With two albums ‘DIY’ and ‘Hard Power’ already under his belt, Zachery Allan Starkey was invited to open for NEW ORDER during their ‘Music Complete’ tour in North America in 2016.
Starkey has described his new record ‘Fear City’ as being about “nightlife, darkness, the opiate epidemic, current political/economic fears, and uncertainties/anxiety caused by the rise of right wing politics around the world”.
Two of the album’s key tracks are collaborations with Bernard Sumner; the most striking of these is ‘Force’.
It sees the NEW ORDER front man contributing his signature Italo-influenced sequencing style for a hypnotically rhythmic danceable post-punk flavour with a touch of HI-NRG. The New York resident makes an impassioned rallying call for everyone to remain strong and brave in these dark and frightening times.
Sumner’s second contribution to the ‘Fear City’ album is on its title track. Although less in your face than ‘Force’ by taking on a more steadfast rhythmical mantra, it recalls the Middle Eastern feel reminiscent of the lesser known NEW ORDER track ‘Brutal’ from ‘The Beach’ soundtrack. An anxious reflection of the current spooky climate within the Big Apple, it is a feeling that could be applied anywhere in the word right now.
But effectively making the album’s brilliant opening statement is the gothic techno throb of ‘XXX’ which aesthetically it recalls the Aggro Mix of DEPECHE MODE’s ‘Never Let Me Down Again’. With its hard synthesized bass dominations but to a speedier four-to-the-floor beat, it exudes an atmosphere of unease and desolation via its eerie pseudo pizzicatos and screaming siren calls.
The instrumental body energy of ‘No Security’ is bolstered by creepy schizophrenic voices, vocal derived samples and dynamic drops. With the multiple meaning possibilities of ‘Fallout’, Starkey gives more of his fearful delivery, channelling his angsty fervour over a metronomic backdrop, asking “do you give up or do you fight?”.
But something of a total surprise, ‘Coked Up Biker Anthem’ is slice of electro-heavy metal, perhaps what Alice Cooper might sound like adopting synths! With another narcotic reference, ‘Opiate’ is suitably doom laden with sombre slimey tones and fraught vocals. Meanwhile ‘Bright Future’ makes an ironic call on dependency with stabs and pulses over a mutant disco backdrop
‘Neoliberal’ and ‘Love Does Not Win’ go in tandem, with feelings running high about how evil and capitalism with no conscience always seem to win. With ‘Neoliberal’, the message is in the Italo-flavoured music, while ‘Love Does Not Win’ is angrily constructed around a banging stomp. The battle might be lost but together, the love revolution can be victorious.
‘Empire’ with its layers of orchestrated synths is deviantly hypnotic, recalling the solid heart of ‘The Anvil’ by VISAGE; Starkey’s agitated pulpit pronouncements are like those of a deranged dictator and let’s face it, there are a few of those characters around in power aspiring to be one of those!
Heading towards the home straight of what is quite a lengthy long player, the hauntingly bleak instrumental ‘Covid 19’ looks set to soundtrack documentaries and films about the catastrophic pandemic with its booming uptempo flare and strangely melodic overtures of unease.
But the album doesn’t end on a particularly cheery note either, as the short final concept piece ‘Future Shock’ demonstrates via a collage of blasts and explosions.
“It’s not an overtly political album, but it is a product of the current times” says Starkey and certainly ‘Fear City’ captures a dystopian tension driven using hooky electronics and resounding club-friendly beats.
Alongside the recent work of Zanias and Finlay Shakespeare, Zachery Allan Starkey has presented a compulsive observation of gritty realism.
Despite his name, Zachery Allan Starkey is not the son of Ringo Starr but a New York based technopop artist with a love of NEW ORDER.
Indeed, he was invited to open for NEW ORDER during their ‘Music Complete’ tour in North America in 2016. With two albums ‘DIY’ and ‘Hard Power’ already under his belt, Starkey has been working on his new album ‘Fear City’.
‘Force’ is the third song to be previewed from ‘Fear City’ and is a powerful collaboration with Bernard Sumner of NEW ORDER featuring his signature Italo-influenced sequencing style. Starkey’s impassioned authentic vocals are a rallying call to the people with the daunting prospect of Donald Trump being re-elected on the horizon.
With a video reflecting on current world events, the jointly produced ‘Force’ is an uplifting electronic anthem reminding everyone to remain strong and brave in these dark and frightening times.
Hypnotically rhythmic with a danceable post-punk HI-NRG flavour, ‘Force’ follows ‘XXX‘ and ‘No Security’ as trailers for ‘Fear City’, an album which wears its rumbling techno and house flavours on its sleeve but does not overblow them, with the emphasis being on synth hooks and melodies while also being propulsive enough for the club environment. Sumner makes a second appearance on the ‘Fear City’ album, contributing to its title track.
