Pet Shop Boys Chris- Gangsta Rap, DJing & Saturday Night Fever

Despite being usually portrayed as the quiet one from synth-pop legends the Pet Shop Boys, Chris Lowe is as outspoken as he’s prolific as a producer and chatting to Skrufff this week about their new compilation for Back To Mine, he admits the project was an enlghtening new experience.

“It’s the first compilation of other people’s records we’ve ever done and the last, I think; I don’t think we will be making a habit of it,” he chuckles. “We’d never actually been asked to do one before, and when Back To Mine offered it to us we said we’d do it, as long as we could do one CD each, with no compromises being made. They’d never done that before but they agreed so for that reason we decided we’d do it. Also I didn’t want to do a chill out compilation because I’m not really a chill out type of person. I think mine’s probably the first one of the series that’s not really a chill out.”

Skrufff (Jonty Skrufff): The press release says the CD is about ‘love, friendship, sex, religion, hope and despair’, sounds like quite a dramatic concept, how did you begin?

Chris Lowe: “It was actually quite a daunting prospect, initially, because there’s no point doing a compilation of records that everybody already knows. So that wiped out most of the nineties I thought, because there’s been compilations released almost every week of nineties stuff. I also wanted songs that I genuinely loved. I tend to like emotional songs and songs that move me. So I decided to go back to eighties electro but then I also didn’t want to just preclude things that I like that are current such as Justice vs Simeon’s Never Be Alone. I was hanging out in Kokon To Zai (trendy Soho clothes/ record shop) one day when I first heard that track and I just loved it so much. I happened to be DJing that night so I played that and it immediately entered into my canon of records that I love. I’m not a huge Queen fan at all, but I’ve always loved The Show Must Go On which is why that track is on there.”

Skrufff: Your CD is radically different from Neil’s. . .

Chris Lowe: “Yeah, there’s two completely different moods.”

Skrufff: Do you and Neil have dramatically different tastes?

Chris Lowe: “No, we have overlapping tastes, but these are probably the two extremes of mine and Neil’s. I love some of the tracks on Neil’s a lot, the Etienne Daho record I absolutely love. Some of the glitchy stuff I have to be in just the right mood to listen to.”

Skrufff: His selection is quite classical . . .

Chris Lowe: “Actually Neil DJed a classical set in Berlin last year, at the Yellow Lounge. It was fantastic. Classical music in a nightclub is really good because you can hear it really loud. Do you ever go to classical orchestral concerts?”

Skrufff: No, never.

Chris Lowe: “They’re usually disappointing because it’s never loud enough. We’re used to amplified sound, and of course orchestras aren’t amplified. When you hear classical music in a nightclub it’s through a proper disco PA with visuals live video mixer and everything, it’s all very trendy and happening.”

Skrufff: Many of the songs on your CD sound a lot like the Pet Shop Boys . . . .

Chris Lowe: “Well I’ve been influenced by them and many were a part of the eighties electro scene. There were only two drum boxes around at the time, which is one of the reasons music from that era sounds like it does. The keyboards are the same, and the sequencers were at very early stages. We’ve always liked the handclaps, cowbells, the four on the floor, the clicky bass drum of that time. The record Passion, by the Flirts, is one of the reasons that the Pet Shop Boys even exist. I heard that record in a club and rushed out to buy the twelve inch, while at the same time, Neil was working for Smash Hits, and a lot of records were coming in by Bobby Orlando. So consequently, Neil got to meet Bobby O and we flew over to New York and made West End Girls. It’s all because of Passion by The Flirts that we actually exist.”

Skrufff: Tell me about your route into making electronic music, how did you get started?

Chris Lowe: “I’d learnt the piano at school, so I suppose it goes back that far really, keyboard wise. Neil had a little Korg synthesizer and we used to make these demos in his flat with one keyboard and a cassette machine. Then we saved up some money to book some time in this tiny little recording studio in Camden, we had an afternoon there and recorded three songs which we’d already written as demos. Then Neil went to New York to interview The Police, met Bobby Orlando and actually without even playing him any songs, Bobby Orlando said, ‘OK fine, I can make a record with you’. We actually went over to New York to make a record with Bobby O and he hadn’t heard anything we’d done, but he was that kind of bloke – a spontaneous Italian, going ‘Yes we can do it, no problem’.”

Skrufff: Did you expect those tracks to become hits?

Chris Lowe: “I never expected anything, I was training as an architect, so I hadn’t really considered a change of career. I never really thought we’d have any success at all, actually we were just enjoying writing songs together. When the original West End Girls came out on import, I was a student at Liverpool University. I’d go to a club in Liverpool sometimes and it would come on, and I’d be really embarrassed in case anyone thought it was me. I’d run into the toilet as soon as it came on, even though no-one actually knew it was me.”

Skrufff: Before Liverpool University you grew up in Blackpool and last time we chatted you talked about working in bars, collecting glasses, was that during the Saturday Night Fever disco era?

Chris Lowe: “Yeah it was Saturday Night Fever totally. The club had an illuminated dance floor and there was a John Travolta look-a-like, who used to lead the dancing when all the Saturday Night Fever records came on.”

Skrufff: Were you doing that classic finger pointing Fever dance as well?

