Considered very much as the spiritual home of English traditional music, the Cecil Sharp House was named after the founding father of the folk song revival who gathered thousands of tunes from rural England to archive for future generations.
It might have been an unusual place for the synth friendly Cold War Night Life to host an event to explore the potential of the modular synthesizer, but then this wasn’t just any old normal gig.
As doors opened, The Electricity Club began proceedings by curating a DJ set wholly comprising of interpretations of silence from the likes of NEW ORDER, DEPECHE MODE, GOLDFRAPP and ERASURE, all from Mute Records’ ‘Stumm 433’ boxed set celebrating composer John Cage and his celebrated minimal work.
Even Jonathan Barnbrook, the man who placed a white square over the cover of Bowie’s ‘Heroes’ to produce the artwork for ‘The Next Day’ raised his eyebrow in amusement at the concept. Meanwhile, there was an overheard discussion about how Andy Fletcher had now finally made an equal musical contribution to a DEPECHE MODE recording.
For VILE ELECTRODES, this was their first UK gig since 2017 but for this event, they set themselves a challenge.
Using an all-modular set up, there were no memories or presets, no drum machines, no sequencers, no backing tracks and “Just a pattern generator working on mathematical principles using Euclidean geometry if you’re interested – thanks for the great module VPME!” as the duo told The Electricity Club afterwards.
Using two mini-keyboards for controlling the voltages flying around, everything Anais Neon and Martin Swan played had to be decided upon and constructed live. Beginning with a slightly weird improvisational overture, they headed straight into the rarely performed unsettling tone poem ‘Love Song for A Pylon’. Using a projection filming them from behind, this was a terrifically thought out visual that illustrated just how busy the pair were amongst all the wires and controllers.
On a stripped down ‘Into Great Silence’ from ‘In The Shadow Of Monuments’ and new composition ‘We Are A Prism’, Anais Neon demonstrated the use of two Korg Kaoss Pads to sample and layer up her vocals to create unusual drones and harmonies, while also live sampling vocal fragments into a Mutable Instruments Clouds module to eerie effect.
‘Future Ballad’ was suitably dystopian while a minimal downtempo take on the haunting ‘Stranger To Myself’ (also from ‘In The Shadow Of Monuments’) closed a captivating set.
Unlike other independent UK acts, a new release from VILE ELECTRODES is eagerly anticipated and tonight showcased an evolvement in sound that may well blossom further on their long-awaited still-to-be-released and yet-to-be-titled third album.
LAU NAU is the stage persona of Laura Naukkarinen, one of the most respected and compelling artists in Finland. Although already a veteran of six studio albums, she has earned an international reputation for her work in film, with her soundtrack for the recently released documentary film ‘Land Without God’ gaining critical acclaim.
An keen exponent of combining the electronic with the acoustic, Naukkarinen opened with her environmental plea ‘We Were The Kids’ from the ‘Land Without God’ soundtrack using her portable self-assembled suitcase modular system and a squeeze box to provide an airy organic quality to the room.
From the aural nautical adventure of the ‘Poseidon’ album, ‘Unessa’ captured the misty mood of the Baltic sea with some gently idiosyncratic vocals, as did ‘Sorbuspuun Alla’ although with a more solemn demeanour.
The newly composed ‘Adria’ kept the fragile otherness strong, while ‘The Saints’ offered another look into a ‘Land Without God’ vai its elegiac string sweeps played on Roland Boutique JU-06.
For ‘Nukahtamislaulu’, Naukkarinen brought out a spinning wand LED toy with a contact microphone attached to capture a strangely understated motorised ambience. And with that, the Finn said her goodbyes, happy to have held a curious audience’s undivided attention for three quarters of an hour.
KRAFTWERK were often considered “Industrielle Volksmusik for the 21st Century” while the Cecil Sharp House is best known for its links to the centuries old folk form.
LAU NAU and VILE ELECTRODES both showed that on this cold winter’s evening in Primrose Hill, their own cultural processes can be considered part of a tradition that could easily transcend its perceived lifespan.
