The (Hypothetical) Prophets

The (Hypothetical) Prophets were a collaboration between French electronic pioneer Bernard Szajner and British musician Karel Beer, recording something of a Soviet-themed concept album under the pseudonyms Joseph Weil and Norman D.Landing.

Known to aficionados of new wave and minimal synth/synth wave/cold wave, the album has rarely been heard since its original release on CBS/EPIC. In 2004 two tracks were included on the compilation ‘So Young, But So Cold: Underground French Music 1977-1983’ and in recent years it has been cited as a seminal album by specialist blogs such as Mutant Sounds and Systems Of Romance.

Utilising William Burroughs/Brion Gysin style newsreel cut-ups, harsh electronics comparable to contemporary records by the likes of Cabaret Voltaire, caustically satirical lyrics, and deadpan vocals reminiscent of the Flying Lizards, B52s or Trio, the Prophets concocted a truly unique sound, in some ways predicting the danceable meta-pop of groups like LCD Soundsystem.

The collaborative project between Bernard Szajner and Karel Beer started in 1980 with a one-off concept single under the name ‘Proroky’ (Russian for ‘Prophets’) on their own Hypothetical Records, under the guise of a fake Soviet pop group.

Quickly picked up for re-release by CBS in France, the group re-christened themselves the (Hypothetical) Prophets and followed up with a chilling minimal wave EP, ‘Wallenberg’, about the titular Swedish diplomat who had saved thousands of Jewish Hungarians from the death camps. The creators recorded French and English language versions of the A-side, with a long-term aim of releasing a version in every language for each international territory! CBS passed on this option but were keen for the group to do an album, and so the idea of going ‘Around The World With The (Hypothetical) Prophets’ was born.

The completed LP received some attention on release but the highly conceptual nature of the tracks (like reading out personal announcements from Time Out London and The Village Voice New York over the chugging synth-pop of ‘Person To Person’, or adapting the BBC shipping forecast for ‘Fisherman’s Friend’) and anonymous presentation of the group (Szajner and Beer adopted the pseudonyms Joseph Weil and Norman D. Landing) left many confused. They were forgotten by most people until the mid-2000s when their singular take on new wave started to be re-discovered by a new generation of cratediggers and bloggers.

‘Around The World With’ has now been rescued from oblivion by InFiné, whose edition of ‘Around The World With’ recreates the original album’s tracklisting, but is re-sequenced as the musicians originally intended. Bonus tracks are taken from their EPs, and this is the first time that the majority of this material has been heard since its original release.

Pre-order the album here.

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All words by Paul Scott-Bates. More of Paul’s writing on Louder Than War can be found at his author’s archive. Paul’s website is hiapop Blog and you can follow him on Twitter here, and on Facebook here. You can also follow him on Twitter as @saveonthewire for all On The Wire news.

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