Twelve years ago, Thomas Dolby left music to develop Beatnik software, technology used in two-thirds of the world’s cell phones. Now, pumped up by new technologies and changing business models in the music industry, and re-invigorated by reaction to his initial tour dates earlier this year, Dolby is writing his first album of new music since the early ‘90s.
Dolby has announced a fall U.S. tour (co-billed with fellow electronic pioneer BT) and a live retrospective CD and DVD. Both are titled The Sole Inhabitant and will be issued independently on November 21 on Dolby’s own label and web site, and via CD Baby and iTunes. The album contains live versions of classic songs including “She Blinded Me With Science,” one of the very first MTV-driven hits, and “Hyperactive,” as well as a chance to revisit great songs from the era that weren’t seen on MTV. It’s important, after all, to remember that his pop fame during the “Science” era was the exception, not the rule. “I’ve had people come up to me after the shows and say ‘oh I really like the new ones’… [but] I’m not playing any new ones!” he says.
“In some ways all that chart success was orthogonal to what I was really trying to do, which was develop the textures and rhythms of electronic music into a palette that a genuine songwriter could build stories upon. I’d like the DVD and CD to re-establish my credentials as an artist before I move into the next chapter. I have new songs ready to start work on as soon as I’ve closed the loop and reconnected with the core fan base,” he says.
‘An Evening With BT and Thomas Dolby’ is a special North American concert series this November and December. BT will perform music from his newest release, This Binary Universe, a groundbreaking two-disc CD /DVD that fuses seven unique tracks composed in 5.1-channel surround sound with stunning animations by some of today’s finest computer artists and animators in a set that will include two other notable musicians, Ben Grossman and Scott Pagano. BT recently performed this show at the Hollywood Bowl. Conversely, Dolby will perform an intriguing blend of today’s state of the art computer music with vintage 1940s oscilloscopes and ex-Royal Navy field test equipment. The pair plan to jam together for encore numbers.
Dolby feels that time has put his influence into perspective. “Though people tend to associate me with the ‘80s, I feel my roots are really in the late ‘70s and the electronic underground in London. Bands like Cabaret Voltaire, Throbbing Gristle and Clock DVA were playing small clubs around Europe in parallel to the punk movement, and many remained anonymous, only a few making it into the mainstream pop limelight during the ‘80s – Soft Cell, Human League and Ultravox. There were so few of us doing it back then that it’s no surprise we get cited as influences when modern electronica acts are interviewed, but the legacy of that period is clearly very important.”
The Sole Inhabitant is Dolby’s first consumer product since 1992’s Gate to the Mind’s Eye, an audio disc complemented by a laser disc with accompanying animation. In that time, he hasn’t approached a single record company, determined instead to harness the technology and distribution options available to indie artists today.
The audio CD was recorded live at Martyrs in Chicago, while the DVD was filmed at the Berklee Performance Center in Boston, MA. Dolby felt these were two of his best concerts of the year. Added to the DVD will be a sit-down interview/chat in which Dolby discusses his past and present careers and the stories behind the songs. The first batch of copies will be autographed by Dolby.
Dolby has always maintained a loyal core of fans who were galvanized by tour dates earlier this year. Dolby intends to involve his fans in the birthing of the record, blogging frequently at his web site http://www.thomasdolby.com and posting reviews from shows along the tour route.
Early 2006 tour dates received high praise from critics. The Chicago Tribune wrote, “The audience seemed mesmerized by Dolby’s compositional and musical dexterity…Far from coming off as strictly a nostalgia act, the evening unfolded as a celebration of his past accomplishments and a harbinger for his future as a revitalized performer.” The Orange County Register added, “Most people’s knowledge of Dolby begins and ends with ‘She Blinded Me With Science,’ a sly slice of synth-funk from a superior album (The Golden Age of Wireless) whose variety and depth went far beyond its artificial surface. Indeed, for those who sought him out — certainly for scores of electronica acts who routinely cite him as an influence — Dolby was one-of-a-kind, a do-it-yourself electro wizard whose work conjured warmth and soul from machines whose output in other hands was pure digital chill.” The Washington Post summed it up: “When he whooshed into ‘Europa and the Pirate Twins,’ Dolby sounded startlingly relevant, no easy trick for a talented artist whose entire career is usually unfairly surmised in a single, shouted phrase.”
Dolby’s solo set features him onstage with a bank of high-tech computers, a collection of vintage oscilloscopes and signal generators, a military headcam and antique radio operator earphones strapped to his head. Live visuals performed by renowned video artist Johnny DeKam allow the audience to experience the world through Dolby’s eyes. Audiences may be surprised at first to hear a darker side of Dolby, but of course he plays the hits as well.
The tour is still in the booking stages, but many dates have been announced:
Thomas Dolby dates:
- October 28 SAN FRANCISCO, CA Cow Palace
- November 15 CERRITOS, CA Cerritos Center
‘An Evening With BT and Thomas Dolby’ dates
- November 28 SAN DIEGO, CA (SOLANA BEACH) Belly Up
- November 29 ANAHEIM, CA House of Blues
- November 30 TUCSON, AZ Rialto Theatre
- December 1 ALBUQUERQUE, NM El Ray Theatre
- December 2 ASPEN, CO Belly UP
- December 3 DENVER,CO Gothic Theatre
- December 6 AUSTIN, TX Elysium
- December 7 DALLAS, TX Granada Theatre
- December 8 HOUSTON, TX Warehouse Live
- December 11 NEW ORLEANS, LA HOB
- December 15 FT. LAUDERDALE, FL Revolution
- December 16 ORLANDO, FL House of Blues
- December 17 TAMPA, FL State Theatre
- December 19 NORFOLK, VA The Norva
- December 20 BALTIMORE, MD Recher Theatre
- December 21 PHILADELPHIA, PA World Cafe Live
- December 22 NEW YORK, NY TBA