In the dark times, will there also be singing? Yes, there will also be singing, about the dark times. – Bertolt Brecht (1939)
It is almost forty years since TWICE A MAN first took to the London stage. Sweden’s godfathers of electronic music first played a show at Heaven—on a bill organised by the legendary Final Solution—in the winter of 1981.
The fall of 2020 finds them with a new album, ‘On the Other Side of the Mirror’, expressing concern about the state of our planet. And it really is in a state. The view from their northern shore is an unhappy one, full of decay.
It wasn’t that long ago that TWICE A MAN were writing that ‘Everything Is Possible,’ but that gave way to ‘A Time of Terror.’ Now they sing about ‘A Rain of Shame.’ Their hopes for the world have diminished, even if their instincts for melody and atmosphere have not.
The band is currently a trio, composed of Dan Söderqvist, Karl Gasleben and Jocke Söderqvist. Their catalogue includes twenty-one studio albums, many of which are regularly cited as influences by other Scandinavian artists. Starting with 1982’s ‘Music for Girls’, TWICE A MAN have cut a distinctive path, combining its members’ progressive rock and new wave roots with modern tools and sounds.
‘On the Other Side of the Mirror’ invades the alternative dancefloor with epic chords (‘A Rain of Shame’) and strident beats (‘Naked’). It sweeps the bodies aside with thundering rhythms (‘Modern World’) and magnificent swells (‘Breath’). The Viking spirit is impressed into the tracks, as if overseen by Odin’s birds.
The Electricity Club linked up remotely with TWICE A MAN at their homes in Sweden to discuss the new album, their plans, and the prospects for political change.
How did the album come together? Was there a definite theme or sound that you were aiming for?
Jocke: The basic tracks were created at the same time that we were working on ‘Cocoon’. We started to make songs in other ways that were not fit for that album. We took a break, but Karl cannot do that. So, he made a lot of the basic tracks, and he had some basic lyrics, too. Normally, we all come in with things as a start, and we have a discussion how to do this next album or what direction we are going to go.
Dan: We didn’t want to make ‘Presence 2’. We wanted to do something that was different from Presence. There were a number of possible frameworks for what the album should be about.
We were talking about other influences. Like, we talked about the things from the 70s—bands like early GENESIS. We talked about the movement of surrealism. We talked about a lot of different themes that come into this picture. We called it ‘On the Other Side of the Mirror’, but it’s also mirroring ourselves when we made things in the 80s.
Was the album recorded with a view to the dystopian world we are living in now? Did the changes led by Covid-19 have any impact?
Dan: We recorded it in 2019, so before the Covid-19 situation. We were thinking about the kind of society that we are living in today.
Jocke: In a way, we were living in a situation where a change was bound to come, whether it was climate change or horrific wars or whatever. Covid-19 was a surprise, but it was not a surprise that something was going to happen.
Dan: You can see this on ‘Presence’, as well, of course. Trump and Boris Johnson were not around when we made that. Perhaps it doesn’t matter who is the President of the United States, but it is starting to be even more right-wing. The oligarchs are more openly running the show in England and in the United States—and here, in Sweden, too. The people have no one to speak for them; and, if they come—someone like Corbyn in England or Bernie Sanders in the US —then they are taken out.
Songs like ‘High in the Clouds’ sounded the alarm on the risks of environmental catastrophe. People have been unable to use their cars or fly in the normal way for many months. Do you think that the lessons from that will be learned?
Jocke: I’m very afraid that that the main thing on the agenda now is to get the wheels rolling again. I’m not sure, but everything needs to be up again, like usual. Then you sort of skip the climate for a while, because it is more important to get everything back to normal again. Maybe not flying but getting all the factories and so on back to where it was.
Karl: I think the only thing that maybe we change is that video conferencing is a more common way of meeting than it used to be; people don’t fly to every meeting. In the future, maybe that’s the only thing we can get out of this as a positive thing.
Disinformation and conspiracy theories are working to dumb down society in general. Do you think the rich and powerful are taking advantage of this, applying the theory of divide and rule? And do you think this is our ‘Modern World’?
Dan: Yes, that is one angle of that song, but it is very difficult to know what the truth is. It has become more and more difficult to know what who you can trust. You don’t have enough time to really perform research on everything that is happening. We have this for the virus—how to handle it? Should I wear the mask? It’s not possible to decide in every case who is right and who is wrong. I tend not to believe in anyone.
The new songs from ‘On the Other Side of the Mirror’ are fewer but longer, compared to ‘Presence’. They generally exceed radio play times. Is that a statement in itself?
Karl: They just became the length that they needed to be.
Jocke: I think also that, when we were making these songs, we weren’t really sure that it was going to be an album. We were searching, but we weren’t really sure. Maybe that let us have more freedom to let the songs be what whatever they wanted to be. Maybe that’s why they were longer.
The material doesn’t shy away from the dancefloor. The single version of ‘Naked’ comes with a number of remixes. Were you aiming for a danceable style over the ambience of ‘Cocoon’?
Dan: No, it is more in the area of ‘Presence’ and our 80s albums. If you take ‘Modern World,’ the end of it is like a flow, and that has a lot to do with our ambient stuff. It’s a little more aggressive in the sound, but it’s got this mantra feeling.
Karl: Because some of the songs we did parallel while working on ‘Cocoon’, we have a kind of injection of that style.
Karin My provides background vocals. What does Karin bring to the songs for you?
Dan: We have been working with Karin My for ten years now, on and off. We know her well by now and besides that she is a wonderful person, she has a voice that works very well with mine.
Jocke: Her voice—a female voice—there is a reserved space for it in our music. It really adds something.
Dan: Karin brought us together with Daniel Kaufeldt, who is now the producer for both Karin´s own work and for TWICE A MAN´s ‘Presence’ and ‘The Other Side of the Mirror’.
Karl: He is like a fourth member of the band, too, because in the mixing he put a lot of his own instruments in. It’s a good collaboration with him now.
How would you sum up the feeling of the album? Is there hope for change after everything that has happened?
Karl: Within the lyrics, the perspective is of the little man looking at the society from his chambers. You know, we can be the silence in the voice. That’s why it can be depressing—because I don’t think we leave any doors open to a bright future. It’s one for reflecting.
The Electricity Club gives its sincerest thanks to TWICE A MAN
At the age of 19, Hideki Matsutake was taken on as an apprentice by Japanese synth maestro Tomita, thus beginning his relationship with the huge modular synthesizers of Dr Robert Moog.
This formative experience with Tomita proved a vital stepping stone, leading to a musical collaboration with Ryuichi Sakamoto and the creation of his own music unit LOGIC SYSTEM.
The link-up saw Matsutake eventually integrated into the iconic YELLOW MAGIC ORCHESTRA as an ‘unofficial’ fourth member both in the studio and live with Sakamoto, Haruomi Hosono and Yukihiro Takahashi, working on the self-titled debut, ‘Solid State Survivor’, ‘×∞Multiplies’, ‘BGM’ and ‘Technodelic’.
In parallel, LOGIC SYSTEM released the acclaimed albums ‘Logic, ‘Venus’ and ‘Orient Express’ while also giving technical assistance to artists such as Masami Tsuchiya from IPPU DO and SANDII & THE SUNSETZ, both of whom were involved in the final concert tour of JAPAN as live guitarist and support band respectively.
With a new LOGIC SYSTEM album ‘Technasma’ being released in September 2020, The Electricity Club is proud to present an interview with a pioneering electronic musician who rarely gives interviews to the English music press.
In the interview, Hideki-san discusses in fascinating detail his electronic music journey from the challenges of importing the first Moog modulars into Japan through to the creation of his new LOGIC SYSTEM work using a mixture of both vintage and current synthesizer equipment.
Why was Wendy Carlos’ ‘Switched on Bach’ album so important for you in becoming interested in synthesizers?
Not sure if it was important as such, but it was certainly the first time I heard the sound of synthesizer on a record. I didn’t even know what the word “synthesizer” meant. I was intrigued by the jacket when I saw ‘Switched On Bach’ in a record shop.
It had a picture of a person dressed as Bach and behind him, or I should say ‘her’ or ‘them’, was this machine with lots of knobs. Next year, I began working for (Isao) Tomita-sensei and soon discovered that he was planning to import that curious-looking machine – synthesizer – in six months. I cannot tell you how excited I was!
What do you think convinced Tomita to take you on as an assistant when you were still quite young and inexperienced?
My father was a professional sax player. He was managed by an agency called Horipro. Tomita-sensei’s brother was also working at the same agency. Tomita-sensei was about to set up his own agency around that time and his brother was going to help him. They were looking for assistants and I got introduced through my father. It was one of those happy accidents.
Legend has it that Tomita had a REALLY difficult time importing his Moog IIIp into Japan, can you explain a bit about this process and how hard it was convincing customs at the airport to release it once it had arrived in the country?
First of all, it was the time when the exchange rate was fixed – 360 yen to one US dollar, which is more than 3 times the value of today (one US dollar is about 110 yen today). Plus, instead of 10% consumption tax we have today, we had excise tax for luxury items which was very, very high. To make matters more complicated, there were no trade companies that dealt with expensive items like this in those days.
Photo by Kohei Matsuda
Tomita-sensei could have gone to the US, bought the Moog IIIp and brought it back himself. But that meant he would have had to fill in millions of documents for the custom.
He tried to find an easy and inexpensive solution. He even contacted a trading firm in Hong Kong to no avail. Finally, he found a Japanese company called Aska Trading which agreed to import the Moog IIIp. In fact, I also purchased my Moog IIIc through them.
Anyhow, I believe, apart from some universities, Tomita-sensei was the first person to import this kind of electronic instrument to Japan privately. Custom officers couldn’t tell what this machine was. Tomita-sensei told them it was a musical instrument, but they didn’t believe him! What made things more complicated was these knobs on the Moog – this is a true story – these knobs are exactly the same as the knobs used on the strategic bombers when they drop bombs! I swear it’s true! *laughs*
I guess that made those custom officers even more suspicious and consequently, his brand new Moog was detained at Haneda International Airport for over a week, maybe ten days. Tomita-sensei got so p*ssed off. He told them “Look, it’s a musical instrument. Why would it come with a piano-like keyboard, otherwise?”. They were still not convinced. Tomita-sensei contacted Dr Moog and asked him to send some photos of Moog IIIp with musicians actually playing it! Dr Moog sent him photos with the likes of Stevie Wonder playing Moog in the studio. Finally, that did the trick!
