THE Human League wrote the soundtrack to many an “electric dream” in the 1980s. The group created music that seemed to have been beamed on some inter-galactic transmission from another planet in the future.
The Human League began in the industrial steel town of Sheffield in England and soon earned the praise of David Bowie in 1978 who upon seeing the group, told Brit music magazine NME that he “had seen the future of pop music.”
Bowie was right. Five years later on, they had the “world at their feet” and lead singer Phil Oakey, 56, sported a lop-sided hairstyle.
The Human League took its cue from German outfit Kraftwerk, that paired robotic vocals with cold, detached electronic music – a perfect soundtrack to the industrial age.
But the band took it a step further, adding pop sensibility into the mix and created the perfect union of man and machine.
After two austere, genre-defining electronic albums and a line-up change, The Human League eventually married Abba-esque hummability with space-age dancability on 1982’s Dare! and more of the hits that followed.
As witnessed by 7,000 people in Fort Canning Park, Singapore at the Retrolicious concert last Saturday, The Human League put the pop in electro-pop.
“We’re a synthesiser band. We like synthesisers,” a hair-less Oakey proudly told the crowd.
Along with female sidekicks Jo Catherall and Susan Anne Sulley, Oakey knocked out hit after hit (save for a song on the new album ... but we won’t go into that).
Oakey, Catheral and Sulley are the only three remaining members from the group in 1982 and were backed by a a guitarist, a couple of keyboardists and a drummer.
Compared to say, another electro act like The Pet Shop Boys (who hit the public eye after the Human League), the Human League’s live set is fairly minimalistic – no big theatrical production, dancing troupe and There is nothing like a celebration of 1980s retro pop to get the old bones grooving again. big sound arrangements, just the songs.
The group delivered the optimistic Keep Feeling Fascination, the tale of double infidelity called Human and the Motown influenced song Mirror Man to a warmed-up crowd.
Oakey even pleased diehards with Empire State Human, a song from theLeague’s 1978 debut album – a fantasy about wanting to be 14 storeys high (told you they were space cadets!)
But what really got the crowd and a sea of hands waving was Together In Electric Dreams ( the duet Oakey did with Giorgio Moroder back in 1984.) Oakey was grinning from ear-to-ear by this time.
There were more grins to come when The Human League ended the set with its monster hit, Don’t You Want Me.
Almost three decades on, it’s still a knock-em-dead pop classic. The song embodies all that is important in 80s pop – a monstrous synth line, a tale of love gone wrong and a killer chorus.
Unfortunately, that was the only representation of the Dare! album for the night. But anyway...
At this Singapore gig, Belinda Carlisle, 53, followed The Human League, which was rather strange as the only thing the two acts have in common is they both had pop hits in the 80s.
The Human League grew up in the grey, steel-town of Sheffield, and created music from an art-pop standpoint and ended up reluctant pop stars.
Carlisle on the other hand, grew up under Californian sunshine and was born to be a pop-star with radiofriendly songs.
She began as a singer for the Go Gos, before becoming a solo artiste and singing her brand of golly-gee, safe-as-houses songs.
Looking as good as she did in her heyday, she sang with the ease of a professional on songs like Leave a Light On and Heaven Is A Place On Earth.
The third and final act of the night were English girl-group Bananarama.
Once a trio but now a duo, Bananarama now consist of Keren Woodward, 50, and Sarah Dallin, 49, who seemed relaxed on stage.
They spoke to the crowd the most, introducing their songs and asking the crowd to feel free to do the moves.
Again, looking as good as they did in their heyday (must be a female thing), they sang sugary and infectious pop tunes like I Heard A Rumour, Robert De Niro’s Waiting and Cruel Summer, complete with the dance routines and male-dancers.
The night closed with their version of The Chateaus’ 1960s classic Na Na Hey Hey Kiss Him Goodbye.
No fashion police were needed for any of the night’s three acts – there were no fluorescent colours or baggy pants. Most of these performers, now in their 50s, dressed tastefully in black.
Although considered to be yesterday’s heroes, all three acts delivered their hits enthusiastically without a trace of big, bloated, Vegas-y dinnershow pomp. There was also a large video screen on stage, where 80s images were projected through the night.
But the stars of the night were the songs themselves ... and the crowd, who were like a mix of Zouk’s Mambo crowd and an expat gathering.
The crowd danced and sang along in true outdoor festival fashion and partied like it was 1984. However, some of the younger ones knew the songs but weren’t sure just who sang them.
For instance, a twenty-something girl in the audience said before the show, “ I know the songs but I’m not sure of the performers. I know the banana-group (!?). I like Heaven Is A Place on Earth ... (she mixed up Belinda Carlisle with Bananarama).”
Sigh, I guess my age is showing when I start to notice things like that.
Now excuse me while I order some hair tonic and go chat up a “waitress in a cocktail bar.”