Indie label Cleopatra brings '80s sound back to forefront
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From Donna Freydkin
(CNN) -- For indie label Cleopatra Records, it's always morning in America.
The proudly independent, slightly irreverent Los Angeles label has taken it upon itself to help resurrect faded bands that went the way of such '80s beacons as Coreys Feldman and Haim. But one person's trash is someone else's treasure, and Cleopatra saw the riches in the badly beleaguered, scorned music that was spawned in the decade of Ronald Reagan, feathered hair, and Poison.
If you once squeezed into Jordache jeans, caked on black eyeliner and lipstick before Bauhaus shows, gyrated to the gender-bending anthems of Dead or Alive or rocked out to Warrant's "Cherry Pie," Cleopatra's got something for you.
Founded six years ago, the tiny label has been known for its wildly and weirdly diverse output of underground and alternative releases. Quirky Cleopatra generally eschews the schmaltzy '80s bands on the retro compilation albums hyped on late-night television, instead focusing on the odd (Sigue Sigue Sputnik) and defunct (Quiet Riot and Cinderella).
This year alone, it's putting out new discs ranging from metal relics Warrant and L.A. Guns. It's also released new materials from perennial new wavers Gary Numan and the Information Society, and rare cuts from goth staples Bauhaus and Ministry.
"We're very wacky here. This is all music that we love and appreciate," says Ali Otha, Cleopatra's publicist.
Otha attributes her label's fascination with retro rock to far more than the prospect of making money off twenty-somethings' fond memories. She and the rest of the staff are of the age when looking back means basking in the catchy, nonsensical music of Kajagoogoo and the Thompson Twins, and the dark chants of Gene Loves Jezebel and Heaven 17.
"Essentially, everyone here is between 21 and 34," she says. "This is the music we grew up with in our awkward teen-age years, and it's an honor for us to work with these artists."
Ready for reminiscing
Cleopatra, says Otha, is a label run by music fans for music fans. It signs the bands its staff loves, the bands that helped them grow up. Most everyone thought that when the label was founded, it would go the same route as many of the bygone bands it raves about. But Cleopatra moves some 20,000 to 60,000 of its '80s compilations each year -- sales that both the label and artists say can't be attributed to nostalgia alone.
"That period -- it was fun-filled and vital," says Annabella Lwin, lead singer of Bow Wow Wow, which just released a live album on the Cleopatra label. "People are always drawn to things like that. No one took themselves too seriously. If music can stand the test of time, it was definitely worth something."
Nevertheless, the children of the '80s are grownups now, with money to burn and memories to feed, and it seems the time is a ripe for a little reminiscing, as Adam Sandler found out. His kitchy little '80s-based romantic comedy, "The Wedding Singer," raked in $80 million in the United States alone.
Similarly, Otha says listener response to the label's releases have been tremendous. When Cleopatra announced the release of Numan's new album, for example, Otha says the phone rang nonstop and e-mails flooded the label, asking about the new CD from the British don of synth-pop.
"The public response has been awesome," she says. "Most of the consumers are of the same age bracket as we are here and now we're paying homage to these acts, trying to give back what they gave to us."
Numan, Bow Wow Wow rise again
Take the case of the aforementioned Numan. In the United States, he's known mostly as the British guy with that catchy pop song about feeling safe in his car. While "Cars" was the only top-10 song Numan scored in America, in England, he released an album every year for a decade on his independent label.
As if anyone cared, you might argue. But acts such as Beck, Weezer and the Foo Fighters helped revive Numan by covering his songs both on their albums and in their live shows, including the Foo Fighters' remake of Numan's classic "Down in the Park" on the "X-Files" soundtrack.
So, courtesy of Cleopatra, U.S. listeners can now check out his latest release, "Exile," on which Numan returns to his electronic roots. And a national tour is in the works this year as well. The resuscitated Numan is now in talks to possibly collaborate with Prodigy, Marilyn Manson and trip-hop's Tricky. He calls the developments "exciting."
And then there's Brit-pop band Bow Wow Wow, whose persistent popularity far outlived its three-year lifespan. Throughout the band's four albums, they toyed with punked-out African and Latin beats and goofy pop to produce crisp electronic concoctions. Their best known single, of course, remains "I Want Candy," a staple on '80s flashback shows everywhere.
In 1997, after a 14-year absence, two of the original members got back together, figured they'd do a U.S. tour and see what happened. Fans went wild, says Bow Wow Wow's Lwin, so in early January, the band released "Wild in the U.S.A.," a live disc that includes "I Want Candy" and "Do You Want to Hold Me."
Lwin says the band worked with Cleopatra because the label got down to business and "didn't muck about."
Bow Wow Wow is back, says Lwin, because "The audience seemed very interested in the band being back together." But Lwin tries to distance herself from other '80s acts, saying she was never part of the scene, and laughing at the fashion and attitude that just won't go away. She says she's not too impressed with many of the bands trying to cash on their old glory.
"It's a bit of a cop-out for a band to come back out of the blue and rehash its old stuff without having anything new," she says. But, she adds, "I think it's great, as long as the fans get what they pay for. You have to be real and do things in a natural way."
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