As children of the ‘80s it’s perfectly understandable to be disappointed with our current lack of everyday hover cars and robotic servants; we grew up under the impression that by the year 2000 they would be a given.
Instead we get a repetition; the neon baggy t-shirt wearing synth-pop infused 80s revival.
But, for Luke Rowell – aka Disasteradio – it’s not a revival because he never let go of it. The ideals, technology and most importantly the music of the 1980s are as central to him now as they were then. On his latest album Visions Rowell has played out his childhood memories. Futuristic movies, TV shows and computer games, The Cure, dreams of the future of technology, Devo and the idioms (like such terms as ‘rad’ and ‘awesome’) all serve as inspirations.
Rowell, along with his computer, has been a staple in the indie scene in New Zealand with his tongue in cheek “get your party on” synth-pop for the past four years and comes about regardless of the fairly recent revival of new wave and synth pop. He does not set out to especially make songs about the ‘80s. He just unpretentiously states “I really like synthesizer pop music and I’m kind of good at it.”
Visions was originally going to be an album based on the ‘80s concept of virtual reality, a concept Rowell was obsessed with for a while, but he found he had actually “ended up writing TV themes,” so television became a loose concept throughout the writing of Visions.
The name of the album comes from his conviction that if he sees or hears a phrase 2-3 times in one day, then it has to mean something. “I thought it was a good name for an album then I realized I had a book named Visions, and another book named Visions, and then we were driving past this hairdresser in Naenae that was also called Visions.”
A true child of the ‘80s, Rowell believes in the power of ever-evolving technology, and its ability to make life easier. While he has enough analogue equipment to warrant renting a small warehouse he now does everything by PC. “I kind of just got tired of always plugging things in and stuff. I wanted to concentrate on the software stuff and get a lot more done so it will be a lot more quicker, and I know that’s kind of frowned upon – not doing the whole analogue thing – but it’s just pragmatic. If I don’t have to get up to plug this keyboard in and I can do it all in one place then I don’t see the point (in analogue).”
However, he does still use some of his analogue equipment to do solos, as “if you program a solo it will sound exactly like a programmed solo which can be good but if you want it like a hip shaking, face making solo you just got to do it.”
This hip-shaking is a frequent occurrence at Disasteradio shows. His neon-clad audiences New Zealand-wide party hard to his good times synth sound, and while he says his live shows are about “having fun and taking the piss,” he admits he has an inner conflict about the differences between live Disasteradio and recorded Disasteradio.
He muses that “my live shows are a group activity and the album is something you listen to by yourself.” Rowell suggests that this is best done in a public setting because for him the magic of music is privately listening to something “totally weird” hence giving the listener the ultimate power to “take the piss on the whole world.” Kind of like what the fashion powers that be are doing with those garish ‘80s comeback big print tees.