While poptronica trailblazers PAGE have maintained an international cult following over the decades, apart from the occasional cover version like DEPECHE MODE’s Dreaming Of Me’ and OMD’s ‘Electricity’, or during live performance with ‘Lyssnade På Min Radio’ (Listening To My Radio)’ done in English for their first London show, they have always sung in Swedish.
But taking a leaf from the imperial phase of KRAFTWERK where songs were released in a variety of languages, the duo of Eddie Bengtsson and Marina Schiptjenko present a new EP with variations of their music in German and English.
Leading the ‘Bludest Du?’ EP is ‘Blöder Du?’ translated into German. Originally from the most recent album ’Fakta For Alla’, it means ‘Are You Bleeding?’ and takes things in a darker direction than PAGE have ever been in their long career. The use of German enhances the foreboding nature of the stark brooding electronic backdrop.
The effective video made by Mark Kjahart Pettersson gets around lockdown restrictions by having Bengtsson and Schiptjenko appear grainily on multiple vintage TV screens while a mysterious figure reveals an inner turmoil through implied physical disfigurement.
Also featuring on the EP are two tracks in English, ‘Start’ and ‘Tracks’, the Gary Numan song. ‘Start’ wears its Numanoid cosplay on its sleeve and pays tribute to a time before ‘Dance’ ever happened, with buzzing Minimoog basslines and swirling Polymoog strings coming over like a mash-up of ‘Metal’ and ‘Tracks’.
And speaking of the side two opener from ‘The Pleasure Principle’, PAGE’s 2017 album from ‘Det Är Ingen Vacker Värld Men Det Råkar Vara Så Det Ser Ut’ had already included a faithful version of ‘Tracks’ in Swedish as ‘Spår’, so the artistic fixation with the man who once called himself Valerian more or less comes full circle.
The fourth track on the ‘Blutest Du?’ EP is the mighty instrumental ‘Saint Anastase’; from the previous ‘Under Mitt Skinn’ EP, it channels a Vox ‘N’ Foxx cocktail with hints of ‘All Stood Still’, ‘I Remember (Death In The Afternoon)’ and ‘Swimmer’ over an incessant neo-motorik beat.
Those that may have been cautious about investigating PAGE in the past due to the language barrier will find the ‘Blutest Du?’ EP an ideal introduction. With electronic hooks and melodies in abundance that recall the best in Synth Britannia, there is now no reason not to.
Ever since the Canadian budget household gadget firm K-Tel diversified into the territory of compilation albums with ‘25 Country Hits’ in 1966, various artists compendiums have been a major part of the music industry fabric.
In particular, curated various artists albums based on a theme, be they around a record label roster, sub-genre or lifestyle experience, such as ‘Methods Of Dance’, ‘Modern Dance’, ‘Some Bizarre Album’, ‘Retro:Active’, ‘This Is Not The 80s’, ‘Electri_City’ or ‘The Electricity Club’ have been enthusiastically received with the opportunity to discover new artists or obtain rare material.
‘Trans-Global Excess Volume 1’ is the first compilation by Specchio Uomo, the independent label run by James Knights of SCARLET SOHO and KNIGHT$ fame specialising in Italo, nu disco and synthpop. He said “It’s a celebration of the independent spirit and the free movement that brought us all together in the first place” containing “music by friends we’ve met on the road and at shows over the years”.
Any good compilation has several star names to draw a potential audience in, but also features a wealth of quality material largely unknown to a wider audience and this one importantly manages to have both.
It begins in an energetic fashion with ‘You Can’t Get Fooled By Love’ by the rebooted BOYTRONIC featuring original frontman Holger Wobker and James Knights himself, the ANT PEOPLE remix providing some tribal enhancement on its bed of sparkly arpeggio-laden Europop. Presented as a Dark Italo mix courtesy of Jens Plöger of RUN:, the German producer takes PYSCHE’s 1987 single ‘Uncivilized’ into territory which isn’t actually that far off BOYTRONIC.
