www.kindamuzik.net 1st August 2001
 

HUMAN THAT LEAGUE

There are a lot of crap bands cashing in on the latest 80s revival, but HUMAN LEAGUE (They've once again lost the 'The') are the real deal. Always at the forefront of musical developments, this Sheffield band now returns with a new album, 'Secrets'. High time for a career reappraisal and a chat with HUMAN LEAGUE.

tekst: Theo Ploeg

I still remember the sound of 'Don't You Want Me?' coming from my sister's bedroom. At that time I wasn't able to appreciate the sweet-sounding, but in a sense darkish, music. So my response was as simple as effective: making Metallica, Exciter, and Slayer fill my parents' house. Leaving no place for other sounds. Years later, however, I danced the night away to dark wave tracks like 'Being Boiled'. Also by that same band: Human League. A forgotten band from a forgotten era. Now, more than ten years later, Human League are back. Young bands like Zoot Woman and Ladytron already brought back the romance of the 80s. With it: their love for the bands that built the foundation of synthpop. In short: It is time for Human League to take back the lead. Their answer? The soon to be released album 'Secrets'.

 

Human League. Destined to a fixed place in every important music encyclopedia as the founders of synthpop. With 'Dare' as their commercially most successful album. But things change. With the rise of 80s-influenced bands like Zoot Woman and Ladytron, who keep stressing that albums like 'Reproduction', 'Travelogue', and 'Dare' are among the most important pop albums ever. Albums that are the foundation of a new genre of music: synthpop. And perhaps even a new kind of youth culture (Just imagine how much American alternative bands like Devo and Jane's Addiction were influenced by the British new romantics.). Human League's music is simply a very important soundtrack for the 80s. And the 80s are hot. Thanks to Stuart Price and friends. No wonder a new album by Human League is an important phenomenon. Especially because of the far-from-smashing last two records, 'Romantic?', released in 1990 and 'Octopus', released in 1995.

 

Human League started in the late 70s, when two computer operators from Sheffield, Ian Craig Marsh and Martyn Ware, joined forces. Soon Adrian Wright and Philip Oakey joined the group to release their first album, titled 'Reproduction', in 1978. Their first underground hit was 'Being Boiled', but the firstsuccessful track, 'Holiday 80', came from their second album 'Travelogue', that did very wellin the United Kingdom. But the musical differences between Oakey and Wright on one hand and Marsh and Ware on the other were growing. At the end of 1980 Marsh and Ware left the band to begin their more electronic-sounding British Electric Foundation, that was later transformed into Heaven 17. Oakey and Ware recruited two singers, Susan Sulley and Joanne Catherall, from Sheffield's Crazy Daisy disco and invented a new sort of commercial electronic pop music. The rest is history.

 

Human League conquered the world's charts with songs like 'Donšt You Want Me?', 'The Lebanon', and 'Mirror Man'. Catchy melodies, sometimes false-sounding synths, two sweet-sounding beautiful girls surrounding that strange-looking half-man, half-woman Philip Oakey with his weird looking haircut.

 

More then 20 years later Oakey's strange haircut has changed. Just like the music on 'Secrets', the band's new album, sounds different, more modern. No more false synths, but sophisticated techno and ambient influences lie in the heart of the new musical direction. "Just like all of our past albums, 'Secrets' represents our view on contemporary music. We never made music of the

past." No doubt Susan Sulley, referred to as Susan Anne Gayle in the CD's

 

inlay, is a girl of the world. Although she loves  shopping in Sheffield, her passion goes out to experiencing new countries, cultures, and music. Music she currently likes? The new Air, I Monster, Daft Punk, and - of course - the Artful Dodger. "2Step and some r&b is great music to dance to. I am fond of driving basslines and funky rhythms. Our music has a similar effect. The bassline is the force behind our tracks, but we add something catchy to it. The result is perfect to listen and dance to." That soft and catchy part of Human League is without a doubt a creation of Susan and Joanne. Both girls are not involved in writing the songs, but merely are softly pushing Philip Oakey in a more pleasant, better-to-listen-to direction. Susan laughs: "Philip is into German hardhouse, techno, some trance, very rough drum&bass, and other experimental electronic music. He is a real intellectual and wants to tell a story with his music. Not to the avantgarde and intellectuals, but to the little people. To tell them they have a choice in life." But, according to the record sales of the last two albums 'Romantic?' and 'Octopus', you can hardly say Oakey and Human League succeeded. In spite of that, Human League never thought of stopping. Susan: "We never made albums only to increase sale figures. All of our albums were experimental in a way, were totally different from the past albums. We never fulfilled the expectations of our record company, but that was part of being the Human League, and it still is. We are still making the music we like."

 

And others like. Unlike the situation around the release of their last album 'Octopus' back in 1995, Human League is hot. Craig David is playing their song 'Human' live on tour, Moby calls them his initial drive to start making music himself, and bands like Zoot Woman, Ladytron, and Les Rythmes Digitales mention Human League as one of the most important heirs of Kraftwerk and therefore one of the few bands that shaped the 80s musical landscape. Is there a better compliment possible after  years of being out of sight? "As a band we kind of disappeared, but our music lived on. We are finally getting credit for that. It is great to know that all those young people still like our older work. It is the confirmation that we did the right thing. It is also the confirmation that the European pop scene at the end of the 70s and in the 80s was more important than we always thought. Kraftwerk, Giorgio Moroder, and the Human League did had value." But what about the future? About 'Secrets'? Will it be a success? "I hope so and also think so. We tried to make a modern album. The songs contain influences from the music that is hot now, although we used our old synths as basic equipment. The bass and melodies sound very open, and most songs are quite catchy. And the remixes that Dave Bascombe and our producer Toy made of our first singles are very dancefloor-orientated. So I hope they will be played in the clubs too." But maybe there is more. Even in pure hitparade environments, 80s electro is hip. Just listen to Madonna's latest album (who did a bad thing in trying to mix electro with her own music) and Jennifer Lopez' new single (that ironically is much better than Madonna's electro flirt). Is Human League still able to storm the charts? "I listened to the last Jennifer Lopez and didn't like it that much. The music is too clean, too fixed, too emotionless. Our music has much more soul in it. But for me it is not important whether we are commercially successful or not. If success was important for me, I would have stopped with the Human League years ago. But on the other hand," Susan smiles, "it would be great to be successful again."