Radiophonic Workshop, Future Islands, Pere Ubu: a guide to experimental artists on tour this autumn
This autumn's gig calendar also features Steve Beresford, Ilan Volkov, John Butcher and more as part of GIOFest
This article is from 2014.
Henry Northmore explores those doing something a little bit more experimental
The Radiophonic Workshop
British electronic music might have taken a very different path if it wasn't for the BBC Radiophonic Workshop. From its inception in 1958 as the Beeb's in-house special effects and music production unit wholly unconcerned about album sales or record deals, they were free to experiment with early synths and digital music. For many future producers, musicians and DJs, sitting in front of their radios and TVs, it was their first introduction to electronica.
'There was a certain amount of experimentation going on at the time and the BBC didn't mind putting out weird and wonderful programmes,' explains Roger Limb who joined the Workshop in 1972. 'As the years went by some of the radio producers moved to television and they took the Radiophonic Workshop with them.' By the 1960s, the Workshop was supplying some of TV's most iconic music, most famously Delia Derbyshire’s swooping theme to sci-fi staple Doctor Who (as well as concocting the warping sound effects for the TARDIS).
The pulsating title music was utterly groundbreaking. 'It helped to pioneer the public awareness of electronic music,' adds Limb. 'They wouldn't discourage us from experimenting. The role of the director was pretty crucial, and although we had a certain amount of freedom we had to deliver something that was appropriate for the programme.' They also composed music and sound effects for The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, Timewatch, Blakes 7, Quatermass and many more. 'I stopped counting after 150 TV themes,' says Limb.
Unfortunately due to budget cuts, the Workshop was decommissioned in 1998. 'The sorts of equipment we were using, the synths and digital equipment, became less and less expensive so more and more people were creating electronic music in their home studios and this was another reason why the Workshop closed down.'
However, their work was held in such high regard, with fans ranging from Roxy Music to Orbital and Andrew Weatherall, and public demand has brought them out of retirement. 'You'll hear some of the old stuff, then we have a big finish with the Doctor Who theme.'
The Art School, Glasgow, Wed 22 Oct.
On record, the Baltimore post-punk trio have carved some beautiful synth-pop tracks packed with emotion, as emphasised on recent single 'Seasons (Waiting on You)'. Live, they are transformed into something else, with frontman Sam Herring a whirling dervish, his vocals switching from sweet disco crooning to guttural death-metal howls, careering around the stage, fully committing to the theatricality and power of performance.
O2 ABC, Glasgow, Tue 4 Nov.
Rooted in the 70s psych-rock movement, Pere Ubu draw in elements of jazz, funk and experimental electronica. Refusing to conform, singer David Thomas is the only continuing member since their inception in 1975, and the revolving roster prevents their sound from going stagnant. Don't expect a greatest hits set, this tour will feature entirely new material. As Thomas says, 'if something works, why do it again?'
Voodoo Rooms, Edinburgh, Tue 18 Nov; CCA, Glasgow, Wed 19 Nov.
The clue is in the name as the Glasgow Improvisers Orchestra once again take over the CCA for a series of unique gigs and collaborations taking you into the outer realms of music at their annual GIOfest. Guests include Steve Beresford, Ilan Volkov, John Butcher, Maya Dunietz, Michael Duch, Lemur, Gino Robair and Maggie Nicols alongside a series of workshops and talks.
CCA, Glasgow, Thu 27–Sat 29 Nov.