Category Archives: Music

Un Printemps 1987

En écoutant la chronique de Mathieu Conquet ce matin sur France Culture, et les premières notes du groupe qu’il présentait, je me suis dit, propos ô combien original, que tout ceci sonnait furieusement « eighties ».

J’alors réalisé que trente ans plus tôt, à exactement la même époque j’écoutais Why Can’t I Be You?, le single (d)étonnant que The Cure venait de sortir. J’étais en vacances au fin fond du Berry, chez mes grands-parents, j’écoutais en boucle (mais sur une cassette audio) la face B « A Japanese Dream » et la batterie hypnotique de Boris Williams (il y avait des faces à l’époque, même si on était en était au CD single -voire même au CD Video single pour les plus chanceux, avec extended mix et clip réalisé par Tim Pope…).
WCIBU cover

WCIBU CD

Depuis peu, je trouvais U2 digne d’intérêt, avec « With or without you », single de The Joshua Tree sorti quelques semaines avant. Le grand, double « Kiss Me, Kiss Me, Kiss Me » n’était pas encore sorti, on ne m’avait pas encore fait écouter « The World Won’t Listen » des Smiths, qui devait changer bien des choses.

Je ne m’étais pas encore pris les deux grosses claques musicales de l’année, à savoir écouter (sur la géniale Sony FH-150R) « True Faith » de New Order (et plus généralement tout le double CD Substance, mais là c’est une autre histoire qui commence) puis, après l’été, « Never let met down again » de Depeche Mode, suivis de loin jusque-là.

Après, puisqu’il faut assumer tout son passé musical, c’est aussi l’année où Erasure a sorti « The Circus », les Pet Shop Boys « Actually » où INXS triomphait avec l’album Kick, et où je me disais, en écoutant Sting et Nothing like the Sun qu’un jour il faudrait que j’apprenne à connaître le jazz.

Je n’avais pas encore été déçu par The Cure et leur Disintegration, je nourrissais mon goût de l’anglais, je vivais à chaque écoute les énormes qualités du Mainstream de Lloyd Cole and the Commotions, injustement négligé. Et quand (comme tout le monde) je regarde sur Wikipedia, je me rappelle que 1987 verra aussi percer les Pixies et les Happy Mondays, R.E.M. devenir plus qu’un groupe de College Radio.

En France, on guettait les longues interviews et les annonces de sorties d’un nouveau mensuel en noir et blanc (« trop de couleur distrait le spectateur ») nommé Les Inrockuptibles, qui était en train de donner un coup de vieux aux magazines Best et Rock’n Folk.

C’était, en tout objectivité et sans bien sûr aucune nostalgie ni enjolivement dû au temps, une année musicalement exceptionnelle. Il y a(vait) des années comme ça.

 

 

 

 

1987

Thirty years ago, almost to the day, The Smiths released their non-album single ‘Shoplifters of the World, Unite’. This masterpiece hasn’t aged a bit, and remains one of the best songs of a musically thrilling decade. Johnny Marr’s music and Morrissey’s words made an unforgettable impression on me. I was 16.

blue-shoplifter

Record Covers | 01

The Durutti Column | Obey the Time | 1990

In the age of dematerialisation, and as strange as it may seem to the ‘digital native’ generation, there was a time when music meant records (yes, records, vinyl or CDs) which came along with genuine cover artwork.

The pioneering work of design consultancy 8vo and their use of typography had an influence on graphic design throughout the late 1980s and the early 1990s. One illustrative example is the artwork for The Durutti Column‘s ‘Obey the Time’ (Factory records catalogue FAC 274), released in 1990. Though musically probably not their best album, it was graphically innovative, with 8vo’s trademark use of negative letter-spacing.

obey-front-small

obey-back-small

Their approach to typography and their work in general are detailed in a book published in 2006, ‘On the outside.’

8vo-open

Video of the week | 03

New Order, ‘The Perfect Kiss’
Directed by Jonathan Demme | Cinematography by Henri Alekan

When this video was released in September 1985, it was to a certain extent a risky venture: to shoot an 11-minute video live, with live sound and no overdubs, for a unconventional song by a major, though not world-famous rock band was not the mainstream approach.

The Perfect Kiss | New Order

The vinyl, twelve-inch version of The Perfect Kiss (FAC 123)

The result is a unique piece of work/art, showing a band ill at ease in front of the camera, but playing great music which was to inspire dozens of bands in the decades to follow.

Jonathan Demme, who won the Academy Award for Best Director a few years later for ‘The Silence of the Lambs’, had previously directed the Talking Heads’ live performance ‘Stop Making Sense.’

It is worth noting that the cinematographer on this video was Henri Alekan who worked, just to name a few, on Jean Cocteau’s ‘Beauty and the Beast’ (La Belle et la Bête, 1946) or ‘Wings of Desire’ (Der Himmel über Berlin, 1987), by Wim Wenders.