Zachery Allan Starkey said: “’Fear City’ is about life in NYC in 2019/2020. It is about nightlife, darkness, the opiate epidemic, current political/economic fears, and uncertainties/anxiety caused by the rise of right wing politics around the world. It’s not an overtly political album, but it is a product of the current times. Hence the title Fear City, which is, as you might know, also an old name for New York City. With this album, I’ve tried to combine elements of Techno, Electro, Post-Punk, Coldwave, Minimal Synth, SynthPunk, Disco, and Trip Hop to hopefully create a unique musical backdrop.”
Celebrating their 40th Anniversary, OMD are one of the acts from the Synth Britannia era whose creative powers now are as strong as their chart heyday.
Setting a high standard of romantic retro-futurism with lyrical gists ranging from technology and war to deceased religious figures and long distance relationships, OMD released their debut single ‘Electricity’ in 1979, a statement about the environment that would have made today’s young campaigner Greta Thunberg proud.
Those who complain that OMD’s music is not dark enough often forget that within their highly melodic songs, subjects have included the suicide of a charismatic musician, the suicide of a woman who worked as a stripper because she had no other means of supporting herself, the racially motivated massacre of five innocent demonstrators by the Ku Klux Klan, the death of over 140,000 people by nuclear attack and most notably on two hit singles, the brutal execution of a teenage girl!
Founder members Andy McCluskey and Paul Humphreys began an impressive run of acclaimed albums and hit singles, starting with the Mike Howlett produced ‘Messages’ in 1980. The huge European popularity of the follow-up ‘Enola Gay’ captured the Cold War angst of the times under the spectre of Mutually Assured Destruction, while ‘Maid Of Orleans’ became the biggest selling single of 1982 in West Germany when Der Bundesrepublik was the biggest Western music market after the USA and Japan.
Long-time drummer Mal Holmes and live keyboardist Martin Cooper joined the fray as full band members for 1983’s ‘Dazzle Ships’ album, but things went creatively awry for OMD as McCluskey and Humphreys found themselves in an existential crisis, following journalistic criticism that songs about dead saints were not going to change the world. The more politically charged and experimental album failed to sell, but has since been re-evaluated in the 21st Century as a meisterwerk.
Bruised and under commercial pressure, OMD opted to pursue more conventional ambitions and traditions to stay in the black and scored the Top5 US hit ‘If You Leave’ from the John Hughes movie ‘Pretty In Pink’ in 1986. However a North American tour opening for DEPECHE MODE in 1988 failed to sustain momentum. In the backdrop of the resultant fallout and the inevitable musical differences, Humphreys, Holmes and Cooper departed, leaving McCluskey with the OMD brand name.
However, the split precipitated a number of interesting artistic and creative diversions for McCluskey and Humphreys which despite the triumphant reunion of the classic line-up in 2007 and the success of OMD’s most recent album ‘The Punishment Of Luxury’ in 2017 , continue in varying degrees today in parallel with band activities.
In his most recent interview with The Electricity Club, Paul Humphreys said: “I still find it utterly amazing and rather fantastic that after 40 years, OMD is still alive and well, selling out big tours and making what even our harshest critics consider to be relevant new records.”
By way of a Beginner’s Guide to showcase the diverse facets of OMD, The Electricity Club has selected a hefty 25 tracks of interest from their career, although largely eschewing those made famous by singular consumption.
But with so many tracks available and the list already being VERY long, links to the OMD family tree like THE ID as well as contributions to the soundtracks of ‘For The Greater Good’, ‘Eddie The Eagle’ and ‘The D-Train’ (which between them saw McCluskey working with notable names such as Danny Boyle, Gary Barlow, Hugh Jackman and Jack Antonoff) have been omitted.
With a restriction of one track per album project, they highlight how two lads from The Wirral have maintained their standing as a creative and cultural force four decades on, despite their numerous ups and downs.
OMD The Messerschmitt Twins (1980)
With their passion for military aircraft and German music, Andy McCluskey and Paul Humphreys were nicknamed ‘The Messerschmitt Twins’; this mournful Compurhythm driven synth ballad of the same name had mournful if cryptic lyrics which could be seen as the thoughts of aircrew during wartime missions, pondering whether they would return to home. The bleak fatalistic narrative was given further resonance by Andy McCluskey’s resigned vocalisation.
The ‘Organisation’ album saw OMD purchase their first polyphonic synthesizer, a Sequential Circuits Prophet 5 which allowed Paul Humphreys to explore more haunting gothic timbres away from the cheesier chords of the Vox Jaguar organ. Shaped by eerie choir textures and a repeating two note synthbass motif set to Mal Holmes’ simple marching snare pattern, the beauty of ‘2nd Thought’ echoed the third section of KRAFTWERK’s ‘Autobahn’ and displayed a maturity in OMD’s developing sound.
Running at almost eight minutes, the nautical adventure of ‘Sealand’ demonstrated OMD’s mastery of the epic, mysteriously beginning with a ghostly collage of melodica and reed horns before sad synths and progressive sweeps made their presence felt. Featuring just a minute of vocals in the sparse middle section, the penultimate movement collapsed into a fit of industrial noise before a slow misty reprise of the main melodic theme, like a lost ship in the fog.
