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Phil Oakey: The Human League

Interview | Band By Nigel Humberstone
Published April 1995

Despite a long string of hit singles and albums throughout the 1980s, The Human League entered the '90s having fallen from grace with both record label and record‑buying public. Now they're back with a vengeance — and a hit single from a new chart album. Nigel Humberstone chats to League main man Phil Oakey.

For many, The Human League were the definitive pop band of the '80s. Formed in the late '70s with the line‑up of Philip Oakey, Martyn Ware, Ian Craig‑Marsh and Adrian Wright, their first album, Reproduction (1979) won them critical acclaim, and was followed up by a second, Travelogue, in 1980. Soon after this, Marsh and Ware exited to form the British Electric Foundation, and subsequently Heaven 17, while the League, with new band members Susan Sulley and Joanne Catherall, teamed up with producer Martin Rushent and had instant chart success with the singles 'Sound Of The Crowd' and 'Don't You Want Me'. Statistically, The Human League peaked with their number one album Dare, but the band continued to have worldwide hits with singles like 'Fascination', 'The Lebanon' and 'Human'. The release of Romantic?, at the start of the '90s, was less well received and heralded the end of their long relationship with Virgin Records. What followed was a period of disillusionment and depression whilst the group attempted to regain their musical career.

Now The Human League are back with a new album, Octopus, new producer Ian Stanley, and new record company (East West). Rather than re‑ inventing themselves, they have resurrected, and returned to, their analogue roots, whilst still exhibiting their unique brand of pop sensibility.

Down But Not Out

For the best part of this decade The Human League have been at work in their Sheffield‑based recording studio. Are they glad that this album is finally finished?

Oakey: "Not really, because the recording got better and better as we went through, and now I wish we were carrying on — we now have to do all the other bits, like press and promotion. It's just that we seem to have found the right producer and I didn't realise that until maybe three to four months into doing the album."

I'd heard it said that the album was initially recorded quite some time ago, and asked if this was true.

"We sent demos of most of the songs to Virgin before they dropped us, including the first single, but they didn't really sound the same. The demos were a bit crap really — because we're not very good producers. We only went off on the analogue thing because of one of our co‑writers. When we heard that analogue sounds were coming back, we avoided getting involved with it because it seemed like a trendy thing to do. But finally a guy called Paul Beckett, who was working during the week with Adrian Sherwood and On‑U‑Sound but at weekends would come up here and do things on a friendly basis with us, was the first one to go to the rack of synths and say 'you should be using these now'. And I think we'd got pretty stale and were depressed really — we thought we were worthless because of the attitude of the record company. Being stuck up here in Sheffield we thought they were not visiting us enough — our famous claim is that we didn't get an A&R visit for three and a half years."

I commented that it must have been quite traumatic for the band when Virgin rejected the album and dropped them. Oakey concurs: "We just thought our career was over. We thought 'that's it' — we've been years trying our best without any support, we've put records out that we thought were good and no‑one bought them... we hadn't been managed for eight years so everything seemed over, but we've got a really good solicitor who sent faxes to all the major record companies, and suddenly we were going out to dinner with heads of the biggest record companies in the world — who didn't just like our back catalogue but also the new stuff that we were doing, which was the start of us thinking that we were actually worth something again.

"We very nearly signed to Sony/CBS, but East West stepped in and wanted us to work with their A&R guy, Ian Stanley, who was also acting as a house producer."

With East West and Ian Stanley on board, the League once again swung into action — with exciting results. Indeed, the success of the first single from the new album, 'Tell me When', has been even greater than Oakey had hoped: "A top 40 hit would have been enough for us to start with and especially because we've actually gone in the new 'old' direction again, which I thought would take an album for people to get used to the idea.

"So it looks good but also slightly frightening. I think we've got an advantage that we're based in Britain. All along the way people like the Bee Gees and Fleetwood Mac have come back with big singles but that's not led to a re‑acceptance. So we're still in the middle of quite a big fight — we could easily lose it with the next single and then we'd lose the album, which would mean we're right back where we started — but with a bigger debt!"

