Franck Vigroux & Matthew Bourne - Radioland: Radio-Activity Revisited (The Leaf Label)

Posted by vibrations on 08-12-15

There are some things that just should not be remade. Psycho: completely unnecessary remake. The Ladykillers: what were the Coen Brothers thinking? Robocop: I would not buy that for a dollar. Music is a different matter: if you think about it every time an orchestra does a new recording of something like Beethoven’s 5th Symphony, it’s a remake. But what about re-imaginings? Actually, I once heard an amazing collage of different versions of the glorious 5th – but how would it work for something similarly innovative, but a bit more modern, like, say, Kraftwerk?

Radioland are Franck Vigroux, composer and sound artist, Antoine Schmitt, installation artist, and Leeds based Jazz pianist Matthew Bourne and they have come together to re-imagine the seminal 1975 Kraftwerk album ‘Radio-Activity’, which could be seen as sacrilege, but actually comes across as something more sacred, but a more secular sacred. The original tunes are there, pushed below the surface at times, but given a more freeform patina. Opener ‘Geiger Counter’, on the original, was simply a Geiger counter, but here it is given a beat, a pulse, a darkly digital life of its own.

As the album progresses, there are moments of dark and shade, of terror and serenity – it almost feels like the paranoia of growing up and living in the nuclear age. For example, ‘Antenna’ begins as a mix of vocodered vocals and a thudding clicking beat, before exploding into violent, brutal discord akin to Sunn o))), yet is followed by ‘Radio Stars’, a soothing, looping German voice over mild synths and a repeating pattern, like the pulse of a neutron star. Or take ‘Intermission’, a chaotic mix of emergency broadcasts like 65 Days of Static, followed by the Radiophonic melody of ‘Voice of Energy’, robotic yet reassuring.

In fact, a lot of the album seems to be the original work played through the voices it inspired – ‘Airwaves’ has the pop confidence of Pet Shop Boys whilst remaining Vangelic, ‘Ohm Sweet Ohm’ is pure Chemical Brothers and ‘Radioland’ itself is elegiac and sombre but in an Ultravoxian manner. It’s almost what would happen if this was a tribute album… which in a way it is.

At the core of the piece lies ‘Radio Activity’ itself, rendered voiceless, but the original lies there, sheathed in static and fury and covered in thirty years of digital scree, a found artefact from the beginnings of electronic music. A ghost in the machine. And it is a haunted, haunting piece of work, unsettling and unresolved, taken from a time where the future was uncertain, yet almost in reach. A marriage of the digital and analogue in a terrified new world.

Rob Wright