LAU NAU ‘Land Without God’ is released by Fonal Records, available on most digital platforms
STAR PILOT ON CHANNEL K, otherwise known as S.P.O.C.K beamed down to London to mark 25 years of Steve Weeks as a resident DJ at Slimelight, the world’s longest running alternative-dark scene nightclub.
However, a transporter malfunction and a change in the law of physics meant that their Federation uniforms ended up in Copenhagen.
It had already been traumatic time for the Swedish landing party of Android, Val Solo and Yo-Hann, what with the UK leaving the EU and cavity checks by hand now in place at the border instead of swift tricorder readings. Heading straight to H&M, the trio opted to temporarily join NASA.
While there were no Orions inhabiting Electrowerkz, Slimelight’s homebase since 1987, the regular bevvy of goths, cyberpunks with lasers, Lara Croft cosplayers, Tank Girls and emos were joined by a few rogue S.P.O.C.K fans. Happily dancing away together to APOPTYGMA BERZERK and their apocalyptic gothic rave tune ‘Until The End Of The World’, they were all about to witness the first UK live performance of S.P.O.C.K in 17 years.
Novelty act or not, S.P.O.C.K are a party band if nothing else, albeit one that has been carefully conceived for Trekkie conventions.
Opening appropriately with ‘Borg’ and ‘Mr. Spock’s Brain’, Android’s overwrought deadpan vocals with tongue firmly in cheek and playful stage manner were signs that proceedings were not intended to be taken too seriously.
The space electro of ‘Astrogirl’ was weirdly NEW ORDER-like as Android camped it up, but S.P.O.C.K beamed back up to the USS Enterprise for some amusing renditions of ‘Doctor McCoy’ and ‘Trouble With Tribbles’.
‘ET Phone Home’ told of nice aliens but as the space tug Nostromo found out, ‘All ETs Aren’t Nice’ and ‘In Space No One Can Hear You Scream’! An ‘Alien Attack’ is never welcome but when it is full of catchy electronic melodies, it can be rather fun.
Ending the main set with the frantic optimism of ‘Out There’, Android joined the Slimelight regulars on the dancefloor and fronted the cheerleading for the fake encore.
For it came ‘Star Pilot On Channel K’ which took the crew back to their Space 1999 flirtation with EBM, the electronic body of “duff-duff” and shouting outlining a Stellar phenomenon known as S.P.O.C.K ‘N’ Roll!
Concluding their 14 song set with ‘Never Trust A Klingon’, an alternative club favourite in both Sweden and Germany from 1992, this genius combination of bubbling synthpop and detached warnings about “evil barbarians”, who “if you ever give them a helping hand… can be sure they’ll chop off the arm”, is still their crowning moment.
And as the crowd unified with a smiling Android to chant the message loud and clear, it was time for him, Val Solo and Yo-Hann to re-energise in their quarters with a game of Tri-Dimensional Chess and some Romulan ale for medicinal purposes.
S.P.O.C.K originally formed to perform some ‘Star Trek’ themed songs at a birthday party.
And with what was an enjoyably illogical and escapist 14 song set, that essence still runs true on what has now become their 32 year mission.
Jorja Chalmers’ debut LP ‘Human Again’ was something of a conceptual observation on the human condition, a musical reality check following the artifice of adulation.
Conceived and sketched in hotel rooms around the world while in her dayjob as the sax / keys player for ROXY MUSIC’s Bryan Ferry, it captured the comedown of emptiness and alienation often arising from living the dream and touring to packed houses around the world.
The primarily instrumental suite was released in September 2019 by Italians Do It Better, home to CHROMATICS, DESIRE and HEAVEN, as well as being co-mixed by head honcho Johnny Jewel. While the Australian multi-instrumentalist has been something of a live veteran, having been part of the London music scene as a member of HOTEL MOTEL in the mid-noughties, Jorja Chalmers’ set at The Lexington was her first ever solo performance.