Team Players

Dave Dodd is The Human League's resident studio engineer, multi‑skilled technician and odd‑jobber. With the involvement and presence of Ian Stanley, the recording process really stepped up a gear. Dodd "We started off with 20 tracks — Ian came in and made it a core of six to concentrate on and fit the others around. Then he brought in his Quadra and cracked the whip!

"The work for this album was constant for six months. Ian had been working constantly for two years before that, doing the Pretenders. We had Andy (Gray) coming up at weekends, and we were working 12 to 14 days on the trot — 14 to 16 hours a day."

At this stage, The Human League commandeered an adjoining commercial recording studio (Axis, now called Manna) where Ian Stanley re‑located with his Mitsubishi 32‑track and set to work. A strict work schedule was established with constant liaison between the two studios.

"He also made it very untidy", remembers Oakey. "I always want to have this place so that if a film crew knocked at the door we could invite them in and it would look nice. But I think people like Ian and Chris (Hughes), who also worked on the album, work from chaos. They need that kind of jumble around them.

"The recording was more divorced from the writing on this album than it's ever been. I think that's because things have got such a long way from real keyboard playing — although we always pushed the programming and 'synthetic' side of things, we weren't like that and in fact Dare had a lot of playing on it. But to compete now you've got to get it right and you can't mess around and put up with people not playing so well.

Since we bought a Synclavier in about 1983/4 I have never since trusted a spec sheet.

"With this album it's been a case of once the song's written, really 'caning it' to get it right — Andy programming it, Ian having a real go on the sound and Bob (Kraushaar) making sure the vocals were right."

Dodd: "After hearing the tracks, Ian Stanley's method was to get the original multitracks out and break them down. By that time we'd got SampleCell, Audio Media and stuff, and we were using them to lift bits that we'd already done from the multitracks. Ian had his 32‑track digital along with our 16‑track digital and 24‑track analogue, so we were bouncing tapes around." Oakey: "We'd bought the 16‑track digital machine for the last album, just to do vocals on. People think that with our synths we must be up‑to‑date, but that's not actually true. Since we bought a Synclavier along the way in about 1983/4 I have never since trusted a spec sheet. Now if any company says 'this is the best machine you've ever heard' , I don't believe them. I'd rather go to some old stuff that I know works.

"We've just had our Ampex 8‑track (on which Travelogue was recorded) serviced to make it workable. Ian's at the other extreme — he wants every possibility of new stuff. But Ian could handle the fact that some of the recording was over here on 24‑track, some was on digital, some was on a sampler, some was live and some was in ProTools."

Something Old, Something New, Something Borrowed...

Despite a number of additions (SampleCell/Cubase Audio) made in order to integrate with Ian Stanley's work methods, equipment purchases have been kept to a minimum. Oakey, a self‑confessed hoarder, has actually retained the majority of classic equipment from the band's early days. The return to analogue values also sparked a competitive search amongst the recording team to seek out more classic pieces. Oakey: "We never got rid of gear — though Martyn Ware used to. Things used to 'disappear' via Martyn, who was very much the musical driving force in the first Human League, and we've all been out trying to get hold of the stuff that he got rid of along the way.

"We're now actually buying stuff that we couldn't afford in the first place — like American synths, because before we could only afford Japanese ones. Things like Oberheims especially — a 4‑voice, and the Expander, which is a fantastically interesting synth and maybe the last great analogue synth.

"What we really got into along the way was band‑pass filters. We only had low‑pass filters and suddenly we got things like the Jupiter 6 during the course of the album and it's fantastic. It's such an amazing synth — perhaps I shouldn't mention this before we've bought another...

"Ian also got a Jupiter 4 during the course of the recording but he took it away with him. What a fantastic, underrated synth that was. It was like a home organ with its horrible fake wood panels — eight programmable memories and eight presets!

