Vangelis, Andy Fletcher and Dave Smith have terraformed the musical landscape

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Bad things don’t always come in threes. In May, however, electronic music students had their dreaded moment.

Three generations of groundbreaking electronic artists left this planet last month, creators who have built mountains in a soundscape that, for unknown reasons, has never been well received by contemporary music snobs.

Vangelis, Andy Fletcher and Dave Smith were these terraformers, these musical progressives, each operating in their own way.

Pop, hip-hop, virtually all music today has elements of their contribution.

Respect is due.

Vangelis

Born in Greece, Vangelis left us on May 17, at the age of 79, after having climbed the Everest of music several times. Surely the toughest gig in this industry has to be creating a big-budget soundtrack, playing that vital cog in a huge machine, mollifying the egos, the money men, and nailing the case. Just ask Twenty One Pilots’ Tyler Joseph, whose own contribution to Top Gun: Maverick was ejected.

Failures never see the light of day, we never talk about them.

Vangelis, a top performer in his own right, delivered big for the big screen.

His score for chariots of fire is legendary, an Oscar winner, which, unfortunately, is etched in the minds of many with images of posh Englishmen running on the beaches.

His original work on the black future masterpiece blade runner is sublime and iconic. His manager Ridley Scott asked him to come back, to score 1492. The three compositions orbit in different solar systems, all sound like Vangelis.

Andy Flecher

Fletcher, founding member and keyboardist of Depeche Mode, died on May 26, aged just 60.

If contemporary music is measured in hits, Depeche Mode is spoiled for choice, from its first electro-pop numbers “Dreaming of Me” and “Just Can’t Get Enough”, to the burning “Blasphemous Rumours”, the blues-rock-belter “I Feel You” and many others.

DM is a boundary breaker (they’re huge in Germany), bringing together goths with synth-pop and rock fans, a band that pushes boundaries, socially and lyrically, and finds themselves in a different place than where they began.

Indeed, the group will not obtain its first leader of the Billboard 200 until 1993. Songs of faith and devotiontheir eighth studio album.

Where electronic music is overlooked by music critics, bands from the 80s are the bane. So when DM was inducted into the Rock And Roll Hall of Fame in 2020, it marked the end of a Cold War and rolled out the Rock Hall red carpet for Duran Duran and Eurythmics, synth-fueled contemporaries who get nods this year.

David Smith

The synth community lost a titan when Dave Smith moved away on May 31 at the age of 72. It was Smith who, through his company Sequential, designed the Prophet-5, a revolutionary programmable polyphonic instrument, as well as drum machines and a range of instruments for which synth wizards would go into battle.

Later, in the 1990s, he would develop software synths with Seer Systems. For a rough analogy, it would be like Smith inventing the bicycle, then the motorcycle.

Prophet-5

In his spare time, he co-founded MIDI, the set of instructions that allows digital music equipment to work in harmony. So a language.

The outpouring of artists who have used his instruments is sincere and real. Even rival companies paid tribute to him. Smith’s contributions, not only to electronic music, but to musicis huge.

Without “Dave’s vision and ingenuity, the sound of the 1980s would have been very different”, wrote Nick Rhodes of Duran Duran. “He really changed the soundscape of a generation.”

Giants don’t come that often. Vangelis, Fletcher and Smith, pioneers of the most progressive instruments, belonged to this class.

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