How did Tomita and yourself go about learning to use the Moog IIIp?
Photo by Kohei Matsuda
We both had to learn pretty much by ourselves. That said, there was this section called the Electronic Music Room at NHK, Japan’s national broadcaster. EMR created legendary sounds such as the electronic bells used for the opening ceremony at Tokyo Olympic Games in 1964. There was an engineer with a degree in electronics there called Professor Shiotani. He was a good friend of Tomita-sensei. So I think he learnt the basics of electronic music from him.
If you could name the most important thing that you learned from working with Tomita, what would it be?
One thing Tomita-sensei told me was, in order to create sounds on synthesizer, one needs to have a clear blueprint and palette of sounds in one’s head. Arrangements are like painting. The thing about synthesizer is it is, by nature, neutral. There’s no high or low or bright or dark when you begin creating sounds. You have to design everything. It took me a while to appreciate what he told me. It makes perfect sense now. Other than that, I had to learn pretty much everything by myself.
You got hold of your own Moog IIIc in 1972, the system was insanely expensive at the time (30 million-40 million yen?), what was the situation with the luxury tax that was placed on certain items back then?
Good God, no! It wasn’t like 30 million-40 million yen! The Moog IIIc cost about 6-7000 US dollars at the time. I added some extras so it was closer to the expensive end of the scale.
So, that worked out to be about 2.5 million yen. But the luxury tax was about 200%!!! So, after commission and shipping fee, it ended up approximately 10 million yen.
How did your Moog IIIc modular system come to be named ‘Tansu’?
When you look at my Moog IIIc, on every corner of the wooden cabinets, you will find metal corner protectors attached. I was touring a lot back in the days. And every time we placed Moog IIIc back in the flight case, it got hit and gradually the corners got alarmingly damaged.
One day, I attached these metal corner protectors which are typically used on a traditional Japanese cabinet or “Tansu”. It must have been around 1983 or 84, I took it to the recording studio.
Someone, a session musician, asked me why I attached these protectors. I said to him to protect it. He then told me it made it look like a Tansu! *laughs*
I thought that was a cool name. I had always thought the name Moog IIIc is a bit of a mouthful to us Japanese. That’s why I began calling it ‘Tansu’.
You first came together with Ryuichi Sakamoto on ‘Thousand Knives’ in 1978, how did you work together to produce such an ambitious sound that would shape much of YMO’s early sound?
Sakamoto had a clear concept from the beginning which was to combine Asian melodies with complex Jazzy chords with lots of tension notes. Many people cover ‘Thousand Knives’ but most of them simplify chords. The original was harmonically much more complex. I believe he already had this idea when he was still a student at the Tokyo Art University. The musical complexity of ‘Thousand Knives’ led to his nickname “Kyoju (professor)”.
He wanted to produce an album with the sound of synthesizer and asked someone “who has a Moog III in Japan?”. The person told him he knew only two, Isao Tomita and Hideki Matsutake. That’s how I got to work on this album with him.
How did you discover the Roland MC8 MicroComposer and at the time, did you think a machine like this could totally change the way music would be made in the future?
I was astonished when I first heard about it! I’m not really an accomplished keyboard player so I felt I had no choice but to get it regardless of its price tag. I was still surprised when I did find out how much it cost!
But I bought it anyway, it cost 1.2 million yen! Yet, you could only programme up to 4,000 notes. I said 4,000 notes but they mean more like parameters. And each note required 3 parameters. So, in practical terms, you could only programme up to 1333 notes which really didn’t last long. It only had 2MB memory. I decided to add 8MB of extra memory and that cost another 200,000 yen! In other words, in order to have 8,000 plus notes at my disposal, I needed to cough up 1.4 million yen! *laughs*
But seriously, yes, I was convinced it would totally change the way music would be made in the future. Firstly, it was capable of playing parts human musicians couldn’t physically play. Secondly, you only have to programme to make the whole instrumentation play staccato or do the rit. It really made you feel like a conductor!
Did you need a good mathematical brain to use the Roland MC8 MicroComposer? What amount of time would it take to program a track like ‘Behind The Mask’ for example?
I don’t think you need a good mathematical brain as such. Maybe some rudimentary arithmetic helps – addition, subtraction, multiplication and division. You need to be able to work these out quickly. Plus, touch-typing skills are vital. Remember, you need to enter three parameters to programme a single note so you’ve got to be quick yet accurate. I practiced a lot.
The programming of ‘Behind The Mask’ did not take that long. What I did with the ‘arpeggio’ part was that I first programmed the part in 8th note and recorded it. And then overdubbed the same notes but delayed them by 8th note. Obviously it is quicker to programme 8th notes than 16th notes. Plus the song has no break which made the programming less complicated.
You enter one erroneous parameter and you screw up the rest of the part so you have to be very accurate. You do need to have an understanding of music in a mathematical way. It got a lot easier when the MC4 came out.
Today, you can just click to get your work from a hard drive but the Roland MC8 MicroComposer used a cassette dump; did this cause anxiety in the studio and live?
I had a stress-related stomach ache everyday! That’s why I can drink like a fish today! *laughs*
Seriously, I honestly prayed and prayed. You just could not predict what would go wrong. Luckily, the MC8 only stopped twice during the live performance. When that happens, everyone in the band knew there was nothing I or anyone could do, so the rest of the musicians went ahead and played without the sequenced parts.
There’s a live double album by YMO consisting of live recordings in Europe on one disc and the same performance in the US on the other disc. If you listen to ‘Behind The Mask’, you can hear the sequenced part on the European recording, but it’s absent on the American version. What happened was this: when I pressed ‘play’, something went wrong with the tempo setting and played the entire part in about five seconds! It made this fantastic abstract noise and the audience went wild! They thought it was way cool.
Anyhow, seeing there was no way I could restore the data on the fly, I sent Akiko Yano, who was playing keyboards during that tour, the sign saying there’s nothing I can do. She went ahead and began playing the opening keyboard riff. I never told any music journalists this story before. The noise was edited out on the final record but I would love to listen to it! Wouldn’t you?
What did you think when you were with YMO performing at the Greek Theatre in Los Angeles and you saw people dancing so happily… or maybe you didn’t as you had your back to the audience because you were operating your Moog IIIc?
I suppose the American audiences were fascinated by the combination of electronic disco beat with the oriental melodies, ‘Tong Poo’, for instance. On top of that, Kazumi Watanabe played electric guitar solos. People probably couldn’t figure out whether it was Fusion – I don’t think the term ‘Techno’ was coined at that time – or what. I think that je ne sais quoi aspect excited people.
When the MC8 was replaced by the MC4, did you help Roland with the development? What improvements happened to make it easier to use?
No. I had nothing to do with the development of the MC4. I’ve had some degree of partnerships with many musical instruments manufacturers. I exercise what I call omnidirectional diplomacy with these manufacturers. I treat them equally. I do not wish to endorse any of them or their products. I treat them and help them equally and prefer not to be tied to one company. I just don’t like having to belong to one organisation. That’s why I’m not interested in any endorsement… unless they pay me half a billion yen a year! *laughs*
Jokes aside, I guess where it boils down to is that I want to be free. That said, I have helped some manufacturers develop certain products, but they were not the MC4 or MC8. However, the engineer from Roland did ask me about MC8 – what the problem was, why it was difficult to use, what improvements I would suggest and so on. They addressed and rectified the issues I suggested with the MC4.
One of the later YMO albums you worked on was ‘BGM’ which also has the first recorded use of the Roland TR808 Rhythm Composer. At the same time, the Linn LM-1 Drum Computer had arrived as well. Were you surprised when this analogue 808 machine became such a legendary technology?
The mere fact that TR808s are now really expensive in the second-hand market speaks volumes about the machine.
In the first place, electronic instruments going up in price as an old second-hand item was simply unheard of! I can understand why guitars or violins go up in value, but the components of electronic devices inevitably deteriorate with time which means they don’t sound like they actually did in 1980. In that sense, it is perhaps more sensible to just sample the sounds of these vintage electronic gear.
That being said, there is no question about the TR 808 being a masterpiece. It is also one of the last of great analogue drum machines. the TR909 was also a great drum machine but the sounds were partly sampled and not entirely analogue. I’ve used the TR808 a lot on LOGIC SYSTEM’s new album ‘Technasma’. You need to listen to it to find out where and how I used it!
So, was I surprised? Well, it’s more of a sense of elation rather than surprise. I am really pleased to see the new generation of musicians appreciating the true value of this great vintage machine.
How did your music for ‘The Infinite Space Octave’ become ‘Loom’ on ‘BGM’?
‘The Infinite Space Octave’ was originally produced for a TV commercial but never materialised. I tried really hard to produce it on the Moog IIIc but soon I realised I needed more gear to create the infinite space octave. One thing I did discover was that human ears mostly hear around 2,000Hz and not much else.
The infinite space octave begins in the extremely low frequency and ends in the extremely high frequency, both of which are not audible to a human ear. If you generate this drone-like rising sound one after another and you get this effect that resembles MC Escher’s drawings – a note or notes that keep rising forever. That’s the trick behind ‘The Infinite Space Octave’.
Anyhow, I was working on it at the Sony studio in Roppongi. One day, someone from Sony dropped by and heard what I was doing and thought it was really interesting. That’s how I ended up making the record ‘The Infinite Space Octave’. It took about a week to record. And during the recording, Haruomi Hosono came to the studio to see what the devil I was up to. That was when he was about to form YMO. ‘BGM’ came out a few years later, but Hosono must have remembered that recording. He asked me to reproduce the same sound for ‘Loom’.
‘BGM’ was made on a 3M 32 track digital recorder but Hosono-san did not like the sharp sound quality produced, what is your opinion about early digital recording methods?
I have no strong opinion on it. I still think the analogue sound is superior. Digital audio sounds like somebody has put make-up on the original sound to me. But I feel, ultimately, it’s a question of preference.
Of course, the sound of the digital recorder was so clean and I thought it was fine at the time. I just don’t think that was the sound texture Hosono was after for that particular album. During the mastering of my new album ‘Technasma’, I felt some tracks needed the analogue touch. So, we applied an Abbey Road VST to emulate the analogue recording. They sound superb.
When we used the 3M digital recorder, I wasn’t sure whether I preferred it or not. Today, I can confidently say I like the analogue sound for its greater range and natural tape compression.
You were involved in the first five YMO albums, which are your favourite tracks where you made a key contribution and why?
