As the old adage goes, “misery loves company…” and it cannot be denied that some huge selling albums have been written following dark times in an artist’s life.
So what happens when things start to become a bit peachy? The royalties come rolling in, your singer starts dating a celebrity boy/girlfriend and you pay off your mortgage?
Do you still continue to write about the dark feelings and circumstances that initially gave you fame and fortune?
Or do you evolve and explore themes of your newfound happiness/comfort instead hoping that your fans follow you in a lemming-like fashion?
One of the main reasons that the debut WHITE LIES album ‘To Lose My Life’ drew significant attention was its overt obsession with death; eight of the ten tracks featured the words “death”, “dead”, “die”, “died” or “deceased” in their lyrics and the monolithic monochromatic album artwork added to the overall effect.
Musically, the band have always worn their influences on their sleeves, their debut was a highly (Flood) produced mixture of ULTRAVOX synths and U2 bombast with huge catchy hooks and the baritone Julian Cope-ish vocal of Harry McVeigh sitting majestically on top. Second album ‘Ritual’ saw a honing of the sound, ‘Big TV’ ramped up the anthemic nature of the band’s music and now after a gap of three years comes ‘Friends’.
Lead-off single ‘Take It Out On Me’ is undeniably catchy and features a huge earworm of a chorus melody. If it wasn’t for the guitar and live drums on the track, it could quite conceivably be an OMD song from ‘History of Modern’ or ‘English Electric’.
‘Morning in LA’ starts like another late period OMD track with a hooky synth refrain before a Midge Ure style guitar joins the mix. Again this is another ultra-melodic song, but the extended length of the track means towards the end the chorus vocal feels like it’s outstayed its welcome by a minute or so. ‘Hold Back Your Love’ has a cool live bass and synth interplay with an ORBITAL-esque string sequence; McVeigh’s big vocal range is utilised well here, but lyrically it all feels a bit flat and emotionally disconnected.
‘Don’t Want to Feel It All’ takes the tempo down a few notches and introduces some welcome darkness with the middle eight line “no I’m not going to break your heart but I might use it”.
There’s also very little guitar and has the kind of dynamic that made ‘Death’ from their debut such a killer (sorry) song.
‘Summer Didn’t Change A Thing’ is a standout track if only for the fact that it throws in some unpredictable musical and dynamic shifts over its four minute running time. Like other songs on the album, the chorus again outstays its welcome somewhat. By the time you get half way through the album, proceedings start to flag, the formulaic song structuring and synth sounds become very predictable and despite the immaculate production, the songs eventually roll into one.
Like a slow moving iceberg, WHITE LIES have gradually moved away conceptually from the dark themes explored on ‘To Lose My Life’ and ‘Ritual’.
By the time you’ve sat through ten tracks of lyrics mainly about love, you even start to morbidly wish for a ditty about a suicide pact just to hark back to the band’s imperial phase.
If you are new to the band, there is a lot to be enjoyed here, loads of synth parts and melodic songs, but with ‘To Lose My Life’ now seeming like a long distant memory, ‘Friends’ is the sound of a band that is starting to scrabble around for its identity and failing.
For many fans, is this where the friendship with WHITE LIES possibly ends…?
First published in 2011, ‘Is That The 12” Mix?’ was author and music aficionado ROB GRILLO’s personal but well-informed history of the 12” single.
In keeping with its story tracing the emergence of the extended remix as an artform in its own right, Grillo has now remade and remodelled his book in a new 2016 version.
Retitled ‘Is That The 12″ Remix?’, the new edition features contributions from the likes of Neil Tennant and Rusty Egan as well as more photos and an extra 20,000 words.
Among those words, The Electricity Club are interviewed in a chapter entitled ‘Providing a Service – The Fan(atic)s part one’ which discusses the rise of the independent music blog. Meanwhile, TEC’s 25 Favourite Classic 12 inch Versions listing also makes an appearance in the ‘Chartfile’ appendix.
ROB GRILLO chatted to The Electricity Club about why more can mean more…
What was the motivation behind a second edition of ‘Is That The 12” Mix?’?
Since the first edition came out, I’ve build up many more contacts and relationships in the music industry, so I was able to use some of them, and additional information to build a new edition. Plus there were one or two bits that needed updating or correcting.
I’d just helped Demon Music with a few Hi-NRG related album reissues, one of those being from MIQUEL BROWN. It bugged me that I hadn’t used an image of her in the first edition, so it inspired me to get some more permissions and start that new edition. I always felt that the first edition could have been promoted a little better, part of that being my own fault. It seemed right to change the title of the book from ‘12” MIX’ to ’12’’ REMIX’, reflecting the whole concept of what the book is about.
So the original book has enabled you to get involved in the ‘Disco Discharge’ reissues?
Yes. Sort of. When I discovered that the team were planning to put out Ian Levine related issues on the ‘Disco Recharge’ side project, my suggestions were probably taken more seriously because I’d done the book and written about Levine himself.
Then I got involved in sourcing of and identification of certain mixes, not easy when the US mix has tiny differences from the UK mix and that very few people have actually realised. It did help that I have an almost complete set of Record Shack 12” vinyl, that’s the label with which Levine enjoyed his 80s resurgence before starting his own labels.
Any good remix has edits and sections left out. Have you done anything to the book on that front?
Yes, every chapter has had a remix, so to speak. Many have been expanded, although I felt that odd bits needed shortening or leaving out entirely. Nile Rodgers and Bernard Edwards reworked their own production of SISTER SLEDGE ‘Lost in Music’ to great effect in 1984, it’s been a bit like that with the book, remixing and reworking it myself rather than calling up Ben Liebrand or Shep Pettibone to do the honours 🙂
What did you specifically want to include now, that you couldn’t do back in 2009?
Updated and corrected information in particular, and, as mentioned above a few more rights to use images – particularly from Ian Levine. Luckily Simon White, who I helped out with the ‘Disco Recharge’ releases was able to assist in that matter.
