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Interview with Stephen Singleton













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Way back in 1999, I was elated to interview one of my musical idols, Stephen Singleton.  Our interview ran in one of the earliest issues of my print zine.  Stephen has made many impressive and historic contributions to the world of music.  He was one of the founding members of the primitive electronic band Vice Versa, who along with other Sheffield innovators such as the Human League, Clock DVA and Cabaret Voltaire, helped to establish the legendary "Sheffield sound".
 
Eventually Vice Versa would morph into the glittery New Wave band ABC, who would go on to have smash pop hits around the world.  With songs such as "Poison Arrow", "Look of Love", and "All of My Heart", their sound and their image was perfectly suited for commercial success.  Stephen later went on to also be a part of Bleep and Booster, another groundbreaking electronic outfit.  He also produced tracks for other bands, and is still based in the Steel City.  He works as a professional DJ and is involved in numerous music projects to this day.
 
Recently I felt compelled to do another interview with this highly creative man to coincide with the release of "Electrogenesis: 1978-1980".  This newly released box set is an exquisite collection of all of the Vice Versa recordings, many of which have never been previously released.  This sumptuous collection easily qualifies as one of the best box sets I have ever seen.  It was obviously assembled with absolute passion.  Anyone who is into rare, obscure, minimal electronics will think they've died and gone to heaven.
 
I caught up with Stephen and asked him about the new box set, and also about the atmosphere in Sheffield back at that time.

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Nightwaves: Please tell us about the new "Electrogenesis" box set. Why did you decide to do this project?

Stephen Singleton: It was such a brilliant, creative time back in 1977... post punk, and now to be able to document all of this work in a tasteful and cool manner is amazing and shows off some of the real talent I have had the pleasure to work with. Back then the original electronic soul brothers: David Sydenham, Mark White, Martin Fry and other people who got involved...now working again to tell the story of Vice Versa in such a cool way makes me very happy. People will get to hear every significant recording we made during 1978-1980 . The story of Vice Versa in music, the Electrogenesis and the first incarnation. The box set has been an adventure, putting together the artifact.

NW: What was it like working with Mark White again?

SS: Mark White is such a brilliant guy to work with. We became friends in 1977, we loved to talk about music and pop culture. We had a brilliant time making music, playing around with ideas and being creative. We were serious but we retained a sense of fun. We enjoyed the creative process, we loved working in music...it was our passion...it still is. I am committed to the work we did and the work we carry on doing.

NW: Please tell us about the musical climate in Sheffield during the days of Vice Versa. Was it a very creative scene?

SS: The music scene in Sheffield...punk / post punk was incredible. In a short period of time there was a vast amount of music being made and performed by The Human league, ClockDVA , Cabaret Voltaire , I'm So Hollow and ourselves. Everyone was working within an experimental primitive framework. Vice Versa called the post punk era the Electro Genesis and would describe the music we made as Electro Primitivo. There was little to do in 70's Sheffield, we made our own entertainment... writing, creating, playing live and video art work. It was a fantastically productive time for us.

We were left to our own devices and had a lot of time to be creative and experiment, we created our own entertainment, this is how we entertained ourselves writing and creating music, making art.

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NW: Did you have easy access to the original Vice Versa recordings, or were some of the recordings difficult to track down?

SS: We spent a long time tracking down our original recordings, many of which were on scores of cassettes we owned. I checked each cassette to find the best versions of our work, and often the only recorded version of a particular song. I am happy to say that we finally got there with the project. Some brilliant artists and musicians assisted me on this project, and the final result is better than I could have imagined when I started. I only work with the best, and the great people who contributed in the making of this artifact always gave their best and put forward creative ideas for me to consider and work with. How fuckin fab is that?

NW: Please tell us about the atmosphere in Ken Patten's studio. What did it look like? Was it cramped? Do you have any funny or interesting stories from that studio?

SS: Ken Patten was a lovely guy. He made us feel like a proper electronic recording band. We were lucky to work with Ken and we chose him to record our first offerings.

Ken's studio was like the Abbey Road of Sheffield, he made us feel like proper recording artists...being in a recording studio for the first time was such fun... we loved the process of recording our electronic sound, and making a record. We released our first proper recordings, we were serious but it was also fun. Ken was a lot of fun. He was like a dad type figure...we had to behave ourselves at Ken's.

NW: What gear did you use at that time?

SS: We used a Korg micro preset, a mini pops drum machine, plus a bass guitar, electric guitar and homemade keyboards and tape machines. We later got hold of a Korg MS20 and a Wasp.

NW: What advice would you give to any aspiring musicians or songwriters who really want to make music of quality?

SS: Rule number one for musicians is be there. Then you are in with a chance. And then practise. Carry on...go for it...

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The "Electrogenesis" box set can be ordered from Vinyl On Demand.  More information can be found here: