A British independent, Mute Records has defined and hugely influenced the industrial and electronica genres since 1978, and their roster remains impressive to this day. As with 4AD, it’s almost impossible to pin the label down in just 10 tracks. We’ve missed out any Nick Cave releases, and the wonderfully remastered and reissued Can albums, on the basis that they deserve lists of their own. This is what we’ve come up with – it’s entirely subjective, and we’re sure you’ll have your own opinions, so comment!
Yazoo – Don’t Go
The second single from what was to be a short career from Yazoo is a perfect pop song. From synth-king Vince Clarke’s insistent intro to Alison Moyet’s bluesy, powerful vocals this, and the rest of their ground-breaking debut, Upstairs at Erics, put soul firmly into 80’s synth pop and making it sound all the better for it.
The Normal – Warm Leatherette
Where it all started. Mute founder Daniel Miller, who recorded under the name The Normal, released this as a b-side to his single TVOD in 1978. Miller clinically intones Ballardian, nightmarish lyrics over minimal, propulsive synths making for an eerie 3 and a half minutes. Memorably covered (but not bettered) by Grace Jones, it still sounds fresh today which is testament to how a good a track this is.
Goldfrapp – Lovely Head
A truly eclectic artist, Alison Goldfrapp’s albums vary widely in style and influences but all are characterised by the sheer beauty of her voice. Lovely Head draws from 1960’s sci-fi soundtracks and electronica creating a darkly lavish soundscape to accompany her eerie, theatrical vocals. The opening whistling sounds like it was recorded decades ago and works perfectly juxtaposed alongside Will Gregory’s futuristic beats, making this so much more than a pastiche.
Richard Hawley – Coles Corner
Another deeply cinematic piece of music. Sometime Pulp guitarist and solo artist, Richard Hawley’s love of Scott Walker and Roy Orbison is evident in the wonderfully poignant orchestration and his warm melancholy baritone. As an artist he sums up the rain-soaked streets of Northern Britain where dreams are made and broken like no other. If Elvis had been born in Sheffield, he would have sounded like this.
5. Depeche Mode – Behind the wheel
Taken from 1987’s Music for the Masses before David Gahan’s unlikely transition from an Essex synth-popster to a long-haired, leather-clad stadium-rocker, this beautifully sparse and melancholy track still has the menace and slinking vocals that would go on to define their later work. The ambiguity of the lyrics, claustrophic sound and almost Kraftwerk-like propulsive rhythm together with the crepuscular Anton Corbyn video make for a potent mix.
Wire – Lowdown
It’s almost impossible to choose just one album from most of these artists, let alone just one track and that’s definitely the case with Wire. They released three perfect albums in as many years that defined post-punk before punk had even had its day. Lowdown is a menacing, slinking, effortlessly cool 2 minutes 27 seconds of fractured groove perfection. Like all the 21 tracks on their classic debut, Pink Flag, there is no excess and nothing is superfluous.
Einstürzende Neubauten – Halber Mensch
A German avant-noise collective, Einstürzende Neubauten were never going to be for populist listening. They pioneered the industrial noise scene and are often viewed as a typical Mute artist, although as this list shows, there is plenty of warmth and soul amongst the label’s roster. By the time they recorded Halber Mensch, EN had moved away from their notorious jack-hammer sound and started focussing more on song structure and this hypnotic call-and response song is all the more powerful for it. If you want to hear them in at their scariest, try listening to Durstige Tiere. Loudly.
Liars – Brats
The beauty of the Liars is that each of their albums feels different, pushing boundaries and expectations, and yet they are all clearly by the same band. On this huge track from their sixth album, WIXIW, they let loose shimmering synths, buzz guitars and Underworld-esque, dirgey rhythmic beats battering the listener into a willing submission.
Jon Spencer – Calvin
THIS IS BLUES POWER! Raw, punky, compulsive stripped-back blues is not the sound that’s normally associated with Mute but it’s one that Jon Spencer’s Blues Explosion has in spades. Mixing rock’n’roll, hip-hop, samples and minimal instrumentation, with loud vocal exhortations, Spencer vamps and swaggers for all he’s worth. An electrifying live act, you can hear the loose intuitive playing between the band members on this joyous, hip-shaking recording.
Arca – Vanity
Genderless, intensely personal and at the same time, very alien, Arca’s music is genuinely challenging. An astonishing artist, by the age of 25 he had worked with three of the most visionary artists currently recording, Bjork, FKA Twigs and Kanye West, before releasing a record. Vanity, from his second album, Mutant, is simultaneously beautiful and disturbing, full of complex orchestration, slippery synths and pummelled beats. It’s more accessible than much of his music but no less subversive.