Thursday, February 28, 2008

Synth duos: Two against the world

This article could be ten times as long and still just scratch the surface:'s Joe Gross looks at the synth duo phenomenon.

Synth duos boil the "band" idea down as far as you can get before getting into the area of solo act, which is a whole different pop concept. Couplehood is such a primal idea that the synth duo contains an air of mystery that regular rock bands do not, especially when one stays quiet, behind the keyboards, and the other is the focus of attention. Who are these two people?

Formed by artists Martin Rev and Alan Vega as hippy worldviews dissolved into the trashy, paranoid Manhattan of the '70s, Suicide was genuinely extraordinary, a root integer of synth pop, new wave, punk, industrial dance, techno and post-punk, not to mention the Bruce Springsteen song "State Trooper," which almost sounds like a Suicide tribute.

On the band's amazing self-titled first album, Rev played simple, repeated riffs on an organ or synth, first-generation drum machine puttering along, while Vega's reverbed, Elvis-ish voice and creepy hostility seem a genuine force. The combination was and is like nothing else in rock. Check out "Ghost Rider" for punk before punk and "Frankie Teardrop" for a howl of urban despair that will chill your blood and ruin your day.

With the rise of new wave and more-portable synthesizers, the synth duo exploded. Dozens of bands appeared all over the place. Soft Cell emphasized the moments when love turns sleazy, Marc Almond's cabaret vocals pushing against David Ball's synths. "Tainted Love" was, of course, the smash hit, but that's only part of their story.

Eurythmics were cold pop idols — few voices have ever meshed with synths better than Annie Lennox's alto wail, but often she seemed more the robot than Dave Stewart.

I can honestly say that about half my closest friends are in a synth duo in some form or another.

[via Voltage]

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