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Human League's Phil Oakey On Richard X, Gangsters & Kids

Author: Jonty Skrufff
Wednesday, October 1, 2003
"I never wanted kids. I don't understand why people have kids, really. I'd have liked to have been a writer, but I don't think I would have been very good at it. I'd also still like to be a painter, but I can't think of anything I'd like to paint."

Chatting down the line from his beloved Sheffield, 80s pop icon turned revitalised electro figurehead Phil Oakey laughs as he considers what else he might do beyond sing with the Human League. Speaking to Benedetta Skrufff about the band's latest Greatest Hits compilation (their fourth), he's both cheerful and down-to-Earth, as enthused about Richard X's remakes of his band's music as he is about a recent holiday in Crete.

"I'd go and live in Crete if I could, I absolutely fell in love with the place when I was there on holiday earlier this year," he laughs.

"I went to Egypt the year before that too and thought it was an amazing place but too frantic for my liking. So, if I make a lot of money I'll spend half a year in Crete and the other half in Sheffield."

Skrufff: You're just to about to release yet another Best of Human League compilation, how do feel about these Greatest Hits albums generally-

Phil Oakey: "With this new album, it's been a record company decision and not ours to release it, but it's inevitable for these sort of things to happen if you're doing all right and especially if you've been reassessed in the way we have. I think it's all fine, the album is something that doesn't require my creativity, like most others things I do, so I'm happy to let the record company get on with it."

Skrufff: Richard X recently used two classic Human League tracks for his bootleg style debut album (Being Boiled and Things That Dreams Are Made Of), do you consider him as an artist-

Phil Oakey: "I do, yes, I listen to his stuff and I really enjoy it. He's an artist who's making the most of the technology of today. Then again, I'm not likely to judge him harshly because I know him and he's also a really nice person. His album sounds really good to me, it has a lot of artistry and at least a couple more excellent singles on it. I've also noticed that our tracks are not exactly 'our tracks', they all have his additions, even just extra notes that weren't in the originals."

Skrufff: When you were writing the original Human League songs back in the early 80s; did you pinch any ideas or copy any one else-

Phil Oakey: "Oh yes, we were pinching ideas from everywhere but we weren't very good at it, so it didn't sound like the original. We were heavily inspired by Donna Summer and Kraftwerk. I was also a huge fan of progressive rock, bands like Yes, ELP (Emerson, Lake and Palmer), Van Der Graff Generator and The Nice and sometimes we were just very blatantly pinching stuff. In those days, because we didn't have samplers, it would inevitably sound different and if you weren't even a good musician it would sound even more unlike the original."

Skrufff: Which of today's pop bands, if any, remind you of the Human League-

Phil Oakey: "A couple of years ago I'd have said Kelis, at the time of her track 'I hate you so much right now'. In fact I was very pleased when Richard X told me he'd got Kelis to sing on 'The Finest' single. She definitely had our spirit. Also Dreams Team, a band from Germany, and The Opal Bastards from Finland. I also listen to DJ Hell generally, everything that he puts out on his label and his compilations have got our spirit."

Skrufff: Boy George recently blamed a lack of snobbery for allowing pop music to become so pedestrian and generic, would you agree-

Phil Oakey: "Elitism is good for creativity, but I don't think that is necessarily what's gone wrong with pop music. I think the marginal areas of music aren't very big anymore- we're at the end of the pop music era. Within the next five to ten years no one will be buying records anymore. That means that as it's ramping down, there will be less and le