Recording studio

The council house that hid a very special recording studio

From the street, coachbuilder Ken Patten’s house looked like any other council house.

This little council house in Sheffield, England is the subject of the documentary A film about the Electrophonic Studio – which aims to capture the legacy of Ken Patten.

The studio was active in the 1970s and 1980s when Sheffield had a rich tradition of electronic music, producing bands such as Human League, ABC, Cabaret Voltaire and Pulp.

Patten built the studio himself using his RAF training to make DIY recording equipment.

Ken Patten
Photo: Michelle Umbleby

Filmmaker and Sheffield native James Leesely said Sunday morning he had no idea that the small but influential studio was in the area of ​​town where he grew up.

“I used to drive past this house, it’s just a semi-detached house and obviously from the outside you can’t really tell at all and it’s at the back, it’s an extension that he had built, Ken Patten, to house his studio and all his reels of tape and all that equipment.

“So I used to walk past, unbeknownst to me or any of my friends that this was once where some of Sheffield’s most iconic bands recorded their music and their oldest hardware.

Patten worked days as a panel beater and worked nights at his studio, Leesley says.

“When he came back, he must have gone into the studio and created these really space-age sounds at that time before the first delays and the first sci-fi type sketches. But he was in the RAF which was a key point that we found out because he had all kinds of microphonic and technological experience through radios and microphones a lot of military equipment actually pioneered the studio world, music studio world.

Patten used this knowledge to make the equipment he needed, he says.

“Back then, in the early 70s, you couldn’t just go on the internet, of course, and buy something on the other side of the world or share ideas. It was really like a laboratory in which he could work.

Patten encouraged young bands from Sheffield to come and experiment and record, very cheaply for around £15 a session, says Leesley.

Electrophonic Studio, Sheffield.

Photo: Screenshot

The Human League recorded there and a young Jarvis Cocker with his band Pulp, he says.

“It was the tape they made with Ken Patten at the Electrophonic Studio, they got into some sort of conversation that (BBC DJ) John Peel was doing and kind of caught up with him outside and handed him this tape.

“I think Jarvis was only 16 or 17 and John Peel listened to this on his way down to London and then brought Pulp to do a John Peel session, which was quite significant. Obviously, at that time, they could break a lot of bands.

But it’s the lesser-known bands that have recorded with Patten that have intrigued the most, he says.

“It was really enticing and we were drawn to the lesser-known outfits, the ones that were on the same level at the time, but for some reason didn’t quite break into the glamorous celebrity genre. which many of these others have done.

Patten never got to see the success that some of his young proteges enjoyed, Leesley says.

“He wasn’t really interested in glamor and bright lights. He just wanted the real creation and put these young people on the track.

Members of successful bands were very keen to participate in the film, he says.

“They would bring old photographs, even like their notebooks from when they were trying to design logos and things like that, they were really, really generous with their resources that supported the story.

“And we had a lot of people telling us that he was really caring and kind to his times, and just wanted the best for the young people of that era, especially artistically.

“I think he could see that England at that time, in the late 70s, early 80s, was a pretty tough place to live and that these young people had all these really brilliant ideas, but they don’t didn’t know how to channel them.

“So I think he felt he was the tutor, he was really, really modest about it all, didn’t want any kind of fanfare or anything like that and we felt it was our duty to putting that in a document or making a movie to celebrate his life because he probably wouldn’t have wanted that kind of attention.