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21st Century Boys

By Matthew Denby
with exclusive photos by Aaron Crocker

Sigue Sigue Sputnik then...

... and now

When Sigue Sigue Sputnik predicted world domination in 1986, their blueprint for a multi-media corporate takeover probably didn't include playing London's small-capacity Borderline club in December 2000. But the critics who so savagely wrote them off as an artistic and commercial disaster could never have predicted the rapturous response the band received from the sell-out crowd so many years after the Sputnik's "Love Missile" prematurely ejaculated. Ripping through a set that included a string of songs from their new album, Piratespace, the Sputniks whipped the crowd into a frenzy and began writing the first chapter in their revised history. The Sputniks were preaching to the perverted, with fans--including Mick Jones of The Clash and members of teen angst girl band Hepburn--traveling from all over Europe to witness the rebirth of a monster many had dismissed as stillborn.

As the greedy Eighties reached its nadir, former Generation X member Tony James' mutant spawn looked set to deliver on his threats to take over the world with their sample-laden electro-rock hybrid cacophony. But it was not to be for the Sputniks. Their bizarre combination of Giorgio Moroder disco and fetishised violence ended up in the bargain bin, despite an unprecedented media frenzy that included an alleged fan plot to assassinate Margaret Thatcher and an ill-conceived attempt to launch stiletto heels for men as street fashion. Success seemed so tangible when the bizarre and shocking single "Love Missile F1-11" screamed into the UK top 5 backed by contrived tabloid outrage and the best publicity strategy since the Sex Pistols. An explosion of latex, wigs and Mad Max chic, Sputnik seemed the perfect pop act for a world entranced by Dynasty, The Terminator and big hair. Giddy on a stream of pre-planned outrages, the press lapped up James' tale of manufacturing the largely musically inexperienced band and his professed plan to rip off EMI and "fleece the world." But the bubble soon burst, with a media backlash lambasting the band's supposed lack of interest in music, failed tour and the mediocre UK sales for their advertiser-funded debut album, Flaunt It.

An ill-conceived comeback attempt two years later, involving a collaboration with the Thatcherite hit factory of Stock, Aitken & Waterman, may have appeared hilarious on the drawing board but merely produced an unfunny, by-the-numbers gay disco tune, "Success," that collapsed at the starting gate--dooming the schizophrenic and ultimately disappointing second album Dress For Excess to a quiet death.

As the dust settled, the cannibalistic pop industry consumed all of the Sputnik's best ideas--passing them off as their own while deriding the real innovators. Sampling, multi-media and hybrid dance-rock are now par for the course. U2 toured the world with the Sputnik rip-off show called Zoo TV, giving no public acknowledgment or recognition that their sloganeering and satellite hijinks owed anything to the Sputniks' groundbreaking 1986 Albert Hall performance.

Despite mass media amnesia or at best occasional contempt, the Sputnik's Frankenstein was electrified by the Promethean Internet, with fan sites encouraging Tony James to relaunch the band . James responded with a series of successful gigs, appearances on Cleopatra Records tribute albums and finally a new album, Piratespace. The spirit of Sputnik embraced the new media age, with agents of Tony James successfully whipping up renewed interest in the band with (probably bogus) talk of a record company bidding war for the new album fascinating readers of the 21st Century's answer to tabloid newspapers, Popbitch.

While the band has thus far failed to live up to their threat to buy EMI, the record company has agreed to release a new Sputnik singles and B-sides collection. Not bad for a one hit wonder--perhaps the Sputnik scam was successful after all.


A Fan Remembers the Sputnik

Sigue Sigue Sputnik not only rocked, they were where music was going. I felt powerful in 1987 as I drove my '66 Bonneville around town and loudly played my cassette recorder (no tape deck), rolling down the windows to show all who passed just how cool I was. Well, cold; Idaho is not the warmest state in which to drive with your windows open. I brought the hot pink tape with me to Texas where my family moved the following summer. Those Texans were in for it--I was bringing the wave of the future from Idaho! Though the Texans were not as moved as I felt they should have been, I did continue to cart the tape with me to college in Indiana, where I finally realized that it was not where the music industry was headed. But at about this time, a love for kitsch kicked in and so the tape accompanied me to New York City. Last summer when I went west to attend my ten year high school reunion, I brought the tape with me for the drive from my folks' place in Washington to Idaho. They still rock! They are indeed "AFFORDABLE FIREPOWER."

-Molly Denver

Sigue Sigue Sputnik's Official Site

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