Film: Yello – Electro Pop Made in Switzerland (2005)

June 2, 2015 | By


Yello_doc_2005Film: Excellent

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Synopsis:   Brisk, highly informative documentary on the iconic Euro synth-pop team of Dieter Meier and Boris Blank, the duo behind Yello.

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Anka Schmid’s documentary is filled with unexpected revelations of the main duo that makes up the iconic Euro synth-pop band Yello, best known for the bass-pounding “Oh Yeah” that was heavily featured in John Hughes’ teen comedy Ferris Bueller’s Day Off (1986).

Yello was formed when indie experimental filmmaker / anarchic industrial musician Dieter Meier met Boris Blank, an absolute wizard at the controls of any electronic instrument and mixing board, and Blank’s collaborator Carlos Perón. Since Perón’s departure from Yello in 1985 for solo endeavors, Blank and Meier have maintained their ongoing partnership largely because they’re a perfect fit, and best friends who feed off the other’s unique skills.

Independently wealthy Meier characterizes himself as a dilettante whose pre-Yello years  as an artist blossomed because he worked within a unique vacuum that completely isolated him from labels, producers, agents, and other critics who could’ve imposed more commercial concepts on his work.

Beginning as an experimental filmmaker and performance artist, Meier eventually moved into music, where he thrived in Switzerland’s music scene, whereas Blank kept building his arsenal of instruments by buying more gear with every paycheck, eventually becoming a one-man composer, musician, producer, engineer, and one can argue, theoretician.

As Blank recalls, even as a child, when walking to school he’d clap his hands to note how the echo would travel along the walls of an alley to understand the way sound is created, channeled, and could be manipulated. He requires no manuals – Blank just uses instinct to feel his way through new gear – but the end result of Yello’s efforts were songs that sounded like nothing else on the market during the 1980s.

Yello’s music is highly eccentric – looped / loopy English lyrics predating sampled vocals, backbeats and elaborate yet danceable rhythms, brass emulations – but the way Meier describes the sound, it’s electronic music made human through accessible forms and a sense of humour. The pair characterize themselves as two boys that never grew up who sometimes do idiotic things. What’s composed is readily identifiable as Yello, but it’s all proved quite influential over the decades as samples of their vocals and instrumental passages have appeared in other works.

Schmid’s doc is very personable – the pair open up in their working environments which, during their peak development period, included the use family members in videos – but what’s remarkable is how timing and smart decisions aided the band in their success and longevity.

Meier describes Yello’s music as material written for unmade films which he’d later shoot in 16mm; this quirk to make experimental movies in tandem with music allowed the band to gain recognition when MTV debuted years later, a new cable channel deeply in need of music videos.

When movies and TV commercials started to use their music, Blank was involved in shaping the pieces to suit other needs, hence custom versions of work, such as early music drafts in the action-comedy The Adventures of Ford Fairlane (1990).

As their fan base grew, the pair remained content in Switzerland, composing / recording / mastering music and making short films within a large warehouse, although Meier would ultimately have satellite homes throughout the world, whereas Blank enjoys consistency, privacy, and isolation. Meier is the camera-friendly front man, but Blank is an equal participant in filmed and live performances.

Perhaps the band’s most surprising decision came when they discovered how much and how often their work was being sampled. Rather than reciprocate with lawsuits, they launched a project where artists could come to their studio and access the master tracks from classic works and remix them as they pleased – a move undoubtedly coming from a band quite financially stabile, but perhaps more from a curiosity to see what could be created by another generation of keen artists.

Even if one regards Yello’s music as eccentric, quirky, and a distinct slice of Euro electro-dance-pop, the ingenuity of Meier and Blank is amazing, and in many ways they live the dream lifestyle and career in which art is created without the fear of bankruptcy or critical lambasting. It’s just two guys having fun with their inner child for more than 30 years.

Schmid’s doc also includes several interviews with former colleagues, associates, and collaborators, and there’s a meaty segment on their work with Shirley Bassey. The film work with Hollywood is given a quick mere mention at the end, but this is a highly entertaining, informative, and witty hour-long doc originally produced for Swiss TV.

Although unavailable on home video, a German-dubbed version is accessible via YouTube.



© 2015 Mark R. Hasan



External References:
Editor’s Blog  — Composer Filmography – IMDB Composer Filmographies: Yello / Blank / Meier
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Category: Blu-ray / DVD Film Review

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