It has been 29 years since The Human League released the iconic synth pop single ‘Don’t You Want Me’ which saw the band involuntarily spearheading the New Romantic musical wave which still has a major influence today. A new single and a studio album – their tenth – are set to be released within the next few months.
So are The Human League merely cashing in on the booming nostalgia music fad that has claimed such recent victims as Roxy Music and ABC in the last few years? Or are the keyboard pioneers truly intent on bringing their 1980s sound to the modern day?
Susan Ann Sulley, lead female vocalist, quickly reminds me that they’ve never really left the British music scene. It seems as though the band have been making up for lost time since 2004, performing at V Festival, Bestival and Ireland’s Electric Picnic. "Nobody asked us to play at festivals in our heyday! If we’re asked, and if it’s right for us, we’ll play any festival or gig." A quick-fire 15-date headline tour can be gruelling upon any band, but the singer professes that the commitment to providing energetic live performances is as strong as ever. "We really love what we do, and we feel that’s motivation enough at times. We wouldn’t be here if that wasn’t the case."
Hunter S. Thompson famously called the music industry "a cruel and shallow money trench," and The Human League know that better than most bands in existence today. Despite selling 29 million records worldwide, they have been dropped twice by Virgin Records and Chrysalis Music respectively, but their latest record deal with Wall of Sound (home to such acts such as Röyksopp and Mogwai) has delighted Sulley due to the creative freedom the band have. "Mark Jones [head of the label] allows us to do whatever we want musically. He’s been a real breath of fresh air. We are who we are and there would be no point in asking us to try and be U2."
So what can we expect from their forthcoming album Credo? "At the end of the day, it’s a Human League album: it just has to sound like us," says Sulley, "Joanne [Catherall], Philip [Oakey, founding member] and I are still on vocals and everything we write is always song based because that’s just what The Human League does, yet we’re taking a modern approach to things. With the help of the new producers, we’re experimenting somewhat, but we’ve not got loads of guitars in to replace the synths!"
The band is certainly buzzing about the release, and the enthusiasm shows through as they hope to follow up their 2001 sleeper-hit Secrets. Roxy Music, Donna Summer and Gary Numan still greatly influence the band, without question, but there may be a surprise or two in store for fans. "Philip really loves Simian Mobile Disco and he’s a big fan of trance music. Not quite what you would expect. Personally, I’m a bit of a fan of Lady Gaga," confesses the singer.
The band is somewhat uncomfortable with the certain aspects of pop music today, however. The advent of Auto-Tune and reality music shows leaves a bitter taste in Susan’s mouth. "It’s just not real at times. I’d be more nervous if I had to mime – I just don’t know how you can go out there and not do it live. We all make mistakes, we’re human, but I think the audience prefer that."
It is a relative rarity for a band to enjoy such longevity within the music industry, but Sulley emphasises the changes that have occurred in music, often for the worse. "The Human League wouldn’t have made it [in 2010]. We had a lot of leeway at the start from Virgin and released EPs that weren’t financially successful but the record company had a lot of faith in us.
"These days most people are lucky if they’re signed for one album - half of the musicians today only get signed for a single - and if that doesn’t chart, they’re dropped."
Without doubt, the Sheffield collective have a tough task ahead of them, but Sulley remains positive. "This time in 2011 I’d hope we’ll still be touring and, who knows, we may be back in the studio again because this record has been a bit successful! We love what we do - playing live, being in the studio - and if we can continue that and if people are prepared to listen, we’ll be here. We just want people to give the album a chance and not just think of us as the band who wrote ‘Don’t You Want Me’."
Some things are more difficult than others to overcome, but with a little luck The Human League should be able to redefine themselves and garner some new fans in the process.
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