Although they barely receive credit, Suicide is the source point for virtually every synth-pop duo that glutted the pop marketplace (especially in England) in the early 80s.
Without the trailblazing Martin Rev and Alan Vega, there would have been no Soft Cell, Erasure, Bronski Beat, Yazoo, you name ’em . . . although the aforementioned synth-poppers merely appropriated Suicide’s keyboards/singer look and none of Rev and Vega’s extremely confrontational performance style and love of dissonance.
Suicide had been a part of the performing arts scene in New York City’s Lower East Side in the early/mid-70s New York Dolls era.
Their approach to music was simple: Rev would create minimalist, spooky, hypnotic washes of dissonant keyboards and synthesizers over a primitive drum machine, while Vega sang, ranted, and spat neo-Beat lyrics in a jumpy, disjointed fashion.
On stage, Vega became confrontational, often baiting the crowd into a riotous frenzy that occasionally led to full-blown violence. 23 Minutes Over Brussels – included as a bonus on the CD reissue of Suicide’s eponymous debut album (1977) – gives a good indication of the public’s reactions to the confrontational duo in their heyday.
Recorded on 16 June 1978, when Suicide supported Elvis Costello at the L’Ancienne Belgique ballroom, it shows a riotous crowd pelting the duo with chairs and bottles.
With their reputation as controversial performers solidified, Suicide recorded some amazingly seductive and terrifying music.
A production relationship with The Cars‘ mastermind Ric Ocasek proved successful, bringing their music to a wider audience and developing unlikely fans (Bruce Springsteen was quoted as loving Suicide’s Vietnam-vet saga Frankie Teardrop), but after numerous break-ups and reconciliations, Rev and Vega settled for being more influential than commercially successful.
Alan Vega died peacefully in his sleep on 16 July 2016. He was 78 years of age.
“Everybody hated us, man . . . We were like the fuckin’ plague”