|Stylistic origins||New Romantic, glam rock, disco, Hi-NRG, contemporary R&B, Motown, synthpop|
|Cultural origins||Mid-1990s, United Kingdom.|
|Typical instruments||Drums – Guitar – Bass guitar – Drum Machine – MIDI – Keyboard – Synthesiser|
|Britpop - Indie music|
Romantic Modernism, more commonly known as Romo, was a musical and clubbing movement, of glam/style pop lineage, in the UK circa 1995–1997, centred on the twin homes of Camden-based clubnight Club Skinny and its West End clone Arcadia, as well as concerts by the chief associated bands.
The Romo movement was essentially a derivation of late-1970s disco and early-1980s club music, with an emphasis on the extroverted sartorial style and decadent air of New Romantic-era bands such as Japan and Soft Cell. Nonetheless, contemporary features in Melody Maker (where the genre was championed mainly by Simon Price and Taylor Parkes – it was dismissed by the rival NME) tended to downplay the nostalgic connection with New Romantic, emphasising Romo's newness and contemporary relevance.
Much championed by the aforesaid writers at the Melody Maker as a stylish and poppy backlash against the dressed-down style of the Britpop movement, while variously feted and lambasted by others in the media as a New Romantic revival (a tag rejected by those on the scene) Romo's prime legacy has been chiefly in club culture as it heralded a new generation of glam/style orientated club nights which would continue through the 2000s.
Birth of Romo
Club Skinny was created in Spring 1995 by promoters Kevin Wilde and Paul "HiFi" Nugent as a club playing stylish 1980s pop as an antidote to the fashion for indie-derived Britpop. The club was originally located at Camden's Laurel Tree venue, then the home of top Britpop clubnight Blow Up. Wilde and Nugent regarded it as a subversive and "punk" act to host their glamourous pop night at a major epicentre of the indie/Britpop movement they were opposing. Although initially forced to make the compromise of including concerts by upcoming Britpop bands in order to attract punters, the club gained momentum after members of Persecution Complex, a female David Bowie-influenced band noted for their flamboyant dress sense, became regulars at the club, attracting a flow of further flamboyant club-goers in their wake.
A further development was the recruitment of two glamorous 1980s-styled bands Plastic Fantastic and DexDexTer, the former a Brighton-based Roxy Music/Japan-influenced outfit fronted by former Scorpio Rising/Supercharger frontman Stuart Miller, the latter formerly known as MkII and led by future Placebo keyboardist Paul "Xavior" Roide. The two bands were duly scheduled to double-headline the 17 August edition of Club Skinny. In addition, one of the aspiring Britpop bands who had been playing at the club, Viva, led by Derek 'Del' Gray, were inspired by the club to reinvent themselves as a pure pop/disco outfit in the same vein as ABC circa The Lexicon of Love. Wilde would subsequently become the manager of both Viva and DexDexTer.
Discovery by Simon Price of Melody Maker
Melody Maker writer Simon Price was already alert to the existence of Plastic Fantastic and had previously linked them, together with Sexus, a Manchester-based "intelligent handbag" duo consisting of singer David Savage and keyboard player Paul Southern (together formerly indie guitar duo Sanity Plexus) and a non-glamorous electronic act called Boutique, as "New Romo" [sic] in a June 1995 review for Sexus's debut single Edenites. (His colleague Everett True also heavily used the term Romo for a Plastic Fantastic review that summer) Price was invited to the aforementioned double bill edition of Club Skinny and, with the event judged a success by all concerned, not only began to cover the scene enthusiastically in his writing, converting his colleague Taylor Parkes along the way, but also opened up a second clubnight for the scene in Soho, named Arcadia. This was based at L'Equippe Anglais in Duke Street but later moved to legendary Soho drag bar Madame Jojo's.
Club Skinny meanwhile also relocated to HQ's a venue in Camden Lock Market close to Dingwalls starting with the club's 31 August 1995 edition. A Plastic Fantastic/Viva/DexDexTer triple bill at the venue on 28 September 1995 was reviewed by Parkes in memorable fashion:
|“||There must be 350 people in here at least. Satin, snakeskin, PVC, epaullettes, peroxide, a certain seriousness in the eyes, a certain determination about the lips.||”|
By this time, more acts were emerging from the scene. Orlando who had played live as an indie band in 1993-4 before withdrawing to reinvent themselves as an "alienated" white soul duo consisting of singer Tim Chipping, guitarist/lyricist Dickon Edwards and some sidemen, approached Club Skinny to relaunch themselves as a live act. Punk trio Xerox Girls likewise reinvented themselves as a glacial synth/electro duo Hollywood consisting of singer Hannah Edgren and keyboardist Stacey Leigh, with third member David Gray (Leigh's then-boyfriend) retained as a synth programmer. Gray would later become Orlando's live drummer while Nugent would take over the management of both bands.
