Title: Is anybody still afraid of the Art of Noise?
Author: Ted Mico
Source: Melody Maker
Publish date: October 19, 1985
The world shuddered on its axis when THE ART OF NOISE left ZTT to become a ‘real band’. With jibes from Paul Morley still ringing in their ears, JJ and ANNE DUDLEY tell Ted Mico about the art of deception. Pictures by Peter Ashworth
AND first there was this. And then there was that. And then there was only dross. And then, there was more dross. And soon we were all neckhigh in the stuff. Vinyl dross that reaked of foeces. A tidal wave of automated musak that drowned our enthusiasm and waterlogged the sense of adrenalin, a sense, of importance.
Suddenly we were forced to find virtue in the mediocre — in Duran Duran, in Animal Nightlife, Christ, even in Latin Quarter! Nothing mattered. Everything was, merely a matter of routine.
And then quite unexpectedly the routine was disrupted. Disrupted by the sound of change — a sound that combined and condensed our aspirations.
And then there was The Art Of Noise.
“Into Battle With The Art Of Noise”. The trio of arts and noises fought valiantly. We listened eagerly. Before our very ears, the dross was dissolved in sweat, and excitement was restored with dance on a keen edge — music with force and finesse.
And then we asked ourselves “Who’s Afraid Of The Art Of Noise”? And right after that we asked “who the hell are the Art Of Noise”.
And that is what I’m here to tell you. What the hell is underneath their mask of anonymity, that shroud of secrecy.
The Art Of Noise are no spectre created by the fringe paranoia of Mr Morley (the greengrocer) and Mr Horn (the TV repair man). JJ (short for Jonathan Jeczalik) and Gary Langan (who is at present taking a short leave of absence in Germany) both founded the band as a hobby. Both were Trev’s right hand men (Mr Horn has two right hands) helping him to produce the likes of ABC, Malcolm McLaren, and Frankie. And then Anne Dudley, The TV man’s keyboard player/arranger joined the hobbying duo.
And then the hobby got out of hand. Within a digital moment, ZTT’s guiding light became a choke chain. Like all smart people, AON didn’t want to be strangled, and thus history, was made: The Art Of Noise became the first (but probably not the last) band to leave the mock-ivory towers of Basin Street, and head for the mock porcelain sanctuary of China Records.
But why all the past anonymity? Their invisibility had reached the point where no-one believed they really existed outside someone’s warped fantasy. I have seen the Art Of Noise. I understand why. Anne and JJ look like muesli-eating joggers who have lost their way through a country ramble. They may be in touch musically, but wardrobe-wise they’re very out of season. Original it is. Conventional pop it ain’t. JJ explains.
“There was a certain amount of paronoia at ZTT about how they were going to put across this act that didn’t compete with the likes of Frankie in terms of visual presentation. Mainly because we’re none of us gay and we didn’t think we could come across on the gay market “as being terribly gay.”
Effete, possibly. Self-confident, certainly. But gay… never. JJ cups his hand round his chin and ponders the meaning of stubble while Anne, the only known fan of BBC2’s “Gardener’s World” (there’s always one) expands on the blueprint for total Noise domination.
“You’ve got to remember that the anonymity was started with fairly serious intent. The whole basis of the music business had been turned on its head when people looked at fashion instead of music. They were misled into believing that groups like Culture Club were extremely avant-garde because of the look of the group, whereas in fact they are incredibly conservative.”
Lord knows why ZTT thought to muzzle the Noises voices. They seem more than capable of provoking a fight with pop fans. Anne continues with some sartorial eloquence. “We thought we’d fool the public entirely by not having an image at all, and that would make them concentrate on the music…”
I assumed that video had already massacred the radio star. Why settle for just music, when you could have music, style, and interesting videos to sample? And then there was The Art Of Vision…
JJ: “At the moment videos are much more boring than records. That’s why we intend to turn it all around. Our aim is that the video is going to be our new leader. Our singer. Just because we are now talking to certain members of the press doesn’t mean we want to be in the limelight. The videos and photos you will see won’t be any more revealing about ourselves as individuals.”
The three technocrats of the Fairlight empire seem very eager to avoid the price of fame — recognition.
JJ: “We don’t want to be mobbed in the newsagent in the morning.” JJ looks up and smiles at Anne. He looks like a cross between Magnus Pyke and Paddington Bear. Cute, but completely hair-brained.
”If you were mobbed every day, then one day one isn’t going to be mobbed and that would be completely intolerable.”
OVERALL this sounds somewhat fatalistic. Anne is more pragmatic: newsagent mobbing would simply be inconvenient.
Anne: “There you are going in to collect your copy of the Daily Splurge and you get attacked!!”
JJ: “We all want a simple life.”
“And the Guardian,” Anne interrupts. Listen carefully and you may hear a faint note of sarcasm. Listen more carefully and you may note a semi-quaver of truth.
JJ: “We may remain unseen, but we will replace what we used to have with a closer visual linkup which will cut the crap and make our form of entertainment more acceptable and more palpable.
More palpable than what?
JJ: “Than wading through mispelt, incorrectly punctuated badly-phrased cribbings from German Existentialists which personally I think is bleep, bleep, bleep.”
