Tuesday, 15 February 2011

ZTT's five most important acts

1. The Art of Noise
There's something of a reappraisal afoot of ZTT's most central act, from pretentious provacateurs to truly innovative pop act. The label's backbone of producer Trevor Horn and propagandist Paul Morley was joined by arranger Anne Dudley, engineer Gary Langan and producer JJ Jeczalik to create an unorthodox sampled sound, reminiscent of Horn's quote reused as a Pet Shop Boys lyric, 'Che Guevara and Debussy to a disco beat'. Single Close (To the Edit), from 1984, is the archetype of their blend of English pastoral and violent cut up ('To be in England in the summertime with my love' set to the sound of a car starting).

2. Propaganda
Morley described this Düsseldorf quartet's second single, Duel as 'Abba in heaven', its flipside, Jewel, 'Abba in hell'. Propaganda were pretty much the perfect pop group, bequeathing us one album before going up in flames. A Secret Wish (1985) was Fritz Lang via Colin Wilson and featured additional talents David Sylvian and Glenn Gregory, marshalled by Stephen Lipson, presumably within earshot of Horn. Band member Michael Mertens continued under the name with vocalist Betsi Miller and Simple Minds' former rhythm section for a second album, while lead singer Claudia Brücken formed Act, also on ZTT.

3. Hoodlum Priest
ZTT head honcho Horn was said to have spat out his tea the first time he heard Derek Thompson's incendiary mix of industrial music and rap, served in a rich layer of sci-fi film samples. The sleeve to album The Heart of Darkness (1990) references photographer George Hoyningen-Huene, while track titles namecheck Rock Drill and Tyrell. It's dark, troublingly sexy and very subversive.

4. 808 State
Britain's most important dance act? The Manchester band's debut on ZTT, 808:90, is a classic; on the back of it, and single The Only Rhyme that Bites, the band launched a successful club tour. Follow-up Ex:El (1991) cemented their reputation, featuring guest appearances from Bernard Sumner and Björk, who was still in The Sugarcubes. Collaboration has followed collaboration, with appearances from James Dean Bradfield and Louise Rhodes.

5. Frankie Goes To Hollywood
By rights, FGTH should be the top of this list, but then I'd have to include Seal, Trevor Horn's protegé who's gone from one-time club superstar to MOR stalwart. Frankie provided many of ZTT's biggest moments, from the furore over Relax, through Two Tribes to Welcome to the Pleasuredome (all on the 1984 album of that name). Amid arguments over preferential treatment at the label and groupmembers' artistic involvement, the Liverpudlian band were packed off to conjure a second album. I have a soft spot for the pop bombast Warriors of the Wasteland, and connoisseurs enjoy Rage Hard (The Young Person's Guide to the 12" Mix), included on new compilation, The Art of the 12".


  1. To my shame, I dont't know Hoodlum Priest, but shall rectify this immediately.

    Something which still makes me laugh years later is from a magazine article about the production of the Pleasuredome album. The caption to a photo of Trevor Horn looking especially nerdy was 'When two tribes go to war, he always gets picked last.'

  2. Haha, I like the images of him in the video of Beatbox (Version 2), which I link to above. Let me know what you think of HP, crazy stuff.

  3. Just listened to it, and it's really got under my skin. Nice, brooding stuff, and all the samples from my favourite SF/dystopian movies don't hurt.

  4. Great, glad you're enjoying it. Hope all very well.