Backed by Ali Renault, best known as the synth man from Italo-influenced duo HEARTBREAK, the intimate London space was ideal for the introspective downtempo nature of the ‘Human Again’ material.
The organic spiritual tones of ‘Black Shadow’ began proceedings to create an uneasy ambience and a desolate air of mystery in keeping with its title.
But the set was not just about instrumentals as ‘She Made Him Love Again’ saw Chalmers put her breathy but spooky voice to good effect. A song of a sombre synthy disposition in the vein of the ‘Blade Runner’ soundtrack, a more prominent deep intervention of sax than on the record added an extra human quality, echoing the cult movie’s own blues.
The more rhythmic ‘Red Light’ added vocal ad-libs to counter its sinister claustrophobic Cold War atmosphere, all very Berlin in its mood with a variety of chilling dissonant keyboards.
New number ‘Don’t Think’ recalled the electro-dubby wash of lost Glaswegian trio ONE DOVE while the doomy metallic chill on ‘Copper Bells’ was given resonance, thanks to the meaty combination of pulsing arpeggios and a layer of Klaus Schulze-like string machine.
On the ‘Human Again’ title song, our heroine took to her sax and mic again. Like a forlorn Enya wandering into ‘Twin Peaks’, her emotive declaration that “I’ve been on my own for so long” captured the feeling of solitude in company, an often discussed post-gig condition.
Closing with two new songs, the comparatively boisterous ‘Warrior’ fused a distinctive marimba line with sax, but the sexy synth ‘n’ sax of ‘You Should Love Me Tonight’ was even more of a surprise.
Very avant pop in its construction, this slinky tune was a considerable departure from the more understated tracks collected on ‘Human Again’, coming over like a brilliant art school take on Cyndi Lauper.
It was a captivating half hour presentation which showed that material from the ‘Human Again’ album could work effectively within a live context and hold the attention of an audience. But having displayed a song-based prowess in the newer material, where Jorja Chalmers will take her music in the future is deliciously intriguing. So watch this space!
Szechuan six-piece STOLEN are part of a new generation of Chinese artists combining East and West.
Following on from FIFI RONG guesting with YELLO and Re-TROS supporting DEPECHE MODE, STOLEN undertaking a prestigious six date European tour opening for NEW ORDER has possibly been the most important moment for Chinese pop music in the 21st Century yet.
With influences such as JOY DIVISION, PORTISHEAD, BLUR, MASSIVE ATTACK, KRAFTWERK, NEW ORDER, RADIOHEAD and APHEX TWIN, they released their excellent breakthrough album ‘Fragment’ on MFS in Autumn 2018. Recorded and produced by Mark Reeder and Micha Adam in Berlin, their Sinomatic techno-rock sound has been exemplified by songs such as ‘Chaos’, ‘Turn Black’, ‘Why We Chose To Die In Berlin’ and ‘Copyshop’.
Liang Yi, the growly charismatic lead singer of STOLEN said to The Electricity Club in 2018: “It is our basic principle to try and separate our sound from other music. We can let others hear our influence, but we don’t want to become a ‘copy shop’ ourselves! We are trying to inspire others to join us and create our own Sino-sound.”
Capturing the nature of modern China, where traditional values can clash with mass industrialisation and capital growth, aspiration has always been part of the ethnic psyche.
And while STOLEN have successfully toured and played festivals in their homeland, they had ambitions to take their music to Europe.
Bernard Sumner had already declared his enthusiasm for them on the NEW ORDER website in 2018: “STOLEN are a young Chinese electronic band trying to carve out their own unique sound in a sometimes overwhelming environment of commercial ‘junk music’. I think this is a brave new album from STOLEN and I commend their efforts to shape the future sound of China.”
“The tour came together after Bernard asked me if I thought STOLEN would be interested in supporting NEW ORDER in Berlin.” remembered Mark Reeder, “I immediately said yes, without hesitation. A few months previously, I had been on a trip to Gdansk with Bernard and told him I had just finished producing an album by a young Chinese band called STOLEN, and that I was preparing to release it on my freshly rejuvenated MFS label”.
