Monologue #14: Loitering on Memory Lane

Today it was brought to my attention that it has been exactly 20 years since the Romo movement officially came into being – the date of publication of the Romo special Melody Maker that attempted to introduce the world to this music and style phenomenon. This report on The Sunday Show ensued in 1996, offering an entertaining first glance at the scene.

The momentous Romo edition (not my copy but I do own it – and the free cassette!)

Sadly the world in general wasn’t too enthused by the proposal to combine synth and glam rock influences with an androgynous, slightly trashy modern aesthetic. The utilitarian look and 60s-inspired sound of Britpop and lad rock were still hanging heavily over the charts at the time.

I however remember being extremely excited about it all. I was still living in France at the time, and was slightly too young to attend the clubs in any case. I bought the music when I could get my hands on it, and read even the shortest, most irritable music press articles about it with great interest. My preferred bands in the genre were Nancy Boy and Plastic Fantastic, and I still DJ those to this day.

Aged 16, being a Romo in my uncle’s garden in Forest Hill, London.

I’d only recently become interested in 80s bands such as Japan and Duran Duran, so the prospect of a new wave of frills, spills and electronica was very alluring to me. But Romo was a little too far ahead of the curve. A few years later, electroclash would gain more attention for combining synth sounds and flashy styles, and I enjoyed that a lot too, but there was something charmingly British about Romo (even the US band Nancy Boy had a Union Jack on their album artwork!). It had a sense of camp that avoided all-out vulgarity, more tongue-in-cheek than all-up-in-your-face.

Needless to say the “retro” tag was applied by the media, yet the Romo bands didn’t sound any more retro to me than say, Oasis, or many of the hip and “credible” guitar bands of the time. They certainly didn’t just rip off the 80s outright. This is an issue that synth artists face even today –  the simultaneous use of synths and eyeliner always invites references to that golden decade. For me it’s just one influence among many.

It’s hard to look back at that time without thinking about my own life and its twists and turns over the last two decades. Many of which no doubt made my music what it is. In 1995 the only keyboard instruments around me were an old but nice piano in the garage, a harpsichord and a clavichord. My father owned them all but didn’t play them – my sister and I did however. A year or so later I acquired my first electronic keyboard, an affordable little Casio, from a music shop in Croydon.

Whenever I feel jaded by the music scene now, I say to myself that I have still greatly surpassed the expectations that I had back in 1995. I would never have thought I could join a band and play shows in front of people, let alone be signed one day and release an album. Yet I did all those things with A Terrible Splendour (the last and most successful of my attempts at musical collaboration). The “future pop” heralded by that issue of Melody Maker sadly never came to pass, but it has still been an exciting musical voyage. It is now continuing with my bassoon explorations (I have begun lessons again, driving in the dark to a quiet 80s suburb of the Steel City). I doubt my ability to integrate into any current musical scene at this point – but I can be my own scene.