Thursday, March 29, 2012

March 29: Martin Hannett

Perhaps the most outrageously incorrect, yet frustratingly consistent notion that one can find amongst "music scholars" is the general idea that nothing of "real" musical value was created after 1975.  Across countless works of music history and theory, it can easily be interpreted that at some point around this time, music innovation somehow "stopped," and while there have been advancements in recording technology, the "worth" of this music is of some lesser value than that by which it was preceded.  Obviously, this line of thought is beyond ludicrous, as one can find a massive amount of progression and innovation within all genres of music in the nearly for decades since, and while there were a number of musicians responsible for this, there were also a handful of producers without whom one can argue, music quite possibly would have ceased to move forward.  Though they were working with musical forms and approaches that were similarly regarded to be of inferior value to the worlds of jazz and the "golden age" of rock music, there is no getting past the fact that these individuals still managed to alter the course of music history, and their names are certainly worthy of being alongside other such legends.  Among many important producers of this era, there is one man who took more unexpected and certainly larger steps than any other: Martin Hannett.

Though most are unaware, before delving into the world of music in the professional sense, Hannett actually earned a degree in chemistry, but soon after graduation, he found himself drawn to the rising counter-culture scene of late 1970's London.  After a few smaller projects, Martin Hannett began working with a handful of what would become called "punk" bands, though he did this work under the pseudonym of "Martin Zero."  It was using this name that he lent his skills to the now-iconic Spiral Scratch EP by The Buzzcocks, and soon after this hit shelves, he was working with a wide array of performers, as well as making a few appearances with bands as their bass guitar player.  However, while this work certainly made his name known, it would take Hannett only a few more years before he cemented his place as one of the most important producers in history, due almost entirely to his work on one album in 1979.  It was during that year that Hannett served as producer to a band with which his name has almost become synonymous, as there is not another album in history quite like Joy Division's full-length debut, Unknown Pleasures.  The sound and overall tone that Hannett was able to create on this record completely altered the way that bands approached the musical process; and more than three decades later, the importance and impact of the album has not diminished in the least.

Following the massive (though largely underground) success of Unknown Pleasures, many saw Hannett as "the" producer for the "post punk" sound, and he was able to create similarly striking musical environments with bands like Magazine, New Order, and The Psychedelic Furs among many others.  Though many have been tricked by the name-check, while he is mentioned as the producer of The Dead Kennedys' song, "Nazi Punks Fuck Off," Hannett had absolutely nothing to do with the project; and the mention was more a nod of appreciation and respect than anything else.  However, this in itself showed just how much impact Hannett had all across the globe, as the sound he was able to create with bands was unlike anything else that band would achieve with other producers.  This ability to get a completely unique sound, regardless of the band in question, places Martin Hannett into a very small group of producers, and due to this reality, one cannot deny his place amongst the finest in history.  Strangely enough, Hannett would almost completely step out of the world of music in the early 1980's, never to return in a "full time" sense of the word, and yet his overall impact was far beyond that of countless others who attempted the job for decades longer.  Much in the vein of the "to the point" and "no time wasted" ethos of punk rock, one can quickly understand just why there has never been another figure in music quite like Martin Hannett.

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