john foxx

If you happened to be one of the lucky folk who managed to grab a subscription edition of the latest issue of Electronic Sound magazine, then inside not only were you graced with a John Foxx cover replete with a firsthand account by the man himself about the coming to be of his scene defining ‘Metamatic’ debut, but also included a limited re-press, red vinyl to boot, of the iconic ‘Underpass’ 7 inch with original cover and b-side ‘film one’ which for me personally, comes as a worthy addition given our prized vintage copy has seriously suffered in the intervening years. Released in January 1980, it marked the start of a decade of hope and ambition, reality of course couldn’t be further astray, Britain especially the major cities, London, Liverpool, Manchester et al were a wasteland of dereliction, their greyness, abandon and neglect had provided a fermentation ground for punk’s sub cultures, yet beyond the anger and frustration curdled from political mistrust and the right wing cruelty of a newly installed Thatcher government, a need to escape and forget frustrated from behind closed doors and the shadows of the metropolic subterrania. Punk had burnt fast and bright, in its wake it had touched many disparate corners who for years had seemingly operated in a vacuum establishing their own unique worlds and spaces, unwittingly a catalyst, punk unified these factions – whether music, art, film, political thinking, the breaking of the norms, whatever the case, the established presets were being challenged and from this a creative period of experimentation was afoot from creatives locked behind bedroom doors. Through this period of flux, old methods such as the standard guitar, bass and drums still rallied, tinkering new ways to twist new sound species and styles, however new lines of affordable synthesizers as quirky and prone to malfunctions they might be, liberated electronica from the boffins and the rich kids relocating them to the streets, the underground and those with a creative visioning to test, tamper and push the envelope. And while the guitar might well express perfectly the anger and frustration, it was the synthesizer that mirrored seamlessly the neglect, the abandon and the sheer despair of the forgotten, likewise almost pathologically and symbiotically wiring itself to the redundant human condition with a humdrum morbidity. ‘Underpass’ and, more so, ‘Metamatic’ enforced and fed on these elements. Back dropped by a grey brutalist architecture, here a chilling blankness that hinted of the dystopic haunt of ‘a clockwork orange’ mutated, degraded and detached simultaneously icy and remote, informed by its surroundings, ‘Underpass’ was a cold, clinical interfacing. Like Numan’s ‘the pleasure principle’ it was solid state and sterile, yet where Numan had stalled at the chilling menace preferring to contrast ‘Replicas’ nightmarish future visions with a more user friendly approach toned in hope and nostalgia and sonically crystalline with complimentary contours and a smoothly curved chassis’, Foxx instead embraced total tech immersion with cold grey logic, the effect was oblique, edgy and emotionally neutral all etched in a gnawing sense of decay. Those thinking that ‘Film One’ lurking on the flip side might provide some would be thaw to the claustrophobic frost would do well to take heed, for here the element of menace found itself notched up several settings with the emotional quota stripped raw and consigned to superfluous and in its place a mathematical code speak programmed in brutal isolationism.     

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