Listening To The Music The Machines Make - Inventing Electronic Pop 1978-1983
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LISTENING TO THE MUSIC THE MACHINES MAKE

Listening To The Music The Machines Make - Inventing Electronic Pop 1978-1983

Setting out to chart a unique chapter in the history of popular music, Listening To The Music The Machines Make tells the story of a single generation of post-punk musicians, mavericks, visionaries and opportunists tinkering with primitive synthesisers in bedrooms, bedsits and basements around Britain, who assembled a potent cocktail of ideas and influences, took them apart, mixed them up, and reassembled them in entirely new ways to create a genuine golden age of British pop, and along the way creating some of the most enduring, iconic and influential records in pop history.

Krautrock provided a new sonic landscape, a bright post-war sound that echoed the technological advancements and ambitions of the day; glam rock provided colour, androgyny, glitter, glamour and a new type of pop star; disco supplied a spirit of hedonism and celebration, a glossy dance-floor sensibility, and an emerging remix and production culture; and punk rock enabled everything by rejecting previously held beliefs about talent and virtuosity, and providing a DIY attitude, a rebellious backbone and an embryonic infrastructure.

Drawing from years of extensive research, as well as from conversations with many of the movement’s key movers and shakers, Listening To The Music The Machines Make sets out to examine the multitude of influences that led to the synthpop revolution that spanned 1978 to 1983; tell the definitive story of a true golden age of British pop through the careers, releases and stories of the movement’s pioneers, mavericks and superstars; and explores the era’s lasting musical impact and enduring influence, including it’s role in the development of hip-hop, house, techno and beyond.

BUY THE BOOK

Listening To The Music The Machines Make was is now available to purchase from all good online and offline bookshops everywhere in the world.

There are currently no plans for translations of the book to be published in languages other than English, but if you are a publisher and you are interested in talking to us about translation rights then please get in touch using the contact form further down the page.

Listening To The Music The Machines Make - Inventing Electronic Pop 1978-1983

Listening To The Music The Machines Make was published in the UK on November 17th 2022 and is now available to purchase from all good online and offline bookshops.

BUY THE BOOK

With the exception of North America the English language version of Listening To The Music The Machines Make was published everywhere on November 17th 2022 and is now available to purchase from all good online and offline bookshops.

Listening To The Music The Machines Make was published in North America on January 26th 2023 and is now available to order from all good North American online and offline bookshops.

BUY THE BOOK

With the exception of North America the English language version of Listening To The Music The Machines Make was published everywhere on November 17th 2022 and is now available to purchase from all good online and offline bookshops.

SIGNED COPIES

You can buy signed copies of Listening To The Music The Machines Make from Lexer Music while stocks last.

REVIEWS, INTERVIEWS & EVENTS

BOOK REVIEWS

“Evans’ meticulous research is synthesised into a lively and informative narrative that finally grants the genre the respect that it deserves.” – A BOOK OF THE YEAR 2022 Classic Pop Magazine

“What a book.” – A BOOK OF THE YEAR 2022 Blitzed Magazine

“A narrative that’s as factual as it is fascinating.” – A BEST MUSIC BOOK OF THE YEAR 2023 Flood Magazine (USA)

“It’s a must-read.”Electronic Sound

“Meticulously researched … this book is essential.”SPIN

“A scroll of chronological, interwoven but often disparate stories featuring every purveyor of synthpop you can possibly think of … a must-read.”Record Collector

“A comprehensive and highly readable overview of a once-future … Listening To The Music The Machines Make is well-written: Evans has a warm, savvy approach, long on detail, with good humour.”MOJO

“”Listening to the Music the Machines make could be a sequel to Jon Savage’s ultimate U.K. punk bible England’s Dreaming … the defining tome for electronic pop””The Big Takeover Magazine (USA)

“Cleverly combines impressive research with an effortless and enjoyable readability, and is surely destined to become the definitive final word on this subject.”The Afterword

“I discovered many new delights, even though I lived through this musical era and thought I had heard most of its influential tracks. I was wrong, and I’m glad to have had my horizons expanded. Listening to the Music the Machines Make is commendable as an essential reference work and a thoughtful and affectionate in-depth examination of a vital musical genre.”Popmatters

“This book is a thorough, well-executed delight for fans of the electronic music genre and puts together all the pieces of information which you possibly already knew in the correct sequence, with myths dissolved and facts confirmed… a highly researched report of the music that machines make.”We Are Cult

“‘Listening To The Music The Machines Make’ would have been a great read if it had only listed the achievements of the inventors and creators, but Evans has combined his authoritative reseach with his genuine passion for the records themselves. You will find yourself going back to listen and re-evaluate those records too.”Outside Left

