ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK aims to feature the best in new and classic electronic pop music. It doesn't promote bands or support scenes, it just writes about the music it likes, and occasionally some music it doesn't like...
With informed opinion and trivia, it embraces synthpop, ie pop music that uses synthesizers, while aiming to avoid lazy terms such as analogue, 80s and contemporary. It's like acid house never happened... AND WE'RE PROUD OF IT!
Formed in 2017, MARVA VON THEO are two classically trained musicians Marva Voulgari and Theo Foinidis based in Athens.
Their self-released debut long player ‘Dream Within A Dream’ came out in 2018 and while there was promise in its dark introspective concept, it was not fully realised. Introducing some more uptempo rhythm structures, MARVA VON THEO have taken more time to produce the follow-up album ‘Afterglow’ to express those darker bittersweet feelings that often come after the end of something beautiful, a situation that is wholly relatable with current world events.
‘Afterglow’ is certainly more varied than ‘Dream Within A Dream’, with jazz and experimental dance genres making their presence felt alongside more classic synth sounds for an intelligent musical statement with passionate vocals and considered arrangements.
The four chapter ‘Love’ offers a brooding start but ultimately builds from its moody gothique into a dynamic crescendo over its seven minutes with sparkling arpeggios, gliding synthbass and boisterous live drums. The marvellously frantic ‘Forever’ is an immediate slice of avant pop that recalls ‘River In Me’, the TRENTEMØLLER collaboration with Jenny Vee of SAVAGES, in its determined vocals and punchy beats.
The moodiness returns for ‘Ruins’ which sees Voulgari take on a piercing higher register to counterpoint her usual contralto, while the misty ballad ‘Embrace This Madness’ reflects a feeling that many have had to adopt as a coping mechanism of late.
Awash with shimmering synths, the staccato post-punk of ‘Dissolve’ conjures a sinister chromatic atmosphere that allows space for skippy electro beats, but ‘Older’ is more minimal, with the odd synthetic guitar texture and sub-bass creeping in before Voulgari pours her heart out.
With the human voice eerily harmonised by a vocoder, ‘Room Of Doubt’ is possibly the most unorthodox song on ‘Afterglow’, with trip-hop and jazz elements entering the experimental playroom before a blast of breakbeat from Foinidis!
‘Somewhere Safe’ is almost as unorthodox and smothered in agitation; utilising screaming vocals and a growling synthbass sequence, it provides a dramatic setting for another album highlight.
The weary ‘Bittersweet Sunday’ is another brooding ballad that places Voulgari within a spacious platform to work within. But starkly structured at its start, ‘Forgotten’ adopts several faces to achieve its low-high tonal effect, one of those being operatic soprano!
Ending with the percussive ‘My Moon’, the widescreen cinematics combine well with the emotive histrionics to outline its inherent unsettling torment.
A significant artistic progression from ‘Dream Within A Dream’, ‘Afterglow’ is an ambitious but an intense work to consume. The variation in styles and pace keeps it interesting, so will find favour with those who prefer a more esoteric approach to their electronic pop.
Few, if any musicians on the electronic music scene could claim to be as prolific as the duo of Rhys Fulber and Bill Leeb.
The Canadian-based pair have collaborated as FRONT LINE ASSEMBLY, DELERIUM, INTERMIX and NOISE UNIT and have also brought their musical talents to several other diverse projects over the last 35 years.
Rhys Fulber kindly took time out of his busy PR schedule to talk about the new FRONT LINE ASSEMBLY release ‘Mechanical Soul’ and a selection of some of his high profile side-projects.
How important was the influence of your father on you getting into music?
Hugely important. His record collection alone was a solid foundation for anyone, but then the fact our dining room was a jam space from when I was 5 or so meant there were always instruments set up to mess around with. The keyboard player in the bar band he played with had a Minimoog, so I remember playing with that when I was 7 or so. I also started playing drums maybe even earlier than that.
