Innovators - Neuronium
Neuronium — Michel Huygen
Spanish synth music could have a big future in the UK — Mark Jenkins thinks Neuronium will lead the armada...
Spain's answer to Tangerine Dream, the most commercial synth music around, psychotronic music for the 1990's — all these labels have been applied to Neuronium, one of the top-selling pure synth music acts in the world. Yet record company problems and the relative isolation of the Spanish music fraternity have kept the band out of the public eye, and it is only now with the hope of a major UK deal that we may get a chance to see them perform in this country.
Neuronium began in 1976 when Michel Huygen and Albert Gimenez got together with a bassist and drummer to play psychedelic, Pink Floyd-influenced music. The following year the latter two left to be replaced by an additional keyboardist/guitarist, Carlos Guirao, and it was Huygen and Guirao who were to form the basis of the band to the present day.
Their first album, recorded in 1977, was 'Quasar 2C361', released by EMI in Spain. A veritable armada of instrumentation — string synths, keyboards and synthesizers, audio generators, acoustic and electric guitars and flute — were assembled to give a thickly layered sound owing much to Pink Floyd but also to Klaus Schulze and Ashra. Neuronium began to play live in Spain attracting audiences of up to 11,000 at Bilbao football stadium, and in 1978 recorded a second album, 'Vuelo Quimico', which featured chanteuse Nico with a rendition of an Edgar Allan Poe piece on the title track.
The band then moved labels to Auvi and were heard by Klaus Schulze, who at one stage intended to produce an album for them. Although this never occurred, Schulze appeared on Music Express (a Spanish TV rock show) with the band, as did Ashra and Vangelis. Their live performances (no miming!) of pieces from the third album, 'Digital Dream', in addition to jam sessions with guitars and synths over sequencer riffs showed that the band is a strong live proposition. Certainly the occasional use of Sante Pico, a guitarist with a powerful yet fluid style reminiscent of Mike Oldfield, adds variety to the wash of synthesizer textures. 'Digital Dream' contains a very long piece, 'Flying Over Kai Tak' (Hong Kong's international airport) which also merges echoed acoustic piano with the purely electronic sounds, and which opened the way for possibly the band's best album so far, 'The Visitor'.
On a recent visit to London Michel Huygen explained how the feel of each album is partly conditioned by the instrumentation installed in his demo studio in Barcelona at the time. The title track of 'The Visitor', for instance, is swept by choirs of human voices from the Roland Vocoder Plus, to which are added lyrics from a Dylan Thomas poem (in heavily Spanish-accented English!) and acoustic guitar arpeggios. Roland digital sequencers and preset rhythm machines, in addition to acoustic drums, provide the backing, and on the monumentally Gothic 'A Strange Affair' the vocal chants a cryptic message via a Sennheiser vocoder. The chordal work is taken by a Korg Polyphonic and by an Oberheim OBX, which the band found a little unreliable and have since replaced. The demo studio now includes a Casio 1000P and VL-1 side by side with more costly instrumentation!
Increasing sophistication and frequent splits and reunions haven't changed the band's dedication to simple melodies, powerful rhythms and the mixture of acoustic and electronic textures. The more recent albums, 'Chromium Echoes' and 'Invisible Views', together with Huygen's slightly sparser solo album 'Absence of Reality' confirm this, although some changes are being made. 'Invisible Views' for instance includes the Neuronium version of a four-minute pop tune, and this direction has been pursued by Huygen on a new 4-track EP 'Capturing Holograms'; "everybody thought I could only play in one style, but I've always wanted to play more pop-oriented music and there's no reason I can't do so and still play in the familiar 'cosmic' style", he insists.
Always hard at work, Huygen is recording a new album for the band for release in the first half of 1984. Appearances on television come thick and fast in Spain, where he's recently had to start 'miming' to a pre-recorded performance because of the problems of setting up all the band's equipment in a TV studio. What's really needed however is a UK deal, and with any luck this will become a reality in the very near future. It may not be long before we can all experience the unique influence of Neuronium's 'psychotronic music'.
All available Neuronium/Michel Huygen releases are listed in the new 1984 catalogue from Lotus Record, (Contact Details).
Interview by Mark Jenkins
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