- 29 Aug 17
When Duran Duran’s current line-up of Simon Le Bon, Nick Rhodes, John Taylor and Roger Taylor take to the Electric Picnic main stage, they’ll have quite some back catalogue to choose from.
Formed in Birmingham in 1978, and named after a character from Roger Vadim’s sci-fi classic Barbarella, the band have had several line-up changes over the years (there are eight former members), and gone on the occasional hiatus, but have never actually broken up.
From their self-titled debut in 1981 to 2015’s well-received Paper Gods, they’ve released 14 studio albums, won countless awards, and shifted more than 100 million records worldwide. Despite all of their success and longevity, however, they’ve never really been critical darlings. In fact, quite the opposite.
When they first started, John Taylor recalled them being “a group of art school, experimental, post-punk rockers” surfing the new wave. The uber-cynical UK music press didn’t see it like that, however, with the likes of Sounds, NME and Melody Maker considering them to be nothing more than another bog standard boy band (possibly they were all just jealous of John Taylor’s cheekbones).
The critics couldn’t have been more wrong. The main element that separated Duran Duran from the rest of the pack was the absolute brilliance of their eminently catchy pop songs. Ahead of their time in many ways, they were one of the first acts to release dance remixes. And their cultural influences were spot on; ‘Wild Boys’, for example, was inspired by a William Burroughs novel.
As Moby put it in a 2003 blog post: “…they were cursed by what we call the ‘Bee Gee’s Curse’, which is ‘write amazing songs, sell tons of records, and consequently incur the wrath or disinterest of the rock obsessed critical establishment’.”
Simon Le Bon and co. were one of the groups to take decisive advantage of the nascent MTV. When they first emerged, along with bands such as ABC and Spandau Ballet, they were largely considered part of the New Romantic scene. However, they quickly became the forerunners in the ‘Second British Invasion’ of the US, largely driven by the 24/7 TV music channel.
As John Carney’s recent Sing Street reminded us, Duran Duran didn’t do their music videos on the cheap. Most of them were made with established film directors and shot on 35mm film, giving them a much more polished and professional look than many of their contemporary’s blurry efforts. Tropical islands, luxury yachts, exclusive nightclubs and bikini-clad supermodels also tended to feature heavily. The slick videos for songs such as ‘Rio’, ‘Save A Prayer’ and ‘Hungry Like The Wolf’ are now classics of the genre.
By 1984, they were megastars at a time when album sales generated serious cash. Doing the theme song to Bond flick A View To A Kill, meanwhile, sent them supernova.
Their popularity waned slightly during the ’90s and noughties (2000’s Pop Trash was probably their least successful album). However, while they took some lengthy breaks, they never stopped making music. Asked by Hot Press’ Paul Nolan in 2007 whether they ever considered calling it a day, Le Bon responded, “There were plenty of moments when I felt that way. And there were plenty of moments when Nick felt that way, but never a moment when both Nick and I felt that way simultaneously. If there had have been, I think we would have jacked it in.”
In more recent times, the brilliance of Duran Duran has been recognised by numerous respected artists and musicians. The likes of Beck, Pink, Gwen Stefani, Dido, Franz Ferdinand, Goldfrapp and Justin Timberlake have openly admitted to being big fans. Brandon Flowers of The Killers told an interviewer, “Nick Rhodes is an absolute hero of mine – their records still sound fresh, which is no mean feat as far as synths are concerned.”
Even today, they’re obviously still considered relevant by their peers. Paper Gods was produced by no lesser talents than Mark Ronson, Nile Rodgers and Mr Hudson. Even so, when they play Electric Picnic, it’ll most likely be old classics such as ‘Reflex’, ‘Girls On Film’ and ‘New Moon On Monday’ that the crowd will be clamouring for. Fuck the critics. Duran Duran are the real deal.