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Best of 2023: It's the end of the week, and wherever you are, here's to a great weekend. To get you in the mood and start the fun, here are five artists named after gear, and their best tracks.
We love music and we love the gear it's made on. So it's fair to say that we love the acts who name themselves after the gear they make music on even more. Here, then, is a celebration of those artists.
It's fair to say that most of our chosen acts come from that dream 80s and 90s period when gear was cheap and everyone started making music. Back then, there were two types of music fan: those that danced to the music and those that obsessed over the gear that made it. (Guess which we were – at least we don't have arthritis yet, so now who's laughing?)
Either way, plenty of bands with gear-related names emerged from that time, and here are the best, along with the finest tracks they produced. If you have any more ideas for gear-based acts and their finest tracks, leave them in the comments. Enjoy!
Named after the drum machine that ruled dance music ever since the mid 80s, 808 State released several genre defining tracks, with many featuring – as luck would have it – an actual 808.
Pacific State was probably their most high-profile release, and can you believe there was once a time when a track like this could be a top ten hit? That's exactly what happened at in 1989 when this iconic ambient house track was released. The track was produced largely with a Roland SH-101. Cost now, about £$1000, back then $£60 according to 808 State's Graham Massey when interview by The Ransom Note.
"Everyone was buying DX7s at that point, anything that didn’t have MIDI on it was considered redundant, not to us. The push of techno at that point made a lot of things affordable and attainable, for the first time."
Talking of being obsessed by gear, let's just go straight to the master, an electronic music producer with more myths around him than Greece.
Aphex Twin was named after an Aphex Aural Exciter – a piece of gear that adds energy to your audio. That's the simple explanation, although if you delve too deeply into Aphex Twin world, you can find several hundred other 'revelations'. We're sticking with this one though, just for our sanity if nothing else.
Other Aphex Twin stories include one that he has a studio in every room of his house, or castle, that he modifies every synth he owns, that he writes music in his sleep and all while driving a tank. Let's not forget the time he DJ'd with sandpaper and brought a blender on stage before lobbing it into the crowd.
He famously rarely speaks about any of this, and by doing so – or indeed, by not doing so – fans the story flames even more. He's Cornwall's Kraftwerk, basically.
Choosing a single Aphex Twin track is impossible, especially as he releases music under so many pseudonyms, so if you forgive us, we'll just go for the obvious: Analogue Bubblebath from 1991. We have a feature to finish, OK?
Staying with the iconic figures of electronic music, they don't come much bigger than The Prodigy.
Now this name is definitely linked to a bit of gear (because Wikipedia says it is). It stems from when the maestro behind the Prodigy sound, Liam Howlett, shared a cassette with founder members Keith Flint and Leeroy Thornhill, on which he'd written the name of the synth used in some of his music: a Moog Prodigy. The rest is, as they say… controversial and huge hit singles.
The Prodigy ruled the world throughout the '90s with massive hits like Charly, Smack My Bitch Up, Voodoo People, Breathe and our obvious (but how could we not include it?) choice, Firestarter from 1996.
“I recorded it as an instrumental,” Liam told the NME in 1996. “I said to Keith, ‘We need one more element’. He says, I’d really like to try some vocals on that’. And I’m like, ‘Whaaaaaaat?!”
“I end up singing in this weird accent, but it ended up sounding quite… menacing.” Keith added, with some understatement.
The video to Firestarter became something of a phenomenon in the 1990s. It was the 1990s, basically.
There was no shortage of bands naming themselves after gear in the 80s and 90s, especially electronic producers. The gear was a cheap (at the time) portal to the world of music making that put the art in your hands without requiring so much artistry. Yet another band of the time with a tech based name was LFO, although we're now talking specific parts of a synth rather than a whole. Later, we'll get to specific circuitry, we promise…
LFO were Mark Bell and Gez Varley who released several amazing albums including Frequencies (1991) and Advance (1996). Bell would later go onto become a well regarded producer but sadly passed away in 2014. LFO did enough to seal their place in electronic music history though: "It just happened naturally really, we got some synths from second hand shops, recorded them on a four-track," Bell told The Milk Factory.
There's really only one LFO track to choose, so good they (kind of) named it twice: LFO, by LFO.
We'll take our time machine back another decade for a worthy trip to see Thomas Dolby. If you get the chance to read his autobiography, The Speed Of Sound, do so. His life will make you quite jealous.
Here we're talking about Dolby's 'chart hit' phase – as opposed to his Silicon Valley, Mobile phone music, playing keyboards for David Bowie at Live Aid, or Hollywood Hills phases – where he became one of the first big synth-pop heroes.
Thomas changed his last name from Robertson to Dolby to avoid any confusion with Tom 'War Baby' Robinson, choosing the name of a noise reducing standard. OK, it's not gear, but just as, if not more geeky than 'LFO' so we love it.
Dolby would score a massive hits with She Blinded Me With Science and Hyperactive but we're going for Windpower, because we're feeling a bit more highbrow. (You're lucky we didn't go full chin-stroke and opt for Screen Kiss, surely his finest work.)