"Ian Stanley bought a System 700 (along with an ARP 2600, the Roland JP4 and an Aston Martin sports car!) whilst he was here and we got some really good sounds on it. Martin Rushent had a system, so I'd got to grips with the basics; I had to learn how to do all this stuff with the 'old' League — that was my job. Martyn (Ware) could do chords really well, Ian (Craig‑Marsh) was fantastic at percussion and getting really detailed sounds, so I did the big mono things. I made a job of learning it, because I thought otherwise they were going to notice that I wasn't doing anything!"

I asked how the System 700 compares with the System 100. Oakey: "It's very different but they're both good for certain things. I like the System 100 because Roland supply a really good set of patches with it. You can set up a 'bird twittering' patch, which you can leave on and it's like you're in the woods! But the 100 is a bit limited with not enough inputs and so the 100M is miles better. We ended up using the 100M more than anything else and especially for anything where you wanted things to turn on and turn off — like for the bass on 'These Are The Days', when we were trying to emulate a Marvin Gaye bass sound from 'Midnight Love'. A big thing that happened while we were doing the recording was that we borrowed 808 State's ARP 2600 for an afternoon, after which we went on a mad search for one."

I admitted to being surprised that the Human League didn't already own synths like the 2600. Oakey responded: "In a way, we'd been loyal to Japanese synths. We thought that the American synths were for rockers and the likes of ELP, and not for real sequence‑programmed pop groups. We did a big comparison and dragged all the synths together in one room, and with the 2600 you can just about get anything you can get on the System 100M, but with the ARP's built‑in reverb.

"Before Ian got involved we had started setting up our own drum sounds. Ian Craig‑Marsh used to get fantastic bass drums, which is one of the hardest sounds to make convincingly, but the thing was that all those synths weren't stable at the low end, so that out of four beats you'd have two great ones and two 'alright' ones. What you can do now is get your great beat and bung it in the sampler — and that's allowed under the 'system'...

"The idea is that The Human League shouldn't ever really use recordings of the real world — apart from vocals. The sounds should be sourced entirely within the machines and the first time you hear them should be through a speaker. Having said that, you can use any effects — we're really happy banging things through an AC30 or the Leslie cabinet."


The production time for Octopus was six months including mixing — which was undertaken by a host of specialist mixers, including Dave Bascombe, Mark 'Spike' Stent and Bob Kraushaar. Oakey: "One of Ian's great abilities, and something that we've had a problem with before, is delegating. And it got to the point where Ian said 'Well, I'm not good enough to mix this.' So we went out and got some of the best mixers in the world — and my God, were they good.

"The difference was only in balance — although 'Spike' Stent did add one sequence on 'Cruel Young Lovers' — but there wasn't much editing: it was simply balance, EQ and a bit of effects — maybe a lot of effects, in Spike's case. But as far as I'm concerned, for slightly Europeanised pop, he is the best mixer. Everything is just where it should be.

"For the more acoustic and slower stuff we used Dave Bascombe. Dave really sorted out 'Never Again', which was the hardest one to do by a long way, and at one point I thought we'd lost it. We were recording vocals here in this studio operating under the instructions of Ian (Stanley), who was next door moving everything around in ProTools and we couldn't see where it was all going. But we took it to Dave Bascombe and suddenly there was a really good song at the other end."

Bob Kraushaar, who also recorded a lot of the vocals, was employed to mix a couple of tracks, including 'Words'. Oakey: "We had this bizarre situation where the tracks were being mixed in London and I was going down, staying at a hotel and popping in. And one night, I remember, we had three studios on the go with Dave (Bascombe) in one, Spike (Stent) in one and Bob (Kraushaar) in another — and I was just going in, sitting down, listening and thinking 'well it's right'. I couldn't correct them, I couldn't improve on it — they'd just got it so good."


Oakey: "Bob Kraushaar is fantastic at recording vocals; he'd worked on and produced a number of tracks on the album before (Romantic?), one of which I thought should have been a really big hit and wasn't. I think it's all down to his ears. It's as simple as that; it doesn't matter what equipment you've got, when you've got a guy sitting there listening so hard. He works quietly and the standard of the vocals is breathtaking.

"Joanne and Susan were singing better than they've ever sung and he was recording it better than it's ever been recorded, and it meant that I got left off half the choruses because it sounded worse when I joined in.

