If Tony James didn’t invent Sigue Sigue Sputnik, no-one else would. They were an odd proposition, even in the ultra glammy ‘80s. A fusion of disparate influences, Sigue Sigue Sputnik existed in a universe where future music was driven by pulsing beats, Japan was the coolest country in the world, and sex happened using a computer. In hindsight, they didn’t just dream the future – they also predicted it. Their future, however, came with a soundtrack we’ve left behind – a collection of songs so ‘80s you can almost smell the L’Oréal. If you haven’t heard Sigue Sigue Sputnik, then imagine them through my words: a group of refugees from a dystopic future propel themselves backwards in time to Thatcher’s Britain, bringing their music with them. And the music? Synth heavy dubby dance tracks with samples crashing in and out of sync, complete with jagged bursts of guitar, like a car’s exhaust pipe farting outside a pop party in Covent Garden. In theory, I should really love them, and sometimes I do. After all, they blended Suicide and The Cramps together while adding a sleek MTV sensibility, which is absolutely perfect for my own kitschy sensibilities. I’ve always been partial to a bit of the trashglam vibe. The songs reference everything I know from Divine/John Waters, Judge Dredd, and The Terminator.
Perfect, eh? Not quite.
I first found out about Sigue Sigue Sputnik when I went on a CD shopping spree with an early wage. Together with a friend, we worked at a stall at The Forge Market in Glesga called Up In Smoke. Despite being tee-total (and totally tea), someone thought it was a good idea to give me a wee job selling bongs and smoking paraphernalia. All legal, of course. Besides, I was used to the trappings of this lifestyle. My brothers were massive dopeheads and regularly decapitated plastic bottles so they could get high. I read books, listened to CDs, watched films, and read high fashion magazines, pining for something else. When you’re in that mindset, you’re constantly on the hunt for something new. Alternatively, something old can be brand new if you haven’t heard it. Sigue Sigue Sputnik’s greatest hits were in HMV and I had just enough change in my pocket to buy it. Bright yellow with neon pink styling, it was lifted and acquired at the checkout. Songs about rampant consumerism and fucking your Atari? A missile-sleek Giorgio Moroder disco production? This I had to hear.
As with most bands I was discovering or recovering, I looked into their history. Sigue Sigue Sputnik, it became clear, were divisive. So too were all my favourite bands. Unlike all my favourite bands though, they gave terrible interviews. Popstars should always deliver fabulously quotable edicts out the pages of magazines. The lead singer, Martin Degville, seemed to be attempting to pioneer (and balance on) six-inch high heels for men. A post-punk drag queen, I can’t help but think music took him away from what he was genuinely talented at: creating looks no-one else could make. He looked completely otherworldly. Slashed stockings on his face, weird shoulder pads, spikes and sharp edges, impossibly tall heels. Martin looked like Martin. Unfortunately, he sounded like Martin too. Yet there’s something very gripping about his presence in the songs and his contribution to the band. Eventually, I came to love the yelps and screams and snarls that made up Martin Degville’s singing.
So what of the actual debut album? I like it. Sometimes, I might even love it. Adverts play between tracks, production being shilled like the songs themselves. Truly, what may have started as a giggle in the band soon becomes tiresome the third, fourth, or fifth time you hear the “Studioline by L’Oréal” jingle. More prescient are the commercials advertising Sigue Sigue Sputnik products, including a video game that actually turned out to be a real thing. The iconography of pop groups have gone way beyond the simple cycle of a CD single and an album. Multiple formats, games, clothes, candles, products. What would the Sigue Sigue Sputnik candle smell of? Ambition, probably. The music itself is fun, ferocious, and fast. Love Missile F1-11, a fucked up glam classic, still works. Massive Retaliation (which should have been a single over 21st Century Boy) and Teenage Thunder sound immense through headphones. The other tracks vary, but the whole thing flies by so fast that you almost don’t get a chance to think too hard, which might be the whole point.
Ultimately, I think on some occasions, very rarely, I prefer concepts to the reality. The dream before everything gets in the way. Sigue Sigue Sputnik are a fantasy band who managed to bring themselves into reality, which probably isn’t the best place for them. In saying that, Sputnik won in the end. David Bowie covered their biggest hit, immediately rehabilitating their reputation. Samplers are commonplace in music. Beats and guitars mixed together? Yes, that’s a thing. The future predicted by the band is now everyday life in the music industry. They couldn’t last, of course. If you stare at something for too long, think about it too much, the mystery vanishes. Sigue Sigue Sputnik were a brief bright neon flash of light and should be enjoyed as such. If not a brief bright neon flash, then instead (as their most famous lyric suggests) a UFO whizzing overhead – albeit so far ahead, we couldn’t see it at the time.