1982, Paris, Île-de-France, France
Thierry Müller (guitar, synthesizer, electronics), Philippe Doray, Ruth Ellyeri
It’s the early ‘80s, and Thierry Müller, a graphic artist and krautrock fan from Paris, has decided to put his experimental rock group Ilitch on hold and make something, as he puts it, “that people could dance to”. The result is Ruth, a conceptual project that exists for just one album, 1985’s Polaroïd/Roman/Photo. Seven tracks long, it is a remarkable piece of experimental but danceable new-wave, and nowhere more remarkable than the title track – an icy-cold cut of flickering synthesiser, taut guitar and jagged saxophone featuring disconsolate boy-girl vocals and the mechanical click-spool sound of a Polaroid camera.
Polaroïd/Roman/Photo is not a success. History has it that the record sells in the region of 50 copies, and before long, Müller’s interest has strayed elsewhere – his next project, recorded 1985, is an EP called Pile ou Face, recorded under the name Crash in homage to the JG Ballard novel of the same name.
But this is not the end for Ruth. By the year 2000, the track ‘Polaroïd/Roman/Photo’ has been rediscovered and is being recirculated by an international underground of collectors and music fans entranced by the early groups of France’s la vague froid – the movement that became known internationally as ‘cold wave’. Original copies of ‘Polaroïd/Roman/Photo’ are suddenly shifting on eBay for £300. The track reappears on compilations like 2004’s So Young And So Cold, a collection of obscure French post-punk compiled by Ivan Smagghe and Marc Collin of Nouvelle Vague. And a burgeoning culture of music blogs dig up what information there is on the project, which turns out to be precious little: a few details about Müller, whose diverse musical projects over the years make for a pretty tangled discography; Müller’s co-writer Philippe Doray, also an experimental musician of cult repute; and the group’s mysterious female vocalist Ruth Ellyeri, of which little information can be found.
It turns out there is a reason for this. Ruth Ellyeri does not, did never, exist. Cut out the letters, jumble them up and it becomes clear: Ruth Ellyeri is Thierry Muller. He was his own muse.
“Ruth was not really a person,” laughs Thierry Müller. “She was part of my schizophrenic personality. It was part of the concept of the record – this was to be a record for girls, not a record for men. Most of the songs are ‘relationship’ stories, which is an endless theme. But in this album, it is the girls that have the best roles – they are impertinent, impudent, insolent, brazen, funny, lovable… and loving.”
The track ‘Polaroïd/Roman/Photo’ got a recent airing on Angular Recording Company’s fine compilation of gloomy ‘80s synth sounds, Cold Waves And Minimal Electronics Vol 1, earlier this year. Now, to mark its 25th anniversary, Angular have primed the full album for rerelease on deluxe, limited edition scarlet vinyl with a 12-page book of lyrics and photos and downloadable bonus tracks. These days, Müller lives in Paris and continues to record experimental music under his Ilitch pseudonym. He is clearly amused that the music of Ruth has been rediscovered after all this time, and while his English is not excellent, he is pleased to relieve the life and times of Ruth with The Quietus.