"Susan's got really good tuning whereas myself and Joanne aren't particularly strong on tuning. I tend to write all of the vocal lines — I've ended up doing that, which I never really wanted to do. But I do a rough version and it's only when Susan starts doing it that we really see what it's going to be like."

For recording vocals on Octopus, The Human League used a Bruel & Kjaer 4011 — a strange choice of vocal microphone.

Dodd: "We thought that as well. When we sat down with Ian (Stanley) he said 'I want all the old valve mics', and we put them on but they didn't sound good at all. So we did a bit of a blind test with 12 tracks using various mics, hiring in a B&K, and that was how it happened.

"The vocals then went into Ian's Neve rack [compressors, gates and parametric EQs], into the Urei compressor, and from there straight to tape. Bob was doing subtle things like taking the vocals through the EQ, adding a little bit of light compression off the Neve and then putting another bit of light compression off the Urei." Oakey: "When Dave built a vocal booth out in the live room, Ian insisted on having the back open so the voice had a bit of genuine room with it. We thought it was crazy at the time, but in retrospect I think it was really clever.

"Andy Gray had an interesting setup — a Macintosh 950 with AudioMedia and two SampleCell cards in it, along with Cubase Audio, which we also had to get into. People talk about the 'paperless office' but Andy was doing complete remixes within the 950, which was amazing."

Dodd: "For me it's the tapeless aspect that's a bit worrying. The digital side is fine, but get a problem and you lose the whole lot. We had some frightening times where we'd play a tape and there'd be a drop‑out over all 32 tracks, including the code track. So we'd clean the heads, rewind it and it would play fine." Oakey: "Yeah, and we'd get into bizarre technical arguments, which were really quite heated, about how you stripe tape! In my day you used to just throw it down — I mean, we made the Travelogue album on just the Ampex 8‑track, so it's such an amazing change."

Octopus: Tracks

  • 'Tell Me When'
    Oakey: "It's got some really exciting bits like the little bit at the begining after the four‑on‑the‑floor chorus intro, which was all done by me and Andy one day on the System 100M. We'd spent ages and the sound was chords being played into separate mono sections that weren't programmed all that much together, so the sounds don't quite fit together. And Ian just said 'OK, you've done it'. And there it is, on the record — number 6 in the charts."

Dodd: "For most synth‑generated sounds we'd put them into Cubase and play them live with MIDI‑to‑CV boxes, until Ian decided it was ready to go to tape. Ian had a really good way of getting Philip to work. He'd sit with the System 100 in the corner, with a pair of headphones on, working on sounds." Oakey: "There was a really good thing going on with the headphones; because I've been knocked back in the last 10 years, I didn't want four people looking at me, and as Ian's working so intensely he doesn't notice that I'm over in the corner with headphones. And if it takes me an hour and a half to work something out — that's cool, at the end of it I'll say 'I've got something that you might like to hear Ian', and then they'll push the faders up and I feel confident enough to present it, which was a really nice way of doing things.

"It's odd to think that we've been a synth group all this time and it's not since Martin Rushent that we've had anyone who really likes what we do. Until Ian came along, we'd not had anyone who would say 'that's a great sound and a great tune — I want to record it.' Mainly we've lived through the sampler era, where people couldn't understand why I wanted to make a sound like that. I love those sounds and I'm always going to love those sounds, even on an ELP record where the rest of the record is so bad that you have to love the sounds to wade through it."

  • 'John Cleese; Is He Funny?
    Oakey: "I got quite entranced when the Italian disco thing started to happen, and we threw three tracks together in that vein at that stage. Then when we were making the album, we found we needed an instrumental...

"It was a bit of a laugh — Andy Gray brought it more up‑to‑date, because we're not up‑to‑date with how you get your rhythms right now. There were some really good sounds where Andy had chopped up a bit of what we'd done before. We had the original multitrack and we'd been using a bit of portamento on a Juno 106, and he chopped out the big sweep sounds that I'd done three years before and never noticed. I think that was the only track that I wrote myself on the album; it was called 'Franco Italian' for ages, but we thought that was a bit of a giveaway. Everyone says it sounds like the Yello Magic Orchestra, which is a coincidence because we did some singing on a couple of YMO tracks — that was one of the things that kept us going after getting the sack from Virgin.