I wanted to do on a feature on The Electricity Club in particular as your site started just as the first edition came out, and one of the other featured sites changed its name completely, so that needed updating too.
Since the first edition was published, there’s been a resurgence in vinyl. Is it something you’re still into today?
Yes, absolutely. There’s not much I regret in life, but one thing I really can’t get my head around is why I got rid of loads of vinyl about 20 years ago. I’ll never fathom out why I did that.
A couple of months ago, I had a rummage around an absolutely cracking second hand vinyl record shop in nearby Huddersfield and arrived back home with no less than 23 12” inch singles from the 1980s.
I went back last month and bought 29 more. I had no idea the shop existed this time last year.
There’s still a load of old vinyl I need for my collection, much of which I prefer to stumble across in stores or car boots rather than hunt down more easily online on sites such as Discogs. I haven’t bought much new vinyl, although I should do really.
What you do feel about the phenomenon of youngsters buying vinyl, but not actually playing it and listening to the download instead?
I guess it’s a bit of a novelty among the younger generation. It’s nice that they have the physical product, because you tend to cherish it a bit more compared with a download that you can’t see, or hold, or smell, and can delete when you’ve got bored of it. It’s all about immediate gratification these days, so when you’re bored of a download you just delete. They won’t throw away their records the same way.
Hopefully they will appreciate the artwork and the physical product the way our own generation does, but I don’t really think we’re going to see another generation of ‘record collectors’.
An interesting paradox of the popularity of the multiple twelve inch remix phenomenon pioneered by labels like ZTT, is that deluxe CD reissues are now often packed to the brim…
Is that a paradox? It’s great that lots of mixes that have been hard to find have been put together to complement a remastered album or compilation.
It’s a bugger when the labels don’t get it right though as there are so many instances of wrong mixes and poor remastering on many CD reissues. Take ALTERED IMAGES ‘Don’t Talk To Me About Love’ – the 12” mix has never appeared on CD, only some slightly butchered version that was used on an ALTERED IMAGES compilation several years ago. Every subsequent compilation using that song has used the same, incorrect master. That’s just lazy.
I liked the SWING OUT SISTER ‘It’s Better To Travel’ deluxe set because the band listened to the fans and changed the tracklisting, and the mixes they used, when it was pointed out that the set could be improved.
What was your favourite chapter to write and why?
I don’t really have a favourite chapter. Some are about the music scene in the 1980s, while others are about my own childhood – the long gone Greenhead Youth Club (Keighley’s very own Blitz club) for instance, so each chapter was something I enjoyed putting together (and in this case, remixing).
Your top 10 five favourite 12” remixes and why?
‘Two Tribes (annihilation)’ by FRANKIE GOES TO HOLLYWOOD, which is among most people’s favourite mixes.
‘It’s My Life (Steve Thompson’s US remix)’ by TALK TALK… how to remix a song properly; Thompson had a knack of making a great song sound even better in remixed form.
I adore his mix of A-HA’s ‘The Sun Always Shines on TV’ too, although I notice you prefer the original 12” to his mix.
NEW ORDER’s ‘The Perfect Kiss’ is pretty perfect, although that’s really a full-length mix rather than an extended version.
‘Indestructible (Phil Harding & Ian Curnow mix)’ by THE FOUR TOPS, one of the best mixes to come out of the PWL studios. Not everyone’s cup of tea I know. The rest you’ll read about in the book 🙂
And the remix that on paper should have been brilliant, but turned out to be rubbish?
FICTION FACTORY ‘Feels Like Heaven’.
A straight extended version would have been great, but in the pre-digital age, new mixes were often created instead.
It worked for DURAN DURAN, but the 12” mix that the label commissioned for ‘Feels Like Heaven’ seemed to lack all the vibrancy of the original 7” mix.
Also, have you heard the alternative 12” remix of ‘Indestructible’ that Arista put out in the UK, the ‘Infinity dance mix’? It’s the worst remix ever in the history of the world. Even worse than any of those awful 90s techno remixes that sounded nothing like the original mixes. Someone should have been shot for approving it for release.
Like writing and photography, has the easy accessibility of technology made the remix less of an artform these days, with a lower quality acceptability threshold than in the past?
Yes. It was always nice to have an extended version, and often an extended remix.
ZTT did the multiple remix thing really well in the 80s, but I haven’t time for the multiple remixes that you might get on PET SHOP BOYS or NEW ORDER CD singles these days. They are iconic bands, with iconic 12” mixes, but their new output, as good as it is, is just remixed to death.
Saying that, the latter’s ‘Complete Music’ set does contain some great straight extended versions of the tracks from ‘Music Complete’.
What style of remix do you enjoy these days?
As I’ve alluded to earlier, a straight extended version, or remix that keeps most of the original.
With regards electronic music, there seems to be a lot of books on the dance scene but few on say, synthpop. Does synthpop still have a general credibility issue in your view?
Synthpop seems to have more credibility now than it did in the 1980s. Today’s acts are not afraid to talk about their 80s influences. Credibility seems to have been more forthcoming since LA ROUX’s brief surge to the top of the tree a few years back…
How do you see music blogging these days? What is the difference between a site that gets it right, and a site that gets it wrong?
Let’s just say that sites that get it wrong don’t tend to last very long or attract many readers.
What new acts do you rate today as being as good as those heritage acts we loved back in the day?
I don’t pay enough attention to today’s bands. MARSHEAUX are still making great music, although I still prefer to buy new music from old bands… ABC, DURAN DURAN, OMD, NEW ORDER… their output is every bit as good as much of their output back in the day. Saying that, I daren’t tell you which acts I’ve seen live recently. I would lose all credibility….
What’s next for you?
Good question… well the novel ‘Picture This’ has had some amazing reviews, although we could do with a lot more sales if there’s going to be a sequel to that. I get a lot of requests and offers from book companies to do sports books, which is where I started out, but I have no interest in pursuing that any more. Let’s just see how well the new edition of ‘Is That The 12” (Re)Mix’ does.