Like ‘Maid Of Orleans’, the harrowing ‘International’ was musically inspired by the skippy waltz of ‘Back In Judy’s Jungle’ by Brian Eno. The introductory news report about “a young girl from Nicaragua whose hands had been cut off at the wrists by the former Somoza guards…” acted as one of the fuels for Andy McCluskey to express his anger about economic corruption, political hypocrisy and torture in captivity, all topics which are still sadly relevant today.
THE PARTNERSHIP was an unrealised side project of Peter Saville cohort and ex-SPOONS member Brett Wickens with Roger Humphreys (no relation) who recorded as CERAMIC HELLO. Produced by William Orbit, the pulsatingly uptempo ‘Sampling The Blast Furnace’ featured guest vocals from Andy McCluskey alongside vocodered voices and chants by Martha Ladly. While this version remains unreleased, the slower McCluskey-less demo was on the reissue of CERAMIC HELLO’s only album.
Not officially released, alternate version available on the CERAMIC HELLO album ‘The Absence Of A Canary V1.1’ via Vinyl On Demand
After the critical mauling that ‘Dazzle Ships’ received, OMD were in debt to Virgin Records and realised that they would have to sell more records to survive. The commercial pressure led to a trip to the sunnier climes of AIR Studios in Monserrat and the musically diverse ‘Junk Culture’. A song about McCluskey’s intimate liaison with a local girl, the bizarre mix of carnival whistles, soca, Mellotron choir, rhythm guitar and 808 driven electro came over a bit like AZTEC CAMERA produced by Arthur Baker.
1985’s ‘Crush’ was Stephen Hague’s first full album production and opened the doors for OMD’s ambitions in the US. Following the success of ‘If You Leave’, ‘The Pacific Age’ continued the partnership and was intended to reinforce momentum. The opening song ‘Stay’ threw in the kitchen sink from Mal Holmes’ mighty drums to layers of synthetic strings plus the addition of soulful female backing singers, brass and heavy metal guitar. But the esoteric elements that made OMD so appealing were being wiped away.
The suave and sophisticated Etienne Daho was seen as France’s answer to George Michael. While OMD were in Paris recording ‘The Pacific Age’ at Studio de la Grande Armée, they took part in a ‘Les Enfants Du Rock’ French TV special also which also saw their French label mate interviewing his musical influences like Françoise Hardy and Serge Gainsbourg. The DAHOMD duet saw Daho and McCluskey low voices blend well over the original Stephen Hague produced single from ‘Crush’.
Available on the ETIENNE DAHO deluxe album ‘Pop Satori’ via Virgin Records
ARTHUR BAKER & THE BACKBEAT DISCIPLES Walkaway (1989)
Producer Arthur Baker gathered a studio collective to make a pop record tracing his love of soul, synthpop, disco, HI-NRG and Europop. His first since the fragmentation of OMD, Andy McCuskey contributed lyrics, keyboards and vocals to the electro-reggae of ‘Walkaway’ which threatened to turn into CULTURE CLUB’s ‘Do You Really Want To Hurt Me?’. The vocal cast of the ‘Merge’ album included Al Green, Martin Fry, Jimmy Somerville and Etienne Daho.
Available on the ARTHUR BAKER & THE BACKBEAT DISCIPLES album ‘Merge’ via A&M Records
Going it alone as OMD, Andy McCluskey became open to collaboration. Meeting Stuart Kershaw and Lloyd Massett from pop rap combo RAW UNLTD, the pair set about modernising the rhythmic elements of McCluskey’s new songs. The ghostly ‘Walking On Air’ referenced ‘Statues’ from ‘Organisation’ while the mechanical bossa nova evoked the mellow moods of Bryan Ferry. Kershaw has since taken over the drum stool from Mal Holmes who left OMD in 2014 for health reasons.
Available on the OMD album ‘Sugar Tax’ via Virgin Records
THE LISTENING POOL Where Do We Go From Here? (1993)
With bursts of sampled choir, electric piano and wah-wah guitar, ‘Where Do We Go From Here?’ came from THE LISTENING POOL’s only album ‘Still Life’ released in 1994. Driven by a gently percolating drum machine programmed by Mal Holmes, the understated air reminiscent of CHINA CRISIS was sweetened by Martin Cooper’s soprano set with Paul Humphreys vocally pondering their creative situation with the threesome having now departed the OMD camp.
Available on the THE LISTENING POOL album ‘Still Life’ via Telegraph Records
Recorded for his ELEKTRIC MUSIC project after leaving KRAFTWERK, Karl Bartos’ collaboration with Andy McCluskey featured one of his best melodies synth melodies. Bartos told The Electricity Club: “He suggested we do something together and I was up for it… We picked some cassettes and finally I found the opening notes of ‘Kissing The Machine’”. With fabulously surreal lyrics about a love affair with a sexy robot, the song was later resurrected with new backing from Paul Humphreys for ‘English Electric’.
