Saturday, February 26, 2011

S is for...

Literally hundreds of Ss. In which case, for the first time since A, B & C, we have to expand to 20...

- Ryuichi Sakamoto
- David Sylvian
- Conrad Schnitzler
- Klaus Schulze
- Gunter Schickert
- Paul Schutze
- Jane Siberry
- Saint Etienne
- Speedy J
- Tim Story
- Sex Pistols
- Siouxsie & the Banshees
- Simple Minds
- The Smiths
- Shriekback
- Suicide
- Soft Verdict
- Sparks
- Stereolab
- Slopshop

Sylvian & Sakamoto went from rubbish & classical (respectively) to accessible to difficult, and in the process released several sublime pop songs: Taking Islands in Africa (as Japan), Bamboo Music, Forbidden Colours, Heartbeat, World Citizen... A big part of me wishes Sylvian would go back to what he does best: Brilliant Trees ('84) and Gone to Earth ('85) are still for me his best albums. Sakamoto continues to churn out good stuff, be they soundtracks, laptop collaborations or piano albums, not to mentions reunions with Hosono & Takahashi.

I first heard Conrad Schnitzler on John Peel in the late '70s when Con came out, which was a revelation. He was the first musician I ever interviewed, in Berlin in Jan '80. The following morning I interviewed a pyjama'd Gunter Schickert, whose Uberfallig is essential. I've always been a bit ambivalent about Klaus Schulze, but there are a few classics in his enormously long ouevre: Irlicht, Mirage and X probably being the pick of them for me. Paul Schutze has mixed experimental ambient electronica with semi-improvised combo jazz, and as Uzect Plaush even had stuff released on a dance label.

Jane Siberry, for me, is one of the most interesting voices around, ever since her delightful eponymous debut in 1981. She's 'quirky' personified; a few years ago she sold almost all her possessions , including her home, and even changed her name to Issa, but is back to being good ol' Sib now. She figures in one of the best and worst concerts I ever saw, both in London: Union Chapel (sublime), and QEH (stiff). The last time I saw her - in Tokyo with Morgan Fisher - I actually managed to meet her, but it was one of those embarrassing moments when I just didn't know what to say other than "I really like your music", so I stood there like a lemon while she signed my Jane Siberry sheep.

Tim Story's tense, fragile keyboard vignettes continue to please, 30 years after his debut, and in his spare time he's helped keep Roedelius and Cluster in studio time. Jan Peter Schwalm's Slopshop weren't around for long but long enough for Eno to collaborate, and to release two excellent albums. Soft Verdict were an ensemble assembled by Belgian composer Wim Mertens with a handful of fabulous LPs, EPs and 12"s in the early 80s. Speedy J (aka Dutchman Jochem Paap) produced some of the best early-mid-90s electronica around.
I'd have to include the uplifting pop of Saint Etienne; the Krautrock meets French songs of early Stereolab before they got hugely repetitive; Simple Minds up to and including New Gold Dream; The Smiths for Morrissey's eloquent turn-of-phrase, though generally speaking I find them somewhat overrated; Sparks at the very least for Kimono My House, one of the most perfect pop LPs of the 70s - and they're still going; and Shriekback for some great alternative pop (also still going).
Which leaves the Sex Pistols (brilliant, as both band and phenomenon), Siouxsie & the Banshees (who, along with Wire, were probably the best exponents of where to take punk after punk burnt itself out) and Suicide (whose debut 1977 album is a classic).
The rest...
There are so many others, it's difficult to know where to start... How about some more electronica: Scanner, Seefeel, Schneider TM, Ulrich Schnauss, from Japan - Soemon, Takayuki Shiraishi and Speedometer. (with that all-important full point), Sabres of Paradise, SND, Solar Quest, Sons of Silence, SETI, Spring Heel Jack, Squarepusher, System 7, Sun Electric, Carl Stone, Smith & Mighty, Spacetime Continuum, Si-(Cut),db, Sandoz, Sweet Exorcist, Jake Slazenger, and The Shamen (if only for Omega Amigo).
Older electronic stuff would have to include Michael Stearns, Laurie Spiegel, Startled Insects, Seattle's finest Savant (one great album Imposed Order, one great single Stationary Dance), Severed Heads (great mid-80s releases), Antonio Sangiuliano who made just the one fantastic album (Take Off); Frenchman Bernard Szajner who designed the laser harp for Jean-Michel Jarre but also released stuff under his own name, Zed and The Prophets; Strafe Fur Rebellion (their Vogel was the first CD I ever bought), Stock Hausen & Walkman, Silicon Teens...