Who were your earliest musical influences?
KRAFTWERK is number one. My parents took me to a show when I was 5 and I still remember it. After that it’s Pete Shelley’s ‘Homosapien’ album and all the BUZZCOCKS original LPs. Their music really connected with me when I was young and still does today.
What kind of effect did growing up in Canada have on your music?
Vancouver was still very colonial when I grew up so we got more of the British music scene than the US, as well as Canada promoting a lot of their in house bands so we had our own take on things in some ways. Also Vancouver was a world class studio city already in the 80s so there was a culture of that in Vancouver. All the studios we worked in were first rate, and connected to a famous Canadian musician, like Bryan Adams or Paul Dean.
How much have the themes of ‘Mechanical Soul’ been influenced by the situation of the pandemic?
I think maybe lyrically a bit. I was still living in LA when we started the album so we were already used to working remotely, so it wasn’t a big change for us in that way.
What have been your other sources of song material for the album?
I had clips of music from various things and times that we pulled together as the basis. One was meant to be for my solo techno material as well, so it was a bigger variety of starting points that usual. We used to get in a room together and write all the music so this one is different in that way. I had some track ideas and Bill made suggestions to them and then added vocals and lyrics, so in some ways we both focused on our roles more than in the past in a way.
Were there any particular synths or pieces of technology that had an impact on the making of ‘Mechanical Soul’?
Each one had a different key piece. I added that to the liner notes; which was the featured instrument on each. For instance, the main riff of ‘Alone’ was from a borrowed Moog Model 15 reissue that I just recorded jams on for a day and pieced those core elements together from that. The single ‘Unknown’ has a lot of a Roland Alpha Juno 2 synth I think I have only used on maybe two other songs over 20 years or so…
You have two featured songs out of the 157(!) on the recent ‘Cyberpunk 2077’ computer game. What is the story behind ‘Drained’ and ‘Subvert’, were they written specifically for the product?
Yes, they were. I was put in touch with one of the music supervisors as just a general contact, because he had worked for a label FLA had released for in the past and he just asked if I would be interested in submitting some ideas to this new game project. I had submitted a total of 6 or 7 tracks and they chose those two. The song ‘Stifle’ on ‘Mechanical Soul’ was one of the tracks that didn’t make the cut. Bill liked it so we developed it into a Front Line song. Two tracks on my last solo album ‘Ostalgia’ were also from those sessions, and the ‘Cyberpunk 2077’ material spawned the rest of that album as well, as it was done at the same time.
In pre-pandemic times, FRONT LINE ASSEMBLY co-headlined with DIE KRUPPS on the ‘Machinists United Tour’, what are your recollections of those shows?
It was a pretty good tour. Just adding another name band does a lot for the draw it seems, so we had some shows that we hadn’t had in a while in places like Munich for instance.
What means most to you? Recording new material or playing live?
Well, you can’t have live without the studio for this music, so I think the studio means more to me although I really like both.
Sampling has always been at the core of your musical projects, what have been the highs and lows of creating songs using this creation method?
Sampling is just like another form of synthesis to me so it’s hard to extract it as a separate thing now. We didn’t think too much about what we sampled other than if it sounded good. I still think that holds true now, though I have just gotten much more covert with how I do it now. Random and obscure sources, for instance.
‘Voices’, which featured on the INTERMIX album, has always been a favourite. What are your memories of working on this album?
I don’t remember that album too well. I remember the mix room and the gear we used, but it’s not exactly clear. It was a busy time and we made that album fairly quickly as a way to experiment with new ideas without committing them to FLA. So it was like a testing site album.
From the same album, ‘S+M=y’ features a sample from Clive Barker’s seminal horror film ‘Hellraiser’. Was there a specific process with getting the “we’ll tear your soul apart” dialogue cleared, or was this an early case of let’s sample it and hope no-one will notice?
We didn’t think that way then at all. We just sampled whatever. It wasn’t until ‘Millennium’ (1994) that we had to atone for our sins!
