, pauses the image for long enough to photograph the screen.
Then a different video – ‘China: The Mao Years’
(1994). A man on a bicycle passes through the crowd, which parts obediently. At that exact moment he pauses it long enough for the photograph.
These will be parts of the stage slides projected behind Bleep And Booster. ‘We’re not too keen on video-walls and all that kind of technology’ he explains. I want to put a different kind of show together. Something like what Velvet Underground did when they were using slide projectors and sixteen-mm films as opposed to just hiring twenty video screens. Somebody said that sounds very ‘Sheffield’. And in a way, it is. But I don’t care.’
So why go for the anonymous throwaway sequences between the action? Why not go for stills of Elvis, or Mao – the iconic images? Because Sheffield’s Bleep And Booster – Stephen and David Lewin, avoid the obvious. It’s difficult to file them into recognised categories. Signed to London Records, the advance copy of their album ‘The World Of Bleep And Booster’
(1994, London 828-511.2) is on my Music Centre, and it’s Ambient Electro, with Kraftwerk overtones to shred your nervous system to a million fibres. An Orb with ‘A’-levels in Trance. In a world where nation shall network unto nation, they represent what SF Cyberpunk-writer William Gibson calls ‘Samizdata’. The electronic underground.
Stephen Singleton grins at the idea. That same grin you saw on the ABC videos for “Look Of Love” or “Poison Arrow”. The blonde quiff a little less extravagant. And he’s not shaved yet. But it’s that same grin. He’s come full circle.
‘The reason I started doing electronic music in the first place – before ABC, was because of the things that were happening in Sheffield, Human League and Cabaret Voltaire, plus the other electronic bands and Industrial-noise merchants, particularly Kraftwerk, Throbbing Gristle and Clock DVA. They were a big influence. Also, probably, it was a way around the fact that we couldn’t play very well. You can make an interesting noise with a synthesiser. We thought ‘this way I can create something that other people will be interested in hearing’.’
From such roots, by linking up with producer Trevor Horn, ABC became huge. Their ‘Lexicon Of Love’
the most highly-rated chart album of 1982. But midway through ‘Beauty Stab’
(November 1983) – the group’s self-produced follow-up, Stephen quit, unhappy with touring, and ill-at-ease with some aspects of its musical direction.
‘Now I’ve kind-of gone full circle’ he agrees. ‘And it’s good to go back to all those really old synths, and say ‘oh yes, the MS20 – it’d be nice to create some sounds with that’. But it’s even better to be working in electronic music NOW, rather than with guitars and drums. Because there’s been so many advances in the equipment too. I’m really enjoying it.’
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Titles like “Genki”, “Boosterdrome” or “Technotropolis” ripple and shimmer in a production sheen as clean as a Clearasil commercial. “Amber To Atoms” photographs infinity through the Hubble Telescope, then particle-accelerates the dance of mesons into strangely luminous Floydian astronomy. “Sexy” extends the mood in floods of virtual light muttering wordlessly of sensual mystery, capricious and strange. Until it shrugs silvery shoulders and undulates through hypnotic silences.
‘What I’m trying to do is NOT do the obvious thing with computers, drum loops or samples’ he explains. ‘To do things a little bit different. To experiment a little bit more. Spend more time making up unusual sounds and ideas. Rather than get the computer going, and use samples to make it sound like a drumkit, make a bass-sound like a bass guitar, or a piano-sound like a piano. I don’t see the point of trying to recreate something. You get Musician’s magazines that review new synths, they say ‘you can get an incredible violin on it’. Why bother? I’d rather get a violin player! Synthesiser players should be making up their own sounds. There are so many people who buy the instrument then never alter any of the preset sounds. You can buy a second-hand synth and it goes ‘plink’ – fourteen, oh yes, that’s the tympani. It’s been in there since it was new! Nobody’s ever changed it! And oh, there’s the string pad, and this pad and that pad. And yet there’s so much room there to create your own sounds and make up your own textures. And people don’t really DO that. So that’s what me and David have been trying to do.’
