InSoc Interview, Keyboard Magazine, Dec. '88

THE LORD LOVES THE Unlikely. Case in point: Information Society, also known as "Insoc," purveyors of a recombinant blend of aggressive funk, soaring Euro-vocals,and sample quotes from the pop culture Gospel According To Captain Kirk And Scooby-Doo. That such a mix should rocket up the dance charts and head for crossover success is not, all by itself, so very strange. But when the rocket in question is a part-time foursome from Minnesota that (a) likes to call its music "disco," and (b) made it big by accident, when their two-year-old single, "Running", became a Latino club hit from Miami to the barrios of the Bronx... well, only in America.

"It was so unexpected, so completely unplanned", says Kurt Valaquen, the group's nominal leader, primary vocalist, and resident techhead. "Nobody, not us or anyone helping us, tried to make it happen." Not that Information Society hadn't been trying to make something happen, off and on, ever since the group's initial formation in 1982. Their problem was geographical. Heavily influenced by Kraftwerk, Ultravox, and Gary Numan, founders Valaquen and Paul Robb discovered that Insoc's European synth sound wasn't something their neighbors were eager to hear. Obviously we were going against the grain in the Midwest," observes Valaquen. "In a town like Minneapolis, where you are either standard '70s black funk or white midwestern guitar rock or Prince -- one of those three or nothing -- it was pretty unusual and difficult for us to try and do superdark semi-Euro avant-garde dance synth music. But we did it anyway. We played a lot of shows, using a really complicated CV/gate network on stage to tie all the instruments together, up until around 1984. But we weren't closely involved in the Minneapolis music scene; we just did it on our own, without a lot of ties to other bands end musicians."

Now that InSoc is a success, the group -- Valaquen and Robb, plus bandmates Amanda Kramer and Jim Cassidy -- have relocated to the more hospitable environs of New York. Back then, however, it was go to school, go to work, and record Especially record. And hope for the best. The first release of "Running" was from Wide Angle, a local Minneapolis independent, in 1984. Nothing happened. When Wide Angle gained a new distributor the song was remixed and released again, with exactly the same results -or so it seemed at first. Being a small label, Wide Angle didn't command the resources necessary to sell a lot of records; they nevertheless proved adept at getting music heard, if not sold, by submitting discs to record pools. This put "Running" in the hands of influential radio and club DJs all over the East Coast The tune was hot, it was danceable, and its crazy mix at Afrika Bambaataa beat and Ultravox vocal successfully blended both inner city and Old World sensibilities.

Press fast-forward, Scotty. Called to play the Devil's Nest,a Latin club in the Bronx, Insoc reentered the world of live performance in front of a thousand kids who knew all the words. Signed by Tommy Boy Records, a label ever alert to club trends, InSoc found its first album being produced by Scritti Politti drummer Fred Maher, whose credits include extensive work with such major influences as Kraftwerk. Finally, after a delay over obtaining rights to the Star Trek quotes scattered throughout the record, Insoc's self-titled debut album sold over 250,000 copies within three months of its June '88 release.

"My most vivid memory of the prospect," says Valaquen, "is probably Fred'sapartment, where we did the preproduction. It was a typical tiny Greenwich Village apartment, and it had all of the synths and computers jammed into it. It was like being in the underground control center for the universe, or something. We used a Yamaha TX816, Octave-Plateau Voyetra Eight, Roland JX3P and Planet-5 for synths -- we added a little D-50 later when we were mixing - and an 5900 and Sequential Prophet 2000 for samplers. All the sequencing was done with Voyetra's Sequencer Plus running on a PC AT. We kind of center our lives around that program. Early on we brought out our E-mu SP-12 and finally confirmed what we always suspected, which is that drum units are an obsolete idea. When you've got big well-working sequencers and big well-working samplers, why use a small sequencer with a small sampler that's been put into one box for convenience? Unless they are very small and very cheap and only intended for stage use, maybe."

The stage has become a real concern for Insoc, Having completed a "track show" tour -- a series of club dates in which bands leave their instruments at home and sing their hits over vocal-less backing tapes -- their own success has forced them to wrestle with the creative and logistical headaches of a full-blown show. There's new equipment to be bought, songs to rehearse, and an image to perfect. "We've been walking a tightrope all summer," observes Valaquen. "It's a difficult and confusing transition period. One night we'd play in a small club with a capacity of 800 and a very small stage, and then the next night we'd be in a huge 4,000-seat theater that could handle Prince if it wanted to -- and we'd have the same show, So on Friday night our show would be too big for the club, and on Saturday night too small. When the next tour starts up in November we're going to have to make sure that we always are booked into the kind of clubs that are appropriate for our kind of presentation." -- Freff