I have a great idea for some 12” CD compilations (of which there are very many these days) that offers something a bit different… and there is a possible new music book in the pipeline, but that depends on a lot of complicated copyright issues….watch this space on that one…
The Electricity Club gives its warmest thanks to ROB GRILLO
When it was announced in March 2015 that A-HA would be returning with their tenth studio album ‘Cast In Steel’, it was somewhat unexpected.
The Norwegian trio had made a high-profile statement that they were disbanding and played their farewell concert at the Oslo Spektrum in December 2010. It was a fitting end, following the artistic high of their 2009 long player ‘Foot Of The Mountain’.
But like many of their peers such as ULTRAVOX, DURAN DURAN and SPANDAU BALLET, the sum proved to be greater than the individual parts. So with no contractual pressures or touring commitments, Morten Harket, Paul Waaktaar-Savoy and Magne Furuholmen quietly reunited and recorded new material.
A-HA’s collective strength over the years has been to produce great melancholic pop in that classic Nordic tradition, but also add a contrasting glorious optimism for that vital all-embracing lift.
Although often tagged as a teenybopper band in the UK, A-HA always had a darker edge compared with DURAN DURAN and even their only British No1 ‘The Sun Always Shines On TV’ was shaded in gloom.
This demeanour was reflected in the opening numbers at the O2 Arena, ‘I’ve Been Losing You’ and ‘Cry Wolf’, the latter’s pop angst amusingly accompanied by an animation of a bopping wolf!
The beautiful ‘Stay On The Roads’ got the evening’s first mobiles-in-the-air moment, while the first of only three songs from the new album came in the shape of the wonderful ‘Cast In Steel’ title track. The duet of ‘Crying In The Rain’ with backing singer Anneli Drecker provided another sensitive focal point, but the rhythmical DEPECHE MODE pulse of ‘Mother Nature Goes To Heaven’ and Waaktaar-Savoy’s rock out on ‘Sycamore Leaves’ provided some artistic diversity.
Morten Harket himself provided an interesting case study as a front man. Still blessed with great cheek bones and a fine voice, something had to be missing and it was his interaction (or rather the lack of it) with the audience. Indeed, it was Furuholmen who acted as Master of Ceremonies from behind his keyboards while Harket appeared to be like a lost teenager at Specsavers, unable to decide on his choice of eyewear, swapping between shades, standard specs and nothing at all!
And while Harket’s crying falsetto was present and correct, the muted sustain on some numbers was an indication that age was beginning to take its toll on his voice. As if to substantiate the point, after ‘We’re Looking For The Whales’, Harket walked off stage to leave Paul Waaktaar-Savoy to take the lead on ‘Velvet’; now while his vocal was good, Magne Furuholmen’s star turn on ‘Lifelines’ was less impressive, the keyboardist even coming clean on his capabilities during his introduction.
It was an interesting diversion and they might have gotten away with it on 2005’s ‘Analogue’ tour. But on a final tour with not much change from a hundred pounds for a ticket, this was an odd decision. To prompt even more head scratching, Anneli Drecker then took the lead vocal for a surprise rendition of ‘Here I Stand & Face the Rain’ from the ‘Hunting High & Low’ album. And while she gave a worthwhile performance, there was a feeling among those present that it was Morten Harket who they really wanted to sing it.
Harket did return and from the new album, he went straight into ‘She’s Humming A Tune’ which dropped hints of ‘Scoundrel Days’ in a lower key with bursts of bottle neck guitar from Waaktaar-Savoy. ‘Scoundrel Days’ itself appeared as a magnificent climax to the main section of the show following excellent, emotive performances of ‘Foot Of The Mountain’ and ‘Hunting High & Low’,
Beginning the encore with the marvellous U2 influencing ‘The Sun Always Shines On TV’, the creepy projection of violin playing mannequins added to the atmosphere before disappointingly, ‘Under The Makeup’ made its appearance, stripped of the Bond Theme elements that made the recorded version so enjoyable.
But a powerful rendition of ‘The Living Daylights’ made up for it, before a rousing ‘Take On Me’ completed an enjoyable evening.
The performance affirmed why A-HA have been able continue their career into the 21st Century. But with cracks beginning to show, the time is maybe now right to finally call it a day. They have nothing more to prove and even now, they have more great songs on ‘Cast In Steel’ than many bands manage in an entire career.
In a far more productive year than 2014, many electronic music veterans returned to the fold in 2015 with their first new albums for many years.
There were plenty of releases from independent acts too, with Nordic Europe being a particularly strong territory once again. 45 quality songs made the shortlist and were eventually whittled down to 30.
So mention must be made of ALICE IN VIDEOLAND, ANALOG ANGEL, BEBORN BETON, BECKY BECKY, CAMOUFLAGE, CLUB 8, ELECTROGENIC, EURASIANEYES, MACHINISTA, ME THE TIGER, HANNAH PEEL and SIN COS TAN who all released recordings in 2015 that would have easily made the listing in less competitive years such as 2012 and 2014. Even DURAN DURAN’s disappointing ‘Paper Gods’ yielded one decent track in ‘Face For Today’, but one swallow doesn’t make a summer.
So the decision has been made; with a restriction of one song per artist moniker, this alphabetical list comprises tracks released in physical formats, or digitally as purchasable or free downloads during the calendar year. Here are The Electricity Club’s 30 SONGS OF 2015…
A-HA She’s Humming A Tune
Having played what appeared to be their farewell concert at the Oslo Spektrum in December 2010, A-HA reunited in a relaxed manner that recalled their days as a fledgling band. On ‘She’s Humming A Tune’, there were hints of 1986’s ‘Scoundrel Days’ in a lower key with sweeping synths, bottle neck six string and live drums moulding the chilling soundscape with that exquisite Nordic allure. ‘Cast In Steel’ was the antithesis of the misguided EDM blow-out that DURAN DURAN attempted on ‘Paper Gods’
Available on the album ‘Cast In Steel’ via Universal Music
Feeling gloomy? Then take heed of the advice from BLACK NAIL CABARET and “Don’t be sad! Don’t be whiney!” – this brooding slice of Gothtronica was the lead single from the Hungarian duo’s second album ‘Harry Me, Marry Me, Bury Me’. Laden with a delicious synth bassline like DEPECHE MODE reimagined for a Weimar Cabaret set piece and topped with eerie string machine, ‘Satisfaction’ was the duo’s best individual offering to date. The pair also made a worthy impression opening for CAMOUFLAGE.
