Track of the Week: The Normal / T.V.O.D. + Warm Leatherette (1978)

This edition of Track of the Week goes back to the Tigris and Euphrates of synthpop with The Normal’s 1978 single “T.V.O.D.”, featuring “Warm Leatherette” as the flip side. It is impossible to overstate the significance of this single on the creation of the minimal synthpop landscape emerging out of the postpunk environment of late 1970s Britain. Written and recorded by Mute label founder Daniel Miller, these tracks pulled the synthesizer out of the exclusively prog-rock and electronica genres and demonstrated what an untrained musician with about $300 could create.

Inspired by the 1973 near-future-dystopia novel Crash by J.G. Ballard, both sides immediately confront the listener with their raw, unprocessed (but very listenable) mixes. There is not on ounce of reverb to be found on either the instruments or the vocals (a hallmark of punk production), and the slightly modified “motorik” beat (often associated with groups like Kraftwerk) is rendered down to just its bare essentials. The results are hypnotic and oddly timeless, the minimalism of each track making you wonder if this is indeed from the 1970s.

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The entirety of the tracks was recorded with a MiniKorg 700s, a budget synth from that era that featured ring modulators and vibrato to create the unsettling effects found on this release. Sometimes it’s not the gear you have, but how much you can torture cool sounds out of it that counts!

Mute Records (along with Factory) would eventually become the vanguard for synthpop during the early postpunk period (1978-1984), and would include releases from D.A.F., Fad Gadget, Nick Cave, Yaz, Erasure, and Depeche Mode.

A DIY-era masterpiece, I urge you to put these tracks in your next synthpop party playlist – the right people will get it.

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Chris Frain produces and performs electronic music under the moniker Pattern Language. His EP, Total Squaresville, is available from Happy Robots Records (UK) at: [https://happyrobotsrecords.bandcamp.com/album/total-squaresville]

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