Key Details
Closed
on Feb 4, 2011
Artist:
Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark
Song:
History of Modern (Pt 1)
Release forms required:

Key Details

Closed
on Feb 4, 2011
Artist:
Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark
Song:
History of Modern (Pt 1)
Release forms required:

The Brief

Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark, pioneers of electronic music are giving you the chance to make their next music video for 'History of Modern (Pt 1)'. The winner will get paid £2,000.



Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark

One of the reasons Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark have called their brand new album – their eleventh – ‘History of Modern’ is because they are acutely aware of what it is they’re doing with this release. On paper, this is the UK synth-pop pioneers’ first new material since 1996, but in spirit, ‘History of Modern’ has more in common with the group’s early ’80s heyday, when ‘Enola Gay’ and ‘Souvenir’, penned by two teenage Krautrock fans from the Wirral, lit up the charts and set the agenda for a bold new movement in British electronic music.

In tandem with the Human League and Gary Numan, OMD’s tuneful blend of cutting-edge synthwork, cool minimalism and soulful pop – honed to perfection on the albums ‘Architecture & Morality’, ‘Dazzle Ships’ and ‘Organisation’– defined the decade, sold millions of records, and turned childhood pals Andy McCluskey and Paul Humphreys into stars.

“We were trying to be modern,” says Andy, pointing out that, in 1980, OMD were one of the first acts to use a sampler. “After architecture, art and design, popular music was the last of the great modernist movements, and we were genuinely trying to do something new. Quite how we thought we were going to change the world with three-and-a-half-minute pop songs, I don’t know, but we thought we could.”

Fast forward 30 years to the reunited OMD of 2010 and it’s clear that that sense of mischief and youthful idealism still fuels the group.


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Bio

One of the reasons Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark have called their brand new album – their eleventh – ‘History of Modern’ is because they are acutely aware of what it is they’re doing with this release. On paper, this is the UK synth-pop pioneers’ first new material since 1996, but in spirit, ‘History of Modern’ has more in common with the group’s early ’80s heyday, when ‘Enola Gay’ and ‘Souvenir’, penned by two teenage Krautrock fans from the Wirral, lit up the charts and set the agenda for a bold new movement in British electronic music.

In tandem with the Human League and Gary Numan, OMD’s tuneful blend of cutting-edge synthwork, cool minimalism and soulful pop – honed to perfection on the albums ‘Architecture & Morality’, ‘Dazzle Ships’ and ‘Organisation’– defined the decade, sold millions of records, and turned childhood pals Andy McCluskey and Paul Humphreys into stars.

“We were trying to be modern,” says Andy, pointing out that, in 1980, OMD were one of the first acts to use a sampler. “After architecture, art and design, popular music was the last of the great modernist movements, and we were genuinely trying to do something new. Quite how we thought we were going to change the world with three-and-a-half-minute pop songs, I don’t know, but we thought we could.”

Fast forward 30 years to the reunited OMD of 2010 and it’s clear that that sense of mischief and youthful idealism still fuels the group. “I suppose the nice thing is that, just like in the early days, we made this record simply because we fancied making a record,” says Andy. “There was no pressure to make a record in order to sell records and sustain a career. It was like making a first album again.”

The seeds of ‘History of Modern’ were sown when Paul and Andy agreed to a one-off performance as OMD on a German TV show in 2005. OMD had not existed since 1997 – they’d agreed to finish it – though some would argue that the last meaningful version of the group lost its way in 1986 following the US success of “If You Leave” in ‘Pretty in Pink’. At the TV show, the pair got on famously, remembered why they’d been friends, and discussed the possibility of touring and even making a new album.

In 2007, the original early-’80s OMD line-up of Paul, Andy, Malcolm Holmes and Martin Cooper toured ‘Architecture and Morality’ in the UK and Germany to considerable acclaim. But the thrill of playing those old songs night after night eventually waned, replaced by a hunger for new material. “This album,” says Andy, “is us putting our cards on the table and saying, ‘Here we are. We are OMD. This is what we’re going to do now.’ This is the album we have to do to clear the decks for the one that comes after.”

