Sigue Sigue Sputnik

Freewheeling through time and space, Kris Needs continues his further adventures in sound. This month: Sigue Sigue Sputnik

On the ‘Flaunt It’ reissue, Sigue Sigue Sputnik may seem an extreme 1980s over-the-top novelty act. Remembering when they first manifested, though, they were more a revolutionary, eye-blasting future apparition, cutting an uproarious neon swathe through the dreariness of The Smiths and the like and adorning magazine covers before they’d released a record (including ZigZag, which I edited, in February 1986).

After Generation X split, bassist Tony James pondered his next move. Armed with his Malcolm McLaren rulebook and Suicide albums, Tony conceived a high-tech “ultimate rock ’n’ roll microchip”. He named it after a Russian street gang and recruited super-bitch frontman Martin Degville (“I knew he was a star. He makes Boy George look like a bricklayer”), “Human Quiff” guitarist Neal X and double electro-drummers, the Simmons twins, Mick Jones to mix live sound, and the late Magenta Devine for management hype.

Knowing Tony from punk’s frontline, I visited him at his Maida Vale flat before SSS had released a record, getting his full-bore manifesto as he sat astride an Airwolf synth-bass, pink top-knot tucked under Atari hat. Tony relished being mastermind of his “action painting across the big beat of T Rex, Suicide and Donna Summer”, peppered with samples from ‘Blade Runner’ and ‘A Clockwork Orange’.

“I feel it’s the next cycle,” he began. “There ain’t no wildness and rock ’n’ rollness no more. Danger and excitement. Corporate Man. Sputnik Corporation. Serious. Dark glasses and suit, but still with pink hair sprout. That’s part of the excitement. I see us as the next step in rock ’n’ roll – smart, articulate, intelligent, making wild, exciting music that says, ‘There is a future’. Not ‘no future’, cos the future could be great. Technology could provide us with such a great exciting time.”

Signed to EMI, SSS recruited Giorgio Moroder to produce the first single, ‘Love Missile F1-11’, on the strength of his ‘Scarface’ and ‘Midnight Express’ soundtracks. Having flown to Munich to meet Giorgio, when Tony gave him their press kit, complete with a ‘Clockwork Orange’ stamp, he exclaimed, “My favourite film!”.

“He was ideal because he understands rhythm,” explained Tony at the time. “But he’s also involved in film soundtracks, so he’s perfect to create Sigue Sigue Sputnik soundtrack music. He’s totally sussed. I felt great respect working with him. He phoned our lawyer and said, ‘It’s the most exciting thing I’ve seen for years. I really wanna do it’.”

Moving to New York later that year, I witnessed SSS dry hump the Palladium and Tony in motormouth overdrive. After a couple of albums they were gone, living up to his words, “Maybe we’ll explode or maybe we’ll be the biggest group in the world. Nothing in between will be good enough”.

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