I spent much of the summer of 1983 playing games on a very primitive ZX Spectrum computer while listening to the first couple of Street Sounds Electro compilations. Those mix albums were among the best releases that year and remain highly sought after, seeing as they’ve never been reissued on CD.
The musical reputation of the compilations has overshadowed the sleeve design which was very distinctive for the time and undoubtedly a factor in their success. The vertical ELECTRO type was inspired by Neville Brody’s design for The Face which had turned the magazine’s title through ninety degrees the year before. Also very Brodyish was the use of photocopier-processed graphics and narrow typography although it should be pointed out that Brody hand-drew nearly all his headlines which left his imitators searching through type catalogues for approximations. The sleeve designs are credited to “Red Ranch for Carver’s” about whom I can find no information whatever. Things came full-circle when The Face ran a feature on the electro scene in 1984 giving Brody the opportunity to do a cover with his own variant on the sleeve layouts.
Essential Electro 9-album box, HBOX 1 (1984).
One of the big attractions of these albums for me was the new directions they were opening up for electronic music. Outside the mainstream pop world electronica in the early Eighties meant either the polite fare of Tangerine Dream or the dreary sludge of minor industrial acts such as Portion Control. Cabaret Voltaire were still vital in the early 1980s: their thundering Crackdown single (with sleeve design by Neville Brody) was remixed for its 12-inch incarnation by dance producer John Luongo while electro producer John Robie (whose production is featured on Electro 1) remixed their Yashar single for Factory Records. But nothing matched the excitement of a bunch of NYC kids lifting Kraftwerk riffs and playing in a very unselfconscious manner with new and relatively cheap equipment, especially the Roland TR-808 drum machine which provides the backbone for many of these recordings.