Monday, 24 May 2010

Penthouse and Pavement

When I wasn't in the garden this weekend - barbecuing, removing the urban beach created when you combine young boys with a sandpit, and lolling - I was doing some youtubing. I have a number of vinyl records, in fact a whole collection, which I've never got round to updating in CD format. Youtube seemed a good place to go to rescue momentarily some favourite tracks from obsolescence.

I came across this video (below), Penthouse and Pavement by Heaven 17 from 1981. It's got to be one of the best synth tracks of the era, with an almighty synth solo about 1:55 in. But what really struck me is the video, which features what can only be described as yuppies: it's a fantasy about working in a slick, high-pressure job as a young, urban professional whilst engaging in industrial espionage and other betrayals. You could argue its intention was to be critical but the imagery overrides; it's glamourous.

This seems amazingly prescient for 1981. The conditions of the time were hardly conducive to this sort of dream of executive chic, white-collar stress portrayed as thrilling and epic - post-punk had only just spluttered out, unemployment was high, and austerity reigned. And the term yuppie didn't become current until a couple of years later, and then in the US.

I suppose that, in part, the look is inspired by Kraftwerk's industrial chic. But it feels more commercial than industrial - they're wearing sharp suits, not boiler suits. (By the way, has Europe, before or after Kraftwerk, had such an influence on British pop as the German synth combo? Ibiza?).

Watching it from this distance makes me wonder at how big ideas can arrive in places and ways that seem ephemeral, inconsequential, even trivial. An avant garde of the teenage bedroom, the street corner, the back room of pubs, the self-organised club night. Perhaps fantasies of young, aspiring and often unemployed pop stars helped precipitate privatisation, big bang and the '80s consumer culture as much as the ideas of monetarist economists?

In any event, at the very least the video's an interesting period piece and the music sounds as fresh and exciting as it ever did.



UPDATE: T pointed out this documentary was on last week, which I missed. You can watch it on the iPlayer until tomorrow (unless you download it). Serendipity or another example of the hive mind?

UPDATE 2: I watched the documentary. Interesting on Sheffield, a city I don't know. And Paul Morley agreed with me, pointing out how BEF was a branded small business and the whole look couldn't help itself in prefiguring the 80s - from Pavement to Penthouse, for some.

14 comments:

Sophie King said...

Mesmerising stuff. The hair! The typewriter! The eyeshadow!

malty said...

Krautrock, the daddy of them all still lives and breaths, somewhere in Koln's Mediapark, here's one of it's offspring's finest.
Personally I blame that twerp Conny, bring back Craig Douglas is what I say.

Brit said...

Ermm...Guess you had to be there :)

Sean said...

Cabaret Voltaire are the band that inspired the lot them.

the Limit club, Western works studios, Leadmill...You are putting a smile on my face today Garth.

Gaw said...

Sophie: But it seems like the day before yesterday...

Malty: I defer to your far greater knowledge. I must say I didn't have you down as a fan of electronica but you never cease to surprise and amaze.

Brit: Not enough guitars I guess (in fact, none).

Sean: Yeah, a few of them were from your part of the world weren't they? Human League for one.

Sean said...

I better get the vinyl out of the attic, I have most of the original 45s and 12" singles all ready to go on ebay, well done to the beeb for free advertising, I thought I would never get the opportunity to sell.

Sheffield seems an odd place from the outside, in a lot of ways its more of a oversized village than a city. There is not a week that goes by when I meet someone i went to school with, our someone who knew someone ect ect.

I love talking "Thatch" to the oldies, evil woman closing something down they did not like anyway..how dare she. "well its all pressing buttons these days" is another great line you get, when you point out that actually a lot of steel and engineering still goes on today in Sheffield, a surprising amount considering the general "Thatch killed it all" gloom

"you've done the house up nice, is it a ex council house?"..."yes we bought it in 84, something to give to the grankids"

Yup its an odd place, the people are very conservative with a big C.
A strange place with strange music perhaps?

malty said...

Hobsons choice Gaw, son born 1974 = like it or lump it, no problems with Kraftwerk and co, drew a line in the sand over the Dead Kennedys though, and Gary Newman

Vern said...

Sheffield later hosted Warp records, home of Aphex Twin, Squarepusher, Autechre and other electronic avant-gardeners. Though none of those artists actually come from Sheffield I believe.

Aside from Kraftwerk there's a band called Cluster who were a big influence on Eno & numerous others, but they never sold many records and thus their sound has always been mediated through other artists.

Brit said...

Aphex Twin is a Cornish madman. Selected Ambient Works Vol 1 is the finest piece of electronica ever made, one can never tire of it. Everything else he's done is a bloomin' racket.

Vern said...

There is some good stuff dotted across his other records, but liberally sprinkled with disagreeable noise. Squarepusher is from around Essex I believe & his 'Ultravisitor' is fairly awesome; Autechre from Rochdale.

worm said...

I quite like Richard Hawley, never really got Heaven 17 though, a bit 'northern' for me, in that being from cornwall, I couldn't really get into the northern 'weltanshauung' in the music (see also The Smiths, St. Etienne etc)

love a bit of Kraftwerk though, and Moroder, well...actually anything electronic really - as Brit says SAW1 is absolutely amazing

worm said...

ps. never thought I'd be on this blog discussing Aphex Twin and Autechre. Excellent!!

Gaw said...

I find Aphex Twin all a bit too disturbed for me. I think that people who can revel in that mentalism aren't scared enough. SAW1 is probably good but life's too short.

Worm, you cheeky monkey - are you trying to say I ain't trendy and that?

worm said...

not at all Gaw!!! I just love it that the very clever people who post on this blog on all sorts of intelligent topics can also talk about mentalist electronic music that sounds like biscuit tins falling down the stairs