Available on the ELEKTRIC MUSIC album ‘Esperanto’ via SPV Records
On a commercial roll and aiming for a younger pop market, ‘Liberator’ featured lots of busy modern dance effects but saw Andy McCluskey losing his way in the song department. Its confused schizophrenic nature was compounded by the pure genius of darker numbers like ‘King Of Stone’ and ‘Christine’. The symphonic string laden ‘Best Years Of Our Lives’ was another of the better tracks, borrowing its solemn topline from ‘Spanish Harlem’, a song made famous by Ben E King.
Available on the OMD album ‘Liberator’ via Virgin Records
After the muted reception for 1993’s painfully poppy ‘Liberator’, Andy McCluskey brought in a more conventional rock sound for 1996’s ‘Universal’. However, the OASIS sounding ‘Walking On The Milky Way’ failed to get major traction. One of its B-sides ‘The New Dark Age’ gave a haunting nod to ‘Statues’ using the auto-accompaniment on the Elgam Symphony organ and was the last great synth song of the solo era as the OMD vehicle was quietly retired by McCluskey… for now!
When Andy McCluskey joined Stuart Kershaw to make some dysfunctional pop for a girl group, most thought he had lost his marbles. The original project HONEYHEAD was stillborn, but when three girls from Liverpool were recruited to form ATOMIC KITTEN, it eventually led to a UK No1 single with ‘Whole Again’. However, the demo of the first single ‘Right Now’ sounded like disco evergreen ‘Never Can Say Goodbye’ arranged like ‘Sugar Tax’ era OMD, but with female vocals!
Available on the ATOMIC KITTEN single ‘Right Now’ via Innocent Records
Having been ousted from Team AK by coup d’état, Andy McCluskey licked his wounds and recruited another three local girls to form THE GENIE QUEEN. Featuring soon-to-be WAG / top model Abbey Clancy and future TV presenter Anna Ord, ‘What A Girl Goes Through’ was an appealing pop R ’n’ B number based around samples of ‘Souvenir’. The project disbanded without being signed, but a track intended for THE GENIE QUEEN called ‘Pulse’ appeared on ‘History Of Modern’ featuring the girls.
Paul Humphreys and Claudia Brücken released their only album as ONETWO in 2007 and from it was ‘Anonymous’, a song that began life as a demo from the aborted PROPAGANDA reunion and which had also been co-written with Andy McCluskey. The pretty ringing melodies and elegiac atmospheres were very reminiscent of classic OMD. But the collaboration had been unusual as at the time of the song’s conception, as Humphreys had not yet committed to rejoining McCluskey in his old band.
BLANK & JONES featuring BERNARD SUMNER Miracle Cure – Paul Humphreys Onetwo remix (2008)
Having worked with THE CURE’s Robert Smith, trance duo Piet Blank and Jaspa Jones had Bernard Sumner of NEW ORDER high on their list of vocalists for their album ‘The Logic Of Pleasure’, which also featured Claudia Brücken. The German duo remixed ONETWO’s ‘Kein Anschluß’, so naturally the gesture was reciprocated when Paul Humphreys offered his smooth offbeat atmospheric rework of ‘Miracle Cure’ in what could be seen as the nearest thing to a NEW ORDER vs OMD collaboration.
Of this ‘History Of Modern’ highlight, Paul Humphreys told The Electricity Club: “It was a song Andy did many, many years ago with Stuart and I think it was done in the 90s. He played it to me and it sounded a bit like a rock ballad. I said ‘I think the vocal tune’s great, but everything else has to go. Give me the vocal stem and I’ll do a whole new track for it’, so I came to my studio and completely reworked it.” – the result was mesmerising and even dropped in ROXY MUSIC’s ‘If There Is Something’ at the close.
Mal Holmes once said that “MIRRORS do OMD better than OMD do OMD!”… originally a ten minute epic split into three movements, ‘Secrets’ closed MIRRORS’ outstanding ‘Lights & Offerings’ long player, driven by an intense percussive tattoo and a shifting octave bass riff that was pure Klingklang. While pushing forward the synthetic claps, Andy McCluskey stripped down and the backing and shortened proceedings, making it much less claustrophobic and militaristic than the original.
Originally on the MIRRORS deluxe album ‘Lights & Offerings’ via Undo Records, currently unavailable
PAUL HUMPHREYS & DOUGLAS COUPLAND Electric Ikebana (2012)
A collaboration between ‘Generation X’ author Douglas Coupland, and Paul Humphreys, ‘Electric Ikebana’ was an audio visual installation to act as the voice of the network for French telecoms company Alcatel-Lucent. The beautiful piece had conceptual hints of KRAFTWERK’s ‘The Voice Of Energy’ while there was also a charming mathematical formula recital “x = [-b +- √(b² -4ac)] / 2a” to the tune of the nursery rhyme ‘Pop Goes The Weasel’ which recalled ‘ABC Auto-Industry’ from ‘Dazzle Ships’.