And at random: Stars of the Lid, Sufjan Stevens, Sonic Youth, The Soft Boys, Spiritualised, Malka Spiegel, Talvin Singh, Howard Skempton, Phelan Sheppard, David Sheppard, Geoff Smith, A Small Good Thing, Steeleye Span, Sneaker Piimps, Screaming Trees, Compay Segundo, Desmond Simmons, Skyphone, Adrian Sherwood, Mark Springer, Nitin Sawhney (particularly live), Shelleyan Orphan, Pete Shelley, John Surman and Can's Irmin Schmidt - and Bruno Spoeri while we're about it.

More 'out there' from back then: Karlheinz Stockhausen, Sun Ra, Silver Apples, Soft Machine, Vivian Stanshall, Yochk'o Seffer, Slapp Happy, Shock Headed Peters, The Sugarcubes, Janek Schaeffer, Section 25, Mark E Stewart, Salaryman, Slowdive... and the doomy Swans, Skin, SPK, Skinny Puppy, Spacemen 3 and one or two tracks by the Sisters of Mercy.

More from Japan: Silent Poets, Sha' Cho Mouse, SAB (one great album only, Crystalization from 1978), saxophonist and one-time Brixtonian Yasuaki Shimizu, Shonen Knife, Soft Ballet. Then there's half-Japanese Skist and Sandii & the Sunsets (Sandra O'Neale was actually from Hawaii). Oh, and Shinjuku Thief, except they were Australian.

Aside from the Sex Pistols, some more punk, new wave and ska: The Stooges, The Stranglers, Sham 69, Stiff Little Fingers, Subway Sect, The Saints, Swell Maps, The Skids, The Slits, The Specials and Selecter. Some rock? Not a big fan of Bruce Springsteen I'm afraid, nor even Steely Dan, but I don't mind a bit of Santana once in a while. Were The Stone Roses pop or rock? Whatever, the first album is essential.

And from the world of pop: Scritti Politti, Squeeze, Soft Cell (of course), a brief fling with The Style Council, bits of S'Express, Swans Way, The Sundays, and one-hit-wonders Spiller (Groovejet - If This Ain't Love was sooo catchy); and in very small doses Suede, Sting, Seal, Spandau Ballet, Sade, Soul II Soul. And we could go back further to the glam of Sweet (but not Status Quo), Rod Stewart (for a couple of early singles), The Sensational Alex Harvey Band, Sly & the Family Stone, The Staple Singers, Dusty Springfield, Simon & Garfunkel, The Supremes, Phil Spector, Nina Simone, hell, even Frank Sinatra.
And if we're going back that far, then why not Stravinsky, Satie, Pierre Schaeffer, Ravi Shankar and Raymond Scott. And Yma Sumac who died a couple of years ago.


  1. I'd go with the first 7 off your list, plus Tim Story as essential.
    An important one for me was Shakti - the opening track on the first album just blows you out of the water! Of course, L Shankar was an important part of that & he did some great solo stuff, but seems to have lost the plot. (Now called Shenkar for some reason).
    New "S' on the block for me is the Iranian Sohrab, who's a bit like Biosphere. One to watch.

  2. Shakti - of course - I have it! Yes, "Joy" is a fabulous track. Never heard of Sohrab; lkg fwd to yr next comp...