Sideways – John Foxx & Louis Gordon


Technicolour Modernism

Listening to the Music No-one Else Makes I smile my relief aloud and, drifting back, find myself at Olympia in 1967. It’s Christmas on Earth, and Gordon and Foxx have abandoned the burned out car they have been driving for too long, burst in through the psychedelic walls of hippydom and plugged in the synths buried under the heaps of kaftans and three-button suits along the crumbling walls. Armed with a Sound Collector, the agents have successfully gathered the echoes of the era and transduced them through the audio-Hedge that has grown up between the 14 Hour Festival and the Third Millennium. Forwards, Backwards. Sideways, at least.

Foxx has proved throughout his career time and again that his best work is that which is furthest from the mainstream. Sideways is so far away from that its from a different place altogether. A soundtrack for a strange low-budget B-Movie set in Xmal Deutschland somewhere, a place where you can see the polystyrene rocks moving as the Scary Monsters lumber past, their Rayguns held together by sticky-backed plastic and tape loops. Behind the safety of the bulletproof glass and away from the glare attracted by their diversionary lightshow, the agents have re-discovered their purpose.

With the clear rose-coloured hue of hindsight (and having let the glittering dust settle on 2006) I’d like to audaciously suggest that From Trash was a decoy, a model, programmed to distract our attention from the Secret Experiment that Foxx and Gordon were carrying out behind the closed doors of the MetaMedia Studios.

On pounding, rhythmic and cleverly vocalised tracks like X-ray Vision and In A Silent Way in particular, they revel in the freedom of sonic exploration and play around with a whole nervestorm of ideas, some of which (CarCrash Flashback, and Sailing on Sunshine at least) germinated in an Earlier Man about 20 years ago.

Or is that from twenty years hence?
Time means nothing. It merely re-arranges our memory.

Foxx has risen, it seems, from the very edge of self-destruction, and fulfilled a prophecy. His closing statement is a work of sublime genius. Phone Tap wouldn’t be out of place on Tiny Colour Movies, it’s such an evocative (and indescribably weird) piece of music that sounds like something from Quatermass. As ghostly torchbeams scan across the grey landscape, the Thing from Out Of Space[sic] emerges to a drone of deafening bass notes, punctuated by the analogue squeaks, squeals and squelches that have become trademark Foxx over the years.

If Bowie and the Beatles were asked to produce a ‘make’ for Blue Peter I like to think it would inevitably sound something like this.

Seems like the End of the Beginning will be an electronic happening after all…

9 out of 10. Smile-making.


For my money, this is the album Foxx and Gordon have been working towards for years.
Overshadowed and overlooked. Just as The Quiet Man would like it.

Standout tracks:

X-Ray Vision
CarCrash Flashback
In A Silent Way (Foxx & Gordon’s coup-de-grace?)
Phone tap


© birdsong 2007.

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The Belbury Circle – Outward Journeys


Ghostbox (label). The misrepresented musical history of a parallel world, via public information films, vintage synthesisers and esoteric sonic references.

Outward Journeys (album) Contemporary nostalgia. Collaboration between Jim Jupp (Belbury Poly; arrangements, notation, invitations and vision) and Jon Brooks (The Advisory Circle; analogue sequenced bass, public information bites) with a guest appearance by John Foxx (polymath. Metamatic; vocal and synthesizers).
Idiosyncratic characteristics. Attractive and interesting.

