ZANG TUMMM TUMB ARTICLES “the first draft of history”

Taken from the Max

The empire strikes back… Impure purists THE ART OF NOISE beat it to New York for a session of serious wordplay with TONY MITCHELL. Serious photoplay by JAYNE HOUGHTON

WHY SHOULD a group who have courted anonymity with the same feverishness that others reserve for the pursuit of fame suddenly want to perform as a live band?

This was one of many questions which was not in my mind as I fought my way through the throng at the bar of New Yorks Ritz Ballroom, and the reason it wasnt in my mind was that I already knew the answer.

The Art Of Noise feel the need to prove something that cant be proved simply by making very clever records with Duane Eddy and Max Headroom.

It is the logical progression from their parting with ZTT and signing to China. They were tired of being regarded by one and all as nothing more than an idea dreamed up by Paul Morley and Trevor Horn over cocktails.

And yet, despite this understandable desire to receive the credit due to them for the anarchic ‘Into Battle… and the chart-breaking ‘Beat Box, Anne Dudley, JJ Jeczalik and Gary Langan still dont want us getting too close to them.

They delight in going unrecognised, refuse to be photographed in any way that would make this possible and giggle mischievously every time someone in their audience calls out “Hello Trevor” to JJ (whose resemblance to Mr Horn begins and ends with the fact that both wear glasses).

And yet, here they are, churning out their hits and mixes to this capacity crowd on the eve of the New Music Seminar, warming up for a stint at Hammersmith Odeon later this week, and trying out a line-up that includes a drummer, a percussionist, three girl singers, a video intro from Mr Headroom and a spot from Mr Eddy.

All (except for Max) absolutely live.

I mention this again because they are very anxious that you should comprehend. There may be Fairlights on stage. but there are no hidden tape recorders or Sputnik sequencers doing the hard work. Even the Noisettes have had to learn new words, like “nwark“ and “pphhnnoooip” that were originally uttered by machines and must now be vocalised by humans.

Impressed? I thought you would be.

BUT BACK to this anonymity thing. Gary Langans desire for it is evidently so great that he is not available for interview after the gig. Unless, of course, he was disguised as the sofa in manager Dai Davis penthouse suite, in which case I guess hed furnished himself with the perfect alibi.

Anne Dudley is available, however, and shes joined in due course by JJ, whose sporty blazer and cultured demeanour suggests that he might just have flown in from the Henley Regatta.

The best way, to talk seems to be to get yourself in on the joke. Interviews are treated as opportunities for wordplay and little more. You can slip in the odd serious question and get the odd response if youre lucky.

Heres Anne being serious:

“Playing live is specially difficult for us because we dont have a Tony Hadley at the front, or a Jeff Beck, or some kind of front man people can identify with. I think thats what put me off the idea of touring for a long time. I felt people didnt want to come to see an instrumental band. They want to see people yelling their heads off, screeching around playing guitars. They dont want to see me playing keyboards — its a bit boring.

“But eventually my objections were broken down. It happened when we went to do The Tube. Suddenly we felt like a band on the road, on the coach to Newcastle.

Heres me being serious. Dont you think that be having three girl backing singers, youre just aligning yourself with every other live act? Isnt that the kind of cliché you should be trying to avoid?

“Yeah, but clichés in live work nowadays means backing tapes and sequencers, and we dont do that. We use Akai samplers and the drummer and bass player are both triggering sampled sounds. I certainly dont feel obliged to apologise for the girls. Its good to have them along. They do good backing vocals, tell great jokes and lend me their lipsticks.”

This is when JJ arrives, which more or less puts paid to any further seriousness.

I gather the ‘Paranoimia corroboration with Max Headroom came about through a chance meeting in a restaurant?

JJ: “Yes, its remarkable the people you can meet in restaurants when you dont mean to.”

Anne: “It was a very good restaurant.”

Do you want to give it a plug?

Anne: “Certainly not.”

JJ: “You plug them and they get very crowded and you cant get in yourself. I made that mistake once before. Never again.”

Anne: “And so he said, Im terribly clever and witty and I like your track. And he really kinda gets down to that track, old Max, he gets down and boogies.”

JJ: “Is your pause button meant to be in?”

Dont worry. Ive got a photographic memory. So lets talk about the rest of the band.

Anne: “Well, theyre all called Dave.”

JJ: “Theres Dave Simon Morton on percussion.”

Anne: “Dave Paul Robinson on drums.”

JJ: “Dave Dave Dave Bronze on bass. And the three Noisettes, whore called Davina.”

Anne: “Davina Pepe Lemer, Davina Linda Taylor, Davina Katie Humble…”

JJ: “Oscar Charlie Delta Tango…”

What have you been doing on your days off in New York?

JJ: “Ive been frequenting 24-hour cafes to see if they actually are 24-hour, and I can report…”

Anne: “Have you stayed there 24 hours, then, in one space?”

JJ: “Yes, just to see.”

