Saturday, August 28, 2010

Strange Daze

For a couple of years in the mid-2000s there was a comedian on the circuit called Gary LeStrange. Actually, that's not strictly true. The character was called Gary LeStrange. His creator was called Waen Shepherd. Gary's/Waen's schtick was pretty good; LeStrange was supposedly a New Romantic/early electronic artist singing comedy songs about topics such as alienation and ennui. The character was fairly well-observed, the mannerisms and foibles of the likes of Gary Numan, Simon LeBon and Steve Strange were punctured mercilessly and, for the most part, accurately, in all respects save one. And that's that many of Gary's comedy songs of alienation and ennui were sung through a vocoder.

As some pointed out at the time of Gary's purple period, this wasn't really accurate. Because, although vocoders and talkboxes were used in electronic music in the late 70s and early 80s, they were the preserve of either Germans (Kraftwerk etc.), American R&B acts (notably Zapp) and rock acts like Peter Frampton and, later, Neil Young. They were, almost without exception, never used by the sort of acts that Gary LeStrange was celebrating/lampooning. Instead, acts like Soft Cell and The Human League gained much of their effect precisely because of the contrast between hard electronics and the frailties of the (Northern) male voice.

I was reminded of this when I watched LCD Soundsystem's recent performance on Later.
James Murphy's straining voice and demeanour exactly replicate the awkwardness of early British electronic music. And in my book, that's a compliment. I'm sure the effect is entirely deliberate. See if you agree below.

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