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"Exposure: Saudi Arabia Uncovered" analyzes one of the worst countries on earth

The shocking documentary "Exposure: Saudi Arabia Uncovered" by ITV shows why this is one of the worst countries on earth. See the full programme in HD here:

The oil state Saudi Arabia hates women, gays and Jews. It violates countless human rights, and hundreds of people are whipped or executed every year. Saudi money is funneled all over the world to spread extreme Wahhabism.

Even though it's a strategic oil nation, the west must realise Saudi Arabia is not an ally – but a dangerous enemy we must boycott.

Yes, this means challenging Big Oil and possibly endangering relations with the US. But it can be done, and as many nations as possible must start immediately.


Articles about the documentary in:
* The Weekly Observer
* Daily Express
* Daily Mirror
* Daily Mail

(Unfortunately mostly tabloid papers have written about it so far. Hopefully other outlets will cover it too soon, and I'll add more links later.)

Ralf Dörper of Propaganda - a Q&A by Electronically Yours


Words: Orac for Electronically Yours (July 2010)
Photos: ZTT/various

Like Yazoo a few years before them, Propaganda's recording career was painfully cut short... but they left us with a album that still generates a sense of analogue wonder with epic soundscapes.

'A Secret Wish' is timeless. It contains no gimmicky studio trickery that would betray its true age. The pop hooks still resonate and grab you between moments of breathtaking sequencing and orchestral arrangements as mighty as Holst.

Brilliantly described as 'Abba in hell' by Paul Morley when the album was first released in 1985 on cassette and vinyl, producer Steve Lipson tweaked and expanded the album for its CD some months later and all these extended versions are included on the lavish and quite brilliant deluxe edition. There are other fascinating insights provided in the linear notes of this deluxe edition including a shocking suggestion regarding possible producers when it became clear that Trevor Horn was too busy (or felt that the source material was too 'dark').

EY is now honoured to present an interview with Propaganda's founding member Ralf Dörper who looks back on the making of one of the greatest electronic albums ever recorded, legal fall-outs and a love for 'relentlessly marching bass lines'....

How did it all begin for Propaganda MK1 and how did your demos come to the attention of Paul Morley at ZTT? Was 'A Secret Wish' already completely in demo form by the time you signed to the London label?

A long story - starting in 1982 - I try to cut it short. Firstly for the record: there never was a demo! Propaganda Mk1 was a trio consisting of Susanne Freytag, Andreas Thein and myself. I started Propaganda after being ousted from Die Krupps early in 1982.

My musical vision was to give machines a female voice.

The name Propaganda actually was adapted from a track I had originally written for Die Krupps. Parts of its lyrics later re-appeared in Disziplin.

Having an EP in mind we recorded two tracks stemming from material which evolved during sessions I conducted with Andreas in Cologne.

The two tracks - included some 'dub' mixes - featured the voice of Susanne and were in German: 'Disziplin' and 'Sunde'. The former being inspired by TG's 'Discipline' without being a real cover version...

We intended to get a release in the UK possibly on the label which had re-released my weird early German solo-recordings in England (Operation Twilight Records).

I sent a tape of these first Propaganda recordings to Chris Bohn aka Biba Kopf. He was a NME colleague of Paul Morley and actually had championed all my weird early stuff in the NME at that time (something like 3 singles of the week in a row...).

Chris informed Morley/Horn and when they signaled interest I put the negotiations about the EP on hold.

All that took place pre-ZTT in 1982.

A contract was signed in 1983 (when ZTT started to exist as a company).  Propaganda was the first band (?) signed after Art of Noise but before FGTH.

With the sudden option of recording with Trevor Horn certainly Propaganda's musical options had changed as well - the new vision was to go total pop!

That new strategy involved creating new material - and expanding the line-up to make it pop - Propaganda Mk2:

Suzanne brought in her friend Claudia - and I discovered Michael Mertens who was percussionist at the Dusseldorf Symphonic Orchestra - by the way he also had studied composition with Karl Bartos of Kraftwerk.

'Dr Mabuse' was released in 1984 but the follow-up single 'Duel' was pushed back to the following year with some citing the success of Frankie Goes To Hollywoood for the delay. Was this frustrating for you at the time and was Trevor Horn originally assigned to produce 'A Secret Wish'?

One element of frustration was the 'tightness' of ZTT/perfect songs. They did take quite a while to realise that they had to make a financial input as we needed some kind of own equipment to pre-produce and compose properly.

Michael and myself spent a publishing advance on equipment (among others the legendary PPG-system).

In Dusseldorf we prepared new material (took quite a while). But these demos - of 'Dream Within A Dream', 'Duel' or 'P-Machinery' - very much resembled the recorded versions. On 'Dream Within A Dream' we tried out a trombone player from the Düsseldorf Orchestra Michael worked in.

Steve Lipson was chosen to produce the album and did a fantastic job with the sonics behind the mixing desk. Were these recording sessions exciting to be a part of? Was there a sense that you were producing a template for future electronic music that would go on to influence acts including Depeche Mode and the Pet Shop Boys?

In the beginning I was a bit sceptical as Lipson was a guitar-player... at least Trevor came from the bass. (Which are often the coolest guys in a band..!)

But Lipson was essential and the perfect choice.

