“Come to Zom Zom’s, a place to eat like it was built in one day. You can watch the humans trying to run.” Although radio in the United States and Canada aired only one of his songs (“Cars”) which became a huge international hit with a performance on Saturday Night Live, in his native UK, Gary Numan has scored 24 Top 40 hits, 7 Top Tens, and two number ones. His first came in 1979 thanks to “Are ‘Friends’ Electric?” with his band Tubeway Army. It topped the British charts and arguably began the electronic rock or synthpop wave which flourished in the early 1980s. The new sound started by accident as he bumped into a Moog synthesizer in the recording studio and asked for permission to give it a go. Its powerful sounds blew him away, so he tacked synthesizer sounds onto the punk music his band was making. Numan was also inspired by early Ultravox. “Are ‘Friends’ Electric?” was discovered by influential BBC Radio One DJ John Peel. He gave it a spin, and to use a modern expression, the song went viral.
From there, electronic rock and synthpop acts flourished, especially from the UK: The Human League, OMD, Simple Minds, New Order, Depeche Mode, Soft Cell, Thomas Dolby, Howard Jones, and so on. Many modern artists cite Gary Numan as a big influence. He is considered by some as the godfather of electronic rock. He wasn’t the first but was arguably the one who launched its popularity and as such might be credited for “inventing” the 80s music-wise. These days, more into industrial music, Gary is currently working on a new album. Below we have embedded a high-resolution video from a concert in Hammersmith, London in 1980. This is “Down In the Park” from album Replicas. The amazing performance was way ahead of its time with spectacular colourful light panels, dry ice, and a joystick-controlled mini automobile. In a recent interview at Moog Fest in the United States, Numan responded to the compliment that his performance was brilliantly intense by saying that he was actually afraid he wouldn’t see the edge of the stage from all the dry ice and fall off.