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Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 16 July 2018

Talking synths and new sounds with The Human League ahead of their Dubai gig

The Human League are bringing their 80’s synth-pop hits to Dubai's Irish Village on Thursday. We speak to singer Joanne Catherall about touring, their brooding hit Don’t You Want Me and the possibility of a new album.
From left, Joanne Catherall, Philip Oakey and Susan Ann Sulley of The Human League. Courtesy Jump Media
From left, Joanne Catherall, Philip Oakey and Susan Ann Sulley of The Human League. Courtesy Jump Media

You are live favourites in the UAE. What keeps you guys coming back to the region?

This will be our fourth time in Dubai and each time has been fantastic. You get loads of people going in and out of the country, so each show has been different. I remember the first time we came here, years ago, and we were totally surprised, as we didn’t know what to expect. The reception was great and we realised that people over there just want to party.

The Human League are one of the pioneers of the synth-pop sound. Is it gratifying for you to see so many of today’s pop groups using the synthesiser?

Yes it is. We were dismissed earlier in our career for our use of synthesisers. People thought we were a fad because we use them and synthesisers weren’t classed as an instrument, like the guitar. It has taken a long time, but most pop records have some sort of synth right now.

Talking about criticism, you and your fellow band member Susan Ann Sulley were dismissed by critics in the early days as mere stage props. Was that hard to take?

We had to learn to ignore it. People used to say a lot of things about us – we had some reviewers saying that our singing was [pre-recorded] on tape and then we had others saying that we just can’t sing at all. We were thinking, well, we can be one or the other. We are either so fabulous that it has to be us not really singing live or we are just terrible. Thoughts like that just put it all in perspective for us.

You have notched up some big gigs lately, such as headlining T in the Park in Scotland in July. Is playing live where the band’s focus is right now?

Absolutely and we had to make that decision as it is less viable to make money from recordings. We came from the era where you would get big [cash] advances from record labels to do an album and that kept us going. But in the 1990s that began to change and that’s when we really started focusing on performing live. That is why we are getting better and better each time and this is where our income comes from now.

A lot of people know The Human League for the 1981 video of Don’t You Want Me. What are you thoughts on it 30 years on?

Ironically we never really liked videos. They felt so boring to make. Our label really wanted us to make a video for Don’t You Want Me because MTV was just starting in America then. So that success was a fabulous coincidence for us as it came in the right time and MTV just played it in high rotation at that time.

Is it amusing to you that people love that song so much despite the lyrics being a tale of a stalker?

I think people now are beginning to realise that. They would say: “Oh, that’s a lovely little tune,” but when they really listen to the lyrics and see the video, they then say: “You know, it’s not really lovely.” That song makes people happy and they have great memories of it – but it is definitely not a pretty pop song.

• The Human League are at The Irish Village in Dubai on Thursday. Tickets are Dh160 and doors open at 7pm. For details, go to www.timeouttickets.com

sasaeed@thenational.ae