Sigue Sigue Sputnik are a British new wave band led by former Generation X bassist Tony James. The band achieved moderate fame in 1986, when they achieved 3 UK top 40 hits including the song "Love Missile F1-11", which hit the pop charts around the world, helped by its use in the cult-hit movie Ferris Bueller's Day Off.
The themes and imagery in the band's songs were often influenced by futuristic, dystopian or post-apocalyptic films such as A Clockwork Orange, The Terminator, Blade Runner and the Mad Max trilogy. The band's music and image also mashed together a range of other pop culture influences, including the electronica/Krautrock influences of Kraftwerk, Marc Bolan's T.Rex, and the swagger and sex appeal of Eddie Cochran, Elvis Presley and glam rock.
1980s: Early Years
The original line-up featured Tony James, Martin Degville, Neal X (Whitmore), Chris Kavanagh, Ray Mayhew and Yana Yaya. Tony James's friend Mick Jones, a former member of The Clash, gave James advice about starting the band and selecting musicians. While searching for members, in 1983 Tony James tried out Andrew Eldritch from The Sisters of Mercy and, on Mick Jones' suggestion, auditioned Annie Lennox. As well, Jones gave James a Roland G-707 synth guitar, which at the time was a new device. The futuristic, electronic sounds of the synth guitar helped James to create Sputnik's new wave-cyberpunk sound.
The band took its name from a Moscow street gang called Sigue Sigue Sputnik, which means "Burn, burn, satellite." Their outlandish appearance and image, which included towering, multicoloured mohawk hairstyles, wigs, makeup, and gender-bending fetish clothing (plastic, rubber, or leather outfits, fishnet stockings, and stiletto heels) garnered a great deal of attention from the media. While these styles have since been used by a number of gothic or glam bands, in the mid-1980s, Sigue Sigue band members' appearance was unique and startling.
The "packaging" of the band's appearance and presentation was carefully considered well before the band ever performed in public. Inspired by the Sex Pistols manager Malcolm McLaren's unorthodox methods of promoting a band, Tony James generated a great deal of hype about Sigue Sigue Sputnik, while not allowing anyone from the music industry a chance to hear the band. Tony James famously showed record executives a short video collage of futuristic and science-fiction movie clips as a "demo tape" of the band. The buzz became a frenzy as several record labels began a bidding war to sign Sigue Sigue Sputnik. Tony James finally settled on EMI which was rumoured to have given the band a substantial advance (£4 million).
Mid-1980s: Singles And Albums
In a flurry of publicity, Sigue Sigue released their first single, "Love Missile F1-11". It climbed to number three in the British charts and hit the charts in a number of other countries. The single, as well as the album that followed, was produced by Giorgio Moroder.
The band underlined their cynical attitude towards the music business (expressed by the slogan "fleece the world") by auctioning advertising space between the tracks on their first album Flaunt It (released in 1986). Advertisements that did sell (including spots for i-D Magazine and Studio Line from L'Oreal) were complemented by ironic spoof ads including one for the Sputnik corporation itself claiming that "Pleasure is our Business".
James's claims to the media that the group members were selected solely on image and appearance, coupled with the group's use of computers and synthesizers in the studio, led critics to claim that the band mimed their live performances over pre-recorded music. However, live concert footage shows that the band does appear to be playing their instruments. Live concerts were routinely cancelled and indeed part of an entire UK tour. Allegedly this was because of violence at gigs. Rumours persisted that this violence was planned, orchestrated and blown out of proportion to maintain a high media profile, "because of violence" was a cover to obscure that cancellations were due to very low ticket sales, or that the novelty of being on the road rapidly dwindled with having to participate in the tiring "sharing amongst fellow bandmembers" for which touring is notoriously known; especially for a 6-10 member band (including the "Ultra Vixens") who had not been together long and had no strong artistic bonds. Moreover, Tony James later mentioned he regarded touring as "a waste of money".
Sigue Sigue Sputnik lyrics combined futuristic imagery ("Cryin' on our knees as the network screams", "Saturn dreams, laser beams" and "space cowboy") with camp, erotic, references to fetishized violence and B movie imagery. Songs referred to a "love rocket red", "21st century sex machines", "Atom age wonder", "easy action Frankenstein", "Chinese-speaking strip TVs" and a "freako psycho horror show". This line could also be read as "freako psycho horrorshow", a reference to A Clockwork Orange. They also created images such as "hips and lips and beauty queens", and "venus ramp, sexy tramp...vegas vamp". "Love Missile F1-11"'s lyrics pushed the boundaries of parental tolerance and gained media attention with repeated double-entendre entreaties to "Shoot it up, Shoot it up, Shoot it up".
The group split soon after the release of their second album, Dress for Excess (the initial single from which, "Success", was produced by British hitmakers Stock, Aitken and Waterman). Tony James stated that the band "...couldn't sustain this pretend bastardized version of Sputnik". James also blamed the media for the band's downfall. When Sputnik's first singles were released, the media and James's promotional efforts worked symbiotically, sharing the benefits of the band's hype and shock value. Once the initial shock and tabloid outrage over the band's unusual image and appearance had worn off, media coverage became dismissive, criticizing the band's focus on image and style.
1990s and 2000s
Tony James went on to become a member of The Sisters of Mercy in 1989. Chris Kavanagh went on to Big Audio Dynamite II joining Mick Jones. Ray Mayhew formed Mayhem Deranged. Tony James reformed Sigue Sigue Sputnik twice, albeit without all the original members. The band was reformed once in the 1990s (featuring Tomoyasu Hotei on guitar and Christopher Novak singing) releasing Sputnik: Next Generation and once again in 2001 with Martin Degville and Neal X, which resulted in the release of Piratespace. The reformed Sigue Sigue Sputnik continues to play live, and it has also produced a number of remixes of other artists' work. In 2004, Martin Degville left the band to pursue a solo career. Neal X has been playing with Marc Almond
In 2005, Tony James teamed up with Mick Jones to form the group Carbon/Silicon.
In 2004, Martin Degville formed Sputnik2 or Sputnik2 The Future, a solo act with collaborations with other artists and stage shows across Europe. Martin Degville releases CD-R's and DVD-R's selling them via his website. He is now gigging again as Sci-fi Superstars.
Tony James and Neal X have produced the 2009 album Absolutamente by Spanish pop duo Fangoria.
The song "Love Missile F1-11" was featured in the 2002 videogame, Grand Theft Auto: Vice City, as part of the New wave radio station Wave 103.
1986 Flaunt It - UK #10 1988 Dress for Excess - UK #53 1990 The First Generation 1997 The First Generation - Second Edition