Mainstream media attention
The scene began to achieve mainstream media coverage with a feature on Arcadia in Katie Puckrick's Sunday Show featuring live footage of Plastic Fantastic and Sexus (by now a full part of the Romo scene) and interviews with the two aforementioned bands, Xavior from DexDexTer and Simon Price, and queue/crowd/dancefloor footage of Arcadia featuring Wilde, Grey, Chipping, Edwards, Edgren and Leigh. By the end of 1995, media coverage of Romo had included TV coverage on ITV, Sky News and an unspecified Japanese TV news programme, radio coverage on BBC Radio 1 and BBC World Service and print media coverage in Time Out, The Observer, The Guardian, The Sunday Times, as well as colour features in style magazines The Face and i-D. Tabloid newspaper the Daily Star also printed an enthusiastic but largely inaccurate full page article depicting the scene as a straightforward New Romantic revival.
Melody Maker meanwhile continued its enthusiastic coverage, culminating in a cover-featured Romo special defining the scene. The cover image was a group shot of Chipping, Miller, Savage and Xavior clad in their Romo finery, while the feature identified seven core bands – the aforementioned Orlando, Plastic Fantastic, DexDexTer, Sexus, Hollywood, Viva, and linking in one non-scene band Minty, the former musical project of the late Leigh Bowery being continued after his death by his widow Nicola and various artistic friends, most notably singer Mathew Glammore. More significant was the inclusion of a "Romanifesto" by Price and Parkes which ideologically defined Romo as the rejection of authenticity in music in favour of creative artifice, a militant Pop sensibility (which placed Romo in direct opposition to both rockism and the values of alternative music) and the ideal of recreating/reinventing oneself as a glamorous Star-type persona.
Melody Maker cassette and package tour
The 9 March 1996 edition of Melody Maker gave away a compilation cassette of Romo bands entitled "Fiddling While Romo Burns". Five bands featured on the tape – DexDexTer, Hollywood, Plastic Fantastic, Viva (whose track Now was co-produced by Marc Almond and Neal X) and Orlando – Sexus and Minty having by now decided to keep their distance from the scene. Despite Minty's non-involvement in the tape, individual members and collaborators contributed to the continuing flow of fresh Romo acts such as Elizabeth Bunny and Massive Ego, the latter featuring a young Dan Black on guitar. Other newcomers to the scene were Universe (a similar "perfect pop" concept to Viva) and Acacia (an earlier incarnation of which featured future Mercury Music prize winner Talvin Singh.) German pop act Sin With Sebastian also played Arcadia during this time. Romo club culture also continued to develop with the launch by Price and Gray of Saturday night clubnight Paris 6 am at Oscars nightclub in Leicester Square as well as two clubs organised by other parties – The Cell at Gossips in Dean Street promoted by Stewart Ubik and the Roxy Motel Club at The Fridge in Brixton.
The climax of all this activity was a package tour of Romo bands, also entitled "Fiddling While Romo Burns", featuring a quadruple bill of Orlando, Plastic Fantastic, Hollywood and DexDexTer. Although the showcase London concert (also featuring Viva) at the LA2 venue was a 750 capacity sellout and reasonable crowds were also attracted to the Brighton and Manchester shows, other provincial dates on the tour – mostly at student venues that were the fodder of the very indie music that the militantly pop Romo movement opposed – failed to attract large audiences and those that did attend were generally sceptical. More seriously, the strain of having to live, eat and sleep together rather than merely go clubbing together had severely strained relations between the bands. Chipping was relatively diplomatic about this in one interview at the time: "There's a definite reason why we have two tourbuses. It's to do with the fact that some bands just won't tour with each other, not because they dislike each other, they just have different... living styles." Nevertheless, by the end of the tour, all of the seven core acts originally featured in the Melody Maker special had recording contracts with either major or big independent labels – Orlando with WEA subsidiary Blanco y Negro Records, Plastic Fantastic with Mercury Records, Sexus with ZTT, Hollywood with U2's Mother Records label, DexDexTer with Island Records subdivision Trade2, Viva with Planet3 Records and Minty (whose transvestite drummer Trevor Sharpe had filled in as drummer for Plastic Fantastic on the tour) with Candy Records.