I do not believe that we influenced DM or PSB which were around already - and DM were surely banging on metal because of Einstürzende Neubauten (or should I say Die Krupps), not because of Propaganda.

How long did it take to complete the recording of 'A Secret Wish'? Many of the track's soundscapes are immensely complex and detailed even today's standards. Was the album actually completely and 'ready to go' in 1984?

I do not recall exactly when we considered it 'done'. There were some deadlines - for sure. But date of completion most likely was last minute 1985.

The process was speeding up after they had enabled us to do our own demo-ing.

Shortly after the album's release, it was quick to gather rave reviews and admiration in the industry for its technical excellence and the album was regarded by many as being ahead of its time. Was there a sense that you had recording something special that would endure and appeal many years later?

I always was of the opinion that you should only record/release something special - otherwise you are wasting people's time. But often what is special does not appeal..... straight away.

Looking back to 1985, the year of Live Aid and the depressing return of 'stadium rock', do you think the album would have faired better commercially if released a year later?

England is an island... and as a matter of fact the album - as well as the singles 'Duel' and 'P-Machinery' - did tremendously well on the continent (but not so much in Germany anymore - funnily enough). It was really successful in France and French-Canada, Southern Europe and - South America! In a lot of countries we outsold 'Pleasuredome' - so no complaints.

It's difficult for the listener to see how 'A Secret Wish' could be improved musically or technically. When you look back at the recordings 25 years later, is there anything you would tweak or change?

It's difficult for the ones involved as well.

There are some annoying Linn-sounds (the bass-chip!).

On the other hand I am happy that despite using state-of-the-art 80s sound sources we did not go for the obvious ones (roto-toms, Syncussion, F-F-F-Fairlight staccato samples etc.)

Which tracks are you most proud of? Are there any tracks from the recording sessions that didn't make the final tracklisting?

The tracklisting - well, I do not like the idea of spoiling a debut with a cover version. Unless you want to make a statement.

In my opinion it would have been much more of a statement to have a cover version of TG's 'Discipline' on the album instead of 'Sorry For Laughing'.

And I think that too much of Susanne somehow got lost in production.

If Electronically Yours could have a signature tune then it would most certainly be the final third of the original extended Dr Mabuse mix. (7m05s into the mix that was sadly omitted from the SACD release a few years back.)

We think that it is the greatest sequence of electronic noted and synth chords ever recorded. Do you remember much from the recording of this track and how this mix came about?

Thank you. Appreciate.

And a good choice - would be mine as well.  I adore relentlessly marching bass lines.

It's harking back to early stages when 'Mabuse' was much more of a track without song structure - and the original equipment used in programming 'Mabuse' were 808 and 303. But not to forget chords: meisterworks from moodmaster Mertens.

On the subject of remixes, ZTT were infamous for issuing multiple remixes of the same track within weeks of each other on different formats. Were all of these mixes ever presented to you for your approval or did you too have trouble keeping up with the sheer amount of mixes?

These were hectic times at ZTT. And it can be so time consuming to keep the artist informed...

Ever wondered about our bad hair days on the sleeve-shots for 'A Secret Wish'?

'Duel' is a spine tingly pop gem and was a modest hit whilst becoming the BBC's theme for it's RAC rally sports coverage throughout 1985. The single has gone on to be cherished by many who follow this genre and Sophie Ellis Bextor recently covered the track. What is it like to be involved with such an iconic and highly regarded track?

As did Mandy (you know Bill Wyman wink wink...) years ago.

In a way it was high-concept giving in to realism - an artistic failure.

Because the initial concept was to have the duel (of noise and nice) fought out within the song. Maybe a middle-part-duel between dissonance and harmony - very dialectic, brain-heavy - a song for PM.

Didn't quite work out - but luckily at that time there was still the concept of a single. So the dueling parts became A- and B-side.

'A Secret Wish' is such a lush and rich recording much like Heaven 17's 'A Luxury Gap' that also used a real orchestra and only recently broke even. How much did it cost to record 'A Secret Wish'? Was it a hugely expensive album to record?

This is a tricky topic as you might be aware that there was legal action back in the 80s! So I should say that it was an expensive experience recording the album......

And we recouped in the 90s.

Not sure if we recovered from the experience however...

Tell us about the interaction between Steve Lipson and the band in terms of the actual production and execution of the music, i.e. who chose the sounds and rhythms, and arranged the songs etc.

It has to be said that after we were enabled to work on the material in Dusseldorf a lot of the material kept most its structure.

But Lippo - and not to forget the THeam! - were essential to provide another sound dimension we would not have achieved otherwise.

'P-Machinery' boasts two impressive cameos with bleeps provided by David Sylvian and distinctive chants from Heaven 17's Glenn Gregory. How did you get them on board for this single?

You are not referring to my distinctive 'Motor' chant at the beginning of 'P-Machinery'?

Sylvain's input was much more than a cameo - he provided much more than bleeps - we owe him, very modest man - and a genius...

But even more impressive (to some) - and also on 'P-Machinery' Beta-version:
Moritz von Oswalt on drums (who much later transformed into Maurizio, Basic Channel!) and John McGeoch on guitar.

And Glenn was around a lot - we shared the management of Heaven 17 at that time.

Just months after the release of 'A Secret Wish', ZTT took the bizarre decision to release the remix album 'Wishful Thinking' against the wishes of the band. What was the logic behind ZTT's thinking to rush release such a project and did you have any input in the remixes?

