Playlist notes for Now They Are Dreams. Look away if you don’t want to know how the sausage is made.
It’s mid-2017 and I can’t tear myself away from the ongoing global geopolitical disaster of the collapse of the Western world. But my pile of songs is still growing and the loose threads at the end of ‘Tomorrow’ and ‘Solid State Revolution’ are nagging at me. There was a story telling itself and I wanted to find out how it ended.
Putting this fourth New Wave synthpop playlist together was the trickiest so far. Partly because my pool of viable Youtube music was rapidly thinning, and also because I had a number of problems I wanted to solve:
- although ‘Tomorrow’ didn’t really have a ‘viewpoint character’, the other two playlists had what I pictured as a female protagonist, starting from ‘Echo Beach’ through a kind of technological awakening as a (possibly) sentient supercomputer in ‘Destination Unknown’, and carrying through a trajectory a punk singer caught up in a global revolution from ‘Different Morning’ to ‘Pompeii’. I wanted to continue her adventures in the fictional narrative, which means I needed synthpop acts that weren’t male-heavy.
- ‘Radiant Energy’ had explored songs about computers and nuclear war, and ‘Solid State Revolution’ songs about punk music and rebellion, so for this one I wanted to catch another strand of the 80s, New Age ideas about space, benevolent otherworldly intelligences, and spiritual transformation. The defining image was ‘encounter with a UFO’, but the Spielberg type, not the scary type. I especially needed music that had uplifting and positive vibes to it, compared to despair or anger. These turned out to be harder to find than I thought.
- Like the others, I needed music that I could stand to listen to on repeat and that meshed well together. In practice that meant no harsh noise, no experimental soundscapes. The sonic tone I ended up with was a warm, mellow Moog-y sounds and musical motifs featuring swirling ‘circles’. I’m reasonably happy with that, as it gives each of the final three lists their own musical identity.
- I wanted to continue the imagery of dreams / virtual realities / machines that underlie the other playlists.
- In the end, I’ve got a mix that I think works as a whole. Although it doesn’t have quite as pronounced a tension-and-release spike as the others, and it’s more a gentle progression, it does divide roughly into a set of three movements: dreams, awakening and transformation.
01. Instant Music – Everybody’s Gotta Mutate (1981, Germany)
The song: This weird little gem instantly grabbed me and I knew it had to be the first track. It’s low-fi yet tech-heavy and the lyrics state the playlist concept: humanity has to evolve. I Also, it puts the strangeness right up front: if you can survive listening to this, you can probably cope with the more dance and meditative tracks later on. I picture this as the song our protagonist is singing as she’s recovering from her experiences during the climactic riots in ‘Solid State Revolution’. She’s seen some stuff, and wants to try a different approach. She may also not be entirely human herself, but it’s not stopping her.
Memories: Once again, I’m sure I’ve encountered this, but I couldn’t say when. Early 90s at a best guess.
02. Synthi and Gert – Sister Susie’s Synthesizer (1978, Germany)
The song: A novelty song maybe, but I love it. Continuing the ‘singer’ theme from the previous song. I’m pretty sure that the ‘Sister Susie’ the song is about is the legendary electronic music pioneer Suzanne Ciani, who was indeed achieving commercial fame in the late 1970s.
Memories: I remember hearing both this and ‘Ghostman’ in the 1980s! I’m sure I do.
03. Blondie – Fade Away and Radiate (1978, USA)
The song: This Blondie oddity caught my eye purely because of its title, but I love it. It leans heavily into the film nostalgia and proto-VR imagery of the late 70s/early-80s, linking to songs like ‘Elstree’ and ‘Videotheque’, and echoes the idea established earlier that our protagonist(s) may be living in some kind of simulated reality. For a long time I couldn’t get it to work because of its slowness, but here it acts as the pivot into a series of dreamlike songs.
Memories: None before this year.
04. Freur – Doot-Doot (1983, Wales)
The song: A weird gem I’ve covered previously on this blog , and I was very glad to find that I could slip it in here as part of the ‘dream sequence’. Its tone of gentle sadness and nostalgia fits well with Fade Away and Human Arcade.
Memories: As on the blog, I think 80s.
05. Daemion – Human Arcade (1982, England)
The song: Another gem and it links well, I think, to the dream sequence. Every time I hear this song I think it’s masterfully written and deserves an afterlife. The fears of a robot takeover and ‘the image brigade’ resonate even stronger with audiences in 2017 than they did in 1982.
Memories: As on the blog, I think 90s.
06. Delia Derbyshire – Mattachin (1963, England)
The song: I had to have some music from women in electronic music and who better than the legendary Delia ‘Doctor Who Theme’ Derbyshire who practically invented the field at the BBC Radiophonic Workshop? Even though 1963 is a little outside of my timeframe, Delia cast a long shadow through the 80s. I love everything about this piece: the warm tones, the medievel dance feel, the mechanical clicking as if it’s literally the song of ‘machines of loving grace’.
