On this day in 1982, the UK Musician’s Union wanted to ban synths from sessions and live performances, in the defence of orchestral musicians’ careers. The most fucked up thing about this is that it is the same day that none other than Robert Moog, god father and creator of the most infamous synth of all time, was born in 1934. Blasphemy.
Coincidentally, this is also the day when, in 1973, Jefferson Airplane were prevented from playing a gig in Golden Gate Park, due to a ban of amplified music in there. The group were reportedly told that ''we built this city on orchestral music.” Whatever that means. If one good thing came out of this madness it's that Starship went out to write their most reputable banger, 'We Built This City'. Take that, San Francisco.
Funnily enough, it was actually Barry Manilow who succeeded in pushing the MU’s buttons enough to make them want to put forward this resolution when he went on tour with a couple of synths rather than a full orchestra. There isn’t much information about the details of the MU's motion, which raised a few questions for me. Did they want to just ban drum machines and midi strings? Funky bass synths? What about the ‘DJ!!’ and ‘wacka wacka’ noises? Could you play them live?
It doesn’t matter, because thankfully this didn’t work out, and the MU subsequently welcomed synth players and later DJs (even DJs!) in 1997 This seems so ridiculous now, since so much popular music practically relies on synths and other fakery. At the end of the day, the MU were simply doing their job, which is to protect the livelihoods of professional musicians, which is a tricky task when new technology threatens to steal your jobs. Ring any bells?
Fortunately, synths and orchestras have learnt to coexist and we still get our kicks out of watching and hearing both of them. That is not to say that musical careers haven't suffered due technological developments, although the cause of this is immeasurably more widespread than the 'damage' done by artificial instruments. How far we have come since the days when we thought that banning synths and amplified music would be possible!
There are thousands of ways for musicians to adapt to the ever-changing landscape of musical creation, whether you're a drummer who now programmes drum machines for other musicians to use, or get by by appealing to the nostalgic crowd who can't get enough of their parents' vinyl collections (no idea who does that). Either way, I feel that it is important to see how the paths of musical progression can work in your favour, and that banning or restricting things could never work in a field like music which is so dependent upon rebellion and revolution.
I'd like to add that MU's reaction was an understandable reaction to the threat of the new - the Musician's Union is a fantastic institution that not only withstood the anti-unionists of the 70s and 80s but provides security and advice for people in the music biz (and make sure people don't get ripped off when they play gigs). The MU also campaign to prevent other hindrances to musicians' livelihoods, such as air travel policies on transporting instruments.
Finally, a huge thanks and happy birthday to Robert Moog for creating his fabulous synthesiser that paved the way for electronic musicianship today. Here’s Barry absolutely killing it on the aforementioned tour, accompanied by the aforementioned synths, with a great song that he nicked off Take That.