You can’t deny your roots. So long as you’re not trapped by them. Following ABC, Stephen (with David Lewin) set up a Sheffield studio, producing and remixing. They were responsible for introducing the samples into a ‘New Musical Express’
Single Of The Week – “Iron Guru” (1987, Native NTV23). And an album – ‘A Fracture In Time’
(February 1988, Native NTVCD29) by the UK Screaming Trees (a band that included Richard Hawley). ‘That was the first time I’d had chance to spend any time using samplers. The Steinberg Pro-24 Music Sequencer Package had come out. Before that, if you’d not got a £100,000 Fairlight then forget it. But they came out, and the Akai and Roland Samplers came out around the same time. Suddenly you didn’t have to be a member of Genesis to own one.’
Other productions followed. The studio worked out well. But sooner or later the musical restrictions were bound to tell. Bleep And Booster is the logical outcome, utilising ALL the resources of the studio.
‘The old approach to samples was that people took little bits from films’ he says. ‘Rather than now where they go ‘there’s a good dance beat on that record – we can nick that’, and then just put music on top of it. Our musical content and rhythms are grooves that we’ve devised ourselves. The samples in there are heavily disguised, or else just used as the vocal refrain. When we were doing Screaming Trees it was really fun to say ‘yeah, let’s just nick a great big chunk of Janet Jackson’, and put it in there – for the laugh. Then mix it with a bit of a Jackson Five song. It was kinda playing around with a new medium. But once everybody’s sampled everybody else to death, then it’s time to move on. When the sampler came out it came with a disc with a few sounds on – a piano, a violin, and this thing that sounded like a nose-flute. Peter Gabriel was probably one of the first people to have one of those samplers. “Sledgehammer” starts off with a ridiculous sample. Everybody went ‘Wow! What a great sound’, but now everybody who buys that sampler hears that same stupid sound. So the longer the instrument is around, the more people can get into it and create their own way of working with it. That’s why I prefer old synthesisers to the newer models, because with the old ones it’s a much more physical process than just typing in numbers, and saying ‘yes, right, I want to change the LFO’, and it’s so precise what you can change it to, sixty behind there and a sine-wave here. The whole process of making it squeak and squonk or whatever just by saying ‘what does this do?’. And changing the frequency…’
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The Las Vegas skyline. Swooping in low towards the Golden Nugget casino. Elvis, ‘Viva Las Vegas’
(1964). At the exact moment that the perspective focuses most clearly, but before the credits come up, he pauses the video for long enough to photograph the image.
But meanwhile – ‘Bleep And Booster’, wasn’t that a kid’s TV programme from the early seventies?
‘Yes. Bleep And Booster were a little boy and his robot companion. They went to the Moon. I vaguely remember the music, which was probably by the BBC Radiophonic Workshop. And when we started messing around with electronic music again, it SOUNDED like how I remember ‘Bleep And Booster’. So that’s what we became. And that’s what we’re doing now. For me – playing around with an MS20 synthesiser again is like a second childhood!’
