With the resurgence of interest in post-punk, ZERO is a timely and kaleidoscopic collection of the work of producer Martin Hannett who changed the musical landscape of the late twentieth century. He was what you want a producer to be. A mad scientist, notoriously difficult and demanding, tormented and troubled, in the tradition of Joe Meek, Phil Spector, Jack Nitzsche, and Lee Perry.
Hannett was the right person in the right place at the right time. That right place was Manchester, and the time was at the start of the punk explosion. There (as Martin Zero) he enabled the Buzzcocks’ “Spiral Scratch” to sound as out-of-control and spiteful as it does.
As his skills and vision developed, Hannett did special things with space and echo, and famously shaped Joy Division’s sound, helping to create those pioneering and forbidding records that still reverberate and conjure up a sense of urban alienation and industrial decay. The single Transmission on this set still has the power to shock with its intensity.
Experimenting with unorthodox approaches and new technology allowed Hannett to create a sound that became much in demand. He produced many of the great Manchester records, like A Certain Ratio’s To Each and Magazine’s The Correct Use Of Soap, and it was no wonder he became the producer of choice at Factory Records, acting as alchemist to many of its minor characters. Factory recordings included here by Section 25 and the Names are being rightly re-evaluated, largely thanks to the salvage work of LTM, run by James Nice, who provides characteristically comprehensive sleevenotes for this set.
Hannett is rightly revered for his work with New York funk minimalists ESG, which laid the foundations for hip hop, and the Scroggins sisters still speak fondly of our hero to this day. Another of Hannett’s production duties often overlooked was for Basement 5, PiL acolytes led by photographer Dennis Morris, whose Last White Christmas is included here. Hannett helped create a menacing metallic sound, heavy on the drums and bass, which provided the opportunity to experiment with the dub techniques he loved so much.
This collection draws together many of Hannett’s productions, from long lost gems like Wasted Youth and Pauline Murray (the closest in sound he got to his beloved Abba), through to the guilty pleasures of the Psychedelic Furs’ Pretty In Pink and OMD’s Electricity. It’s appropriate it ends, back full circle, with a brace of Manchester groups (Happy Mondays and World Of Twist) from a time when the spotlight was back on a city ripe for regeneration. Criminally Hannett’s awesomely cavernous version of Happy Mondays’ Wrote For Luck was not the hit one. Suddenly Hannett was submerged by an electronic future he surely helped create with his early New Order productions. Those, and others, are a massive influence on many areas of current music.
By John Carney
John is a regular contributor to www.tangents.co.uk, the home of un-popular culture on the world wide web.