All contributing artists share a re-imagining of the city proposed by psychogeography – the way different places make us think and feel, an aesthetic with its roots in the Dada and Surrealist art movements which explored ways of unleashing the subconscious imagination. The Ghostbox ‘Musique Concrète’ fusion of soundtracks, instrumentation, design and theory combined with sonic and cultural references led the late Mark Fisher to describe them as pioneering “hauntologsts” – re-designers of a retro-future that looks like the past. Or is that the other way round?
Either way, they inhabit a world of ghosts and memories variously abandoned, forgotten or erased by history

John Foxx is one of the ghosts here. Both present and not present throughout the album. His vocal appears unexpectedly first on the aptly titled Forgotten Town, an urban landscape he has walked himself for forty years, mining the streets and the scenes acted out on them. He drifts in spectrally, weaving his own evocative synthlines into Jupp’s rhythms and melodies, so cleverly that You Would Not Know He Was There.
The vocals are perfectly pitched and masterfully woven into the fabric of what is otherwise an album of instrumental soundtracks. Imagined television scores reminiscent of those evolving during the Ghostbox founders’ youth. Among these, John Foxx theme to LWT’s 1980 youth magazine programme 20th Century Box, his own contribution to an evolving genre.

Cloudburst Five invokes Dankworth’s iconic score for Tomorrow’s World. 1981. Michael Rodd and Judith Hann. Raymond Lefevre’s As You Please theme to Pebble Mill At One (no commercial symbols here!)
Transports is one of the album’s standout tracks, and links cleverly into the alternative sounds emerging from the music industry during the same period. Echoes of Depeche Mode and OMD are loudest here. Then Light industry takes Belbury Circle into archive territory similar to that currently occupied by Public Service Broadcasting.
End of Side One.

The ambient recordings that set the scene for Café Kaput tick all these radiophonic boxes, and it is after this melodic, loopy dream sequence that John Foxx times his second appearance. It’s easy to overlook Trees. Many of the city’s busiest streets are populated by trees. Parks are the lungs of the urban environment. Trees see a lot of things during their lifetime, often surviving gentrification more that any other elements. They archive stories. They are living ghosts.
On Departures Int, Brooks and Jupp introduce a guitar, typical of their collaborative aesthetic. It’s just another instrument after all. Like style… Which gives this piece the feeling of both a Holiday programme theme tune and a magazine you might pick up from the lounge in Schipol or Tegel.

And just as every time we meet there’s a leaving, so every outward journey preludes a return. Heading Home is a joyous homage to all involved and all that has gone before, the essential conclusion. The rhythm of a train runs through ithe track, simulating the Trans Europe Express rushing across Magnetic Fields on its way back to Berlin airport. Closing the album like this reflects new thinking and illustrates the construct that the future is perhaps closer now than it has ever been. Popular notions and cultural trends are returning to How We Used To Do Things. In context, the re-birth of vinyl is an obvious example, and that Outward Journeys is also released in cassette format is modestly visionary. Film is cool again. Foxx is a sculptor now, working with his hands and has declared no further use for a Smartphone.

The post-digital future is close at hand. The route is marked on a folded map in that dusty drawer. Discoloured paper. Vaguely damp smell. Scrolling TV screens, slightly out of focus. Cardboard. Low definition. Mirror, signal, manoeuvre.

Ask your dad.

8 out of 10.

ULTRAVOX! An interview with John Foxx by Ingeborg Schober, June 1977

Published in Musikexpress (Germany) on 2nd July 1977

1977 - 07-000MUzikexpressGermany.jpg

German text:

In ganz Großbritannien und an der Ostküste der USA schnellt die dritte Generation des Rock ‘n’ Roll uas den Startlöchern.

Zu den vielversprechendsten Gruppen der neugeborenen Szene (für die sich jetzt mehr und mehr das Schlagwort “New Wave” durchsetzt) zählt “Ultravox!” aus England. ME-Mitarbeiter Werner Zeppenfeld pries ihr Debütalbum vor zwei Monaten in den höchsten Tönen. Ingeborg Schober traf Ultravox jetzt in München, wo die Band fürs ARD-Programm gefilmt wurde.

