Stevo: Bizzare after all these years

Stevo, the maverick who gave the world Soft Cell and Depeche Mode, is still going strong, oddly enough.

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The Independent Culture

"You have to be prepared to be knifed and head-butted. You have to be prepared to go into the armpits of society to find great music. The best music comes from anger, from paranoia. It's the way out of a situation.

I've found unemployable reprobates and given them a tax liability. As I have proven, you don't need an education to be in the music business," says Stevo, Some Bizzare label supremo, and the man who gave the world Soft Cell, Depeche Mode and The The and currently finds tracks by Einsturzende Neubauten and Test Department, two visionary acts he signed more than 20 years ago, very much in demand with movie directors such as Michael Mann, Alan Parker and Alfonso Cuaron (of Children of Men fame).

"They were all quite radical, even though they're all respected now. Too often, the pioneers get left behind. If you speak to Richard H Kirk of Cabaret Voltaire, he'll tell you all about that. Nine Inch Nails, especially, wouldn't exist if it wasn't for Cabaret Voltaire. It's almost beyond flattery. It's a joke," he says.

But Stevo, who used to trash hotel rooms and record company offices to get his point across - "I had no choice, I just cared about the artist," he stresses - and once sent all the major labels brass phallic objects - "the mould came from a gifted gentleman," he quips - with "Force the Hand of Chance" engraved on the bottom to try to get them to sign Psychic TV, is not exactly mellowing.

Now in his forties, he rarely answers a question without at least telling you an anecdote as well as a story you can't repeat because it's sub judice or the lawyers would have a field day. "I've never been sued by an artist, a publisher or a record company and I've never sued an artist, a publisher or a record company. Unfortunately, that could be classed as an act of weakness," he states a propos of the long-running feuds with Psychic TV and Coil.

"I met these Coil fans in a club and they went mental. This guy was going to kill me because he'd read this Coil book that said they'd never signed a contract with Some Bizzare. I don't know what's in my filling cabinets, it must be Scotch mist. They certainly have signed contracts," he maintains, before going into the ins and outs of another dispute, this time with Einsturzende Neubauten.

Still, maybe all this is to be expected, given Stevo's reputation as a maverick, going back to the early Eighties, when he licenced The The's Soul Mining to three different labels. "I delivered Soul Mining to what was then Phonogram. Then I took it off them, and sold it to Warner Brothers. And before it had been released, I took it off them and sold it to CBS. One recording was sold three times. I can't understand it but I don't regret it," says the wheeler-dealer who possibly outdid the Sex Pistols' Malcolm McLaren.

Back in 1980, Stevo Pearce, then a budding DJ not out of his teens, was asked to compile a chart of the electronic music he played at Billy's in London's Soho and the Clarendon Hotel in Sounds, the weekly music paper. "They called it the Futurist Chart, not me. I used to clear the dance-floor. I would go out for the purpose of doing that. My attitude was complete assault on the audience.

Stevo found himself at the centre of the embryonic electronic scene and was given carte blanche to assemble a collection of acts he was associated with. The Some Bizzare Album, unavailable for 17 years and now changing hands for £100, gathered tracks by Blancmange, Soft Cell and The The as well as Depeche Mode and B-Movie and charted in March 1981.

B-Movie were touted as the next New Romantic act to follow Visage and Spandau Ballet, but "Remembrance Day" and "Nowhere Girl" only made the lower reaches of the Top 75. However, Stevo struck gold with Soft Cell, an electronic duo whose Mutant Moments EP he had championed in Sounds. He became their manager, got them a deal with Phonogram under the Some Bizzare umbrella and their cover of "Tainted Love" topped charts. For 18 months they scored hit after hit with their anguished synth-pop.

Stevo is dyslexic, though that's not the reason behind the spelling of his company's name. "No, I like ambiguities. It's Some Bizzare, spelt B I Z Z A R E. The idea of the label was to be aware of people's expectations and do the opposite almost. Not deliberately. There's nothing more irritating than artists trying to be different for the sake of it."

Today Stevo is taking me around the Some Bizzare Exhibition at The Horse Hospital, in Bloomsbury, London, which is celebrating 25 years of the label. He's showing me the drawing for the 12in single sleeve of The The's " Infected", and various pieces of artwork for Marc And The Mambas releases. "It's all for sale. The walls of my apartment are bare now. I hope they don't fill up again," he says.

Stevo is not one for looking back but agreed to compile Redefining The Prologue - 1981-2006, a Some Bizzare collection for Universal. "I've never done a retrospective album so it's 50 per cent new and 50 per cent old. The whole idea is, you put a kid in a room and play him the album and say: 'Right, you tell me what's 1983, 1984, and what's now.'"

Twenty-five years on, Stevo is still working with Dave Ball, who was one half of Soft Cell, and is "repairing bridges with Marc Almond".

As we end, he says, "Make sure there's nothing too controversial." Then he reaches for my recorder's off switch.

'Redefining The Prologue - 1981-2006' is out now on Universal; the Some Bizzare Exhibition is at The Horse Hospital, London WC1 until 4 November. ( www.thehorsehospital.com; www.somebizzare.com)

Stevo

Remarks by Stevo of the Some Bizarre record label were slightly abbreviated in our article ("Bizarre after all these years", 27 October, 2006). To clarify, he was not saying that he had licensed The The's Soul Mining to three record companies at once, but withdrew the rights from each company before giving it to the next.

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