What happens to a band when the future catches up with you? What do you do
when you were once so far ahead, and then the world caught up? You thrill
at festivals, like the upcoming Homelands bash, knocking out a greatest
hits set to a whole new generation getting off on their futures past.
The Human League's earliest records such as 'Being Boiled' were so
fantastically perfect, so cooly futuristic, so witty, so weird and yet so
pop that they still sound modern; like Kraftwerk they somehow contrived to
make something perfect and futuristic that no remix, no meddling, nowt,
could ever make them sound any better. When they first emerged in the late
seventies from Sheffield, a city that seemed to pulse to the neon of
Kraftwerk's dreams, they were the latest post punk weirdoes meddling with
fellow steel city future botherers Cabaret Voltaire bent and distorted
sound to fuck, the Human League did the same thing and turned it into
strange pop music.
They may have been three blokes fiddling about with synths and another
bloke with lopsided hair showing slides, but in those post-punk days
everyone was destroying rock 'n' roll and doing multi media stuff - that
was what people did in those days to strut their stuff.
Don't panic now dear reader, most gimps arsing round with post rock were
pretty dull people and are probably all bank managers now, but the Human
league were funny and they had great tunes, and Phil Oakey was a great pop
star. Girls fancied him, he had mad hair, and he had a great lugubrious
northern baritone. And when half the band fucked off to form Heaven 17,
Phil Oakey drafted in two brassy birds from a nightclub dancefloor and the
bloke who used to write the tunes for The Rezillos, and created one of the
biggest pop band of the eighties - now that's pop genius for you!
Like all the best pop bands of their era they had roots deep in the
Seventies underground. It might be a mighty long way down a dusty trail
from prog rock to Top Of The Pops but prog is where Oakey's heart is.
"I used to think of us as being a glam band but recently I've been telling
people that we a progressive band. When we were growing up we were
listening to things like Van Der Graaf Generator or early Genesis. We
liked The Nice, Emerson Lake and Palmer - that was a big influence on us
and we never talked about that."
But it was the wam bam thank you glam of Bowie and Roxy that almost
inevitably really made their mark.
"Bowie, Roxy we loved them. They saved our lives. We would have had a
miserable time if they had not come along when we were 17, 18. We were
desperate to find something that would apply to us and one day we went to
the university and saw Roxy Music and thought - yeah that's it."
Roxy Music became a formulative influence.
"What I always felt proud about
was that we didn't copy them directly. There was a band in Sheffield
called The Extras and they liked Roxy Music and they got a saxophonist and
guitarist and a synth player and were very much like Roxy Music. We said
that we wanted to be Roxy Music if they started now rather than emulate
what they did then."