‘BLEEP AND BOOSTER’S EIGHT-TRACK MAXI SINGLE
’ (1990, Tove Corporation TOVE1)
‘Astral Planning’, ‘Milky Way’, ‘Aural Crush’, ‘Genki Bells’, ‘Neon Glow’, ‘Gasoline’, ‘Flash Bulb’, Ambient Techno’
’ (1991, Tove Corporation TOVE3, 12” Single)
‘Technotropolis’ (with Janet Allaker, voice), ‘Sounds Of The Space Age (Mix 1), ‘Sounds Of The Space Age (Mix 2)
‘THE WORLD OF BLEEP AND BOOSTER
’ (1994, London Records 828-511.2)
‘Technotropolis’, ‘Sexy’, ‘Electro City’, ‘Genki’, ‘Find The Light’, ‘Boosterdrome’, ‘Glock’, ‘Amber To Atoms’, ‘Wonder Of The World’, ‘Piano 1’
BLEEP AND BOOSTER’S
JOURNEY TO THE MOON
Sheffield is the home of British electronic music. With VICE VERSA,
Stephen Singleton was part of its first wave, alongside HUMAN
LEAGUE and CABARET VOLTAIRE. Then, as part of ABC, came
Gold Disc’s for ‘The Lexicon Of Love’, “Poison Arrow” and “Look
Of Love”. Now – with fellow electrophile David Lewin, he’s gone
back to his first love. And BLEEP AND BOOSTER’s first album
‘The World Of Bleep And Booster’ advances Ambient Electro
into the future…
Surfing in LA, sure.
Surfing in Newquay, that’s fine too.
But Data-Surfing in Sheffield?
Bleep And Booster are Stephen Singleton and David Lewin.
Stephen was a founder member of ABC (he’s there on ‘Lexicon Of Love’
and ‘Beauty Stab’
). They record in their own Sheffield studio. But check in your preconceptions at the door. Listen to ‘The World Of Bleep And Booster’
from London Records – with titles like “Genki”, “Amber To Atoms” and “Technotropolis”, and it’s pure Ambient Techno of awesome power and imagination. Talk about perception versus reality! Like a branch of Global Village Communications theirs is the sound that wild-eyed fast-talking sonic virtual reality evangelists dream of. Date-Surfing from here… to your Earbuds.
Catch a wave.
It starts with this interview…
ANDREW DARLINGTON: First, who are Bleep And Booster. You’re not a one-man Aphex Twin set-up?
STEPHEN SINGLETON: No. There’s me and David Lewin. We’ve known each other, well – we knew each other even when I was in ABC. And we’ve been working together ever since. Started out by writing songs together and working with a girl singer called Gloria. We had this kind of funky type of outfit, and just wrote songs that were suited to her voice. Nothing happened with that. We got close to getting a record deal with Virgin. One day they wanted to sign us, the next day they didn’t. They were hot and cold. But once they’d been so hot for it, and then pulled out of the deal, other people who were interested thought ‘there must be something wrong with this,’ like they do. And that project just disintegrated. Gloria went to work in London and started doing session work for different people there, and being a backing vocalist on tours. While me and David stayed in Sheffield, and started working in production. We set up a studio together and just began recording anybody who wanted to make music. We’d record local musicians, your basic kinda Rock bands or Indie bands, producing and doing remixes. We were making our living that way. But we also wanted to do something where we could fully use all the equipment we’d got in the studio. A lot of it we never got the opportunity to use. We’d go ‘try this effect’, and people would say ‘I’m not having THAT all over my track’. So in our spare time we were also making music as a hobby, doing things that were quite a lot different to the way we worked when other bands came in. Experimenting with computer programs and making up odd different sounds and arrangements. So we did that, following our own lines of pleasure, and we started coming up with things that we liked. Then we thought – let’s put these out! Just set up an independent label. Which we did, and just put out small quantities of records. It was like going back to what I’d done previously with Neutron (the Indie label that launched Stephen’s first band Vice Versa, which went on to evolve into ABC). We did that without any big aim (Tove Corporation). We didn’t think it was music that was appropriate for a big record label. But once we’d put out a couple of singles people started phoning us up and saying ‘I like what you’re doing’. Eventually there was a bit of a buzz going around. And once the guy who co-owns London Records – Tracy Bennett, heard it, he wanted to sign us. He went with it, and since we signed the deal we’ve been working on material for the album. We have done one or two other bits of remixing too. When something’s come along and we’ve thought ‘yeah, we’ll have a go at that’. But most of the time we’ve just been concentrating on doing our own things. On doing Bleep And Booster. And that’s it. That’s how we got together and started doing it all, and progressed to where we’ve got to now.
