The Quietus - A new rock music and pop culture website


INTERVIEW: Veronica Vasicka On Blancmange
Luke Turner , December 23rd, 2013 07:02

The Minimal Wave label's reissue of Blancmange's early work is released today. We spoke to Veronica Vasicka about the release, and her plans for the label in 2014

The trajectory from experimenting with new-fangled electronics to chart-topping synth pop was one followed by more than a few artists during the 1980s, but Blancmange's is one that's perhaps less known than that of, say Cabaret Voltaire or OMD despite Daniel 'Mute' Miller's proclamation that the duo were "the maiden aunts of electronic music". Cold wave excavator Veronica Vasicka has rereleased Blancmange's 1980 EP Irene & Mavis via her Minimal Wave label, and it's far more than a curio on the road to somewhere else. There's a stately grandeur to 'Holiday Camp' while the mad chatter of 'Overspreading Art Genius' is unhinged nuclear chatter, and 'Concentration Baby' off-kilter narrative post punk with bonkers sax that anticipates Pulp. We dropped Veronica Vasicka a line to find out more about the compilation.

Can you remember when you first heard Blancmange? Presumably it wasn't this...

Veronica Vasicka: I first heard Blancmange at a dingy club in the East Village when I was a teenager in high school. The DJ was blasting 'The Game Above My Head' to a black-clad crowd who were dancing around and smoking cigarettes. Then I heard more of their other pop stuff on the indie / alternative radio station during that same time, songs like 'Living On The Ceiling' and 'Blind Vision'. It wasn't until later on though that I heard Irene & Mavis and was completely blown away - by how raw, ramshackle and DIY it was.

Are you a fan of the more pop, later Blancmange?

VV: Yes, definitely. But when I listen to their early stuff. I tend to forget that they're the same band! That first EP is so punky and avant-garde, and dramatically different from say the Happy Families record, which came out only two years later. I find it really interesting to see how they transformed within the musical climate, from being more of an experimental duo that probably would've remained in the unknown if they hadn't changed the way they did, to reaching pop chart success. My favourite more pop Blancmange songs are probably 'Blind Vision' and 'The Game Above My Head'. I also love 'Running Thin'.

How did your involvement with this reissue come about? Was it easy to sort out?

VV: It happened quite spontaneously actually. I had been thinking about how wonderful it would be to hear those early tracks remastered so I wrote to Neil Arthur one day last March, through the Blancmange website, and asked him if he'd ever thought about reissuing them. I wasn't sure I'd hear back. Then a couple weeks later, I received an email back from Neil saying that he was a big fan of Minimal Wave! He also said he'd thought about the reissue idea over the years but was reluctant because the circumstances just weren't right. He expressed interest in the reissue and our discussion took off from there. So yes, it happened quite naturally.

What is it you love about Irene & Mavis? Who were Irene & Mavis? Do you know? They sound like they should be in some British kitchen sink drama, like Rita Sue & Bob Too.

VV: I love the quirky attitude behind it. I love that the songs range from twangy, mutant synth-pop to atmospheric, futuristic, D.I.Y. wave. I think Irene & Mavis put a playful spin on how Neil & Stephen saw themselves when they first came together, not unlike a couple of old dears who would meet down at the laundrette to discuss avant-garde electronic music on a grey afternoon. Those meetings would eventually inspire them to go off and make their own noise, by utilising household objects and monophonic synthesisers to create an electric cacophony. Looking at the cover art for the EP, it actually looks like Irene & Mavis is the band name and Blancmange is the EP title. Perhaps this was also intentionally ambiguous for the sake of comical confusion!

What plans do you have for 2014?

VV: Many releases are lined up for 2014. New stuff on Cititrax, like two forthcoming 12"s by An-i (which is Lee Douglas making completely anthemic EBM tinged techno), an album by Brooklyn duo Further Reductions, an album by Bruta Non Calculant (from Alexandre of Le Syndicate Electronique accompanied by his brother) and a new Streetwalker record. I'm also really excited about the Minimal Wave material we have lined up: a compilation of Sandra Electronics tracks, a four song EP by Soma Holiday and a 12" by Richard H. Kirk of one of my all time favourite tracks 'Never Lose Your Shadow'. Aside from this, there's a long overdue Minimal Wave compilation in the works.

Blancmange's Irene & Mavis reissue is out today, December 23rd. Buy it from iTunes here