Manchester post-punk innovator and electronic music adventurer Eric Random has seen a surge of interest recently in his classic material, and he’s returned with one of his best albums, the analogue synth-driven ‘Wire Me Up’

Eric Random is one of the great avant-garde artists to arise from Manchester during its productive 1980s post-punk years. The man born Eric Ramsden may not have experienced the success or the plaudits of acts such as Joy Division or Magazine, but he was fully embedded in the city’s music scene, collaborating with and playing live alongside its figureheads, while fashioning a distinct style of his own. 

“Creativity was thriving in Manchester during this period, and it wasn’t a one label town as a lot of people think today,” says Random, debunking the myth that Factory was the city’s only musical outlet in those fertile days. “My participation with a number of projects meant that I very much felt a part of the scene.”

His experimental early records, a mish-mash of sounds assimilating dub echo and sound desk manipulation, punk spikiness and dark industrial churn with plenty of electronic strangeness, sound incredibly contemporary. Tracks such as ‘Call Me’, from his 1980 album ‘That’s What I Like About Me’, have a disturbing magnetism, with squalls of doomy guitar scree, abstract synth sequences and gristly drum machines. Pitched somewhere between Section 25, A Certain Ratio and Throbbing Gristle, with production that could be the work of dub wizard Adrian Sherwood, it’s a sound many are desperate to replicate today. As such, Eric Random’s work has been rediscovered, with a compilation from San Francisco label Dark Entries, ‘A Boy Alone’, leading to performances around Europe.

“I believe my work has undergone a reappraisal exactly because there is a younger audience out there, which now bolsters the no lesser important old faithful,” says Random. “Some of my recent performances at OHM in Berlin, and also gigs in Lithuania and Poland, have been most enjoyable due to the fact they were played to young crowds.”

This audience has encouraged Random to release an excellent new vinyl-only album, ‘Wire Me Up’, an analogue synth-heavy creation with vocoder vocals that skews towards synthpop, electro and techno. Album highlight, ‘You Seem The Same’, has cosmic arpeggios spinning endlessly over thrumming bass and heavy kick drums, huge synth strings looming in the backdrop, while the haunting ‘Hypnophobia’ is a dark, minimal wave piece of four-to-the-floor beats and eerie horror film arpeggios. As an early adopter of machine-made sounds, it’s a natural fit for Random, during a time when analogue synths are more popular than ever.

“It’s my first vinyl release since my return,” he says, “and was made in response to direct contact from Sacha and Alexandria from Sleepers Records, a Berlin and LA-based label who put out underground analogue-type albums.

“The writing of these tracks was mainly done on the basic trio of my Yamaha CS-30, Roland SH-09 and an Elektron Analog Four, with bits of ARP Odyssey and the Moog Mother series. The rhythms were created on MFB drum machines, and all vocals have been treated with a Korg MS2000 vocoder.”

Through his long career, Random has worked with everyone from Magazine’s Barry Adamson, late Velvet Underground chanteuse Nico and Cabaret Voltaire. Growing up in Manchester, he discovered music through his older siblings, and was bought a guitar by his dad. It was when he befriended chief Buzzcock and electronics enthusiast Pete Shelley, though, that he was put on the path to making music himself.

“My first serious influences were records by Roxy Music, which opened up to my listening to Kraftwerk, Brian Eno, Suicide and stuff like the Velvet Underground, plus lots of 12-inch dub plates on import,” he says. “But it wasn’t until I met Pete Shelley and him teaching me some basic chords that my interest in making music really formulated.”

Random got to know Shelley as a fan of his band, first meeting him after Buzzcocks played a show at a small Manchester gay bar that became an early locus for the punk scene.

“I got to know Pete as one of the crowd at the infamous Ranch Bar, which was owned by [famed drag performer] Foo Foo Lammar. Apart from passing on his guitar skills, he would also listen to a lot of the more German-based music, leading to my life-long love and respect of bands such as Can, Neu! and the like.”

Random subsequently became a roadie for Buzzcocks, schlepping gear around and setting up for gigs that have become the stuff of legend. Through this, he got a valuable insight on the machinations of the industry, as well as having the chance to see many of his favourite bands perform.

“The time I spent travelling with Buzzcocks was more than educational,” he says. “I got to see the scene firsthand and what was actually going on artistically, socially and within the music industry. Some of the most memorable times were the tours with Joy Division, unmatched for their intensity and pulling pranks. Another highlight was being able to see and get to know The Slits, and last but not least, my first experience of Cabaret Voltaire live at the London Lyceum.”

For a brief spell, Random was in a band with Pete Shelley and Francis Cookson, The Tiller Boys. They released one EP on the New Hormones label – another vital Manchester post-punk outlet initially set up by Buzzcocks manager Richard Boon to put out that band’s highly influential debut EP, ‘Spiral Scratch’.