AD: One of your earlier post-ABC production was an album (‘A Fracture In Time’
, February 1988, Native NTVCD29) for the UK Screaming Trees, which makes liberal use of sampling.
SS: Yes. Screaming Trees was the first LP we produced, and that was the first time I’d had chance to spend any time using samplers. The Steinberg Pro-24 Music Sequencer Packages had come out. Before that, if you’d not got a £100,000 Fairlight then forget it. But they came out, and then Akai and Roland Samplers came out around the same time, and we got offered the chance to work with Screaming Trees. We’d heard some of their things and thought they had some good ideas, so we just tried to take it a lot further. We really got into experimenting with what you could do with a sampler. The idea of using bits of other people’s sounds was like – ‘oh yeah, everybody’s doing THIS now.’ You’d got this machine that was a lot more accessible. You didn’t have to be a member of Genesis to own one. And you could do whatever you wanted to do. There was a whole wave of nicking other people’s stuff. If you liked a little groove in some song, then take it and incorporate it into something you’re doing. I really liked doing that LP. I was really pleased with the way it turned out. We then did a single with them – “Iron Guru”, and it was ‘New Musical Express’
‘Single Of The Week’, and for a brief time there everyone wanted to know who Screaming Trees were…
AD: There was also an American Screaming Trees.
SS: Yes. Both bands took their name from a foot-operated effects-pedal called ‘Screaming Trees’. So Screaming Trees – UK, changed their name to Success. But they didn’t really have a lot of success, which is a pity because they’d got some good ideas, and it was great working with them. They were one of the few bands I’ve worked with that were interested in trying to take their music somewhere else. A lot of bands get very precious about what they do, and don’t want to try anything different. Which is – I suppose, up to them, but it’s sometimes good if you’re collaborating with somebody else to see what ideas they’ve got. And at least try them out, rather than just saying ‘no, we don’t use synthesisers’ or ‘no, we don’t do this and we don’t do that.’ There shouldn’t be any rules about it. You should just go with it. And then keep whatever sounds good.
AD: In a way – with Bleep And Booster, you’ve gone back to your beginnings. You started out with electronics, and now – after all the Trevor Horn flirtations with ABC, you’ve reverted back to electronics again.
|Vice Versa, with Stephen centre|
SS: I’ve kind-of gone full circle. I think the reason for that is, when I started doing music, there were the things that were happening in Sheffield – Human League and Cabaret Voltaire, then there were other electronic bands – particularly Kraftwerk and people like Throbbing Gristle and Clock DVA, all those kind of Industrial noise merchants. They were a big influence. And also, probably, it was a way around the fact that we couldn’t play very well. You can make an interesting noise with a synthesiser. And we thought ‘oh yes, I can create something that maybe other people might be interested in hearing.’ The changes came about because when we were working in Vice Versa we discovered that Martin (Fry) could sing. Going more with the kinda funky style, the strings, and that kind of lush production suited his voice more. Also, we’d done a lot in the electronics field, and we’re the kind of people who always want to do different things. We don’t say ‘well, this is successful, so we’re going to do this for ever and ever.’ We wanted to try something different. So we did that. And yes, now I’ve gone right back to what I was doing when I first started. But it’s good to be working in electronic music NOW, rather than guitars and drums, because there’s been so many advances in the equipment that’s around. While there’s still a lot that can be done with synthesisers, in creating unusual sounds. Another factor is the self-imposed limitations within Bleep And Booster – we don’t have a singer anymore! So the way around that is to go back and do electronic stuff. We make fairly complicated musical statements, but keep the voices really simple. We’ve not got a vocalist to work with so we get friends to say a few words on a piece of tape. Then chop them up, or just write a few lines and get somebody to come in and speak them. And yes, it’s also good to go back to all those really old synths, and say ‘oh yes, the MS20 – it’d be nice to create some sounds with that.’ So I’m really enjoying it.
