ACT’s Snobbery & Decay — new edition in depth

Snobbery & Decay, the first single by ACT is also the first single in a new series of digital reissues from Zang Tumb Tuum to celebrate the label’s 40th anniversary.

Quite possibly the last great single in the ‘Raiders of The Lost Ark, box office-ethic pop era’ (as Tony Wilson described it) of the Eighties, Snobbery & Decay is an anti-‘Me Decade’ duet between Thomas Leer and Claudia Brucken, with the strings of David Bedford playing an equally chilling part. It’s an ultra-production job by Steve Lipson and the final single in phase one of ZTT.

The original Showtime 12″

If it had been released one year earlier, it’s easy to imagine this record at No. 1. It’s as powerful a statement, sonically and socially, as Two Tribes. If it had been released one year later, it wouldn’t have scraped the Top 100 as it would have been so out of touch with the dance zeitgeist.

Being released when it was, on 04 May 1987, it either fell down in that gap between those two chapters of classic pop, or sat at the pinnacle of the mountain – with the two eras’ valleys either side – depending on how you look at it.

ZTDS40.01 is the catalogue number, and this new edition is the first of a pair of Act releases planned for each of their four singles. The first of each of the pairs are scheduled as part of Zang Tumb Tuum Forty, with the second of each pair to follow at a later date.

Once they’re all online they’ll replace the two existing Act releases that have been on digital platforms for the last couple of decades: Anthology and (just because I had the parts to hand at the time) Snobbery & Decay Compacted.

There were many, many 12″ remixes of Snobbery & Decay and the Showtime edition starts off with what I consider to be by far the best, the Stephanie Beacham Extended version. The dialogue from Claudia, the two extended endings, it’s all here. And it’s all in the spirit of the extended Eighties, as opposed to experimenting with the dance Eighties, which was the basis for most of the other remixes of this track. (Another reason why it rose so far to the top of the very first volume of The Art of the 12″, coming straight after remixes by the holy ZTT trinity of Frankie, Art of Noise and Propaganda.)

The rest of the set is in two parts, the original Showtime 12″ and the original Cabaret Cassette. The three tracks from the singlette are on digital platforms for the first time and have been transferred especially for this release from the original master tape (Reel H22, recorded on 15 April 1987 to be precise). Which might seem an outrageous thing to do considering the cassette 12″ mix (which I’ve tagged as That’s Cabaret!) is only slightly different to the vinyl 12″ mix (originally tagged as That’s Entertainment!), but I had to be sure – once and for all – that we were basing tracks and mixes on exactly what was recorded and filed at the time – as opposed to what has been noted and Discogs-ised in the years that have followed.

That’s Entertainment! and That’s Cabaret! are indeed very similar – the first part being a breakdown of the rhythm track with all manner of samples over the top. The second part is the seven version. On cassette, it keeps the 7″s orchestral intro intact while on vinyl it removed David Bedford’s strings and went straight into the synth build up.

It’s my guess that the cassette version was created first, before someone had the idea that removing the strings would help keep the pace across nine minutes and stop it having a sudden lull. So, the final mix was used for the Showtime 12″, and the earlier attempt ended up on the Cabaret Cassette, either by accident or design.

Sometimes a digital compendium can get a little repetitious in the quest to include all relevant mixes, and you have to draw a line somewhere between completist tendencies and making a release listenable. And the line drawn for this one is to not include the 7″ mix of Snobbery & Decay in its own right. But if you want to hear it, that easy. Just play the That’s Cabaret! mix from the 05:56 point onwards. That’s the 7″ version right there, and taken from a master tape transfer (as opposed to an unverified source that was used for the ComBined compilation in 2011).

The Snobbery… Cabaret Cassette

You could say that it’s a little repetitious to include (Theme From) Snobbery & Decay as one track and an early fade edit of the same piece as another. But with something as perfectly Zang Tumb Tumb as Theme From it was just too hard to resist, and besides it then becomes really easy to play the previously cassette-only Cabaret sequence digitally all in one go.

Poison and Strong Poison is another story, but it’s rooted in the exact same crossover period conundrum as Snobbery & Decay. With the added complexity of mix names; sometimes being correct on the original editions, sometimes not. Not through mistakes, but because the creative process was progressing faster than the production process of releasing the actual records themselves.

With this first Definition Series edition of Snobbery & Decay, the titles are correct and clear and fit the spirit of the times. Even if, back in the day, if you bought the 7″ edition in France – pictured above – the A-side was titled (but didn’t actually play) Theme From Snobbery & Decay.

Next: the even more complicated, even more on-a-knife-edge story of Poison.

Ian Peel


Add Yours

Have found ACT only recently – though a Propaganda fan when they first emerged. It is a nicely logical progression, especially compared to 1234.
So heard a couple of tracks and immediately bought the anthology.
What will be the extension beyond that of these releases?
And more to the point is there going to be a site outlining these releases (what tracks are on this? What are the auxiliary releases outside ZTT 40.

Leave a Reply