Friday, 11 December 2015
Oliver: The Art of Noise - Instruments of Lightness [The Sequel - The S1000 Life Beyond Transformation mix] (5 January 1992)
You may have missed it back in 1991, I know I did, but it seems that The Art of Noise's star was back on the rise at that time. Ironic really given that their last original album for a decade was released two years earlier, but as 1991 was the year that dance music really cracked the mainstream, it may not be so surprising.
To children of the 80s, this "anti-group" were as much a part of that decade's musical landscape as yer Durans and Whams. Indeed, go up to a music fan of a certain age and start singing "DUM. DUM. DUM DUM DUM DUM DUM. DUM. DUM. DUM." and they will reply with the "La-la-la" refrain from their 1984 top ten hit, Close (To the Edit), a record which 31 years on has lost none of its ground breaking qualities regardless of how dated the Fairlight synthesisers sound. Shot through with a mix of absurdist humour, musical classicism, disturbing world views and a dancer's instinct, Art of Noise records were always an exhilarating experience to listen to. That mix of elements worked flawlessly together to prevent their material from ever seeming cold, dry, over-arch or dull. For me their sound in many ways is the 80s, you only need to look at their record sleeves for proof of that. But that mix of stabby orchestral fanfares, blurts and shouts sums up an aesthetic that while not remembered particularly fondly, encapsulates memories of adverts for those alcoholic drinks like Tico that were advertised in scorched European capital cities glimpsed through half-drawn blinds which gave sight to exotic models sipping their alcoholic gunk after applying body paint to their faces. Yes, it seemed ludicrous and awful at the time, but it's acquired an undeniable retro chic in the time since, in a way that the 90s have yet to do. Perhaps the link I've made there really did come about after former music journalist and manifesto-writer in residence for The Art of Noise, Paul Morley, left the collective, at which point this anarcho-sound project became in Morley's own words, a novelty act: getting Tom Jones to have a crack at Prince, putting together the definitive theme to The Krypton Factor or covering one of John Peel's favourite instrumentals. But whatever they did, it sounds like an Art of Noise record and completely unlike anyone else.
By 1989, The Art of Noise had gone their separate ways, but the new generation of dance DJs and acts that they had influenced were ready to keep their music in public consciousness with a wide array of remixes. 1991 saw an album of mixes from FON Studios in Sheffield including Carl Cox's take on Paranomia. Released as a 12-inch single, it included S1000's remix of a track from The Art of Noise's 1986 album, In Visible Silence. Instruments of Darkness in its original incarnation, is a slice of pessimistic mid-80s paranoia in which the grooves are interspersed with the fear staples of the age: nuclear war and apartheid in South Africa. However, depression is offset by that mix of offbeat humour and classical virtuosity. S1000's remix, like a number of their contemporaries' approaches to The Art of Noise's music throws all that away, apart from some bits and pieces, "Now the fuse is lit". Instead, we're drawn onto the dance floor and invited to lose ourselves in the beats and mix of tempos. The Art of Noise attempted to distort reality and look at it through their own
peculiar kaleidoscope, but in doing so, they would inspire other musicians, living in what seemed like a time of prolonged peace (The Cold War over, Nelson Mandela released) to make party music out of it. But then, I feel sure that it would have only been a matter of time before AoN, as I shall never call them again would have got there.
This nearly didn't make it on to the tape, I loved it on the recording, wasn't so keen when I listened to it in preparation for this post, but it won me over in the end and its contrast with the original is staggering. Peel called it Instruments of Darkness, but Discogs calls it Instruments of Lightness (The Sequel) which makes perfect sense when you consider the joy and optimism of the time. What a shame that we appear to be living in an age where the original could almost become a modern anthem.
Videos courtesy of Per Christian Frankplads and Adam Ant & Art of Noise.