AD: I always thought that – following the success of Human League and the other early-eighties synthesiser bands, that electronics was going to be the shape of music for the rest of the decade. But instead we got the retro guitar backlash.
SS: ‘Live Aid’ brought back a load of old bands. Everybody rediscovered things that were popular ten years earlier. And that’s never really gone away. Elton John, Status Quo and Queen, and those kind of people created a renewed Stadium Rock by doing that one gig. And people have stayed with it. While electronic music is back where it started, in a way.
AD: It went into House, Techno and Rave.
SS: Yes. It became a mutation. Music can be a good laugh sometimes, if people want it to be. It can be serious too. It can be all kinds of things. It can be different music at different times. But what I’m trying to do now is not do the obvious things with computers or drum loops or samples. I’m trying to do things a little bit different. Experiment a little bit more. Spend more time making up unusual sounds and ideas. Rather than – what a lot of people do now, get the computer going and use samples to make it sound like a drumkit, make a bass sound like a bass guitar, or a piano-sound like a piano. They spend all that time RECREATING a sound! I don’t really see the point of trying to recreate something! You get Musician’s magazines that review a new synth, they go ‘you can get an incredible violin’ on it. I’d rather get a violin player! Synthesisers should be about making up all your own sounds. There are so many people who buy the instrument, then never alter any of the sounds that are preset there. You can buy a second-hand synth and it goes ‘plink’ – fourteen, oh yes, that’s the tympani. It’s been in there since it was new. Nobody’s ever changed it! And oh – there’s the string pad, and this pad and that pad. And yet there’s so much room there to create your own sounds and make up your own textures. And people don’t really DO that. So that’s what me and David have been trying to do. Make up all our own sounds and just experiment within that.
AD: Bleep And Booster is a unique product with none of the obvious commercial ingredients – no vocals (apart from treated voices and samples), few Dance rhythms either. Some tracks sound like ideal Chill-Out music.
SS: Some people tell me they like to take drugs while they listen to it (laughs). Y-e-e-e-s. I suppose there’s an influence of things like Brian Eno. I’ve always been a big fan of his work. Every week there’s hundreds and hundreds of Dance records, Pop records or Rock records. But if you say ‘ambient’, there’s not really many people working in that particular area. Ahpex Twin get a lot of publicity because he’s there doing it, and there’s not a lot of other people that ARE doing it. Or if they are doing it, they’re doing it on such a small scale that it’s only their friends who find out about it. Which is why I was pleasantly surprised that we got a deal with a major record deal. Because Bleep And Booster is an odd thing for them to pick up on.
AD: You use some interesting samples on the advance tape you sent me.
SS: There’s one or two there, yes (sly laugh).
AD: There’s Oppenheimer’s pronouncement on first seeing the Atomic bomb (‘I am become the destroyer of worlds…’).
SS: That track isn’t on the LP. We left that one off. The quote came from a television programme. We’d done the music, and it just seemed to work with it. We just piece things together from wherever. There are other things from different sources.
AD: The track called “Genki” is like the soundtrack from a Japanese Manga animation.
