Human League


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“OK. Ready. Let’s do it.” The final words uttered by the murderer Gary Gilmore before his execution in 1977 became the first words uttered by the Human League on their debut single the following year. Being Boiled, according to Martyn Ware – who founded the group alongside Ian Craig Marsh and Phil Oakey – cost £3 to make, using two synthesisers, a microphone and a tape recorder; it was recorded in a disused factory room lined with apple packaging. Along came Adrian Wright, with his minimal musical skills, but a host of mood-setting slides, helping to create a visual identity for the band, just in case Oakey’s amazing hair wasn’t quite enough. John Peel was soon a fan, and Being Boiled sold 3,000 copies within three months.

At the time, as a short-lived marketing tactic, The Human League were labeling their singles "Red" or "Blue" to help buyers differentiate between the band's musical styles. "Open Your Heart" was the first to be designated "Blue". When they were asked why, Susanne Sulley explained that "Red is for posers, for Spandy (Spandau Ballet) types." Oakey added: "Blue is for ABBA fans."

1980 was the year in which the original, more experimental line up of the Human League split, with both halves moving in a more self-consciously poppy direction (one half as the Human League, the other as Heaven 17). Regarding the new direction local Sheffield magazine, NMX wrote: “Sheffield’s music scene had peaked…. from the start of the Now Society at Sheffield University in 1978, to the Blitz club on Infirmary Road in early 1980, after which it rapidly lost its sense of excitement and adventure then disintegrated.”

"The real reason for the Human League achieving fame and fortune now is nothing to do with anything as mundane as music, but image and the way they've been marketed. You see, no matter how much poor old Phil went on about wanting to be like Abba or The Bee Gees nobody ever took him seriously. The industry kept regarding anything original, especiallyas original as not using drums or guitars, as anti-establishment, bizarre, rebellious, even subversive, and only accessible to a minority of the market. Anything new and fresh was lumped in under that much used and abused vague term "New Wave" and if that wasn't inane, back-to-the-brainless-sixties pop pap, it was safer to keep feeding the masses disco and geriatric "stars" and keep the Human League and their ilk for somemythical underground market. Then along came futurism, the London clique acting as catalysts to bring many diverse threads under one banner to make it easier to exploit. Like each successive sub¬culture, it was born amongst the few then forced on the masses by professional exploiters, the difference being this time that the original clique made sure they stayed in the forefront and shared in the profiteering. With its wholesome, handsome men, and its messages of harmless fun, glamour, anti-drugs and anti-rebellion it was obviously more attrac¬tive to a younger market than any of the fads that pre¬ceded it. The new pop became the new teenybop. Though the Human League were quite isolated from what was happening in London their music was among the electronic sounds used as a stop gap to fill the dancefloor before Spandau and Duran Duran had product ready. Quite unwit-tingly they had found their little niche."

- Martin NMX / The Sheffield Electronic Music Fanzine

Strong, almost unkind words from young Martin there, but in many ways true. The League's destiny has never rested fully in their own hands. The course has never been dear, and the only thing they can do now is concentrate on the future. They got the breaks and they can be grateful. But they also got their rewards for several years of making good (sometimes great) music whilst the charts were full of crap.