Various: Close To The Noise Floor: Formative UK Electronica 1975-1984

A feast of synthetic sounds from the pre-digital electro-punk archives.

Close To The Noise Floor: Formative UK Electronica 1975-1984 album cover

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The genesis of British DIY electronica is a fascinating shadow history running in parallel with the prog, punk and post-punk scenes, uniting them in experimental intent and underground attitude.

This terrific, four-disc, 61-track anthology collects rare recordings from dozens of obscure reel-to-reel rebels and analogue anarchists. Their equipment was basic, their commercial prospects zero, their distribution networks often limited to sharing audio cassettes. And yet they accidentally invented the future.

There are some inevitable heavyweights here, notably Throbbing Gristle, and a few glaring omissions, chiefly Cabaret Voltaire. A handful of mini-classics by embryonic synth-pop stars also appear, from The Human League’s dystopian sci-fi frightmare Being Boiled to John Foxx’s gleaming futurist anthem A New Kind of Man and Blancmange’s serene Kraftwerkian instrumental Holiday Camp.

But the most interesting tracks come from total fringe oddballs like Zorch, Sea of Wires and Paul Nagle, progtronic alchemists who heroically strain to replicate Hawkwind or Vangelis on a dole-queue budget. Or avant-techno sound painters like Konstruktivist, Attrition and Mzui, who probe the squelchy limits of ambient abstraction years before Aphex Twin.

Former Mott The Hoople keyboard player Morgan Fisher makes a cameo as the fictional British Standard Unit, reworking Rod Stewart’s D’Ya Think I’m Sexy into jerky New Wave robo-pop, while Manchester pranksters Gerry and the Holograms lay down an early prototype for New Order’s Blue Monday on their self-titled dalek-voiced novelty number. Close To The Noise Floor covers the full spectrum from sublime to ridiculous, but the sheer range of sonic innovation, warped beauty and dark humour here is hugely impressive.

Stephen Dalton

Stephen Dalton has been writing about all things rock for more than 30 years, starting in the late Eighties at the New Musical Express (RIP) when it was still an annoyingly pompous analogue weekly paper printed on dead trees and sold in actual physical shops. For the last decade or so he has been a regular contributor to Classic Rock magazine. He has also written about music and film for Uncut, Vox, Prog, The Quietus, Electronic Sound, Rolling Stone, The Times, The London Evening Standard, Wallpaper, The Film Verdict, Sight and Sound, The Hollywood Reporter and others, including some even more disreputable publications.