That’s a difficult question… ‘Firecracker’ is a memorable track only because it was a technically difficult recording. As far as the recording goes, the ‘Technodelic’ and ‘BGM’ albums mean a lot to me and somehow I contributed more to those albums.
In fact, my favourite track would have to be ‘Cue’. I think it represents the aesthetics of YMO. Love the bassline on that track – simple yet complex. The vocal track is very cool, too. Totally original.
You were often called “the fourth member of YELLOW MAGIC ORCHESTRA”, did you feel very much part of the family in the studio and on tour?
The thing was they were the artists. I was the techie guy. I was merely a support member, certainly not one of the main members. Still, they are all good friends of mine, even to this day.
Most Western electronic music fans know you best for your unit LOGIC SYSTEM which debuted with two very contrasting albums in 1981. Did you have a specific plan for the project?
Kind of. Prior to the actual production of the second album ‘Venus’, my music publisher, Fuji Pacific, found out how well my first album ‘Logic’ was doing in Europe. They said to me “Look, you should put out the follow-up album as soon as possible! Have you any ideas for the next album?” – I said to them, well I would like to make a less “technoie” record.
After that, I think it was the producer from Fuji Pacific, who told me the concept of my next album should be “Human vs Machine” which I thought was cool. They also told me I could hand pick any musicians I wanted to work with. I said “Seriously? Are you sure?”*laughs*
I thought of the American musicians I worked with on Akiko Yano’s ‘To Ki Me Ki’ which was recorded in New York in 1978. Also, I’d always wanted to work with Michael Boddicker – he was already a famous programmer and his name was on almost all the records I liked at that time. I wanted live musicians to play instruments and I would take care of all the programming parts.
Save for some chords which I played on keyboard, the first album was entirely programmed. I wanted something different, a bit of rock, a bit of contemporary music. Roger Powell, for instance, comes from a classical background. He is an amazing pianist. Roger’s synth solos on ‘Venus’ were absolutely awesome. So, to answer your question, no, I didn’t have a specific plan as such. I just wanted to try something different.
I wanted each LOGIC SYSTEM’s album to tell a story. Different stories. I thought making a mere sequel to the first album would result in a commercial and artistic failure. That’s why even those jackets look very different. I still love the album jacket of ‘Venus’ – the girl releasing some mysterious beam from her mouth! *laughs*
‘Domino Dance’ is probably the best known LOGIC SYSTEM track, how was this piece written?
How was it written? That’s actually quite a bizarre track, when you think about it. The bass line, for example. Perhaps it sounded original because it was so bizarre. The track was written by Ryo Kawakami. He is better known as an arranger. When he and I began working on the first album, we wanted to try something different. We wanted to create a melodic and relaxing album with a good sense of humour.
Actually, Kenji Omura played guitar on that track. But we treated it so much it doesn’t sound like guitar at all! The synth sound in the intro was inspired by the arcade game ‘Pac Man’. Also, if you listen carefully, you can hear the sound of dominoes falling at the end.
‘Venus’ was a very different sounding album to ‘Logic’, were you at all worried about how well it would be received?
I wasn’t thinking about that all that much, to be honest. All I was thinking was the concept as I told you before, “Human vs Machine” – get virtuosos to play fantastic phrases and I would attempt to out-perform them by programming phrases no human can physically play. When I think about it, it was an amazing album.
Vinnie Colaiuta who played drums, played with bands like WEATHER REPORT. Whilst Nathan East is now one of the most famous bassists in Japan, if not the world. I didn’t know who Nathan was at the time, but he was such a nice guy. He would come up with a new bass line and then ask me “what do you think, Matsutake?”
Jerry Hey, again, is a highly regarded trumpet player. He played on many J-Pop records. He played on some of Tetsuya Komuro’s tracks. I may have been the first Japanese musician to work with him. What was amazing about Jerry was that he would play both riffs or pre-written phrases and solos in one take. This is inconceivable in Japan. You would record on two separate tracks. Yet, his performance was always impeccable. Truly impressive. So, all these amazing musicians’ performances inspired me to work harder and come up with better programming and arrangement.
Don Grusin was also cool. He brought his synth, I think it was an Oberheim OB8, to the studio by himself with no assistant. I offered to help him but he said it was okay. Given his stature, I thought it was amazing. Although he was very popular already, he remained humble. I learnt a lot from these musicians.
There was the Toshiba LMD-649, an early sampler which YMO used on ‘Technodelic’, did you use it on ‘Venus’?
We used the Linn LM-1. I don’t recall using Toshiba LMD-649 on ‘Venus’. If my memory serves right, it came out around the time we finished recording that album. So, we couldn’t have used the Toshiba sampler on ‘Venus’.
In many respects ‘Venus’ is a very influential album; in 1981 that mix of electronics and live musicians was ahead of its time. Listening back, one can hear the sound of acts such as DAFT PUNK (‘Take A Chance’) and AIR (‘I Love You’). Looking back, what are your feelings about the album now?
In many respects, ‘Venus’ was the most unusual album I have ever released as LOGIC SYSTEM. The jacket design, for a kick-off. Looking back, I think I wanted to try experimental stuff in many music genres. Since it was recorded in LA, I had a limited studio time. We mixed the album there.
It was the first and the only time I had my record mixed overseas! Record labels don’t have that kind of budget these days. If I said to them “I want my album recorded and mixed overseas” today, I’d be shown the door! *laughs*
Anyhow, it was a great experience. I’ve got a lot of fantastic memories from that session. I worked extremely hard on computer programming, possibly the hardest in my entire career. I spent a lot of time working on it. I think the highlight of the whole recording was when I worked with Roger Powell.
It was so much fun. Roger has an extensive knowledge on synthesizer, possibly more knowledgeable than I. I really wanted him to create drum sounds on synths which he did, and I was so impressed. I learnt a lot from him. Michael Boddicker brought a massive stack of synths with his gigantic truck. The studio looked like a music store. But he ended up using just 2 or 3 of them! *laughs*
To me, that somewhat symbolized the LA music scene. Michael was also a super nice guy. I miss them both. I would love to meet Roger and Michael again. I met Don Grusin again in 2016. He was at the Musical Instruments Fair Japan 2016. We hadn’t seen each other for a very long time, but he remembered me. It was a lovely reunion.
In comparison with your work between 1978-1981, much of the UK electronic music scene was very simple and ’monophonic’ sounding. How closely did you watch British synthesizer acts and did you have any favourite bands at the time?
I liked THE HUMAN LEAGUE. I bought a lot of British electronic records. I wanted to listen to the latest records as soon as possible.
So I used to buy them from the import shop which was expensive! I also listened to the likes of NEW MUSIK which was recommended by Yukihiro Takahashi. Whenever Yukihiro or Ryuichi told me such and such albums had really cool synth sounds, I would go and get those records. But they weren’t just British, lots of European acts as well.
LOGIC SYSTEM supported TANGERINE DREAM in Hong Kong in 2017, are you a fan of this legendary band and how was this experience?
I’m a huge fan of TANGERINE DREAM. I’ve got all their albums. None of the original members are there anymore, as you know. They now have a Japanese member called Hoshiko Yamane. They were supposed to come to Japan to play in July or August this year. Hoshiko-san sent me the invite through Facebook messenger. But, of course, it was cancelled.
TANGERINE DREAM played Moog and EMS live back in the days. I would have loved to see them then. They also did the music for the film ‘Sorcerer’ in 1977. I loved the soundtrack of that film. I used to listen to it repeatedly.
‘Orient Express’ saw you explore European music traditions, how were you inspired by this train journey? Did you ride on it or was it your imagination?
I had the title ‘Orient Express’ first. I’ve never taken the Orient Express. The only express train I’ve ever taken in Europe was a TGV, but it’s not quite the Orient Express is it? Anyhow, I’ve always loved trains and train journeys. I read the biography of Georges Nagelmackers who was the founder of the Orient Express. He talks about how difficult the business was. War affected his international railway business a great deal. Railways connect countries and thereby bring peace, ideally, at least.
This is a true story – Georges Nagelmackers’s ultimate dream was to extend the Orient Express as far as Tokyo! I often imagine that, had he succeeded, perhaps the war could have been avoided. So, after reading his biography, I wanted to express these ideas through music.
There are also so many beautiful places in Europe. I thought it would be great to create tracks inspired by these places. I explained the concept to several composers and asked them to write tunes. That’s how that album was made. The most memorable tune would have to be the last track, ‘Georges Nagelmackers’ written by Masaaki Ohmura. I still find it deeply moving.
On the ‘Orient Express’ album, you did a cover version of ‘Simoon’ from YMO’s first album, why did you choose this?
For some reason, that tune always reminded me of the desert. Istanbul, the final destination of the Orient Express, is in Turkey which is kind of close to Arabian Desert. So, I thought “yeah, why not?” – I also thought the melody fitted the mood of the album. Plus, I wanted a female singer to sing on this album. I got Harumi Ozora, who is sadly no longer with us, to sing this tune.
There is a new LOGIC SYSTEM album ‘Technasma’ being released at the end of August, what can listeners expect from it?
Actually, the original concept of this album was to make the sequel to the first LOGIC SYSTEM album. So, inevitably, it is sequenced sound-based. It consists of 50% analogue synths and 50% digital synths. It’s very different from ‘Venus’, for example.
That said, there are some human elements, too. I played trumpet and Mioko Yamaguchi played piano. Mioko was the main collaborator. The thing about her is that she is first and foremost a songwriter. This was her first experience to compose for an instrumental album.
I told her what I wanted and gave her some advice on composing instrumental pieces. We began working on it from November last year. The Covid-19 scare began around February. We both felt it was some kind of invasion from outer space. Virus is invisible and so is music.
We decided to fight the corona virus with our music. I feel the sequence programme reflects the sense of apprehension in the air. It sounds as though the genuine, honest sound of analogue synths is fighting the sampled sounds, the invaders. The tension between those sounds, analogue vs digital, if you like, became the key concept of this album.
The title ‘Technasma’ is intriguing, it’s a little-known word, but has an interesting meaning. Can you explain the background behind the choice of this title?
It’s a Greek word meaning ‘trick’. Synthesizers are full of these tricks. That doesn’t mean to cheat people or anything. It’s more like musical magic, as in Yellow ‘Magic’ Orchestra. I wanted a title that represented that magic.