'Death' of Romo
After the tour, Price wrote an editorial in Melody Maker declaring the movement dead as it had achieved its aims but was now being soured by the revivalist portrayal in the mainstream media. Despite this, the scene in London continued with more bands emerging such as Anglo-Japanese female quartet Étoile as well as the arrival in Britain of Donovan Leitch's band Nancy Boy. Another late major addition to the scene at around this time was Belvedere Kane, fronted by Romo scene face Barry Stone, later of the Jewels And Stone writing/production partnership. In his review of the latter's gig, Price recanted his "Romo is dead" declaration, dismissing it as a red herring tactic and further adding that the continued spread of Romo was by now beyond even his control. At around this time, a first anniversary party was held for Club Skinny headlined by Crush, the band of former Byker Grove TV stars Donna Air and Jayni Hoi. However, continued tensions in the scene led to the discontinuation of both Skinny and Arcadia in July 1996. Romo activities continued at the individual bands' concerts (although one Plastic Fantastic concert at Dingwalls from this time ended in a mass brawl after a hat was thrown onstage).
The bands mostly concentrated on their recording contracts at this point – in late 1996 Hollywood released a heavily remixed single Apocalypse Kiss while Plastic Fantastic – having previously released the Eno-influenced Fantastique no.5 recorded a planned album Autumn which was never released due to a dispute with Mercury over the mix of planned second single Plastic World. Sexus, who had also released a second single The Official End Of It All and recorded an album The Boyfriend Olympics, similarly fell out with ZTT over the mix of planned third single How Do You Kiss. Personal differences led to the demise of DexDexTer in early '97 just as their single Another Car Another CarCrash was released. Viva meanwhile, despite continuing to demo material never released any records and would later rename themselves Scala 5 and revert to a heavier guitar sound before their demise circa 2000. Stuart Miller dissolved Plastic Fantastic and revived his old band Supercharger, while Hollywood's Hannah Edgren was spotted (by Dickon Edwards) fronting a new band in 1998 – she and Stacey Leigh would later reunite as Fubar. Sexus were frozen into inactivity due to a dispute with management after the fallout with ZTT – they would eventually re-emerge in 2002 as the Psychodelicates with a download/mail order album Psychodelicates Go Adventuring.
Thus by the middle of 1997 it was left to Orlando and Minty to be the most prolific – and in that sense the most successful – Romo bands as they were the only two of the seven core acts to reach the stage of releasing their respective albums. Orlando, having already released two singles Just for a Second and The Magic EP in late 1996 and a third, Nature's Hated in spring 1997, having toured extensively with Kenickie and having scored the only UK chart hit of any core Romo act with their contribution to the Fever Pitch soundtrack EP, a cover of Tim Hardin's How Can We Hang On to a Dream, released their album Passive Soul in October that year before Dickon Edwards departed to found Fosca. Tim Chipping would continue to use the Orlando band name for a planned folk-orientated second album under the working title Sick Folk (to have included a collaboration with Kenickie/Rosita members Marie Du Santiago and Emmy-Kate Montrose), before finally dissolving Orlando in Spring 2000. Minty, likewise, having released singles Useless Man, Plastic Bag (a No. 2 hit in the Netherlands) That's Nice and Nothing, released their parent album Open Wide in late 1997 before also disbanding, with some members later forming rock band The Servant. With all the core bands and major London clubnights now defunct (or at least no longer in their Romo incarnations), the Romo scene effectively came to an end.
In Romo's wake over the next several years came a fresh wave of glam/style orientated clubnights. One of the first of these was Club Kitten, the successor to Club Skinny, based at the latter's old location of HQ's in Camden and featuring Stuart Miller as DJ. Another important post-Romo club has been Stay Beautiful, run by Simon Price at various London locations from 2000–2009. Several other Romo musicians have run glam/style orientated club nights – notably Minty vocalist Mathew Glammore's "Kashpoint" (at a January 2004 installment of which Glammore performed a medley of old Minty songs and a March 2005 installment of which featured a Minty reunion), Xavior's "Hanky Panky Kabaret" clubnight (and associated meetings in London's Wolsey restaurant) and Dickon Edwards' "Beautiful And Damned" and "Against Nature". Wilde and Nugent would later unleash another scene – the Club Rampage/Club P*rnstar "Bratpop" scene in late 1998 (also the beneficiary of a Melody Maker cover special).