Mehrmals schon hatten die fünf Ultravöxchen – alle so urn die zwanzig Jare alt – ihre neue Single “Young Savage” im Fernsehstudio der “Szene 77” mit der gleichen Konzentration und Vitalität durchgespielt. Und während sie bei dem Titel “Dangerous Rhythm” ruhig und fast brav dreinblickten, verwandelten sie sich jetzt auf einmal in wilde Bühnenakrobaten, voran der schmachtige Blondschopf John Foxx. Doch gleich darauf, als wir in der “Maske” sitzen, wo sich die übrigen Bandmitglieder (Steve Shears, git; Warren Cann, drums, voc; Billy Currie, violin, keyboards; Chris Cross, bass, voc) für den Auftritt schminken und die gewaschenen Haare füohnen, mimt er wieder den coolen, distanzierten Sänger, der endlich alles sagen kann, was ihm längst auf den Lippen brennt.

“Vergiß die Kategorien, ich halte sie für dumm. Wir könned mehr als die meisten Bands in London. Wir sind, was wir sind, und wir sind ziemlich anders als die übrigen Leute.”

Angefangen hat es vor 2 Jahren, als die New York Dolls auftauchten. “Das war für mich die einzig interessante Gruppe. Und ich wollte schon schon immer in eine Band, weil mir Geräusche gefallen. Früher stand ich auf Velvet Underground.” Die anderen Musiker traf Foxx in Clubs, wo sie mit lokalen Bands auftraten. Und Billy, der Geiger, der als einzinger die Musikakademie besucht hat, gehörte einer Theatergruppe an. John besuchte damals die Kuntsakademie.

“Mein Stipendium, das ich vom Staat dafür bekam, habe ich in die Band investiert. So einfach war das.” Zuerst spielten sie in einen Turnhalle, die zu einen Sportzentrum gehörte. Wie ernst war es ihm mit Musik damals? “Sehr ernst. Ich halte nichts von Hobbbies. Was ich mache, daran glaube ich. Konkurrenz fürchte ich nicht, denn sowas wie uns gibt es in England nicht noch einmal. Das ist keine Überheblichkeit, sondern die Wahrheit.”

Ultravox macht Frankenstein-Musik: “Wir retten Teile von Toten. Ich glaube, daß alle alten Bands tot sind!” sagt Sänger John Foxx.

Klang die Gruppe schon damals wie jetzt, hat es ein Startkonzept gegeben? “Es fing damit an daß wir Lärm machen wollten. Ganz einfach Töne. Die gesamte übrige Musik hat uns gelangweilt. Wir haben nicht über Karriere oder soetwas nachgedarcht. Und seit dem Start haben wir uns mindestens fünf Mal total verändert. Und das werden wir auch weiterhin tun. Nicht eine Idee ist wichtig, sondern die Entwicklung. Sobalt etwas nicht mehr interessant ist oder sich wiederholt, werden wir damit aufhören, selbst wenn es gut ist. Ich glaube, das ist der einzige. Weg, als Individuum zu überleben, ohne vor Langeweile zu sterben.”

Aber würdest du nicht sagen, daß ihr bereits einen spezifischen Stil habt? “Stil ist nur ein weiteres Instrument, wie eine Gitarre, du kannst ihn so oder so benützen” Aber Einflüsse sind doch dad, von Roxy Music oder Velvet Underground? “Ja, vielleicht von zwei Stücken jeweils, die ich von einer Band mag. Es ist eine Art Frankenstein-Prozess; wir retten Teile von den Toten, die wir als tot betrahcten. Ich glaube, daß aller alten betrachten. Bands tot sind. Also können wir sie bedenkenlos benützen.”

Wie erklärst du dir, daß ihr trotz der geringen musikalischen Erfahrung sehr perfekt und professionell klint? “Ich hasse den Gedanken, ein ersnthafter Musiker zu sein. Das ist der falsche Weg um etwas in Bewegung zu bringen. Wir fingen bei Null an, auf demGetäusche-Level. Darauf bauten wir auf, selektierten die Gerüasche, die wir aufregend fanden. Und dann kam die Reaktion darauf. Ich denke, so fängt Musik an.”