My manager and I were talking about the word ‘trick’. We didn’t use the word ‘trick’ so we were looking up the word ‘trick’ in various languages. When we found this word ‘technasma’, we knew that was it! Also, it sounds like a compound word of ‘technique’ and ‘inazuma’ which means ‘lightning’ in Japanese.
‘Technasma’ has a fantastic equipment list associated with it, from your Moog IIIc through to the lowly Stylophone. If you could pick a piece of gear that helped define the sound of the album, what would it be?
It would have to be the Sequential Pro 3. In my opinion, it is the greatest analogue synth in recent years. It is a truly marvellous piece of equipment.
One of the highlights on ‘Technasma’ is a rework of ‘Closing’ from Philip Glass’ iconic minimalist album ‘Glassworks’. What made you choose this piece to cover, was a kind of homage to Tomita-sensei by reworking a classical piece in a more electronic way?
This track was arranged by Akio Dobashi, an ex-keyboardist from a J-Pop band called REBECCA. His original arrangement was fabulous, quite dancey.
I just changed a few things and made it sound more classical. I’ve always loved Philip Glass and his polyrhythmic minimal music and wanted to cover one day. So, what made me choose this piece to cover? Well, because I happen to love that tune *laughs*
As for the homage to Tomita-sense, actually no. That was not in my mind at all.
‘Revive’ is a beautifully melodic hybrid of Jean-Michel-Jarre style synth pads, piano and techno drums. What exactly were you trying to ‘revive’ with this piece?
I think music requires two themes. In the case of ‘Revive’, it begins with a simple melody on piano. It’s so simple anyone can play it. But it doesn’t go anywhere to resolve. It resolves in the middle part where the strings kick in. So, a composition needs two things; the main theme or the statement and the resolution. That is the element of LOGIC SYSTEM’s music. I suppose I’m trying to ‘revive’ this traditional format.
Another thing about that track is the sound of piano. If you listen to piano carefully on your headphones, you will notice there are many layers. You can hear some distorted sounds in the distance, for instance. That’s the trick or, if you like, the ‘technasma’ *laughs*
A number of tracks on ‘Technasma’ like ‘Crisis’ are composed by Mioko Yamaguchi. How did you work together with the arrangements as on ‘Mondrian’s Square’, where there are whistling and swirling synth lines that one could imagine being sung?
Those sounds are my idea. In fact, that’s my homage to Tomita-sensei. I almost imitated what he had done. The whistling sound represents our desire to be happy, yearning for joy amidst the invasion by you-know-what.
I’ve never revealed this before – there’s a little noise during the break towards the end of the track. That ‘noise’ is actually someone’s snore! I honestly believe snoring represents peace. You cannot afford to snore unless there’s peace. In the battlefield, you’ll be killed as soon as you start snoring. You breathe because you are alive or even revive. The album is full of ‘tricks’ like that.
It has taken many years, but Japanese music now has a much higher profile in the UK, why do you think genres such as Vocaloid have had a surge in popularity over here now?
I think there’s a lot of craft put into Japanese music production, meticulous attention to detail. It’s never simple. Maybe people in the UK are beginning to appreciate that. Japanese songs usually take the traditional four-part oriental poetry structure – introduction, development, twist and conclusion. So, even if you don’t understand the lyrics, you can still appreciate the sense of story there. Our sense of melodic aesthetics are slightly different from the UK. The closest European music would be Italian Canzone. But it’s not the same.
As the Covid-19 situation has put live music in so much doubt at the moment, are there any plans for you to do any more LOGIC SYSTEM live concerts and if not, what is the future for this unit?
I would love to play live, of course! There’s absolutely nothing like live music. Electronic music, especially the lower frequency, needs to be experienced live.
That said, I’m also interested in performing a live streaming session. Synthesizers are ideal for that, I think. I am hoping to organize an online music event. Hope you can come see me there!
LOGIC SYSTEM ‘Technasma’ uses the following equipment:
Moog IIIc, MiniMoog Voyager, Moog Mother 32, Moog GrandMother, Moog DFAM (Drummer From Another Mother), Emu Vintage Keys, Emu Orbit, Emu Planet Phatt, Emu Carnaval, Emu Morpheus, Sequential Circuits Prophet 5, Sequential Pro 3, ARP Odyssey, Clavia Nord Lead, Arturia V Collection 7, SpectraSonics Omnisphere, Yamaha Montage, Yamaha FS1R, Yamaha MU2000, Roland Fantom, Roland Jupiter-Xm, Roland TR808, Roland TR8, Roland VP770, Roland SC-88 Pro, Dubreq Stylophone
The Electricity Club gives its warmest thanks to Hideki Matsutake
Special thanks to Toshihiro Arai for his valued assistance and co-ordination
The first solo album from Gareth Jones is set for release in September.
He is perhaps best known as the producer of DEPECHE MODE’s first albums with Alan Wilder – ‘Construction Time Again’, ‘Some Great Reward’, and ‘Black Celebration’.
Jones first made his name as an electronic music pioneer on John Foxx’s groundbreaking album ‘Metamatic’.
It was John Foxx who recommended Jones to Mute’s Daniel Miller, starting a creative relationship that shaped many of the towering recordings from FAD GADGET, WIRE, ERASURE and DIAMANDA GALÁS. Other acts who have benefited from Jones’ deft studio work include EINSTÜRZENDE NEUBAUTEN, GUS GUS, TUXEDOMOON, GRIZZLY BEAR, INTERPOL, MESH, APPARAT and THE HOUSE OF LOVE.
For many years, Jones has worked to inspire young artists and studio techs through the Red Bull Academy and online videos. He has also chosen projects with the aim to help new artists get a foothold, in preference to more commercially advantageous work.
What has been less visible is the humble Jones’ own music. As one half of SUNROOF, he has created covers and remixes of Krautrock classics together with Miller. With Nick Hook, he has created three SPIRITUAL FRIENDSHIP albums and has another in the pipeline. He has also discreetly issued a number of experimental works over the years, ranging from spoken word pieces to ambient electronics.
‘ELECTROGENETIC‘, Jones’ first album under his own name, comes after his milestone 65th birthday, and it is a highly personal set of compositions.
Built on modular patches, it is also an accomplished melding of humanity and electronics; an organic interface between Mensch and Maschine. The cover features Jones’ father’s wedding ring and an Ankh; symbols of connectedness and life.
The notes prepared by Jones on his microsite for the album explain the spiritual inspirations for certain tracks, which include the passing of his mother-in-law and his own mother. In them, he describes the album as a form of requiem and credo. He seems to have taken to heart the line from Revelations 13:14: “And I heard a voice from heaven saying unto me, Write…”
The music speaks for itself, however. Infused with modular sequences that are almost danceable, it is not pop. There are traces of THROBBING GRISTLE and hints of TEST DEPARTMENT, but it is not industrial. There are fusions of found sound and electronics that are reminiscent of The Orb, but it is not ambient house. Best listened to as a piece with different movements, ‘ELECTROGENETIC’ has the internal coherence to make up for its defiance of genres.
The album opens at ‘The Beginning’ with a reading from the book of Genesis. Initially sketched on an iPad, Jones developed the track in visits to a Methodist chapel near his studio.
‘Trinity’, which follows, borrows found sound from a choral practice in a Cambridge chapel. It also incorporates instruments from Jones’ childhood – an approach that develops in ‘Mercury’ with the addition of ocarina, recorder and tin whistle, supplemented by piano and a Roland JX-3P. The piano is actually a virtual instrument, played in Kontakt, using Joan-na, a sample bank that Jones made from his childhood piano and named after his late mother.
‘Michigan’ is built on a drone and incorporates vocal samples from WOVOKA GENTLE’s Immie Mason making a reference to his wife’s home state. It was in Detroit that Jones also developed ‘Safe Travels’, another of the stand-out tracks on the album.
The microsite created by Jones to accompany the album offers a set of virtual Post-It notes, leading to handwritten sleeve notes for each track and a link to sample packs. Visitors can download selected samples and import them into their own projects – the DNA of ‘ELECTROGENETIC‘ can live on beyond the album itself.
To find out more, The Electricity Club met Jones virtually in his studio, theArtLab, in the heart of London’s Strongroom complex.
How have you been coping with Covid-19?
I’m an urban cyclist, so I’m pretty comfortable travelling about, you know. I don’t like the Tube too much.
I’ve been very creative, though. In our home, I set up a Studio B in my back bedroom with a laptop, headphones, and a few little synths and things.
But I did loads of amazing work—it was quite astonishing to me that it turned out to be so productive. I’m lucky, in that I had food delivered every day—and I count my blessings, brother, for sure—but it was, strangely, musically a very productive time.
The album marks the passing of people close to you and touches on a number of deep themes – family, spirituality, connectedness. What led you in these directions?
At this stage of my life, I guess these are like major, major events that happened in my life. If there’s a theme, I guess that’s just my voice, my personality, my approach to electronics, and my approach to making music.
I’m not choosing a theme consciously; I’m just walking my path. This is what’s happening. I made a small commitment to myself, in 2019, that I would like to finish a solo project, inspired by all the collaborative work that I’ve done, which I very much enjoyed – you know, with Nick Hook in SPIRITUAL FRIENDSHIP and Chris Bono in NOUS ALPHA – and with all the remix work I’ve done. I just felt it was time for me to dig deep and do a solo project, and that was my personal contract with myself in 2019.
It came off the back of two very dear mothers dying in 2018: my mother-in-law and my own mother. Somehow, it all started to resonate with me, and the emotional impact of that emerged through the work over the year. It didn’t start as a project to commemorate the mothers, and I hope it’s more than that. It’s not just commemorating the mothers, but that was a certainly a big part of several of the songs – ‘Safe Travels’ being one of them, of course, and ‘Farewell’ another. The writing of those was in my mother-in-law’s house.
I gave up smoking when I was 50; and, perhaps it was a coincidence, but it seemed like a symbolic number. With the double loss—and all the parents are gone now—I felt this need or responsibility to myself to make this solo work. And, so, that’s my humble offering—what you hear is what stands before you.
Was your mother close to your work?
No, my mother thought that music was not a proper job. It took a while before my parents came around to the idea that, actually, I might be able to support myself working in music. Both my parents were big lovers of music, as consumers of music, if you like—listeners. They were huge lovers of music: classical music, very much so; not so much jazz and whatever; popular culture music they didn’t really get. A great musical inspiration came from my dad—a love of music from an early time.
My in-laws were much more lovers of popular culture–the Frank Sinatra period. Not just Frank Sinatra, but Tony Bennett, Howard Keel and the 40s, 50s and 60s—they were big lovers of music from that time.