SS: Well – I know all that ‘Akira’ stuff. But it came about when a Japanese girl sent me a tape through the post. She’d put a little greeting message on the end of it. We’d already created an original track by writing a hi-hat pattern, but accidentally the hi-hat pattern got transposed in the computer so it played as a ‘bell’ instead, and it created this really odd rhythmic and melodic… thing! So we started using that as a basis, and we thought ‘this sounds a bit oriental, where’s that tape with the Japanese girl on it?’ The old approach to samples was that people took little bits from films. Rather than now where they go ‘there’s a good dance beat on that record – we can nick that,’ and then just put music on top of it. Our musical content and rhythms are grooves that we’ve made up ourselves. The samples in there are heavily disguised, or else just used as the vocal refrain. When we were doing Screaming Trees it was really fun to say ‘yeah, let’s just nick a great big chunk of Janet Jackson,’ and put it in there – for a laugh. Then mix it with a bit of a Jackson Five song. It was kinda playing around with a new medium. But once everybody’s sampled everybody else to death, then it’s time to move on. The longer the instrument is around, then the more creative people can get with it. When the sampler came out it came with a disc with a few sounds on – a piano, a violin, and this thing that sounded like a nose-flute or something. And Peter Gabriel was probably one of the first people to have one of those samplers. “Sledgehammer” starts off with a ridiculous sample. Everybody went ‘Wow, what a great sound’, but now everybody who buys that sampler hears that same stupid sound. So yeah, the longer the gear’s been around, then the more people can get into it and create their own way of working with it. That’s why I prefer old synthesisers to the newer models. Because with the old ones it’s a much more physical process than just typing in numbers, and saying ‘yes, right, I want to change the LFO (low-frequency oscillation),’ and it’s so precise what you can change it to, sixty behind there and a sine-wave here. The whole process of making it squeak and squonk or whatever just by saying ‘what does this do?’ and changing the frequency.
AD: To less esoteric matters – wasn’t ‘Bleep And Booster’ a kid’s TV puppet programme, similar to ‘The Clangers’?
SS: Yes. It’s from ‘Blue Peter’. Bleep And Booster were a little boy and his robot companion. They went to the Moon. It wasn’t puppets though. It was drawings, and a story voice-over. I remember it only very vaguely because it’s a memory from childhood. I remember the music, which was probably the BBC Radiophonic Workshop. When we started messing around with electronic music again it SOUNDED like how I remembered ‘Bleep And Booster’. So that’s what we became. It’s a slightly silly name as well. We didn’t want to be ‘Electrolux 3000’ – a ‘serious’ electronic band. There’s so many bands with the same kind of idea and the same kind of name. We wanted to be apart from all that. So I’m Bleep. And David is Booster.
AD: It’s also a name that taps into a shared generational memory.
SS: Yes. And that’s what we’re doing. For me – playing around with a MS20 synthesiser again is going back to second childhood.
AD: Is Sheffield still a musically active city?
SS: (long pause) There’s quite a few interesting bands around. I try to go and check different bands out when they play here. I go down to the ‘Hallamshire’ and ‘The Leadmill’ on special nights when people are playing there. But I don’t get the same feeling as I did in the early eighties when everybody was getting on ‘Top Of The Pops’ and getting record deals. There’s still good bands around. Although there’s not lots and lots of bands I can name and say ‘yeah, they’re really good, they’re great.’ A lot of them, to me, are quite disappointing. Not many new people are doing anything that makes me go ‘yeah, that’s DIFFERENT, GOOD, EXCITING.’ But all the original people are still working in music somewhere along the line. Richard (Kirk) from Cabaret Voltaire is still working in Sheffield. The guys out of Hula are around. They may be doing soundtrack music. They might not have the same kind of high profile. But they’re still working at it. People can carry on doing that for ages and ages. I sometimes think it’s really odd that I’ve been working and making music for… a l-o-n-g time. I get kids coming down to the studio saying they want to get ‘into music’, and I’ve been doing music almost since they were born! It seems really odd to be still doing it, still ENJOYING it, and still working with the same enthusiasm as when I started. Our first ‘Bleep And Booster’ LP is complex musically and rhythmically, but very simple lyrically. For the send LP – the next thing we do, I want to change that, and have simpler sounds and rhythms too. Make it more basic – but use more words, and tell more of a story. Just to keep it fresh for us. We want to keep changing what we do slightly – but we’ll still be Bleep And Booster. Some people have said Bleep And Booster sounds naïve, as if it’s been made by some eighteen-year-olds. And I’m glad about that. I don’t want it to sound jaded. It’s important that it sounds exciting, fresh, and yes – a little bit naïve too…