Thomas Dolby Regales LA Audience with Synth Songs and Stories


Thomas Dolby is no scientist but he continues to take a scientific approach to music.

After all, the famous synth musician has worked with the best tech minds, he’s collaborated with top artists, and the ringtone on your phone was most likely written by him.

He doesn’t see himself as a 1980s icon, either, despite being the darling of MTV for those quirky lab-coat videos. And if you’re wondering what happened to him since those days, don’t worry. He’s been doing just fine, courting Silicon Valley and striking deals that most of the musicians in the world can only dream about.

Livestream for Roland, New ‘Hyperactive’ Collection

Dolby put on an extremely engaging night of storytelling and music at the Largo last night in advance of a busy weekend in Los Angeles.

Today he will livestream a concert for sponsor Roland, and Friday and Saturday he supports Blondie during ’80s Weekend at the Microsoft Theatre.

The British-born Dolby made the move long ago from Los Angeles to the San Francisco area, in case you missed the last 30 years, he reminded the audience. He’s been a music professor at Johns Hopkins, he wrote his memoir and is releasing a collection of his music. See his website for more info.

Thomas Dolby: A reluctant ’80s icon – Photo courtesy of Roland

But Dolby does not consider himself to be an ’80s icon just because of one song. Yes it’s a great song that few people don’t know: “She Blinded Me With Science.”

For most people that’s just about the only Dolby song people know, but he has done much more and has contributed to music and our culture in ways that can compare to the likes of David Bowie or Todd Rundgren.

Always interested in tech, in 1993, Dolby established the Headspace company, which developed a new downloadable file format designed for Internet usage. After the dot-com bomb hit years later, he took the opportunity to strike a deal to supply polyphonic ring tones to Nokia.

Dolby —  now a bit older and wiser than when he went with the flow of the ’80s mad scientist image he conveyed on MTV — showed clips of himself from the old days while regaling a packed house with great stories of how many of his songs came to be.

Thomas Dolby And His Friends

For instance the professor in the video for “She Blinded Me with Science,” is a real scientist named Dr. Magnus Pyke, who in actor lingo, wanted to “know his motivation” for saying those famous words. Scientist Pyke took a few takes to get the tone of his explanations just right in Dolby’s studio.

Dolby also told the audience about the times when he worked with various stars, including bizarre encounters with Michael Jackson, one of which ended with a red-leather clad brother Randy Jackson driving him home.

A cute moment during the night was when he selected a 9-year-old fan from the audience to select some songs for him to play. His methodology for playing selections was not scientific: He asked people to pick ping pong balls with song names enscribed.

Thomas Dolby
Thomas Dolby – Photo courtesy of Mike’s Gig TV

‘My Brain is Like a Sieve’ with Jason Mraz

One of her ping pong ball picks, “My Brain is Like a Sieve,” was a special treat. Dolby said there was a time with Jason Mraz after a TED talk he conducted — yes, he worked with TED talks for 10 years he said — where Mraz and he had an opportunity to sing karaoke. Dolby videoed Mraz. He presented a duet with Mraz on screen and Dolby at the electronic keys singing along.

The audience was genuinely into Dolby’s storytelling with many people in attendance not having seen the creative genius since the early 2000s.  The audience was a blend of fans of electronic music and dance mixes as many of Dolby songs achieved success because of their appeal on the dance floor.

Dolby releases his 2-CD greatest hits collection Hyperactive, tomorrow as part of BMG’s Masters Collection series.

Dolby gives a livestream concert today courtesy of Roland. He plays ’80s Weekend at the Microsoft Theatre on Friday and Saturday.

Video courtesy of Mikes Gig TV: