Andy Oppenheimer ‘The Devil’s Dancers’

Andy Oppenheimer of Oppenheimer Analysis recalls the creation of their self-released 1982 synthpop gem ‘The Devil’s Dancers’, which became a cult classic and dancefloor favourite when it was reissued on Veronica Vasicka’s Minimal Wave label

“I was working for a science and science fiction magazine called Omni. I went to sci-fi conventions as part of my job, and in those days I was a dead ringer for Bowie in ‘The Man Who Fell To Earth’. In 1979, I went to one in Brighton, and that’s where I met Martin Lloyd. He attended one of the parties for the writers, and he came over and chatted to me.

“The whole idea for the music came two years later. We used to go down to nightclubs together. I had friends who were going to Blitz club and Studio 21, and this was the period when electronic music was coming up. Martin had constructed his own home studio, and he got in touch to ask if I’d like to do some poems to music. I said, ‘I don’t want to do poems, mate. I want to do songs!’. I’d always wanted to be a pop singer. So we started composing music together.

“I would start off by writing the lyrics. I’d be on my way from one lab to another to see different scientists, and I’d sit in the back of the cab and write a song. I’d arrive at the studio, Martin would do all the arrangements, and I’d do the singing. We’d work it out together, and then he’d put it down to what I think in those days was an 8-track.

“The science fiction themes were very strong in that new romantic scene. We loved the imagery of the atomic age, 1950s comics and films, and that was what we embraced along with this very futuristic type of music, which was partly synthetic but also had a lot of emotion.

“The themes we wrote about were entirely atomic bomb-related. All those songs that we did in the very beginning were on the Oppenheimer theme. It seemed to go with the time. The series ‘Oppenheimer’ had come out on the BBC. I turned up at Martin’s studio one day with the Bowie hat, the suit, I weighed nothing, I smoked like a chimney. Martin looked at me and said, ‘Oppenheimer!’.

“I said, ‘I know, I’ve been watching it, I’m really heavily into the story of the nuclear age. I want to research it, study it properly’. I said, ‘Right, well that’s the name for the band’. I think his project at the time was called Analysis, so that’s how we came to put that rather unwieldy name together.

“Out of all of the songs I’ve done since, ‘The Devil’s Dancers’ is the most popular. It’s so bloody catchy, that thing. It took us less than an evening to do. The lyrics I wrote were based on what a particular scientist had said about the atomic bomb. He said it was ‘dancing with the devil’.

“‘Tickling the dragon’s tail’ was another term for when they were experimenting with plutonium cores. Bringing it all together without it exploding was an incredibly risky business.

“Dancing with the devil was the whole idea of making a nuclear weapon. I just said, ‘The future’s here said the pioneer’, then it ended up being a wee pop lyric all the way through. It’s like saying, ‘Sod it mate, there’s nothing you can do, so join in’. It was an amazing time when you could write a song like that – like OMD’s ‘Enola Gay’ – and people would get up and dance to it.

“We finished Oppenheimer Analysis in 1984. By the 90s, I’d decided that I really wanted to do nuclear research. Time went on, suddenly 9/11 happened, and I’d worked for various publishers as an editor, producing books on space weapons and science. I’d already done a couple of exams on nuclear policy and I decided to go freelance. I got work as a writer and defence analyst, and was an author on nuclear, biological and chemical weapons, explosives and bombs. I specialised in it as a lecturer, giving talks at defence conferences.

“Me and Martin didn’t see each other for years. He got married and had kids. One day in 2005 I got an email from Janes, the publisher I was working for, saying, ‘Are you some sort of pop star? We’re being inundated with emails about a group you were in’. One of them was from Veronica Vasicka, who was setting up the Minimal Wave label and had been trying to get in touch with Martin and me to reissue our music. I told Martin, and he was so thrilled. We got together again and met Veronica, who came over from New York.

“Somehow, our music had got to nightclubs in places like Belgium where DJs were playing ‘The Devil’s Dancers’. Minimal Wave is celebrating 18 years this year, and Veronica might release a special EP of Oppenheimer Analysis because of the ‘Oppenheimer’ film.

“By 2011, we weren’t recording anymore. We’d done our last live show in London, as Martin became ill. I had begun work with Mahk Rumbae in Vienna as Oppenheimer MKII. Martin died quite suddenly. I really miss him. He would have loved all this business about the film – he’d have been the first in the queue at the IMAX and would have said to me, ‘You’ve got to wear your hat!’.

“This particular period and this particular music seems amazingly to still keep coming up from time to time. Since the ‘Oppenheimer’ film came out, people have suddenly been tweeting and messaging me, talking about those early songs. It’s a delight. It really is. Because I’ve been doing a lot of music on and off since those days, but this has endured and it’s quite remarkable. I’m still astounded by that.”

A reissue of the first Oppenheimer MKII album, ‘The Presence Of The Abnormal’, is out on Klanggalerie.

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