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  • Made in Sheffield: The Birth of Electronic Pop
  • Robert Iannapollo
Made in Sheffield: The Birth of Electronic Pop. DVD. Directed by Eve Wood. Brooklyn, NY: Plexifilm, 2005. PLX017. $24.98.

Ah! The glory that was post-punk pop, that period between 1978 and 1985 when all sorts of weirdness stormed the pop charts in the U.K. Made In Sheffield is a documentary by Eve Wood on the post-punk electronic pop music scene based in that city. In Britain, (as in the U.S. at one time) each city/region has a distinct musical flavor and the post-punk musical style had its own unique flavor in Sheffield. At its commercial apex (ca. 1982), Sheffield produced hit bands like Human League, ABC, and Heaven 17. But, in the mid-1970s, future members of these groups were bright, but disaffected working class teens, many doomed to working in the city's factories. Music was one of the few outlets of escape for these people.

There were two major musical influences that went into Sheffield's bands. One was that of German electronic and metronomic beat groups like Kraftwerk, Can, and Neu, all of whom were having some measure of success in Britain. In those early days, access to electronic instruments was still a rich man's game. But homemade kits were starting to become more commonplace, and fired up by these developments, many Sheffield bands began building their own electronic instruments and incorporating them into their group set up. The other prime musical influence on these bands [End Page 684] was the punk movement. Although the punk ethos was primarily known for its philosophy of "learn three chords and form a band," in retrospect, it was far more important for its DIY (do it yourself) ethic, seizing the means of production. And because of that ethos, a wide-open musical scene was forming. As John Peel states at one point, "After punk, everything was acceptable." A third, fascinating influence on the music from Sheffield was the city's industrial makeup. It is postulated that the reason the music that emanated from this city was so sparse, metronomic, and harsh sounding was that it was a reflection of the grinding industrial rhythms that were prevalent in the city.

The most radical of these early bands, musically speaking, was a group called Cabaret Voltaire (CV), their name taken from the club started in Zurich in 1916 by the artists associated with the Dada movement. CV's music was harsh and industrial and practically all electronic with robotic vocals, weird lyrics, and random tapes cutting through the mix. The only comparable band in Britain at the time was London's Throbbing Gristle who were as obscure as

CV. Cabaret Voltaire inspired several other bands to form which included the Human League and Vice Versa. As Martyn Ware of Human League/Heaven 17 states, "[t]hey were like the godfathers of the Sheffield scene." Although Cabaret Voltaire eventually became a band with an international cult reputation, they remained musically uncompromising and hitless. Yet they inspired bands that later went on to mega-commercial success like Human League and ABC. Bands kept forming and mutating into various groupings (the family tree included in the accompanying booklet to this DVD is fascinating), several breaking through to international success.

Wood tells her story through many interviews with the major participants on the scene (Chris Watson of Cabaret Voltaire, Phil Oakey of Human League, Martyn Ware and Ian Craig Marsh of Heaven 17, Stephen Singleton of ABC) and, even more fascinating, the also-rans (members of bands like Artery, the Extras, 2.3). Most of those interviewed come off as intelligent, witty, and realistic about their goals, what they achieved, and what eventually happened. She intercuts the interviews with vintage live footage of these bands performing in Sheffield clubs and concert halls. One of the bonus features on the DVD is the unedited interviews with the participants that provide further illumination to the text proper. Another bonus feature is three performances by three bands that never quite made it: Vice Versa (which morphed into...


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pp. 684-685
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