For Reeder who had introduced electronic dance music to Sumner and ultimately influenced the direction of the band that was once JOY DIVISION, the NEW ORDER front man was curious, especially about their working-class background and the obstacles that a band still has to overcome in China. “So we spent the best part of our trip talking about how STOLEN were the spearhead of an evolving new underground music scene in China and listening to their album ‘Fragment’” Reeder recalled, “I think he asked if they wanted to support NEW ORDER in Berlin because he knew himself what it was like to be in their position”.
But then about an hour later, NEW ORDER’s manager asked Reeder, who was now also acting as STOLEN’s European manager, that if STOLEN were going coming to Berlin for one gig, would they be interested in supporting NEW ORDER on the entire European tour? It was an offer that Reeder, who had supported NEW ORDER himself as part of SHARK VEGAS in 1984, could not refuse…
“I was preparing dinner in the kitchen when I got the news from Mark called and told me” said Liang Yi, “it didn’t register at first. Then I suddenly realised what it all meant. Once I told everybody in the band, our whole team had a sleepless night, we were so excited! The idea that we would be playing with the band who have been our constant companion in our Walkman or CD players, we just couldn‘t believe it. We will be opening for them! It was something each of us had always secretly dreamt of, but we never really thought it would ever be possible.”
But back in China, things were not so straightforward for STOLEN in their preparations; “It was probably nerves in most cases” Liang Yi confirmed, “We had some problems in work habits and communication, but we managed to solve them.”
It was here that Reeder’s experience came to the fore as although STOLEN wanted to make as best an impression as possible, there were the practicalities of being a support act from another continent that was only a cog in a much bigger operation. “Mark told us to practice setting up our stuff and taking it down, as well as performing the songs, because we had a short time limit between bands.” said Liang Yi, “So, by the time we came to play on stage I think we were a very well-oiled machine.”
While being their mentor, Reeder still had the important balance of allowing the band to maintain their artistic integrity: “I asked the band to decide which songs they wanted to play. I told them to think it over carefully though, because this could be their one and only opportunity to make a positive impression to a Western audience. Once they had decided which songs they wanted to play, my only suggestion was to swap the position of one of the songs.”
“We chose the songs which we knew always received the most excited or positive reaction from our fans when we are performing in China” Liang Yi added, “We wanted to see if European audiences would also dance or move to our music just like Chinese audiences do…”
As the tour headed towards its opening night in Prague, there were the usual tour nerves and tensions, not just for STOLEN but for NEW ORDER too.
“At the start of the tour, everyone was tense”, Reeder observed, “It was NEW ORDER’s first gig in Prague, just as much as it was STOLEN’s. So, everyone who was there, actually saw a small piece of music history.”
Liang Yi could not hide his excitement about the reality that was unfolding: “We were really moved when we arrived at the huge Prague venue and heard the first notes of ‘Atmosphere’ during the sound check. It was such a thrill for us to finally see NEW ORDER perform live too. It was really a dream come true. At the same time, we felt very nervous. We were going to have to face a bigger stage and thousands of hardcore NEW ORDER fans, all who have grown up with the history of modern rock music. It was a huge challenge for us.”
Not everyone had been positive about the opportunity that had been accorded to STOLEN. “On a few social media platforms, some even questioned why NEW ORDER had chosen a band from China over a local support band. A band from China? It probably sounded incredulous to most people” said Reeder, perhaps mindful of his own memories with SHARK VEGAS, “The crowds at first appeared to be rather sceptical and after the gigs, people came and told us they were very curious at first. We had no idea how the hardcore NEW ORDER fans would receive STOLEN. Support acts usually play to a disinterested audience, whose sole purpose seems to be clambering for a place at the bar.”
Reeder needn’t have worried, with an overwhelmingly positive reaction from the Prague crowd: “It was a wonderful feeling and a huge relief, to see how NEW ORDER’s audience accepted STOLEN, with encouraging clapping hands, and it was like that throughout the entire tour.”