Of ‘Helen Of Troy’, Andy McCluskey said to The Electricity Club: “George Geranios and Nick Bitzenis of FOTONOVELA were our label bosses in Greece via their Undo Records and they sent me this track…the demo had Nick going “Helen Of Troy – Helen Of Troy” so I took his vocal off as you do, chopped it all up and rearranged it… it’s gorgeous! I have used some of Nick’s backing vocals… I love it to bits! And ‘Helen Of Troy’ is much more of a metaphor than either of the ‘Joan Of Arcs’ were.”
Andy Bell’s debut solo album ‘Electric Blue’ had been produced by ONETWO’s backing band THE MANHATTAN CLIQUE and featured two duets with Claudia Brücken. ‘The Violet Flame’ album saw ERASURE express an infectious zest for the future with songs beginning as pre-recorded dance grooves from Vince Clarke. But the best number from the sessions was ‘Be The One’ remixed by Paul Humphreys who added some of the beautiful Synthwerk magic that characterised ‘English Electric’.
The avant pop approach of VILE ELECTRODES is reminiscent of early OMD, with ‘Deep Red’ capturing Andy McCluskey’s interest enough to invite the duo to support the German leg of the ‘English Electric’ tour. With its potent drama, ‘The Vanished Past’ came complete with a mighty drum climax like ‘Navigation’. Bleak and wonderful, “not everything is as it seems” as a forlorn stranger joins in after five minutes. As the adventure unfolds like a lost OMD epic, that stranger reveals himself to be Mr McCluskey!
OMD began their recorded career with a KRAFTWERK homage and four decades on, have come full circle. A great grandchild of Klingklang and cousin of ‘Metroland’ from ‘English Electric’ but refined for BBC Radio 2 airplay, ‘Don’t Go’ captures the essence of OMD’s enduring electronic appeal. With crystalline synth melodies from Humphreys and a spirited vocal delivery from McCluskey attached to a hypnotic Synthanorma backdrop, OMD continue to produce quality avant pop tunes.
Europe is the spiritual home of electronic music, inspiring it not just artistically but forming an important bond with the continent’s classical tradition through the romance of its historical imagery.
Continental Europe is defined as being bordered by the Arctic Ocean, the Atlantic Ocean and the Mediterranean Sea. Often considered to be separated from Asia by the watershed divides of the Ural and Caucasus Mountains, the Ural River, the Caspian and Black Seas and the waterways of the Turkish Straits, it includes the part of Russia where Moscow and St Petersburg are located.
Mark Reeder was one of the first British music personalities to fully adopt Europe, making West Berlin his home in 1978 and subsequently releasing a number of themed compilation albums such as ‘European’ in 1995 and ‘Assorted (E For Europe)’ in 1999 on his MFS label. His fellow Mancunian and friend Bernard Sumner of NEW ORDER said to The European in 2016: “I feel European, I regard myself as a European… as a musician I’ve always been massively influenced by Europe and its people”.
From Paris to Vienna back to Düsseldorf City, Europe fascinated British musicians who having been open-minded enough to use synthesizers, now embraced many different mindsets, languages, cultures and cuisines, all within a comparatively accessible geographical land mass. Meanwhile, European instrument manufacturers such as PPG, Elka, Crumar, RSF, Jen and Siel found their products in the thick of the action too.
The Electricity Club stands proud of its Eurocentric focus. Esteemed names like Hütter, Schneider, Flür, Bartos, Moroder, Jarre, Vangelis, Plank, Rother, Dinger and Froese have more than highlighted the important debt that is owed by electronic music to Europe.
While the UK may have scored an equalizer with Synth Britannia, it was the Europeans who took that crucial half time lead. So to disengage with the European tradition would be betraying everything that The Electricity Club is all about.
Presented in yearly and then alphabetical order with a restriction of one track per artist moniker, here are The Electricity Club’s favourite twenty electronic tunes that were inspired, either directly or obliquely, by the legacy of Europe…
DAVID BOWIE Warszawa (1977)
‘Warszawa’ was named after the Polish capital city but accurately captured the Cold War tensions in Europe without the need for lyricism. At Hansa Studios where the sessions were being mixed, the watch towers in East Berlin could look into the windows of the building! Tony Visconti’s production only enhanced the collaborative drama between David Bowie’s enigmatic wailing over Brian Eno’s Minimoog and Chamberlain keys. This formed part of an all instrumental suite on the ‘Low’ album’s second side.
