Not too many bands rocked nothing but synthesizers in Chicago in the 80s—off the top of my head, I can only think of VCSR, maybe early Ministry, and Scarlet Architect. The group’s history began when Doug Chamberlin moved from Michigan to Chicago in 1977 and fell in love with the local punk scene, hitting clubs such as Le Mere Vipere and O’Banion’s. In summer 1980, Chamberlin’s old Michigan pal Ron Rutherford moved in with him, bringing his bandmates from an outfit called Cinema, Tim Prettyman and Gordon Sharpe. The four of them became the new-wave band Distracted (Prettyman played bass, and Sharpe drummed), which played at Gaspars and Deni’s Den, among other venues.
After Chamberlin and Rutherford saw Kraftwerk, their interest in synth music took over, and in 1981 they let Sharpe go, switching to all synthesizers—thus Scarlet Architect was born. Postpunk engineer extraordinaire Iain Burgess recorded the trio at Hedden West Recording Studios, and the sessions resulted in Scarlet Architect’s self-titled 1982 EP, original copies of which now change hands for at least a hundo. Scarlet Architect called it quits in 1983, but in their short lifespan they opened for the likes of Ministry, Gang of Four, and Snakefinger.
Though Rutherford now lives in Seattle and Prettyman splits his time between Michigan and France, last year Scarlet Architect played their first shows since breaking up: a reunion tour of Europe, where their song “Rose Grey” had been a bona fide hit in the early 80s. All three shows in Zurich and Antwerp sold out, audiences sang along, and the band even did some television appearances.
Scarlet Architect also sold a ton of their 2015 import release, the archival collection Eternal Return (released by German label Genetic Music), and met young artists excited to collaborate with them—including Martin Akeret of Popshop, who’s been remixing SA material. After this triumphant trip (they were able to bring all their wives along too!), the trio decided a Chicago reunion show had to happen. Somehow the planets aligned so that all three members would be in Chicago in April, and voila, they booked a date on Saturday, April 9, at Cobra Lounge—Scarlet Architect’s first local show in 33 years!
At the concert the band will sell Eternal Return, which is hard to find in the States. Of course they’ll play all their “hits,” as well as vintage material they never finished back in the day. They’ll also perform three new songs that they wrote and performed on tour—Chamberlin says he’s happy that fans responded positively to the 2015 material as well. This may be the only time Scarlet Architect can play in the U.S. for some time (if not ever), so be sure to catch them while you can. Fans of 80s New Order and the Cure won’t be disappointed.
Below you can hear a couple Scarlet Architect tunes. “Falls Away” appeared on the 1982 EP and was remastered for Eternal Return.