Available on the album ‘Harry Me, Marry Me, Bury Me’ via Basic Unit Productions
From Neil Arthur’s first BLANCMANGE album without long time bandmate Stephen Luscombe, ‘Useless’ was a brilliant hybrid of BRIAN ENO circa ‘Here Come The Warm Jets’ with LCD SOUNDSYSTEM. “It’s about anyone who thinks they might be useless” said Arthur, “This song is about that whole idea that we’re all flawed and you’re ‘useless as you are’… there are just times when you think ‘f*cking hell, I couldn’t organise a p*ss up in a brewery’ or that whole thing about confidence”.
Available on the album ‘Semi Detached’ via Cherry Red Records
Although launch single ‘Shine’ indicated it was business as usual, as hinted at with the title, CAMOUFLAGE’s long awaited long player ‘Greyscale’ was their most mature artistic statement yet. The mellow and warm ‘Count On Me’ saw Marcus Meyn duet with Peter Heppner of WOLFSHEIM fame. The lush blend of vocals and atmospherics showcased two of Germany’s most highly regarded electronic acts at their best.
CHVRCHES stuck to the synthpop template of their debut and delivered what LITTLE BOOTS, LA ROUX, and LADYHAWKE and HURTS all failed to do… a decent second album! The propulsive four-to-the-floor action of ‘Clearest Blue’ shows how far CHVRCHES developed. Although not unlike an amalgam of ‘Gun’ and ‘Science / Visions’, ‘Clearest Blue’ is even more accomplished, wonderfully held in a state of tension before WHACK, there’s a dynamic surprise that recalls the classic overtures of Vince Clarke.
Available on the album ‘Every Open Eye’ via Virgin Records
RODNEY CROMWELL is Adam Cresswell, formally of ARTHUR & MARTHA. ‘Black Dog’ recalled the pulsing post-punk miserablism of SECTION 25 and was embellished some Hooky styled bass. Cresswell told TEC: “It’s all broadly linked to experiences in my life over the last ten years; themes of love, loss, depression, redemption”. As with NEW ORDER’s ‘Temptation’, despite the inherent melancholy, there was light at the end of the tunnel that made ‘Black Dog’ a most joyous listening experience.
Available on the album ‘Age Of Anxiety’ via Happy Robots
Utilising her Italian heritage, DAYBEHAVIOR’s lead singer Paulinda Crescentini gave a suitably alluring performance on ‘Cambiare’, the B-side of the Swedish trio’s single ‘Change’. Remixed to poptastic effect, the joyous yet melancholic tune took the best elements of Italo disco with an expression of sorrow and happiness that recalled imperial phase PET SHOP BOYS. With a catchy chorus and seductive topline, Linguaphone language lessons were never this much fun…
An offshoot of Swedish EBM veterans SPETSNAZ, DESTIN FRAGILE are a very different animal with hints of CAMOUFLAGE and DEPECHE MODE in their sound. ‘Run Away’ opened their ‘Halfway To Nowhere’ opus, an album which some observers have hailed as one of the best of 2015. Featuring a fine vocal from Pontus Stålberg resembling MESH’s Mark Hockings, this is what modern synthpop should be like; pop music with synths and melody as well as dynamic synth solos.
Available on the album ‘Halfway To Nowhere’ via Dark Dimensions
EAST INDIA YOUTH’s debut ‘Total Strife’ pointed towards William Doyle’s potential to pen sublime pop, and with the follow-up ‘Culture Of Volume’, this was more than realised. But the album’s centrepiece was ‘Carousel’. Imagine the start of OMD’s ‘Stanlow’ reworked during BRIAN ENO’s sessions for ‘Apollo: Soundtracks & Atmospheres’. With no percussive elements and over six minutes in length, Doyle gave a dramatic vocal performance resonating in beautifully crystalline melancholy.
Available on the album ‘Culture of Volume’ via XL Recordings
Berlin-based EMIKA is one of the dark horses of the UK electronic scene. A combination of her classical training, Czech heritage and use of modern technology has made for a provoking, brooding sound that has attained critical acclaim over the last few years. From her third album, helpfully named ‘Drei’, ‘My Heart Bleeds Melody’ was its highlight, a concoction of intricate pulsing layers and solemn detachment that provided a captivating listening experience.
FFS proved collaborations do work. A total triumph, ‘P*ss Off’ was possibly the album’s most outstanding number. With the vibrancy of ‘Kimono My House’ and ‘Propaganda’ era SPARKS, there were plenty of jaunty ivories and camp vocal theatrics in the vein of classics like ‘Something For The Girl With Everything’ and ‘BC’. “It’s inexplicable” they all growled as the multi-track phrase of “HARMONISE” kicked in! A total joy, ‘P*ss Off’ was the ultimate two fingered art school pop anthem.
One of the highlights in Herr Flür’s DJ sets has been The Ninjaneer Mix of ‘Cover Girl’, a swirling synthpop track that the former KRAFTWERK percussionist has described as ‘The Model MkII’. He told TEC: “Her story goes on and unfortunately shows her going downhill. She had bad experiences with drugs, alcohol and other things so had to dance in night clubs for earning money at least. A true story, a bad life… that’s sometimes the way how super models are knitting their career”
Available on the album ‘Eloquence’ via Cherry Red Records
JOHN GRANT’s adventure into a solemn electronic template on ‘Pale Green Ghosts’ not only won him a BRIT Award nomination too. Meanwhile his collaboration with HERCULES & LOVE AFFAIR showed he understood the disco as well. ‘Disappointing’ combined the two approaches and added some funk for an enjoyable Bowie meets YAZOO styled workout. In a song full of surprises, not only was there the presence of slap bass, but there was the dulcet tones of EVERYTHING BUT THE GIRL’s Tracey Thorn too.
