(All images by Denis O’Regan)
The Velvet Underground’s Exploding Plastic Inevitable was, surely, ground zero of the modern multimedia music experience. But it wasn’t until Duran Duran’s landmark 1984 Sing Blue Silver Tour that the cross-breeding of music, art, fashion and video were hybridized into the spectacle-par-excellence that set the standard for everything that followed.
The irony was that Duran Duran were originally a cadre of fashionably tarted up post-punks from Birmingham, with a keenly intellectualized sense of aesthetics and sexual identity; but by 1984 they’d become massive international superstars. Russell Mulcahy captured it all in the groundbreaking film Arena (An Absurd Notion). And now a spectacular book of Denis O’Regan’s photographs of that time, cleverly titled Careless Memories, has been released in several very limited editions. (Elite will set you back £1000.)
We chatted with Nick Rhodes about that wild and fabulous year.
Did you have a real sense of the excitement of the new video age? Because it really was a remarkable leap forward in the way pop music presented itself to the world.
Yeah, I think everybody around at that time knew that. With the advent of MTV and The Box, there was suddenly more space for music on TV, and there was a whole generation out there that wanted that type of programming more than anything. When I first heard of 24-hour music TV, I just laughed and thought, well, Why didn’t anyone think of that before? It was such a great concept and so pure, before it turned into the monster corporation that we now all know. It was like the most beautiful ‘cult’ TV you could have even imagined if you were a music fan.
Your staging for the Sing Blue Silver Tour was, in-effect, the first modern video-age stage setup. What was it like playing amidst such a grandiose spectacle?
It was extraordinary. We always thought on a grand scale. And suddenly we were able to do all the things that we’d thought about as kids.
The Sing Blue Silver and Arena films represented something very new in terms of the documentation of a band on tour.
Well that was very much our concept, it was all about energy and ideas and style. And we took it a step further by saying, okay, what if we introduce fashion more, what if we introduce art more, what if we bring in more graphic design and obviously video and filmmaking? And we just pulled all those things together with our music, which was already sort of forward projecting. And we really became one of the first truly multimedia bands.
You genuinely embraced technology.
Yes, we’ve always loved it. And ever since, we’ve tried to find innovative new technologies to use for our music, our visuals, our shows…it’s one of the things that really still excites us.
It’s why you’re still relevant, I imagine.
Well, that was sort of our manifesto from the beginning, to be a multimedia band and to do things differently than other artists.
What was most striking about that time?
If you look at our contemporaries, The Cure, The Smiths, Depeche Mode, U2, Prince, Madonna…everybody sounded entirely unique. It was all about individuality. And to me now, it seems everybody sort of wants to be the same. Back then we would have been horrified if we’d seen someone wearing the same jacket as us…or even the same t-shirt.
What were some of your personal highlights and memories of 1984?
Well, our big US breakthrough, obviously, The Sing Blue Silver Tour. The Denis O’Regan book is purely based on that year, and what happened in our lives. And when I look at all the photos, it really beautifully tells the story of that period. Because although it’s a book about us on tour and the chaos we were living in, you see everything: what the airports looked like, what the limos looked like, what the hotels looked like, what the venues looked like, what we looked like, what haircuts people had. It really is a perfect snapshot of that time.