The Human League

Reproduction
Virgin Records

When I became aware of pop music, The Human League were long past their peak of synthpop pomp, a by-word for everything aesthetically awful about the 80s. What 12-year-old sees past the surface of anything? Not this one, at any rate. To the extent that I thought about them at all, I filed the League in the box marked 'dire TOTP shite'.

I take a more balanced view these days. The revelation arrived in the form of that Synth Brittania documentary the Beeb did a while back, digging into the roots of the synthpop sound I'd learned to loathe. Here were the familiar icons of 80s UK pop, but pictured and played back as they were during their earlier (post-)punk incarnations.

And here were The Human League who recorded Reproduction, before the shoulder pads and high-volume styling mousse, before the schism between Phil Oakey and Martyn Ware became a full-on split. Here were The Human League as something transgressive, edgy, strange. Something shamelessly science-fictional, reeking of late-70s anomie, of Ballard and Kubrick and industrial decline. In the aftermath of the 2008 financial crisis, that album sounded incredibly retro and incredibly relevant at once. 

Ever since I arrived in Sheffield a few years later, Reproduction has been among the records that soundtrack my wanderings around the city, drifting through the ruins of a prematurely foreclosed-upon modernist utopia. It's an unmistakable product of not only a specific time, but of a specific place. A memory of something I never experienced, which nonetheless strikes like a déjà vu.

Paul Graham Raven

Trellion & Sniff

North Luna
Bad Taste Records

North Luna sounds like what you’d expect from Trellion and Sniff from the off, from the spacey, looped soundscapes of ‘Cape Horn Fever’ to the chopped-up film dialogue and the faster, harder hitting bangers. Except this time around it all seems turned up a notch - the snares harder, the tempo faster and the 'dumb' even dumber. The mostly in-house production glides from one track to the next, lending itself perfectly to the pair’s lazy flows and their own brand of lyrics.             

More than anything though, this album probably marks the point where the duo’s sound, aesthetic and image all came together most coherently. The EPs they released before - Strange Harvest and The House and The Brain - were clearly a step in this direction, but the Trellion and Sniff that seems so familiar, from image to lyrical content, is more precise and perfected on this album.

It was received as one of the best UK hip hop efforts out there. The Quietus included it in their top hip hop records of 2013, alongside the likes of Earl Sweatshirt, Kanye West and Pusha T. The fact that it’s littered with Sheffield references and appearances from local artists, like Rawkid on the insanely good ‘Le Chambre’, goes to show how interesting and diverse music in this city can be.

It’s hard to imagine albums like North Luna reaching the audience and acclaim they deserve if it wasn’t for labels like Bad Taste. But without artists like Trellion and Sniff, it’s even harder to imagine the Sheffield music scene being so much fun.

George Springthorpe

SCREAMING MALDINI

SCREAMING MALDINI
HIP HIP HIP

My first ever review in these hallowed pages was of a very early Screaming Maldini gig, back in 2010 (#25). I’d never reviewed a gig before that. I just remember thinking, “Holy shit, the world needs to know about this,” and jumping on their bandwagon as quickly as I could. Two years later, their magnificent debut album was released to great acclaim.

If you’ve seen a film at the Showroom in the last couple of years, chances are you’ve already heard the album’s biggest hit, the ludicrously catchy ‘Summer, Somewhere’, used repeatedly in the ShAFF trailer.

Maybe you delved a little deeper and watched any of the deceptively clever yet constantly rewatchable videos they made. Maybe you saw them perform and took in the real magic. Screaming Maldini were the definition of a great live band - every musician a virtuoso, six-part vocal harmonies totally normal. Often accompanied by choir, strings and, on one memorable occasion, a full symphony orchestra, a gig of theirs was an overwhelming, colourful, breathtaking experience.

Heavy on synths, brass and big vocals, their music was full-on pop, but scratch beneath the surface and you’d see a world of innovative creativity. No track on this album is in 4/4 time. Clever rhythms, unexpected structures and grand melodic flourishes are everywhere. I doubt I’ll hear anything quite like them again. Sadly, they split 18 months ago, but what a memento these 12 songs are. Unforgettable.

