Tuesday, November 09, 2004
The Ultravox Covers Competition 
by Lenka Reznicek [permalink] 
UltravoxAnd now, for a little 'light' posting: for the past several months, the official UK Ultravox website/fan forum has been inviting fans and artists to send in their best cover versions, remixes and original "sound-alike" recordings. About 20 entries have made the semifinal cut; winners in each of the three above categories will be announced soon, judged by legacy U-Vox drummer Warren Cann [for those unfamiliar with Ultravox, he's the band's lone Canadian member - the blue dude in the picture].

My favorite is an entry in the remix category, "Mystère X" by Mehdi Touzani. [page link to .mp3 download] Taking its major cue from "Fade to Grey" by Ultravox splinter project Visage, the track sculpts "Mr. X" from Vienna into a chilly, sinuous, more organic form that's arguably better than the original. The Ultravox version owed its major debt to 1970's Kraftwerk machinebeat circa "We Are The Robots," but here, Touzani burnishes the techno/New Wave finish with Fleur Lairet's silky en Francais narrative and a slightly tweaked syncopation, suggesting pre-"Call Me" From Here To Eternity...-era Giorgio Moroder.

Also recommended is a charming instrumental "Christmas remix" of "Love's Great Adventure" by Nils Günther [original on the 1985 Ultravox Greatest Hits Collection], and an original (or should I say pastiche?) by Mike Lyden called "Extreme Voice" that sounds 'more Ultravox than Ultravox', uncannily incorporating just about every tonality in the Ultravox gamebook from Vienna to Quartet. One can easily make out bits and pieces of "Sleepwalk," "Cut and Run," "New Europeans" and other standards of the band's repertoire, with only one odd-man-out synth solo momentarily breaking the spell. The lead singer doesn't quite capture Midge Ure's passion or range - he sounds most like recent Ultravox touring vocalist Sam Blue - but he's darned close, and the synth and guitar stylings are classic 'Vox. I don't know exactly how Lyden accomplished this delightful feat, but surely sampling must have played a key role. It's a great homage, currently rated 9.10 out of 10 on the forum poll.

UPDATE: Mike Lyden responded to my Ultravox.com forum post, mentioning that his song actually did not use any samples of original Ultravox songs. I listened to "Extreme Voice" again a few times, and all I can say is wow...I'm even more impressed! That's a great recreation of the Ultravox 'spirit' and sound.

Which leads me to mention that technology's also been especially kind to all sorts of amateurs in this regard. With the widespread availability of inexpensive or freeware sampling, recording, and encoding software there has been a massive increase in homebrewed music on the Web. Though the quality ranges from stellar to unlistenable, even dilettantes can frequently produce accomplished results without spending a fortune.

Especially nice is the fact this fansite's been around for years in various incarnations, and the original bandmembers chime in periodically with forum posts, contest judging, and other grass roots activities. Some decry the diminished "mystique," over-accessibility (and overexposure) of many artists and performers in the Internet Age, preferring the one-way media filter's soft focus; I'm thinking particularly of Alice Cooper's interview comments in the recent Rodney Bingenheimer biopic, Mayor of the Sunset Strip. Certainly, some performers overdo the interactivity angle - prankster-rocker Andrew W.K.'s (or his ghostwriter's) daily advice column is dead-on hilarious - but on the whole, I think being able to share some virtual forum space with one's favorite artists can be enlightening and democratic - why not? It helps fans feel more "in touch with the action," and a superb way to share ideas.

[P.S.] Fans can view the Ultravox History, a nicely-done online 52-page PDF book containing a detailed 1997 interview with Warren Cann by Jonas Wårstad.

More: Italian 'zine OndaRock's Ultravox page
VH1's Ultravox page
"New Romantic" on the Wikipedia
Trouser Press.com's Ultravox entry
Midge Ure.com
Punk 8-Tracks:
One of the more bizarre artifacts of the early years of punk is the punk 8-track tape. There were no more than 5 years between the birth of punk and the death of the 8-track, and few companies bothered to produce them (Sire being the most notable exception.) There are few truly "punk" 8-tracks, but the numbers grow if one includes the associated genres.
[CollectorScum.com] That's even a narrower time frame than, say, Hip-Hop Cassettes. Is the cassette dead yet, or just moldering in the basement?