Compared on occasion to an electro Ian Dury and an urban Jona Lewie, Cambridge-based vocalist, producer and songwriter Theo Sayers was first spotted by The Electricity Club opening for KNIGHT$ at his 2019 Halloween gig.
Although he released ‘My Nose Is A Little Runny’, a SLEAFORD MODS styled musical response to the worldwide lockdown crisis that concluded “sleazes cause diseases” in March, his latest video goes back to a highlight from his debut ‘Ado Perma’ EP that came out back in July 2019.
‘Impatient’ charmingly comes over like Edwyn Collins fronting a lo-fi KRAFTWERK and in an enjoyable video directed by Rhys Votano, Sayers plays himself and a female alter-ego Dora. Inspired by an unfortunate cycling accident that he once had, he told The Electricity Club: “The music video is a fun and colourful representation of the song’s retro synthpop flavours.”
Sayer’s first showcased his music under the moniker of BLACK TIBET with the exotic pop of ‘Venezuela’ in 2017, before releasing a more distinctly electronic single ‘Goddess’ under his own name in 2018.
Ranging in style from hip-hop to electro, from crooner to rap, from chilled grooves to dancey beats, Sayers’ streetwise take on life exudes witty humour and a playful sense of fun. But despite this, there is also a heartfelt side as expressed on the lounge reggae of ‘Belly Slaps’ from ‘Ado Perma’ which attracted support from BBC Introducing.
Continuing his kinship with KNIGHT$, Theo Sayers recently contributed a new glitchy remix of ‘Dollars & Cents’ from the Britalo exponent’s debut album of the same name.
ULTRAFLEX are a new Norwegian Icelandic duo based in Berlin who describe themselves as “The new teen sensation” with an interest in Soviet disco, athleisure and weirdo boogie.
However, Kari Jahnsen and Katrín Helga Andrésdóttir are perhaps better known by their solo monikers FARAO and SPECIAL-K respectively. Perhaps unusually for a band, the pair met when Andrésdóttir’s father dated Jahnsen’s mother.
Unexpectedly given their known songwriting prowess, the debut offering from ULTRAFLEX is ‘Olympic Sweat’, an uptempo synth instrumental imagined as music to be used on TV sports montages of Olympic coverage at the end of each games.
For her muse, Jahnsen had the Norwegian cross-country skier Bjørn Dæhlie in mind as he crossed the finish line to win gold at Lillehammer in 1994. ‘Olympic Sweat’ is uplifting disco lento with an organic heart, a pretty tune with an expansive sweeping resonance courtesy of its range of digital and vintage sound design. The exquisite atmospheres recall ‘Moonstruck’ by Finnish duo SIN COS TAN which in itself took its lead from PET SHOP BOYS.
The fabulously playful video filmed in Berlin is perhaps what a Valentina Tereshkova fitness video would have looked like had there been a merchandise tie-in for her historical mission on Vostok 6 as the first woman in space. From Treptow to Museeumsinsel to Treptow and back with Volkspark Friedrichshain and the Altes Museum along the way, it acts as a wonderful visual tour of the former divided city.
ULTRAFLEX’s debut album pencilled in for the Autumn of 2020 explores Cold War chic via the electronic disco soundtracks of pre-Glasnost Soviet aerobic videos. The Communist authorities did not want their citizens exercising to Western music, so commissioned domestic jazz musicians to play their own compositions on synthesizers instead.
However, the collaboration actually began as a live commission for Norway’s Insomnia Festival in 2019 to write material specifically to be premiered at the event. The combination of music, visuals and fitness choreography went down so well that Jahnsen and Andrésdóttir to release the material as an album.
Recording inside a remote haunted house in Iceland, the pair used a lot of software for practical reasons.
But the Soviet-built analogues like the Formanta Polivoks duophonic and EMI Kvintet that Jahnsen had acquired for FARAO album ‘Pure-O’ made it into their makeshift studio, along with a Roland Juno 60, Yamaha CS15 and a Sequential Drumtraks.
The duo have alluringly described their work as “an ode to exercise, loaded with sex metaphors badly disguised as sports descriptions” and confirmed that “Things are about to get real steamy….”
‘Olympic Sweat’ is released by Street Pulse Records and available on the usual online platforms
If there is a song right now that captures the claustrophobic solitude of lockdown isolation both aurally and visually, then it is the appropriately titled ‘Small World’ by SNS SENSATION.
SNS SENSATION is the solo musical vehicle of Sebastian Muravchik, best known as the charismatic front man of the Italo flavoured electro rockers HEARTBREAK; together with Ali Renault, the pair were often on concert billings with LITTLE BOOTS and LA ROUX during the electro resurgence of 2007-2009.
A song about self-isolation during the pandemic crisis, ‘Small World’ itself is a throbbing electronic number with icy rhythms, marrying the elegance of minimal synth with the melodic presence of Italo disco.
It is reminiscent of ‘I’m Still Searching’ and ‘Miserabilsm’, two excellent songs released respectively as B-sides by VISAGE and PET SHOP BOYS.
