VARIOUS ARTISTS – ” Dreams To Fill The Vacuum ” The Sound Of Sheffield 1978-1988

Posted: December 14, 2019 in ALBUMS, MUSIC
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Journey through the music of a generation in one of the UK’s most vibrant and creative cities.

Sheffield in the 1970s…. a city in decline, its steel mills and factories closing and its vast housing estates beginning to crumble. Even the city’s two football teams were both experiencing the worst form in their long histories. An unlikely setting, then, for a musical revolution, but aren’t they always? As it transpired, in the aftermath of punk this industrial backdrop, alive with frustrated young talent and peppered with accessible and affordable rehearsal and performance spaces, became a hotbed of uniquely informed new bands that challenged both the constraints of genre and the dominance of music from London, Liverpool and Manchester.

Dreams To Fill The Vacuum charts the revival of Sheffield and its music in the latter half of the 1970s and throughout the 1980s, from The Human League to Pulp, via Aardvark, Pax and Native Records, and onto the chart successes of Heaven 17, ABC, Thompson Twins and many others. Featuring cornerstone contributions from the city’s brightest stars – Oakey, Cocker, Ware, Marsh, Hawley, Newton and co – alongside many more lesser-known legends, this is a tale of a city and its people rediscovering itself.

Packed with first-hand artist sleeve notes, insightful essays, revealing imagery and brilliant, essential music, Dreams To Fill The Vacuum offers a story in need of telling.

In the late 70s, the city’s bands set out to create the sound of the future – while trying to avoid getting beaten up. Jarvis Cocker and other leading lights recall a revolutionary scene Sheffield in 1977 had a slight feeling of being the city of the future,” recalls Jarvis Cocker. “I didn’t realise that it was all going to go to shit. It was Sheffield before the fall.”

That pre-fall year is the starting point for a new box set: Dreams to Fill the Vacuum: The Sound of Sheffield 1977-1988. Familiar names appear – Pulp, Heaven 17, the Human League, ABC – but they are joined by a wealth of other acts, such as I’m So Hollow, Stunt Kites, They Must Be Russians and Surface Mutants, spanning punk, post-punk, indie and electronic with that droll outsider energy particular to South Yorkshire.In 1977, Paul Bower was producing a local fanzine, Gun Rubber, and playing in the Buzzcocks-indebted 2.3. Like Cocker, he recalls the late-70s as being a time of optimism and flux. “There’s this myth of northern miserablism, that everything was shut down and shit,” he says. “But it wasn’t – that came later. It was a really interesting, bustling and creative time.”

Sheffield had plenty of dirt-cheap “little mester” workshops, once used by master craftsmen working in the city’s cutlery industry, and these provided room for bands to move in and experiment. Bower’s band 2.3 shared a space with the Future, an early incarnation of the Human League that featured Martyn Ware and Ian Craig Marsh along with Adi Newton before he formed Clock DVA. “We were enamoured with the New York scene,” says Ware. “In our own little way we were imitating the Exploding Plastic Inevitable.” Bower describes it as: “Andy Warhol’s Factory in the land of Bobby Knutt.”

The pioneering industrial and electronic outfit Cabaret Voltaire had been active since 1973. “They were the godfathers of Sheffield’s new music,” says Simon Hinkler, who played in bands such as TV Product and Artery, as well as producing early Pulp. “You can’t overstate how important they were.” Ware echoes this. “They were our mentors,” he recalls. “Their methodology and lifestyle was something we aspired to. Not so much musically, but as a template for doing your own thing.”

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