Thorne at the Stereo Society
A Short Thorne Biography (2006)
Pimpled, understated Mike Thorne first sprang to prominence as a thin, pale tape op on Deep Purple and Fleetwood Mac sessions in London during the early seventies. This natural career interlude between a physics degree and classical composition study led erratically to definitive eighties record productions such as Tainted Love (Soft Cell), Bad Day (Carmel), Voices Carry (Til Tuesday), Don’t Leave Me This Way (The Communards), Nunsexmonkrock (Nina Hagen), Parting Should Be Painless (Roger Daltrey) and Smalltown Boy (Bronski Beat).
Earlier production efforts include the classic raucous punk Live at the Roxy, which was the first to expose the scene to the public and became a most unlikely UK top 20 hit; the first (gold) Téléphone album in 1977; and the first three Wire albums, the second of which led to the purchase of his first synthesizer because ‘if you don’t do it, we’ll get that Brian Eno in.’ This grew into a New York production workshop with an early Synclavier in 1979. The Stereo Society is now a private studiofeaturing large-scale automated mix-down, a classic Synclavier with 16-track Direct-to-Disk, 48-output ProTools, many exotic synthesizers, instruments and effects units, 9000 samples online, and sufficient outboard equipment for the largest imaginable music mix-down down (such as 98 audio tracks for Ives’ Universe Symphony).
Hits, of course, were not long coming to Mike Thorne’s production career. The very first was the ‘machine startup’ introduction to Fireball (Deep Purple), a Christmas Eve 1970 stereo recording of London’s De Lane Lea Music air conditioning plant turning on. Whether journalistic stints (pop and classical commentaries, notably for the Guardian) or two years as Editor of Studio Sound, helped the snare sound or not, at least the vocabulary improved. Shortly afterwards, as we now know, computers arrived.
Steam-age synthesizers were a major contributor to the special sound of Tainted Love (1981). Next-generation successors supported the distinctive techno of Don’t Leave Me This Way (1986). Each was the biggest selling UK single of its year. Productions around these two pop music landmarks include, in addition to those already mentioned, work with John Cale, Kit Hain, Marianne Faithfull, Blur, Soft Machine, B-Movie, Holly and the Italians, The The, Lene Lovich, Information Society, Swans Way, Laurie Anderson, The Uptown Horns, Siouxsie and the Banshees, Sir Michael Tippett, BETTY, Peter Murphy, Marc Almond and China Crisis. Major musical contributions were made also by Fender Stratocaster and Gibson Les Paul. Although often less fashionable, at least as much of Thorne’s work has been with familiar rock+roll rhythm and top-line arrangement approaches.
The Stereo Society studio was built in the same pragmatic spirit as the ‘Heavy Henry stereo mobile discotheque and light show’ (1970-1974) (15 guineas, extra after 2am). Extended to embrace interactive multimedia from the mid-nineties, it supports the cutting-edge approach of the Stereo Society online label. The original ‘Heavy Henry’ was last seen embarking by boat on the Thames. ‘The Stereo Society’ has been settled in New York’s West Village since the late eighties.
Mike Thorne’s final commercial album was delivered in early 1994, after which he worked exclusively in the new media technologies (internet, CD-ROM etc) wherever they overlapped with music. From then until October 1996 he was with Warner Music International as Director, New Music Media Development.
In 1997, along with the world, it was time to change: make the record, write the book, assemble the Web site, leap in the dark. Launched in 1999, slightly too far ahead of the beat, the Stereo Society online label has now issued eight self-produced, uncompromisingly distinctive and utterly different CDs. With the wired world becoming a reality, the Stereo Society can at last connect.
The ninth release, due in early 2006, will be Thorne’s second CD, The Contessa’s Party. It’s an unusual format, a development of the extended club dance attitude: eight powerful tracks last 74 minutes. Thorne directs his repertory company, which embraces the vocalists BETTY, Sarah Jane Morris, Lene Lovich and Kit Hain, with the Uptown Horns keeping it all raucous. With this album, Thorne returns emphatically to his dance roots, on a mission to reinvent the extended party mix.
Heavy Henry sails again.