Available on the DAVID BOWIE album ‘Low’ via EMI Records
With KRAFTWERK utilising a customized 32-step Synthanorma Sequenzer and a Vako Orchestron with pre-recorded symphonic string and choir sounds sourced from optical discs, if there was such a thing as a musical European travelogue, then the romantically optimistic beauty of ‘Europe Endless’ was it. This lengthy work influenced the likes of NEW ORDER, OMD and BLANCMANGE who all borrowed different aspects of its aesthetics for ‘Your Silent Face’, ‘Metroland’ and ‘Feel Me’ respectively.
‘For Belgian Friends’ was written in honour of Factory Benelux founders Michel Duval and the late Annik Honoré. Although not strictly electronic in the purest sense, Martin Hannett’s technologically processed production techniques made Vini Reilly’s dominant piano sound like textured synthetic strings, complimenting his sparing melodic guitar and the crisp percussion of Donald Johnson. This beautiful instrumental was one of Reilly’s best recordings, originally on the compilation ‘A Factory Quartet’.
Available on THE DURUTTI COLUMN album ‘LC’ via Factory Benelux Records
Nottingham combo FATAL CHARM supported ULTRAVOX and OMD in 1980. Their excellent first single ‘Paris’ was produced by Midge Ure and could be seen reflecting the electronically flavoured new wave template of the period. Singer Sarah Simmonds’ feisty passion gave a freshly charged sexual ambiguity to the European love story written in the days before the Channel Tunnel. Instrumentalist Paul Arnall said to The Electricity Club: “we were able to use Midge’s Yamaha synth which gave it his sound”.
Available on the FATAL CHARM album ‘Plastic’ via Fatal Charm
Did you hear the one about the Japanese band impersonating a German band and doing it rather well? Influenced by the motorik backbeat of NEU! and also heavily borrowing form its guitarist Michael Rother’s solo track ‘Karussell’, IPPU DO’s leader Masami Tsuchiya was something of a multi-cultural sponge, later joining JAPAN for their final ‘Sons Of Pioneers’ tour in 1982. Meanwhile IPPU DO are still best known in the UK for their startlingly original cover version of THE ZOMBIES ‘Time Of The Season’.
Electronic pioneer Richard James Burgess said to The Electricity Club: “I think we all embraced this new direction because of our raw excitement over the new technology…We discussed it in the band and everyone was on board so I started working on the lyrics that became ‘European Man’”. Colin Thurston was the producer assisting in realising this new direction and interestingly, the rear artwork of the first issue featured an early use of the term “electronic dance music”.
“Europe has a language problem” sang Jim Kerr on ‘I Travel’, adding “in central Europe men are marching”. Aware of the domestic terrorist threats that were apparent in every city they were visiting on tour, SIMPLE MINDS captured a claustrophobic tension within its futuristic frenzy like a doomy disco take on Moroder. It was a favourite of DJ Rusty Egan at The Blitz Club where its shadier spectre was highly welcomed by its clientele, reflecting their own discontent closer to home.
TELEX’s manifesto was “Making something really European, different from rock, without guitar.” Having previously visited a ‘Moscow Disko’ and with tongues firmly in cheeks, they entered the 1980 Eurovision Song Contest with a bouncy electropop song that had deliberately banal lyrics about the whole charade itself. Performing to a bemused audience in The Hague with the sole intention of coming last, unfortunately Finland decided otherwise! Who said the Belgians didn’t have a sense of humour?!
If there was a song that truly represents The Electricity Club’s ethos, then the synth rock fusion of ULTRAVOX’s ‘New Europeans’ is it! Noting that “his modern world revolves around the synthesizer’s song” in lyrics largely written by drummer Warren Cann, it all pointed to an optimistic way forward “full of future thoughts and thrills” that would later be opened up by direct train travel across the channel with freedom of movement to and from the continent for “a European legacy and “a culture for today”.
Available on the ULTRAVOX album ‘Vienna’ via EMI Records
While in his dual role as DJ at The Blitz Club and VISAGE’s drummer, Rusty Egan had become inspired by the melodic interplay of Japanese trio YELLOW MAGIC ORCHESTRA which had been European influenced: “I liked the album and played it along with TELEX and SPARKS. The sound was an influence on VISAGE. By the time we recorded ‘Moon Over Moscow’, that was to include Russia, Japan, Germany and France in our sound… the drummer was also using the same drum pads as me!”
Available on the VISAGE album ‘Visage’ via Alliance Import
ASSOCIATES first musical signs of a fascination towards European influenced electronic music came with the funereal pulse of ‘White Car In Germany’. The swirling electronics, cold atmosphere and treated percussion were intended to sound as un-American as possible. Billy MacKenzie’s observational lyric “Aberdeen’s an old place – Düsseldorf’s a cold place – Cold as spies can be” accurately captured post-war tensions under the spectre of the bomb.
Foxx admitted he had been “reading too much JG Ballard” and had thawed considerably following ‘Metamatic’. Now spending his spare time exploring beautiful Italian gardens and taking on a more foppish appearance, his new mood was reflected in his music. Moving to a disused factory site in Shoreditch, Foxx set up a recording complex which he named ‘The Garden’ and the first song to emerge was the Linn Drum driven ‘Europe After The Rain’. Foxx had now achieved his system of romance.