Meanwhile ITALOCONNECTION’s ‘Now Or Never’ is naturally a more modern twist on the classic Italo form by Fred Ventura, but it really does party likes it is 1987! A comparatively new name but with experienced intuition behind it, ‘Discoboom’ is by SNS SENSATION, the solo vehicle of Sebastian Muravchik of HEARTBREAK; his throbbing Moroder-esque attack, laced with some unexpected heavy metal guitar, could easily be mistaken for his duo with Ali Renault.
‘Soldiers Of Love’ by ITALOVE will conjure sunny nostalgia with visions of perms and mullets despite being a demo from 2012, while ‘If There Was No Gravity’ by THE HOOLIGAN takes the collection into jazz flavoured citypop territory and Vienna’s BROKEN EGO provides some whimsical electropop with ‘When The Lights Go Out’.
Another interesting inclusion is the moody electro of LAKESIDE X with ‘Wonder’ which first appeared in 2012 when the Czech combo performed as part of a RECOIL event when Alan Wilder visited Prague for a showing of his concert film ‘A Strange Hour In Budapest’.
But the highlights on ‘Trans-Global Excess Volume 1’ come from three unknown acts. Best of all is the crashing beats and attitude of PLASMASCHWARZ with ‘Mein Kopf’. Cut from a not dissimilar cloth, ‘Stingray’ by CAPITAL X is a bit feistier, but Düsseldorf husband and wife duo MÄNGELEXEMPLAR offer some wonderfully cool Teutonic detachment.
‘Trans-Global Excess Volume 1’ is a diverse collection; the galloping rock of BROKEN LINKS and the spiky snarl of CONTINENTAL LIAISON might confuse KNIGHT$ fans, but they will be far happier with a slice of girly popwave entitled ‘Drifting’ from Roxi Drive which contains the now almost obligatory sax solo and the future disco of KOMPUTER KID’s ‘Summer Again’.
The most poignant track on ‘Trans-Global Excess Volume 1’ comes with the previously unreleased ‘So Agitated’, a chiptune-inspired number by TRADEMARK, a trio comprising Oliver Horton, Stuart Meads and Paul Soulsby who opened for THE HUMAN LEAGUE in 2004. Stuart Meads sadly passed away in 2013 and although there was a final self-titled album in 2014, the inclusion as a fitting tribute.
Featuring 17 eclectic tracks, ‘Trans-Global Excess Volume 1’ has something for most electronic pop fans and in PLASMASCHWARZ, MÄNGELEXEMPLAR and CAPITAL X, it showcases some promising talent for the future. If you are a fan of KNIGHT$, SCARLET SOHO, BOYTRONIC, ITALOCONNECTION or HEARTBREAK, then there is a good chance that you will like a fair portion of this.
‘We Are Still Alone’ by ALICE HUBBLE was one of The Electricity Club’s Songs Of 2019 and is now released in its own right as a single by Happy Robots Records.
The solo vehicle of Alice Hubley, best known for fronting ARTHUR & MARTHA and COSINES, her synth earth mother persona embraces the endearing instrumental influence of Delia Derbyshire and Daphne Oram with the forlorn vocal style of Sally Oldfield.
With a lilting bass and elegiac transistorised melody, ‘We Are Still Alone’ was the highlight of ‘Polarlichter’, a debut album with an avant pop heart swathed in wonderful musical aurora. With synthetic strings recalling ASHRA and OMD, Hubley is sadly resigned that she “couldn’t find the way to make me better”. Although originally released in 2019, in the context of 2020, ‘We Are Still Alone’ now reflects the fears and anxiety of isolation prevalent in the minds of many.
The suitably complementary video accompaniment, directed by Alicia Britt and edited by Hubley herself, beautifully uses stark shadow puppetry techniques. It was inventively realised at Britt’s home using a white bed sheet and two spotlights attached to wardrobe doors to create a shadow studio.
In keeping with the aura of varying colour and complexity hinted at by its title, over eight tracks, ‘Polarlichter’ was a soundscape of pastoral solace. “The whole ALICE HUBBLE process has been a dream, being solo means you can work at your own pace and can be quick at making decisions” said Hubley, “It can get lonely at times, but I make a point of working with people I enjoy being around and try to have fun with it.”
The five track download bundle includes two sub-50 second ‘Theme’ reworkings of ‘We Are Still Alone’ by Happy Robots Records label mate Roman Angelos whose album ‘Spacetronic Lunchbox’ was released earlier in the year and a remix by PYE CORNER AUDIO.