Like all Factory Records releases or events, the video had a catalogue number, (FAC 321), which can be seen at the beginning of the video.

The full-length, studio version of this song appears on Substance, New Order’s 1987 major (2-CD) compilation. It is unedited, contrary to the 1985 album version which appears on Low-Life .

God Save La Marseillaise

methinks-union-jack

 

 

 

 

In these troubled times, and in the aftermath of the Paris Attacks, I found it both moving and elegant from BBC Radio 4 and historian Simon Schama to explain how, in their view, the French national anthem La Marseillaise was one of the ‘greatest national anthem[s] in the world’.

However, even though I am a French citizen, I think “God Save the Queen/King” is musically superior to La Marseillaise. And it inspired artists in a more brilliant way: compare Queen’s version of GSTQ with Serge Gainsbourg’s version of the French anthem. Not to mention the eponymous song by the Sex Pistols, one of the most powerful songs in rock history.

As always in music (but also design, contemporary literature, trade, humour etc.), the British beat the French!

When Concert Tickets were not pdf files

Not so long ago (or, to be perfectly honest, about two decades ago) when you bought concert tickets, you actually got paper tickets with similar graphic artwork as the album the artist was promoting on tour. Now all you get is a pdf file with a barcode.

Here are tickets I found in some bottom drawer. Regardless of the questionable variety of musical styles, the average price of a ticket when I started attending concerts was the equivalent of twenty euros, i.e. the third of what it costs now.

Design and Music

The Peter Saville Show was held between 23 May and 14 September 2003 at the Design Museum in London. It traced the career of the graphic design legend who created artwork for Factory Records, including record sleeves for, among others, New Order.
It was therefore natural that the latter composed the score.

The Peter Saville Show Soundtrack is an atypical, 30-minute atmospheric and instrumental piece of music which has little to do with any material released by the band before or after that.

If the usual New Order line-up was not complete, Peter Hook’s basslines are easily recognisable, alongside drummer/keyboard player Stephen Morris and guitarist Phil
Cunningham, who had just joined the band as a touring musician.

I was not lucky enough to see the exhibition at the time or get the soundtrack, but I ordered one of the 3,000 CD-only copies from a website selling rare vinyl records and CDs.

The Peter Saville Show CD
As you can read on the disc, it was designed, as well as the show in itself, by the
London-based graphic design agency Graphic Thought Facility.

Front sleeve:

The Peter Saville Show CD front

Back sleeve:

The Peter Saville Show CD back

Apparently there was no official exhibition catalogue, but the book Designed by Peter
Saville
was published by Frieze when the exhibition opened.

Video of the week | 02

Depeche gear, or history for sale

In 2011, ex-Depeche Mode virtuoso keyboard player Alan Wilder decided to put up for auction most of the equipment, records, instruments, clothes and memorabilia he collected over the years he spent with the band.

Whether he did that to pay taxes or out of resentment for his DM years, nobody knows (a little bit of both, probably). However, this brilliant musician turned into a salesman just for the length of four interesting videos shot prior to the auction, in which he presented several of the items listed in the catalogue, and that were to be sold shortly afterwards.

Two years later, Alan Wilder put up for sale his s-class Mercedes convertible. Even rock stars can be practical.

Typography, from record sleeve to headstone

Factory Records Palatine boxed set | Photo by @MPoitrenaud

In 1990, the independent, Manchester-based music label Factory, created and headed by Tony Wilson, released a four-piece boxed set featuring its major artists such as New Order, Joy Division, the Happy Mondays, OMD, James and many more. Typography and graphic design always were of prime importance at Factory. The typeface used for the sleek, uncluttered cover design was Factis 90, a font based on the Sans Serif version of Otl Aicher’s Rotis, which had been published two years before.

Rotis was quite innovative at the time, and has since been used by many firms or organisations for their brand identity. Based on my own experience, I think Rotis features some of the most beautifully designed letters taken individually (i.e. a, e, p, b) but does not really work for paragraphs or as a fully fledged typeface, as stated by type designer and author Erik Spiekermann.

Palatine

Anyway, the Rotis/Factis version used by Factory, and the overall Palatine design owed to John Macklin worked very well, as did the new factory logo designed by Julian Morey. It perfectly matched Factory’s minimal approach and refined style created over the years under the artistic direction of Peter Saville.

Factory Typeface CD Palatine

In 2010, three years after Tony Wilson’s death, Peter Saville and Factory-era associate Ben Kelly designed his headstone. The clean and modernist memorial may look a little bit like a stationery product or even a giant business card, but it definitely looks great, particularly thanks to the use of the right layout and typographical elements.

Cemeteries would probably look less bleak with such well-designed gravestones…