Liang Yi’s reaction to what happened on this first night of the tour was a combination of ecstasy and relief: “We were very, very nervous and excited indeed! We had no idea how the Czech audience would react towards us. Secretly each of us thought the same thing, would they like our music? Would they accept us? In our hearts, we all wanted them to like our music and for our live performances to be seen and recognised by the Western World.”
STOLEN’s case was helped by them putting on a very visual, energetic and enthusiastic show. Not unlike NEW ORDER themselves, STOLEN’s other band members Fangde, Duan Xuan, Yufeng and Jun are multi-instrumentalists, often swapping mid-song. Meanwhile, their live performance was boosted by the striking often blood red tinged visuals of French-born on-stage VJ Formol who impressed Bernard Sumner so much, that he was asked to create and perform the visuals for ‘Fine Time’ during the headline NEW ORDER set.
On to Germany and Berlin was a sort of homecoming for STOLEN as they had recorded ‘Fragment’ with Mark Reeder there. One of the concepts Reeder had when making the record, was how the album should be more of a listening experience with a few quieter songs and its own atmosphere, as opposed to the full-raw power in almost every song during their live performances.
One musician keenly observing the fortunes of STOLEN with interest has been New York-based singer and producer Zachery Allan Starkey who was asked to remix ‘Chaos’ for the expanded Japanese digital edition of ‘Fragment’.
“The essence of STOLEN’s appeal are their hard edged electronics matching up with Liang Yi’s fluid, expressive, and androgynous voice.” said the American, “The band are incredible in terms of their songwriting and arrangements, use of synth, and Liang Yi is a really special singer.”
Starkey had an interesting approach to his restyling of ‘Chaos’: “As STOLEN’s original version of the song is very Techno oriented, I didn’t want to do a Techno remix. Liang Yi has a very sensual and androgynous voice that reminds me, in its tonal fluidity, of gay disco icon Sylvester, and this resulted in me taking my remix in a very Patrick Cowley meets New York leather bar direction… I have spent a lot of time in New York leather bars, so I know the vibe.”
Berlin’s Tempodrom is an impressive structure that inside perhaps isn’t unlike London’s Roundhouse but much taller and therefore bigger. Now whether the audience arrived early to get a prime standing spot for NEW ORDER or to actually see STOLEN, there was already a sizeable crowd inside the iconic venue as Mark Reeder took to the stage to introduce Chengdu sextet.
In his preamble, Reeder talked about how he brought an unknown band called JOY DIVISION into the divided city during one cold January in 1980. Now with walls fallen, it was to be STOLEN’s opportunity to play in front of Berliners.
And how appropriate it was that in the capital city of the artistic underground, STOLEN opened impressively with ‘Why We Chose to Die in Berlin’. And as it burst into its middle section inspired by KRAFTWERK’s 1991 reboot of ‘Radio-activity’, the sort of frantic flashing lights they put warning notices about at concert venues filled out the domed confines of the Tempodrom.
They continued the hypnotic momentum with what has now become the band’s signature tune ‘Chaos’ and the mighty PINK FLOYD gone Techno of ‘Turn Black’, all illustrated by surreal collages and stark graphics. The eerie ‘Vampire Lovers’ allowed for a comparative breather before STOLEN concluded their support set with the disciplined but exhilarating jam of ‘The Loop Sin’.
“Knowing that STOLEN were going through the same challenges that I have when I’ve played with NEW ORDER on the ‘Music Complete’ tour, I thought STOLEN’s opening set for NO in Berlin was fantastic.” Zachery Allan Starkey remarked, “They owned the stage, each member gave the set their all, and they were raw, unique, theatrical, bold, and thrilling. I loved it. Opening for NEW ORDER is both a great honour, and a great challenge.”
Also in attendance and totally enthused was Volker Maass, presenter of the ‘Operating / Generating’ radio show on Hamburg’s LautFM who confirmed that: “STOLEN was THE discovery 2018 for me, an intense experience full of energy. Like a raw diamond and exactly how Mark Reeder aptly put it: The future sound of China”.
