2010 saw the 30th anniversary of the release of Heaven 17s seminal synth-pop album, ‘Penthouse & Pavement.’ To celebrate this land-mark, the band took the album on tour for the first time ever, and this DVD brings the live show to your screens. While this release may excite long-standing fans of the Sheffield outfit, there is every chance that the rest of you are thinking, ‘so what?’ The answer lies on the second disc of this two-disc set, courtesy of director James Strong’s feature-length documentary.
If you think that artists taking control of their careers, creating and sustaining their own local scene, innovating while struggling to survive, and encountering music industry influence are new, you should watch this eye-opening film. This frank and candid insight into the creation of the band (as well as the split of previous act, The Human League), their struggles, and eventual rise to stardom against a back-drop of economic struggle and hardship, is inspiring.
As you strip away any immediate preconceptions about the band, it is clear that the story of Heaven 17 shares a common thread with that of so many other artists, regardless of skin color, musical style, or where in the world they are from. It is this common, human element that makes this documentary such compelling viewing for those interested in pop music, or those seeking to make their way in the industry now. Heaven 17s story speaks of a determination to do something different and follow their dreams.
The more things change, the more they stay the same, and, of course, there have been changes. The band recognize these as they take a trip down memory lane, not least of which include the technological advances that have finally allowed the electronic studio-only sounds of Heaven 17′s first album to be heard live, in its entirety, for the first time.
And so, we move onto the feature presentation, courtesy of disc one. The 30th anniversary show is certainly a land-mark for the band, who clearly enjoyed performing it. Equally, Heaven 17 fans will enjoy watching what is, of course, an historic performance. Elsewhere the band present behind the scenes footage of their preparations for the show. However, there is a sense that those who are not aware of Heaven 17s music will be left feeling like outsiders at the party.
Those less interested in such back-stage insights, and more in-tune with the music might be better off checking in once again with Disc Two, which features a ‘Digital Video’ collection. The coupling of their work with digital video takes offers a different perspective on the music, and proves how far ahead of their time Heaven 17 were, as they offer sounds that many modern electronica fans would be at home to.
While Heaven 17 fans will certainly find a great deal from this DVD, it is still worth checking out if you are unaware of their work. This is primarily for the quality of the extra features on disc two, which offers both an engrossing insight into the making of a band, and highlights some of the ground-breaking sounds that Heaven 17 pioneered. Maybe the discs should have been the other way around? Either way, this is worth investigating…