Those years were wonderful. There was the time and money to experiment and push boundaries, and we pushed every boundary to the limit. Trevor already had a Fairlight when I started working with him. When digital tape machines happened we had them. When the Synclavier happened we had one, and constantly upgraded it. When PCs were within reach we got one. The technology allowed us to make records in new and exciting ways. We invented new workflows to accommodate all the possibilities. Being able to make perfect copies of multitracks meant that we had to have robust methods of keeping track of what was going on. We had to figure out how to keep all the assorted machines synchronised. It confirmed my belief that the arts are primarily led by technology. The gear determined the records to a large extent, and when I think of all the records we made I always remember the techniques we used.
The song Welcome To The Pleasuredome was a groundbreaking moment for us. I figured out how to calculate offsets which meant I could digitally lengthen the song from 4 minutes to 16 minutes, repeating it 4 times. It was one of those moments when the future revealed itself, when we realised that the possibilities were now endless as we could move anything anywhere.
I suppose Slave To The Rhythm was the culmination of our knowledge prior to computers becoming the primary recording medium. We did several versions of the song, all totally technology led. Having two digital tape machines allowed us to make multitrack drum loops. Every time the Synclavier was upgraded we’d try another version. It was a time of innovative mayhem. On one occasion after a Synclavier upgrade I was demonstrating its new capabilities to Trevor – he often had the foresight to have a tape machine in record, and it ended up on the album, with a fancy name, Don’t Cry, It’s Only the Rhythm. It’s funny to hear it, just me pressing buttons and twiddling knobs, becoming a piece of music simply because it had been given a name and was on a record.
Things calmed down after that, certainly technologically. Gear’s got smaller and faster but fundamentally not much has changed since then. I suppose one could say that the main innovation over the past 30 years has been the computer becoming a musical instrument.
We spent many months at Sarm East. It was a basement in Whitechapel. Hard to get to, lousy food and a cramped control room. But we did great work there, maybe because there was nothing else to do. But for many years Sarm West seemed like the place to be. Every Thursday evening we’d all stop what we were doing to watch Top of the Pops whilst eating dinner. The charts would generally be full of records that had been made there. It was so exciting to be an integral part of that machine.
The record company, ZTT, was in the same building, and that created endless moments on staircases when ideas would flow. Late at night we’d refuel by eating amazing Jamaican food cooked by Lucky Gordon, Chris Blackwell’s ex chef. We’d work 6 days a week, extremely long hours, often pointlessly long, but drugs and excitement kept us going. We worked through the Notting Hill Carnival, through the 1987 storm. Birthdays and holidays were irrelevant sideshows. It was our universe, something I only realised once I left.
I learned so much during my time with Trevor. It helped me to think laterally about the record making process. Those years crystallised all the subconscious thoughts I’d had for years about so many things. Having the time and tools to experiment made it the musical equivalent of MIT.