Logic? - the only logic involved was a solid state (muso inside joke!).

How dare Morley! - It certainly was not up to the standard set by 'Love & Dancing'.

As a fan I wasn't too impressed with this remix album and it seemed like a wasted opportunity and odd considering how good the ZTT remixes had been up to that point. Was it the release of this ill-timed remix album that made you seek legal advice?

Just imagine how it could have sounded with Mantronix at the desk.  Or even Paul Rutherford!

I did not expect that from an 'independent' label - and felt a bit like The Clash when they had their 'Complete Control' -situation with CBS.

A lawyer would later advise you that Propaganda were never likely to make any money from the ZTT contract. Is this why you decided to split the band rather than carry on and had work began on a follow-up to 'A Secret Wish'?

Might be money for some - artistic freedom for others - But I am not going to comment on that topic. The lawyer was Brian Carr who helped John Lydon to get what was due to him from Malcolm McLaren. And for the record: We had the same contract as FGTH/Holly had - and it is known how the High Court of Justice judged in that matter...

The band did not intend to split.

But what has to be understood about the post-Secret-Wish-period is that the band (except Claudia) got a court injunction by ZTT which meant frozen accounts and no possibility to work (in music) anymore - i.e. no recordings, no live activity.

Propaganda was silenced! - the singer continued.

Propaganda would later surface again in 1990 with only one original member and a pleasant enough single 'Heaven Give Me Words' in 1990 that was surprisingly written by Howard Jones. What are your thoughts now on this strange attempt to relaunch Propaganda and do you personally now have more control over the band's name and back catalogue?

We should concentrate here on 'A Secret Wish'. But as there are so many wrong (wikipedian) descriptions of the post-ZTT period, here are some more facts:

At the end of the 80s we came to a compromise with ZTT - and exchanged back catalogue for freedom! - i.e. the injunction was lifted.

After years (!) spend with legal matters we (i.e. Suzanne, Michael, and myself) were released from the ZTT contract - and kept the name.

Although - in my opinion - the impetus was gone and too much energy had been spend on legal matters we wanted to continue as Propaganda - to prove that ZTT did not finish us off.

So in fact a new deal with Virgin Records was signed in 1988 - by a band which consisted of three Mk2 Propagandists, a new singer (which in a way Susanne had casted) and two Simple Minds (Brian and Derek).

This new Propaganda started recording in 1988 what in the end (among the collateral Susanne and myself) became '1-2-3-4'. Do not recall how Howard Jones got involved - I was listening to LWR on the radio...

Actually Suzanne does the vocals on what I consider the best track on '1234' - 'Vicious Circle'. And I got bored by nice pop during this phase and became 'Dr Acid' - and then re-joined the rhythm of machines...

Were you invited by ZTT to be involved with the new 25th anniversary edition of 'A Secret Wish'?

Claudia was in touch. And the curator Ian Peel did a very good job. Respect.

In the late 90s, the original line-up began to record demos that including guitar parts from Martin Gore who was a big fan of 'A Secret Wish' with Claudia back on vocals. What went wrong with these sessions and why did it all fall apart so quickly?

I am not in a position to answer that as I was not involved. But maybe this is an answer as well.

What are relations like now with former band members? You reformed briefly for two live appearances, one for German TV and a superb rendition of 'Dr Mabuse' at Wembley Arena for a Trevor Horn celebration in 2004. Is there any chance of future live outings for the original line-up?

Did we reform? We got together and waved...

But unlike Abba, Ace of Base or Fleedwood Mac we didn't have any interband-fiddling around. So relations are fine and we leave the attorneys at home when we meet.

Many acts from the 80's are suddenly announcing tours and performing concerts for 'classic' albums which is becoming a bit worrying as some of these albums were never regarded as 'classics' anyway (UB40 etc).

With its dramatic orchestration and filmic soundscapes, will we ever see a time when you will perform 'A Secret Wish' in full?

We can imagine a sold-out gig in the South Bank arts center ;)

As we are German we can imagine a sold out Olympiastadion. :)

With regard to that concept: I do not get it and frankly I consider it to be quite pretentious.

An album is an album and a live show is a live show in my opinion. The dynamics of an LP (2-sides, no more than 45 min) differs from the needs of a live performance - unless you have a song-cycle.

So - for Lou Reed's 'Berlin' it worked. But when for example Bowie played all the instrumentals from 'Low'...

But I enjoyed John Foxx doing 'Metamatic' recently in London - or Heaven 17 when they played 'Penthouse & Pavement' in Cologne.

On the other hand Throbbing Gristle playing totally new material in Berlin I found also exiting.

But coming back to your question: it could never happen - I would refuse to play 'Sorry For Laughing'.

Electronic music has seen something of a chart revival lately with a move back to 'traditional' analogue synths and big hooks. Are there any acts that have impressed you lately?

That must have been the British charts...

I love CLIENT who delivered their best works maybe a bit too early to get well deserved chart recognition.

And wonderful (as always) is Arthur Baker's programming for Hurts 'Wonderful Life'

Who are your biggest influences in electronic music and what do you personally consider to be the greatest electronic album of all time?

