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Fad Gadget by Frank Tovey

This 2xCD+2xDVD collection easily rivals the This Heat box as my fave boxed collection of vault material released this year. It is a perfect companion to any Fad Gadget/Frank Tovey fan's collection as it has very little overlap with in-print releases and compilations. More importantly, it also serves as an audio and visual testament to the man whose late '70s/early '80s combination of electronics and violence in a pop setting was unparallelled, beyond its time, uncompromising, hazardous, and directly or indirectly influenced nearly every one of the most popular electronic acts of the last quarter century.

 

Mute

Fad Gadget

Mute Records and Frank Tovey's family have dug relatively deep to unearth the material for this set, including the audio demos dating back to 1979 and a handful of live performances for the second DVD. Additionally, a tasteful documentary has been assembled for the first DVD in the set, including interviews from friends like Boyd Rice, photographer Anton Corbijn, members of Depeche Mode (who used to open for Fad Gadget), journalists, band members, Mute's aging founder Daniel Miller, and numerous words from Frank Tovey himself over the years as well as clips from live performances and music videos.

The audio CDs seem a little tossed together but they work as an almost perfect place to pick up from 2001's The Best Of collection, beginning on CD 1 with Fad Gadget leftovers, Frank Tovey singles, a Boyd Rice collaboration, and some other unreleased and rare tracks. I personally was never fond of the post-Fad Frank Tovey material that I had been exposed to but here the transition sounds more naturally gradual from electro pop on songs like "Luddite Joe" into the more traditional instrumental music on the 'hits' like "Sam Hall" and "The Liberty Tree."  Audio CD 2 has a lot of overlap from currently available releases but what makes it most worthwhile are the five demo versions recorded on less than professional gear in 1979. Although songs like "Back To Nature" and "Coitus Interruptus" were clearly more complete on the official recordings, the vigor contained here is something quite special.

DVD 1 is the more biopic of the video discs. It contains all of the promo videos, a few TV appearances, the electronic press kit for the Frank Tovey and the Pyros album Grand Union, plus the aforementioned documentary. The documentary provides insight into Tovey's process for recording and writing music told by him and others, from finding sounds like the printing press beginning of "Collapsing New People" to the electric banjo playing on Grand Union. Boyd Rice tells the same story he did for me on The Eye about Frank's antics of leaping from the stage to the bar, knocking over drinks and pissing people off. The promo videos are great to finally have but the early ones aren't anything top notch as it's clear that there wasn't much effort made on video promos until the post-Fad years. The electronic press kit is great fo any fan of the album Grand Union as it is a look at the people behind the recording and features a personal tour of the area in which the subject of the album based on.

DVD 2 has performances used in the documentary including "Coitus Interruptus" from the 1981 Mudd Club appearance in NYC, three songs from the Whatever You Want special from 1982 (including Frank's naked shaving intro), and a fantastic set and recording (Hotel Suburbia) from 1983 with interviews where, during "Lady Shave," Frank plucks hairs from his armpits and pubes and throws them into the audience. The Hacienda show from 1984 is perhaps the most definitive live documentary on here, containing 15 songs and filmed with multiple cameras with a good audio component. It's disappointing and bordering on criminal that Mute and Depeche Mode claim to appreciate Fad and Frank so much but the 2001 footage from Depeche Mode's Exciter tour is a depressing single-camera shot. Only three songs from this show actually appear here. Depeche Mode certainly tour with video crews, as evidenced by a seemingly endless line of live videos which are constantly surfacing, and could have easily lent some to produce a respectable documenting of the return of Fad Gadget. The 2002 performance at The Garage is more complete with 12 songs but once again it's a sad single-camera shot with a poor excuse for sound.

Despite the limited quality of some of these segments, all the efforts to make this set available are much appreciated. Mute pretty much owes their existence to Fad Gadget and it's important that Frank Tovey's story is neither forgotten nor ignored. Frank's music, energy, and antics both gave edge to the electronic early '80s and seriously puts to shame every pouty electroclasher that emerged in the last 5-6 years. His influence will be felt both directly and indirectly for years.

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Review of the Day

aphex twin, "26 mixes for cash"
Warp
One of the better 1990s music trends was when the remix truly evolved into an art form. Artists like Meat Beat Manifesto, The Orb, and Autechre were some of the first who not only transformed a song into something almost completely new, but left their mark with a distinguishable sound that made the new version identifiably their own. While Richard D. James tended to follow more of the music trends than lead them (whether it was techno, ambient, drum and bass, breakcore or whatever terms hipsters, IDM listees, and record stores were coming up with that month) he excelled in the craft of transformation. A large percentage of Aphex Twin's popularity rose because of the remixes he did for then-popular worldwide acts like Nine Inch Nails, Jesus Jones, and Curve. (Another large percentage might arguably be chalked up to advertisement music, be on the lookout for 15 Ad Themes for Cash soon!) People bought 12" singles and CD singles in the early-mid 1990s because anything that had Aphex Twin printed on it was usually a sign of quality, and, no matter how little the original artist was liked, the remix would satisfy. 26 Mixes collects some of the more popular remixes along with some unreleased and scarely printed songs, arranged on two discs, with disc one containing more of the quiet stuff and disc two containing more of the beat-saturated loud stuff. It's an excellent document for those who aren't willing to pay high prices for things like the super-limited noodly Philip Glass/David Bowie track, are too embarassed to own a Jesus Jones record in their collection, or have absolutely no clue who Nav Katze, Mescalinum United, or Die Fantastischen Vier are and where to find them. It's not chronoligically arranged, but through the magic of programmable discs, the evolution can be charted, from the bashful, timid, faceless-era Richard D. James of 1990-92 through the "I have a bloody tank"-era Richard D. James of 2001. Fans will delight in the inclusion of two unreleased remixes: one from Selected Ambient Works 2 and a remix of Windowlicker (although shockingly not the one by V/Vm), but that Beck remix just didn't make cut. Maybe next time, Becky.

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