"At about the same time as that, the Utah Saints released 'I Believe In You' [the track incorporated a sample from The Human League's 'Love Action'], which was really nice and very encouraging — I think we would have given up at that time if it wasn't for those two things."

  • 'Cruel Young Lover'
    Oakey: "There's all sorts going on during 'Cruel Young Lover', including feedback reverb with LFOs at the beginning. One time we set up the Leslie, feeding it with basic system noise from the System 700. Then we started rotating the horns and Ian Stanley looked at me and said 'Bloody hell — what's that?' And that's the big noise we used at the start of 'Cruel Young Lover'. We thought that we had to go on the 'mash‑it‑up' path because Vince Clarke has done analogue synths cleanly recorded so well, for so long, that there's no point trying to compete with that. So we're into 'mashing' and 'mashing' again as often as possible."

Oakey On Jam & Lewis

"The Jam and Lewis album [Crash] was just like being a puppet for four months. It was interesting to pick yourself out of the industrial north of England and dump yourself in Minneapolis. Great experience — but it just wasn't our album.

"I think that having had that experience we sought to make sure that we were doing our kind of albums again, which I think we did with Romantic?

Words Of Wisdom

Phil Oakey: "One thing that we learnt working along with Ian Stanley is that you have to work really hard, whereas we had got into the habit of watching the TV really hard."

Gear Spotlight

  • YAMAHA TF1/TX816

Oakey "Each TF1 module is an original DX7 [there are eight in a TX816 rack]. And this came out at the dawn of MIDI, when it represented an astonishingly powerful system, with each unit being 16‑note polyphonic. So all can be addressed separately via MIDI, but you're stuck with DX sounds, which went out of favour pretty quickly — although I predict the DX 'clang' will be back." Oakey confesses he made a concerted effort to learn the DX7, which he actually programs. Other Yamaha synths from the period include a rare DX1 keyboard.

  • KORG EX800

Oakey: "It gets used a lot. It was the first MIDI expander that I'd seen — that's why we got it. It's very crude, but its great limitation is that it's only got one envelope, so you're playing a chord and there's just one envelope cutting in, turning everything on and off, which gives it a distinct feel of its own.

"I've always liked Korg; they were a 'kinky' instrument manufacturer who did crackers things that they don't do now. They used to just do 'daft' synths — The Human League really got its start because they produced the MiniKorg 700S, a synth that we could afford. It was a bizarre synth — it had a setting called 'tuned noise'. We've been trying to get hold of one since Martyn sold it, but unfortunately every time we come across one, Vince Clarke has just bought it!"

    Oakey: "The SEM was, I think, the first Oberheim product, and you sat it next to your MiniMoog and it added the band‑pass, low‑pass and high‑pass filters. You can't make any drum sounds on it because you can't get the filter to resonate. But I like any white synth — like the cream ARP Odyssey and Oberheim 4‑voice!
    Oakey: "This is what Ian Craig‑Marsh used to use for our drums on the first two albums. He used to have it addressing the filter for both bass drum and snare sounds, and adjust the timing with the second row of knobs coming out of channel B and going into the CV to clock. And that was how we did our drums — by ear. Ian had to have an amazingly fine touch just to get the intervals right — and usually he did it, although there was one instance where the difference between the bass and the snare was a movement on the slider and he missed one halfway through 'Marianne'.

"A proper System 100 is the amplifier, sequencer, mid bit and the expander, and there are two speakers that go with it, but of course only one person has got those — Vince Clarke! And I'm sure he doesn't love it like I do."

  • SYSTEM 100M
    Oakey: "There are bits of the system that we've had since it first came out, and as it became more useful during the album I started filling in all the bits. We just bought a couple of pieces a month. Ian (Stanley) also had a system, so we had a really big setup and you could do a lot with it.