Other promoters have also hosted such glam/style-orientated clubnights in the 2000s – most notably Glam-Ou-Rama, which later relocated to Tel Aviv. Romo Night in Sweden, first established in 1996 during the original London scene's lifetime, was still active as of 2003.
Romo has also been frequently cited as a precedent for (if not actually an influence on) the Electroclash scene of the early 2000s. The Disciples by James Mollison, a book of photographs of music fans, includes a spread of photos of fans at a London concert by major Electroclash act Fischerspooner, mostly dressed in Romo-style attire (one of whom is Simon Price).
- "Club Skinny index on This Is Romo". 20 March 2007. Archived from the original on 20 March 2007. Retrieved 28 November 2011.
- "Arcadia index on This Is Romo". 14 March 2007. Archived from the original on 14 March 2007. Retrieved 28 November 2011.
- "Club Skinny story on This Is Romo". 16 March 2007. Archived from the original on 16 March 2007. Retrieved 28 November 2011.
- "Viva Story on This Is Romo (Archived version)". Web.archive.org. 17 March 2007. Retrieved 28 November 2011.
- "Romo Who's Who on This Is Romo (Archived version)". Web.archive.org. 14 March 2007. Retrieved 28 November 2011.
- Singles review: Sexus – Edenites, Single Of The Week No. 1, Simon Price, Melody Maker 24 June 1995 p32
- Romo Copped – Plastic Fantastic Live Review at the Richmond, Brighton, Melody Maker 5 August 1995 p17
- The Plastic Age – live review of Plastic Fantastic/Viva/DexDexTer by Taylor Parkes, Melody Maker. 7 October 1995 p16
- Hollywood feature by Taylor Parkes, Romo special feature, Melody Maker 25 November 1995 page 11
- Romo/Arcadia feature on the Sunday Show hosted by Katie Puckrick, BBC2 late 1995, viewable on Youtube
- The Romo Empire, 1995 The Year In Review, Melody Maker 23/30 December 1995 p56
- Pose Who Dare – Clubs Section, The Face December 1995 p180
- Plastic Passion – i-D December 1995 "The Performance Issue"
- Ridicule is nothing to be scared of – i-D December 1995 "The Performance Issue"
- They're the new romantics and they're DRESSED TO KILT! by Lee Harpin, Daily Star Thursday 26 October 1995 p28
- Orlando feature by Taylor Parkes, Romo special feature, Melody Maker 25 November 1995 page 10
- Plastic Fantastic feature by Everett True, Romo special feature, Melody Maker 25 November 1995 page 12
- DexDexTer feature by Taylor Parkes, Romo special feature, Melody Maker 25 November 1995 page 10
- Sexus feature by Simon Price, Romo special feature, Melody Maker 25 November 1995 page 13
- Viva feature by Taylor Parkes, Romo special feature, Melody Maker 25 November 1995 page 11
- Minty feature by Everett True, Romo special feature, Melody Maker 25 November 1995 page 11
- Romanifesto by Simon Price & Taylor Parkes, Melody Maker 25 November 1995 page 10
- Romo On the Tracks (Romo cassette tracks information), Melody Maker 9 March 1996 p7
- letter signed Minni Matrix, Backlash (letters page) edited by Taylor Parkes, Melody Maker 23 March 1996, p43
- "The Good Sexus Guide" Sexus feature by Taylor Parkes, 24 February 1996 p42-43
- The Big I Am – Massive Ego live review from Club Skinny by Simon Price, Melody Maker 30 March 1996
- Universe live review at Arcadia by Simon Price, Melody Maker 2 March 1996 p25
- Acacia live review by David Hemingway, Melody Maker 28 June 1997 p 37
- Sin With Sebastian/Viva live review by Simon Price Melody Maker 9 March 1996 p 26
- Romo coverage in News section, Melody Maker 9 December 1995 p2
- "Where The People Look Good, Where The Music Is Loud" Romo club guide, Romo special feature, Melody Maker 25 November 1995 page 14
- Let's Get Ready To Romo – live review of Melody Maker "Fiddling While Romo Burns" Romo Tour at the Zap club, Brighton by Everett True, Melody Maker 30 March 1996 p24
- Pop Goes The Revival – live review of Melody Maker "Fiddling While Romo Burns" Romo Tour at the University Of East Anglia, Norwich by Andrew Smith, Sunday Times 10 March 1996 p24
- Interviews with Dickon Edwards & Simon Price, Romo tour coverage, Newsbeat BBC Radio 1, March 1996, as was featured on original of Passive Soul era page on archive of Tim Chipping's 'Ear Medicine' Orlando retrospective site
- "Romo tour feature on The Baggage". Thebaggage.com. Retrieved 28 November 2011.