The big influences would be:
- RuckZuck on the radio
- 'A Clockwork Orange' and 'Assault on Precint 13' in the cinema
- Keith Emerson stabbing his Moog on stage

All that happened in the 70s but didn't really make me start making electronic noises.

That trigger definitely was Daniel Miller's 'Warm Leatherette'.

The greatest album? Any of these:
- Wendy Carlos 'A Clockwork Orange'
- John Foxx 'Metamatic'
- Kraftwerk 'Computerwelt'
- AUX 88 'Alien FM'
- DAF 'Alles ist Gut'
- Martin Rev 'Stigmata'

Puh - that was quite an extended deluxe anniversary Q&A...


With huge thanks and much respect to Ralf Dörper. Thanks also to Ian Peel for his amazing work on the deluxe 'A Secret Wish' and Babooshka for Q&A feedback.

For those who heed the call of the machine, EY salutes you...

Paul Morley - Propaganda's secret wish: Interview by Andrew Harrison of The Word


Andrew Harrison of The Word magazine wrote the liner notes for ZTT’s deluxe Element Edition of Propaganda’s A Secret Wish. As part of his research he interviewed Paul Morley about the group, the album and his memories of the times. Here's the full transcript of the interview.

Alongside A Secret Wish, Propaganda have contributed to the Element Series' The Art of the 12" and Claudia Brücken's Combined.

Paul Morley is asked to fill in a questionnaire about Propaganda and A Secret Wish. He goes outside and punches the doorman.

Is it correct that your friend and fellow NME writer Chris Bohn first put you on to Propaganda? Where did you first encounter the band? What were your first impressions of the band and the individual members?

Chris played me their version, almost an original new piece, almost absurdist, of Throbbing Gristle's ‘Discipline’, and having made my mind up very early on that I wanted Zang Tuum Tumb to be more European than American, and arbitrarily fancying the idea of a group from the home city of Kraftwerk, and the idea of connecting the label to a then relatively new but already deep and fascinating history of techno/electro/industrial music, and thinking their name was perfect, in all sorts of ways, for a group, and a group on a label that I was planning to be like the label was for a short while, they were the first group I wanted to sign.

Their ‘Discipline’ was pretty harsh and uncompromising, sort of the avant edge of Fad Gadget more than the post Human League II of Vice Versa that became ABC, a teutonic Suicide, and it took some time to convince Trevor Horn, and of course his wife Jill was Jewish – and so there was something I had not even considered – that the first signing to the label was going to be German. This was considered an issue. I thought that they were a very interesting way of establishing much of the intended avant pop identity of the label, and a way of very quickly opposing the Buggle-gum type image of Trevor and the possibility that it was going to be merely some kind of production company churning out sugary pop product. Art of Noise were part of this mission as well, the idea that the follow up group to Buggles was a little more out there, and had conceptual energy and ambition to match the studio/technological radicalism.

It seemed interesting to balance out the fact that in the studio Trevor was clearly ahead of the pack with a label sensibility that reflected that with its overall patterning, sense of presence and play. And I guess that overall sense of presence needed to be post-punk, if still pop, electronic and experimental, if still glamorous, and rooted in avant garde tradition stretching back through the time of Pop Art, Warhol, Fluxus, musique concrète and Serialism to Surrealism, Futurism, Dadaism and the dawn of Modernism. Oddly enough, I was really thinking this way, and Propaganda seemed perfect for this kind of plan. A sort of record label that was around the edges an abstract history of how the 20th Century went from Modernism to Post-Modernism, how the 20th Century created so much artistic and technological information to mix and mangle and mutate etc.

There were three of them at first, and because Suzanne could not sing as such, Claudia was brought in very early as a singer, because obviously Trevor as a producer did like his singers, and this gave the group, before the recruitment of Michael Mertens, the two-girl-two-boy balance that was very effective if only as a subversive representation of a pop ideal. Ralf and Andreas were not as such musicians, more proto-versions of the post-punk curating DJ that would increasingly emerge over the next few years, using primitive programming and sampling to create pressurising soundscapes and distorted of-the-moment dance rhythms. I thought it would be interesting to see what happened if such personalities were given the chance to have access to top of the range studios and the engineers and technicians that came with that.

"Ralf and Andreas were not as such musicians, more proto-versions of the post-punk curating DJ that would increasingly emerge over the next few years."

It seemed unfair – as in fact is ultimately the case, especially now – that it is less high-minded pop that gets a first chance to use the liberating new technology rather than the more artistically adventurous minds. I suppose there was a sense of “what would happen if we took this very austere post-DAF German electronic expressionism and filtered it through the same techno-machinery that had processed the ideas of Malcolm McLaren into a sort of proto-hip-hop-world-montage?”. I don't know if I ever discussed this with the group in specific detail, and it was an approach that came from the way I was mutating from NME writer into post Factory/Mute record company man. I suppose my zeal and vision for the label was like what members of groups usually have which I thought, maybe wrongly, the group appreciated.

Andreas seemed as mad as a rock critic, and very happy to be part of all this initial craziness, which suited him. Ralf was also something of a student of pop music and underground energy and seemed very comfortable with allowing things to take their own shape, to see where all this collection of ideas led – this was what I thought at the time, that everyone was up to speed with my thoughts, even if I wasn't sharing them directly, and that everyone was also thinking in the same way about how to create original pop music in original new settings.