Recorded as a JAPAN demo for the 1979 Giorgio Moroder sessions that produced ‘Life In Tokyo’, this sequencer heavy number was rejected by the Italian disco maestro. Left dormant in the vaults of Ariola Hansa, the song was finished off under the supervision of John Punter and later given a single remix by Steve Nye with redone parts by Mick Karn. ‘European Son’ showed David Sylvian’s vocals in transition from the catty aggression of earlier albums to the Ferry-ish croon most now associated with the band.
THE MOBILES’ were from the sleepy shores of Eastbourne; while ‘Drowning In Berlin’ may have come across as a ‘Not The Nine O’Clock News’ New Romantic parody on first listen, its decaying Mittel Europa grandeur was infectious like Hazel O’Connor reinterpreting ‘Vienna’ with The Master of Ceremonies at the Kit Kat Klub. And like ‘Vienna’, ‘Drowning In Berlin’ was inspired by a holiday romance, in this case one that singer Anna Maria had while visiting the divided city.
Inspired by acts like ULTRAVOX and KRAFTWERK, Californian band BERLIN with their approach to synthesizers were a far cry from the way they were being used Stateside within rock. And in ‘The Metro’ with its frantic motorik drum machine and Teutonic pulses, songwriter John Crawford aimed to capture the tense filmic romance of Paris despite never having visited the city, a vibrant but detached feeling ably projected by partner and singer Terri Nunn in a similar fashion to FATAL CHARM.
Available on the BERLIN album ‘Best Of’ via Geffen Records
Radio Luxembourg broadcasted pop music to the UK using the most powerful privately owned transmitter in the world. But when DEPECHE MODE played the country in early 1982, they were booked to perform in a small town called Oberkorn. With a glorious ambient instrumental on the B-side of the then soon-to-be-released single ‘The Meaning Of Love’ requiring a title, Martin Gore needed no further inspiration, unconsciously capturing the air of the Grand Duchy’s countryside and oceanic climate.
Available on the DEPECHE MODE boxed set ‘DMBX1’ via Columbia Records
Before the days of the Channel Tunnel, young York based New Romantic trio THE MOOD noted the how long it took by boat and train to get to the French capital. ‘Paris Is One Day Away’ was the hit that got away; reaching No. 42, it secured a slot on ‘Top Of The Pops’. However, it was the 1982 World Cup and a match heading into extra time meant that a hasty edit was made. And it was THE MOOD’s performance as the new and unknown act that ended up on the cutting room floor!
After ‘Dancing On The Berlin Wall’, RATIONAL YOUTH mainman Tracy Howe turned his attention towards Poland. “What was it like to be young person behind the Iron Curtain? What did they do on a Saturday night anyway?” he told The Electricity Club, “Did they have clubs to go to? Probably underground ones. They’d probably break down the door. Apart from the fact that there are no ‘navy docks’ in Silesia, this record makes a jolly racket and may well be the first recorded instance of a Roland TR-808.”
Fascinated by the likes of Thomas Dolby and Gary Numan, JETHRO TULL frontman Ian Anderson went synth in 1983. Assisted by Peter John Vitesse, ‘Different Germany’ embraced both the electronic and progressive sides of Anderson’s career perfectly with a marvellous middle section featuring a bristling keyboard solo. The end result sounded not unsurprisingly like Tull fronting ULTRAVOX; of course, the circle was completed when Midge Ure covered ‘Living In The Past’ in 1985.
Born to French parents in Notting Hill, THE STRANGLERS’ bassist Jean-Jacques Burnel was a loyal European, even releasing a 1979 solo album entitled ‘Euroman Cometh’ where “a Europe strong, united and independent is a child of the future”. Taking lead vocals for the beautiful ‘European Female’, it possessed an understated quality with subtle Spanish guitar from Hugh Cornwell alongside Dave Greenfield’s sparkling synths and Jet Black’s electronic percussion to celebrate the allure of continental mystery.
A new film by Mike Christie for Sky Arts, ‘Decades’ is a part concert and part documentary presentation of iconic Manchester band NEW ORDER.
It follows them as they re-stage their acclaimed ‘So It Goes..’ collaboration with conceptual artist Liam Gillick and a 12-piece synthesizer orchestra recruited from Manchester’s Royal Northern College of Music.
Coinciding with the 40th anniversary of JOY DIVISION’s TV debut performing ‘Shadowplay’ on Granada TV, introduced by their soon-to-be Factory Records boss Tony Wilson, the film celebrates the past, present and future of NEW ORDER.
Featuring interviews with Bernard Sumner, Stephen Morris and Gillian Gilbert along with new recruits Phil Cunningham and Tom Chapman, ‘Decades’ also includes contributions from graphic designer Peter Saville as well as cultural commentators Jon Savage and Dave Haslam.
