Synthpop, which became prominent in the late ’70s and into the ’80s, is a subgenre with roots in the United Kingdom – thanks to pioneers like Gary Numan, OMD and the Human League – as well as Germany (Kraftwerk) and Japan (Yellow Magic Orchestra). The United States even got in on the act with bands like Devo planting their flag in the synthetic, keyboard-drenched landscape. But what about Spain?
Yes, Spain. Ibiza’s dance club culture notwithstanding, the Iberian peninsula doesn’t necessarily conjure up images of retro synthesizers and pulsating drum machines, but plenty of bands in Spain were formed during those heady days of synthpop and new wave. You could blame the general apathy of local record companies and radio stations for the lack of traction these bands were ultimately able to gain, particularly outside their hometowns. Some of Spain’s more daring DJs and radio shows gave these young upstarts a shot, but by the time major record companies expressed interest, it was too little and too late – most of the bands were only able to last so long without much-needed exposure (not to mention the fact that many of the bands’ members were eventually forced into Spain’s then-compulsory military service).
Fortunately, the music of these long-forgotten bands lives on, thanks to Madrid-based Munster Records. With Interferencias, Vol. 1, 20 tracks from Spain’s 1980-89 synth wave underground are polished off and deservedly unleashed into the world (in a package that includes in-depth liner notes from Spanish musician Sergio Sanchez, who records under the moniker Jazznoize). While all tracks succeed in evoking the same bygone era, there’s enough variety to keep the collection consistently interesting.
Take the opening track, for instance. “Respuesta Alternativa”, by TodoTodo, is more of a funk workout than anything resembling the British synthpop pioneers of the era. Recorded in 1985, the instrumental is loaded with synthetic horns, slap bass, and a driving beat that would live comfortably alongside Harold Faltermeyer’s Beverly Hills Cop theme, “Axel F”. But the song is followed by the moody, gloomy (but perfectly danceable) “Hablamos de Nosotros” by Oviformia SCI, sounding like a Spanish version of Ultravox.
It’s impossible to listen to Interferencias without picking apart the obvious influences of these fine, talented bands. “Amor Acuatico”, a 1986 track from Justine, incorporates a raw, sinister atmosphere reminiscent of early Cure singles. “Burdel” by Septimo Sello features a searing keyboard riff straight out of Gary Numan’s playbook. Kalashnikov’s “Digital” is obviously influenced by the raw, primitive electronic beats of early Ministry and Cabaret Voltaire. In fact, if it weren’t for the Spanish language singing on the non-instrumental tracks, many of the songs here almost sound like outtakes from those influential artists.
Fortunately, the music in this collection is varied enough to allow for plenty of welcome experimentation. “Sucursal” by El Humano Mecano, the alter ego of musician Curro Rodriguez, implements some of the stranger, more jarring aspects of the techno format with plenty of distorted synth patches and twitchy effects, allowing for an unsettling vibe. Likewise, the industrial blast of “Golpe de Amistad” by Diseno Corbusier mixes emotionless, robotic beats and keyboard stabs with the orgasmic shouts of vocalist Maria Jose Gonzalez, showing off the band’s obvious influences: Throbbing Gristle, Diamanda Galas, Laurie Anderson.
Closing out the collection, “La Banda Electronica” by the duo Bola/Banda Electronica achieves what much of the 20 tracks here do successfully: marry tuneful compositions with a then-contemporary aesthetic. The lush keyboards and driving beat combine with complex guitar lines and manage to give the song a timeless quality while still firmly ensconced in its decade. It’s a tough trick to pull off.
The title Interferencias, Vol. 1 implies that a sequel is forthcoming. That is welcome news for anyone looking to continue this deep dive into the obscure vaults of a bygone era. The folks at Munster Records have managed to unearth a wonderful stash of long-forgotten music. Bless their new wave hearts.