The Human League ‘The Dignity of Labour’

Resident archivist Jack Dangers on The Human League’s 1979 EP ‘The Dignity Of Labour’, a record he holds in high esteem

I didn’t get into electronic music until 1980 when I heard Phil Lynott of Thin Lizzy on the radio picking his top 10 records of all-time. Number one was ‘Trans-Europe Express’. I’d never heard Kraftwerk before, but as soon as I did that was it! 

I was aware of Gary Numan, but he had a drummer, and Orchestral Manoeuvres In The Dark had a bass guitar – there were elements of rock music in both them. So while I bought those records, what I really wanted pure electronic music, with no drums, no guitars. 

‘Holiday ’80’ was an early purchase. I loved that, especially ‘Dancevision’, which Adi Newton was involved with. When Adi came over to my studio to do some recording last year, I got a kick out of showing him my Roland System 100 and saying, “Remember this?”. 

After buying ‘Holiday ‘80’, I started searching out what had come before it, which is how I came across ‘The Dignity Of Labour’. I’d bought both the Human League albums in quick succession and remember thinking that ‘Travelogue’ was nowhere near as good as ‘Reproduction’, like I knew everything! 

In my opinion, ‘The Dignity Of Labour’ is the best overall record they ever made. The four tracks are unusually well organised for British electronic music of the time. It was released in April 1979, and recorded with a Roland System 100 and a Jupiter-4. They knew how to hook up the Jupiter-4’s arpeggiator to the System 100, and were able to lock into the sequencer, triggering the arpeggiator and then holding chord shapes on the Jupiter 4. If you listen to the first track on side two, ‘Part 3’, you think it’s a sequencer, but it’s the arpeggiator making the notes.

I remember hearing a clip of it on TV, on something like ‘Nationwide’. It was another example of electronic music sneaking into people’s minds via television. I wasn’t really listening to radio much in those days, but if there was some weird electronic music on TV, I’d notice it. For example, there was a bit of Jean-Michel Jarre’s ‘Équinoxe’ on ‘It’s A Knockout!’ before I even knew what a synthesiser was.

‘The Dignity Of Labour’ isn’t rare, you can find inexpensive copies quite easily, but it remains of the finest pieces of British electronic music ever made.

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