Memories: None before this year.
07. Eurythmics – It’s Alright (Baby’s Coming Back) (1985, England)
The song: I was so glad to remember this as this was one of the songs that got me started on trawling Youtube for cyberpunk themes in New Wave music. The song is perfect as is the video, and unlike many Eurythmics songs the emotion it expresses feels sincere and not ironic. This kickstarts the second major movement of the playlist, ‘awakening’. A presence is approaching, but from where?
Memories: None before this year.
08. Spectral Display – You Don’t Know (1982, Netherlands)
The song: The overlapping ’round’ structure of this song mirrors ‘Mattachin’ and carries through the ‘circle’ theme that appears elsewhere (although I didn’t plan that theme – it just sort of ’emerged’, but I’m really happy that it did).
Memories: Probably none.
09. Donna Summer – I Feel Love (1977, USA)
The song: I was shying away from overt disco but I Feel Love is the track that put Georgio Moroder on the map and is to Italo-Disco as Kraftwerk was to the German stream of techno. So it seemed like a natural echo of Radioactivity. And Donna Summer’s beautiful voice doesn’t hurt at all.
Memories: It was probably everywhere in the 1980s but I can’t say it made a huge impression on me.
10. The Techno Orchestra – Mechanical Ballet (1982, England)
The song: Another truly odd little anthem/ballad with space and esoteric/millennial Christian overtones from the 1980s due of Bev Sage and Steve Fairnie, who were very active in the early British techno scene and variously played as The Techno Twins, The Technos, The Techno Orchestra.
Memories: Sometime in the 1990s, I think?
11. Monsoon – Wings of the Dawn (Prem Kravita) (1982, England)
The song: If there were an alien space probe in the imaginary fictional narrative, this would be its theme song. With the meditative Indian tones here we move into the third movement, contact and transformation.
Memories: Not sure. I’m pretty sure I’ve heard it before, but
12. Planetary Peace – Medicine Wheel (1980, USA)
The song: There’s a whole story (and a free download) – as well as an upcoming album rerelease – to this amazing little piece of DIY New Age / Christian psychodelia, but I like it for its warm tones and its weirdly alien yet homegrown feel. This would play over the mothership landing. And now the metaphor of ‘circles’ pops into full view.
Memories: Not just this song – after downloading the ‘Synthesis’ album I feel as if I’ve met several of the tracks, and the cover image. But at this point I don’t even know. It just feels familiar.
13. Telepathic – We Are Telepathique (1982, France)
The song: After the contact experience comes the heightened sensation. Everything changes for humanity from this point. Or you could just say it’s a nice little romantic ballad. Either way, it’s a beautiful little song.
Memories: I want to say yes, 1980s? I seem to have a memory of being confused as to why the name of the band was the same as the name of the song, and why it was partly in French. Even Discogs doesn’t seem to know who ‘Telepathic’ were at this point, but I hope we find out soon! Were they a famous name doing a side project, or a tiny one-off?
14. Suzanne Ciani – System 55 (2015, USA)
The song: As soon as I learned about Suzanne Ciani I knew I NEEDED one of her tracks to pay off ‘Sister Susie’s Synthesizer’ and this is it. A promotion for the resurrected Moog company, but it’s the warm analog tones of the Moog as well as the link from past to present that sold it for me. I feel like this track is the musical soul of the playlist.
15. Peter Schilling – Major Tom (Coming Home) (1982, Germany)
The song: There’s like an entire library of Major Tom musical fanfiction by now but Peter Schilling’s ‘Major Tom (Coming Home)’ is everything I wanted in an album ender. An MTV-friendly piece of classic 80s-ian kitsch that also somehow is sincere in its wide-eyed awe about both space travel and the possibility of something far beyond. And Space Oddity is itself a reference to 2001, which was from an earlier short story, so it’s all references in the end.
Someone or something has finally achieved transcendence. It might well be David Bowie.
Memories: You couldn’t get away from this song in the 80s, but somehow we forgot.
16. Katrina and the Waves – Love Shine A Light (1997, England)
The song: It won the 1997 Eurovision Song Contest but if I read correctly the song itself was written in 1983 as a thirty-year anniversary anthem for the Samaritans organisation, so it really is a New Wave era song. If Suzanne Ciani is the musical soul of the list then this one is the lyrical soul. It’s the ‘end credits song’, but it’s so much more than that. It’s the future we’re aiming for.
Memories: Yeah I probably heard it on the TV in the late 90s, but it completely slipped from my head. I’m so glad I found it again.