"The sequencers are hard to get hold of, along with the parametric equalisers and the phase shifters, which are fantastic. They've got this horrible choking nasal sound that I've never got out of anything else."

    Dodd: "Philip picked this amazing machine up from a local pawn shop for £40. I had it working with the 808, just doing a pattern, and then taking the external outputs from the 808 and using it to trigger this."

Oakey: "The sounds are used all over the album. They're similar to an Oberheim but with a 'twang' and very responsive."

    Martin Rushent and Oakey were amongst the first to buy Synclaviers. Now water‑damaged and hopelessly outdated, the flightcased monster sits redundant in the studio's storage room. Oakey: "It doesn't bear thinking about — it cost £46,000 and would only sample monophonically."

League Equipment


  • Amek Angela 28‑input Console
  • Mitsubishi X‑400 Digital Multitrack
  • Otari MTR 90 2‑Inch Multitrack
  • Otari MTR 12 Mk2 Half‑Inch
  • Ampex A100 8‑track
  • Fostex A80 8‑track
  • Revox B77 quarter‑inch
  • Revox PR99 quarter‑inch
  • Sony TCD‑D3 portable DAT
  • Tascam DA30 DAT
  • Technics SL1200 Mk2 turntables (x2)

Additional desks: Fostex A‑series, Studiomaster 16:8:2 and Trident FlexiMix.


  • Apple Macintosh Quadra 650 32/500CD, IICX 25/250, SE30 10/100 and MacPlus
  • Miro 19‑inch colour monitor, Apple Macintosh 14‑inch colour monitor, portrait display and CD300 CD‑ROM
  • Quantum 1.7Gb HD, Sony 600Mb optical drive, ProDisc 200Mb HD, DMS 40Mb HD, Rodime 40Mb HD
  • Blank Software Alchemy
  • Digidesign AudioMedia II, Samplecell II (x2), Sound Designer II
  • Mark of the Unicorn Digital Performer
  • Opcode Galaxy Universial Librarian
  • Opcode Studio Vision
  • Passport Mastertracks Pro 5
  • Steinberg Cubase Audio


  • Boss DRP I Drum Synth Pad (x3)
  • Boss DRP II (x2)
  • Boss DRP III
  • Boss DRP IV (x2)
  • Linn 9000 (x2) & LM‑1
  • Roland TR727
  • Roland TR808
  • Roland DDR30
  • Roland TR606 Drumatix (x2)
  • Roland Pad 5 Handypad
  • Roland Pad 8 (x2)
  • Roland R8 & R8M
  • Simmons Analogue drums
  • Yamaha DD10 & MR10
  • Pearl SY1 Syncussion


  • Exclusively Analogue Aviator synth
  • Groove Electronics M303+
  • Kawai K5M
  • Korg EX800
  • Oberheim Xpander
  • Oberheim SEM module
  • Roland System 100, comprising model 101 (x2); model 102 (x2); model 103; model 104 sequencers (x3); keyboard 180 (3‑octave); keyboard 181 (4‑octave); and keyboard 184 (Polyphonic 4CV)
  • Roland System 100M, comprising: 110; 112 VCO (x3); 121 VCF (x3); 130 VCA (x3); 131 output mixer; 132 mixer (x2); 140 Dual Envelope Generator/LFO (x3); 150 ring modulator; 165 portamento (x2); 172 phaser (x2); 173 gate; 174 parametric EQ; 182 sequencer (x2); 190 3‑unit powered case (x2); 191 5‑unit powered case (x4)
  • Roland MC202
  • Roland MKS7
  • Roland MKS70
  • Roland SVC350 Vocoder
  • Roland Bass Guitar Synth
  • Roland GM70 Guitar Synth
  • Roland GR33B Bass Controller
  • Roland GR300 and GR700 Guitar Synth Controllers
  • Yamaha EMT10
  • Yamaha TX7
  • Yamaha TX816