Chris Lowe: “Oh yeah. I just think that coming from Blackpool you take music from a different point of view than some people. For me, music has always been about having a good time and partying and I’m sure that’s because I come from Blackpool where that’s the purpose of music. Having said that, all my mates at school were more into rock and stuff. When disco came along that was it for me – I’d found it.”

Skrufff: Did you own a white suit?

Chris Lowe: “Oh God, no.”

Skrufff: You’ve included Queen’s ‘The Show Must Go On’ on the album, did you know Freddy Mercury personally?

Chris Lowe: “No, I never met him, but Elton told us that we would have really liked him.”

Skrufff: Is Elton someone you’re still friends with?

Chris Lowe: “Yeah.”

Skrufff: What do you make of the recent Eminem/ homophobia debate?

Chris Lowe: “Well we talked about Eminem on our last album with that song The Night I Fall In Love – that’s how we deal with the subject. The story of the song is about a fan of Eminem who meets him backstage and ends up making love with him. I think Eminem’s made some great records, but is he homophobic? I don’t know. I mean, he’s putting on a persona, isn’t he? Also has he stopped being homophobic? I’ve not listened to his last album. A lot of people learn as they go along, don’t they, and change their ways, realising they have just been stupid and ignorant. I saw Boy George on TV recently slagging off Elton for liking Eminem. Eminem is an artist though, you can’t really deny him that.”

Skrufff: What do you make of gangsta rap and its emphasis on violence and gun culture?

Chris Lowe: “That’s the huge difference between hip hop and house music isn’t it?. House music is about love, and if you want to put it simplistically you could say that lots of hip hop is about hate and intolerance, so in that respect, it’s not good at all. There’s nothing I like more than being on a dance floor with a thousand people feeling love for humanity. Using music to promote hate seems to be the bastardisation of music to me.”

Skrufff: We talked recently about Tony Blair….

Chris Lowe: “I’m beginning to think that you should only be allowed to serve two terms, before madness sets in.”

Skrufff: There’s a quote on Brian Eno’s website – ‘We’re closer to Orwell’s 1984 than ever before’, would you agree?

Chris Lowe: “For me, the one issue of the election is ID cards. Id cards alone make it impossible for anyone to vote New Labour I think. Even the word ‘new’ is beginning to sound sinister, because it’s all double speak, isn’t it. I think what Gordon Brown has done with the economy and all this with the NHS and everything, it’s fantastic, but the thing is, that’s if you even believe those statistics, because once you don’t believe about the war, then you can’t believe about anything else. If you don’t trust them then you can’t trust them about anything. I think it would have been really good if Tony Blair had resigned before the election and then they could have moved on. At the moment, you can’t trust them.”

Skrufff: Is Brian Eno someone you know?

Chris Lowe: “Yes. Brian Eno’s wife was putting on concerts in Russia, and we’d always wanted to play in Russia. So she arranged a couple of concerts, one in St Petersberg and one in Moscow a few years ago, so we hung out with Brian Eno in St Petersberg, and he basically showed us around. Then we came back to London and we were going to make a record with him, but we realised that the way we work and the way he works, although we totally admire the way he works, doesn’t fit with us. He has a very intellectual way to writing music, whereas we tend to be a bit more conventional in that we write verse, chorus, verse, chorus, middle bit, outro. It doesn’t leave much room for that sort of level of experimentation that he does. So sadly, although he’s one person we’d absolutely love to work with more, our working together doesn’t work.”

Skrufff: You mentioned DJing earlier, when did you start?

Chris Lowe: “I don’t DJ really. I just do the odd Valentines Day party for friends and things like that, although we might have a launch party for Back To Mine which we’d DJ at. It takes so much time, getting the records together. I get rusty on the mixing as well. When you are playing for friends, it’s great because you know what they like but when you’re playing to strangers they can often come up and say what you plying this crap for? I just can’t be bothered with all of that. It’s great when everyone is with you on the dancefloor, but then there’s the downside. All the DJs I know have horrendous tales of the crowd saying we don’t want you. Or they’re just waiting for the big name DJ to come on after you. It’s nervewracking isn’t it? Then you start to doubt if your taste in music is any good. The best thing though is when you’ve just bought a record that you can’t wait to play, then DJing is so much fun….Do you like the Kelly Osbourne record?”

Skrufff: I’ve not heard it.

Chris Lowe: “I really like it. The verse is Visage – Fade To Grey, but then it goes into a really catchy chorus which is unexpected. It’s really good.”

Skrufff: I know you were in Italy with Miss Kitten a while ago…

Chris Lowe: “Oh yeah. She’s great. I really like her.”

Skrufff: Are you going to be collaborating with her?

Chris Lowe: “No. She happened to be in town and she was DJing. She asked Neil if he would like to rap over one of the songs she was playing. So Neil got on the mike and sang West End Girls over an electronic record she was playing which was amazing. Also when she DJs she puts her microphone through a little guitar box and does amazing sound effects and things. It’s quite a performance.”

Skrufff: I haven’t seen you in any clubs in the last year, have you stepped back a bit?

Chris Lowe: “A friend of ours was DJing in the backroom at Turnmills Saturday night, that was good and I went to Trailer Trash on Friday. We’ve been away most of this month so I have not been out at all really. I haven’t really got a regular club at the moment, I used to know where I was going Fridays and Saturdays in the old days but not now.”
Taken from:
Interviewer: Jonty Skrufff (