[sic] Magazine

Close To The Noise Floor – Various

Close To The Noise Floor is a 4CD set exploring the origins of electronic music in the UK. As such it is as much a social document as a musical one. Consider the background – industrial action, the three day week, social decline, dystopian fiction, and the rising spectre of Thatcherism. An anti-establishment narrative was already well in place due to punk rock. Electronics opened a doorway for similarly disaffected souls to be creative outside of guitars. We’d all seen Kraftwerk on Tomorrows World, and many of us were also impressed by the likes of Can and Tangerine Dream but that tech had been hitherto unavailable in UK. Whereas now we all have a sophisticated computer in our jacket pocket back then a computer was a large hulking white box inside a secure school room. The fledging narrative was also apparent in gaming. Compare the immersive shooters of today to the blocky 2D of Space Invaders and Atari. Let’s be clear from the outset. This isn’t a synthpop compilation. This is the formative scene that preceded synthpop. At the time (late seventies) we called this nascent movement ‘futurist’. Synth or electropop are terms that would be coined later on.

Disc One really puts the ‘form’ into formative. This is evolution in front of our very eyes and ears. You can hear the influences which are a mixture of Kraftwerk and BBC Harmonics. (I expect Jon Pertwee to pop up at any moment) Some pieces here are crude sound collages with a strong art school vibe. That said, you can easily draw a line forward to Art Of Noise and eventually IDM. One or two pieces want to be melodic (Holiday camp) while most adopt the same sensibilities as the post punk acts. ‘Faith’, for example is very ‘PIL meets Pink Industry’. By the end of disc 1 ‘Stopping And Starting’ is evidence of early sequencers.

By the time of Disc Two, Tubeway Army’s ‘Are Friends Electric’ had already been a UK Number 1 paving the way for mainstream ‘songs’ to be rendered electronically. Further examples crop up on this disc. ‘Back To the Beginning’ – a robotic swinging sixties – a surely an influence on early The The?. Some familiar faces crop up on Disc Two. Ultravox’s John Foxx, Human League and OMD each display some of their earliest creations. Its the closest we come to the radio.

Over the third and fourth discs you can detect both a tightening of sound (mastery of technique) and a loosening of inhibitions. There’s some whacky stuff here. What quickly becomes clear is that the electronic medium is the only common denominator. There is no one electronic style of music any more than there is one Australian style of music. Electronic music itself can have pop, post-punk, funk, dance, industrial or classical leanings. This is evident here across the four discs. Willfully obscure experimentation gives way to almost ‘conventional’ composition or pop songwriting, though I have to say the former is more prevalent on Close To The Noise Floor.

Come, grab yourself a ticket to witness electronica’s ‘ground zero’. Close to The Noise Floor is an important artifact for aficionados and students of the medium. Yet I wish to stress the caveat that this is not, nor tries to be a synthpop compilation. Those with a bent for melody will find their patience tested across this collection. However those with an interest in musical history will devour its secrets. The book packaging is lavish beyond belief, as we have come to expect from Cherry Red reissues. Extensive notes and photographs augment this object’s desirability. However on pure musical enjoyment levels alone it has to be said that Close To The Noise Floor is somewhat lacking. More ‘noise’ than ‘floor’ if we’re being brutally honest.

File under curiosities.

5.5 Music
9.5 Packaging