Anne: “Wow.”

HOW LONG can you go on being living enigmas? Surely your anonymity will evaporate as you play more gigs?

JJ: “I assure you that people will not know who we are for a good deal longer than you might expect. I was standing by the door at the end of the Ritz show and everybody walked straight past me and didnt recognise me.

“We didnt encourage people to want to come along and see ‘personalities. They wanted to see a show and listen to what the hell we were going to do. And they had no idea what was going to be going on.

Now, their curiosity is satisfied and they still dont have to know who we are and what underpants we wear and all that stuff.”

So youd argue that youre purists, because you demand that music takes precedence over personality?

JJ: “Oh, very much so. Impure purists. Absolutely. Wholeheartedly. In as much as we are shallow, we are deep.”

Has incompetence become a virtue in music?

Anne: “Well, it appals us. Weve worked with so many people in the studio, were well aware of the inadequacies of most musicians in the bands around. We must be the hardest people to work with.”

JJ: “Weve had three drummers…”

Anne: “We demand the best… and we get it.”

Does it irritate you that less competent bands have to resort to using skilled, professionals such as yourselves to compensate for their inadequacies?

JJ: “Yeah, but its nothing new. Look at the Bay City Rollers.”

Or Elvis Presley.

JJ: “Absolutely. He didnt sing a thing on his records. It was Dirk Stevens, the famous Welshman. He did all Elvis vocals. Elvis just looked great. As long as he had his gear person with him and his hair person with him, he was OK. Tragic, really — Dirk went unknown.”

Ive certainly never heard of him

JJ: “Well, it just goes to show, doesnt it? I mean, you say Dirk Stevens to people and they say, Oo? But when you say Elvis Presley, they know exactly who youre talking about.”

Isnt there a danger that youll be hoist on the petard of your own technology, and that despite all your efforts, people may still not think youre playing live?

Anne: “Dyou mean weve gone to all this expense for nothing? Oh, my God.”

You could have done exactly the same thing with tapes.

Anne: “I dont know how you can say that.”

Im being devils advocate.

JJ: “But youre not, because devils advocate should actually be… should actually… youre absolutely right. But we wouldnt do a thing like that. Nobodys ever done that.”

Anne: “Whats the fun in that — three weeks posing around America playing to sequencers and tapes?”

You played three gigs over here before the Ritz. Have you had and revelations?

Anne: “Yeah. The audience like us.”

JJ: “We didnt anticipate this. Just because theyve bought the records means nothing. Actually, buying records is the last thing by which you can judge whether people like your music or not.

“‘Beat Box and ‘Moments Of Love became anthems here, but they were kind of frustrated by the fact that we didnt tour, so you still dont know what people really think. In the one public appearance we made in LA, this guy was overheard to say, Ive been a fan of The Art Of Noise for three years — that is not them. And there we were.”

Do YOU think you appeal to intellectuals?

JJ: “Never.”

Do you know what kind of people buy your records?

JJ: “We have a day-by-day analysis of just who buys the records. We know exactly whats going on — and it doesnt help in any way.”

Anne: “I think its a mistake to analyse it. Some guy came into the dressing room and said. Its a very interesting demographic split youve got there. And I thought demographic split?”

JJ: “But its the American mentality, isnt it? Its, Well, you sold 44,000 records yesterday, 19,950 went to black people, 1,150 went to Indians… And you say. Yeah? Whaddya going to do if they all turn out to be white tomorrow? Well, gee, well have to do something about that.”

Do you think you might be a studentish band in Britain?

JJ: “Were a very big college group here in the US.

This album has been in the college network top ten since it was released.”

And you were voted Number Two Black Band at one point?

JJ: “Last year in Billboard. If one backs away from the personality syndrome, it allows one to be voted, unvoted and promoted into all these places one didnt know existed.”

Any feelings about how youll go down live in the UK?

JJ: “Yes — well probably sink without trace, which is just how we want it. Most of the press in England has had its say about how good and now how bad, we are, so its our launching pad.”

I wasnt thinking particularly about the press…

JJ: “No, no, nor was I. Just my feelings about those complete and utter, utter, utter…”

Anne: “Hang on, hes one of them. But Im sure hes never written anything nasty about us.”

Ive never written anything about you at all.

JJ: “Well, youre tarred with the same brush, you bastard.”

People are bound to say The Art Of Noise havent been up to scratch since parting with ZTT, just because of the kudos associated with the label. Although thats taken a bit of a denting of late.

JJ: “Well, there hasnt been anything. Thereve been statements like ‘Noiseless ZTT..”

Anne: “And ‘The Art Of Silence. We liked that, actually.”

JJ: “Even in being absent, we were being referred to.”

Are you afraid of the anti-intellectual element in the music press?

JJ: “Never come across it. We dont read the music press, you see. Nor do we listen to pop records.”

Theres a school of thought which holds that musicians shouldnt be too articulate or intelligent.

Both: “Watcha… mean… by… that… John?”