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Does the synthesiser have a role in the future of progressive music?

A photograph of MArk Shreeve in Liverpool 2016

Mark Shreeve is one of the UK’s most experienced and prolific electronic musicians. He has released 14 albums, including three for the Jive Electro label (erstwhile home of Tangerine Dream): Assassin (1984), Legion (1985) and Crash Head (1988). In 1994 he formed the group Redshift, who have since recorded 15 releases. As a prog fan in the 1970s (his first ever gig was watching Genesis perform in front of 34 people), and a writer and performer for almost as long, he’s well placed to muse on the past, present and future of the music he loves.

“When I was about 13, somebody played me some Pink Floyd and ELP and I was astounded. It was only later I realised that electronic music had a much longer history, and some of it was extremely experimental. Then I started to think it’d be great if someone did an album of just synthesisers. Then I heard Tonto’s Expanding Head Band, who I thought were amazing, and then Tangerine Dream and Klaus Schulze and all that lot.”

Shreeve has experienced first-hand how the technology that was once the future is in many ways now the past revisited, retooled and reimagined. There’s even a current trend for ‘reissuing’ vintage synths. It can even be argued that the meaning of the term ‘progressive’ has completely reversed, with several nostalgic nods to yesteryear emerging for each valiant attempt to forge something that might one day be considered ahead of its time.

“I’m at the stage of my life where I’d hope to be shocked by some things, but I’m not. Music is so fragmented and there’s so much stuff coming out that I find it difficult to wade through without disappearing into a morass of nothingness. How many new artists even view music as a major part of their lives as we did? There’s so much to do and I think for many, music is just a small part of that. At first there were sounds we hadn’t heard before, but now we’re almost at the other end of the spectrum – there’s almost no sound that can surprise you, whereas back then, another new synthesiser came out every few months. One of the electronic bands got one of them and maybe ELP got a batch of them and hey! – a whole set of new sounds, a new style of sound.”

But whether looking backwards or forwards, Shreeve obviously believes that reigning it in to fit in is always a mistake.

“One of the problems with the music we’re talking about that I’m very aware of – even in the 70s – is the absolute hatred that most of the mainstream press had for it. It was seen as overblown. There was a blues orthodoxy that said if it didn’t come from that then somehow it wasn’t real. Maybe the young electronic bands now that would be considered progressive will then have the same thing applied to them as the first wave did. But some of my favourite music is totally overblown, and why not? Go mental!”

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