“It’s the way that Evans weaves and knits these familiar names into such a rich and enormous tapestry that makes the book stand out. It is also done with humour and an affable tone that adds a human touch to the academic … Plus, it’s so bloody lovely to immerse oneself into this utterly fascinating and key period in the evolution of electronic music once again and realise how important it is.”Louder Than War

“I love a ridiculously researched and detailed musical history, and Richard Evans’ epic tome on the early years of electronic pop in the UK certainly ticks that box … This aspect of British pop history has long been under-documented, so Evans’ labour of love is both timely and welcome.”Innate

“A much-needed synthesis of the stories told by the charts and music press in the early days of UK electronic pop … an excellent review of the dynamics at work in the culture of the time.”Cold War Night Life

PAST EVENTS

NOVEMBER 2022
6 – Listening To The Music The Machines Make – Dedicated Launch Event with Andy Bell (Erasure) and Martyn Ware (The Human League, BEF, Heaven 17 etc) – Queen’s Gate House, London [see pictures from this event here]

13 – Louder Than Words Festival with Martyn Ware (The Human League, BEF, Heaven 17 etc) and Professor Martin James, Manchester

APRIL 2023
23 – Bournemouth Writing Festival, Bournemouth, Dorset

JUNE 2023
7 – Sound Affects Night with Kevin Foakes (DJ Food) and Fiona Miller, Brighton

15 – Walthamstow Rock & Roll Book Club – In Conversation with Paul A Taylor (Mute Records), Waterstones Walthamstow, London

OCTOBER 2023
7 – Synthfest 2023, Sheffield – Book Signing

17 – Off The Shelf Festival of Words, Sheffield – Talk & Book Signing

FUTURE EVENTS

There are no events scheduled at the moment.

Please check back for news of further events, consider signing-up to the email newsletter below, and follow us on Facebook and Instagram for information as we have it.

Richard Evans is available for events, interviews and publicity. Please use the contact form below to get in touch.

INTERVIEWS

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Richard Evans has worked in the music industry for over thirty years in a variety of roles, including positions at London Records, Factory Records and MTV Europe. In 1998 he set up marketing consultancy The Fan Base and has been connecting musical artists with their audiences ever since. He is the founder of the This Is Not Retro website and record label and has worked for Andy Bell, Vince Clarke and Erasure since 2009. Richard is based in Dorset where he lives in perpetual fear of being asked what his favourite record is.

Richard Evans (Listening To The Music The Machines Make - Inventing Electronic Pop 1978-1983)

PHOTOGRAPH: Jason Selman

Where did the idea for Listening To The Music The Machines Make come from?

A good few years ago I was given the chance to write a book about 1980s pop culture which came out as Remember The 80s in 2008. That book was more pictures than writing but taking on the project made me realise that writing and publishing a book was something I could actually do and I actively started to think about ideas for another one.

I had the idea of a book which charted the rise of electronic pop a decade ago, partly because it’s a subject that is very close to my heart, but also because there wasn’t really a comparable book covering the same subject which felt like an opportunity, and then I just kind of tinkered around the edges of the idea for years, reading loads of other books that touched on the same subject, spending time researching the music press of the day and generally procrastinating like mad until at the end of 2019 I finally realised that it was time to either make a proper go of it or just abandon the whole idea.

At that point things moved quite fast. I put together a proposal document for the book which I showed to a friend who works in publishing, and she introduced me to a literary agent who liked the idea of the proposal and agreed to to show it to some publishers. A few were interested and I signed a contract to write the book for Omnibus Press not long after the start of the first lockdown in Spring 2020.

As it turned out that was the easy part. Then I had to write an actual book!

What was the writing process for the book?

I decided early on that I wanted to go back to original source material wherever I could because I wanted to tell the story of this period as it happened rather than collecting new accounts from the bands and artists I was writing about.

Part of the research for my book was reading new accounts of those same releases and events in other contemporary books and magazines and realising that those memories were sometimes a little unreliable: sometimes people just didn’t remember everything, which is fair enough after forty years; and sometimes people tweaked the tales a little to make themselves look better, which is understandable. Either way I thought it would be more accurate to go back to the original media from that period so I started by going to the British Library, who hold collections of pretty much every music magazine that was ever published, and just going through their materials from that time, looking for the original interviews, news reports and reviews which eventually formed the backbone of my research.

I don’t know how many days I spent at the British Library – it was a lot – but I ended up with literally thousands of photos of pages from the music and popular culture press from the late seventies and early eighties and I started to compare and contrast the various accounts and opinions and link everything together into a giant timeline. The writing part came when it was time to join all those pieces together into one big narrative.

You said that you signed the contract to write the book during the first lockdown in 2020, did that have an impact on the writing of the book?

