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The Manchester edition of Now Then is no longer publishing content. Visit the Sheffield edition.


When I became aware of pop music, The Human League were long past their peak of synthpop pomp, a by-word for everything aesthetically awful about the 80s. What 12-year-old sees past the surface of anything? Not this one, at any rate. To the extent that I thought about them at all, I filed the League in the box marked 'dire TOTP shite'.

I take a more balanced view these days. The revelation arrived in the form of that Synth Brittania documentary the Beeb did a while back, digging into the roots of the synthpop sound I'd learned to loathe. Here were the familiar icons of 80s UK pop, but pictured and played back as they were during their earlier (post-)punk incarnations.

And here were The Human League who recorded Reproduction, before the shoulder pads and high-volume styling mousse, before the schism between Phil Oakey and Martyn Ware became a full-on split. Here were The Human League as something transgressive, edgy, strange. Something shamelessly science-fictional, reeking of late-70s anomie, of Ballard and Kubrick and industrial decline. In the aftermath of the 2008 financial crisis, that album sounded incredibly retro and incredibly relevant at once.

Ever since I arrived in Sheffield a few years later, Reproduction has been among the records that soundtrack my wanderings around the city, drifting through the ruins of a prematurely foreclosed-upon modernist utopia. It's an unmistakable product of not only a specific time, but of a specific place. A memory of something I never experienced, which nonetheless strikes like a déjà vu.

Paul Graham Raven