In these electro-friendly times, OMD’s influence has become ubiquitous. The XX, Brandon Flowers of The Killers, and LCD Soundsystem’s James Murphy have cited OMD as an inspiration, while the likes of La Roux, Cold Cave and The Horrors show traces of OMD’s DNA. Andy notes that today OMD is perceived to have its place in the “pantheon of relevant popular music history”, something which seemed unthinkable during the Britpop era, when ’60s revivalism finished off the last incarnation of OMD, a solo venture by Andy (Paul had left in 1989).

The climate may be right for a new OMD album, but for a group viewed by some as a heritage act, returning with a record that can stand alongside ‘Architecture and Morality’ or even the pastel funk of 1985’s underrated ‘Crush’ posed one or two problems.

“It’s a difficult tightrope to walk,” says Andy of ‘History of Modern’, “because on the one hand it’s nice that sounding like OMD is cool again, but do we just want to pastiche ourselves? No. We have to do something that sounds like OMD – because if anyone’s allowed to sound like OMD, it’s us – but which also sounds relevant.”

Fortunately, by anyone’s standards, ‘History of Modern’ is an excellent album, one that fizzes with energy and captures the group’s newfound enthusiasm. Then again, between them, Andy and Paul have some 60 years of songwriting and music-making experience, so they do know their way around a hit. Propelled by synth riffs, ‘New Babies: New Toys’ and the two ‘History of Modern’ tracks are very much a return to form, while ‘RFWK’ doffs its cap to Kraftwerk, and ‘The Future, the Past, and Forever After’ has shades of OMD’s northwest contemporaries, New Order. Elsewhere, ‘Sister Marie Says’ echoes ‘Joan of Arc’ and ‘Maid of Orleans’.

“‘Sister Marie Says’ is the nearest we get to pastiching ourselves,” says Andy. “The melody is from 1981 and was actually rejected because it was built on a four-chord pattern like ‘Enola Gay’, and then the lyric was written in ’93. I found it two years ago and went, ‘Wait a minute, what’s wrong with sounding like the lost brother of ‘Enola Gay’?”

Paul and Andy worked on the lion’s share of ‘History of Modern’ separately in their home studios, swapping files and ideas online, using a mixture of soft-synth plug-ins and analogue hardware. Paul lives in London with his partner Claudia Brücken, the singer in Propaganda, while Andy has remained on Merseyside. Towards the end of the recording, Paul travelled to Liverpool to spend time with Andy and found that the songs flowed more naturally when they worked together – just like the old days. “We do feed off each other,” says Paul, “and when you’re in the same room ideas flow quickly. One song called ‘New Holy Ground’ came about in this way – we wrote it as a b-side in four hours, but in traditional OMD fashion we said it has to go on the album.”

Upbeat and bristling with ideas, ‘History of Modern’ was mixed by Arctic Monkeys/Foals engineer Mike Crossey, and offers a slightly rawer kind of pleasure to the serene melancholy of OMD’s early-’80s moments. In a nice touch, the record’s sleeve was designed by Peter Saville, who was responsible for the iconic artwork of those first OMD albums. Saville was the in-house designer at Factory Records, the label that released OMD’s debut single, ‘Electricity’, in 1979. For many, ‘History of Modern’ will be their first experience of OMD, and one hopes their curiosity will lead them, via YouTube and Spotify, to ‘Organisation’, ‘Architecture and Morality’ and ‘Dazzle Ships’ – key works in the Synth Britannia canon.

“For Paul and me, OMD was a hobby that got out of hand,” says Andy. “For a start, we couldn’t play and we were just having fun, but we were offered opportunities and we took them and we were amazed that the songs we wrote when we were 16 turned out to be hit singles. We used to look at each other across the studio at Top of the Pops going, ‘How the fuck did this happen?’”
The music industry OMD have returned to in 2010 is in a very different state to the one that helped them sell millions of records 20-odd years ago. But their attitude hasn’t changed. “Back then, we weren’t following anybody’s rules but our own,” Andy says. “Today, if you’re considered credible and you still have a relevance, then you’re allowed back on your pedestal. That’s what we’ve discovered to our great delight.

“And this record,” he adds, “is just another part of the jigsaw of us reclaiming our place in the broader picture.”

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A story made of useless odds and ends retrieved accidentally from the basement of our lives.

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