Record Companies – Mute Records

Closing this mini-series out is a quick look at Daniel Miller‘s Mute Records, which, since its launch in 1978, has become one of the most cult, collectible labels. Initially devised as an engine to release Miller’s own electronic act The Normal, it has grown to house a huge roster of artists from a broad range of genres.

Key artists include Depeche Mode, Yazoo, Erasure, Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds, Moby, Goldfrapp, and more recently, New Order, but it has also housed some hugely influential underground artists, including Fad Gadget, Nitzer Ebb, and Laibach. The list could be endless. Many of those artists were lost when Mute was sold to EMI in 2002, and didn’t follow back when it regained its independence at the end of the decade, but the list of artists is still very strong.

Perhaps most notable in recent times is the now-legendary box set MUTE433, a compilation of different artists performing John Cage‘s 4’33”. Which is clearly brilliant, even if I don’t really want a copy (thanks all the same). By the time you read this, it might already be in the shops.

You can find out more about Mute by going to
http://mute.com/

Stowaway Heroes – Daniel Miller

Our first stowaway hero is Daniel Miller, boss of Mute Records, and one of the most influential and seemingly hands-off individuals in the world of electronic music. In his late twenties, he was working as a film editor, and scraped together enough money to buy a synthesiser. His resulting 1978 solo double a-side single T.V.O.D. / Warm Leatherette, released as The Normal, is fundamentally brilliant:

It’s not clear to me whether Miller actually intended for Mute to become a fully fledged record label or whether it was all supposed to just be a one-off, but always way ahead of the curve, he also came up with his own virtual group Silicon Teens, who released a couple of great singles including Memphis Tennessee:

(video removed)

But of course, Mute is most famous for the astonishing roster of artists who were signed over the decades that followed, including mainstream acts such as Depeche ModeYazooMobyNick CaveNew Order, underground and cult successes including Fad Gadget and I Start Counting, and even (briefly) Kraftwerk. And he didn’t completely keep his hands off their output either – here’s his take on Erasure‘s Supernature:

He also presented a radio show on Berlin’s Radio Eins and remains well respected throughout the music industry, despite the slightly questionable sale of Mute to EMI for £23 million in 2002 (which was fortunately rectified by a split in 2009). It’s rare for someone so influential to turn up in so many places but be so unknown. So he’s a worthy first hero for this blog – hats off to Daniel Miller.

Edited, 25 Feb 2018 – removed Silicon Teens video that is no longer available.

Artist of the Week – Depeche Mode

Trawling through the archives, I found this, the text I put together for Depeche Mode when they were featured as artist of the week on my old radio show Music for the Masses. I’ll apologise right now for any unintentional plagiarism, errors, or particularly rude statements about group members that follow.

Depeche Mode formed from a group of school friends in 1981, and the group was one of the first signings to Daniel Miller‘s Mute Records. Two of the singles from their first album Speak and SpellNew Life and Just Can’t Get Enough reached the top ten, but shortly after the release of the album, principal songwriter Vince Clarke decided to leave the band to pursue other projects. The band pulled together, and Martin Gore took over songwriting duties.

Over the course of the 1980s, Depeche Mode began to pick up a substantial underground following, and travelled much of western Europe recording, and across the world touring. They reached their live pinnacle in 1988, when 75,000 people packed out the Rose Bowl in Pasadena.

Throughout the 1990s, their following has continued to grow, and the quality of their music has continued to excel. Their 1990 album Violator yielded several substantial hits, and became the first of three number ones in the UK.

The mid-1990s saw them hit traumatic times, as they lost long-standing member Alan Wilder, leaving them with only Martin Gore, singer Dave Gahan, and general dogsbody Martin Fletcher, whose main function in the band seems to be to wax lyrical about their 1986 album Black Celebration.

At this time, Dave Gahan was going through extreme drug problems, and generally it was thought that the band would split up, but somehow they fought against the odds, and came back in 1997 with Ultra, one of their best albums to date.

Their must recent album Exciter was released in 2001, and saw them return to a more upbeat style for the first time in a decade, and after spending last year [2003] immersed in solo projects, they will be returning at the end of October [2004] with a triple CD package of old, new, and previously unreleased remixes.

The BRIT Awards 2011

For the first time, the BRIT Awards took place at The O2 Arena on 15th February 2011, now, according to the official website, with more live music than ever before. James Corden was the host, and the award was designed by Vivienne Westwood.

This post is part of a series about the history of the BRIT Awards. You can read about the 2010 ceremony here, and the 2012 ceremony next time.