Had you actually signed Frankie Goes to Hollywood to ZTT by that point? Did you have an image in your mind's eye of what the band could be? Who coined “Abba in hell” and how do you feel about that nickname?

Propaganda were my first recommendation as a signing, but in the end they were signed slightly after Frankie, as it was difficult to persuade Trevor and Jill that this was going to be the best way to launch their new label. In fact the group only had a couple of pieces, no songs as such, and when they came over to do some music at the Sarm Studios were, shall we say, very foreign and not exactly capable of setting up equipment and playing music.

Jill and Trevor were very traditional in their approach to pop, and this was much more of a concept, a project, an experiment, and so there a lot of resistance to it. The Frankie signing relaxed them – really – a little, so they were then more prepared to go with my ideas, even if they seemed a little obscure. The development of Propaganda alongside Frankie and Art of Noise meant that the label could start with a little bit of a roster, and I think Trevor could see that the label would have something of an original shape, and in fact all three acts were in their own ways concepts turned into an illusion of a group, and that whatever it was that he had brought me in to do seemed to be working. That ZTT was indeed a record label with its own mission and identity, and not just a house for Trevor – not, in fact, simply an early 80s version of Xenomania, which it could have been, full of hits but slightly empty of cultural impact.

‘Mabuse’ took time to be turned from sparse but compelling electro sketch with hints of a song into what it became, a deviant epic, extreme pop melodrama, but it sort of confirmed my feelings about what would happen if experimental underground musicians with a few original ideas and instincts were given the Trevor Horn treatment – that Trevor would relish the experimental ideas, and his pop approach would in fact be inspired by the unusual nature of what he found in the music Propaganda made. He was worried, as he admitted to me, that “they were very dark and I don't really do dark music”, and to some extent the whole thing was a combination of Horn's Spielbergian tendencies and me coming from a more David Lynch area – but the combination seemed to work, and once the multi-track was loaded with sonic information and various sound sources, and an extraordinary string arrangement by David Bedford – again, the ideologically risky getting access to things usually given to the obviously commercial – it created endless potential for something Trevor was loving at that time, the non-stop remixes meaning he could keep working on a track for, more or less, ever.

Another plan I had at the time, which lasted for a few months, was that all the groups would do cover versions for inclusion on the twelve inch singles, to eventually produce a kind of ZTT album history of pop music (this never happened). I got them to do The Velvet Underground's ‘Femme Fatale’, to make the connection with Nico, and indeed the feverish literacy of the Velvets and their connections to 20th century currents etc, and this supplied more information about the kind of group they could be. (I actually first asked them to cover The Carpenters’ ‘Goodbye to Love’, but they did not see the point of that, and not hear what I heard, a motorbeat mash up between sinister, desolate lightness and dangerous pressure, and this thing I was keen on, the invention of alternative pop universes, ones that didn't exist but could have, in this case a Carpenters that supported the Stooges and wrote the soundtrack for ‘The Shining’.)

I got Anton Corbijn who I worked closely with at the NME to do the video for ‘’Mabuse’ – his first real pop video – and also to take their photographs and make a painting for every track they recorded . This was, of course, before his collaborations with U2 and Depeche Mode, and was an absolutely integral part of creating the image of the group: enigmatically glamorous, art but still pop, mysterious but right in front of your eyes, and full of its very own intense style. There was almost as much fury within the label as there was with the apparently porno ‘Relax’ video that the ‘Mabuse’ video was in black and white, as if this was somehow an act of terrorism. In reality this was a very important statement to make. At a time when the world was exploding into slick MTV colour and everyone was going crazy for the multi coloured superficial, we stood firm in the shadows, and even to some extent pulled Trevor Horn into the shadows, where I personally felt he was going to be more amazing as a producer.

"There was almost as much fury within the label as there was with the apparently porno ‘Relax’ video that the ‘Mabuse’ video was in black and white, as if this was somehow an act of terrorism."

This was the split in the label. I ended up wanting to sign the likes of Front 242 and The Fall, the other side of the label were looking for commercial pop acts. For a while, the tensions at the label between my worked up post-punk idealism and the more mainstream pursuit of hits were held in fantastic check by the very existence of Propaganda. I wasn't necessarily being wilfully opaque, as the idea that Anton's ideas about presence, shade and image, and pop as an explosive, intelligent secret, have proved to be not completely poisonous to success.

The “Abba in Hell” label I think came in a Time Out Review – perhaps Alix Sharkey – and even though I had not thought of it, it was definitely not something to deny. Even when Michael joined we kept the two-boy-two-girl thing in the photos as all along my main concern with pop group photos was to make sure the pictures did not look like a bunch of people waiting at a bus stop.

How would you describe your contribution to developing them between 'Dr Mabuse' and making 'A Secret Wish'? Did you talk about song ideas, the presentation of the group and so on with the band – or was the presentation entirely your creation?

It was a long year between ‘Mabuse’ and the next stage, taken up by Frankie fuss. Michael arrived, because a musician seemed necessary, and he had a classical background which suited the situation. In his own way he probably had prog tendencies, just like Trevor and his teams, and he was a percussionist, which opened up new rhythmic possibilities. It also looked great to have an electro group with a xylophone player, and I was thinking of ways to extend the group's repertoire. Putting to music the Edgar Allan Poe poem A Dream Within A Dream became a great way to emphasise various elements musically and conceptually: this sort of absorbing hallucinatory atmosphere, something that was at the edge of gothic, at the edge of electro, at the edge of post-punk, and at the edge of prog.

