80sObscurities: Men Alone – France’s Mad Matrix

On this twelfth and final day of 80sObscurities Christmas, I’d like to take back the (deer) reins and play Santa myself. Before I do, I just wanted to send out sincere holiday wishes to everyone on this special day, particularly my closest friends. This time of year is meant for family, a chance to share the gifts of memories made throughout the years with those who mean the most in our lives. Many of you know that 2012 has been a very difficult year for me personally; a year in which the meaning of “family” has itself undergone much evolution. Not all of my memories since last Christmas are fond ones. However, this year has given me another kind of present, one more valuable than the well-intentioned trinkets I might find under the tree: a cherished family of friends, without whom those dark days would have seemed blacker than coal. Thank you all for everything you’ve done.

I’d also like to extend eternal gratitude to my loyal listeners, those who have made sharing my obscure musical obsessions so much fun over the last couple of years. We have heard some great – and awful – tunes here on 80sObscurities…and it is infinitely more pleasurable for me to know there are people out there who can look back on this era with as much appreciation as I do.

Which brings me to today’s selection, an obscure, miniature moment in musical memory that for me encapsulates everything that was so wonderful about the 80s: “Men Alone” by Mad Matrix. The band was comprised of French musicians/composers/sound-engineers Jean Philippe Goude and Vincent Malone who, while working together on various other musical projects, met vocalist/writer Henri Stemen and decided to collaborate under the moniker Mad Matrix.

Goude first appeared on the scene with the 1975 recording “Jeunes Années. After a stint with French progressive rock band Weidorje, he began writing arrangements and orchestrations for various recording artists. At the same time, Malone had his own jazz band and was also writing and recording songs, while Stemen was a working lyricist for other French singers.

80sObscurities was able to track down Goude, who continues to compose music for commercials, sound-tracks and TV shows and heads the “Ensemble Jean-Philippe Goude,” a contemporary project based on classical instruments and sound-textures. He shared with us his memories of what it was like to be a recording artist caught up in the emerging new wave of melodic electronic music of that decade.

“The very beginning of the 80’s was a kind of Golden Age,” Goude recalls. “It was the time of the first polyphonic analog synthesizers, the first samplers and the first polyphonic digital sequencers, like the E-mu System. A wide unknown musical and sonic field was suddenly available. The musical production concept was upside-down.”

“I was really involved in these amazing machines at the time and Vincent is a brilliant creative person. Then we met Henri with his gorgeous voice and ‘crazy’ ideas. That was the beginning of Mad Matrix. At the beginning, we had a ton of ideas, all the instruments to produce them, and our very good friends at Ramses Studio in Paris who lent us their recording studios at night. It was a dream come true. So we started to record a few songs, then we made a rough video clip made of pictures stolen from TV and films.”

“As the feedback from our friends was immediately amazing, we decided to contact some record companies. This was in fact the beginning of the end, because these people had no imagination. They were only looking for what they were used to hearing. Vincent tried to warn us, but Henri was not so concerned about it…and I was, I guess, in between on the issue. We decided to follow the label’s wishes and we made the compromises they had asked for. The result was the “Men Alone” EP. Unfortunately, it did not convince the media and, frustrated, Vincent quit. Shortly after, Henri and I tried to keep things going and recorded a new EP called “The Sign”, but I had to admit Vincent was right so, really, Mad Matrix ended when he left the band.”

“Since then, he has started a brilliant career in advertising and created well-known songs, books and videos for children called “Le roi des Papas” and “Le Roi de la Trompette”. Henry continues to write lyrics and is also a translator of English cartoons. I don’t see either of them much these days. Henri did try a few times over the
years to convince us to reform Mad Matrix, but for Vincent and me, this chapter closed long ago.”

As is the case with so many bands – and in fact is the entire premise of this endeavor – while the group itself might be gone, its legend lives forever on a thin wax disc…and in the heart of at least one obsessed fan whose very existence can be partially defined by an era of music he is not yet ready to forget. Merry Christmas, everyone, from 80sObscurities.

Originally published on December 25, 2012