Synth-pop idol still Moogy and magnificent 30 years on
He was a technology geek long before the arrival of the internet. Mark Butler speaks to Gary Numan about 30 years in the business.
HE’S the Godfather of British electronic music, and a man cited by many of today’s biggest synth-pop and dance acts as an idol and inspiration. But Gary Numan might never have become the influential artist he did had it not been for the tardiness of a couple of delivery men back in 1978.
“We went into the studio to record my first album, which had been written as a pure punk offering, and in the corner of the control room there was a Minimoog synthesizer,” he recalls. “Some guys were meant to pick it up that morning, but they never arrived and it was there the whole day.
“I’m very geeky and techie as a person, and it really appealed to me. I asked if I could have a go. The first key I pressed let out this huge, monstrous bass growl and I just thought, ‘That’s it’. It was the most amazing thing I’d ever heard. It was a Eureka moment.” That same day Numan began converting his songs into electro-punk, and although this radical departure did not immediately please his record label (“I nearly had a fight with one of the directors”), within a year Numan had scored two monster hits with Are Friends Electric? and Cars.
More than 30 years on Numan remains an iconic figure, one who has ridden out a rollercoaster career and emerged stronger for the experience. His new album Dead Son Rising is his 20th, and the collaboration with producer Ade Fenton shows off classic Numan sounds imbued with a slick, modern edge, not least on Nine Inch Nails-esque track The Fall.
“I moved around a bit more musically than I normally would, and as a result it’s more varied and a bit more experimental,” explains Numan. “I’ve gone to areas I wouldn’t normally go.” The star is speaking from his home in East Sussex, where he lives with his wife Gemma and their three children. It’s first thing in the morning when we talk, and he’s been busy preparing for a family weekend break, but he dismisses any thought of irritability with a knowing joke.
“I went through a long period where no one wanted to talk to me, so now I’m very grateful for the opportunity.” Numan is referring to an extended chunk of his career syndrome, and when he broke through with his early hit singles, the music press didn’t know what to make of him. Many branded his odd, android-like stage persona – born largely out of shyness and awkwardness – as aloof and pretentious.
“It was an awful lot to take on,” says Numan. “The success happened very suddenly and I had no time to adjust to it. It really didn’t help that I was a very immature 21year-old. I don’t interact well on a social level anyway, and when you drop worldwide