I was being the A&R man but also as such a sort of Andrew Loog Oldham in terms of suggesting songs, thinking of titles – write a song called Murder Of Love, I said, because surely all the “of love” titles are taken, and it's time to kill them off – and arranging their image. I liked Josef K very much and thought it would be interesting for an electronic group to cover a song by a guitar group – underground pop that should be chart pop – and that seemed to work, to the extent that I said to Michael, when he was having trouble writing songs, just do a cover version of something, and by the time you've worked it out, it will turn out so different, it might become an original piece.

It seemed very natural, this way of working – of advising, suggesting, framing, as though it was a legitimate collaboration, something that was clearly working. There was a very definite group called Propaganda emerging, so that I did not think of it as a classic record-company-versus-exploited-group thing, and was too inexperienced in business to appreciate that they were being practically exploited. I was just in interested in the group as a surreal pop object with a soundtrack that developed from a Kraftwerk point of view musical ideas I had liked in Simple Minds, Associates, Japan, DAF, Vince Clarke, Grace, Cabaret Voltaire, ABC…

When Trevor pulled out of producing them any more, figuring it was going to take too much out of him to do ten ‘Mabuses’ especially as ‘Mabuse’ itself had turned into ten ‘Mabuses’, I actually asked David Sylvian to produce them. While he was thinking about it, he came up with the ghostly top line of ‘P:Machinery’ – the music, if you like – and a gorgeous watery slowed down version of ‘Duel’, but he decided against producing them, and it stayed within the Sarm pop factory. Actually, another sign of the split between sensibilities at the label: I asked David Sylvian, and Jill approached Stock Aitken and Waterman. One side of ZTT was seeing them as a sort of Dollar (a Deutsche Mark) and the other side was seeing them as a sort of supremely eerie avant-pop ensemble.

The group were actually going to be dropped from the label, during the time when I was losing any power I once had and the Art Of Noise had already moved off. Steve Lipson, I guess, was a kind of compromise otherwise two thirds of the roster would have disappeared in one go – and Frankie wanted to leave as well. ‘A Secret Wish’ was a sort of folly, really, in the way that many of the great lost classics often are: no real commercial, or to an extent, specific artistic reason for it to exist, just that the momentum to complete it became so great, for all sorts of unlikely reasons, that it did get finished. At many stages, the production was threatened with being shut down.

What's your key memory of the making of 'A Secret Wish'? Did you and/or Trevor brief Steve Lipson beforehand? How many of the songs were new and written for/during the recording of the album?

Steve used to ban me from the studio. I talked too much, about things that scared and/or irritated him, but then he didn't like any of the group being in the studio, or any of Frankie. He worked solo. Mad professor stuff. Nerdy needs to perfect the hi-hat sound. A frenzy of programming, accumulating of effects, and patient craft. But there was a basic outline to the album made up of the dream, the new songs, and the cover, and what was interesting for me, being biased, is that there was a sense of mission to the material, a commitment to beauty, mystery, surrealism, intelligence, strangeness, and – even though Steve scoffed at such whimsy, very suspicious of my ideas about pop, any theory, any belief in pop as something other than just a way of passing the time and lightly dusting memories – the template was so strong in terms of the material, the lyrics, the adventure, the electro-style, that Steve concentrating on the expensive soundscapes couldn't undermine any of this, indeed it in fact enhanced it – gave a sort of immense elevating post-prog attention to detail to music that doesn't often receive such care and attention, giving a level of studio power of an almost Quincy Jones level to ideas and intentions that were attractively ethereal and even intellectually playful.

"a lovely non-commercial set of oblique songs that would normally not be given such a budget and such a sense of imposing grandeur."

Whatever part of the record is a sort-of lost masterpiece comes from that. Steve was indulged and allowed to spend a small fortune on a lovely non-commercial set of oblique songs that would normally not be given such a budget and such a sense of imposing grandeur. In a way, all the attention Steve gave to ensuring that every sound worked in every way and was layered with a neurotic need for some kind of order was matched by the work the rest of us were doing in terms of selecting material, imagining melodies, writing words, taking photos, conceiving rhythms.

Can you tell me about the background to turning 'Duel' into a dualistic word game ('Duel'/'Jewel'/'Dual' etc, double singles and so on)? Is the “evil” Propaganda of 'Jewel' closer to the band that you originally encountered – a pop version of Einstürzende Neubaten?

There was another version of Propaganda that existed in the studio – my version. I would often form my own critical response to the gloss and glory of Steve's productions by expressing possible alternatives, so for instance when Steve Lipson used Steve Howe of Yes on a track (as he did, to my horror) I would get in John McGeoch of Magazine and the Banshees to play on my mix of ‘p:Machinery’. I loved the Steve Propaganda sound but I didn't want to lose sight of another Propaganda sound, one that you could play alongside The Creatures, the Cocteau Twins and Echo And The Bunnymen. (Hiring Steve Jansen of Japan and Derek Forbes of Simple Minds to play live with them was also my way of highlighting where I felt the group belonged in pop history.)