Ben Eckersley

Standard Fare

The Noyelle Beat
Thee Sheffield Phonographic Corporation

It’s the album that revived my wilted faith in indie pop, though I don’t think Standard Fare intended to be an indie pop band. They came from a rock and pop world, stifled in their hometown of Buxton.

It wasn’t until they moved operations to Sheffield - recording at 2Fly, rehearsing at Yellow Arch, signing with Thee SPC - that they found their community. I identified with much about how and why they were making their music before I’d even heard the whole album. They were writing unpretentious, personal, danceable pop and I loved it.

The single ‘Dancing’ was on repeat until the full-length arrived, featuring future singles ‘Fifteen’ and ‘Philadelphia’, and bookended with two of their best, ’Love Doesn’t Just Stop’ and ‘Wow’. It’s Emma Kupa’s voice that gets you first. It’s honey and tar, imperfectly perfect, raw and genuine. Her lyrics, conversational but blithely poetic, are delivered with unsparing honesty, private stories told to you straight, as a friend or ex-lover. With Kupa also on bass, the trio was completed by Dan Howe (vocals and guitar) and Andy Beswick (drums), and it was a great band recipe while it lasted.

Like many SPC bands before them, including my own, they’d been over to play for Music Transfer Protocol, who in the late 00s brought together Northern English and Northern French bands for compilations and festivals. The Noyelle Beat title helped slot the album even more neatly - and for me, nostalgically - into Sheffield’s recent musical history, where it shines.

Nat Johnson

Bal-Sagoth

Starfire Burning Upon The Ice-Veiled Throne of Ultima Thule
Cacophonous Records

My first encounter with Bal-Sagoth was in the form of an advert within the pages of Metal Hammer in the late 90s. After reading about Phil Anselmo's drug overdose and Bruce Dickinson's minor solo career, I saw a picture of a blue album with some kind of malevolent creature raising its arms, half in victory, half in rage. The text was unreadable. I wanted to know more, and yet their presence was fairly minimal in the shops. I didn't know where to start.

Starfire Burning Upon The Ice-Veiled Throne of Ultima Thule was that album, and one of the tracks happened to be on a CD called Gods of Darkness, which I picked up in Rocky's. I remember reading the tracks and cover repeatedly on the bus all the way home up Eccy Road, where I then lived. I rushed home and learned it. The CD was in fact very good, mainly for a handful of gems. 'Summoning the Guardians of the Astral Gate' was one of these.

Why is it so good? It's battle metal, made with epic choral attacks and lyrics gleaned from Tolkien, Howard, Lovecraft and even Bronte, giving rise to majestic, poetic, rhythmic storytelling opuses which hammer on and on with glorious fanfare and power.

And as a Sheffield band, it's not uncommon to spot one of the members while you're out and about.

Rowan Blair Colver

Def Leppard

The Def Leppard EP
Bludgeon-Riffola

Def Leppard had their first rehearsal in a spoon factory on Bramall Lane and their first public gig at Westfield School in July 1978.

With their euphoric riffs, big blonde manes and undeniably stateside sound, they went on to sell records across the globe, unsurprisingly finding their biggest audience amongst the people on which they modelled their image, the Americans. At the height of their success in the USA, they went on to sell more than ten million albums. Who knew?

The 1979 Def Leppard EP is the band’s debut, recorded by the ballsy Yorkshire teenagers on a borrowed budget of £150 at Fairview Studios in Hull. It’s probably the only release which can be claimed to have come out of Sheffield, before they left for brighter lights. As you might expect, it’s a lot grittier than the glam metal hits they’re famous for, but this is perhaps owing more to the fact that it was recorded almost 40 years ago than anything. The foundations of future guitar solos – notably the solo on opening track 'Ride into the Sun' – are evident even in this premature production.

If it’s a slice of Sheffield’s music history that you seek, then hunt through the vinyl section of your local independent for this little rarity. The 7” white label version is the one you’re most likely to come across, while the original yellow label has made its way to that ethereal plain of the collector’s item. Alternatively, if you weren’t born when the EP was released, ask Pops. He might even have a copy.

Danielle Mustarde