TF Archives

Phil Oakey from the Human League - Gatecrasher is Wonderful

Author: Skruff
Sunday, August 5, 2001
Initially emerging as avant-garde electronic experimentalists during the late 70s, Sheffield band the Human League rapidly became one of the biggest bands of the 80s, notably through their groundbreaking album Dare. Containing their worldwide smash Don't You Want Me, the record brought Human League to Duran Duran level superstar success, selling 5 million copies in 1982. Despite that success, the band's core members Phil Oakey, Susan Sulley and Joanne Catherall remained pointedly unpretentious and humble, remaining based in Sheffield as their latter career dipped and soared. After moderate success in the mid 90s, the band found themselves sliding into ever increasing obscurity until 2000 began, when suddenly their fortunes changed. Increasingly recognised as true pioneers of dance music (particularly by US tastemakers from Detroit and Chicago) they were also endorsed by Ministry, who bought up the sampling rights to their superb electronic back catalogue.

One year on, they're just about to release their already critically acclaimed new album Secrets, through their latest label Papillon. Returning to their trademark 80s story-book style electro, the album is a surprisingly contemporary record, that's likely to see the band re-emerging yet again, on the world's pop charts.

Human League singer Phil Oakey and a car-load of mates used to drive past Gatecrasher regularly until one night they plucked up the courage to go in. Yet despite being one of the true pioneers of flamboyant clubwear, the legendary New Romantic icon found himself unrecognised and undisturbed. 'The clubbers there can hardly even recognise their friends to be honest," he told Skrufff's Benedetta Ferraro this week. "They don't even remember who they came with. In the toilets they can't recognise themselves when they look in the mirrors. It really is a place where you can get lost. You go in with people and you never see them again for the whole night, as it is so huge. Great. They wear fantastic make up, too." Joining him for the interview were prototype club girls Susan Sulley and Joanne Catherall, who first met Phil when he chatted them up in a different Sheffield nightclub back in 1980.

Skrufff: You've described Secrets as 'probably your best album ever'…
Phil Oakey: "Yes, that's because for the first time we've been working in total unison with everybody around us, from those at our record label to the album producer, my writing partner and so on. We are now involved with people who understand where we're coming from, and we make all our decisions together. In that respect, this album represents our best working experience so far. However, you can hardly predict an album's potential at this stage. Before 'Don't You Want Me' was released, I would have never guessed the success it would have."

Skrufff: Phil, you're quoted on your biography as saying 'old music is only good for ripping off', how much did you actually look at your past when you were putting this album together-
Phil Oakey: "Not very much until the lyrics stage, because we always tend to write the music first. I don't listen to old music at all anymore; I don't want to, I've heard it all a thousand times. There's more good music around now than there's ever been; you've got to go out and find it, which is hard 'cause there's so much of it out there. When it comes down to lyrics though, I become really old fashioned. I like digging out my old '60's and '70's compilations to give me an idea for the lyrics or the vocal line."

Skrufff: I've notice that, when it comes to lyrics, love is still your favourite subject…
Phil Oakey: "Only because it's universal. To be honest the album was going to be pretty miserable, because when I was writing I was going through a rough time. When the lyrics were first written, they were all about anguish and pain. Then I thought we've got to get out of that, and re-wrote the whole lot trying to make them more cheerful."