So, there was a lot of music around, of course, but they were not professional musicians. My mother played a little bit of piano, I think, when she was a kid, but I didn’t grow up with parents playing music.
There are many references to spirituality in the material and in your notes on the micro-site for the album. The cover features the Ankh and a wedding ring: one an ancient symbol for life and the other representing connection and togetherness…
It has deep symbolism, the ring, doesn’t it? It is also symbolic of power and continuity – and, you know, eternity. As I get older, I hope my inward life develops deeper and deeper, and part of that is considering the larger questions. We can’t avoid them: birth and death. You know, this is life, brother.
On your site, you refer to ‘The Prophet’ by Kahlil Gibran. Was that book a big influence on you?
When I was when I was adolescent, for sure. I haven’t read it for a long time. The idea of the trees came back to me when I was working on ‘Alone Together’. That was a very influential book on me as a teenager. It seems like a beautiful discourse on the nature of love and life.
You were previously releasing material with Nick Hook as SPIRITUAL FRIENDSHIP. Is that still happening?
Yes, it is very much ongoing. Nick’s a great inspiration, and the record’s coming out on his label. He’s got a label in Brooklyn called Calm + Collect. It felt like the right place for the record. He always said that he would help me bring my solo record to the world when I completed it, so we both stuck to our commitment. We are men of our word. We’re working currently on the fourth SPIRITUAL FRIENDSHIP album, which we’re very excited about. It’s got a bit more of a harmonic content than the last record, which was all drums.
We had plans to get together during the lockdown period to complete the record; but those plans were—like many people’s plans—disrupted, so we are attempting to finish it remotely. We’ve made quite a lot of progress, but all the work we’ve done so far has been the two of us in the room, and that’s very vibrant and very creative; and very fast, very enjoyable. It’s been a bit more difficult focusing energies remotely. That’s weird, but we will get there. The record is close to being finished.
The modern marketplace for music is becoming narrower, and major labels don’t seem to want to invest anything in artists who aren’t going to produce mainstream hits. Shopping something like this must be challenging, because there a limited number of labels that you could go to…
I didn’t try to shop it. Nick and I had this talk about it. We had a commitment. We did try to, as you say, shop the first SPIRITUAL FRIENDSHIP album, and we have between us a few influential colleagues in the business—lovely people and friends. Many people were kind enough to say how much they liked the record, but no one was remotely interested in putting it out. That was a depressing experience for both of us, which lasted about a month. Then, after a month or so, we said, okay, we just have got to put it out ourselves.
We are trying to make Calm + Collect like a small independent gallery where we can hang our stuff on the wall and say, “Look, we made this. If it’s of any interest, please explore the label further or hit us up or get in touch.”
Of course, it’s wonderful to have the support of a label with the PR and the contacts and the guidance, and even some funding. It’s a marvelous thing for an artist. But if you can’t get it, you can’t give up. You don’t give up.
You talked about the modern marketplace. The huge benefit of the modern technology is that we can bring our music to the world. On Calm + Collect, we can put music out that you can hear in Australia, the day after it’s come out, if you want to. Of course, there is huge, massive noise to try to get yourself noticed, but you have to try and rise above it. How wonderful, though, that we can present our wares to the world and say, “Well, look, here it is. Come and have a listen if you’d like to!”
One of the things that was interesting about the Web site that you can get sample packs, so that you can play with your sounds independently. Are you hoping that people will make their own mixes of the songs or just take the samples and use them in their own projects?
It’s my record company’s idea. All credit to Nick Hook for that. Nick said “Why don’t you make a sample pack?”
He suggested that I could sell them on Bandcamp, if I want, but I just decided to put them out as a gift, if people are interested. There are some elements of the songs, but you can’t remix a whole song from those because they’re not stems of the pieces—they’re not complete. They’re snippets. I went quickly through the nine pieces and chose what I thought were some interesting snippets. I said, well, there you go. If anyone’s interested in having these, then have them and make something with it.
I enjoyed the process. It didn’t take me too long. It seemed like a nice addition, and it was Nick’s idea. Nick and I try to implement each other’s ideas; we try not to shut each other down. So, I thought, okay, I’ll do it. I’m pleased I did it, and it’s something I’ll do in the future, too, I think.
It makes it more like an open source project. With the sample packs, people can look into the source code, and they can pick around and learn from it…
Great. There is a possibility that, down the line, I may well release the multi-tracks, where people can then really dig around if they want to—they can see the whole thing. Everyone who’s remotely interested in music now has some kind of Garage Band type thing on their computer, where they can just drag in a bunch of files and there it is—it plays.
I know, for me, it’s absolutely wonderful to hear other people’s multi-tracks. It’s wonderful to hear some of my old multi-tracks from the past, actually. I pull them up and I think, oh look, we made that 35 years ago or something—there is the multi. So, it’s a special vision, the multitrack. Obviously, I want people to hear my versions of the tunes first, but down the line I might well just link to the multitrack, so that people can see, hear, and dig around—like it’s open source. They can see how it’s made.
A key feature of the album is that you’re using modular kit, which carries an element of chance. One of the nice things about synthesisers is that it is not always predictable what they’re going to sound like and where they’re going to go. Is modular something of interest to you, which is why it was brought into this project?
Yes, it is deeply important. Thank you for asking about it, because it’s reflected in the name—even the name of ‘ELECTROGENETIC‘ is an attempt for me to convey the idea that the birth of the riffs and rhythms and timbres is here in the electronics. It’s born through the electronics.
Modern modular gear—Eurorack, I should say—has empowered me hugely as a musician to be able to speak and channel energies. I hesitate to use the word “express” because I’m a bit nervous about expressing myself. I feel more that I’m more of a channel or tool to concretise or realise, spiritual energy. The modulars have certainly allowed me to do that in a way that I’ve never found really from another instrument, and my personal development as a musician is deeply tied into my involvement with modern modular.
It’s not cheap, but it’s vaguely affordable, whereas the vintage modular that that is so loved is hugely expensive—and hugely expensive to maintain. That’s outside my league, really.
We have had digital gear and sequences for so long, do you think that the modular world brings back the organic quality that was apparent in the albums played by hand, like ‘Metamatic’ and the first two albums by THE HUMAN LEAGUE?
It’s hugely deep and hugely broad, and so it could be, but it can also be extremely rigid. It really is a very broad church, working with modular, and everyone engages with it in their own way. One of the joys for many of us is building a patch that unexpectedly delivers something that we can still interface with; to perform on. We’re joyfully surprised by elements that emerge from the patch we build. That is a very creative way for many of us working with modular setups.
We don’t get many people that — I know certainly that I don’t — go in with a rigid idea and then attempt to construct it in modular, in the sense that I imagine some people might try to write a string quartet, or perhaps how Wendy Carlos made ‘Switched On Bach’. It’s more about building patches, delving deeper and deeper into what emerges; modifying the patch; touching the patch; turning knobs; recording interesting events that occur. You know, it’s not random, by any means, but it’s very rich and very deep, once you embrace the chance element of it.
Do sound design and work on the patches themselves suggest the music? Do you get the idea that this new sound is going to give me the right kind of timbre, the right the right kind of voicing, to make this kind of song?
A lot of the patches already have rhythm and timbre, of course. Most of the pieces on the ‘ELECTROGENETIC‘ record started with a modular patch, which might be quite dense.
There were, of course, other modular patches I made in the period that didn’t develop further; but most of them started with an improvisation by me on a modular patch that I built, which might have melodies, counter-melodies, rhythms, counter-rhythms, all kinds of layers and textures–it can be quite complex.
That is available for further editing and overdubs. In my case, it certainly inspired some simple melodic extra layers performed with the piano, the voice, or the recorder or whatever. I can’t over-emphasise the importance of the improvisations on the modular as groundwork, though; as a very fertile field that this record grew out of. That’s highlighted in the microsite. I’ve even acknowledged my friends at Make Noise. Credit to the synthesiser manufacturer.
The Electricity Club gives its grateful thanks to Gareth Jones
Additional thanks to Mat Smith at Calm + Collect
‘ELECTROGENETIC’ is released digitally on 18th September 2020 via Calm + Collect
With something of a reputation as a musical prankster with his projects THE CUBAN BOYS, POUND SHOP BOYS and many more, Ricardo Autobahn is one of the more entertaining and irreverent characters in an industry that spends far too much time stating its self-importance.
A 2006 Eurovision entry with rapper Daz Sampson, along with producing a cowpunk-techno reworking of ‘Rhinestone Cowboy’ featuring the late country legend Glen Campbell have only reinforced this image.
Even his longest running vehicle SPRAY, an electronic pop duo with his sister Jenny McLaren, has its tongue firmly in its cheek. But while known as a purveyor of pranklectro, an intricate instrumental album from Ricardo Autobahn in 2019 called ‘Check The Gyroscopes’ came as something of a pleasant surprise.
But not done with ‘Rhinestone Cowboy’, there will soon be yet another version with his involvement, this time with Texan electro artpunk duo HYPERBUBBLE. Ricardo Autobahn joined in a fun conversation with The Electricity Club about his career, his recent role as the silent partner of Hacker T Dog and the state of the synth nation…
You celebrated the 20th Anniversary of THE CUBAN BOYS ‘Cognoscenti vs. Intelligentsia’ aka “The Hamsterdance Song”, did you honestly think you’d still be making music two decades on?
I’m not sure. We did sign one of those famous million pound eight album recording contracts, which would have technically tied us into churning out product for decades but happily we almost immediately went down the dumper and left the label.
Actually I don’t think I did think I’d be making music still – I remember my dream was always to have one big hit and live off the royalties. Which didn’t really quite happen with “Hamsterdance” cos most of the money went to Roger Miller. And he’s dead!
The Electricity Club recently did a Various Artists compilation album listings article and two of the albums ‘Electricity 2’ and ‘Robopop Volume 1’ featured SPRAY. What was that early 21st Century period like being in a synthpop act?
Hard work trying to convince people electronic pop music (as opposed to dance music) was commercially viable. I think we were ahead of our time, or more accurately twenty years behind our time. Whisper it, but there is an 80s influence to our music, and during our time with THE CUBAN BOYS from 1999-2001, we were constantly trying to get a deal for SPRAY because (as we kept telling important people) the 80s revival was just around the corner. Synthpop would come back.