"There was another version of Propaganda that existed in the studio – my version."

This was why I did ‘Wishful Thinking’, the album of alternative, stripped down, deconstructed versions, possibly purely for me, the critic anxious that the studio pomp was getting out of hand, because the group, the record company, just about everyone seemed to hate it. But I just had this need, as much as I love ‘A Secret Wish’ as one result of the experiment, to point out how there is a fascinating ideological element to the content and context of sound, and all these different histories of pop music that coexisted even back in 1984. So Steve Lipson's Propaganda was the Propaganda of a fan of Steely Dan and Queen. Mine was the Propaganda of a fan of Can and New Order. Steve's Propaganda was a group that Stevie Nicks invited on to a tour, and that concerned me, as I wanted them to be the kind of group that would go on tour with Depeche Mode or indeed Cabaret Voltaire.

‘Duel’/’Jewel’ and therefore ‘Dual’ was, I'm afraid, another of my ideas, reflecting the a and b side of the group itself, the pop side and the other, out there side, and a way of getting a b side for a single that did not have a b side. I asked Steve to come up with a quick b side, what I described for the sake of shorthand Steve would understand as the punk version, and encouraged him to roughen up the dynamics of the a side, and not too worry if some of the order was shattered as, after all, it was the b side, and it could be a vocal for non-singer Suzanne – we didn't want to lose Suzanne's presence.

So we got a piece of ecstatically sung perfect pop – when Michael first played me his rough demo version I thought it was like rock as if they were on Mute, so I was very very happy – and also the dark side. Steve gave me the dark side even though there was a little anxiety about the dark side of Propaganda at the label. There was a view that as there were girls in the group, couldn't they be a little more Bananarama, a little prettier? Being as NME as I was, stubbornly committed to avoiding cliche, trouncing the obvious, resisisting the corporate line, my response was to have them scream aggressively on the single sleeve and push the Abba From Hell side. I was thinking 4AD, others were thinking RAK.

My impression is that Michael Mertens was particularly stubborn and believed that Propaganda was his band and thus he should have the key say in what happened. Is this true? What are your thoughts on that?

I treated the group as a sort of fluid, flexible, mobile project that was in the shape of a pop group but was actually just a way of presenting a pop concept in sonic form – everyone else treated it as the straightforward relationship between a pop group, and a record label, and the two things were not really meant to meet, at least not in a productive creative way.

Of course, if they had been fairly treated contractually, my dreamy theoretical approach might have been more successful, but the combination of cruel contracts and my interference meant the group got quite rightly annoyed. At no point did I think of money or royalties or shares or whatever – just the thing itself, probably too much as though I was a much a part of the project as the group, seeing myself, not in a cynical way, but probably annoying for the group, as the controlling designer of the thing.

From the outside, other labels became interested when they realised the ZTT contracts might be suspect – see the departure of Art of Noise, and the Frankie court case – and one particular lawyer pointed out that he could get the group a massive deal elsewhere. This was obviously seductive to the group, although of course the group was not really the people in the photos, but also the person who took the photos, Trevor, Steve, the Sarm engineers, and me. It was not a usual type of show business pop group. It was an impression of one, a conceptual reading of the idea – although I alone seemed to notice this, and if Ralf noticed, his enthusiasm for playing around a little with the idea and seeing if it could be done elsewhere, away from ZTT, took over.

"I might have been serving my own interests, but they were the interests of a fan of Fassbinder, Factory Records and Faust"

Michael protected his interests as a musician very thoroughly, and seemed to have some borrowed ideas about “artistic control”, but to an extent such self-protection can get in the way of the emergence of the kind of randomised, spontaneous magic that I think came about before there was too much thought about who was getting what and who was in it for what reasons. Also, he didn't have any experience of another record label, so didn't appreciate the difference of having someone like me sort of running a label, even if only in my own head, loving the very idea of turning the label itself into a work of art, of being committed to the unusual rather than the everyday. For him, I was just “the record company”, getting in his way, being greedy, manipulating him, serving my own interests. I might have been serving my own interests, but they were the interests of a fan of Fassbinder, Factory Records and Faust, not really of someone wanting to build a business empire.

It's not possible to talk about Propaganda's story without the estrangement between Claudia and the rest of the band. When did you and Claudia start going out? When were you aware that a breach was starting to occur in the group? The other members later claimed that you were promoting Claudia at the expense of them – what's your response to that?

Well, I plead innocence, naivity, excitement, and also I thought we were all in this together – and my commitment over and above favouring individuals, including me, was to promoting the idea of the label, and the idea of the group, and for a short while I thought everyone was in on that, the possibility that we could all do something really special that was going to be noticed by more than a select few.

The idea of plucking an obscure electronic ensemble from darkest Düsseldorf who'd only written two songs and were covering Throbbing Gristle, and then within two years making an extravagant art pop album that entered the album charts at 13, seemed to suggest we could all do even more fantastic things. If I got close to Claudia, it wasn't to spite the group at all, and in fact I was always, again probably very naively, surprised that they didn't actually exploit it more to their advantage – after all, my emotional involvement did help when I had to more or less beg Trevor and Jill to keep them on the label and finish ‘A Secret Wish’.

