The Belgian techno-pop group TELEX was formed in 1978 by Marc Moulin, Dan Lacksman and Michel Moers, as a kind of elaborate joke. Disco was still alive, electronica was emerging from the underground and punk had already ruffled a few feathers and broken a few rules. TELEX emerged with an hilarious stripped-down electronic novelty version of 'Twist à St Tropez'1.
They followed up with further assaults on the popular music genre including an ultra-slow cover of 'Rock around the Clock', a hilariously relaxed and dispassionate version of one-hit-wonder Plastic Bertram's punk song 'Ça Plane Pour Moi', and a perversely mechanical cover of 'Dance to the Music'.
Like Kraftwerk, TELEX built their music entirely from electronic instruments. Often the sounds of the two groups converged towards the same point. However, unlike Kraftwerk's studied Teutonic irony, TELEX favoured a more joyously irreverent form of humour. In 1980 their manager asked them to enter for the Eurovision Song Contest. They did and managed to get to the finals, broadcast live across Europe. They playfully sent up the whole spectacle with their song 'Eurovision', a cheery yet deliberately empty piece of electronics, with totally banal lyrics concerning the contest itself.
The audience clearly wasn't sure how to react. After the band stopped playing, there was stunned silence for a while. One of the members of TELEX stepped forward and took a photograph of the bewildered audience. Finally, some polite but uncertain applause broke out, amidst sounds of muttering. When the votes were tallied, the verdict was so clear that when Greece actually awarded Belgium three points, the announcer thought she had misheard and tried to award the points to Holland. By a miracle, Turkey managed to scrape last place, robbing TELEX of their victory.
All of this was clearly bad news for the band's English record label, Virgin, who were trying to pass them off as part of the New Romantic music movement. The self-mockery of tracks like 'We Are All Getting Old' didn't help either.
For their third album, Sex, TELEX enlisted the suddenly hip US group Sparks (Ron and Russell Mael), to help write the lyrics. Yet the band still refused to play live and preferred to remain anonymous - characteristics common in the techno artists they inspired, but perverse in 1981. The fourth TELEX album, Wonderful World, was barely distributed.
In 1986, Warner Brothers inexplicably signed TELEX and released Looney Tunes. By then, the band's earlier sound had been picked up and mutated into various popular forms. Instead, George Michael's 'I Want Your Sex' resulted in TELEX's 'I Want Your Brain', and mass unemployment inspired 'Temporary Chicken'; a sample-laden in-joke about a man so desperate he accepts a part time job as a chicken. It was social commentary, but so bizarre as to be almost incomprehensible to most listeners. Predictably, it had no commercial success.
In 1989, TELEX revisited all of their old tracks and remixed them to resemble the house music and other genres they had allegedly inspired. The result was Les Rhythmes Automatiques, which vanished into obscurity, but not before inspiring Kraftwerk to do the same for their album The Mix in 1991.
1978 - Looking For St Tropez
1980 - Neurovision
1981 - Sex which was originally released as The Birds and the Bees
1984 - Wonderful World
1986 - Looney Tunes
1989 - Les Rhythmes Automatiques
1991 - The Mix
1993 - Belgium... One Point is a boxed set of the first five albums plus some extra tracks
1998 - I Don't Like Music - TELEX remixed by Carl Craig and others
1998 - I Don't Like Remixes is a 'best-of' compilation