Dedicated to the female pioneers of electronic music Clara Rockmore, Wendy Carlos, Daphne Oram, Delia Derbyshire, Éliane Radigue, Laurie Spiegel, Suzanne Ciani, Johanna Beyer, Bebe Baron, Pauline Oliveros, Else Marie Pade and Beatriz Mercedes Ferreyra, ‘The Shock Of The Future’ or ‘Le Choc Du Futur’ is a wonderful independent French film celebrating the synthesizer.
Set in Paris 1978, ‘Le Choc Du Futur’ depicts a day in the life of a young fictional female synth musician Ana Klimova, following her fortunes as she struggles with creative blocks, networking, recognition and self-doubt, while also documenting the random happenings which spark her creativity.
A Bohemian elfin-like figure in the vein of Francoise Hardy or Jane Birkin, Ana Klimova is charmingly played by Alma Jodorowsky whose own family dynasty in cinema spans three generations. Her character uses electronics to make what she considers to be the music of the future, as she attempts to make herself heard in an ambivalent and lecherous male-dominated industry with its systemic patriarchy.
‘Le Choc Du Futur’ is the first film and screenplay by Marc Collin of NOUVELLE VAGUE, a musical project that has released five albums of new wave and synth covers rearranged in a continental longue bossa nova style; songs like ‘Just Can’t Get Enough’, ‘Don’t Go’, ‘Fade To Grey’, ‘A Forest’, ‘Say Hello Wave Goodbye’ and ‘Blue Monday’ have been amongst those getting the treatment. During that time, Collin has been notable for discovering female singing talent.
One of them has been Clara Luciani who sang on NOUVELLE VAGUE’s reinterpretation of ALTERED IMAGES’ ‘I Could Be Happy’ and she plays the role of the singer who is the voice of the film’s central tune ‘Future Shock’, composed by Collin himself.
In order to keep costs to a minimum, Collin directed ‘Le Choc Du Futur’ primarily as a chamber drama. Most of the scenes take place in a city apartment which is also the home studio of a famous musician Michel Manitovski who Ana appears to be housesitting for, with the benefit that she can use his collection of expensive synthesizers.
As two of France’s major electronic exponents of the period, the music of Jean-Michel Jarre and Cerrone feature prominently at the start of the film as historical context, with Ana innocently dancing along in just her T-shirt to ‘Supernature’ before chilling to ‘Oxygene 1’ as inspiration while getting down to work.
Working as a home masseuse to make ends meet, Ana however is focussed on making electronic music like a female Jean-Michel Jarre, much to the dismay of her manager Jean-Mi who has advanced her 1000 Francs to produce music for an advertising commission that he has got her.
As far as the acting is concerned in terms of playing synths and operating modulars or sequencers, Alma Jodorowsky is way more convincing than say Andy Fletcher of DEPECHE MODE. With her expressions and eye movements, she is compelling to watch as the viewer witnesses the start-stop-start nature of electronic composition. In these scenes, it is synth porn galore, with a Yamaha CS-80, ARP 2600, ARP 1601 sequencer and Moog modular units from the IIIP and Model 10 series figuring in the gear set-up.
But it’s when Ana finds one of the modules develops a glitch and calls an engineering boffin named Herve to help, that her Eureka moment happens. He has with him a Roland CR-78 Compurhythm and when it is demonstrated to her how it can sync with her ARP Sequencer, she can foresee her own future in electronic pop! Ana pleads with Herve to let her borrow the machine and he relents, despite his request for a kiss not being satisfied.
Jean-Mi is less convinced though and when Ana enthusiastically declares her vision of “dancing with atoms”, “moving with electronic circuits” and “a dance for oscillators”, her manager sceptically snorts “I know what a stupid beatbox is for. You think it’s going to replace a live drummer? The sound? The energy? You believe there won’t be studios anymore? Musicians? There’s just gonna be this poor guy alone doing music in his home?” – well, yes!
As Jean-Mi demands the return of his advance, Ana enters an existential crisis but her fortunes change with the arrival of a session singer played by Clara Luciani who turns up for the advertisement session that our heroine has forgotten about.
