ALAN VEGA should need no introduction. As one half of the electro punk pioneers SUICIDE he, alongside Martin Rev, carved out a landmark in electronic music in 1977 with their Self-Titled debut, a monolithic experimental masterpiece, that although divided critics at the time has come to be regarded as a classic deconstruction of punk rock and a catalyst for the musical and aesthetic blueprints of what were to become post-punk, industrial rock and even synth pop. Tracks such as the lionised ‘Ghost Rider’ have since become a staple, its repetitive rhythms and minimalist drones punctuated by the vocal delivery of VEGA, harnessing the idols of his youth such as Gene Vincent and Elvis Presley. This influence, harkening back to his musical upbringing, would be the cornerstone of an artistic expression he would continue to experiment with as his career fractured into a more solo outing.
So in 1980, the same year as the release of SUICIDE’s 2nd album…the bands ode to the decadent side of nightlife, there was anticipation to discover what ALAN VEGA would create once left to his own devices. The result was ALAN VEGA’s Self-Titled LP. A piece of work drenched in the musical influences of his teenage years, and an album that welded an unexpected hit in the standout opener ‘Jukebox Babe’, a track of frantic rockabilly delivery and sparse instrumentation that seduces the listener into a zen like state, sculpting a sound that owes little to the 50’s revival yet everything to a sensibilities of rock ’n’ roll futurism.
Surprisingly it was France that really latched onto the record, making ‘Jukebox Babe’ a surprise chart smash, leaving VEGA bemused by the prospect: ”I always wanted to do a rockabilly record because Elvis Presley to me is like God, and Roy Orbison and Jerry Lee Lewis, they’re my triumvirate. Next thing I know I’m off to Europe and I’ve got a fucking hit song. Nobody told me this record is going to be a hit, I thought it was going to be like Suicide, fade away and do nothing.”
After his first solo recording ALAN VEGA continued alone (with three other SUICIDE albums following in tandem), eventually landing him in major label territory, culminating in 1983’s Saturn Strip, one of two albums for Elektra. Produced by Ric Ocasek (The Cars) and featuring the talents of Al Jourgensen (Ministry) among others, Saturn Strip recalled a more sleek synthesiser sound, abandoning the simplicity of the preceding S/T and Collision Drive albums for a more propulsive direction. Despite this he still managed to produce an unflinching affair, asserting rock n roll sensibilities in tracks such as ‘Video Babe’, a progressive recall of his earlier ‘Jukebox Babe’ hit. Saturn Strip was succeeded by Just A Million Dreams, another for Elektra, and though neither made the mainstream mark the label hoped for, do remain important lost gems of the era and an insight into VEGA’s very unique talents.
He passed away sadly in 2016, and even this soon after it’s hard to believe that a world exists without ALAN VEGA in it. Yet his fingerprints remain stained on the DNA of almost all creators of electronic or deconstructionist music that has come since those early days of SUICIDE. From The Sisters Of Mercy to Henry Rollins, through to New Order and LCD Soundsystem, it would be a hard task to find an act that does not site him as an influence in their work. He sculpted sound in the same way he sculpted art (another of his many creative talents) with an instilled purity and total lack of fear.
ALAN VEGA’s output within the sphere of music and art is legend, a word that perhaps gets used far too freely these days. In this case it’s the truth. Dream Baby Dream.