It nearly came off, the EMI demos went on to be remixed and finished as ‘Living In Neon’, but people just laughed at us for even thinking synthpop was going to return and find a fanbase with the record buying public. Those same people went on to great success a decade later with the likes of LA ROUX.
Ah the music industry, as forward thinking as ever…
Anyway, once ‘Living In Neon’ came out, we never really felt part of any scene because we never played live back then, and we were still doing behind-the-scenes production stuff on pop – so our day to day existence was very basic major label stuff. SPRAY was always our labour of love, our passion project – so when odd little things happened like our version of ‘You Spin Me Round’ turning up in ‘Desperate Housewives’, it was genuinely more gratifying than finding out something we’d worked on was No1 in Spain.
Slowing down a song to an inch of its life while wailing accompanied by an acoustic guitar does NOT make it better… DISCUSS!
It is a perfect thumbnail of the absolute bottom-feeding desperation of the music industry. One MOR singer songwriter has moderate success slowing a song down and it’s all claws to the pump to copy the idea and grind it down beyond reason for years and years.
I don’t think people really like them either; it’s just this perpetual cycle of them existing in a void that’s been created, because nobody comes up with any other ideas. Conversely, speeding up a song and adding orch hits always improves it though.
The Electricity Club was criticised for giving more airtime to synth covers of songs like ‘Witchita Lineman’ and ‘Gentle On My Mind’ which were made famous by Glen Campbell than modern day synth covers of DEPECHE MODE, ERASURE and ULTRAVOX… but there really is no point in doing a synth cover of a synth song is there?
There is not. Cover versions serve one purpose and one purpose only and that is to annoy fans of the original. Doing respectful covers is a waste of time.
So when as Daz & Rikki, you approached Glen Campbell to do a cover of ‘Rhinestone Campbell’, did he take much persuading to join in?
We’d demoed the song in spring 2002 and immediately had a bidding war, signing with BMG in May. The problem was re-recording the chorus to clear it. We tried various options including the ‘Stars In Their Eyes’ route, and at some point somebody important said “why don’t we just ask Glen?”.
Now I wasn’t party to the ins and outs of the conversations, but I was told one Thursday that we’d asked him and we were flying to Arizona to record it the next Tuesday so he must have been keen. He loved the idea though, I think he really really enjoyed it – these mad pasty-faced jet-lagged Mancunians turning up at his house with a DAT – to the extent we recorded a second never-finished single later in the summer, and I was talking with him for a couple of years about a duet with Jenny on a SPRAY version of his song ‘The Highwayman’.
Whilst we were in his studio, he said they’d been thinking of doing a similar idea themselves about modernizing ‘Rhinestone Cowboy’, and was fascinated by how we’d put it together. We shared a lot of our haphazard production techniques, I remember he absolutely loved the kick drum we’d put on it.
After it came out and was a big hit, I got a call from a country music magazine (I forget which) who said there’d been “a lot of interest” from their readers and could I give some info about the release and the recording. So I did happily and when the magazine came out, the “interest” turned out to be a load of angry letters from furious Glen Campbell fans ripping us to shreds! *laughs*
The Electricity Club’s favourite Glen Campbell story is now he and Alice Cooper were caught by a speed camera driving to a golf course, what was your favourite memory during your time with him?
(By the time) we got to Phoenix and rented a convertible Camaro at the airport and drove to his gated-community mansion with the roof down in midsummer Arizona temperatures.
En route, we got out the old gigantic camcorder to film the journey as a travelogue. With some inevitability, we put the Rikki & Daz demo on the CD player and I stood up and lip-synched along, much like Kylie in that ‘Top Of The Pops’ video for ‘I Should Be So Lucky’.
Literally within ten seconds, we heard the sirens of a police car and to our excitement we were pulled over. The officer asked us what the HELL DID WE THINK WE WERE DOING and Daz – in his best Northern English accent – explained we weren’t from round here and didn’t know the rules. We were sent on our way.
Anyway, my top Glen Anecdote came during a break in recording in the studio at his home. He said “Hey, Rikki, come and look at this!” and showed me into an anteroom where dozens and dozens of guitars were lined up against the walls. It was a great sight and he picked one out and told me to have a go. Now I’m no guitarist but I wanted to show willing, so I clanged out a few atonal chords from ‘Shaddap Your Face’ or something and handed it back to the revelation that “that was Elvis’ guitar”!*laughs*
Is your co-write ‘Teenage Life’ for Daz Sampson as the UK’s 2006 Eurovision entry possibly your most subversive moment?
There are a lot more reasons than this to be sad that John Peel died before his time in 2004, but I would have loved him to come to Greece with us for the Eurovision. He was a big fan of the contest, and the idea that somebody who had topped the Festive 50 was representing the UK would have no doubt appealed.
Imagine the BBC documentary we could have made. I think the fact that an indiepop Maida Vale veteran went to Eurovision was, at the time, equally annoying for both Peel fans and Eurovision fans. P*ssing off everybody, that’s what I like!*laughs*
What did you think of Will Ferrell’s film ‘Eurovision Song Contest: The Story of Fire Saga’?
I thought it was a lot of rubbish, but that Will Ferrell kind of mainstream facsimile-of-comedy-via-overacting doesn’t appeal to me anyway. It’s not aimed at me. I actually abandoned it after half an hour when the only thing even approaching comedy was Ferrell saying “ding dong” in an accent.
Should the UK treat the contest with more respect like Sweden does, like they had LUSTANS LAKEJER, their equivalent of DURAN DURAN, in the running to represent them in 2007?
The UK should either treat the contest as something to be taken seriously with a proper selection procedure of decent young writers and credible acts, or as a full-on full-fat extravaganza and spend loads of money on absurd gimmicks and get me and Daz to write all the songs. The halfway house of ‘X Factor’ rejects singing never-used ONE DIRECTION album tracks makes no sense as it appeals to no-one and doesn’t inspire enough passion to vote. At least if you enter something that’s massively hated, logic dictates it will be equally massively loved.
What was your Euro-vision, as it were?
With ‘Teenage Life’, we’d originally demoed it with BLAZIN’ SQUAD the year before and my mix of that was going to be slightly grimy and dusty, with some soot-faced urchins singing the chorus rather than the slick showbiz performance you saw at Eurovision. I think if it had been more like that, it might have sparked a bit more inspiration with the voters.
We fell a bit between two stools, balancing a glossy performance with a weird (for Eurovision) rhythm and rap. I do remember getting home on the Monday after the show and watching the video recording and thinking despite everything that happened that whole chaotic weekend, it was still a really good song.
I think had LORDI not entered that year and had the Lithuanian singers doing ‘We Are The Winners’ not been there, our gimmick might have been more successful. But we were out-gimmicked by the kings of the gimmick.
Hahaha! When LORDE first emerged and got radio play, The Electricity Club thought “Bloody hell, their sound has changed!”… anyway as THEATTERY SQUASH, you made ‘Devo Was Right About Everything’ and even got it remixed by DEVO members Robert and Gerald Casale… so were they??
We put George W Bush on the artwork for the single and the fact that he looks comparatively statesmanlike now sort of spoils the joke somewhat.
What was the idea behind POUND SHOP BOYS, a move towards ultimate pop supremacy?
My colleague and associate Phil Fletcher – the man behind TV’s Hacker T Dog – is a big fan of the PET SHOP BOYS like myself. When he was a kid he had a cassette of TV themes and told me that as a youth he’d always thought ‘Fireman Sam’ would sound great sung by the PET SHOP BOYS but could never really explain why he thought that.
Having a studio to hand, we are able to take throwaway ideas that most people would treat as a passing thought and actually do it. It took a day and we had a good laugh especially when my girlfriend of the time came up with the “it’s Pontypandemonium!” hook.
You completed this POUND SHOP BOYS plan with a video…
Oh we never plan anything; we made a video for ‘Fireman Sam’ almost by accident when we did some silly lip-synching against a white wall on our iPhones and threw every effect we could find in Final Cut Pro at it. Genuinely, we spent 10 minutes filming that and it became this great thing. Radcliffe and Maconie even played it on BBC 6Music a few times.
Since then we’ve appeared on stage with THE GRUMBLEWEEDS and THE KRANKIES and our version of ‘The Banana Splits Theme’ saw us on NBC news across the States with the original actors who portrayed the Splits. The point is, if we do become ultimate pop supremacists, it will be by accident.
You play keyboards with HELEN LOVE, what’s happening there at the moment?
New album out in October. We were supposed to be playing Paris Popfest in September before all the Corona kicked off, but hopefully 2021 will see us back on the international touring scene.
You released an instrumental solo album ‘Check The Gyroscopes’ in 2019 and some might say they were surprised that it was a serious record, do you tire of being considered a musical prankster?
My first love was always instrumental synth music from Jean Michel Jarre or THE ART OF NOISE and I’ve always favoured stuff that shows a good sense of fun now and then – TANGERINE DREAM, even Mike Oldfield at times – as opposed to the po-facedness of yer Vangelises.
It’s the same with non-instrumental, I’ve always enjoyed people like SPARKS and YELLO and always just endured people like DEPECHE MODE and various clones down the years. So I hope there’s a lightness and jollity to the instrumental stuff I do – I’ve done four albums over the years and it’s always been pure self-indulgence.
Saying that, you’ve done a reinterpretation of ‘Cotton Eye Joe’ with CBBC’s Hacker T Dog… he described you as his “second favourite music producer from yesteryear” so what was he like to deal with, does he have any dark secrets or diva-like tendencies like George and Zippy from ‘Rainbow’ did?
I will say he’s an incredibly lazy dog. We’ve just filmed a new video in Wigan where Hacker is from – he regularly celebrates and mentions the town so that if he’s ever asked to do any location filming he doesn’t have to go too far and can be home in time for Coronation Street. I asked him why he didn’t move to Salford and stayed in Wigan, and he said “because all my stuff’s there”.
‘Q’ magazine recently announced it was folding, but it did disappear up its own backside! Are we missing the irreverence of early ‘Q’ and imperial phase ‘Smash Hits’ in music journalism? It’s like you can’t make fun of an artist or highlight their shortcomings anymore without someone jumping on social media going “HOW DARE YOU? THEY’RE A LEGEND?” in a time when the word ‘legend’ is seriously overused…
I can’t express it any better than that. The best kind of artists – pop or otherwise – are those that don’t take themselves too seriously, or at least take their sense of humour seriously. But everything’s so BRIT School-honed nowadays there’s nothing to make fun of.