Together they collaborate on some chic disco synthpop that comes over rather like CHROMATICS meeting a deeper MARSHEAUX under the influence of Galouises smoke. While stoned, they talk about using the name CHAPI CHAPO, after a cartoon they are watching! The pair decide to premiere their track ‘Future Shock’ at a party that Ana is throwing, to which Dominic Giroux, a producer from the prestigious real-life label Barclay Records has been invited.
The party goes down a storm with its hip eclectic playlist, as does ‘Future Shock’ which has all of Ana’s friends and associates dancing and applauding. But as Giroux prepares to depart, Ana nervously asks the producer for feedback, although he seemingly becomes more interested in another lady present.
Despite being told “there’s something there”, Giroux shatters Ana by dismissing her potential, stating “I’m afraid there is no market for such music in France”. In despair, her friend Paul takes Ana for a walk to assure her that her work is valid and to maintain her artistic integrity while “what matters in life is not how many times you fall, it’s how many times you get back up”.
To this end, Paul uses his music industry contacts to arrange a visit to a recording session by Corine who complete with her trademark blonde curly mane, plays a character named and based on herself in a bit of timewarp dramatic licence. Here the real life pop starlet tells Ana that the producer from Barclay doesn’t know what he is talking about and gives her encouragement to persist. Loving Ana’s concept of electronic disco, the two swap contacts in anticipation that they might become future sisters in arms.
Nominated for ‘Best Feature Film’ at the Torino Film Festival 2019, ‘Le Choc Du Futur’ captures the beauty of the synthesizer, providing a seductive and uplifting 100 minutes that offers a snapshot of a developing popular culture, while also focussing on female empowerment and passion for music. Although the film’s storyline might be a bit too basic and niche for some, it is made with love and will be immensely appealing to synth enthusiasts for its observations on the creative process and the battles against the rockist real music fraternity.
Meanwhile the soundtrack presses all the right buttons. Most will be able relate to the scene when Ana’s seasoned New York mentor visits her for one of their regular new music listening sessions and plays THROBBING GRISTLE ‘United’, THE HUMAN LEAGUE ‘Dance Like A Star’ and the cosmic collage of AKSAK MABOUL ‘Saure Gurke’ to her for the first time. However, there will be amusement as Ana gives a muted response to ‘Frankie Teardrop’ by SUICIDE which she feels is “too rock”.
While ‘Le Choc Du Futur’ does not speculate as to how Ana Klimova’s musical career may have panned out, it her story is inspirational and although it is fictional, her electronic revolution inside her head did become real.
Although SCARLET SOHO went into hiatus after the release of their third album ‘In Cold Blood’ in 2015, interest in them has been rejuvenated thanks to the success of front man James Knights and his Britalo focussed exploits with his solo vehicle KNIGHT$.
Two tracks on ‘In Cold Blood’, ‘Two Steps From Heartache’ and ‘Gigolo’ were effectively blueprints for KNIGHT$ and are usually mainstays of his live set. But although SCARLET SOHO began with a more post-punk sound dominated by guitars, there was always a pop element throughout their career despite the darkness and that is evident on their new updated retrospective compilation ‘Programmed To Perfection – Best Of & Rarities’.
At the start of the 21st Century, electronic pop was making something of a resurgence with the likes of LADYTRON, GOLDFRAPP and THE KNIFE proving that “synthesizer” was not a dirty word. Alongside them were bands such as THE FAINT, THE KILLERS and THE BRAVERY who all had synths as a rogue element within their conventional instrumentation. There were also emergent acts such as IAMX, THE MODERN, PROTOCOL, DELAYS and BOY KILLS BOY, and it is perhaps in this group that SCARLET SOHO slotted in.
Comprising the nucleus of James Knights and Amy Brown aka Scarlet with Lee Kinrade on guitar and augmented by a drum machine, SCARLET SOHO’s debut release was the ‘Ruthless Animation’ EP in 2001. This led to support slots for THE FAINT and DELAYS, attracting the attention of the latter’s producer Justin Callaway to record their debut album ‘Divisions Of Decency’ issued in 2004 by Human Recordings. The excellent trio of ‘Skin Trade’, ‘Disconnected’ and ‘Modern Radio’ from ‘Divisions Of Decency’ were slabs of fuzzy machine rock in the vein of THE FAINT.
