Rock n Roll Stories: The unknown Human League

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A few days ago I heard a brave DJ (a species as
rare as the white whale) playing "The Black Hit of Space'' by Human League. Most do not know that before the popular Human League with both chicks and intergalactic hit "Don 't You Want Me'' to be played even after the end of the world, there was another version of the band with two visionary leaders who wanted to take electronic music and the lessons of their teachers called Kraftwerk ahead. I'm not the biggest fan of this music but I can not deny its importance, nor question the aspirations of musicians who are wired to the universal electronic pulse. Also, from a purely experiential perspective, the appearance of the German gurus of elektronische musik in Athens six years ago was an unforgettable experience, one of the best lives I've seen in my life.

As memorable, perhaps even more because my ears were much more pristine then, was my first contact with the original Human League on February 15, 1979. In a packed Nashville, a pub that hosted medium-sized groups, I faced an unprecedented spectacle: the first live from an electronic band I ever saw. For the first time I didn't see a set of drums rigged to wait or Marshall amps with guitars leaning on them. Instead, I saw two synthesizers, two monitors and a tape reel waiting. And the four guys who came on stage had nothing to do with what I had seen before then. They wore suits and all the singer had a fringe that reached almost to the knee.

But this was the least of it. The thumping electronic rhythm that came from the speakers immediately got me riveted. It was like I had put my ear to Godzilla's chest and listened to the heartbit. Simultaneously both screens started showing slides of cult TV series such as Stingray and Thunderbirds, from Hawaii 5-0, images of the Vietnam War, photographs of Kennedy, John Wayne, futuristic images, historic moments and everything else you can imagine. Noise from the synth sometimes pierced ears and sometimes wrapped them in sweet chords sounding like the other great Germans of the era, Tangerine Dream. It was something new and exciting, it sounded like a journey through the heart of the machine, a ride in what many called the ''future''.

The four guys - Philip Oakey at the microphone, Martyn Ware and Ian Craig Marsh on synthesizers and Philip Wright for the slides - were standing still and grim, as disciplined soldiers of a galactic army dedicated to the task , or just like a robot, as they probably imagined that
''the future'' would impose.The whole "stage presence", the drama, played on both screens. But what stood out in all this was the dry humor in the lyrics, or even the audacity you could discern in some of the words of the songs. And the titles: ''Empire State Human'', "Circus of Death'',''The Path of Least Resistance'',''Morale'',''Austerity/Girl One''. Like science fiction book titles, from where they had gotten their names. Among them, a completely unexpected cover that somehow brought them back to earth and the world of rock: ''You've Lost that Loving Feeling''. For the encore they had kept two other covers, an almost mechanical ''Rock 'n' Roll Parts One and Two" by Gary Glitter and the robotic ''Nightclubbing'' by Iggy Pop, so to remind the world that they had a touch with the human in their name.

A few days later, reading the critic of the concert at NME I learned that among the public was a guy named David Bowie who went and gave his congratulations to the band after their appearance. Later also, I read that the great Johnny Rotten had called them ''trendy hippies''.

The future envisioned by the four first Human League never came. After two excellent albums in Virgin, Reproduction and Travelogue, the desired commercial success never came,
the infighting among musicians started and Oakey ran away with the name, took the two girls and made the Human League that everyone knew and loved. Ware and Marsh made Heaven 17 and continued so. Neither of the two bands even approached the courage and sense of adventure of the first version of the band. And maybe their sound was more digestible than the sound of ''competitors'' Cabaret Voltaire, Throbbing Gristle, or Normal, but it was the first band of the era that could bring electronic sound to a wider audience without compromise.

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