“We also sometimes had the added excellence of then-Magazine member Barry Adamson,” says Random. “We played around with repetitive drum machine rhythms, and made guitars feedback and distort through a number of old Tandberg tape machines all looped together. Sadly, maybe, this was not a project meant to live too long. Not only because of Pete’s other commitments, but also down to the fact that both Francis and myself were totally against falling into any of the old rock band kinds of patterns and mistakes, that we had both seen made during the commercialisation of the punk and new wave bands.

“Our only release, ‘Big Noise From The Jungle’, was originally intended for Factory, but with the obvious, already established connections, it came out on New Hormones. Being my first record, and at the age of 16, I really didn’t care in the end who it came out with.”

After The Tiller Boys fizzled out in 1979, Random went solo. Still signed to New Hormones, he teamed up with Cabaret Voltaire and absconded to their Western Works studio in Sheffield to make his first full length, ‘That’s What I Like About Me’ and the single ‘Dow Chemical Company’. The latter, a weird and compelling slab of gothic dub, bears the fingerprints of the Sheffield band’s industrial experimentalism, with Lyn Walton’s chilling vocals adding an extra sinister edge.

“Western Works studio was a magical place, with avant-garde art and old socialist posters covering the walls,” says Random. “All this, and the added pleasure of working with such talented, like-minded people made it one of the most inspiring and influential sessions I have worked on.”

The follow-up single, ‘23 Skidoo’, this time released on Les Disques Du Créspuscule, had an even deeper dub aesthetic, like Joe Gibbs recording ACR. This reggae element has remained an influence throughout Random’s discography, especially on his work with the band The Bedlamites. 

“Some of my first major influences came from listening to dub records,” he explains, “which coincided very well with the heavily dub-influenced rhythm section of the original Bedlamites: Wayne Worm on bass and Dids on drums.”

With that band, Random made the album ‘Earthbound Ghost Need’, again recording at Western Works with Mallinder and Kirk, further exploring dub’s sense of space and echo, and shoehorning in a cover of Maurice Ravel’s classical staple ‘Bolero’ for good measure. By this point, Sheffield had become almost a second home, and Random identified with its denizens’ impulse to create.

“As my relationship with The Cabs grew,” he says, “I became almost as familiar with what was going on in Sheffield as with what was happening in Manchester. Both cities were artistically prolific at that time – some slightly different sounds and ways of getting there, but pretty much the same thought process.”

The Bedlamites’ 1984 follow-up record ‘Time-Splice’, released via Cabaret Voltaire’s Doublevision label, is one of Random’s finest hours, and found him dabbling with dance music in an overt fashion. Featuring the Balearic proto-house of ‘Hardcore’, with its disco bass and ethereal synthlines, it was the closest to the club he’d come, and is his most accessible work. There was also the electro-funk rhythm of 12-inch ‘Mad As Mankind’, released in the same year, which could have sat quite happily on a ‘Street Sounds’ compilation.

“‘Mad As Mankind’ is what I believe to be one of the earliest electro dance tracks to be released from the UK,” he says.

Dance music appears to be an influence on his new record too, though Random claims to be unimpressed with much of the club geared material he hears.

“I was actually put off from making dance music for some time due to the overabundance of shit being put out,” says Random. “Even the better stuff was a little too clever and contrived, a problem that I find with a lot of music today. This is why I have tried to create tracks with more edge to them, and a sense of urgency.”

A further collaborative project found Random working with Velvet Underground’s Nico and the band The Faction. Their work would continue until the singer’s death in 1988 when Random went on hiatus.

“I was just worn out from the emotional strains of events and from the years of continuous touring, so I decided to take time out,” he explains.

Still, he would return to the live circuit with the band Free Agents, touting a sound that took in influences from around the world in addition to a strong dub backbone. 

“This was a large group, with a mixture of electronics and acoustic percussion, and Indian, African and Jamaican vocalists,” says Random. “We did a few things, like Whirl-Y-Gig at Womad festival, but we mainly played for a group of people known as One Tree Island, who put on events in out-of-the-way places.”

Since 2008, and the ‘Free Agents’ album, he’s been solo again, and prolific, releasing three more records, that precede his latest ‘Wire Me Up’, through the Klanggalerie imprint. That feverish output is set to continue as there are more collaborations on the way with some of his post-punk contemporaries.

“I am really excited to be in the throes of finishing tracks for a 12-inch on The Pop Group’s label Freaks R Us,” he says. “This will include a track with Stephen Mallinder on vocals, and two tracks with Mark Stewart’s vocals.”

Fans should hopefully be able to catch him playing live in the UK soon too, performing alongside the band Girls In Synthesis, where they can bear witness to one of the most adventurous, and hopefully now, better-known talents that Manchester has produced.

‘Wire Me Up’ is out on Sleepers

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