Articulating the mood of our times, Sebastian Muravchik kindly spoke to The Electricity Club from the isolation of his ‘Small World’…
The subject matter of ‘Small World’ is quite timely with everything going on in the world, is that a coincidence?
The release was going to be a different song, but this pandemic kicked off and ‘Small World’ happened quite quickly as a response to it. Having said that, many of the issues enhanced by this crisis are there in regular times; existential ghosts that you’ll find in this pandemic song, but also in other SNS SENSATION’s songs, unrelated to the pandemic.
‘Small World’ has an uptempo but claustrophobic feel which is also reflected in the video, how did you come up with both?
Writing and producing songs is easy, mostly, because the music and the lyrics write themselves, and the arrangements and ideas emerge from flow. The only real obstacles in the way are ego and fear.
In this blurry channelling of ideas, one key concept was descending steps. The claustrophobia in descent. Descent is there in the lyrics, the music and the music video (including the descent of what’s falling onto you).
The aim was to find claustrophobia in the way disease, fear, uncertainty, meaninglessness and time itself descend onto your feeble existence (or how it descends onto them). A down-sloping diagonal, like a steeper remake of ‘North by Northwest’ by David Lynch.
After the initial shock and the panic that ensued from becoming aware of what this pandemic could be and mean, I felt that facing the reality of it head-on in my work was a way of coping: perhaps a sense of control, even if illusory. There are enough good artists out there singing bright songs of hope and togetherness, and they do it very well. My contribution is to help make some sort of sense of this reality; to try to understand more.
Some may know you from your work with HEARTBREAK, so how does SNS SENSATION differ conceptually and musically? Who are your influences and inspirations in this respect?
SNS SENSATION is more cinematographic, tends to be more noir. SNS SENSATION’s disco-pop is more tinged by minimal wave and post-punk, and acts like DEUX, or the more wistful end of INTERNATIONAL MUSIC SYSTEM; but the bedroom textures of old school house and techno are still there to be found.
SNS SENSATION is also more aligned to KRAFTWERK’s emotional channeling (e.g. ‘Neon Lights’, ‘Metropolis’, ‘Spiegelsaal’, etc), ie the movement in the still picture, as opposed to HEARTBREAK’s attempt to stop time by invoking the speed of light.
SNS SENSATION’s approach to multiplicity in identity is channeled through the cinematographic, rather than by putting the personality of the rock star through the cycles of a washing machine, as we do in HEARTBREAK. The robotic is still there, but it’s a film star robot (‘Das Modell’).
There is a lot less influence from Metal as well, since Ali is the expert on that genre, and I feed from his passion for metal in our collaboration. And less of that electro-industrial edge that Ali brings to the work we do together.
Singing-wise, less Ozzy in this project, and more the Ralf Hutter end of Neil Tenant’s singing, as well as the singing in IMS’ ‘Runaway’ (what is that singer’s name!? anyone?). Horror is still key, but SNS SENSATION focuses on the fear while HEARTBREAK focuses on the gore… but just like HEARTBREAK, openness and a wide range are key, letting the creative flow dictate what a project is, and what it becomes.
SNS SENSATION embraces influences from EARTH WIND & FIRE, from CASCO (rip Salva x), and from DAS DING. It’s about the song as much as the sound. If you can picture the band SEND MORE PARAMEDICS dancing to John Parr’s ‘Man in Motion’, you’ll get the idea. There’s some very bright disco pop and some eco-apocalyptic minimal synth-inspired songs, and some in the middle.
Even if both HEARTBREAK and SNS SENSATION are heavily grounded in disco and the bedroom producer aesthetic, I am quite curious as to how HEARTBREAK fans will respond to SNS SENSATION’s more sombre shades, as well as its overexposed pop inclinations… in other words, I hope they like it!
Some may not know you were the voice of ‘Anthonio’ in the ‘Annie’ response single in 2009, working with Richard X. How do you look back on that experience and how it may have shaped SNS SENSATION?
It was really helpful; it was an opportunity to explore that other singing range I hadn’t found an outlet for, guided by a top producer. I was really happy with the outcome too, and sort of opened the door for me to be more confident in exploring this SNS SENSATION area. Richard X also helped me with the vocal recording of an SNS SENSATION single produced back then, ‘Everybody’; he was very supportive about the songwriting aspect of my work, which helped a lot too.
So what is next for SNS SENSATION ? An album or EP?
SNS SENSATION’s strategy is more digital singles, monthly or so. An EP is definitely a possibility, a decent format right now (concise, yet showing range and a journey through songs). There are plans for a vinyl EP with a fantastic label at some point this year hopefully, but no date confirmed yet. I am very excited about a physical release through such a highly reputed label. I always have loved vinyl (also tape).
Another aim is to keep developing the SNS SENSATION video and photography work, and find out how social media can be an aspect of its body of work. To keep SNS SENSATION evolving, and figure out its audience.
I’m enjoying it enormously, the experimental freedom and the fun of seeing where it goes, the wondrous surprises, the constant learning.
What is the strategy for modern music marketing now as HEARTBREAK came out of period before streaming took hold and where selling to the mainstream was still a target for many labels?
