New Wave Echos

1 August 2012 | 11:57 am | Callum Twigger

With new single Suddenly Silently primed for release and a nation-wide tour set for later this month, Pseudo Echo’s Brian Canham talks to Callum Twigger about synthpop’s legacy.

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Named after a synthesiser effect, Pseudo Echo were Australia's poster-ready contribution to the new wave movement set rolling back in 1980-whenever. For almost three decades, Echo have been lead by Brian Canham – their flamboyant, eerie, and lucid electro-pop lineage evident in the fat-synth sound of revivalists like Van She and Cut Copy. Ingloriously, the four-piece's fame peaked around their clinically electronic cover of Lipps Inc's Funkytown; but by the wayside singles like Listening and Love An Adventure have slipped past without proper recognition. Echo are among Australian music's more unique contributions to the 1980s, and Canham is both humble and unassuming while reflecting on the influence Echo had and continue to have.

“It's quite exciting to think that, in some small way, in some small part, we might have influenced younger bands. It's overwhelming, really, when we speak to young musos, and the way they talk about the '80s, and the direction music is heading, and they sometimes cite Pseudo Echo as influences… we're quite chuffed by that,” Canham explains. Pseudo Echo wore the new wave '80s archetype like a Power Glove; with partisan Rick Priestly hair, keytars, and steeply cut leather jackets, YouTube-ing the videos is worth ten minutes of internet. The glorious His Eyes, from Echo's debut 1984 album Autumnal Park, gets a show-stealing playthrough in the fifth Friday The 13th edition. Besides hammering synthesisers as lead man of Echo, Canham had a stint with charity band The Incredible Penguins, who covered John Lennon and Yoko Ono's Happy Xmas (War Is Over) to raise money for Fairy Penguins (as in, the birds) in 1984. Echo are so steeped in the mythos of the era, it's an actual surprise Arnold Schwarzenegger's T-1000 doesn't cameo timewarp in mid-track to mow down penguin killing evildoers.

Reducing the new wave sound to a single synthesised arpeggio for the sake of discussion, why does it maintain such aesthetical appeal to musicians over three decades later? “I think it's just such a change. The '80s itself were so distinctive, and had such an enduring legacy of a sound. It's so easy to identify that sound,” Canham admits. “And I think after the '90s, and the whole antihero thing, and the grunge… it all went back to just guitars and grunge again. And I think, these sounds now, when younger generations hear them, they're kind of like blown away… It's almost like how when we discovered it in the '80s, it's having that same effect,” he concludes.

Autumnal Park's brooding new wave showmanship was compounded by the 1986 release of Love An Adventure, which was in turn rereleased a year later to squeeze more cash out of Echo's Funkytown cover. But the re-release masked the romance of Echo's original album, and the relative plurality and innovation Echo and contemporaries Kids In The Kitchen and Wa Wa Nee showed in their willingness to adapt and experiment with the novelty of synthesised instruments. “The first keyboard I ever had at home, I think it was made by JPL, a company that wasn't even a synthesiser manufacturer, I think. It was some weird synth. I wrote a couple of early songs, or parts, just from these strange, inspirational sounds. We were very fortunate in the early '80s because we had a great friend who managed a music store, and he was a big fan of the band…” Canham explains. “When we started out, we had one synth called an Arc Odyssey, which is where the band's name came from: Pseudo Echo sound. We had one little Korg Lambda string machine, all it did was cheesy electronic string and that was it. So, initially, we wrote all our songs from these two keyboards,” he adds. It makes Ableton seem like cheating, and the kaleidoscopic (albeit saccharine) scope of their keyboard melodramatics all the more impressive.

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