It did. Some of that was positive, some of it less so. Although most of my work outside the book was largely unaffected by lockdown, when everything went quiet it did give me extra time to start working on the book. My biggest problem was that the British Library was closed for quite a long time which meant I couldn’t get cracking on the research as quickly as I needed to. Fortunately, as I needed to provide a sample section from the book to include in the proposal that was sent to prospective publishers the previous year, I had completed quite a lot of the research for the early part of the book before the pandemic hit, so I started with that, and with as much archive material as I could find online.

The British Library were brilliant in that they re-opened as soon as they could, and although their hours were very limited to start with, I was gradually able to catch-up. The frustration was that I was already writing the book before I had all the pieces in place, which meant I had to keep going back and re-writing sections of it as more research materials became available. It was kind of like writing a murder mystery but not actually knowing who the murderer was.

It’s a big book, and it covers loads of bands, artists and releases from the period, but was it possible to include everything and everyone you wanted to in the end?

I originally thought that the book would be more or less a complete account that would cover all the electronic pop releases from 1978 to 1983, the period the book covers, but I quickly realised that would be impossible, particularly across those last few years when electronic pop became such a huge part of the charts and everyone started putting out electronic records, or incorporating electronic elements into their records. AT that point I realised I was going to have to leave some people out. There were quite a few artists that I wrestled with myself over whether to include or not and ultimately decided leave out – I’m not going to mention them because that will draw attention to the fact that they’re not in the book – but I don’t think I’ve missed out anyone whose contribution to the story was crucial. I’m sure someone will tell me if I have.

What about the title of the book, Listening To The Music The Machines Make? Where does that come from?

‘Listening to the music the machines make’ is actually a line from an Ultravox song, ‘Just For A Moment’, which appeared on their Systems Of Romance album. I was listening to the album in the car one day and that song came on and I immediately loved the idea of using that lyric as the title for the book. I can remember pulling over so I could write it down. I was a bit worried that I wouldn’t be allowed to use his words in this way, but one of the best moments in the writing process came from approaching John Foxx with the idea of using his lyric and getting a lovely message back from him, allowing me to use it and wishing me luck with the book. Before that happened I did toy with the idea of using The Things That Dreams Are Made Of as a backup title. I originally wanted to use Electric Dreams but David Buckley beat me to it for his book about The Human League which comes out next year.

Did anything surprising come to light in the course of researching and writing the book? Anything that you didn’t previously know?

I think I was already at least aware of all the bands and artists I cover in the book, but I didn’t know all their music. It’s not a critical book in the sense that I don’t often judge the quality of the music that I write about, but in the course of writing it I did listen to everything I was writing about and that was interesting. But I think it was the events outside the music itself that were the most interesting, like the Musicians’ Union’s attempts to ban synthesisers for fear they were putting ‘proper’ musicians out of work.

Did listening to all that music throw up any discoveries for you? Bands or records that you might have missed at the time but which you particularly enjoyed?

I’m too young to have been properly aware of a lot of the original post-punk innovators at the time of their original releases so I did enjoy discovering things like Thomas Leer and Robert Rental. Although they only really only feature towards the end of my book, a band that I hadn’t really listened to previously, but who I came to love as a result of going through this process was Yello. I also realised that lots of my original knowledge of the bands I wrote about came from their singles rather than from knowing their albums, so it was great to broaden my musical knowledge by listening to lots of albums which I should have heard years ago but only discovered now.

You talked about wanting to go back to original sources and that’s where most of your material comes from but you did have access to some of the artists you were writing about didn’t you?

I did. I am extremely fortunate that I have worked for Erasure for well over a decade and it was brilliant that both Vince and Andy made themselves available to answer any questions, or provide any clarifications I needed throughout the writing process. Through working with Erasure I’ve also got to know people like Daniel Miller from Mute Records and the producer Gareth Jones, and they both made themselves available to answer any questions too. I’ve also interviewed lots of the artists I write about in my book for my This Is Not Retro website which gave me access to people like Martyn Ware, Rusty Egan and Neil Arthur who were also kind enough to help me out when I needed it. Plus over the long period of time that I was planning the book I frequently used those This Is Not Retro interviews to ask lots of artists extra questions specifically with the book in mind.

How did that all work, did you interview those people for the book?

Not really. It was usually more a case of my sending them questions by email. I tried not to ask anyone about anything they had already commented on at the time as I wanted to keep the narrative as pure as possible and I didn’t want to muddy the waters too much by adding things that might only be half remembered, but sometimes I just needed a little extra information which wasn’t available to me from my research, just to join the dots together.

How do you think people will receive the book?

I hope they like it. I really hope that people who already know a lot about this subject will find things in the book which they didn’t already know, and I hope that people who go into it not knowing so much will discover new music that they will enjoy, but my biggest hope is that I haven’t disappoined anyone by missing out anything crucial to them, or by interpreting or reporting any of the facts wrongly.

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Listening To The Music The Machines Make - Inventing Electronic Pop 1978-1983