Electro Gems for the Digital Age


Pleazure Units (Scobie Ryder & Jim Hawkins ) - unreleased album, London, 1984

Sometimes the beginning of something can pass by un-clocked.

An absence without aspect. Scanning a collection of promotional photographs when I should have been doing something more important, I stumbled across an EMI publicity shot of Scobie Ryder. A name that I'd never encountered but who stared out with a curious intensity. A quick keyboard search initially revealed two fine singles, a mix of post-punk melded with power-pop from the late seventies, and a five year collaboration with the recently deceased Les McKeown, former lead singer of the Bay City Rollers that had earned them three X3 gold discs in Japan.

With a few lives remaining to my cat of curiosity, I pawned a further one. There was little else to find, bar a white label LP that beguiled me because despite extensive cross referencing it seemed to be the only example in existence. Nothing was forthcoming, not even a whiff of it having been made. Sensing I may be on the trail of a potential discovery I bought the said test pressing and hoped for a prize for my thirty pounds.

What arrived was a curious confection. An astoundingly accomplished electro synth affair, confident, brimming with ideas and ample flair. Imagine Kraftwerk on uppers having a shindig with The B-52's and The Human League, with a wash of John Michel Jarre thrown in for extra measure. For the  life of me I couldn't figure why it had slipped through the cracks. Here was swagger and panache, a futuristic opera or a soundtrack for a movie that was very much of its time whilst totally transcending it. I grasped the brightly colored waves that soon became ear-worms. Visuals akin to Fritz Lang's Metropolis masterpiece tripped through my grey matter, goose-stepping robots in syncopated fusion across walkways in space. I put it to one side, but kept returning to why had something of such worth not been released? Why did it exist at all? Like an occasional itch it returned to haunt me with its insidious catchiness and accomplishment. I decided to have it digitized, initially to share, but like an unfolding lotus flower, or an endlessly evolving mandala, I became  even more beguiled.

There were no track names. Just the words "Scobie Ryder" hastily scrawled in biro on the sleeve and "Plezure Unit." Nine nameless servings of utter aplomb and luxury. Things burst into life with lead singer Ryder delivering instructions in a lyrical monotone to robotic female clones who respond like electronic sirens, a song I later learned was entitled "The Lesson / Pleazure Units." A militaristic undertow with no shortage of ambition to it's wild ambition follows. It reminds me of aspects of Robin Scott and his vehicle ‘M' or perhaps David Sylvian’s Japan. This is "I Feel 4 U." As the slightly monastic aspects fade from view a fertile rhythm arrives with a semi computerized voice, a cross between the wilder excesses of Landscape and Telex. A scintillating bass-line throbs beneath a strange choir, we have entered the world of "ROBOT ROCK," like The B-52's in tandem with a Sparky's Magic Piano voice. A wild party that reminds me of "Planet Clare," jaunty and fizzing with life  holding elements of Giorgio Moroder's synth excess and The Human League's droll flippancy, a dance-floor of the future ready to be set alive by a fragment of the past. In the old fashioned world of vinyl the first side ends with "Searching" a haunting ballad, a space-age love song of refined mannerism akin to the solo work of former Metro luminary Peter Godwin.

Side two emerges with the serious panache of "Interference," a suggestion of meteors, starlit skies and landscapes, all driven by a duet of sorts under-pinned by a strangely ethereal female voice. Vast in vision but concisely realized, this is an opus between an opera and a film score, brimming with atmosphere which bewitches via a catwalk vibrancy of confidence as it slinks away. Kraftwerk mesmerism flexes into life with "Spy Stories" twisting like a coiled snake made from colored wires with an unreserved cohesiveness, panache with a punch, a fluency of delivery that resolves itself in a polite spasm at the end. Aspects of Vangelis are at play in "She's A Miracle" in a definite march time, a smoldering epic like restrained Klaus Nomi. There's a delightfully casual musicality a ploy suggestive of Magazine at their most night-scape and relentless, it harnesses vastness of an almost Bowie in his Young Americans daze. Slick and smooth like sweet soul cream, it builds and swishes through a flawless set of production values, sophisticated and divine. If synth space soul were a genre it began here. A song that demands to be remixed to within an inch of the new life it deserves to have, with some lashings of Art Of Noise sophistication to enrich all further. As it fades an true wallop arrives to dismantle the reverie in a muscular punch in the form of "Streetwalker" -- Cameo locked in a room with Trevor Horn and Frankie Goes to Hollywood at their most challenging. A steroid induced funk flex-out, dizzying and perfectly delivered. "Living In A Perfect World" could easily be the closing menace as the credits roll in a sci-fi adventure that holds the menace of Ministry in the gothic stagger implicit as it fades.

Despite the grandiose ambition revealed from these forgotten grooves, what exists is a neglected masterpiece, wholly representative of the time in which it was realized, but sufficiently inspired to sound fresh and utterly relevant to future days. Such was Scobie Ryder's faith in the album he had a few white labels pressed up in expectation of his efforts being valued. Despite representing its time with resolute authority, there were no takers. Deaf ears were the death knell of his glorious ambition. When I tracked him down to his  current home for the last four years in Cambodia, he was politely astonished, and a tad rueful. He didn't even have a copy of the music any longer. It had all been lost along the way.

Ryder  said: "Pleazure Unit was my original science fiction story of a world with very few men left (long after WW3). Where gatherings of less than X3 people, where  love was forbidden and utterly outlawed. We had decided to make an album soundtrack of potential songs for a movie. I always say 'dream big' and back then we had high hopes (and as usual little or no promotion). The album is a concept electro pop thing. It was recorded at AOSIS studios in London with my then writing partner Jim Hawkins. 1984 was a loooong time ago. Everyone thought it was all a bit too weird. We even made some killer album artwork…. I always thought it had some magic."

Each ending is a new beginning. Scobie Ryder still believes in his Pleazure Units lost opus, and as it circles the smaller world than the one in which it was first created, that world awaits afresh for a glistening, gleaming resurrection. An electro messiah with out-stretched hands beckoning us to listen.

You have been warned. 1984 has returned to haunt and inform us anew.

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