NEW ORDER themselves did not disappoint, playing a host of fan favourites like ‘Bizarre Love Triangle’, ‘Temptation’ and ‘Your Silent Face’.
But there was also room given to lesser known singles like ‘Subculture’ and magnificent new numbers such as ‘Plastic’ alongside ‘True Faith’, ‘Regret’ and ‘Blue Monday’. Accompanied by a spectacular light show, NEW ORDER certainly appeared to visibly enjoy performing live much more than back in their Factory Records days.
In acknowledgement of their JOY DIVISION heritage, Bernard Sumner, Stephen Morris, Gillian Gilbert, Phil Cunningham and Tom Chapman also gave explosive renditions of ‘Transmission’ and ‘She’s Lost Control’ as well as a faithful and respectful ‘Decades’ for the first encore before closing the set with ‘Love Will Tear Us Apart’.
After the show, the STOLEN boys went over to the merchandise stall only to be mobbed. “After Berlin, we had no more CDs left” said Reeder with a smile and perhaps caught slightly by surprise, “If we had brought double the amount of CDs and vinyl with us, we could have probably sold all that too. Some people bought two or three copies of their releases. I think people saw it as a one-off opportunity to get a STOLEN CD or vinyl and get it signed by the band, at the gig.”
Indeed, by the end of the tour, STOLEN had no more of their MFS double vinyl, thus affirming the long held theory that physical product is one of the keys to generating and maintaining support, if a band is able to impress on a platform such as opening for a major band. VILE ELECTRODES who had opened for OMD on their 2013 German tour had a trilogy of CD EPs available which ultimately became collector’s items and built-up that vital early bond with their burgeoning fanbase.
But the tour was not over yet. In fact STOLEN had their own headlining club show at Maze with a host of Berlin-based talent including Taiwanese DJ BB Deng and French theatrical artist Valerie Renay, best known as the vivacious front woman of NOBLESSE OBLIGE as well as Zachery Allan Starkey. “STOLEN are lovely human beings” he said, “it was really nice to hang out with them and especially with Liang Yi. His voice is unique and incredible, he hits so many notes”.
“For STOLEN, their main concern was what did NEW ORDER themselves think of them?” said Reeder, “They were so relieved and happy to hear their praise and how enthusiastic and encouraging NEW ORDER were.” Indeed, STOLEN had made such an impression on NEW ORDER during the first few dates of the tour having seen their performance each night, they came on their day-off to see them perform at Maze.
Paris, Brussels and Amsterdam were the next cities to visit and having settled into the Autumnal weather and European food, STOLEN and Reeder began to allow themselves some “fun-fun-fun” on the autobahn. But the tour was not without its hitches.
“Poor Liang Yi arrived in Prague complaining of toothache.” recalled Reeder of the singer’s unfortunate dental misadventure, “After piles of painkillers, I managed to get him to the dentist in Berlin and she said he needed either special root canal treatment or to have his tooth pulled. I explained to her that Liang Yi was the singer of a band, currently on tour and that he had to sing.”
This was turning out to be the most unusual experience Mark Reeder ever had to deal with during his varied forty year music career: “Two days later we were leaving for Paris, and in the early morning before departure, I went with Liang Yi to the dentist to have his tooth pulled. This was a first-time experience for him and he was duly concerned. Yet, it went very smoothly and painlessly and the relief of having no more toothache offset the fact that his tooth had been pulled.”
Tooth extracted, Liang Yi began to savour his time in Europe: “I seemed to like the food here in Europe a lot better than I did before! Language was also much easier. We realised how much our English has improved since our last visit to Berlin when we were recording ‘Fragment’ and it was pleasantly surprising to us how well we could communicate. Especially when going out with Bernard and having an in-depth chat.”
There is the old joke that the English rather like to talk about the weather but then by coincidence, so do the Chinese: “We were actually very lucky with the weather. It wasn’t so bad. It rained in Prague and Munich and a bit in Berlin, but it was over 20°C in Paris. I just hope next time when we come to Europe, it will be warmer, because every time we come to Europe it always seems to be cold and wintery.”
