Jeremy Kolosine on South Florida Synth Punk and 8-Bit Operators' Depeche Mode Tribute

Jeremy Kolosine, master of minimalism.
Jeremy Kolosine, master of minimalism.
Courtesy of Jeremy Kolosine

In the late '70s, California bands like the Screamers and the Unit were creating what we currently refer to as synth punk.

Meanwhile, South Florida -- often maligned for its geographical and cultural isolation -- was witness to the creation of a similar (if not more refined) sound through the work of British transplant Jeremy Kolosine and his band Futurisk.

Once an innovator, always an innovator, Kolosine is now known for his deep explorations into the minimalist nuances of digital sound. As ringleader of the 8-bit Operators, he has released a series of highly acclaimed tribute albums, the latest of which is in honor of Depeche Mode.

We here at Crossfade recently had a chance to discuss his long, storied career.

See also: Miami's 20 Best Punk Bands of All Time

Crossfade: First of all, how did you end up in Florida? And what was your introduction to music?

Jeremy Kolosine: In England, in the '60s, me and my older brother used to duet Walker Brothers and Righteous Brothers songs. I think it was cute because we were kids and I did the low parts, though I was like 5 or 6, I think. I'm not sure why we stopped. Other than that, it was 45s from that time, mostly those of the Beatles, the Animals, and the Who that me and my cousins would play when we got together. Or, in the car, I remember "Telstar" and the Dr. Who theme on TV. I failed badly at my violin and recorder lessons in my preteens. But serious interest in music came after the Clockwork Orange soundtrack by Wendy Carlos, and some prog. But the Ziggy Stardust album and seeing the Aladdin Sane tour in late '73 pushed me over the edge to dream of a life in music. Later that year, my family moved to Pompano Beach, Florida. That's where I took up guitar and synth.

1979 was vastly different from today. How do you feel, in retrospect, that at the same time the Screamers and the Unit were "inventing" the synth punk sound, you were doing the same in Florida independent of those bands and scenes?

I regret not knowing more about them at the time. I was aware of Tuxedomoon and the Residents' cohorts like Snakefinger. We were well aware of Suicide, but the fact that the Screamers and Units and Our Daughter's Wedding used real drums does put us all in that U.S. synthpunk handful that was around briefly at that time. I am pleased that there was such a pocket of bands in the U.S. and that Futurisk was part of it. To me, it was mostly spurred by the Foxx/Ultravox revival of romantic anarchy prominent in the Eno/Roxy formula.

How did you initially become involved with techie instrumentation like drum machines and synthesizers?

Once certain equipment became affordable in the late '70s, I acquired first an Electro-Harmonix Rhythm 12 beatbox and an Electro-Harmonix Micro synth, also a damaged PAIA 2720 modular synth, then Frank Lardino got a Korg MS-10. My synth stride really got going, though, when I bought a Sequential Circuits Pro-One and Richard Hess joined Futurisk with his collection of CAT synths, his Mini-Moog, and Oberheim OB-1.

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Given that forward projection was a driving force behind the creation of this genre of music with the then-burgeoning technologies of sound, how cheeky did you mean for Futurisk to be a portmanteau of future risk?

Quite cheekily and mostly hyperbolically. More so, the name was a reference to newspeak in the book 1984 and an homage to the Italian Futurist movement. I supposed the message was also further implied by titling the EP Player Piano, after Vonnegut's book about that very subject.

Both astute literary references. How do you feel about the rekindled interest in the band after the rerelease of the Player Piano as a full-length, and is it still available?

The expanded vinyl edition sold out pretty quickly, but the digital download is available, of course. Myself and the other members of Futurisk were overjoyed to finally include our best recordings from 1982 that were previously unavailable. Those recordings were direct from the analog masters and were only found on a couple of videos from '82 (Ed Rich Rock Show) that showed up on YouTube in the early 2000s. Also around that time, James Murphy of DFA and LCD Soundsystem commissioned our track "Push Me, Pull You, Pt. 2" for a Colette DFA mix CD, which drummed up further renewed interest in Futurisk. Then a couple of years later, Veronica Vasicka of Minimal Wave Records approached us about the expanded reissue.

She did a great job getting the original masters back for preservation, and this also allowed us to extract the individual stem-tracks from the unreleased stuff that was recorded by Mike Couzzo at Ocean Sound Studios in 1982. Armed with these excellently recorded stems, we embarked on a remix project that culminated first with the Lonely Streets Remixes with mixes by our idol Chris Carter of Throbbing Gristle, as well as DFA's Prince Language, The Horrors' Tom Furse, and Complexxion. These remixes were extremely fulfilling for myself and the other members of Futurisk, because it was as if those unreleased tracks were finally complete.

We never remixed the tracks from our seven-inchers, recorded pre 1982, so I reject any of the purist's grumbles about blasphemy, since the 1982 tracks that were remixed were never released officially until 2010. Our original unreleased 1982 mix appears intact on that Player Piano LP. And Veronica did a tremendous job on the sound and also the art direction. I think the album cover of the Lonely Streets Remixes is as beautiful as an early Roxy music album.

Jeremy Kolosine, road warrior, 1982.
Jeremy Kolosine, road warrior, 1982.
Courtesy of Jeremy Kolosine

See also: Miami's Ten Best Uncategorizable Bands of All Time

 

Explain the 8-Bit Operators... Is it a collective, a label, an experiment, a meeting of minds?

It's a shifting collective of friends in the chipmusic scene, who also happen to be many of the originators and most accomplished in that scene. I suppose the first album, the Kraftwerk tribute, was a highly successful experiment that set the formula for the subsequent releases. The goal being to tribute bands that influenced electronic pop music the most. The goal of each release was to also engage the artist's being paid tribute to, if possible, as has occurred with each of the releases, especially, the input and personal approval of the tracks or the release, by Kraftwerk, Devo, and Depeche Mode, who all helped us promote and complete the releases and their licensing.

Who selects or curates the tribute albums?

I curate and decide on the project at hand, with feedback from each of the chipmusic artists. Each artist chooses and produces their own track. I also take credit for the art direction, choosing artists and themes relevant and notable in the context of the project.

How did the latest one, Enjoy the Science: Depeche Mode Tribute come to be? And how would you rate it in comparison to the three previous tributes you've done?

It almost didn't happen because I was getting lazy and needed to put time into solo projects. But my friend the late Marty Thau of Red Star Records convinced me to continue the series, which is why it is dedicated to him. As a cohesive and thought-inducing release, I think it is one of the most perfectly conceived and executed of our releases. The CD especially, the informative packaging, the relevance of the artwork, the song choices, the order of the songs... a lot of thought was put into every aspect, and I am extremely happy with it.

But one of the most fulfilling aspects was the fact that Depeche Mode themselves posted the release on their web page, Facebook, and Twitter feeds, and Martin Gore himself also helped necessitate the licensing of the tracks, for which we are very grateful.

What's next tribute-wise? And for you, personally and artistically?

For the last two years, I've been working on my first "Jeremy Kolosine" solo album, which is an equipment free-for-all, wherein I am using all my fave gear, analog and digital, and which will be more song-based and less linear in its compositional structure. I haven't written lyrics or recorded vocals in a few years, so I look towards a return to inspiration on that front. But thus far, the music is what's taking shape most easily for me. As far as 8-Bit Operators tributes, right now I'm thinking either Sparks, or perhaps The Cure, but also perhaps another artist whom I'll not mention yet.

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