From taking to a trip down the Autobahn with Kraftwerk to the sodium tinted streets of Manchester with Joy Division, the 70s was a fertile place for music to explore the urban environment. As the 70s ticked by the places being explored was the mundane: the everyday streets and buildings. Life in its grimy glory, the repetition of life being locked into a 4/4 beat and becoming motorik. The excitement of a city after nightfall painted with shards of wiry guitar in a post punk world of long overcoats. And what separated krautrock and post punk? Punk of course, the music of back alleys and overpasses. Johnny Rotten screaming no future as Richard Hell searched for the meaning of existence.
Meanwhile JG Ballard was writing his avant-garde novels of urban disaster that explored society, psychology and sexuality in a concrete world.
The throbbing, pulsating, shimmering world of Neu! that spoke of the future as a tantalisingly close utopia became twisted by kids who read Ballard into rendering a visceral dystopia.
Electronic music as a canvas for our environment declined as an art form as during the 80s machines were used to make people dance. The concrete world of punk and post punk gave way to the plastic world of what Simon Reynolds refers to as New Pop in his peerless tome Rip It Up. The dressing up era of glam returned, except with pop stars dressing as cowboys and pirates, not aliens.
Two decades on and there is a motorik renaissance however, bands like Warm Digits, Eat Lights Become Lights and Camera are resurrecting the dreams of Kraftwerk and Neu! and using the advances in technology to make music that possible even better their idols.
Interchange is not only an album but an experimental film based on the archives of construction of the Newcastle Metro in the 1970s, photos, images, diagram and illustrations taken and set to music.
In many ways this is a culmination of many 1970s works. While it may not sound like a riveting (ba-dum) subject the film is hypnotic and Warm Digits album is a sensational retro album that isn’t retro at all as it still sounds biting and relevant.
With swirling, flashing images that recollect the BBC video logo on the early VHS tapes images such as silhouettes of Newcastle civic amenities take life, strobeing relentlessly at you. The combination of mundane pictures with psychedelic brain washing editing and colours becomes quite intense. The film is best watched in the dark. By the end I was transfixed, staring at the screen like Alex in A Clockwork Orange or Harry Palmer at the Ipcress device.
Capturing dreams of the future with the grime of the present Warm Digits have taken old ideas and recast them anew for a future/ retro/ nostalgia / forward facing age. The music is warm and inviting, never losing sight of a danceable groove. Like a lot of dance music there is a positive, optimistic tone that goes a long way to explaining the success of the songs here. The album explores but never descends into ambience.
The album on its own is recommended but without the DVD you are quite literally missing the bigger picture.
WARM DIGITS – ‘THE OFFICE OF THE CONTROL INSPECTOR’