Over at the Forest National in Brussels, German NEW ORDER fan Sony Pusteblume felt she had just seen something special: “STOLEN was a sovereign opening act that fitted like a ‘fist to the eye’ of NEW ORDER. I got goosebumps when they started playing. They caught the attention of the audience quickly and the crowd danced and applauded to the music; an absolutely successful support.”
After the concert, she could see a lot of people were buying vinyl and merchandise so she opted to chat first. “I had a nice small talk with Mr Reeder. He was totally happy about the gig and about ‘his’ band. I am sure they are on the right way.” she said, “The STOLEN guys were very friendly and thankful for all the good words which people said. After I also bought some CDs and vinyl, I also told them that I loved the gig and hope they come back to Europe, hopefully Germany.”
And as STOLEN’s European jaunt ended with a final club headliner in Strasbourg, there was time to reflect on what was a very successful tour with NEW ORDER. “The crowds were really encouraging” said Reeder, a man who has been very much at the heart of unity throughout his life, “it was a great feeling knowing we were bringing people and cultures together purely through music and showing European audiences that China actually has its own new music scene too.”
“Almost all of the cities on this tour gave us a lot of encouragement” added Liang Yi, “We got a lot of praise and active support. The audiences were very welcoming and it reflected in the way the crowd came to us after the gigs to have selfies and buy our merch. We almost sold out of all the band’s merchandise that we brought from China with us.”
“We could also see how the concerts had been received by how fast the merch we had brought with us, rapidly diminished.” Reeder affirmed. At the end of the day, the sign is not how many people watch the support band at the start, but now many are remaining by the end of the set and who then go over to buy an album in their chosen format. Vinyl remains the ultimate artefact, but CDs can be popped into pockets and played straight away in the car on the drive home.
So which city on the tour was the favourite? Although all the gigs went down very well, the majority had standing areas so reaction was less straightforward to gauge. But at the prestigious Bavarian music centre of Philharmonie im Gasteig which was all seated, things were more explicit as Mark Reeder recollected: “The best reaction was probably in Munich, where the gig was held in a classical concert hall. STOLEN got a standing ovation there. No one expected that. Even the crew who have seen every kind of support act play before NEW ORDER, said they had never seen a support act get a standing ovation, ever! So that was quite an emotional moment for everyone. The band were floored by that response.”
For Liang Yi though, the significance of the tour as a whole made choosing much more difficult: “I think it is very hard to choose one favourite city, because it’s all new for us and we really only spent a few moments in each one, hardly getting a chance to really see them, only a few sights. Our time was mainly spent hanging about the venues waiting for our soundcheck. We can only evaluate the reaction of the crowds each night. In Munich, the audience were very enthusiastic and in Brussels too. I hope to have a chance to get to know more about these cities and be able to make a better judgment in the future.”
A few months on, Mark Reeder felt it turned out rather well: “I think I can safely say NEW ORDER liked them too.”
And with the next stage prepared, Liang Yi had one final word on STOLEN’s first significant cross-cultural milestone: “Our hopes are to reach an even wider audience in 2020, maybe with a few festival shows and we would like to play a club tour and make a new album and continue to attract new fans. A dream came true to play with New Order in 2019.“
The Electricity Club gives its warmest thanks to Liang Yi, Mark Reeder, Zachery Allan Starkey, Volker Maass and Sony Pusteblume
LINEA ASPERA released their self-titled debut album in 2012. A collection of dark but danceable electronic pop, before any new listeners had an opportunity to discover and savour them, the duo had already disbanded in 2013.
As with another great lost synth act MIRRORS, much of the affection for LINEA ASPERA has come retrospectively.
But although Alison Lewis and Ryan Ambridge continued with other projects, with Lewis notably in KELUAR and most recently solo as ZANIAS, the seemingly unfinished business of LINEA ASPERA was greater than its sum of parts.