MasterCard British Album of the Year

Presented by Roger Daltrey from The Who. Nominees:

  • Mumford & Sons – Sigh No More
  • Plan B – The Defamation of Strickland Banks
  • Take That – Progress
  • Tinie Tempah – Disc-Overy
  • The xx – xx

Winner: Mumford & Sons

British Single

Voted for by listeners of Capital Radio and users of iTunes, and presented by Alan Carr. Nominees:

  • Alexandra Burke feat. Pitbull – All Night Long
  • Matt Cardle – When We Collide
  • Cheryl Cole – Parachute
  • Taio Cruz – Dynamite
  • Florence + The Machine – You Got the Love
  • Olly Murs – Please Don’t Let Me Go
  • Plan B – She Said
  • Scouting for Girls – This Ain’t a Love Song
  • Tinie Tempah – Pass Out
  • The Wanted – All Time Low

Winner: Tinie Tempah

British Male Solo Artist

Presented by Dizzee Rascal. Nominees:

  • Plan B
  • Robert Plant
  • Mark Ronson
  • Tinie Tempah
  • Paul Weller

Winner: Plan B

British Female Solo Artist

Presented by Boy George. Nominees:

  • Cheryl Cole
  • Paloma Faith
  • Ellie Goulding
  • Laura Marling
  • Rumer

Winner: Laura Marling

British Group

Voted for by listeners of BBC Radio 2, and presented by Dermot O’Leary. Nominees:

  • Biffy Clyro
  • Gorillaz
  • Mumford & Sons
  • Take That
  • The xx

Winner: Take That

British Breakthrough Act

Voted for by listeners of BBC Radio 1, and presented by Fearne Cotton. Nominees:

  • Ellie Goulding
  • Mumford & Sons
  • Rumer
  • Tinie Tempah
  • The xx

Winner: Tinie Tempah

British Producer

Awarded alongside a couple of other producer awards at the Music Producers Guild Awards the week before the main ceremony. Nominees:

  • Markus Dravs
  • Ethan Johns
  • John Leckie
  • Mike Pela
  • Stuart Price

Winner: Markus Dravs

International Album

Presented by Boris Becker. Nominees:

  • Arcade Fire – The Suburbs
  • Eminem – Recovery
  • Cee Lo Green – The Lady Killer
  • Kings of Leon – Come Around Sundown
  • Katy Perry – Teenage Dream

Winner: Arcade Fire

International Male Solo Artist

Presented by Lewis Hamilton. Nominees:

  • Eminem
  • Cee Lo Green
  • David Guetta
  • Bruce Springsteen
  • Kanye West

Winner: Cee Lo Green

International Female Solo Artist

Presented by Cheryl Cole. Nominees:

  • Alicia Keys
  • Kylie Minogue
  • Katy Perry
  • Rihanna
  • Robyn

Winner: Rihanna

International Group

Presented by Simon Le Bon and John Taylor from Duran Duran. Nominees:

  • Arcade Fire
  • The Black Eyed Peas
  • Kings of Leon
  • The Script
  • Vampire Weekend

Winner: Arcade Fire

International Breakthrough Act

Voted for by viewers of MTV, and presented by Avril Lavigne and Will Young. Nominees:

  • Justin Bieber
  • Glee Cast
  • Bruno Mars
  • The National
  • The Temper Trap

Winner: Justin Bieber

Critics’ Choice

In association with War Child, and presented by Mark Ronson and Ellie Goulding. Nominees:

  • James Blake
  • Jessie J
  • The Vaccines

Winner: Jessie J

Outstanding Contribution

The BBC’s coverage (linked below) of the previous week’s Music Producers Guild Awards is a little confusing, as the entire event must have been. Was the Outstanding Contribution award part of the BRITs or of the Music Producers Guild event? Wikipedia thinks it was part of the BRITs…

My own interpretation of the situation is that there was no outstanding contribution award at the BRITs this year, but either way, the entirely justified winner was the founder of Mute Records, Daniel Miller, presented by Alison Goldfrapp, while Tony Visconti won the Innovation in Production award.

Performances

Further Reading / Viewing

Depeche Mode – Composition of Sound Demos

Depeche Mode, or Composition of Sound as they were called back in 1980, must have been an interesting bunch. They had a little twenty minute package of plinky plonky synth-based tracks to share with us, and they were really rather good.

First up is The Price of Love, with synth sounds borrowed from Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark. I’m not clear who’s singing here – it sounds as though it might be Vince Clarke. Either way, why did this never get released? In a way it sounds more like Yazoo than Depeche Mode, but that’s no bad thing.

Let’s Get Together reveals that they were listening to The Human League too, and I think has a very unconfident (but still pretty good) vocal from Dave Gahan. Again, it wouldn’t have sounded out of place on a Yazoo album.

