The subtitle for this compilation is: “Formative European electronics 1974 - 1984, excursions in proto synth pop, DIY techno, noise and ambient explorations”. In 2016 Cherry Red released the Close To The Noise Floor compilation containing all British electronic music from about the same period. This 4CD compilation is the follow up, or better the companion release.
In the early days electronic music was the domain of composers like Karl-Heinz Stockhausen. It was created in special studio's and universities. It was well beyond the reach of any amateur or semi-professional musician. When Bob Moog and Don Buchla invented their synthesizers this opened the door for some new kids on the block. But only a tiny crack. The first generation of synthesizers (the Moog modular, the Mini-Moog, the ARPs, the Buchla and the EMS synthesizers) were still very expensive and especially difficult to use on stage.
But this all changed in the second half of the 1970s. First there were the Japanese manufacturers like Roland, Korg and Yamaha who entered the market with relatively low priced but still reliable gear. Second there was the punk movement around 1977. The punk movement itself was very suspicious of electronic instruments, but it was the DIY (Do it yourself) motto that opened the door widely in the post-punk. Suddenly, one did not have to be a virtuoso like Keith Emerson to play a synthesizer. Even as a non-musician one could be creative.
Both Germany and France are well represented on this compilation. Both these countries already had a rich electronic music scene in the early 1970s. One could easily fill a 4 CD compilation for Germany alone, so it is really the tip of the iceberg. Also the Netherlands and Belgium are well represented. Both these countries at the time were very oriented on the UK scene and quickly developed an electronic scene of their own. But also countries like Spain, Portugal and Greece are represented and even some countries (Russia, Romania and Latvia) that were behind the iron curtain at the time.
There are a lot of different styles: from ambient to industrial, from synth pop to experimental and noise. Some of it is very primitive. A lot of these groups and artists did not have the possibility to record in a professional studio. They used 4 track tape recorders. Many of the tracks were released on obscure cassettes. So this is not an easy listening compilation. Some of it may sound outdated. But in a time when anyone can record a professional sounding CD using only a laptop these recordings sound sincere and sympathetic, from people that were trying to fully exploit their limited equipment.
In the second half of the 1980s the nature of electronic music changed again. There was the rise of the digital sampler. And also synthesizers became digital. Synths no longer had knobs and sliders, but instead touch keys and a display with a menu. This suppressed the exploration and changed the nature of electronic music. The period 1974 - 1984 is the heyday of the analogue synthesizer.
Apart from a lot of obscure and forgotten bands and artists, there are also a few gems. Like Les Vampyrettes which is a collaboration between Holger Czukay and Conny Plank. The single Biomutanten is the only single they released under this name and is now very rare. The Swedish band Cosmic Overdose changed their name to Twice a Man and are still active.
Noise Reduction System is packed as a small book containing photographs and an introduction by or about the artists. This is not just a compilation - it is a document.
**** Erik Gibbels (edited by Tracy van Os van den Abeelen)
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