Shoot Busby!! I believe we have arrived have arrived at the home of Mr “Bleep” Morley — the erstwhile moving finger, and now but a staid executive ink blot. The AON and Paul never really saw eye to eye, and certainly never danced cheek to cheek. Paul never liked Mahler’s third album.
JJ: “Morley and I would talk about David Gower’s cricketing strokes, but I’m afraid after that there wasn’t much meeting ground between us.”
How much more meeting ground does any man require?
“I suppose JJ’s alcohol consumption just wasn’t up to it,” Anne mutters to evade the microphone. Is this the AON venting spleen? Of course not! They are far too well-mannered, well-heeled, and concerned for other’s well-being. Especially that of the Buggle-eyed wizard Mr Horn.
JJ: “Basically Trevor is solely responsible for our intervention into pop in the first place. In fact, Trevor is probably responsible for the entire history of the western world.”
After their initial intervention, the AON hi-jacked bric-a-brac from the past 300 years of music and non-music, refurbished it, reshaped it, refined it, and finally called it an album. No one is sure how much Messrs Horley and Morn were responsible for “Who’s Afraid…”. Estimates appear to vary.
JJ: “It’s difficult to tell. We say approximately 1.73 per cent (he strokes his non-existent, non-existentialist beard), but it could even be as high as two per cent. You see, all that has happened is that Gary and I started something, it was taken away, and we have taken steps to get it back. Anne hated the last LP. She thought it was a load of old drivel.”
Anne eventually rises to JJ’s bait: “No I didn’t. I liked bits of it. I just thought a lot of bits were (she pauses) dodgy. The next album won’t have any dodgy bits.”
And then without any badly punctuated fanfare, without ‘warning, but with some surprise the Art Of Noise climbed to No 1 in the American Dance Charts without any publicity at all. In fact, so little is known about the triumvirate in the States that they were voted best new black act in several recent polls.
JJ: “We naively believe that’s how it should be. The music should speak for itself. All we did was come up with an easily recognisable set of noises that sounded great on a ghetto blaster and was great to bop to.”
The new single, “Legs”, uses the same “recognisable” beatbox barrage. The AOR are inspired by movement and energy, despite Mr Morley’s sideswipe press release announcing that they were now capable of becoming a conventional rock band.
Who’s afraid of being reactionary?
JJ: “If one could find a way through the appalling style and illiterate writings of Paul, you would see that all he says is erroneous and untrue. We laughed at it. We’re so used to his bungling attempts at punctuation by now. We thought he did a rather poor hatchet job.”
Mispelt names never harm you. Very little can harm the Art Of Noise. They are too composed, too truly English. They must iron their upper lips. As is now the norm, “Legs” contains a myriad of volatile influences: ideas collide like torsos at a blind-date disco. Toilets flush, drains are cleaned, engines rev and horses legs gallop.
JJ: “It follows a similar formula. When we make our tracks we try to always convey some real emotion, be it ridicule or heart-felt pain. We won’t always make life so easy. We intend to stretch ourselves, and therefore stretch the listener well past the bounds of endurance.”
“Moments In Love”, the celestial love song of 1984, has already been used for a variety of more down to earth purposes. Madonna walked up the aisle to it, and now Brylcreem are using it for their new ad campaign.
“It’s quite flattering having so many different people using our material. I mean, our presentation may be original, but we’re certainly not. Nothing really is. We just juxtapose odd and wondrous things in different ways. If a sound excites us, we are reasonably sure we can put that excitement across. For instance, there’s a truly wondrous moment when someone hits something in a sport and the ball does exactly what it’s supposed to do. It’s that sort of perfection we try to convey.”
And yet their music, they confess, is largely founded upon mistakes. A band willing to three weeks working on a song and then flush it down the tubes. A band that find character in imperfection. A band who, despite their image of fingers soldered to transistors, spend as little time in the studio as possible.
JJ: “We have always tried to produce something that causes a reaction. I can’t stand being mediocre,” Anne nods in accordance, “That’s the worst crime of all.”
NEVERTHELESS, JJ finds no conflict in challenging convention with AON one moment and producing the vacuous likes of Stephen Duffy the next. The Art of Noise is built out of conflict — JJ hates “Gardener’s World”. He hates all television. He does like Mahler. “People hove got used to regarding telly as the truth which it simply isn’t. People should be more discerning about what they see and how they react to it. The Art Of Noise videos are partially designed to attack and dismantle these prejudicial points of view. Henry Polemic will be the singer we never had.”
To aid Herr Polemic, two young, innovative, and completely untested video directors, George and George, have been working close to the edit with the Noises, who were attracted to them mainly because the duo had the same christian name.
So this is the Art Of Noise. Or perhaps the art of deception?
Anne: “We’ll never clarify our position. The Art Of Noise will always be filled with inconsistencies, hyperbole, non-sequiteur, and conflicting themes.”
And then there was…
JJ: “…Everything. We will always produce music that comes from somewhere and goes to somewhere else. Movement. There are far too many pop myths to explode before we finish. It’s all part of the perverse delicacy we call our way of life.”