Available on the album ‘Grey Tickles, Black Pressure’ via Bella Union
GWENNO’s Welsh and Cornish heritage has allowed her to develop a unique brand of lo-fi electronica. Her full-length Welsh language debut ‘Y Dydd Olaf’ came out on Peski Records in October 2014. Now reissued in 2015 by Heavenly Recordings, GWENNO has deservedly gained an increased profile for her music. With beautiful, traditionally derived melodies placed in a spacey yesterday’s tomorrow setting, the spacey ‘Calon Peiriant’ was one of the more immediate delights on offer from a wonderful album.
Available on the album ‘Y Dydd Olaf’ via Heavenly Recordings
Depression despite apparent material success has been an ongoing lyrical theme for Chris Corner as IAMX. And with ‘Happiness’, his craving for a mind to be free of bad news, negative influences and jealousy was countered with his line of “Everywhere hypocrisy!” as pulsing arpeggios kicked in for the final third’s gentle but drama laden climax. Highly poignant in the current economic and political climate, Corner’s move from Berlin to Los Angeles certainly did his music no harm.
Available on the album ‘Metanoia’ via Caroline International
JEAN-MICHEL JARRE & VINCE CLARKE Automatic Parts 1 + 2
The French synth maestro’s first album for since ‘Teo & Tea’ in 2007 was an opus entitled ‘Electronica 1 – The Time Machine’ featuring collaborations with TANGERINE DREAM, JOHN CARPENTER, LITTLE BOOTS, MASSIVE ATTACK among many. But the two part ‘Automatic’ with VINCE CLARKE was the highlight, taking in the best of the tune based elements of both artists while not letting one party dominate. VCJMJ was certainly a more artistically realised proposition than the polarising techno of VCMG!
Available on the album ‘Electronica 1: The Time Machine’ via Columbia Records
“Whether I release it in 2013 or 2016, it’s still going to sound like 1985!” said KID KASIO main man Nathan Cooper. A man whose is plainly honest about where his influences lie, his love of classic synthpop permeates throughout his work. Now imagine if DEPECHE MODE was fronted by Nik Kershaw instead of Dave Gahan? With ‘Full Moon Blue’, that musical fantasy became fully realised with a clever interpolation of ‘Two Minute Warning’, one of Alan Wilder’s songwriting contributions from ‘Construction Time Again’.
Despite having been around since 2008, Swedish synth duo KITE have tended to be overlooked internationally. But Nicklas Stenemo and Christian Berg’s wonderfully exuberant array of sounds and rugged, majestic vocals deserve a much larger audience. Issuing only EPs and never albums, KITE’s most recent release ‘VI’ opened with the magnificent progressive electronic epic ‘Up For Life’. The passionate and sublime first half mutated into a beautifully surreal journey of VANGELIS-like proportions for the second.
A worthy of re-assessment of DEPECHE MODE ‘A Broken Frame’ has been long overdue and MARSHEAUX have certainly given a number of its songs some interesting arrangements. Their version of ‘Monument’ borrowed its bassline from latter day DM B-side ‘Painkiller’. Combined with some wispily resigned vocals, it provided a tense soundtrack that could be seen as metaphoric commentary on the economic situation in Greece. It’s not often that cover versions are better than the originals, but this is one of them.
Available on the album ‘A Broken Frame’ via Undo Records
METROLAND’s second album ‘Triadic Ballet’ was a triumphant electronic celebration of the Bauhaus, art movement led by Walter Gropius. Gropius theorized about uniting art and technology and on the B-side of its launch single ‘Zeppelin’, METROLAND worked towards the 21st Century interpretation of that goal. Now imagine if GARY NUMAN had actually joined KRAFTWERK in 1979? Then the brilliantly uptempo ‘(We Need) Machines Without Romance’ would have surely been the result.
Studio legend John Fryer has been busy and the project that perhaps harks closest to THIS MORTAL COIL is MURICIDAE. Featuring the exquisite vocals of Louise Fraser, she and Fryer apparently “met on the beach searching for mermaids”… the sea is very much the visual theme for their music, with Fryer cultivating “sonic sculptures to musically embody the exquisite Muricidae Shell itself”. The tranquil beauty of ‘Away’ captures a shimmering soundscape that compliments Fraser’s plaintive lament.
Available on the EP ‘Tales From A Silent Ocean’ via Muricidae Music
After the guitar dominated proceedings of the last few NEW ORDER albums, Bernard Sumner promised a return to electronic music for the Mancunians’ first album of new material without estranged founder member and bassist Peter Hook. That was certainly delivered on with ‘Plastic’, a full-on throbbing seven minute electro number mixed by Richard X with blippy echoes of ‘Mr Disco’. Dealing with the issue of superficiality, it declares “this love is poison, but it’s like gold”… yes, beware of anything plastic and artificial!
Available on the album ‘Music Complete’ via Mute Artists
In 2015, the Norge domiciled Swedish songstress’ KARIN PARK finally released her fifth album, the profanity laden fifth ‘Apocalypse Pop’. While less harsh in sound to some of the other tracks on the long player, ‘Stick To The Lie’ was no less angry. The most overtly synthpop track on the collection, this accessible yet emotive song was one of the highlights on a collection that affirmed KARIN PARK’s place in modern electronic pop.
Available on the album ‘Apocalypse Pop’ via State Of The Eye
With CHVRCHES having borrowed PURITY RING’s electro template and pushed it into the mainstream, the direction taken on the Edmonton duo’s sophomore album ‘Another Eternity’ was going to be watched with interest. Certainly it was more focussed than its predecessor ‘Shrines’. Still utilising glitch techniques, booming bass drops and Corin Roddick’s rattling drum machine programming, the album’s best song ‘Begin Again’ made the most of Megan James’ sweet and dreamy voice.