Dein erstes Album wurde von Eno (dem ehemaligen Roxy Music Man) produziert. Hast du ähnliche Ansichten zu ihm? Obwohl er eigentlich ganz anders ist als wir, ist er viel schöner, wir sind sehr heiß, aber ursprünglich haben wir vom gleichen Punkt aus begonnen und sind nur in verschiedene Richtungen gewachsen. Von Eno Können wir immer noch eine Menge lernen. Mit ihm zu arbeiten ist wirklich aufregend. Der Zufall spielt dabei eine große Rolle.

Er hat eine sehr unbekümmerte Strategie beim Arbeiten. Er schaut zum Beispiel in die Karten. Wir haben mit einem Kartenspiel gearbeteit, das war sehr gut. Und du spielst dabei gleichzeitig mit deinem Leben, denn das Leben ist ein Album. Also spielst du auch mit deiner Identität. Und das ist, wie alle Spiele, sehr aufregend.” Heißt das, daß ihr keine festen Kompositionen hatter? “Moment, mach nicht den Fehler und glaube, daß wir ein Zufallsprodukt sind. Wir stengen uns sehr an bei dem, was wir machen. Es ist Leben.

Wir sind keine Amateure, wie gesagt, es ist kein Hobby. WIr sind sehr antschloisen und folgereichtig. Wir mögen nichts Affektiertes und Geziertes. Wir wollen eine Menge Geräusche und eine starke Aussage.”

Glaubst du, daß ein ganz junges Publikum eure Songs und die Aussagen versteht? “Ja, instinktiv besser als die Älteren, die es intellekteuil versuchen. Aber die Gefühle sind immer zuerst da, dann kann man sie intellektueil formulieren. ABer wir versuchen ja auch eine alzeptable Oberfläche zu schaffen, unter der denn eben mehr ist. Rock ‘n’ Roll ist eine so einfache Form, aber deshalb schön, weil du fast alles reinpacken kannst. Ich liebe es, durch eine Tür und noch eine und so weiter zu gehen. Ein Song muß ein Labyrinth sein, aber ein einladendes.”

Wir sind keine Amateure, wie gesagt, es ist kein Hobby. WIr sind sehr antschloisen und folgereichtig. Wir mögen nichts Affektiertes und Geziertes. Wir wollen eine Menge Geräusche und eine starke Aussage.”

Glaubst du, daß ein ganz junges Publikum eure Songs und die Aussagen versteht? “Ja, instinktiv besser als die Älteren, die es intellekteuil versuchen. Aber die Gefühle sind immer zuerst da, dann kann man sie intellektueil formulieren. ABer wir versuchen ja auch eine alzeptable Oberfläche zu schaffen, unter der denn eben mehr ist. Rock ‘n’ Roll ist eine so einfache Form, aber deshalb schön, weil du fast alles reinpacken kannst. Ich liebe es, durch eine Tür und noch eine und so weiter zu gehen. Ein Song muß ein Labyrinth sein, aber ein einladendes.”

English translation:

The third generation of Rock ‘n’ Roll is rocketing across the UK and the US East Coast, and among the most promising groups of this scene (for which the phrase “New Wave” is increasingly used) is “Ultravox!” from England. ME employee Werner Zeppenfeld praised their debut album two months ago[1] in the highest tones. Ingeborg Schober met Ultravox in Munich, where the band was filmed for the ARD program[2].

Several times already the five Ultravox-ers – each about twenty years old – have played through their new single “Young Savage” in the television studio of “Szene 77” with the same concentration and vitality every time. And while they looked almost calm for a performance of “Dangerous Rhythm”, they now suddenly turned into wild acrobats, particularl their frontman the petite blond boy John Foxx. But now, as we sit in the “Mask”[3], where the band members (Steve Shears, guitar; Warren Cann, drums, vocals; Billy Currie, violin, keyboards; Chris Cross, bass, voc) made up for the show and Foxx has his hair washed, he is once again again the cool, distant singer who can finally say that which has been nurning on his lips for some time.