  • ARP Axxe
  • ARP Odyssey (white)
  • Casio CZ1
  • Casio CZ101 (x2)
  • Casio VZ1
  • Korg 770
  • Korg Delta
  • Korg Micro‑Preset
  • Korg MS10
  • Moog Minimoog
  • Oberheim 4‑voice
  • Roland JD800
  • Roland Juno 106 (x2)
  • Roland Jupiter 6
  • Roland Jupiter 8
  • Roland JX3P
  • Roland JX8P (x2)
  • Roland SH1000
  • Roland SH3A
  • Roland SH7
  • Roland SH101
  • Yamaha CS15
  • Yamaha CS30
  • Yamaha DX1
  • Yamaha DX5 (x2)
  • Yamaha DX7
  • Yamaha PF10


  • AKG 414 (x2)
  • AKG D12E
  • AKG D20
  • B&K 4011
  • Neumann KM84i (x2)
  • Neumann U87
  • Shure SM57
  • Shure SM58
  • Tandy PZM


  • Akai ME10D MIDI Delay
  • Akai ME15F Dynamics Controller
  • Akai ME20A MIDI Sequencer/Arpeggiator
  • Alesis Enhancer
  • Alesis Micro‑EQ (x2)
  • Alesis Microverb Reverb (x2)
  • Alesis S31Q Graphic (x2)
  • Aphex Aural Exciter
  • Behringer Studio Parametric (x2)
  • BSS DPR‑402 Comp/De‑esser.
  • dbx 120X Boom Box
  • dbx X160 Comp/Limiter (x2)
  • Drawmer DL241 Compressor
  • Eventide H910 Harmonizer (x2)
  • Fostex 4030 Controller & Synchroniser
  • Great British Spring Reverb
  • Kenton Pro 2 Dual Channel MIDI‑CV Converters (x3)
  • Kepex 2 TR804 8 Gates
  • Korg KMS30 Synchroniser
  • Lexicon LXP1 Multi‑Effects
  • Lynx MicroLynx Synchroniser
  • MXR Delay System 2 (x2)
  • Opcode studio 5 LX
  • Quantec Room Simulator
  • Roland A110 MIDI Displays (x2)
  • SMS Jambox 4+
  • Sycologic M14 & M16 MIDI Patching Matrix
  • Urei 1176LN compressor
  • Valley 610 compressor
  • Yamaha MEP4 MIDI Event Processor
  • Yamaha MSS1 Synchroniser
  • Yamaha Q2031A Graphic E
  • Yamaha R1000 Reverb
  • Yamaha REV7 Effects
  • Yamaha SPX90 Effects (x2)


  • Akai S1000
  • Akai S900 (x2)
  • Ensoniq Mirage


  • ARP 1613 sequencer
  • Doepfer MAQ 16/3 MIDI sequencer
  • Roland MC4B (x2)
  • Roland TB303
  • Yamaha QX1
  • Exclusively Analogue 16‑step sequencers (x2)


  • Boss HM2 and Rocker Wah Footpedals
  • Morley Pedal
  • Overlord Tube Distortion
  • Lexicon MRC Programmer
  • Roland PG200 & PG800 Synth Programmer (x2)
  • Sansui PC‑X1 PCM Audio Processor
  • Sony F1 PCM Digital Audio Encoder

The Human League Studio

In 1988, The Human League set up their private HL Studio within a shell unit of Sheffields' AVEC building. The basic design is copied from Martin Rushent's Genetic studio, where the band always felt comfortable recording. The control room is fitted out with an early Amek Angela console and custom JBL main monitors made by Audionics. Tape machines include a Mitsubishi X400 digital multitrack and Otari MTR90 2‑inch. I asked whether the band feel they've benefited from having their own studio. Oakey: "It's got as many disadvantages as it's got advantages. Sometimes it's great to get on an airplane and go to Minneapolis for four months, or, like Depeche Mode, say 'let's go and record one in Berlin'. The only real advantage of this is that it saves you a great deal of money — we thought that it would certainly pay for itself in two albums."

The Worst Thing That Ever Happened To Synthesizers...

Phil Oakey: "One of Ian Craig‑Marsh's comments (our detailed soundman between 1977‑80), was that the worst thing that ever happened to synthesizers was that people put keyboards on them. That was a really clever point, because then people stopped trying to do something different."