Martin Rev – Martin Rev


Martin Rev – Martin Rev

It isn’t exactly accurate to describe Martin Rev as some forgotten genius of innovative electronica. A great many music listeners know of / have heard / remember his collaboration with vocalist Alan Vega as Suicide, a band whose then groundbreaking approach to musicianship and songwriting alienated as many fans as it attracted at the end of the 1970s. That’s one reason why Rev’s reputation is today at least partially shrouded in a veil of late 70s mystery. The other and perhaps more awkward reason is that Martin Rev is an American, from New York, and very few if any of his then contemporaries were making music that was in any way similar. Had Suicide’s nerve jangling and claustrophobic 22nd century beat anthems originated from Europe, from the Dusseldorf/Koln scene that had established templates for electronica which continue to retain their relevance today or from it’s English equivalent around the city of Sheffield, we might view their influence today a little differently. Whether or not that would perhaps have made Suicide’s music more acceptable to the gig goers who gave them such a negative reception when they toured England alongside the Clash and Elvis Costello in 1978 is another question. Suicide to some extent paid an unfair price for their seriously ahead of everyone’s time darkly romanticised and verging on psychotic electronic ballads, and for their originality; they really didn’t sound like anyone else and provoked a far more hostile response than they deserved. In the book of influential US electronic musicians of the late 70s, Martin Rev has the page practically to himself, and Suicide’s edgy and difficult stance of then continues to resonate over three decades later.

Rev and Vega took separate paths at the end of the 1970s, after their Rick (The Cars) Ocasek produced second album didn’t make the impression they’d hoped for and Martin Rev then did something that I wonder if he might have wished he’d done a little sooner. Rather than continue to push his music onto an audience that for several reasons wasn’t quite prepared for it, he went back into the studio with the aim of developing his sound and working at an avowedly Indie level of presentation. As Gary Numan, OMD and the Human League made their presences felt in the UK top 40 with slightly more acceptably mainstream sounds (you could dance to the Human League, and Numan was a properly defined actual Rock Star), Martin Rev took his keyboards and rhythm boxes and to some extent retired from the fray while continuing to perfect his visions of darkly twisted electronic rock n roll, visions that owed more to the Avant Garde than to the Pop scene and which didn’t really belong in the world of chart successes, a return to the Bowery scene that Suicide had emerged from and where his music could find its own place amongst that of other NY experimentalists such as DNA and Chrome.

First released in 1980 and now reissued on the Superior Viaduct label, Rev’s self-titled first solo album is something more than just a third Suicide album minus Alan Vega. It’s a work of electronic composition, it’s experimental in a structured manner as Rev continues to find ways with which to optimise the limitations of his studio equipment, and in its remastered form it’s a powerful reminder of exactly how much innovation Rev was working with. Tracks such as “Baby Oh Baby” and “Mari” continue the ideas that propelled Suicide’s most successful moments, late night blues ballads deconstructed into contorted blasts of electronic sound, while longer tracks, specifically “Temptation” show Rev developing his music beyond the chart friendly concepts that hadn’t, in his own instance, really achieved what others may have wished. It’s also interesting to hear Rev’s continuing attempts to boost the results he can get from his rhythm boxes using a variety of production effects. In 1980, anyone attempting to record music using only electronics had a lot more work to do at the mixing board than today, with full electronic drum sounds still almost a decade in the future – the first line up of the Human League broke up over the studio use of conventional instruments – and Martin Rev’s own skills as a producer and arranger get as much from his instruments as they’ll allow, while his repetitive yet melodic keyboard motifs somehow retain their position at the forefront of the tracks. Quite aware that he’s producing music that’s ahead of his own and most other people’s time, Martin Rev’s first solo album works today because it has retained its sense of an already successful musician rewriting and breaking his own rules at a time when electronic music was still an idea that was yet to find itself fully realised.

In 2005, the band U2 compiled a CD for Mojo magazine of some of their favourite tracks and prominent among these was Suicide’s 7 minute epic “Dream Baby Dream”. Anyone hearing that song on its first release might have wondered exactly where Rev and Vega could take their electro dream pop visions after that and the answer was away from the mainstream and into less accessible areas. I won’t speculate on exactly what an influence they may have ever had on U2: it is however more than fair to say that Martin Rev’s influence has extended far beyond that which he’s ever really had acknowledgement for.