"Claudia and Suzanne were on the road and liable to make no money, as the album cost so much to make it would probably never ever recoup"

Also, a major breach in the group actually came from the old classic, the songwriting, the royalty sharing. I felt it unfair that Claudia and Suzanne were receiving no financial reward from songs that were credited to Mertens and Dörper even though they wouldn't have existed without the substantial abstract compositional contribution of Lipson and Horn – and indeed Sylvian and one or two others – neither of who received credit and who to an extent were making their contributions based on an idea of the group that contained the two girls. I suggested a four-way split, which particular seemed fair once the group went on tour, when Ralf actually stayed at home, leading to a situation where Claudia and Suzanne were on the road and liable to make no money, as the album cost so much to make it would probably never ever recoup, while Ralf, with his writing, keeping his job in the bank, which he was doing, would make money.

The only money to be made was publishing money – so I figured the group would have more of a realistic future if they shared their money. Ralf and Michael decided this was me favouring Claudia – forgetting Suzanne was involved as well – and in hindsight I can see they thought, being on a label that was treating them elsewhere financially very poorly, that I was just trying to haul in more cash. They wouldn't have known that my own deal was not necessarily much better than theirs. All this mundane rummaging through contracts etc ruins the romance of the record itself, but at the time it quickly became a reality, and began to take over… I was aghast to actually see something I had previously scoffed at as a critic – this idea of “creative differences” and the economic reality behind that – form in front of me and overwhelm and undermine the actual project…

Did it disappoint you that the band disintegrated so acrimoniously and never built on 'A Secret Wish'? If you could have done it all again, would you have done it differently?

If it had been done different, different from the chaos, studio persistence, and incidental revelation, we might not have ended up with ‘A Secret Wish’. It exists as one particular reaction to the abnormal peculiarity of the unstable dynamic at the label at the time between my philosophical search for some kind of meaning and purpose in music and pop and Trevor's ruthless ambition to excel at production for its own sake.

I have always thought it was a shame that Michael especially could not have seen a little more clearly that Propaganda was a unique, troublesome hybrid of different specialist talents, and that it worked because the group’s impressions, sketches, attitude, talent, desires got strangely amplified, magnified, positively distorted by going through the imaginations of Horn and Lipson, and bloody Morley, who all had different agendas, but agendas which actually gave the group a chance to become something both innovative and commercial.

Virgin signed not just a group without a singer, but a group without, essentially, the studio and conceptual minds that gave it its actual shape and texture. In a sense they signed an inanimate picture. We were left with the singer, the concept, the studio, but not the name, and not the history, so we were just as badly off. You can see from other Trevor Horn projects, though, that to some extent, all his records are sort of solo projects, branded in different ways, and he tends not to really make a second album with many of these projects.

And finally a couple of questions about quotations you used on the record sleeves:

Regarding the lines on the back of the original CD, “Wir denken die Bequemen gedanken der anderen und fühlens nicht, dass unser bestes Selbst allmählich abstirbt. Wir leben ein totes leben. Wir ersticken unser ich.” (a German friend translates it as “We think the conventional thoughts of the others and do not sense that our best self gradually dies. We live a dead life. We suffocate ourselves.”). Where did this come from? Did you mention it to the band or just put it on the sleeve? How did they feel about it?

That might have been Nietzsche.

I tended not to check things with the group based around the entirely reasonable view that if I did they would say no, which would have broken my heart, because once I got an idea into my head it was incredibly hard for me not to do it. I had unreasonably decided, although it seemed reasonable at the time, that my ideas were amazing, and had to be pursued, and would make the groups on the label look fantastic. I had made a decision early on that all ZTT sleeves were my area and that this was where I got the chance to express my ideas visually and conceptually about the label and the groups on the label, which just goes to show that I was used to operating as a writer, and not necessarily as a record company executive. I thought that groups would be chuffed that on their sleeves there was such provocation and information and random references to other forms of creative enterprise. I was, effectively, wrong.

"I tended not to check things with the group based around the entirely reasonable view that if I did they would say no"

There's a Goethe quote on the back of 'Wishful Thinking' (“And refashioning the fashioned lest it stiffen into iron is work of endless vital activity”) which acts as an elegant justification of remixing among other things. Had you had that one in the back pocket for a while or did you stumble upon it while working on the record?

Well, I'm glad you noticed, as I was incredibly excited when I myself noticed that Goethe had described so brilliantly the purpose, the potential, of the remix, and also the way that Horn was working in the studio at the time.

I think that I had it written in one of my ZTT notebooks, where I formed manifestos and campaigns and prepared the next stage of ideal advancement, and even though I thought of it a lot as we spiralled off into numerous alternative ‘Two Tribes’, and was also bearing it in mind as I planned the next Art Of Noise album – which was going to consist of remixes of remixes of remixes of the first album, so remixed they had all become new pieces of music – it seemed to suit the Propaganda remix record, not least because it needed justifying as no-one liked it. These new remix albums were meant to be for the dance floor, and although these were not as such dance remixes they were indeed examples of refashioning, and where that goes.

And there we have the label that I felt might as well be invented because it didn't exist – one that reported on its own eccentric workings by quoting Goethe, and by implication suggested that pop music existed inside some kind of exalted self-invented world where there was Goethe and Ballard, Walter Benjamin and Susan Sontag as well as Bowie, Kraftwerk and Bolan. IE it was all about independent thinking, however that manifested itself.