Meanwhile taking a slight diversion, ‘Programmed To Perfection’ came over like Alvin Stardust fronting SWEET produced by THE RAH BAND!
With Stuart Key replacing Nick Haynes who joined the SCARLET SOHO after the departure of Lee Kinrade, it would be 2009 before ‘Divisions Of Decency’ was followed up by ‘Warpaint’, released by Major Records, the German label who had issued albums by IAMX and LADYTRON.
Included on this collection, the galloping disco sequences and gritty determination of ‘I Dare’ signalled a significant progression towards the dancefloor and this was further affirmed by ‘Analogue Dialogue (Kill The Beat)’ which imagined Giorgio Moroder going indie and collaborating with THE KILLERS.
Reflecting some of their contemporaries, ‘Speak Your Mind’ was a rousing slice of synth indie in the vein of THE BRAVERY with a magnificent whirring keys solo, while ‘Is Growing Up The Best That We Can Do?’ was almost a Numan-esque take on PROTOCOL. But it is ‘Lights Out London’ which stands out from ‘Warpaint’ with a frantic electro-goth vibe up there with IAMX who SCARLET SOHO were to tour with extensively in Europe.
Released in 2015, ‘In Cold Blood’ was the third and so far final album by SCARLET SOHO. Despite the six year gap between long players, much of what became ‘In Cold Blood’ had been released in advance on the EPs ‘When The Lights Go Out’, ‘Solo KO’ and ‘Two Steps From Heartache’.
The self-produced and self-released ‘In Cold Blood’ looked set to be SCARLET SOHO’s breakthrough as it heralded a greater interest in electronic pop with fewer guitars in evidence. Much more immediate than any of their previous work, although the material appeared to be less angsty and fraught, it was still a gloomy album lyrically.
‘When The Lights Go Out’ demonstrated more of a disco sound while ‘What You Need’ even flirted with synthwave as showcased on the ‘Drive’ soundtrack by KAVINSKY and COLLEGE. However, the sombre ‘Solo KO’ showed that SCARLET SOHO had not totally vacated their dark aesthetic, but leaving a lyrical signal of what was to come.
Indeed the bridge to KNIGHT$ came with ‘Gigolo’, a song on ‘In Cold Blood’ that was so wonderfully poppy, Knights and Scarlet had initially felt it was not suitable for SCARLET SOHO and the glorious house-laden ‘Two Steps From Heartache’ which appears on the double set as a vocoder-assisted James Yuill remix with a more tightly incessant rhythmic base.
Any good retrospective set features rarities or unreleased songs and ‘Programmed To Perfection’ satisfies both requirements. Among the best of the bunch is ‘Into The Night’ in collaboration with Loic Rathscheck; recorded for the 2011 German film ‘Bauernfrühstück’; it features the “Classic meets Pop” singer Isgaard replicating the soprano from Ennio Morricone’s ‘Ecstasy Of Gold’ to strangely compliment the track’s intense electronic backdrop. The moody ‘Children Of The Sun’ with its European grandeur was written in the same sessions but didn’t get used, so is a welcome inclusion for SCARLET SOHO and KNIGHT$ completists alike.
Of the other rarities, there are remixes by !DISTAIN, TOKYOTRON and CANDIDE amongst others but the tracks that will attract most interest are the B-sides and previously unreleased demos.
‘Daylight’ is an electronic indie rock hybrid with a snarl that is very much of its time while ‘Pseudo Sushi’ is very guitar-driven, but ‘Useless Information’ will be a shock to some as it is almost heavy metal!
Then there is ‘Professionals’ from the ‘Two Steps From Heartache’ EP which was something of a dubstep experiment while off the ‘When The Lights Go Out’ EP, ‘Retail Therapy’ was an electro new wave hybrid that was more typically SCARLET SOHO.
‘Programmed To Perfection’ acts as a fine introduction to SCARLET SOHO, gathering them at their most accessible. For anyone who appreciates the shades donning solo persona of James Knights as KNIGHT$, it documents an interesting and significant part of the artistic journey that led to ‘Dollars & Cents’, one of the best albums of 2019.