I’ve been listening to the Human League’s Dare recently - it just got a nice reissue for its 30th anniversary (a year late!) w/other League Imperial Phase tracks on.
The League is such a great pop story, and Dare is a great pop LP, partly because it’s the collision of two very potent ideas of pop which have resonated ever since but rarely sparked off one another so well.
The first idea is the original League idea - of pop as something boffin-ish, DIY, something you tinker with and build like you’d build an electronics kit. A ZX80 take on pop. Proficient, expert but also non-“musical” (as mainstream musicality was defined in ‘78), building songs out of found objects and concepts. High point: “The Black Hit Of Space”, one of the great songs by anyone ever.
The second idea is the reboot League idea - the logical jump from DIY to “anybody can make pop”, synthesiser democracy, the absurd (but intuitively right) idea that the ideal pop will be made by the singer, the lighting guy and two women they met in a disco.
What these have in common is a concept of de-professionalising pop to make it more interesting. What’s great about Dare is how they rub against one another - a song abt Judge Dredd, abstract stuff like “Darkness” & the very odd “Seconds”, unabashed rushy pop like “Fascination” and “Love Action”.
It’s also an illustration of a general idea about tech. New technology is more interesting than old technology, usually. But new technology is MOST interesting when it gets into the hands of people who aren’t “technologists”. Dare forces the issue for pop.
Yeah it’s deprofessionalized in content, execution and ambition, but sonically they had a wizard like Martin Rushent behind the scenes (willing/able to make 2000+ edits on the Dare! remix album). Maybe a little more synth meritocracy than pure synth democracy? See Geeta Dayal’s write up on the Martin Rushent’s interview in Totally Wired, where she talks about the meticulous editing and splicing he performed on the remixes.
Pete Shelley - "Homosapien" (1981)
SIMON REYNOLDS (interview excerpted from Totally Wired): Phil Oakey [of the Human League] told me that the one record that should be brought up in any discussion of the birth of synthpop is the one record that never gets mentioned: Pete Shelley’s Homosapien. Which was produced by you.
MARTIN RUSHENT (the recently deceased super-producer behind the Human League’s Dare!): Buzzcocks had split, and Pete came down to the studio to do demos. I’d started to use some of this new electronic gear I’d bought, and we came up with the album Homosapien. Which we thought was a bunch of demos. I said to Pete, “I’ll punt these demos around and see if I can get you a solo contract.” Bang, everybody’s coming back, wanting to release the demos.