What was just starting back in the days of HEARTBREAK’s ‘Lies’ is now the norm. The more I understand and adapt to it, the freer I feel.
One thing I love about social media is that it is generally accepted as a way of putting “unfinished work” out there, of experimenting and trying out things; most people accept it as a form of documenting your process, or just having fun! It encourages you to be creative every day of your life, not just during the album recording phase.
All the restrictive stages of the previous exposure model are irrelevant now; even the greatest stars discover themselves in this looking glass 🙂
Also the idea of sharing in social media is still strong I think. The relationship to fans is so much healthier than it used to be, less oppressive for fans, less lonely for artists. And the multiple is there too: you are part of different groups, where you can indulge your love for music, for images, for history, experiments and novelty. If you use it right (and not everybody does), it can be very organic and natural. It allows you to be yourself; but more importantly, it allows you to disguise yourself, which is more honest!
Release strategy-wise, I think regular singles are great, very dynamic and respectful of people’s time. They also enable the songs to remain relevant to a fast-changing world. But particularly, as a songwriter, I feel really excited about the space and the importance that it gives to THE SONG. Songs are easy to write, but a good song is rather hard to come by – respect to the makers of this complex form is overdue, in my opinion.
I genuinely think this is a wonderful time to be alive. As we face extinction on several fronts, and however real the panic and the horror is, we are forced to become more resourceful and creative with our technologies, to adapt, and also to face the truth.
We are forced to love every breath we are able to take, like that Italian doctor said who was recovering from the virus.
And the biggest challenge of all, bigger than the very real and horrific death we all justifiably fear, is freedom. And for as long as we manage to stay healthy, freedom is everywhere.
The Electricity Club gives its warmest thanks to Sebastian Muravchik
ZIMBRU are an intriguing synth assisted Romanian art pop four-piece comprising of Teodora Retegan, Paul Bucovesan, Andrei Bobiș and Oana Pop, their songs characterised by Retegan’s deep forlorn expression.
The title of their debut EP ‘Little Creatures’ suggests a TALKING HEADS influence, reinforced by the band’s moniker being a near namesake to ‘I Zimbra’, although “Zimbru” is actually the Romanian word for the European bison.
However, ‘Terejo’ does play with the quirky sound of David Bryne and chums, its rhythmical neo-funk motif imagining what TALKING HEADS might have sounded like as a more electronic band and not unsurprisingly coming over like a female fronted LCD SOUNDSYSTEM.
The bounce of ‘Dyo’ takes this eclectic template further with the bass synth driven groove augmented by cowbells interrupted with a booming dystopian doom reminiscent of Gary Numan.
By comparison, the EP’s lead track ‘Divination’ appears comparatively straightforward but plays with a dominant laser attack and adopts playful time signature changes alongside spacey synths and new wave guitars. The excellent accompanying video certainly reflects their artful poise and that stranger things might be afoot.
The ‘Little Creatures’ title song itself takes on a moodier pace, utilising a prominent off-beat and an incessant electronic pulse to drive it along, showcasing the varied musical facets ZIMBRU. In all, this is a promising debut EP release that offers haunting vocals, synthy hooks, art school sensibilities and intriguing rhythmic backdrops for the dancefloor.
LAU NAU is Laura Naukkarinen, one of the most respected and compelling artists in Finland.
Although already a veteran of six studio albums as LAU NAU, she is comparatively little known in the UK, but she has earned an international reputation for her work in film.
Using both electronic and acoustic mediums, taking in analogue synthesizers, traditional instruments, found objects, field recordings, musique concrète and her voice, her songs are imbued with a cinematic breadth of vision, ideal for arthouse cinema.
LAU NAU’s most recent release is the soundtrack for the documentary film ‘Land Without God’ where her idiosyncratic, finely honed sound world builds on fragile, spectral otherness.
A frequent visitor to the EMS studios in Stockholm, a special abridged performance of her twenty minute cosmic ambient piece ‘Amphipoda’ on a Buchla 200 was filmed by Andy Allen-Olivar and Johan Richter Olsson.
In a very special event hosted by Cold War Night Life, LAU NAU will be coming to London on Saturday 1st February 2020 to perform material from the ‘Land Without God’ soundtrack, as well as other songs from her extensive and impressive catalogue at The Cecil Sharpe House.
While she will not have a Buchla 200 with her, Naukkarinen will be bringing a self-assembled suitcase modular system of her own, which glows like the one carried by Thingumy and Bob in Tove Jansson’s ‘Moomin’ comics. What is inside is as valuable as the Groke’s ruby: a tangle of wires patching circuits to generate currents that carry her vocals through the crowd like mist from the sea.
Her music has fluidity and tension that reflects the waves of the Baltic which is firmly impressed with the Nordic experience.
While inland, this aural backdrop will be ideal for what is likely to be a cold winter’s evening in Primrose Hill, a compact, village-like area of grand Victorian terraces and pastel-coloured Regency townhouses.
Special guests are VILE ELECTRODES, who will present a stripped-down modular set to explore the creative potential of the instrument.
‘Land Without God’ is released by Fonal Records, available via the usual digital platforms