drwex (drwex) wrote,

I watched "Slaves to the Rhythm" and I'm even more of a Trevor Horn fan than I thought

tl;dr - in 2004 there was a concert staged in the UK for the Prince's Trust charity, to honor Trevor Horn's 25 years of work in music. A DVD of the concert was produced - it's two hours of amazing music full of memories from some of the great names in 80s pop. If you are a fan of any of the acts listed in this entry's tags you should get this DVD.

I saw that the DVD existed at some point and tossed onto my Amazon wishlist, where it languished for years. Somehow sweetmmeblue noticed it there and added it to our 2015 holiday gift exchange. I was amazed when I opened it, since I had utterly forgotten it existed.

Like most concert DVDs it's not something I'll watch straight through. I've been watching it a bit at a time in the background for the past couple weeks, skipping a few things (sorry, still not a big ABC fan) and rewinding some others. The interstitial bits are also gems, as the concert brings back people who did the original backing vocals or who were there in the studio making these hits happen.

The production is very big-stage, with a full cast of backing singers (male and female), a horn section, a woodwind section, a strings section. And yes, a harp. I've been skeptical of big orchestral staging in the past (most recently with Florence) but this time I think it works. Partly that's because Horn's production - and much of what he's been doing for 25 years has been working as a studio producer and his style includes these elements. And partly it's because the orchestral elements are used judiciously. I never felt overwhelmed, though I wonder what the live sound experience was like.

As with any big concert featuring this many names, the individual performers don't get a lot of stage time. Two songs is the standard, though some do three and some do only one. Grace Jones' "Slave to the Rhythm" is great but I would've loved to hear more from her. There's also no guest-performing, which is a seriously missed opportunity, I think. Horn plays with several of the acts (he's a bass player by trade - who knew?) but when you have that level of talent in the same auditorium it seems a waste not to see what they can do together.

Near the end, for example, the camera catches Jones rocking out in the wings while Frankie Goes to Hollywood is playing. I wish she'd gone on stage to sing with them.

You do get to see Steve Howe doing some amazing slide guitar work during "Welcome to the Pleasuredome" but that's all I saw on the DVD.

I can definitively date my first conscious encounter with Trevor Horn's music. It's move-in week at my undergrad and because it's early September everyone has their doors and windows open in the freshman dorm. Like lots of teenagers in those days we had stereo systems (yes, with actual record players, get offa my lawn, whippersnapper) and a rite of move-in week was setting up your system and playing your favorite music, ideally with the door open so that passers-by could hear your taste in pop and maybe have something to talk about, given we were all strangers.

Walking down the hall past one kid's room where nobody was hanging out I heard this strange electronica. I stopped to inquire, and then listen to what turned out to be "Video Killed the Radio Star." Shortly after, the song would be catapulted to fame as the anthem of MTV, which actually played music videos in those days (trustory!). But that September it was just what the weird kids listened to and Zach (as I'll call him) was another weird kid, like me.

I bought The Age of Plastic and then Adventures in Modern Recording and played them for anyone who'd sit still long enough. I was sad that I never got to see them live - at the time I had no concept of music made only for the studio recording, never intended to be performed in front of an audience. Sadly, Zach and I did not remain friends past freshman year.

Spin forward a couple years. By now I'm a regular visitor at a used record shop on South Street in Philly. No, not the one mentioned in "Punk Rock Girl" though in fact it was just a few doors from Zipperhead, where I also hung out a bit. This music shop was one of the classics of used media - it had a phenomenal collection and clerks who knew everything about everything in there, from the punk to the classical to the pop to the...

So one day I'm perusing, trying to figure out what to spend my few student dollars on, when I hear this being played on the store's speakers. It has a catchy beat right from the start (you did click that link, right?) and it goes on from there, blending vocal samples and different drum tracks that alternate on each others' downbeats (mizarchivist may recognize a similarity to another avante garde piece from about that time) and it's eight minutes long. About halfway through it breaks into orchestration; when I heard that, I put down the albums I had in my hand and went up to the counter to ask what it was.

"Art of Noise"
"Just buy it," he says, taking another copy from behind the counter and handing it to me.

I took it home and played it through. Then went back and played it again. I was transfixed, and in love. It was weird and tickled my fancy like very little else. I went back to that store and bought everything Art of Noise they had and then some. I did actually manage to see AoN live - just once, when they came around doing The Seduction of Claude Debussy. It's possible that somewhere I still have my tee shirt saying "Seduce me" from that show.

I've talked before about my lingering thing for Yes. Trevor Horn first got involved with them back in 1980, shortly after I discovered Buggles. For this concert they did two tracks from 90125 and Jon Anderson is absent from the stage and from the banter - then again, so is Rick Wakeman. It's kind of an odd choice of tracks, imo, but the album is some of the more pop-friendly work Yes has done and it's pretty clear how Horn's production style shaped the album's sound.

As mentioned, Grace Jones comes on (looking OMG fabulous!) to do "Slave to the Rhythm". She gets what might be the best on-screen intro ever. And I had no idea Horn had helped make that record.

Ditto tATu, who come on to do just their one big hit (sadly). Horn is not generally credited in descriptions of "All The Things She Said" but there he is with Lol Creme (who also majorly contributed to the Seduction of Claude Debussy production).

Pet Shop Boys are excellent - yes, he produced their work, too. But the end of the concert is the strongest with back-to-back triples from Seal (five albums with Horn) and then Frankie Goes to Hollywood. Three pop artists I listened to for many hours in the 80s, having no clue who was helping their work get out there. I also didn't know that Frankie had credited Horn as their "mentor".

As I said at the start, I'm more of a Trevor Horn fan than I realized.
Tags: abc, art of noise, belle & sebastian, buggles, dollar, frankie goes to hollywood, grace jones, lisa stansfield, music, pet shop boys, propaganda, seal, tatu, trevor horn, yes

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