First performed at the Manchester International Festival 2017, the audio / visual spectacular had its own technical and logistical challenges, with up to 19 musicians on stage including conductor Joe Duddell.
Taking the installation to OGR Torino and Wiener Festwochen earlier this year, the whole concept had to be almost totally reconstructed thanks to the height restrictions and dimensions of the two hosting art spaces in Italy and Austria respectively.
For the musical aspect of the show, the MIDI information controlling the NEW ORDER’s regular live set had to be transcribed into twelve individual music scores for each of the students to play by hand. But controlled from a huge computer were the light show, the angles of the white Venetian blinds in each of the cubicles that the synth orchestra were each positioned in and all the sounds for the various synthesizers.
Still very much a concert, Liam Gillick was adamant that this wouldn’t be “a weird art event with music”. Stephen Morris got fully involved in the technological aspects because he was, in his own words, “the only one boring enough to read the manual”, a trait which Bernard Sumner reflected on as being “unusual for a drummer” and something which long suffering wife Gillian Gilbert laughed about and said made him “impossible to live with…”
But Morris spoke in awe of how with the original NEW ORDER productions, the band would programme each note laboriously into the sequencers before speeding up the results, while each member of the synth orchestra would use their virtuoso ability to deconstruct and tightly recreate the fast programmed elements of tracks like ‘Plastic’, ‘Sub-Culture’, ‘Vanishing Point’, ‘Shellshock’ and ‘Bizarre Love Triangle’.
But as Cunningham remarked, “you’ve got to have a feel” and this was a quality which the synth orchestra undoubtedly provided. The best song from NEW ORDER’s most recent ‘Music Complete’ album, ‘Plastic’ was presented full length as were all the other songs in the film, a relief from the usual quick cut butchering and fast editing that has occurred in 21st Century music event broadcasts aimed at youngsters with attention deficits.
The spectacular sea of flashing straight line visuals came over well on the small screen and reflected the song’s complex but energetic combination of Giorgio Moroder and house, aided by Sumner’s disco dad dancing and the silhouetted movements of the synth orchestra looking like a futuristic ‘Jailhouse Rock’.
The rarely performed baroque sex anthem ‘Sub-Culture’, while combining the best sonic elements of the original ‘Low-life’ version and the polarising John Robie remix along with many new parts, provided amusement with a major continuity error thanks to two very different looking female backing singers being used over the two dates during which the concerts in Vienna were filmed for this documentary.
Not doing ‘Blue Monday’ and ‘Truth Faith’ at the ‘So It Goes..’ shows encouraged NEW ORDER to be inventive with the setlist to primarily include other more synth friendly material. But one of the most interesting choices was the post-punk rage of ‘Disorder’, the opener from ‘Unknown Pleasures’. While not presented as a concert number in the film, the rehearsal footage was a reminder of its blistering impact while leading to a section on the forever looming legacy of JOY DIVISION vocalist Ian Curtis.
After the passing of Curtis, Bernard Sumner took over lead vocals from the ‘Movement’ album onwards and in the film, Phil Cunningham recalled how uncomfortable Sumner looked when listening to it as the band members convened to listen back to the NEW ORDER catalogue to choose songs for the ‘So it Goes..’ shows.
A short section focussed on Tom Chapman replacing Peter Hook as bassist. While Peter Saville reflected that the chemistry which NEW ORDER had in their classic line-up was what made them great, he also accepted that “chemistry is combustible”; and while Sumner praised Chapman’s contributions on ‘Music Complete’, he complimented Hook obliquely by saying “not that the other bass in our history wasn’t great, it was great!”
Sumner amusingly waved and greeted the synth orchestra before a fabulously dreamy update of ‘Bizarre Love Triangle’ which was visually enhanced by close-ups of the exuberant actions from the synth orchestra members, although just as the track segued into ‘Vanishing Point’, the performance disappointingly faded off into the next documentary chapter.
The neo-classicism of ‘Your Silent Face’ was just perfect foil for interpretation by the synth orchestra and as an emotional finale of the glorious ‘Decades’ itself from ‘Closer’ captured the tense sonic cathedral of JOY DIVISION while adding some strangely uplifting qualities, both songs made for the ultimate display of multi-layered melancholic grandeur.
Beautifully produced, while the film itself was not too in-depth about the band’s history, it was an enjoyable snapshot of a reconfigured band in transition who were aware of their status as treasured veteran artists. Peter Saville concluded that Liam Gillick’s concept, as “his dialogue with his idea of NEW ORDER”, was an artistic success and “put the group back into an uncomfortable space”, just as in their formative years.
As much a document about the regeneration of Manchester as a cultural force as well as the continuing relevance of NEW ORDER, what was particularly touching about ‘Decades’ was the band’s respect of their tremendous back catalogue and general happiness that their naïve pursuit of fun led them to success.
Now, if only DEPECHE MODE would be a bit more grateful for their lot and accord more respect to the very songs that got them to where they are today…