In terms of commercial success, the DELERIUM track ‘Silence’ sticks out. The original version still stands up, but how did you feel when the trance versions brought the track to a more mainstream audience?
It was pretty surreal, like you are somehow disconnected to it. But who can complain about a magic moment like that? I think hits have to be accidents, because nothing about that was planned.
You have produced for other artists, notably working on KANGA’s superb eponymously titled album and ‘Automaton’, the upcoming single by AESTHETIC PERFECTION. What do you think makes a good producer?
Someone who can make an artist comfortable and not afraid to try new things and push themselves. It’s usually done with lots of support and being careful with words and constructive criticism.
You have worked with co-collaborator Bill Leeb for over 30+ years now. What do you feel helps to keep that relationship fresh creatively?
It is mainly around a similar taste and we still listen to new things. I think our working relationship is better than ever because there has been so much trust built up.
How influenced are you by current forms of music?
Moderately. I think you can’t have stale beats in electronic music, so it’s good to hear what the current sounds are to keep your sound fresh without jumping too much on one thing. As you get older you realise being yourself is the most important, but buying new shoes and a jacket really helps.
Do you feel that the Industrial format is a bit of a straitjacket? Is this a reason why you have pursued several side projects?
It doesn’t have to be, but I think the audience wants the bands they like to deliver the sound they were drawn to. When you go too far off that they feel betrayed somehow. It’s easier just to have another banner to keep everyone happy.
Your CV of outside artists you have worked from a production / remix perspective with is pretty incredible including MÖTLEY CRÜE and MEGADETH as well as Alice Cooper, Sarah Brightman, Sinéad O’Connor; do you find working with other artists more or less stressful than working on your own material?
It really depends. Both can be very stressful. Working on your own, you can lose perspective which can really slow things down, whereas with a band or something there are more ears in the room.
You have been pretty vocal about the way that streaming sites such as Spotify give musicians a raw deal when it comes to royalties. What musical formats do you tend to generate most of your income from?
It’s hard to answer that because I get income from so many places now after so many years in the business, and sometimes it’s really random; suddenly one song will get used somewhere and you get a blip, so I can’t complain too much.
I just think YouTube and Spotify is devaluing art in many ways and it’s hard to steer away from ‘free’ for a lot of people once the toothpaste is squeezed from the tube. I much prefer the model Bandcamp have come up with, where you get some streaming and the appreciation of tangible product as well.
You are stuck on a desert island, what is the one piece of electronic gear you would have with you and why?
My Waldorf Q+. It literally can do it all, and very well!
ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK gives its warmest thanks to Rhys Fulber
‘Blitzed’ is the forthcoming Sky Arts documentary about The Blitz Club in London.
Directed by Bruce Ashley, it will feature contributions from Boy George, Steve Dagger, Rusty Egan, Gary Kemp and Midge Ure.
That flamboyant scene has been deserving of a credible retrospective for quite some time, having more or less given the world the Midge Ure-fronted ULTRAVOX, VISAGE, SPANDAU BALLET and CULTURE CLUB. So it is quite fitting that the programme premiers around the 40th Anniversary of The Blitz Club’s closure
Rusty Egan was the DJ who provided the backdrop for the colourful clientele to pose and dance to between 1978-1981 and the ‘BLITZED’ soundtrack comprises of new and reworked music produced by him, as well as a selection of rare period pieces. A four track sampler of the forthcoming soundtrack album curated by Egan is released ahead of broadcast and gives a good idea of what’s in store.
Previously issued in 2019, ‘When We Were Young’ pays homage to GINA X PERFROMANCE’s ‘No GDM’ and reimagines it being reworked by Giorgio Moroder.
With a catchy vocodered topline going “It’s 1979-it’s 1980-it’s 1981-it’s 1982… it’s Tuesday night and I’m ready for some fun, oh yeah!”, it delightfully sets the scene for the now well documented story of how the Blitz Kids danced to Bowie, Ferry and the synthesizer!