With BOY HARSHER gaining a wider public breakthrough during 2019, that LINEA ASPERA have reunited is timely as the starker underground mode of electro asserts its place in an increasingly dystopian world. Fans were treated to ‘Preservation Bias’, a collection of archive material and rarities, with the additional announcement of a 2020 European tour and new material.
A sell-out crowd and the usual bar breakout area in Electrowerkz closed off due to a wedding reception meant a good turnout for the opening act WITCH OF THE VALE.
A technical hitch delayed the start but once ‘Crash’ began, the enigmatic married couple of Erin and Ryan Hawthorne got into their stride to impress the attentive crowd like they had done on the Friday afternoon of Infest 2019.
‘Trust The Pain’ drew on its haunting folk influences courtesy of Mrs Hawthorne’s finely-tuned soprano, while new songs ‘Death Dream’ and ‘The Sky & The Sea’ maintained the brooding mood. Aided by blocks of deep red light and smoke, the music box hypnotism of ‘The Way This Will End’ from their debut EP of the same name maintained their electronic pagan stance. But WITCH OF THE VALE’s cover of Lana Del Rey’s expletive laden ‘Gods & Monsters’ provided some percussive tension, before ending their set with the mantric rumble of ‘Fever’.
By the time LINEA ASPERA were ready to take the stage, Electrowerkz was rammed, such was the anticipation for their return. With the sultry but enigmatic Alison Lewis next to the stoic presence of Ryan Ambridge on his Roland SH09 and his minimal electronic programming, the pair combined for a magical lesson in captivating outsider pop.
Opening with the downcast ‘Preservation Bias’, the motorik pulse of ‘Eviction’ soon penetrated the mind as “to love is to lose” while driving the mutant dance. In line with Lewis’ previous academic studies, if anthropology was a type of music, then it would be like LINEA ASPERA.
Throughout the show, the tonal counterpoints between Lewis’ elegant gothique and Ambridge’s comparative brightness made for an enticing dynamic.
‘Syncretism’ with its frantic anxiety and elegance highlighted why LINEA ASPERA’s inventive arrangements of dark synthesized pop have been missed over the last few years. The cold stare of ‘Hinterland’ reflected its title, but as Lewis seductively murmured of how “we would never suffer again”, her desire for isolation and solitude was clear, communicating her discontent and anger without resorting to shouting.
Named after a major city of the Maya civilization in Belize and reflecting Lewis’ passion for archaeology, ‘Lamanai’ offered more Motorik moods with the bonus of some screeches and squelches from Ambridge. As per their sound, the stage show was minimal with smoke machines on overdrive and misty shades of blue light, but it provided an effective backdrop.
A new song ‘Equilibrium’ recalled American duo SOFT METALS with its looping techno hypnotism and may well become a LINEA ASPERA favourite of the future.
Meanwhile another new number with piercing arpeggios and a quietly pumping house backbone paid homage to THE KNIFE’s ‘Silent Shout’.
Welcomed home like a long lost friend, the brilliant ‘Synapse’ reminded the audience of Lewis’ interest in biology and the human condition, all to Ambridge’s metronomic beats and deliciously high register synths. Detached and alluringly nonchalant, the Australian singer paradoxically snarled “Don’t look at me” as she drew in the crowd.
With the appropriately titled ‘Reunion’ to close, with the lines “It was never revenge, it was self defense” … I swear it’s just a reflex, leaving bones in splinters all over your face” reflecting the sombre intensity of Lewis’ deep mind.
What LINEA ASPERA have successfully pulled off is to retain their cool mystique while widening their audience. It’s a lesson to the electronic music scene, because here less really has meant more.
It really is great to have Alison Lewis and Ryan Ambridge back together again.
LINEA ASPERA 2020 live dates:
Paris Tech Noire 3rd Anniversary (31st January), Den Haag Grauzone Festival (7th February), Rüsselsheim Kalte Sterne Festival 2020 (11th April), Oberhausen Kalte Sterne Festival (12th April), Malmö Inkonst (15th May), Copenhagen Spillestedet Stengade (16th May)