Trans-X, ‘Living On Video’

Trans-X’s Pascal Languirand transports us to a computer wonderland as he recalls the making of his 1985 hit, ‘Living On Video’

“I was born into a family of entertainers. My dad, Jacques Languirand, was a playwright. When I was younger, there were always people from the industry who would come to my house – actors and directors – so I jumped on that bandwagon.

“I was a very shy person, so at first I did atmospheric stuff like Klaus Schulze and Tangerine Dream. I had very few synthesisers at the beginning – I used them with presets like flute, and I would process them with a lot of guitar pedals to get a different sound. Then in 1981, various affordable synthesisers appeared on the market as a guitar and an amp – that’s how I got into them, because they weren’t too expensive and they were fun instruments to play with.

“I was listening to Gary Numan, OMD and A Flock Of Seagulls. I started to go out to discos, and I had friends who were doing pop music. I went to school with Ivan Doroschuk from Men Without Hats, and at that time we had another friend who had a group called Rational Youth – both bands were from Montreal. So I thought, ‘Hey, why not give it a shot?’, and I wrote my first ever pop song, called ‘Living On Video’.

“This was a time when you had video arcades. You’d throw some change in a box with a little screen and then play Pac-Man or Donkey Kong. The song was inspired by the movie, ‘Tron’. I wrote the lyrics – “Give me light, give me action / At the touch of a button / Flying through hyperspace / In a computer interface” – for this kind of situation, where you’re inside the video game. It’s a pro-technology song, as we had fun with all these newly acquired toys – synthesisers. ‘Stop, let’s just live on video’ is the idea.

“I really liked Kraftwerk, so I chose to riff on ‘Trans-Europe Express’ for the name of my band, Trans-X. The other member was Steve Wyatt, but he dropped out before it really happened because he didn’t want to tour. We gave a demo to a friend who had a record store and he said, ‘I’m gonna take it to this label that has Lime, the disco outfit’. And Matra decided, ‘OK, let’s get these guys in the studio’.

“For the main melody, I used a Korg Polysix. The piano-like sound was a Jupiter-4, the drum machine was a TR-808. For the bass I used a Korg Mono/Poly and I had a CSQ-600 sequencer. Everything else was played by hand because there was no MIDI at that time. Then there were some Rototoms that were used for the fills – a friend of mine who’s a drummer played them. And on the spot, we added some little effects noises that you hear here and there.

“Steve played a few effects and one of the two keyboard solos. We each did a solo, but the engineer forgot to mute my track when listening back to it, so we heard the two solos together. We said, ‘Wow, that’s it – don’t touch it!’. It happened by accident.

“It was very time-consuming to record on two-inch magnetic tape, as you had to do one track at a time. We actually did the bass and all the drums in one pass, because it was sequenced. Then we added all the other parts, track by track. It took about 30 hours, and it was mixed three times before we released it.

“The female voice was Anne Brosseau – she was the best friend of Anne Dussault, who later became the wife of Ivan from Men Without Hats. We went out to the same places, so we were hanging out with the same people. Later on we hired Laurie Ann Gill, a photographic model, just to do TV shows.

“It was first released in the French language and was supposed to be marketed only as a French single, but then I did the English version – they were recorded two weeks apart, but it’s the same music – and that took off. It was a hit in Holland in 1983, West Germany in 1984 and then England in 1985. In England, Polydor realised, ‘Hey, this song has been in the bottom of the Top 100 for a year’, so they decided to promote it. They wanted me to change the drums to LinnDrums, so we synchronised some LinnDrums to it and I sang the lyrics again.

“The record company didn’t want to promote an artist, they just wanted to release vinyl, so I didn’t get any tour support. What people wanted at that time was what was called a ‘track date’, where the artist went up onstage with just one microphone – no instruments, nothing – and would sing three songs in the middle of a DJ set. We did the album in about two weeks. It wasn’t exactly the album I wanted to make, but I had too much pressure to release something new.

“‘Living On Video’ is popular within different genres of music, but mostly with the goth crowd – I don’t know why, but they love it! It’s not my preferred song to play live – I have better songs – but that’s what people want to hear. I tour with A Flock Of Seagulls and a bunch of other 80s bands every summer in the United States.

“I lived in Mexico City for 13 years, then I got married and we moved to Mérida, Yucatán, which is where I work. I have a studio here. I’m doing some new material right now – part of a movie soundtrack that’s going to be released later this year. A friend of mine is doing a documentary about drag queens and the life that they have, called ‘Mexican Divine’. It should be interesting!”

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