- Viewpoint by Simon Price, Melody Maker 20 April 1996 p41
- Étoile introductory article by Kristy Barker, Melody Maker 24 June 1996
- Nancy Boy live review at Club Skinny by Simon Price, Melody Maker 13 April 1996 p20
- Belverdere Kane at Club Skinny live review by Simon Price, Melody Maker 3 August 1996
- Melody Maker 9 July 1996 p9
- "Stuart Miller interview on This Is Romo (Archived version)". Web.archive.org. 16 March 2007. Retrieved 28 November 2011.
- Alex McCann. "Psychodelicates interview for Designer Magazine". Designermagazine.tripod.com. Retrieved 28 November 2011.
- "Sexus page on Psychodelicates website". Psychodelicates.com. Retrieved 28 November 2011.
- "The Beginning and The End?" -news report on DexDexTer single & split, Melody Maker 11 January 1997 p3
- "Dickon Edwards's diary – sighting of Hannah Edgren fronting new band in 1998". Dickonedwards.com. Retrieved 28 November 2011.
- "''Sick Folk'' era page on archive of Tim Chipping's 'Ear Medicine' Orlando retrospective site". Web.archive.org. 6 April 2003. Archived from the original on 2003-04-06. Retrieved 28 November 2011.
- "Club Kitten index on This Is Romo (Archived version)". Web.archive.org. 14 March 2007. Retrieved 28 November 2011.
- "Kashpoint website". Kashpoint.com. Retrieved 28 November 2011.
- "Dickon Edwards's diary – Matthew Glammore performs old Minty songs at Kashpoint 2004". Dickonedwards.com. 9 January 2004. Retrieved 28 November 2011.
- Flyer for Minty Reunion concert at Kashpoint on Kashpoint website[dead link]
- "Dickon Edwards's diary – Xavior's Hanky Panky Kabaret 2005 entry". Dickonedwards.com. Retrieved 28 November 2011.
- "Dickon Edwards's diary – Xavior's Hanky Panky Kabaret 2004 entry". Dickonedwards.com. Retrieved 28 November 2011.
- "Dickon Edwards's diary – Beautiful and Damned". Dickonedwards.com. 18 May 2006. Retrieved 28 November 2011.
- "Dickon Edwards's diary – Against Nature". Dickonedwards.com. 27 April 2010. Retrieved 28 November 2011.
- Teenage Rampage (Bratpop special cover feature) Melody Maker 15 August 1998 pages 20–22
- "Glam-ou-rama website". Glam-ou-rama.co.uk. Retrieved 28 November 2011.
- "Archive of Information page in English on Romo Night in Sweden website". Web.archive.org. 23 March 2003. Retrieved 28 November 2011.
- "Archive of News page in English on Romo Night in Sweden website". Web.archive.org. 25 October 2003. Retrieved 28 November 2011.
- Dorian Lynskey (12 June 2002). "article citing Romo as precendent for Electroclash". The Guardian (UK). Retrieved 28 November 2011.
- "... just like RoMo before it – a proto-Electroclash if there ever was one ..." reader's comment on Guardian article on Electroclash
- "New Romantic article indicating subsequent lineage of Romo and Electroclash". Golden-pop.com. Retrieved 28 November 2011.
- 4 hrs ago (20 April 2011). "Review of La Roux album referencing Romo and Electroclash as stages in the same lineage". Uk.launch.yahoo.com. Retrieved 28 November 2011.
- The Disciples by James Mollison (with foreword by Desmond Morris), Chris Boot 2008 – Fischerspooner fans image section
- This Is Romo – Romo tribute/resources site (archived version)
- An article in The Guardian which mentions Orlando
- An appreciation of Melody Maker, with a paragraph on Romo
- (Archive of) Review of Orlando's last gig (white text on blank background)