Boy George guests with Egan on ‘Turn To Dust’, a slice of electro-reggae in the vein of LEFTFIELD with the expected dub screening, although listeners may need time to get used to the cut-up treatments on George O’Dowd’s processed voice; this track certainly has more bite than the “Radio 2 Lovers Rock” of CULTURE CLUB as Phil Oakey of THE HUMAN LEAGUE once put it…
Meanwhile, a new Blitzed Extended Mix of ‘Fade To Grey’ featuring Chris Payne sees a classical rework with piano and violin over approximations of the iconic string synths and drum machine pattern of the 1981 West German No1 single. There are authentic French language voices featuring on this makeover, although the timings of those and Egan’s own baritone could have been much tighter in the mix. While Payne’s exquisite ivory runs cannot be faulted, the extended mix labours and does not have the punch or intrigue of the original 12 inch version that appeared on the first VISAGE singles collection.
Egan’s former protégée Ronny makes an appearance with ‘Blue Cabaret’ as the sampler’s period piece. It’s the 1930 meets the future as recently adapted by Katja von Kassel in her electro Weimer style, but it was the androgynous contralto voiced Parisian who did it first back in the day with songs like ‘To Have & To Have Not’ and ‘Compare Me With The Rest’, the latter produced by Vangelis.
Co-produced by Georg Kajanus of SAILOR and Peter Godwin, ‘Blue Cabaret’ originally surfaced in 1981 on the flip of ‘To Have & Have Not’ and despite being 40 years old, it has aged well as many of the songs that Rusty Egan played at The Blitz Club have.
As has been indicated by the huge 40th Anniversary tours pencilled in by the likes of THE HUMAN LEAGUE, OMD and SIMPLE MINDS (all acts which who were spun regularly at The Blitz Club), these songs that emerged from this European influenced music movement have been proven to possess a timeless quality that has lasted for generations. The comparatively recent Midge Ure ‘1980’ live shows of ULTRAVOX and VISAGE material are indicators of its longevity and box office draw.
It is now time for ‘Blitzed’ to tell the story of how that era was not actually about leg warmers, deely boppers, fluffy dice, yuppies and bloody Pat Sharp but aspirational young people driven to escape, express and create. They may not have realised it at the time but they shaped not just the eighth decade of the 20th Century but popular culture itself.
The ‘Blitzed OST Sampler’ is available now via digital outlets, the soundtrack album is released by Future Music on 19th March 2021
‘Blitzed’ will be broadcast by Sky Arts at 2100 GMT on 13th March 2021
Laura Fares aka LAU is an Argentinian songwriter, drummer and producer, who has been living and working in London for a couple of decades.
Having studied music and musical performance, the talented instrumentalist toured with Ricky Martin as a session drummer, before opening for the likes of Adele and Robyn. As a creative director of Aztec Records, LAU released the music of BRIGHT LIGHT BRIGHT LIGHT and NINA. Indeed her work with NINA on ‘Sleepwalking’ and ‘Synthian’ took them onto several tours with ERASURE, with the duo duetting with Kim Wilde on her brother Ricky’s remix of ‘The Wire’.
Any self-respecting synthwave artist aspires to be associated with the big projects of the scene, and not surprisingly LAU lent her talents on ‘The Rise Of The Synths’ film. Now, having gone solo, she releases her debut long player ‘Believer’.
The ten track opus suggests a step into the world of independence, both personally and musically, hoping to bring the much needed cheer factor during these unprecedented times.
Opener ‘Stunning’ could indeed be stunning with its fast tempo, but it’s somehow lacking the intensity. When one chapter ends, LAU is eager to move on with heartfelt lyrics and a palpable nostalgia, leading onto ‘We Had Magic’, which continues the story of a broken heart. Musically light hearted, the depth of emotions is felt throughout the track, leading onto ‘True’. Accusing the lost lover of never reciprocating her devotion, but playing with fragile emotions, LAU wraps the story in clever rhythms and vintage synthesis.
