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.