Available on the album ‘Another Eternity’ via 4AD Records
Sweden’s SISTA MANNEN PÅ JORDEN (translated as “The Last Man on Earth”) are led by Eddie Bengtsson, best known for his work with S.P.O.C.K and PAGE. The themes of space travel and Sci-Fi are regular lyrical gists and while all of SMPJ’s songs are voiced i Svenska, Bengtsson opened up his Vince Clarke influenced synthpop to the English language in 2015 with the ‘Translate’ EP. Brilliantly produced, ‘All The City Lights’ (a version of his 2014 single ‘Stadens Alla Ljus’) was its highly enjoyable opening gambit.
SUSANNE SUNDFØR and her acclaimed ‘Ten Love Songs’ album developed on the electronic focus of its predecessor ‘The Silicone Veil’. With an eerie, droning intro with echoes of THE WALKERS BROTHERS’ ‘The Electrician’, ‘Delirious’ thundered with some fierce electronics bolstered by dynamic orchestrations like THE KNIFE meeting DEPECHE MODE. It captured love as a reluctant battle of the emotions while our heroine announced with emotive resignation “I’m not the one holding the gun”.
Available on the album ‘Ten Love Songs’ via Sonnet Sound
TRAIN TO SPAIN’s developing brand of uptempo, energetic pop utilises classic synthesizer sounds in the vein of Vince Clarke coupled to a metronomic rhythm structure akin to the 1985 ‘Philip Oakey & Giorgio Moroder’ album. Coming over like LANA DEL REY fronting YAZOO, Wigeborg’s cooingly vulnerable vocals on ‘Passion’ let rip over a suitably complimentary electronic backbone from Rasmusson, while a superb remix by MACHINISTA added some beefy gothic disco goodness.
Available on the download single ‘Keep On Running’ via Sub Culture Records
Manchester based Ross Tregenza is an experienced hand having co-written ‘Diaries Of A Madman’ with Dave Formula and Steve Strange when he was a member of VISAGE II in 2007. He surprised electronic music audiences with a Spartan cover of ‘The Partisan’, a song made famous by LEONARD COHEN. While many may despair at the very mention of the droll Canadian, his work has strong parallels with many Gothic veined musical forms, especially with this harrowing tale of fighting for La Résistance.
Originally from the EP ‘Stolen Thunder’, alternate version available on the album ‘Into The Void’ via Tregenza Music
On VILE ELECTRODES’ mesmerising ‘Captive in Symmetry’, “Filmic” is indeed a very apt description with the booming synth bass motif possessing echoes of the ‘Twin Peaks’ theme tune ‘Falling’. As beautiful sequences, eerie strings and Anais Neon’s hauntingly alluring vocals take hold, it all comes over like a dreamboat collaboration between JULEE CRUISE and OMD that could easily be considered for use in the proposed revamp of the surreal North American drama.
Available on the EP ‘Captive In Symmetry’ via Vile Electrodes
VIVIEN GLASS took a major bleep forward in 2015 with a well-produced album ‘Jura’. ‘Black Magic’ was a good example of their dark but melodic synthpop. With a catchy riff, syncopated percussive bass grunt and piercing synth pads like LITTLE BOOTS meeting GARY NUMAN at The Batcave, Melissa Glass’ gothic laden vocal provided an additional enticing allure. The bonus of an engaging co-ordinated live presentation also put the trio ahead of the domestic competition.
“Sometimes you never knew what you were getting when you bought the 12 inch mix” says Rob Grillo, author of the same titled book tracing the history of the extended format…
“Sometimes you got the 7 inch version and a bonus track, sometimes it was just the longer album mix, and sometimes you got the normal mix when the sleeve promised a ‘brand new mix’, occasionally there would be a gargantuan explosion of noise that heralded a completely new take on the song that would blow you mind away…”
The Electricity Club itself has never been particularly big on remixes or 12 inch versions. They were on occasions, an unnecessary evil. Just because a song can be extended and reworked to submission doesn’t mean it has to be… FRANKIE GOES TO HOLLYWOOD’s bassist Mark O’Toole snorted to International Musician & Recording World in 1986: “A punter walks into the shop, wants to buy a single – and there’s half a dozen mixes of it! It’s a pain in the ar*e!”
Comedian Lenny Henry summed things up best in a sketch where he entered a record shop to buy a single and was then offered a plethora of versions by the assistant… “I JUST WANT THE VERSION THEY GOT RIGHT!” he exclaimed.
In another stand-up routine, he commented that a 12 inch single could last longer than a marriage. But they could be tremendously passionate affairs as Rob Grillo remembers: “In essence, buying the 12 inch was more exciting than buying the 7 inch…”
With the restriction of tape, a razor blade and the mixing desk, the era often conspired to make more interesting, structured reworkings than the meaningless dance work-outs of today. When done well, the 12 inch extended version could totally surpass the original.
Each track on this list of classic variations was released as a 12 inch single with a corresponding original 7 inch release that was shorter (which thus excludes ‘Blue Monday’ by NEW ORDER); full length album versions that subsequently got issued as 12 inch singles are not included.
With a restriction one track per artist moniker going up to the period before remixes got a bit daft with the advent of rave culture, here are TEC’s 25 choices in chronological and then alphabetical order…
SPARKS Beat The Clock – Long Version (1979)
The shorter album take of ‘Beat The Clock’ was more basic and less epic. But in this longer, more powerful and percussive 12 inch version, the star of this ace collaboration with Giorgio Moroder was the ever dependable Keith Forsey with his rumbling drumming syncopating off the precisely sequenced electronic production. Russell Mael was at his best in fully fledged falsetto mode, while Ron stood even more motionless than usual, safe in the knowledge than he didn’t even have to play anymore.
At the start of their career, rather than just simply extend a song by joining together sections of tape, DURAN DURAN actually took time to rearrange and re-record their 12 inch singles. This they did on ‘Planet Earth’ and ‘My Own Way’, but the best of the early ‘Night Version’ trilogy was ‘Girls On Film’. From its opening Compurhythm beat and first instrumental chorus set to Nick Rhodes’ swimmy Crumar Performer to Simon Le Bon’s closing verse ad-lib, this marvellous arrangement formed the basis of their live version.
