September 24, 2013Click here to download the PDF.
One of Canada’s first synth-pop groups, Rational Youth was formed in the summer of 1981 by Tracy Howe (The Normals, Men Without Hats, Heaven Seventeen) and Bill Vorn (U, Sacred Noise). Inspired by the influential Kraut-rock band Kraftwerk, they set out to create their own brand of modern electronic music. Within months of their first meeting, Tracy and Bill, along with Mario Spezza, recorded and released their first 12” single “I Want To SeeThe Light” b/w “Coboloid Race” on the newly formed YUL Records imprint.
With the release of their second single, Cite Phosphore, and a handful of high profile opening shows, Rational Youth’s new electronic sound paved the way in expanding Montreal’s local new wave scene on the radio and in discos. Encouraged by the local reaction, Bill and Tracy soon started work on their debut LP “Cold War Night Life”, and enlisted YUL Records partner and producer Pat Deserio, already well known for his production and musical output as Kebekelektrik, Dogs Of War and Bombers.
During the recording sessions of Cold War Night Life, Bill and Tracy were joined by another synthesizer player, Kevin Komoda, who had already played and done sessions for Pat Deserio and other local bands like The Blueprints & Action Men On Assignment. When Cold War Night Life was issued in early 1982, it was the first all-synthesizer release in Canada and became one of the biggest selling Canadian independent LPs. The album was also released in Europe, where songs like “Dancing On The Berlin Wall” and “Saturdays In Silesia” became club favourites and still remain so to this day. By the end of 1982, Bill Vorn had left the band to further pursue his studies in communications and experiments in robotics.
In 1983, Tracy and Kevin decided to move forward, taking the band in a more rock direction and adding bass player Denis Duran and drummer Angel Calvo. A subsequent cross-Canada tour led them to being signed by Capitol Records, and the quartet recorded a self-titled 5 song mini-LP in 1983, also produced by YUL Records’ Pat Deserio. Even with real drums and bass added, there were still layers of synths and guest musicians from the local scene including Roman Martyn, who once played with Howe in their post-punk group Heaven Seventeen.
By 1984, with Tracy Howe as the sole remaining member, Capitol Records extended an offer to record a full length LP, which became “Heredity”, released in March 1985. Produced by Dee Long (Klaatu), “Heredity”, although distanced from the original pure synthesizer vision started in 1981, the LP showcased Howe’s ability to write and create crafted pop songs like “No More No Less”, and also revived his Heaven Seventeen punk anthem “I’ve Got A Sister In The Navy”.
Within the 10+ years that Howe put Rational Youth on indefinite hiatus, their early vinyl recordings (1981-1982) became much sought after collector items, and had been re-branded as “minimal-synth”. A growing fan base and the power of internet finally led to Cold War Night Life being re-released on CD in 1997. This re-release, in conjunction with EMI Music Canada and October Records in Sweden, led to an official reunion with Bill Vorn with a legendary 1997 concert held in Lund, Sweden.
Excited by the renewed public interest in Rational Youth, Tracy had hoped that Bill would join him in resuming the band's recording and performance activities. Unfortunately, the time constraints associated with Bill's academic and electronic art endeavours would not permit this, so with Bill's blessing and support, Howe recruited Jean-Claude Cutz and Dave Rout for tours and recording. At the encouragement of October Records label boss, Dennis Berggren, this new trio recorded and released “To The Goddess Electricity” in 1999, to much critical acclaim.
In 2009, it was a chance meeting between Bill Vorn and YUL Records boss and former Rational Youth manager Marc Demouy, which led to the welcome reconciliation between Tracy Howe and Demouy. Their meeting sparked the idea of re-recording and releasing “Dancing On The Berlin Wall”, since it was never an official single, and would commemorate the 20th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall. The CD EP was officially released in 2010 on YUL Records, and was mixed by Jean-Pierre Isaac, known for his work with Mitsou and Les BB.
By the mid-summer of 2011, YUL Records boss Marc Demouy tracked Kevin down and became the catalyst in reuniting the original Cold War Night Life trio. The Cold War Night Life trio re-worked Rational Youth’s first 12” single “I Want To See The Light” and “Coboloid Race” in time for it’s 30th anniversary, and added the extra surprise of adding alternate mixes from the 1981 sessions which were recently uncovered.
Meanwhile, The Normals, arguably one of Montreal’s first punk bands, reformed with the three original members: Robert Labelle, Scott Cameron and Tracy Howe. Inspired by the punk rock that emerged from the UK and NYC in 1977, the Normals only played a handful of shows before disbanding in late 1978, leaving behind a wealth of punk rock classics that were never recorded except for a badly recorded demo cassette. But thanks to a scrappy documentary MTL Punk The First Wave, the interest around The Normals reunited and reenergized the band, and set out to record with Kevin Komoda in the fall of 2011. 34 years after emerging from the Montreal underground scene, The Normals released their debut long player “Now Music Now” in 2012, on the co-operative Nachos! Records label. With Howe focused on The Normals, as well as each member having demanding day jobs, Rational Youth was unofficially put into retirement.
Coincidentally, almost 30 years later to the day that Rational Youth were touring across Canada, Kevin Komoda found two Rational Youth live cassettes as well as a box full of Rational Youth negatives and other memorabilia. The initial idea was to release these shows on cassette only as a limited edition collector’s item, but the news of these live tapes quickly spread and sparked a renewed interest in Rational Youth. What was supposed be, and still is, a limited edition cassette release soon transformed itself into a 3 CD set with rarities, a 5 LP plus 7” box set, and now, two confirmed shows in Sweden, where the band have an enthusiastic and loyal following. Tracy Howe and Kevin Komoda are now assembling a band with the possibilities of shows in Montreal and Toronto before heading across the Atlantic in 2014.
Current and upcoming releases
Rational Youth Live Winnipeg 1983 cassettes and Rational Youth Live Ottawa 1983 cassettes are sold out. For more information: http://pluntplanet.blogspot.ca/p/contact-us.html
Rational Youth Live 1983 will be released by Artoffact Records and distributed by Storming The Base: http://www.stormingthebase.com/rational-youth-live-1983-2cd/
Rational Youth Live 1983 with the Magic Box rarities disc (limited to 390 copies worldwide), also released by Artoffact and distributed by Storming The Base: http://www.stormingthebase.com/rational-youth-magic-box-live-1983-archives-cd-3cd/
The Rational Youth 5 LP box set with bonus 7” single will be released on Vinyl-On-Demand Records in 2014: http://www.vinyl-on-demand.com/
A 2013 interview with Tracy Howe: http://www.coldwarnightlife.com/?p=612
A 1996 interview by Jonas Wårstad with both Tracy Howe and Bill Vorn: http://www.discog.info/rational-interview.html
Friday May 2, 2014: 80´s Synthpop Night in Gothenburg, Gothenburg Sweden Rational Youth, Psyche, Sista Mannen På Jorden https://www.facebook.com/events/414444545328406/?ref=22
Saturday May 3, 2014: Smör Synthpop & Kärlek #3, Stockholm Sweden Rational Youth, Psyche, Robert Marlow, Sista Mannen På Jorden https://www.facebook.com/events/229371767219015/
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