‘Q’ was pretty good in the 90s, a rich feast of thoughtful and interesting articles and had that Tom Hibbert irreverence and lack of respect. But like all print media, it suffered at the hands of the internet – half the joy of ‘Q’ was finding out what was coming out, reading their impressions of what forthcoming albums were like. When you’re renowned for your refreshing and wordy music reviews, you don’t want something like Spotify coming along to make them obsolete. Why read a music review when you can just listen to it to see if you like it?
SPRAY’s ‘We Gotta Get Haircuts!’ became quite relevant during lockdown, was it time to mullet over?
If we had any sense we’d have written a song called ‘We Gotta Get Haircuts’ that was actually about getting a haircut, and made a video with loads of people getting haircuts, and we’d probably have got on ‘The One Show’ or something.
But no, we had to make it a really oblique song about failing rockers in the twilight of their career, and an observation on how cool music always sounds exactly like unfashionable music if you take the stylists out of the equation! *laughs*
How do you see the UK synth scene at the moment, it would seem that talentless normality is rife with some socially inept promoters trying to get in on the act for not entirely genuine reasons?
We consider ourselves part of no scene, and if anything SPRAY are the hands across the world bringing people together. We’re not saying we’re better than religion, but we are.
We’re not synthpop, we’re not indiepop, but we’re also both of those and we’re probably other things too.
To that end we had actually booked a few punk venues to play in November before Covid-19 hit, perhaps it’s for the best those won’t happen now.
Is a Darwin-esque period of evolution required now or should listeners have more empathy and support any kind of synth music whatever the quality, so that it still continues to exist?
I do like the general support and positivity synth music gets across the “scene”, I’m not massively into synthwave for example, but I do appreciate the way it’s dipping it’s toe in the real world where normal people are getting to hear it. Essentially, I need people to curate the synthwave highlights for me, which is where radio comes in.
Anyone that follows your Twitter will be amused by your live commentary on ‘Top Of The Pops’ re-runs and various nostalgic radio shows. Was the phenomenon of pop really much better in the past or are people like us are just grumpy old men???
This goes back to the irreverence of pop and I do quite like to treat sacred cows with the lack of respect they deserve.
I don’t always mean it. I once said I was glad David Bowie was dead because of ‘Dancing In The Street’, and I didn’t get banned so it must have successfully come across as a joke. Maybe my brand of iconoclasm is getting a bit tired and I should be more positive for ‘Top Of The Pops’ as it lumbers into the 90s. Like and subscribe, readers, @ricardoautobahn on all portals, please RT for awareness.
You do lose touch with pop music, I listen to Radio1 a lot in the car and like most of it but have no idea who the artists are. The charts are always the charts, you remember the good and bad and forget the mediocre. That said, it’s always a relief more than anything when an artist comes along who you can still go bonkers for even at this age, and that artist this year is Ava Max. Who is fantastic.
I’d like there to still be a weekly TV pop show that I can make fun of on Twitter…
Of course, the new SPRAY video for ‘Chump For Your Love’ is a homage to ITV’s ‘The Chart Show’…
‘Chump For My Love’, we felt we needed to plug 2019’s ‘Failure Is Inevitable’ album a bit more, so gave it an electronic overhaul and went down to Crosby Beach in February, before the lockdown. We figured if we got 20 or 30 minutes of quick footage, we could make a nice low-budget arty video, but we got so cold after about 10 minutes, we came home again.
Adding some captions was a fun way to try and distract from the lack of footage, and it soon became apparent we could have a bit of a laugh with it. It’s a good way of getting people to watch all the way through rather than just tailing off after a minute like most of our stats seem to indicate *laughs*
As a grumpy old man who has had his 15 minutes of fame, should grumpy old men by their nature still be trying to make that last gasp at validation?
Once I get that validation, I will stop. I’m unceasingly grumpy due to the fact my various smash hits are so forgotten, they don’t even crop up as questions on Ken Bruce’s Popmaster – once I’ve had my BBC4 documentary, I’ll stop banging on about it! *laughs*
What are the upcoming plans in the SPRAY camp and any other projects you’re allowed to talk about?
I bought one of those Behringer 303 knockoffs before lockdown and have written a lot of spontaneous acid-esque backing tracks.
We’ve got loads of wacky ideas floating for these, when we finally get around to getting together and recording them it’ll be a quick, spiky, spontaneous SPRAY album and the world will be delighted. SPRAY and the POUND SHOP BOYS will get back on the road in 2021.
What have been your own career highlights?
Although it never got shown in the end outside of BBC Prime (?), filming ‘Top Of The Pops’ was the greatest three minutes. Doing your first Pops is exactly like you’d expect it to be. This dreamlike state of posing and trying to drink in the moment.
It wasn’t a great performance because the idea we’d had was for it to be a performance art piece (a la PET SHOP BOYS when they did ‘Can You Forgive Her’), with John Peel centre-stage covered in cobwebs. He couldn’t do it in the end so they just wheeled in as many synths as they could find out of storage. They still used the cobwebs though.
The Electricity Club gives its sincerest thanks to Ricardo Autobahn
The Electricity Club first saw THE MODERN opening for HEAVEN 17 at The Scala in December 2005.
With a colourful stage presence and an immediately catchy sound, they were the one of the new modern synthpop hopes with their debut single ‘Jane Falls Down’ making a good first impression.
Comprising of front woman Emma Cooke, with Nathan Cooper and Chi Tudor-Hart on vocals and synths plus Robert Sanderson on guitar and Bob Malkowski on drums, THE MODERN were signed by Mercury Records, home of TEARS FOR FEARS and DEF LEPPARD.
The band began recording an album under the working title ‘Life In A Modern World’ with producer Stephen Hague, best known for his work with OMD, PET SHOP BOYS, THE COMMUNARDS, ERASURE, NEW ORDER and DUBSTAR. However, after their single ‘Industry’ was disqualified from the UK singles charts in early 2006, THE MODERN were dropped by their label and found themselves out on a limb.
Changing their name to MATINEE CLUB, the album finally saw the light of day in late 2007, now retitled ‘Modern Industry’ and issued as a download only by Planet Clique. It also saw a CD release with a revised tracklisting as ‘The Modern LP’ through Ninth Wave Records in the US, while a 2CD special edition by EQ Music Singapore for the South East Asian market in 2009 saw another tracklisting with B-sides and bonus songs added.
Around this time, the founding trio Emma Cooke, Nathan Cooper and Chi Tudor-Hart returned to being called THE MODERN. But in 2010, Cooper bid adieu and became KID KASIO while Cooke and Tudor-Hart continued as THE MODERN, releasing a brand new album ‘Revenge’ in 2018.
In 2013, ‘Modern Industry’ was reissued under the title ‘Life In A Modern World’ as an album by THE MODERN in an expanded tracklisting which largely resembled the South East Asian 2CD edition.
In whatever variant, the debut album by THE MODERN often provokes many “what if” debates among electronic pop enthusiasts.
The Electricity Club was extremely pleased to be able to chat to Emma Cooke, Nathan Cooper and Chi Tudor-Hart about the joys and the setbacks that came with its making and marketing.
When THE MODERN signed to Mercury, did you more or less get despatched to record an album first, or was it very much in steps?
Nathan: We’d never thought of ourselves as an album band. The whole concept was quite alien to us. Every time we wrote a song it was with the intention of it being a single, so when the label started talking to us in terms of an album we just always saw it as a collection of singles with no fillers or anything.
Emma: First thing the label wanted was to find a producer. We were happy with Nick Zart but the label wanted someone known. This took longer than we thought as we were also touring.
How did Stephen Hague become involved in producing THE MODERN?
Nathan: Mercury had sent us round the houses with various different producers. We tried a different track with each producer that we had shortlisted with the label.
Chi: Remember Jeremy Wheatley? We tried recording ‘Discotheque Français’ with him. He was a total knob. He got really upset because Bob ate some of his Jelly Babies that were next to the mixing desk that turned out to be his. He didn’t get us at all and he sulked for the rest of the day over his sweets!
Nathan: We’d been dispatched to Sweden to work with Tore Johansen whose work with Franz Ferdinand was getting massive airplay at that time. I remember him picking us up from the airport in a battered old Volvo and explaining to us the importance of efficiency, which sounded to me like he just wanted to get us in and out as quickly as he could!
The label was obsessing about adding this “indie edge” to the sound, hence FRANZ FERDINAND’s producer, but I was much more interested in chatting to him about his work with ROXETTE which sadly for me he had no interest in discussing! The label had this idea that they wanted us to sound like BLONDIE who of course we all loved, but it became clear quite quickly the live drum sound just wasn’t working for us.
Emma: The sound just didn’t sound big enough for us. Mind you, I quite like listening to his version of ‘Jane Falls Down’ and the vocals on his version were amazing. We then met Stephen Hague and worked with him at Peter Gabriel’s Real World studio. Beautiful place, the studio overlooked a lake with swans swimming around. The start of the session was a disaster as we couldn’t get the drums sounding right. But by the end of the weekend Stephen had ‘Closing Door’ sounding awesome. That nailed it for us to get him to produce the whole album.
Nathan: Rather than record the whole album in Wiltshire, Stephen booked The Strong Rooms in Shoreditch for us to record the album.
Chi: Nick Zart’s production on our demos was so good we got Nick to work on the whole album with us, so really being our 6th member of the band.
Nathan: Stephen was an obvious choice for us. It had dawned on us and the label by this time we were a full on synth pop band and he was the king of that genre, he had worked with all our favourites PET SHOP BOYS, ERASURE, OMD, NEW ORDER.
Stephen Hague worked on ‘Industry’, ‘Jane Falls Down’, ‘Closing Door’, ‘Questions’ and ‘Sometimes’, rather than the whole album, was this down to budget? So how did you go about shortlisting the songs that he would work on?
Chi: No, Stephen produced the whole album. The only track he didn’t do was ‘Suburban Culture’. Matt Jagger, head of Mercury and our champion, hated that track! We loved it so stuck Nick Zart’s version of it on the album anyway.
Emma: Yeah ‘Suburban Culture’ had to be on the album as before we were signed that track was the first song that got radio play on XFM and was always a favourite to play live as it always set the tone.
What was Stephen Hague like to work with, he’s known to be very meticulous with a big focus on vocals?
Nathan: I think our days mixing the album with him in The Strong Rooms in East London were some of my favourites in the band’s history. It really felt like we had taken control and were working with someone who finally understood what we were trying to do.