“Forget the categories, I think they are ridiculous! We can do more than most bands in London – we are who we are, and we are quite different from the rest.”

Ultravox! started two years ago when the New York Dolls showed up. “That was the only interesting group for me, and I’d always wanted to get into a band. I like the sounds of groups like Velvet Underground.” The other musicians met Foxx in clubs where they performed with local bands. And Billy, the violinist (who is the only trained musician in the group) belonged to a theater group. John Foxx himself went to Art College.

“I invested my scholarship, which I received from the state, into the band. It was that simple.” First they played in a gym that belonged to a community centre.

How serious was his music then?
“I do not think much of hobbies and I do not really believe in competition. Besides, there’s no such thing as competition in England. And that’s not arrogance, it’s the truth.”

Ultravox makes Frankenstein music: “We save parts of the dead, I think all the old bands are dead!” says singer John Foxx.

What did the group sound like at the beginning, did it have a starting concept?
“It started when we wanted to make noise, just sounds. The rest of the music scene left us bored. We weren’t thinking about a career as musicians or anything like that, and we’ve changed ourselves totally at least five times since the start , and we will again. It is not an idea that matters, it is development, and when something is no longer interesting or gets repetitive, we will stop it, even if it is good. I believe that is the only way to survive as an individual without dying of boredom.”

But would not you say that you already have a specific style? “Style is just another instrument really, like a guitar, you can use it in different ways.”
But influences are still there, from Roxy Music and Velvet Underground? “Yes, maybe one or two pieces of each. I take whatever I like from other bands. It’s kind of a Frankenstein process – we save parts of the dead, parts that we consider they are not using. I think all the old bands are dead anyway – we can use them without hesitation. ”

How do you explain that you sound very perfect and professional despite your own limited musical experience?

“I hate the idea of being a worthy musician, that is the wrong way to get things moving. We started from zero on the deception scale. We are what we are, but when we set up, the rumours started. We just selected the rumours that we found most exciting and reacted to those. I think that’s how music starts.”

Your first album was produced by Eno (the former Roxy Music man). Do you have similar views to him?

“Although he is actually quite different from us, he is much nicer!! We are wild. But originally, we started from the same point and only grew in different directions. From Eno we can still learn a lot. Working with him is really exciting. He showed us that chance plays a big role. He has a very easy going strategy while working. He looks into his cards,[4] for example. We were working with a card game, which was very good. And you play with your life at the same time, because life is an album. So you also play with your identity. And that, like all games, is very exciting.”

Does that mean you didn’t have any rehearsed compositions?
“Hang on, no. Don’t get me wrong and start thinking we are just a random product! We care deeply about what we do. It is our life. We are not amateurs, as I said, it is not a hobby. We are very fond of what we do and committed to it. We just do not like anything ‘Affected’ or too carefully ‘Styled’. We want a lot of noise and a strong message.”

Do you think that a very young audience understands your songs and the statements?
“Yes, instinctively better than the elders who consider it intellectually. The feelings are always there first, then they can be formulated intellectually, but we also try to create an acceptable surface, and there is more to that than rock ‘n’ ‘Roll is such a simple form, but nice because you can pack almost anything in. I love going through a door and another and so on, a song must be a labyrinth, but a welcoming one.’


[1] Musikexpress (Germany) 2 May 1977

[2] Ultravox performed two songs in the Munchenar Fernsehstudio during the afternoon. Dangerous Rhythm broadcast on ‘Szene 77 No. 5’ 10th June 1977 and Young Savage broadcast on ‘Szene 77 No.6’ 19th August 1977

[3] Vernacular term for the studio Dressing Room

[4] Oblique Strategies (Peter Schmidt and Brian Eno, 1975). Each card contains a remark or cryptic phrase that should be considered to overcome a creative dilemma