The Guardian 12th September 2008
Back to the pre-Human Future

Richard X on the Human League and the Future ...

It's 30 years since the Human League released their genre-defying debut single, Being Boiled. In 1978 it had no impact on my life whatsoever - it was never played on Ed "Stewpot" Stewart's request show, my one cultural reference point at the time. It was in the mid-80s, when I was in my early teens, that I managed to get a secondhand copy from Astonishing Sounds in Blackburn. The Human League's heavyweight hits had been ubiquitous in the preceding few years and I had soaked them up, but Being Boiled was different - darker, more atmospheric, less Smash Hits.


Paper-round earnings funded the rapid gathering of the band's early output and one B-side, a curious instrumental track called Dancevision, really caught my ear. "Recorded opposite Kelvin Flats, Sheffield on a budget Sony 2-track Nov 77 by Ian and Martin (sic) as The Future," the sleeve cryptically noted. It was hard to get information about what the Future was in the days before the internet: you had to go into the right record shop and hope the people behind the counter would share what they knew. "They used to be called the Future, before Phil, but you can't get any of that stuff," I was told - it seemed the Future had morphed into the Human League sometime in 1977.


I discovered my first unreleased tracks by the Future through the world of cassette bootlegs, with their lurid photocopied inlays and erroneous tracklistings. Through the tape hiss, the electronic music pulsated mechanically; it seemed almost steam-driven in sharp contrast to the sleeker synthesised sounds of the later Human League. I was hooked, but frustrated: I wanted to hear more, but there was no more to hear. Influenced by what I heard, I started recording myself, buying the cheap unwanted analogue synthesisers that littered the junk shops of the north-west, the instruments that made the very sounds I was listening to.


Fast forward to 2003, and my records with Liberty X and Kelis both liberally sampled large chunks of the Human League's music. Through this, I met Sean Turner, curator of the Blind Youth website, which details the early career of the Human League. He had built up an amazing archive with the help of Dave Beevers, the Human League's musical director and gatekeeper of HL Studios. I was given several CDs of unreleased tracks, stretching right back to 1977. Here was the music I'd waited so many years to hear.


My fandom kicked in again, and knowing the band hadn't always seen eye to eye with each other, I was pushing my luck when I approached them with the idea of doing a compilation of the Future. They agreed, and I was then in the strange position of juggling my own commitments with putting the compilation together - I'd be making phone calls to check we had the definitive version of Dada Dada Duchamp Vortex while I waited to go on Ant and Dec's TV show.


The music on the album we've put together reveals the missing piece of the Human League's history and finally rescues it from the fate of being remembered only from those hissy bootleg tapes. With so little to do in Sheffield in the 70s, the Future used their imaginations to fashion music which took in all their disparate influences, from Bowie and sci-fi to the Michael Zager Band and Philip K Dick. From the early avant-garde tape experiments of Blank Clocks and Looking for the Black Haired Girls through to early synth-pop prototypes like Dance Like a Star, you can hear the gradual development of a band still years from megastardom.


More than 20 years since I first heard the music of the Human League, it amazes me how much of an influence it's been on my life and my approach to music. Hopefully now, more people will be able to hear some of the music that shaped the future.