Early live favourite Television Set comes next, featuring a vocal line lifted straight from Gary Numan, and clearly taking heavy influence from The Normal‘s T.V.O.D. Again, this is strong enough that you have to wonder slightly why record companies weren’t falling over one another to sign them. I suppose in 1980, they were still a little ahead of their time.

Reason Man is less strong, although you can still see some promise, and also the odd hint of New Life, while Dance of Modern Time is perhaps a good idea lacking somewhat in execution. The electro-swing of Tomorrow’s Dance does come as a bit of a surprise, and might have even lifted debut album Speak and Spell when it starts to get a little dull in places. Another great track.

The last in the collection is I Like It, which I can only assume was an attempt at bubblegum pop, and it actually almost works. It’s good to hear them experimenting with different ideas, and although this one may not be their finest hour, it’s still kind of fun.

There’s a separate set of demos floating around called Vince Clarke Demos, including an alternative version of Television Set, alongside two unreleased and seemingly untitled tracks. While it might have been tempting to write about those as a separate post, the entire collection comes to less than three minutes, so it probably isn’t really worth it. The vocal unreleased track doesn’t really work, although it has some nice elements here and there, while the final instrumental wouldn’t have sounded out of place at the end of an early Human League album.

As always, it’s a fascinating experience listening to any demos, particularly the ones that an enormous act were using to try and get signed. But it must have been an easy decision for Daniel Miller back in 1981 when he offered them a deal with Mute Records – the Composition of Sound Demos are totally brilliant. And for the record, Composition of Sound is a really good name for a band.

Five More Fascinating BRIT Awards Facts

Well you’ll have seen the ceremony by now of course, so here are some more of my “fascinating” facts…

Recognising the “Rest of the World”

Apart from one award in 1983, the BRITs didn’t fully separate Britain from the rest of the world until 1986, when Huey Lewis & the News received the first Best International Artist award. In 1989, Michael Jackson and Tracy Chapman were named the first Best International Solo Artists, but then in 1990, 1992, and 1993, there was only space for one combined Best International Solo Artist award, won by Neneh CherryPrince, and Prince respectively.

The International Breakthrough Artist (or Best International Newcomer) first turned up in 1988, and was won by Terence Trent D’Arby. The Best International Album award didn’t arrive until 2002, and the first winner was Kylie Minogue for Fever, although Michael Jackson had already won the Best Album award for Thriller in 1984.

BRIT Awards Luvvies

Some people just seem to walk the awards, and get nominated almost annually for the same award. Some of them even seem to win it annually. Here’s a quick selection:

  • Robbie Williams – won British Male Solo Artist in 1999, 2001, 2002, and 2003, as well as a whole heap of other stuff and nominations in the same category in 1998, 2006, and 2010. Phil Collins had been his predecessor for that award, winning in 1986, 1989, and 1990 with further nominations in 1992 and 1993.
  • Annie Lennox – astoundingly, won British Female Solo Artist in 1984, 1986, 1989, 1990, 1992, 1993, and 1996, plus a nomination in 2004, making her the most successful artist to win any single award. Lisa Stansfield (one win in 1991 but nominations in 1992, 1993, 1995, and 1998) and Alison Moyet (wins in 1985 and 1988) also tried to topple her crown but failed. PJ Harvey tried her hardest with nominations in 1994, 1996, 1999, 2001, 2002, 2005, and 2008, but failed to win any of them.
  • Jamiroquai – managed a Best Dance Act nomination 6 out of the 11 times it was awarded despite not even really being a dance act.
  • Robbie Williams again – won Best British Single with Take That in 1993, 1994, and 1996, and then solo in 1999, 2000, and 2001. And then again with Take That in 2007 and 2008, giving him a shelf full of eight awards in this category. He also got a good set of Best Video awards to go on the shelf below.
  • You might think there would be enough International Male Solo Artists for a bit of variety, but apparently not. Prince won in 1992, 1993, 1995, and 1996 (the last time as The Artist Formerly Known As Prince, and then he was nominated as The Artist in 1997 before he ran out of silly names). Then Beck took over, winning in 1997, 1999, and 2000 and being nominated in 2003, 2004, 2006, 2007, and 2009. Eminem won in 2001, 2003, and 2005, with two further nominations. Most recently, Kanye West won in 2006, 2008, and 2009. In the International Female Solo Artist category, things are nearly as repetitive, with multiple wins for BjörkKylie MinogueMadonna, and RihannaAlicia Keys has taken six nominations but no wins as yet.
  • U2 – won International Group in 1988, 1989, 1990, 1998, and 2001, with further nominations basically every year: 1992, 1993, 1994, 2005, and 2006. While they were taking a break, R.E.M. stepped in in 1992, 1993, and 1995 plus nominations in 1997, 1999, and 2000, before being replaced by Foo Fighters for 2008 and 2012 after unsuccessful nominations in 1996 and 2003.
  • Finally, the Outstanding Contribution is normally pretty free of repetition, right? Nope. The Beatles shared the award in 1977. Then John Lennon grabbed it posthumously in 1982. Then they came back again for it as a group in 1983. George Martin got it in 1984. Finally, Paul McCartney broke two decades of silence by grabbing it in 2008. The other people who think it’s OK to take it home more than once are Elton John and Queen.