THE HUMAN LEAGUE Don’t You Want Me – Ext Dance Mix (1981)
Effectively an instrumental of the closing track on ‘Dare’, the quality of Martin Rushent’s production was fully showcased on this ‘Ext Dance Mix’. Each synth had its own voice and placed inside a precise lattice that formed a fabulous pop tapestry. It was also notable for featuring a guitar, albeit used obliquely by Jo Callis to trigger a Roland System 700. Even without its lead vocals, ‘Don’t You Want Me’ was a fine example of well-crafted, melodic electronic music.
SIMPLE MINDS The American – 12 inch Version (1981)
With the futuristic ‘Changeling’ and ‘I Travel’, SIMPLE MINDS had been heavily rotated by Rusty Egan in his DJ sets at The Blitz. ‘The American’ was the Glaswegians’ first single for Virgin and sounded like Moroder merged with NEU! Metallic motorik drumming from Brian McGee sans hi-hats provided an interesting rhythm construction and challenged the band into finding inventive ways of making people dance. With Mick McNeil’s pulsing synths coupled with Derek Forbes’ bass engine, this was prime art disco.
Available on the boxed set ‘X5’ via Virgin Records
SOFT CELL Bedsitter – Early Morning Dance Side (1981)
SOFT CELL were quite unique in their 12 inch extended formats by often incorporating extra vocal sections like on ‘Torch’, ‘Facility Girls’ and ‘Insecure Me’. So instead of purely instrumental breakdown extensions, ‘Bedsitter’ added a marvellous rap from Marc Almond where he asked “do you look a mess, do have a hangover?” before taking a little blusher, pushing tea leaves down the drain and starting the night life over again. This literal kitchen sink drama to song concept won SOFT CELL many ardent followers.
While the single version of ‘The Freeze’ was an enjoyable if polite slice of guitar driven disco, the 12 inch ‘Special Mix’ of SPANDAU BALLET’s second single fully utilised their Yamaha CS10 with a pulsing octave barrage that could have been borrowed from their Blitz Club contemporaries VISAGE. A closing cacophony of electronically processed percussion came over like a funkier KRAFTWERK but with the overblown vocal histrionics of Tony ‘Foghorn’ Hadley, this could only have been the Islington quintet.
B-MOVIE were famously the band that Phonogram pursued to take on SPANDAU BALLET and DURAN DURAN. Managed by Some Bizzare’s Stevo Pearce, he stipulated that an unknown synth duo called SOFT CELL be part of any deal. Possibly the best single featuring the original line-up, the 12 inch version of ‘Nowhere Girl’ featured an extended intro with just a solid beat for company along with tinkling ivories that came over like ULTRAVOX in full flight before the pulsing bass and harp-like synths kicked in.
CLASSIX NOUVEAUX Is It A Dream? – 12 inch Version (1982)
The best classic 12 inch versions often retained the musical structure of the song but cleverly used the technique of breakdown to achieve dynamic highs and lows where appropriate. The 12 inch version of ‘Is It A Dream?’ effectively tagged the instrumental version of the song onto the beginning which provided a build towards the main act as the recognisable elements of the tune steadily kicked it. A final coda of thumping Simmonds drums and brassy synth provided the piece de resistance.
A different version altogether from the 7 inch, however the 12 inch version was actually recorded in one massive 14 minute jam session with the shorter version preceding it. The recording itself was marvellously flawed, with Stephen Morris’ overdriven Simmons snare panned too far to the right while band members can also be heard calling instructions and tutting. The final closing refrains and the iconic “oooh-oo-ooh” vocal hook to the drum breakdown made ‘Temptation’ both grand and magical.
Available on the boxed set ‘Retro’ via Warner Music
GARY NUMAN Music for Chameleons – Extended Version (1982)
In 7 inch form, GARY NUMAN’s ‘Music For Chameleons’ sounded incomplete. Lasting almost eight minutes, with the fluid fretless bass runs of Pino Palladino and the stuttering distorted clap of a Linn Drum providing the backbone to some classic vox humana Polymoogs, the 12 inch version’s highlight was the windy synth run in the long middle section. The effect of this was ruined on the ‘I Assassin’ album version which clumsily edited this section out, thus proving occasionally that more can really mean more!
Inspired by the burgeoning New York club scene, Rusty Egan brought in John Luongo to remix ‘Night Train’ much to Midge Ure’s dismay, leading him to end his tenure with VISAGE. But Luongo’s rework was sharper, pushing forward the female backing vocals to soulful effect in particular and replacing the clumpier snare sounds of the original album version with cleaner AMS samples. However, on this longer dance mix, Luongo isolated Rusty Egan’s drum break which unexpectedly saw him do his impression of Billy Cobham!
Possibly BLANCMANGE’s most overt disco number, under the production supervision of New York club specialist John Luongo who had remixed ‘Feel Me’ to great rhythmical effect, ‘Blind Vision’ was punctuated by brass, extra percussion and slap bass as well as the trademark BLANCMANGE Linn Drum claps also thrown in. A steady build-up, vocal ad-libs from Neil Arthur and a prolonged coda extended the track to a hypnotic nine and a half minutes.
With an edgy production from Zeus B Held, ‘What I Want’ was effectively a rewrite of ‘Blue Monday’, or even ‘Shake It Up’ by DIVINE, depending on your outlook. Combining a variety of musical styles, this HI-NRG / Goth hybrid was the last track Wayne Hussey would play on as a member of DEAD OF ALIVE before departing for THE SISTERS OF MERCY. “Listen blue eyes, shut up!” scowled Pete Burns with an aggression that showed he was a top rather than a bottom in this salaciously pounding affair.
After the mechanised dystopia of ‘Metamatic’ and the comparative romantic thawing with ‘The Garden’, JOHN FOXX started experimenting in psychedelic pop. With nods to ‘Sgt Pepper’, the original Linn Drum driven version of ‘Endlessy’ from 1982 had the makings of a good song, but was laboured in its arrangement. Reworked with Simmons drums, metronomic sequencers and grand vocal majestics, the Zeus B Held produced 1983 version was even more glorious in an extended 12 inch format.