I have only happy memories of those sessions. I do remember being a bit put out when trying to extract some exciting tit bits of information about his early work with OMD, only for him to confess he didn’t really like synth pop and he had fallen into the genre completely inadvertently, and he actually preferred rock!! He actually said that!
Emma: I agree, I loved recording at The Strong Rooms and really felt Stephen Hague understood us, and as a band and really captured our group dynamic in the recordings
Nathan: I do remember the vocals being particularly difficult for me. Emma sailed through hers but I remember having to do the chorus of ‘Jane Falls Down’ about 100 times. It didn’t fill me with confidence either when after take 82, he said over the talkback that my voice reminded him of a foghorn!
Did you know ‘Smash Hits’ nickname for Tony Hadley was “Foghorn”? 😆
Nathan: Ok I don’t feel so awful now!
‘Sometimes’ sounded like it could have been one of Stephen Hague’s productions for ERASURE’s album ‘The Innocents’, while ‘Questions’ has this frantic energy, where did this stem from?
Nathan: The majority of the album was songs that had begun life as demos myself, Chi and Emma had written over the previous four years with Nick Zart producing. I think there were four songs on the album which had come about in a totally different way, these were ‘Questions’, ‘Jane Falls Down’, ‘Closing Door’ and ‘Sometimes’.
These came from instrumentals that Robert Sanderson our guitarist had made. Myself, Chi and Emma would go to his tiny bedroom studio and just take turns trying out different vocal top lines and ideas over these backings. Loads of really good stuff came out of those sessions, it was competitive but in a friendly super productive kind of way.
We’d be there sitting on Robert’s bed in this little room and he’d blast the verse out of the speakers and you’d have about 10 minutes to sit there and work out something in your head!! You’d be right in the middle of writing down a killer lyric or humming a melody in your head when someone would obliterate your concentration with a cry of “I’ve got something” and run up to the microphone to record it! It was a really strange way to do things but it really worked!!
I think that’s where the frantic energy on ‘Questions’ comes from. It’s sitting in that room desperately trying to get your idea crystallized onto a piece of paper before someone shouts “I’ve got it!”; the song has two choruses crammed into one song vying for attention!
‘Jane Falls Down’ was mighty, were hopes running on this being THE MODERN’s breakthrough?
Nathan: We all hoped as the first single that it would do well. I remember sitting listening to the chart rundown on Radio1 on a Sunday evening and hearing it was at number 32. None of us in the band had been that happy with the way the video turned out and I think the fact it had charted at all with so little airplay was testament to the song and the people who’d bought the single off the back of the live shows.
‘Industry’ was reminiscent of A FLOCK OF SEAGULLS, did Mike Score’s lawyers come knocking on the door?
Nathan: We knew nothing about this until half way through promotion for the single. We’d just finished a sound check somewhere and had been ushered into a local radio station to do a promotional interview for the single. We were sat there in the radio studio with headphones on and the presenter plays both songs back to back, and then goes live to air and asks us if we copied them on purpose!!! I just remember being completely dumbfounded.
Truth is that this one must be my fault because very early versions of the song had come from a demo I’d recorded. The song had been through loads of transitions since then but the vocal melody in the verse had remained the same. I’d always been a big fan of A FLOCK OF SEAGULLS and had a VHS with ‘The More You Live, The More You Love’ on it. I think these things happen subconsciously sometimes. We thought about dropping it from the set when we supported A FLOCK OF SEAGULLS a few years later, but we went and had a chat with Mike Score and he was completely lovely about it.
What was the story behind ‘Closing Door’? It seemed to become oddly prophetic when it ended up as the B-side of ‘Industry’?
Nathan: This was another one that started as one of Robert’s instrumental demos; I think it was touted as a single for a short while. I think the lyrics might have been vaguely about some decisions we had had to make as a band regarding management etc. I actually think it’s one of the most positive songs on the album. It always went down well live that one.
The events that led to THE MODERN being dropped by Mercury in 2006 and the band morphing into MATINEE CLUB are well documented, but how complete was the album at this point?
Chi: The album was completely done and dusted. Mercury got a new head of label, Jason Iley, and he did not like us. This guy was all that is wrong with the industry. When asked what bands he liked, he answered with a straight face, “Bands that sell”… total tw*t! His efforts went into promoting his new signing Matt Willis.
Matt Jagger, who signed us, was ousted, so we no longer had our champion. The chart fiasco happened and the label ghosted us!
How did Planet Clique become interested in releasing what was now the MATINEE CLUB album?
Emma: So when Matt Jagger left Mercury he started a new label under Universal, Europa. He signed us and paid for us to shoot a video for ‘Discotheque Français’. The idea Matt had with Planet Clique was for them to promote us on the underground dance scene.
Europa’s other band was INFERNAL and just had a big hit with From Paris to Berlin so I think they liked the idea of ‘Discotheque’ coming out of the clubs like INFERNAL ’s track.
Chi: Yeah, then true to our luck Europa went under and Planet Clique then offered to release the album on their label, download only, just to get it out there.
Were there many challenges in acquiring the masters for the album now titled ‘Modern Industry’ for release by Planet Clique?
Chi: Lucian Grange, head of Universal, was very nice about giving over all our masters. He always liked THE MODERN.
‘Discotheque Français’ was solely produced by Nick Zart and was released as the lead single for the album, what was the song inspired by?
Nathan: The original song was written in 2001 under the band name DIRTY BLONDE. We had a studio in Hackney at the time and there was a whole collective of producers and remixers living in this massive old factory called The Sweatshop. A friend in the studio next door to us heard us recording it and asked if they could do a remix.
Once a month there would be these massive parties at The Sweatshop and the remix of the song got played there. Somehow from there Eddie Temple Morris got hold of it and played it on his show on XFM. We released it as a white label, which I had a listen to the other day. It sounds like BUGGLES meets THE TOURISTS!
I think the lyric idea in the chorus had stemmed from the summers me and Chi used to spend at my mum’s place in southern France. The highlight of the holidays would be going to these tiny discos in these French villages and dancing to Eurodance music. The house was in the middle of nowhere in rural south west France and there was one radio station we could pick up called radio NRJ.
I used to religiously sit by the ghettoblaster all day long recording these fantastic Eurodance tracks onto cassette, so I’d have them long before they’d be released in the UK. I remember hearing ‘Rhythm Of The Night’ by CORONA about 6 months before it was released over here.
Emma: Actually Eddie Temple Morris got a hold of Ed Solo’s remix of ‘Suburban Culture’. It’s on the 2015 album release, Arts and Craft mix; The Sweatshop lot remixed ‘Suburban’ after the success of ‘Discotheque’.
Stephen did a version of ‘Discotheque ‘but it never came together. He admitted never feeling it.
The cover of David Bowie’s ‘Modern Love’ can be considered either very brave or very foolish, what led you to record it? What do you think about it in retrospect? 😆
Chi: God, I foolishly love our cover!
Nathan: There were a couple of covers we’d sometimes do in the live set that always used to go down well. My favourite was ‘Strange Little Girl’ by THE STRANGLERS. We did a really interesting take on that. We also covered ‘Over You’ by ROXY MUSIC and got the chance to record our version with Phil Manzanera playing guitar! Although I’m pretty sure that never saw the light of day.
Another one was ‘Under My Skin’ by Cole Porter, we did this great minimalistic icy electronic version of that. ‘Modern Love’ came about entirely because of the association with the band’s name and a club night we were doing at the time at Filthy McNasty’s in Islington called Modern Love. I’m pretty sure it was Nick Zart’s idea. In hindsight it might have been foolish, I certainly wouldn’t dare take on such a classic now, let alone a Bowie classic but I thought we brought something to it.
Emma: Filthy McNasty’s! Yes, great club night. We did it every fortnight and THE LIBERTINES did the other weeks.
How do you think ‘Modern Industry’ was received when it finally came out in 2007? There was a loss of momentum but how did it affect the band?
Nathan: I think if we’d brought out the album in 2005 it would’ve looked very different. Maybe it would have had ten tracks on it and been a bit more cohesive, but because there was this massive gap by the time it was released, it almost became a kind of retrospective of everything we’d done over the past seven years. It ended a kind of being a “Best Of” in a way.
It was a strange period for physical formats so were you disappointed the album came out as a download only?
Nathan: That was just the way things were going. No-one in their right mind would’ve released a vinyl album in 2007. It was a time of real change and people were still adjusting to it and trying to work it all out. No ‘Smash Hits’, no ‘Top Of The Pops’, we were in a right muddle!
In 2008, you returned to being called THE MODERN again, what were your reasons?
Emma: We changed the name to MATINEE CLUB as Europa were keen to relaunch us, phoenix from the ashes, but we always felt THE MODERN suited us so we just went back to that.
THE MODERN soldiered on for a few years but then the line-up fragmented in 2010?
Chi: Nathan had much more he wanted to do musically and Emma was doing a lot of acting work so KID KASIO was born. Emma and I have carried on and Rees Bridges, our original drummer came back to us after touring with DIRTY VEGAS. We released ‘Revenge’ in 2018, many of the tracks co-written with Nathan.
‘Modern Industry’ was given an expanded reissue as a release by THE MODERN under the new title of ‘Life In A Modern World’ in 2013, what was the thinking behind this?
Chi: Pure laziness. It just took us this long to get the album in its entirety out there.
Looking back, how do you think the album as a whole stands up? Which are your own favourite tracks?
Nathan: I think all of it still stands up well. My favourites on there are ‘Seven Oceans’ and ‘Sometimes’ and I really like ‘Travelogue’ (which is just on the 2013 re-release). It’s a great set of songs and an album that I’m really proud to have been part of.
Emma: I love ‘Sometimes’. The whole album still sounds fresh to me.
Chi: ‘Questions’ and ‘Nothing Special’. I’m so proud of the whole album.
If you had your time in THE MODERN again, how differently would you have done things?
Emma: We should have released singles and album much faster as back then there was a real coming back of synth bands like THE BRAVERY, FISCHERSPOONER and GOLDFRAPP but by the time we released it, THE ARCTIC MONKEYS got out there and it all went the way of indie guitar.
Chi: Nothing I’d change. I loved it.
Nathan: Yeah same, I wouldn’t have changed anything. The touring got stressful sometimes but on the whole when I look back, I just think of the fun we had and the great songs that came out of it.
The Electricity Club gives its warmest thanks to Emma Cooke, Nathan Cooper and Chi Tudor-Hart