Best Soundtrack or Original Cast Recording

It’s a bit of a shame that this award hasn’t been given since 2001. For sixteen years, it was handed out to the likes of Top GunPhantom of the OperaBatman (in 1990 and 1996), Twin PeaksTrainspotting, and American Beauty.

But soundtracks are a key part of music, so I think it is a shame that they don’t do this one any more…

Back from the Dead

From 1990 to 1998, there was a Best Producer award. Then from 1999 to 2010, there wasn’t. But now it’s back, and rightfully so. Previous winners include Dave Stewart out of EurythmicsTrevor HornPeter GabrielBrian Eno (twice), Nellee Hooper, and Youth.

The people behind the music generally remain forgotten by the BRITs. The first ever Outstanding Contribution award in 1977 was shared between The Beatles and EMI boss LG Wood. In 2011 Tony Visconti was given a rare special award for Innovation in Production. But the biggest surprise for me was the same year, and was largely forgotten about by the mainstream media, maybe because they didn’t know who he was. But the Outstanding Contribution award in 2011 was quite rightly given to Daniel Miller.

Also back from the dead is the Best Live Act award, won by U2 in 1993, Spice Girls (as Best Selling British Live Act) in 2000, and then MuseKaiser ChiefsMuse again, Take That, and Iron Maiden from 2005 to 2009, before inexplicably being axed again just as live music exploded in popularity.

Special Awards and Long Forgotten Awards

Occasionally, the BRITs decide to give an award to somebody just because they want to. Some of them are for charity deeds, or just generally for selling pretty well. Here’s a summary:

  • 1994 – Special Sales Award – Meat Loaf
  • 1996 – Freddie Mercury Award – Help! Project
  • 1996 – Artist of a Generation – Michael Jackson
  • 1998 – Freddie Mercury Award – Elton John
  • 1999 – Freddie Mercury Award – Jubilee 2000
  • 2005 – BRITs 25 – The Best Song Award – Robbie Williams – Angels
  • 2010 – BRITs Hits 30 – Spice Girls – Wannabe / Who Do You Think You Are
  • 2010 – BRITs Album of 30 Years – Oasis(What’s the Story) Morning Glory
  • 2011 – Innovation in Production – Tony Visconti

But to me a really fascinating moment was when I discovered by accident that there had once been a Best Comedy Recording award at the BRITs. I’m still not clear how long it went on for, or who most of the winners were, as it was largely undocumented, but I’d love to see that one come back.

Awards Week will continue tomorrow with something else that I make up on the spot.

Incidentally, apologies about some of the missing videos on recent posts – the BRITs official website got remodelled after I’d written the pieces, and some of the YouTube ones got removed. Never mind…

Edit: this post originally said the first international award was in 1986 – in fact there was one in 1983.

The Normal – T.V.O.D. / Warm Leatherette

In a way it seems a little odd writing a review of something that everyone has already heard. But it feels as though there are certain releases that by law must be included on a blog like this, and The Normal‘s one and only single is definitely one of those.

From the initial analogue strains of T.V.O.D. you’re immediately captured by the sounds. The perfect snare; the slightly bored sounding vocal; the bizarre lyrics. It doesn’t even make the three minute mark, but somehow it helps to define what pop music would become for the next decade.

From its multitude of appearances on compilations, I assume most people prefer Warm Leatherette, but for me it’s the weaker of the two tracks. The lyric is rather more evocative, with its astonishingly sordid and masochistic description of a car accident, although to be honest the pronunciation of ‘warm’ always annoys me very slightly.

The original 7″ was released back in 1978, and it has been reissued on countless formats every year or two since then. And quite rightly too – every home should own a copy. It’s on iTunes, but your best bet if you don’t own a copy yet is to track down the essential Mute Audio Documents 1978-1984 compilation (see here).

Somehow the ‘product’ of The Normal has never been diluted. No remixes have ever been officially released; there’s never been an album. The only other release they ever put out is the less captivating experimental 25-minute live performance recorded in 1980 at Western Runton Pavillion, Live at Western Runton Pavillion, but it’s still quite fun to listen to. But somehow the original single, Warm Leatherette / T.V.O.D., or whichever way round you prefer to hear the tracks, is a truly wonderful and essential listen.