Available on the boxed set ‘Metadelic’ via Edsel Records
HEAVEN 17 Crushed By The Wheels Of Industry – Extended Dance Version (1983)
Taking a leaf out of their old sparring partners THE HUMAN LEAGUE, HEAVEN 17 took off most of the vocals and played up the various instrumental elements of ‘Crushed By The Wheels Of Industry’ with a restructured rhythmical backbone. With a punchy retuned bass drum attack and Roland Bassline programming pushed out to the front, sequences and guitar synth solos were phased in and out. The chanty chorus remained while John Wilson’s funky freeform bass solo closed the show.
FRANKIE GOES TO HOLLYWOOD Two Tribes – Annihilation (1984)
Sounding like SIMPLE MINDS, ‘Two Tribes’ was influenced by ‘I Travel’, itself inspired by right wing terrorism in Europe. While Holly Johnson’s original lyric referenced the dystopian drama ‘Mad Max’, it sat well within the Cold War tensions of the period. With mighty Fairlight orchestra stabs and masterful PPG programming for the iconic synth bass, the first 12 inch version entitled ‘Annihilation’ featured the poignant authoritative voice of Patrick Allen, reprising his real life ‘Protect & Survive’ commentary…
The original ‘Tour De France’ single in 1983 signalled the launch of a new KRAFTWERK album ‘Technopop’. Despite being given an EMI catalogue number, it was never actually released. However, ‘Tour De France’ took on a life of its own. This masterful remix by New York DJ Francois Kevorkian backed a key scene in the film ‘Breakdance’ which lead to a re-release of this rework. Much more percussive and less song based than the first version, it reinforced KRAFTWERK’s standing in the US Hip-Hop scene.
GIORGIO MORODER & PHILIP OAKEY Together In Electric Dreams – Extended (1984)
One of the best 12 inch versions ever, it not only retained the essence of the original song but added enough extra elements to make it quite different too. There was more rock guitar from Richie Zito which actually enhanced the track and the false end after the guitar solo leading to a superb percussive breakdown that made the most of Arthur Barrow’s frantic Linn Drum programming. Of course, ‘Together In Electric Dreams’ wouldn’t have been any good without Moroder’s songcraft and Oakey’s deadpan lyricism.
The UK 12 inch extended version was a rather formless, dub excursion that never got to the point. However, taking a leaf out of DURAN DURAN’s specifically taylored remixes of songs from the ‘Rio’ album for America, EMI / Capitol commissioned Steve Thompson to construct a toughened up version of ‘It’s My Life’ to make it more MTV friendly. The song became an unexpected favourite in US clubs. One impressionable teenager who was no doubt listening was Gwen Stefani who covered the song in 2003.
Available on the boxed set ‘’12″/80s’ (V/A) via UMTV
ULTRAVOX One Small Day – Special Remix Extra (1984)
One of ULTRAVOX’s more guitar driven numbers, there were eventually three different extended versions of ‘One Small Day’, the best of which was the ‘Special Remix Extra’ (also known as the ‘Extended Mix’) that was issued on the second of the 12 inch releases. With chopped up vocal phrases replacing a conventional vocal on this neo-dub mix, it allowed the instrumentation to come to the fore without Midge Ure’s shrill chorus acting as a distraction.
Available as the ‘Extended Mix’ on the album ‘Lament’ via EMI Gold
A-HA The Sun Always Shines On TV – Extended Version (1985)
Despite being labelled a teenybop group, from the beginning A-HA were always so much more than just the catchy pop of ‘Take On Me’. ‘The Sun Always Shines On TV’ revealed a lyrical darkness while the combination of synths and edgy guitar put them in the same league as ULTRAVOX and ASSOCIATES. This rarer first ‘Extended Version’ made the most of the powerful instrumentation and added more drama with a slow solemn piano intro. And just listen to that emotive string synth solo…
While the Trevor Horn produced ‘Dr. Mabuse’ was very much a Fairlight-fest, PROPAGANDA’s second single ‘Duel’ with production by Steve Lipson was based around the Synclavier, PPG and Roland Super Jupiter. To add some syncopation, Stewart Copeland from THE POLICE rhythmitised alongside the Linn Drum while the ‘Bitter Sweet’ extended mix broke down the instrumentation to reveal a highly intricate arrangement. The programmed piano solo is still one of the maddest bursts of music ever!
Not the better known but less fulfilled ‘Extended Remix’ by Tom Lord-Alge, John Potoker’s reworking did away with its daft skips and enhanced the song’s enjoyable instrumental elements largely hidden in the single mix. The wonderful end section with its wild rhythm guitar from Kamil Rastam and Malcolm Holmes’ reverbed drums also revealed that despite the song’s palatable Trans-Atlantic sound, the synthetic choirs that had been part of OMD’s sound since they heard KRAFTWERK’s ‘Radio-Activity’ still lingered.
‘Suburbia’ was a good if slightly underwhelming album track from ‘Please’ that got transformed into a more fully realised sub-nine minute epic. Produced in this new longer version by Sarm West graduate Julian Mendelson, it was effectively a two-parter. Complete with barking dogs, widescreen synths and thundering rhythms, the intro and middle sections saw a pitch shifted Neil Tennant monologuing about the evils of ‘Suburbia’ in a devilish ‘Meninblack’ tone.
DEPECHE MODE Never Let Me Down Again – Split Mix (1987)
A merging of the album version with the Wasp driven bass heavy ‘Aggro Mix’ (hence the ‘Split Mix’ title), this sub-ten minute take on one of DEPECHE MODE’s classic songs was perfection. Other DM 12 inch versions were tiresome like the ‘Slavery Whip Mix’ of ‘Master & Servant’, but ‘Never Let Me Down Again’ took into account that the best 12 inch mixes usually had the actual song and an instrumental middle section before a reprise of the main chorus hook.