‘Believer’ hopes for a better tomorrow while ‘The Cards’ charms with a gorgeous melody, longing for the lost soulmate and unrequited love. ‘Recognise’ bursts the feels bubble with a hope for a new chapter and a fresh beginning.
The light-hearted synthy rhythms weave in and out of the drum extravaganza of ‘Always On My Mind’, utilising Fares’ many talents as a drummer, producer and vocalist. She continues the ‘Emotional’ journey with a slower paced airy ballad, gently enveloping her sentimental trip over the lost relationship, being ‘Unable’ to forget the good times and the love she felt.
The closing number ‘What It Takes’ wraps up the wistful expedition into the artist’s mind and emotional state with a plea to get her lover back.
While the expected comparisons with NINA’s recent albums, sitting neatly on the top shelf of the synthwave establishment, will inevitably happen, one can surely say that LAU’s first solo offering is a promising example what the multi-talented artist can achieve.
Although at times lacking the depth, ‘Believer’ is a strong debut, proving that irrevocable love is always a subject worthy of depiction. The capability clearly shines through this one.
Phoenix-based VIOLET CHOIR comprise of Mickey Louise and Jesse Pangburn who met at college while studying jazz.
Previously indie rock combo THE PROWLING KIND and dream popsters MRCH, the output from their previous guises appeared in the soundtracks of ‘The Twilight Zone’, ‘Search Party’, ‘13 Reasons Why’, ‘Shameless’ and’ The Vampire Diaries’.
On ‘Reactions’, their 2017 debut album as MRCH, the duo fully embraced a more electronic sound to the point that it was more or less fully sequenced.
Inspired by the likes of independent artists like COMPUTER MAGIC aka DANZ CM and the synthwave breakthrough, there came a change of style with a change of name. So VIOLET CHOIR was born. Their self-titled EP makes use of a Prophet 08, some Moog via the Matriarch and Minitaur, plus Ableton soft synths simulating DX7 bell sounds. Meanwhile a live kit and drum machines sit in tandem alongside occasional electric guitar and bass.
Moody and percussive without resorting to synthwave clichés, ‘Don’t Come Around’ recalls the feel of KLEERUP’s ‘Nothing Left To Die For’ with Jenny Wilson. Nurtured on jazz and rock, Mickey Louise’s voice comes over rich and airy over an appealing electronic pop song that doesn’t sound as long as its five and a half minutes length might suggest.
Although adopting more of a post-punk template with live bass and guitar, ‘Tonight’ still has plenty of synths to add texture including a surprising jazzier twirl and a particularly piercing but melodic sound reminiscent of the sparkly feminine new wave vibe of PARALLELS or CHROMATICS.
Meanwhile, the chunky fuzz and deeper treated vocal counterpoints on ‘Dream About It’ offer a slightly gothic dimension to a slice of precision disco lento, with its dynamic highs and lows projecting in the manner of THE GOLDEN FILTER.
Maintaining that “life is strange”, the sombre root note bass and strident keyboard arpeggio patterns make ‘Friend Song’ the most archetypical synthwave styled offering on the EP, with the breezily wispy vocals contributing to an enjoyable chorus uplift.
The electroclash-derived ‘Kids On Sunset’ adopts a dominant bass triplet for a galloping rhythmic sway that becomes more addictive as it approaches the dancefloor. The presence of the coy feline allure of COMPUTER MAGIC with her track ‘Fuzz’ in particular and the much missed Texan duo ELEVEN:ELEVEN are strong.
This debut EP is not your run-of-the-mill synthwave-by-numbers and by bringing their experience from other genres, VIOLET CHOIR have largely avoided the usual musical catchphrases that can haunt modern electronic pop. What stands out are the songs and the musicality. Time will see Mickey Louise and Jesse Pangburn fully realise the promise on show here.