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Electroclash of the Titans
They were one of the bands that kick-started the synth-rock revolution. Now, The Human League are finally basking in the acclaim they deserve.
Colm O Hare, 21 Mar 2006
Of all the outfits to emerge during the early ‘80s synth-pop explosion, The Human League have lasted longer than most.
While nostalgia undoubtedly plays a big part in their enduring appeal, the fact that they have a slew of timeless pop songs in their armoury, including gems such as ‘Love Action’, ‘(Keep Feeling) Fascination’, ‘The Lebanon’, and their biggest hit ‘Don’t You Want Me?’, guarantees their longevity.
“Our back catalogue has made our lives so much easier than it might have been,” says original frontman Phil Oakey. “Which is just as well ‘cause we haven’t been able to get into the charts for almost 20 years.”
Despite the lack of recent hits, the band have gained a whole new live audience and become firm festival favourites.
“Festivals have been the biggest surprise to us,” he resumes. “We’re usually on the bill with a load of guitar bands, most of them with top 10 albums under their belts. But I’ve noticed they might only have two or three songs that everyone in the crowd is familiar with. We can get through a 50-minute set playing nothing but hits. I don’t think it’s all down to nostalgia. We don’t try to be contemporary or anything, but I wear different clothes than I used to back then. I’m more into the suit and tie thing these days.”
Last year they had the crowds singing along at the Electric Picnic and they return this month for a short Irish tour, including two nights at Vicar St. But according to Oakey, things haven’t always been as healthy for them on the live front and after the initial success, the band found themselves out of favour.
“It was particularly hard for us in the early ‘90s, around the time of Nirvana,” he reveals. “We were poison as far as a lot of people were concerned. If you mentioned our name they’d just laugh. And the idea that a promoter would even think of putting the Human League on a festival bill was unthinkable. Luckily, we managed to get the odd radio appearance and got through that period. Our stuff gets played all over the place now, though it has yet to reach the heights that it once did. I’m always surprised that one of our songs hasn’t been used on something like [ITV’s] Dancing On Ice. ‘Electric Dreams’ would be an obvious choice for it that, don’t you think?”